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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Back in the Day: 1970

Richard Rohr's daily meditation on Archtypal religion todayhis idea that Jesus himself spoke against permanence taking over the spirit of faithmade me remember the 1970s at Clark University in Worcester, MA, where I earned my BA degree during student strikes and the last three years of the American Vietnam War.  A small group of us  visited Goddard and Roger Williams Colleges to research Universities without walls and came back home to Worcester to start our own branch:

We called our course “Social Gut in a Nut” and supplemented it with neighborhood action from a storefront—“If you need a degree, you should have been born with one,” we said, and assisted walk-ins from G.E.D. to Universities Without Walls. “Get degrees for what you do well,” we said. But the immigrants who entered our store believed in hard work and weren’t buying “Beat the system” sessions on how to pass tests and other barriers. American dreams mattered less to them than dignity, so we helped with high school diplomas and food stamps much more than welfare and B.A.s.  

And this changed us.   

Where we had railed against hypocrisy, we now sought structures with built in change, rotating leadership and planned self-destruction. We kept records and rules in a cardboard box no bigger
than a bread box and destroyed overflow from the beginning, keeping the latest decisions only, process now more than history. 

But some few should have written the story of this 9-month old storefront before it disappeared. Not a relic on archival shelves, it also does not model optimism and action for those wrestling with crusty rules in living communities, systematic isms ever recycled and inability to see outside the boxes we clean and replenish with the same smelly litter.

I am back in those lessons today as I join other Quakers to “Undo Racism” by examining white privilege and systematic supremacy in our own meetings. I look for footholds in the apparently set processes and structures I am part of: "House cleaning begins in our own homes." I know we can dismantle instead of continuing exclusionary practices. More than surface faith will be needed, however, to be willing to pare down even what we think essential.  Existence is not all. With the model of prophets like Jesus we can forge new paths, and write a memo to our future selves: Destruct at the first sign of holding person and power over change and flow.  

Destruct when systems overtake missions and integrity.


  1. "Destruct when systems overtake missions and integrity" - I like this, while noting that there are also times for *remembering* history, for the lessons it teaches and the wisdom it can impart, in addition to keeping old files down to breadbox-size.

  2. Susan, you know I am married to a pastor in the United Church of Christ, the Congregational cousins of Friends and the Unitarian Universalists, among others. We constantly wrestle with the notion that Jesus would be appalled at the concept of churches - and yet, churches are where we gather, as with temple, to pray and say and teach and listen and learn. It's a paradox. We also struggle with general church construct, the "it's always been that way," vs. the "it's been that way for too long, throw the baby out with the bathwater" of younger folks. Hard to keep the balance. Lex and I were both activists by calling, which meant both working and volunteering for many not-for-profit organizations. The frustration of wanting to offer X to people when they really want something else! We used to say, "No wonder the government ignores US. We are acting like the government, trying to force our own agenda on these folks." But we listened, and they taught us what we needed to know in order to work in partnership. Community organizing is where I really learned to listen. Having been homeless and drug-addled in my youth helped me as well... Thanks so much for this. Sending link to Lex, too! Amy

  3. I think Jesus would dislike dogma much more than churches and faiths. I myself like ceremony and need rules, if only to have something to help me see in contrast or comparison. I think balance is possible--with a few mighty swings one way or t'other. It's possible, as you have done, to include listening and integrity in any ministry. And, gosh, it's so good to know a little more about you!


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