Monday, December 23, 2013

The girl who saved the world with laughter....

This story was inspired by Yuki Brinton, who told it when I was a student at Pendle Hill twenty five years ago. I'd love to know more about this Japanese festival of laughter and about the folk tale that inspired it. We need stories like these to get us through the winter solstices of our lives.

The Girl Who Saved the World with Laughter

How dark and depressing the winter is! Sometimes, when the sun mopes behind clouds for days and days, I forget what the sun looks like, and I’m afraid that blue skies are history. Cold, rainy Saturdays are the worst: they drag on forever, and everyone in our house gets really bummed out.

 My brother Max and I start fighting about which TV show to watch, and Mom gets so annoyed she turns off the set and shouts at the top of her lungs:

“No TV till you learn how to behave like civilized human beings!”

So we try to be civilized, whatever that means. Max plays with his Nintendo, and I read a book, but after about an hour, I can’t stand it.
I go to Dad and whine, ‘Dad--dy, I’m bo-red.”

   He puts down his newspaper, gives me a dirty look,  and says:

    “Life is boring, kid. Deal with it.”

     So I go over to the window and stare out at the trees with their dark, bony branches. Needle-sharp rain is falling, and the yard looks like a battle zone strewn with toys and lawn furniture we forgot to put away for the winter. Try as I might, I can’t remember how the trees and grass looked when they were green and beaming with life.

     “I hate winter,” I mutter under my breath. An icy wind suddenly shakes the window pane, as if to reply, “I hate you, too!”

    Just then I notice someone coming up our driveway, a tiny woman whose feet barely touch the ground as she walks. It’s Mitsu Ko, our next-door neighbor from Japan.

  When we open the door, the wind sweeps Mitsu Ko into our foyer. Max and I greet her with shouts of joy, for somehow, without even trying, Mitsu Ko always manages to cheer us up.

  “What’s all this commotion about?” Mom calls out from the kitchen in a grumpy voice.

   “I hope I not disturb you and your family,” says Mitsu Ko. “A book on Japanese flower arrangement arrived, and I think maybe you’d like to see it.”

  “Oh, how sweet,” says Mom, smiling for the first time all day. “Mitsu Ko, it’s so kind of you to think of me.”

  Mitsu Ko and Mom go into the kitchen to talk for a while, while my brother and I sit around in the den and get more and more grumpy. Then Mitsu Ko pokes her head into our room and asks, “How you all doing, children?”

  “Don’t ask,” I say.

  “We’re bored,” says Max. “Winter stinks.”

  “I see,” says Mitsu Ko and pauses to think for a moment. “Would you like to hear  story? It’s about special Japanese holiday,  festival of laughter. It may make you smile.”

  “Cool,” my brother says, and for once I agree with him. We settle down to listen to Mitsu Ko as she tells us a story that I’ll never forget.


  Many years ago, before we  Japanese know about Western people and their religion, we believe that God is a woman, and that She lived in the Sun. She created the stars, the earth, the sky, the plants and all the animals. She made people, too, beautiful, yellow-skinned people the color of the sun.

   Everything in the world was alive, even rocks and streams, and everything that lived was happy. The people, too, were happy and grateful just to see the light of the sun. “We are the people of the Sun,” they said, for that is what our name, Nippon, actually means in our language.

  But as time passed, the people of the Sun grew very busy with their own affairs. They built houses which shut out the wind and cold, but which also kept out the Sun. In these houses people learned to keep secrets and to do things they would not do in the light of day. They hoarded things. They cheated and told lies. They quarreled and sometimes they even killed each other. They forgot all about Sun Goddess.

  The Sun Goddess was very disappointed.

  “So, this is how my people behave,” she said sadly. “This is how they treat their mother and creator.”

   Since no one paid her any attention,  She wrapped herself in a big, dark cloud.

  The earth was suddenly dark as night. People waited and waited for the dawn, but it never came. Many days passed without sunlight, and the people were very afraid.

 “What will happen to us?” they cried. “If the sun doesn’t come back, our crops and our animals will die, and then we die, too. What can we do?”

  They wailed and sighed and felt very sorry for themselves, but the Sun Goddess remained hidden.

   “After all,” She thought, “the people did not listen to me when I was nice to them. Now they must learn what life is like without me.”

   In a small village on the Japanese coast lived a girl who loved to play outside in the sun and hated it when her mother calls her indoors. This little girl was very sad when the sun disappeared for she loved the sun best of all.

    She wondered, “Why can I do to bring back sun?” She thought and thought for a long, long time. Then  suddenly an idea came to her like a sunbeam breaking through a cloud.

   “Yes!” she said, and smiled to herself.

   She rushed to her parents’ bedroom and shouted, “Mommy, daddy, I know how to bring the sun back.”  Her parents were huddled in front of their last candle. They just shrugged and paid no attention.

    But the little girl did not lose confidence. She rushed outside and shouted to everyone in the village.

 “I know how to bring the sun back, I know how to bring the sun back.”

  Most people thought that she was crazy, but a few of the wiser ones said, “Why not listen to her? After all, we have nothing to lose.

  So the people followed the little girl to the middle of a field on the outskirts of town. It was dark and cold, and no stars shone because of the cloud that the Sun Goddess had spread like a veil over the earth. The people shivered and were gloomy as they waited for the little girl to bring back the sun.

   The little girl stood in front of the crowd for a long time and said nothing. Then she smiled. Just a tiny little smile.

   “See, I told you the girl has mental problems,” said an old man, smirking.

  “Oh hush up,” said his old wife with a cackle. “You’re no one to talk!”

   Seeing the grown-ups bicker, the girl laughed out loud.

   “What’s that strange noise I hear?” wondered the Sun Goddess as she peeked through the cloud to see what was going on. A sunbeam fell upon the laughing girl and made her feel warm and happy inside.

   “It’s working!” said the girl,  laughing with delight.

    Seeing the girl glow with laughter, the villagers couldn’t help chuckling. Some of the village girls started to titter and giggle. Some of the boys guffawed. Soon everyone was roaring with laughter.

    As the Sun Goddess watched this comical sight, she too began to smile. As she smiled, the clouds parted and blue skies returned with dazzling brilliance.

   “Look,” the people cried. “The sun is back!”

    Now everyone was laughing so hard that  tears poured down their cheeks. For the first time in many years, they sang the praises of the Sun Goddess, saying, “O Mother and Creator, never again will we take you for granted. From now on, whenever the nights grow long and the days short, we will remember to honor You with laughter and singing. We  will thank You for Your life-giving light and for the wonderful universe You have made.

  “And we will choose a little girl to lead our Festival of Laughter, for it was a little girl who taught us to laugh and to sing in the darkness.”

   When the Sun Goddess heard these words, she smiled, and the whole universe shook with glee and merriment.


   As she finishes her story, Mitsu Ko flashes us a big, friendly smile and we smile along with her. Then Mom comes into the room, sees us grinning, and says,

  “My goodness, all your faces are glowing.”

   Mitsu Ko laughs, and explains, “That’s what my name means in Japanese, ‘one who glows.’” Then she gets serious, turns to Mom and says,  “I did not always think it was funny to have that name.”

   Mom walks over to Mitsu Ko and puts her arm around her shoulder.

  “What does Mitsu Ko mean?” I ask. “Why do you look serious and sad all of a sudden?”

   “Mitsu Ko lived in a city called Nagasaki when we dropped the atomic bomb, “ Mom explains. “She survived, but some people were afraid of her afterwards. They thought she might contaminate them with radiation. That’s why Mitsu Ko came to the United States, and why she never married.”

   “That was long time ago,” says Mitsu Ko, her face brightening again.  “Let’s forget about it. It’s not imporant. Now I have many friends, and you treat me like family.  I am very happy and grateful.”

   Mitsu Ko gives us a big hug, and we thank her for telling us a story to cheer us up.

   Then I get an idea.

   “If we’re like your family, can we call you Aunt Mitsu Ko?”

    Mom looks very pleased, and says. “Of course you can. That is, if Mitsu Ko doesn’t mind.”

   “I would be very honored,” says Mitsu Ko,  her face really glowing now.

    Outside the wind is still blowing and the rain still rattles the windows, but inside I feel as if  the Sun Goddess is looking down at us and smiling....


























Thursday, December 5, 2013

Friends Committee on National Legislation and ICUJP


I’m excited to have the opportunity to speak about the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) since ICUJP and FCNL have similar goals and approaches to peace activism. I am going to give you a little history of this Quaker lobbying group, talk about how FCNL does it work, and then suggest ways that we can become involved with some of its legislative campaigns.

I know all of you are familiar with FNCL’s “War is not the answer” slogan. FCNL developed the War is Not the Answer campaign in response to 9/11 as well as U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Since then, FCNL has distributed more than 1 million signs, bumper stickers, and other materials with this statement.
Now I’d like to ask you some questions: Have any of you ever used the FCNL website?

This website is an amazing resource and provides background info on issues, candidate voting records and other info vital for lobbying.

Has anyone ever visited the FCNL office in Washington, DC? The FCNL office in DC is well worth visiting. FCNL has a commitment to environmentalism. When FCLN had to renovate its Civil War era office building in 2003, it became the first LEED certified Green Building on Capitol Hill.

Its new offices are energy efficient, infused with light, and compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. It features a geothermal heating system, “light scoops,” bamboo floors, and vegetative roof. This office is designed to witness to environmental values for generations to come.

If you want to go to DC on the cheap and visit the FCNL office, I recommend staying at the William Penn House—the best deal on the hill--$40 a night for modest, but friendly quarters. It’s only a short walk from William Penn House to the FCNL office and Capitol Hill. Just mention my name and say the Quaker password, Inward Light, and you will be welcome. You won’t get a discount, however.

FCNL is celebrating its 70th anniversary. It is the oldest registered, faith-based lobby in the public interest in Washington, DC. It was founded in 1943, just as the US was entering World War II, and has been a consistent voice for peace and justice ever since.

During its 70 year history FCNL played a pivotal role in the creation of the Peace Corps,[2] was instrumental in lobbying for the creation of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, played an important role in lobbying for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and participated in efforts to oppose the Persian Gulf and Iraq Wars.

FCNL has a General Committee of about 220 Quakers from across the United States. (I was just asked to be on this Committee.)

Almost every Quaker meeting in the US has a liaison to FCNL so its constituency consists of thousands of Quakers who are ready to contact elected officials when asked to do so. Tens of thousands, many of whom are not Quakers, use the FCNL website to learn about issues and contact elected officials. Local Quaker meetings also have input into the policy decisions of FCNL, which are always made by consensus. FCNL advocates on several issues that are extensions of the Quaker testimonies of peace, equality, simplicity, and integrity.

FCNL is inclusive of the broad spectrum of Quaker theological views ranging from Christ-centered to Universalist and non-theist. What is sometimes said about Jews is definitely true of Quakers: if you have ten Quakers in a room, you will have at least a dozen opinions.

Nonetheless, we manage to come to unity using Quaker consensus decision-making process. It isn’t always easy, and it’s sometimes very time-consuming, but it’s definitely worth it: when we finally come to unity, we feel deeply connected to each other and to the Spirit that united us.

FNCL works with other faith-based lobbying groups and has reached out to Muslims in particular to oppose Islamophobia, torture, etc.

FCNL focuses on a wide range of issues, including ending drone warfare, reducing the military budget, supporting Native American concerns, nonviolent conflict resolution in Africa, and the environment. There are some issues, such as abortion, that we don’t have unity on, so we don’t deal with them. I was part of the revision of FCNL’s 6,000-word policy statement that provides guidance to lobbyists. This document was vetted by hundreds of Quakers throughout the US using consensus decision-making.

FNCLs not only opposes war, it also has a positive vision, summed up in this mission statement:

The world we seek

We seek a world free of war and the threat of war
We seek a society with equity and justice for all
We seek a community where every person's potential may be fulfilled
We seek an earth restored

During its annual meeting, FCNL gives out awards to elected officials who are making a significant contribution to peace and justice. Recent awardees include:

2013: Sen. Jeff Merkley (OR), for promoting a sensible strategy for ending the U.S. war in Afghanistan and for leading this effort for successive years in the U.S. Senate.

2012: Sen. Richard Lugar (IN), for his exemplary leadership in promoting nuclear weapons reductions and disarmament.

2011:Rep. Jim McGovern (MA) and Rep. Walter Jones (NC) received this award for their leadership in promoting a sensible strategy to end the war in Afghanistan.

2010: Sen. Maria Cantwell (WA), for addressing the most serious threat to life on our planet and a growing driver of violent conflict, and for her efforts to build peace and to restore a right relationship with the earth

In addition to encouraging our elected officials to do the right thing, FCNL also has a vital young leadership development and intern program. It has 30 full-time equivalent staff, two thirds of whom are under thirty and are being mentored by seasoned Quaker lobbyists. Many of these interns go on to become leaders in nonprofits and electoral politics.

Our keynote speaker this year was Reza Aslan, author of the best-selling book “Jesus the Zealot.” Reza was an FCLN intern when he graduated from college.

These young interns and leaders help brief us on the current issues, set up meetings, and provide lobbying tips, such as:

1) Stay focused on one or two issues.

2) Thank the elected official or aide for what they have done right.

3) Include a specific ask.

4)  Follow up. Remember you are more effective if you establish a relationship with the official.

Currently FCNL has various campaigns, two of which are its primary focus:

1) Call for a trillion dollar reduction in military spending over the next decade,  no cuts to needed social program.

2)  Repeal the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF).

Besides engaging in timely campaigns, FCNL is also trying to address the broad question: “If war is not the answer, what is?” Top peace activists from the American Friends Service Committee and FCNL worked together to produce a document called “Shared Security,” which outlines a nonviolent alternative to current US foreign policy. This comes with a study guide to help to stimulate thinking about how to create a culture of peace.

Now that I am officially part of FCNL, I am more eager than ever to help organize delegations to go to offices of representatives, including Adam Schiff, Judy Chu and Senators Boxer and Feinstein. I hope that FCNL and ICUJP can work together to end endless wars and promote shared security.