Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Holy Spirit and my New Electric Bike

When I moved to  Pasadena six years ago to marry Jill, I bought a bike and looked forward to biking around this lovely city with her. But for some reason,we seldom rode our bikes more than once or twice a month. Finally, a week or two ago, I had to face reality. We are seniors living on the top of a fairly steep hill that extends for nearly two miles to downtown Pasadena. Riding up that hill was great exercise, it got my heart pumping, my muscles aching, but it wasn't much fun. When I finally got home, I was usually drenched in sweat, and  needed to take a shower and change. And sometimes take a nap!

Two weeks ago, it hit me. Maybe I need to look into electric bikes. After all, I have an electric hybrid car. Why not an electric bike? I didn't know anyone who had one, and I'd never rode one, but the image of an electric bike kept beckoning to me.

I did research online and found a bike that was affordable and met my needs. It's called the Cyclamatic. It's a foldable pedal assist bike designed for commuters. "Pedal assist" means that you have to pedal it for the motor to kick in. And it has small wheels, making it even more compact.

This nifty little  bike can be folded into a 32 X 30 X 22 inch area and placed in the trunk of a car. Its battery carries the bike for 20-30 miles. It sounded perfect.

On September 10, our 6th anniversary, I asked Jill to buy me the bike by pressing the button on Amazon. As she smiled and pressed the button, I was almost as happy as I was six years ago when I popped the question and she said, "Yes!" (I proposed on my birthday and Jill was by far the best gift I have ever received on that special day, much, much better than an electric bike!)

Three days after Jill pressed the "One-click" button confirming the sale, the bike arrived in a large box, almost completely assembled. It took about twenty or so minutes to do the final assembly and then voila! the bike was ready to ride.

My heart beating with excitement, just like the time I was given my first bike as a kid, I took my new electric bike out onto our street and gave it a whirl. I began by cautiously pedaling it just like a regular bike. Then I pressed the button that gave it the extra oomph. Whoosh! it took off with a burst of speed and  I was amazed. I coasted up the hill to Woodbury as if I were riding down hill!

I felt, well, young again, and buff, able to ride up hills just like Lance Armstrong. I still had to pedal, of course, but it was almost effortless. Or rather, it took as much effort as I cared to expend. If I want to get exercise, I turn off the electric motor and pedal on my own. But when I need an assist, I simply press a button and a surge of energy carries me where I wanted to go.

As I explained this amazing bike experience to my men's group at the Episcopal Church, it occurred to me that this is how the Holy Spirit works in my life. Often, when I find myself struggling with a problem that seems insurmountable, and feel as I can't muster the strength to muddle through, I call on God for help. If I am faithful and patient, I begin to feel the presence of something greater than myself--the Holy Spirit--giving me the energy and strength I need to complete the task I'm called to do.  The process isn't instantaneous, like the electric bike, but it is nonetheless miraculous. I can't begin to count the times that the Holy Spirit has carried me through a life crisis.

The Holy Spirit doesn't do all the work, however.  I still have to do my share, just as in the case of a pedal assist bike. If I don't pedal, the motor doesn't kick in and the bike eventually stops. But if I do my part, the motor amplifies my efforts, no matter how feeble, and I move forward with vigor and confidence.

This is like the miracle of divine grace working together with human will. The theological term for this collaboration between the human and the divine is synergy.

Jesus alluded to this synergy when he told his followers: "Greater things than I have done, you will do" (John 14:12).  He meant that when we work together as a community following the will of God, guided by the Holy Spirit, we can do more than even Jesus did. That may seem incredible but it's true. Christians over the millennia have done wonderful work helping people in need, healing the sick, and working for peace and justice. With God's grace empowering us, we are stronger and better together.

I thank God for the countless ways that I have been given a "pedal assist" by the Holy Spirit when times are tough and I felt I didn't have the energy to do what needed to be done. And I thank God for my wife Jill and for all the many gifts she's given me in our years of marriage, including my electric bike!

Monday, September 18, 2017

FCNL Advocacy Team is Launched in Pasadena with Great Success

I am really pleased that Friends Committee on National Legislation is launching a national campaign, in both blue and red districts, to urge Congress to spend our tax dollars on needs like education and health care, and not the bloated military budget. The launch of our San Gabriel Valley FCNL Advocacy Team in Pasadena this weekend was a great success, as Montrose peace activist Brian Anderson explains later in this blog.

Cuts in social services caused by increases in the Pentagon budget will have dire local impacts. The budget for HUD (which provides funding for affordable housing) has been cut drastically over the past few years. Trump is calling for additional 6 billion in cuts to HUD, which will hamper efforts to end homelessness and provide affordable housing for our city. He is calling for huge cuts to medical and scientific research, which will also impact the health and welfare of our local community, which has a strong commitment to science through JPL and Cal Tech.

Instead of spending our tax dollars on what we actually need, the Republican Congress has voted a 70 billion dollar increase in the Pentagon budget. This increase will require dismantling the social safety net that has lifted 38 million Americans out of poverty.

FCNL is committed to educating the American public about the folly of this abuse of our tax dollars. We spend seven ties more money on the military that China, Russia, North Korea and all our other adversaries put together. We spend more in real dollars on the military than we spent at the height of the Vietnam and Cold War. This graph shows how massive our military expenditures are compared to other nations:

The Pentagon is fraught with waste, fraud and abuse. According to the Washington Post, the Pentagon had suppressed an internal report that found $125 billion in waste. The Pentagon is the only branch of government that isn't audited. FCNL is urging Congress to investigate Pentagon waste and fraud.

If the Trump administration's goal is to create jobs, as Trump alleges, the Pentagon is the least effective way to do this. A $1 billion investment in education will create twice as many jobs as $1 billion invested in the military.

I am glad we had a great turnout for our launch of the San Gabriel FCNL Advocacy Team. What I found especially encouraging is that we had a great turnout from non-Quakers who are just as committed as we are to peacemaking and social justice: Pasadena's Indivisible Suffragettes and the Montrose Peace Vigil.

Brian Anderson, who helped start the Montrose Peace Vigil (which has been gathering faithfully every Friday on the corner of Ocean and Honolulu for the past decade), wrote this summary of our meeting:

At least 20 people participated in the Advocacy Team workshop in Pasadena on Saturday, coming from Tujunga, Montrose and La Canada, from Pasadena across the San Gabriel Valley to Claremont, and south to Boyle Heights.  Montrose Peace Vigil regulars Roberta, Anni, John and I were among them.
Emily Savin, the excellent trainer from the Friends Committee on National Legislation's D.C. office, led an active listening exercise in which we paired off to trade our stories and listen so that we could repeat them, something that Anni and I did at the direction of Bernard Lafayette Jr. during his nonviolent resistance training here in 2009.  We also learned the key elements of writing an effective letter to a legislator, then put them into practice by drafting individual letters at our tables, asking one senator or the other to halt Pentagon spending increases.  These listening and pitching skills will be employed in having meetings and building relationships with the staffs of our various representatives and senators about the issue.
Just about everybody signed up to organize a Pasadena Advocacy Team, with the support of the FCNL.  We'll meet for four more one-hour training sessions with Emily on speakerphone, followed by half-hour discussions, starting on Monday, October 2.  Attendance at the workshop is not a prerequisite to the training sessions, and nobody has to commit to every one of those to participate in the lobbying to come.  Subgroups of the Pasadena team will address their House members -- I counted constituents of Chu, Schiff, Torres and Roybal-Allard in the room.  And all of us will engage with Feinstein and Harris staffers at their L.A. offices.

Read more: http://montrosepeacevigil.proboards.com/thread/703/new-fcnl-advocacy-team-pasadena?page=1#ixzz4t2yU0ts4

On Sunday, I gave a presentation about FCNL at Santa Monica Meeting and would be happy to give presentations at other meetings and churches as well. Our next meeting of the San Gabriel FCNL Advocacy Team will take place at my home on October 2 at 6:30 pm. Please contact me at interfaithquaker@aol.com if you'd like to attend or would like me to give a training on how to lobby effectively


Friday, September 15, 2017

Celebration of garbage

[A poem inspired by a Quaker magazine that has "garbage" as its theme.]

"Anti-mass" by Cornelia Parker was made from charred remains
of a church
I sing and celebrate garbage,
the rejected, the refugee,
The “wretched refuse yearning to breathe free.”
I lift up in the Light those treated like trash,
Those living in the junk yards of history.

Out of blackened wood from a burned out church,
An artist made a mobile that took our breath away
rising with amazing grace to the sky light,
Saying “the whole idea was handed down to me by God

To use that which has been discarded
Just as we as a people have been discarded, made invisible.”

Out of shards of broken glass
from a bombed out church in Bethlehem
ornaments were made so we could see God’s love
Lighting the world like the smile of a child.

Out of scraps of Scripture
George and Margaret sowed together a quilt of love
Tim Nobel and Sue Webster compile trash to make art…
So we could see the power of God,
the hidden power in our hearts.

Out of used furniture, a poet makes a tree.
Out of dust and ashes, a mystic makes a path to eternity.

Blessed be this compost heap,
my gardener friend told me,
For out of its funky depths
will come the food that feeds your belly.
As you pull out weeds,
remember the words of a wise Indian:
There are no weeds, only plants
Whose usefulness we don’t yet see.

Remember the words of a wise woman:
The world is a rummage sale.
What some consider trash, others see as treasures.

Remember the words of a wise man: I count as garbage
all my achievements and degrees.
Only love matters. Only love turns junk into jewelry,

A crown of thorns into a crown of light.

[Notes: Margaret and George refer to Margaret Fell and George Fox, the founders of Quakerism. "Out of used furniture, a poet makes a tree" is a line stolen from a poem by my teacher, Anne Sexton. The "wise man" is the apostle Paul, Philippians 3:8.]

The Other September 11

  I am pleased to print this reflection by my friend Joseph Prabhu, retired  Professor of Philosophy and Religion at California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA) and former member of the Executive Committee of the Parliament of the World's Religions. Born and raised in India, he earned advanced degrees in Germany and is active as both a scholar and a peace activist. He has edited: The Intercultural Challenge of Raimon Panikkar (1996 ) and co-edited the two-volume Indian Ethics: Classical Traditions and Contemporary Challenges (2007, 2011). He has been a Senior Fellow of the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard University and of the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago and a Visiting Professor there.
 He is also one of the charming and delightful peripatetic philosophers I know....we often enjoy walks together in the San Gabriels, where we talk theology and politics as we ascend to glorious vistas overlooking the Los Angeles basin all the way to Catalina Island. (When the smog isn't too dense!) For those who value the life of the mind, this is pure bliss!
September 11 was a turning point for America, for the world, and for me personally. This "day of infamy" was what drew me into the interfaith peace movement, and led to friendships with remarkable people like Joseph Prabhu. At the end of his reflection, he poses a question well worth pondering:  "Will we associate this day with violence and retaliation waged in the name of military victories, or will be rather learn from Gandhi and Vivekananda the messages of a robust peace and of harmony between peoples?  This is a truly teachable moment."  


Today is September 11th 2017. The New York Times highlights one of its editorials as: “9/11: Finding Answers in Ashes 16 Years Later.” But what answers? And what memories? That depends both on our historical perspective and the lessons we take away from that perspective.
September 11th, 2001, in the American imagination is a day of infamy when we were attacked by terrorists who destroyed the Twin Towers in New York City and in the process killed 2,753 people. We should certainly mourn the dead and their families, just as we decry acts of terrorism and violence, now such a common and ubiquitous feature of our world. 9/11, 2001 was a deep psychic wound to our nation, which experienced a new form of violence, besides war, directed symbolically to the financial and social heart of the country. It is therefore appropriate that we mourn both the dead and the violent forces and attitudes that cause such deaths.
But what answers have we gleaned from that traumatic experience? The national response to the event at the time was to launch massive wars against Iraq and Afghanistan, ostensibly with the purpose of attacking the terrorists and the countries supposedly harboring them. The idea was to show that America would not be messed with and that we would retaliate in the case of an attack and seek “victory” through arms and bombs.
It is deeply ironic, then, that the person most strongly opposed to such a response to violence, Mahatma Gandhi, on the very same date in 1906 launched his satyagraha or nonviolence movement. The Natal government in South Africa had come up with an ordinance disenfranchising Indians and essentially inflicting a form of apartheid government on them. The essence of that nonviolent movement had to do with fighting violence and injustice with the weapons of truth, soul-force, and patient suffering, with the idea not of retaliation and “victory,” but of establishing a safe space where differences could be discussed and negotiated, and peace and harmony achieved at least in the conflict at hand.
As we know from history that movement, launched on the other September 11th, has turned out to be one of the most powerful moral-social forces in modern times. Gandhi himself used it successfully in his struggle for Indian independence from the British. And his example has been followed by leaders and movements as diverse as Martin Luther King and the civil rights struggle in the US, Lech Walesa and the Solidarity movement in Poland, the East European struggles against Communist totalitarianism,  and Nelson Mandela and the fight against apartheid in South Africa. In Gandhi’s own words: “When I despair, I remember that all through history, the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time they seem invincible, but in the end they always fall.”
As it turns out, there is yet another significant event on September 11. On this date in 1893, the first Parliament of the World’s Religions was opened as part of the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, the first global interfaith gathering in modern history. America up to that point saw itself as a largely Protestant-Christian country, but with the Parliament it opened itself to the diversity of the world’s religions and preached a message of peace and harmony among them as an essential step toward achieving a wider peace in the world. A brilliant Indian monk from the Ramakrishna Order, Swami Vivekananda, caught the imagination of the delegates gathered in the assembly and through them the imagination of the globe.
It is worth citing his message to the Parliament, because it is still timely and relevant: “Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth…But their time is come; and I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honor of this convention may be the death knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal.”
So, when we in a broader historical perspective consider some of the other significant events that have taken place on September 11th we might revision how we see this date in history and more significantly what lessons we learn from it. Will we associate this day with violence and retaliation waged in the name of military victories, or will be rather learn from Gandhi and Vivekananda the messages of a robust peace and of harmony between peoples?  This is a truly teachable moment.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Bioweapons and the disease of war

I was disturbed and intrigued by this article, which reveals once again America's tendency to turn plowshares into swords. A cure for cancer that could potentially become a weapon of war? Sounds all too American to me. We Americans need to recognize that our addiction to war is a disease, far worse than cancer, with potentially lethal consequences for the entire world. 

Biological Weapons: 'There are things worse than death': can a cancer cure lead to brutal bioweapons?
According to John Sotos, the chief medical officer of Intel, the same technology that might someday allow us to defeat illness for good also poses the prospect of tailored diseases attacking individuals, families or even whole races and rewriting their genomes on the fly. Sotos made his remarks at the DEF CON hacking conference in Las Vegas, a place where hackers gather to share tips and tricks for how to break into almost anything with a circuit board. But during a weekend when attacks were demonstrated against wind farms, voting machines and almost every major smartphone in one fell swoop, Sotos’ nightmare scenario still stood out as plausible and terrifying. The Intel executive, best known for his work over six years as a consultant on the TV show House, argued that the eventual success of Joe Biden’s “cancer moonshot”, a US government-funded programme that’s aimed at finding vaccine-based treatments for cancer, would necessarily open up the potential for bioweapons of unimaginable destructive potential. (The Guardian).

This is the theme of my novel "Relics of America," which is now available in a Kindle edition.

Science fiction novel set in 2061. War has been abolished, but this new age of peace and prosperity has come at a terrible cost. In the year 2020, a genetically engineered super-virus, created in an American laboratory, wiped out nearly half of the world's population. American scientists tried to cure this plague, but failed. Humanity was saved only through a miracle drug created by an Egyptian scientist named Dr Hathout who demanded that nations disband their armies before he would share his remedy. Most countries disarmed and received Houtout's cure. Only America stubbornly refused. As a result, its population was decimated by plague. Threatened with extinction, the last Americans were finally given the cure and allowed to live, with their antiquated weapons, in what used to be called New England. The dream of a peaceful world is endangered when Mubarak is abducted by terrorists. A band of intrepid Americans risk everything to restore democracy and freedom.


Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Awakening to the Prophetic Call of Quakerism at Pacific Yearly Meeting

David Hartsough and A
With the election of Trump and the corporate take-over of our federal government by the most dangerous elements in our country, if not the world, the need for Quaker prophetic witness has never been greater. That's why I was thrilled to see signs of an awakening of the prophetic spirit in Pacific Yearly Meeting. It is becoming more and more clear to me that Spirit is bubbling up from the grass roots, a spring of living water, but this reawakening is still not yet evident in our epistle or in our public statements as a body. That's one reason
George Fox the Visionary Prophet
I have decided to write this blog to testify to what I witnessed. I also want to let Friends know that I am eager to travel among you to see how this emerging Spirit is at work, and to nurture those who are called to prophetic witness. 
During our annual session, there were excellent interest groups sponsored by Peace and Social Order. I attended all but one of them. Joelly Mejia spoke about her experiences as a member of the FCNL Advocacy team, and quoted from the Bible to explain the spiritual basis of her work (she was raised Catholic, in the Dominican Republic, had a spiritual awakening, and now considers herself a Christian). Janet Gastil, who has held public office much of her adult life, gave a workshop urging Friends to become involved in electoral politics. Shannon Frediani gave a workshop on countering Islamophobia, using material developed by the AFSC. David Breitzman and Linea Hanson gave a workshop on Quaker service and are eager to reach out to Friends seeking to end homelessness and poverty.
There were also testimonies of prophetic witness in the reports of our Quaker peace and justice organizations like the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), Friends Committee on Legislation of California (FCLCA), and the American Friends Service Committee (FCNL). All of these groups gave reports and workshops, helping us to understand better how we can heed Spirit's call to make a difference in the world. 
I was surprised and pleased by the enthusiastic response of Friends when I spoke about the "prophetic awakening" of George Fox, the founder of our Quaker movement. Even though my session was late on Sunday night, not exactly prime time, around 35 Friends showed up and a lively discussion ensued. It is clear from Fox's Journal that he saw himself not as a mystic, but as someone who lived in the same Spirit that inspired the "prophets and apostles."  I felt the presence of that Spirit as I shared about how Fox challenged the conventional ideas of his time and advocated for a radical new society based on equality and justice for all. Fox was not a quietist or a reformer; he was a radical activist who helped to launch a movement that has transformed society in many significant ways, though not as profoundly as early Friends would have wished. Afterwards, several Friends invited me to come to their meeting to give a presentation and others suggested that I facilitate a weekend workshop at Ben Lomond Quaker center. 
When the time came for me to present a report  as clerk of the Peace and Social Order Committee, instead of reading from the report, I asked Friends to stand up if they had ever attended a demonstration, written or visited an elected officials, refused to pay war taxes, been
arrested in a demonstration, etc. I was surprised and deeply moved to see that several dozen Friends had been arrested or refused to pay taxes, and virtually all had done something for peace and justice. Even more encouraging was the response when I asked, "If you intend to do something a little extra for peace and justice this year, please stand up." When everyone in the tent stood up, I was moved almost to tears.
I also had the privilege of co-facilitating a workshop with David Hartsough on "How to Wage Peace in the Age of Trump." We offered some of our ideas (see http://laquaker.blogspot.com/2017/07/waging-peace-in-trump-era-what-are-some.html
During our session Friends broke up in small groups and shared their ideas, which were written up for the entire Yearly Meeting to ponder. (See below.) I was thrilled to see that many Friends are waking up to the need to be more active in our social witness. 
 During our times of worship several Friends gave messages that were prophetic and heart-felt. Eric Moon, a longtime AFSC staff person and former clerk of PYM, spoke movingly about his decision not to pay war taxes, and several Friends spoke to me later saying that they would like to follow his example. 
I was led to give a message in which I said that one of the characteristics of a prophet was a feeling of inadequacy. 
This message was based on my own experience of being humbled by the Spirit. During this Yearly Meeting session, I became keenly aware of my own failings. It has grieved me deeply that there have been no minutes of concern brought to Yearly Meeting for the past two years, and no agreed upon procedures on how to present them.  In my zeal over this issue I have hurt some Friends and am very sorry. I tried my best to reconcile and make amends by meeting with those whom I have offended. I am deeply grateful to Shayne Lightener, who served as my spiritual Friend and elder and helped me to see myself and others more clearly, and facilitated a reconciliation process.
Many prophets offended others in their zeal and were keenly aware of their inadequacy. The prophet Isaiah said he was a "man of unclean lips, who lived among a people of unclean lips" (Isaiah 6:5). He testifies that the process of being "cleansed" can be very painful, like having hot coals placed on one's tongue!
 A true prophet is humble. During meeting for worship I shared that I had asked David Hartsough if he would be interested in being the keynote speaker at PYM. His life has testified to his profound faith and courage: he has been arrested countless times and risked his life on several occasion in the cause of peace and justice. No one from our Yearly Meeting, or in the entire Society of Friends, has done more for peace and justice than this Friend, yet he replied modestly, "I'm not a very good speaker, I'm more of a doer."
I told Friends that David's response reminded me of Moses, who was one of the greatest prophets in the Bible. When Moses fled Egypt and went into hiding among the Hebrews in Midian, God called him out of a burning bush and told him to go back to Egypt and confront the Pharaoh and speak truth to power. Moses' response was a lot like David's: "I'm not a very good speaker."
God responded, in effect: "No worries. I'll give you words to speak."

[Actually, what the Bible says is more eloquent: The Lord said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind?Is it not I, the Lord? 12 Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” --Exodus 4]

Joelly Mejia, a young woman who became part of the FCNL advocacy team, quoted these words when she gave a presentation on Sunday night. Led by the Spirit to apply for a position with FCNL, Joelly was given the words she needed to be an effective advocate for immigrant rights. 
My message to Friends who want to make a difference is simply this: No matter how inadequate we may feel, God will give us the words we need to say if we put our confidence in the One who calls us from the depths of our souls. My prayer is that we will do our best to be faithful to that inward call.
David Hartsough was favored with the following message which makes clear how much Friends need to speak out loudly and clearly against the injustices of our time, just as early Friends and prophets did during their time. I'd like to close with what he shared. The question he ends with is worth pondering: What are we led to do?

Crimes against humanity are being committed by our government in our name and with our tax dollars:
We are bombing people in seven primarily Muslim countries.
We are killing tens of thousands of people in the middle east (most of them civilians) and creating millions of refugees who have had to flee their homes because of the American led and funded wars and we do not allow them to come to our country.
We are spending one trillion dollars a year on wars and preparations for wars while cutting funds for almost everything else including schools, health care, food stamps, housing for low income people, social security and medicare, diplomacy, etc.
We are spending one trillion dollars for modernizing our nuclear weapons and the missiles which carry them.
We are threatening nuclear war with Russia with our troops, tanks, bombers, naval ships and missiles on Russia’s borders. A full scale nuclear war could kill hundreds of millions of God’s children and end life on our planet as we know it
We live in the American empire which is organized to bring resources from the rest of the world to the US to feed our addiction to consumerism allowing the American people - about four and a half percent of the world’s people - to continue consuming seven times our share of the world’s resources while hundreds of millions of people are hungry
When a frog is placed in cold water and the temperature of the water is gradually increased til it boils, the frog boils to death. Like the frog, we have become numbed and accustomed to all this madness being committed by our government in our name and with our tax dollars.
This is a crime against humanity! What is needed is a RADICAL Transformation of our society and relation to the rest of the world.
We cannot remain silent. We must speak out and act to stop this madness..
This is certainly NOT the way God would have us live. What are we led to do to help stop this insanity and help move our world from greed, war and empire to a peaceful, just and humane world for ALL of God’s children?help move our world from greed, war and empire to a peaceful, just and humane world for ALL of God’s children?

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Celebrating Bill Cook, the high school teacher who encouraged my literary life

Bill Cook was my teacher and mentor in high school, and one of the most important influences on my life. I should add that I have been fortunate and blessed to have experienced some amazing teachers, including the poet Anne Sexton and the eighteenth century scholar Paul Fussell, but none were better teachers or more important than Bill Cook. 
When I arrived at Princeton High School with hopes of becoming a poet, aspiring to be anotheer Ezra Pound or T.S. Eliot, he  gave me all the encouragement and support I needed. On many afternoons I would hang out after school with him, sometimes till 4:00 or even 5:00 pm, and have intense conversations about my favorite readings from Ovid to Kafka,  and he was also willing to listen and give me feedback. Cook's readings were as eclectic as mine, and his mind just a as curious and quirky. 
He was a brilliant teacher, with a great sense of humor.  He was also  master of the art of "put on." Once he was teaching "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" in an honors class, and argued with a straight face that Prufrock was an heroic figure. Finally, one of the student (I wish it had been me) raised his hand and said, "He seems like a loser to me. " Cook smiled a toothy grin and we realized he was putting us on. After that, we never accepted anything that Bill said uncritically.
Bill also give me glimpses into what it's like to be a black man in a white world. He used to moonlight as a bartender in New Hope and one of his customs was a member of the White Citizen's Council. Bill pretended to be an Uncle Tom and listened to everything this man said and just smiled and said, "Yes, sir." Later he'd tell us what this bigot said and helped us to see the white world from a black perspective. 
I also remember when he gave a speech at a gathering of teachers--this was when I myself had become a teacher--and his talk was so funny and provocative that many of us gave him a standing ovation. I noticed that others did not seem amused or pleased. Maybe it was the part about quoting his mother who said of someone: "He was so bad he busted the bottom out of hell."
The obit doesn't mention that Bill was gay. I didn't realize this until my senior year and a faculty wife told me, "Bill Cook is as gay as pink ink." I couldn't believe it at first. There was nothing stereotypically gay about Bill, unlike my French teacher, Carmen Precioso (yes, that was his real name!). But whether Bill or gay or not didn't make any difference to me. These two teachers were by far the best I had in high school. Flamboyant and funny, Carmen spoke only French in the classes I took with him. He was passionate about French literature, and we read Camus, Racine, Voltaire and other classic French writers--for which I am deeply grateful.  Bill introduced me to the full range of English and American literature. What a gift these two gay men were in my life! They are probably the reason I have never felt uncomfortable about gay people. After all, where would I be today without them?
I am glad that I was able to get in touch with Bill just before he died (thanks to our mutual friend Peter Bien of Dartmouth College). In a series of emails I let him know how much he meant to me and he reciprocated with kind words of appreciation. In this age when teachers, especially public school teachers, are disrespected, I am glad that I honored a man who transformed countless lives with his love of learning Reading Bill's obit, listing his remarkable achievements as a teacher actor and writer, I realize that I was indeed fortunate and blessed to have a man of Bill Cook's calibre as my teacher and friend. He went from being the chair of English department at Princeton High to the chair of English and Black Studies at Dartmouth, and was one of the most outstanding educators of his generation. He had a far-ranging, agile mind that could make insightful and often unexpected connections between ancient Greek playwrights and contemporary black poets, between Catullus and Charlie Parker. He made literature and drama seem way to cool to be confined to a class room.
Rest in peace, dear friend! I will cherish you in my heart as long as I have breath and can recite Prufrock by heart. 

William W. Cook, 83, of Hanover, NH (formerly of Trenton), died on Monday, May 15, 2017 at the Genesis Center in Lebanon, NH. Born and educated in Trenton, Prof. Cook was a stellar student in the Trenton Public School System. He was the Valedictorian of his graduating class at Trenton State College, where he majored in English. Prof. Cook went on to teach English and Drama in the public school systems of Trenton and Princeton, NJ. He was the Israel Evans Professor of Oratory and Belles Lettres Emeritus at Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH, where he had served as chair of the Departments of English and African American Studies. Prof. Cook also served on several key governing councils and committees at the college, including the Committee Advisory to the President. He served as President, National Chair, and a founding leader of the National Council of Teachers of English, the Conference on College Communication and Composition, and the National Black Theater Conference, respectively. He also led the first years of the Mississippi Delta Teaching Project. In addition to earning a reputation for being one of the most effective educators of his generation, Prof. Cook was also an accomplished poet, author, and production director. His work touched on African American and ancient Greek and Roman poetry and also explored the intersections of music and poetry. Bill was widely known for talents as an illustrator and artist. He had a satiric eye and a clever pen. Son of the late Rev. Cleve Cook, Sr. and Frances Cook, Bill is survived by many nieces and nephews in and around Trenton, including his beloved sister Louise’s son, Leonard Watkins (and wife, Vera). Funeral services will be held on Saturday, May 20, 2017 at 10:00 am at Union Baptist Church, 301 Pennington Ave., Trenton, NJ. Interment will be in Greenwood Cemetery. Calling hours will be held from 9 to 10 am at the church. Arrangements are under the direction of Campbell Funeral Chapel, Trenton.
Published in The Trentonian on May 18, 2017