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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.