Archive for the ‘diversity’ Category

Communion at the Voting Booth

November 4, 2008

I wasn’t prepared for what happened to me in the voting booth.

I’d thought it out carefully. I’d vote around 10:30, after the people who worked in offices had had their morning chance. It was a good plan. My polling place is in the lobby of a high-rise housing project in Manhattan. There are about six electoral districts that vote there. My ED had two voting machines. (There was only one for the primary.) 

Things looked pretty well organized. First you gave a worker your street address, and she told you which ED you were and what table you had to sign in at. That line was my longest wait–but only ten minutes. I was voter number 388. Spirits were high. One family was there with their children, taking them into the voting booth.

The line for the booths was only a few minutes. My card was collected and the machine was set for me by a fiercely focused African American woman who called me “dear” as she held the curtain for me.

I always forget that I have to cock the machine by throwing the big red lever to the right, so at first I couldn’t get the small toggle by Obama’s name to go down. A moment of panic until I remembered the lever thing.

Click, click, click, click, down the list of candidates, my congresswoman, judges, my state assemblyman–an impressive young man I’m happy is running again.

I stood there for a moment looking at what I had done, looking at the toggles that were turned down beside the names and the Xs in the boxes. I felt two things at once. I felt both deeply centered inside myself and standing outside space and time. It was a moment like no other. I took a long breath and swung the big red lever back to the left.

And then I began to sob. Wracking, shaking sobs welling up from that center I’d been inhabiting, as tears poured from my eyes.

I steadied myself against the lever, as I recall, inhaled, and turned to leave the booth. As I pulled the curtain aside, I met the eyes of the woman who had let me into the booth. 

She looked at me. She more than looked at me, she took me in. “Did you do it?” she said. I nodded. She nodded, too.

And the rest of my tears began to flow. Outside the building, in the sun, I leaned against the brick wall and cried some more until I was able to collect myself.

I spent this spring and summer working on Oxford University Press’s Encyclopedia of African American History from 1896 to the Present(In other words from Plessy v. Ferguson to Mos Def.) I’ve worked on many of OUP’s African American titles in the past ten years. The set is locked down and ready to go to the presses, except for the open sections that an editorial team is waiting to fill in based on what happens today.

I have worked, as I said, on many of these projects, on the biographical dictionaries, on other encyclopedia sets, on the collected works of W. E. B. Du Bois. It’s been a privilege and an honor and so humbling to learn the life stories of so many astounding men and women. But this encyclopedia of events, half of which happened in my lifetime, sunk me deeper and deeper into despair as I absorbed how pervasive and unacknowledged, unseen, and unknown the racism of this country is.

This morning I got to push back at all that. This morning I got to say–despite what I absorbed growing up with de facto segregation in the public schools of Pennsylvania, where the black kids sat in the back row and rode in the back of the bus–No. This is the person who is best for the job. This is the person I want to represent me to the rest of the world.

“Did you do it?” she asked. I nodded.


‘Father Jake Stops the World’ Stops

July 3, 2008

As the FUM Triennial approaches I have been somewhat aware, through the pressure of my editing deadlines, of the continuing struggle in the Anglican Church. I also saw the news (but didn’t study it) that the assembly of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. has voted to ordain non-celibate gay and lesbian clergy and will now go through a year-long process of having its individual congregations ratify the decision–or not.

Thinking to catch up on some of this news before I leave for the Triennial on July 8, I checked into ‘Father Jake’ after a long hiatus and found, in a post dated July 2, that Jake is closing down his blog. I’m sad about that, but Jake sounds clear and rightly led in his decision.

I encourage you to explore the site before Jake takes it down. There are many, many links on it to interesting and informative sites. And there are some thought-provoking essays.

These are the words from Father Jake that I want to take away with me:

Am I abandoning the struggle? Some might see it that way. But, as I’ve said before, even though there are most likely many more difficult years ahead of us, I am no longer as concerned about the end result as I once was. In the long run, there is simply no way that the extremist perspective will become the dominant one within Anglicanism or Christianity. Their exclusive view, which insists on separating humanity into groups of “us” and “them,” simply cannot survive in a world in which we are all becoming more and more connected each day. A global perspective will not tolerate their kind of elitist mentality. Nor will such a perspective tolerate the same kind of rhetoric here. So, I think it is time for me to do the responsible thing.

Yes, we must continue to speak out against those who will use the name of God to oppress and imprison the innocent. But, it seems to me, that cannot be our sole focus.

The Pews Forum survey still has me reflecting. 92% of Americans believe in God. That is astounding! We’ve got some great conversations just waiting to happen beyond the walls of the Church. For me, at least, I think it is time to end this focus on internal squabbles, and begin to look outward.

As I prepare to leave the FUM board on July 13 after representing New York Yearly Meeting for six years, I am wondering what looking outward will mean. I know that I am burned out. And I know that I am to take a sabbatical from New York Yearly Meeting.

Great conversations waiting to happen beyond the Church walls . . . .


What Quakers Would You Most Like to Be Rid Of?

October 25, 2007

Over on “Father Jake Stops the World,” I found this quote from the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church USA, Katharine Jefferts Schori:

One of my predecessors was fond of saying, “in this church there will be no outcasts.” I concur, and I challenge each one of us to consider who it is we would most like to be rid of. That person, my friends, is the image of Christ in our midst. There will be no outcasts in this church, whether because of sexual orientation or theological perspective. God has given us to each other, to love and to learn from each other. May God bless each and every part of this body.

What Quakers would you most like to be rid of?

Are they the image of Christ?

What does it mean if they are? 

And who am I the image of Christ to? Who are you?

The Episcopal Church, the Anglican Communion, and FUM

September 26, 2007

It’s featured news in the New York Times for September 26 that the Episcopal bishops in North America have disagreed with the worldwide Anglican Communion on LGBTQ issues and are coming closer and closer to schism.

Thanks to Father Jake I found a blog called Anglican Resistance. There a priest named Bill Carroll has posted “My Word to the Church.” It’s a message that feels like vocal ministry to me.

Yes. I do understand that this Anglican Communion is the one whose liturgical church services George Fox kept busting up. And yet. . . . And yet. . . . I keep hearing a cry for faithfulness, for humility, and for unity in God’s love from these hireling ministers that calls to me. 

What can I learn from these priests and bishops?

Can I come to see my own struggle with the diversity of worldwide Quakerism more clearly by walking beside them for a while?