Thursday, February 3, 2011

Peace and freedom in the Middle East, in our hearts, and elsewhere

Like many of you, I have been following with keen interest the developments in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere--thrilled that Arabs are taking to the streets to demand an end to tyranny and corruption, and calling for democracy and freedom. I also feel a certain apprehension and concern. Will people power prevail? Or will dictatorship and the empire's business-as-usual reassume its control? Let's pray for freedom and democracy, and remind ourselves that people power can succeed and has brought about positive social transformation in Eastern Europe, the Philippines and many other places. It can happen even here!

I am especially impressed with this article by Stephen Zunes, a Quaker professor of Middle East Studies who has written a fine piece for YES magazine:

As clerk of the Peace and Social Order Committee of Pacific Yearly Meeting (California's unprogrammed Quakers), I convene a monthly conference call for interested Friends. This month we had an especially good turnout (9 people) and a rich discussion.

Here's a summary of what we discussed for those of you who are interested in what Friends are doing to promote peace and justice:

Alvero Alverado and Patricia Portillo of Sacramento Meeting shared an inspiring report about how their Meeting has started a scholarship fund so that undocumented students can attend Sacramento State U. It is difficult for undocumented students since they are not eligible for financial aid, through no fault of their own. Over 65,000 high school students who graduate in California are undocumented. Sacramento Friends have raised $3,000 to help three students receive scholarships. An article about this project was published in the November issue of The Western Friend.

Laurel Gord, a member of Santa Monica Meeting and clerk of FCL-CA, is coordinating with other groups to put together an interest group on racism in our criminal justice system, based on the book "The New Jim Crow" by Michelle Alexander. She wants to work with AVP, AFSC, etc.. It was suggested she get in touch with AFSC interim director Laura Magnani and Dottie Vura-Weiss, clerk of Latin America Concerns. Xenophobia as well as racism plays a big role in our criminal justice system.

Michael Dunn of Inland Valley Meeting shared about the racism and xenophobia among the police in Riverside country, and how they are impounding cars of undocumented workers under the guise of enforcing the DUI law. Michael expressed interest in taking part in the workshop that Laurel is proposing.

Michael Dunn also expressed concern about the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and how these wars are draining the federal budget. Cuts in the military should be a priority. We need to be vocal about this. It was suggested that we show the film "War Made Easy" at the PYM gathering.

Stephen McNeil, AFSC staff, mentioned the "New Priorities" network (which deals with war and the economy) and also provided other links for the following activities:

FCNL workshop proposal: Peaceful Prevention of Deadly Conflict: What bipartisan efforts are going on with FCNL supporters aid and what local activists in the San Francisco Bay Area are doing to prevent genocide or mass atrocities.

Social Fairness and Ecological Integrity: Strategy and Action For a Moral Economy with Keith Helmuth, George Lakey, Phil Emmi, Sandra Lewis and Shelley Tanenbaum March 4 - 6, 2011

Anthony mentioned that Santa Monica Friends approved a minute calling for a sustainability coordinator at PYM to track our carbon footprint and to suggest ways we can be more earth-friendly. He suggests that other Meeting consider such a minute, which is also being recommended by FCUN.

Jeff Kroeber told us he is involved in the newly begun Silicon Valley Interreligious Council, which is holding its first formal meeting on March 6.

Lucia Van Diepen, Liveoak and Marin County, spoke movingly of homelessness, and how a homeless man appeared at her meeting in Marin wet to the bone after the recent storms, and asked for help. This man spurred the meeting to take action. Poverty is a form of violence. She is active with an interreligious group called "Open Table" that is helping the homeless. 12 people help or guide one homeless person over a year or two period with the goal of enabling him or her to become self-sufficient. How can we bring about the abolition of homelessness? What part can Friends play in this social transformation? Interest group?

Laurel spoke of Housing First movement in LA, to help homeless people with drug and alcohol problems.

Lucia also spoke about the meals provided at Dorothy's House and how she has helped start a very viable worship group at Soledad State prison. Three members of her Meeting attend regularly and a 4th is interested. They have brought Faith and Practice to Soledad and the prisoners are very interested in Quakerism and silent worship.

David Chandler of Visalia Meeting received a minute of support for his interest group on the truth about 9/11. There was talk of inviting David Griffin.

Anthony spoke about his interfaith workshop and how he might include discussion of FWCC and the upcoming Triennial in Kenya. Anthony is a PYM rep to FWCC and believes "intra-faith" work is just as important as interfaith work. Because PYM is taking place in Claremont, he plans to invite Bill Lesher, one of the leaders of the Parliament of World's Religion, who just retired to Pilgrim Place.

Anthony closed the meeting by calling for prayers for the people of Tunisia, Egypt and other parts of the Arab world who are yearning for freedom and democracy, and are putting their lives on the line.

Our meeting ended silent worship and deep gratitude.

Our next meeting will take place on Feb. 28, the final Monday of the month, at 8:00 PM.

Here's a meditation from a Sufi friend of mine who borrowed it, I believe, from the Buddhists:


"May I be happy; May I be well; May I be filled with kindness and peace!" (repeat 5-10 or more times ... :)

"May you be happy; May you be well; May you be filled with kindness and peace!" (repeat 5-10 or more times ... :)

"May we be happy; May we be well; May we be filled with kindness and peace!" (repeat 5-10 or more times ... :)

When you say 'you', think of (or imagine) one person at a time, and specially of one who you have most intense trouble/issue with ...

and when you say 'we', think of small groups first and then extend it to the entire planet ... local to global ...

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