Living Under the Influence (of Culture)

I am at a place when things are swirling around in my mind and spirit.  On the one hand I welcome these times, because I know from past experience these are times of growth.  I love the expression “outside your comfort zone”.  As I get more experience with life, I find myself actively seeking occasions where I can get outside my own comfort zone.  Life is short, so why not push the boundaries as far as you can?  Once you break through a boundary, you find a whole new vista before you.  On the other hand, who doesn’t like being comfortable?

Recent experiences that have helped me with being uncomfortable include getting involved with the Keystone Pledge of Resistance, with the opportunities to make deep friendships and work with people willing to risk arrest to try to raise public awareness of our environmental crisis.  Engaging with the Kheprw Institute (KI), and making deep friendships, discussing difficult issues in a public place, and learning by seeing how the people there live exemplary lives.  Maintaining ties with my friends involved with local Black Lives Matter issues.  Most recently getting involved with the folks at White Pine Wilderness Academy, and beginning to make deep friendships there, and benefitting from their connections with Native Americans, and hoping to have similar opportunities with them.

But then there are the continuous images of our country’s military incursions all over the world, and knowing how the vast military budget consumes the resources our citizens so desperately need for dignified life.  There is no more glaring failure than to know millions of children and adults live in hunger, and far too many without even shelter.

All of those situations churn up ugly parts of our dominate culture.  The more you learn about our historic treatment of Native Americans and Black people, the worse it gets.  Its no wonder the dominate culture rewrites history and our children’s textbooks.

Our dominant culture has fallen for the false promises of materialism while at the same time creating a spiritual vacuum and a crisis of values.  “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

At North Meadow Circle of Friends (Quaker) meeting, we are studying the book “Fit for Freedom, Not for Friendship:  Quakers, African Americans, and the Myth of Racial Justice”, by Donna McDaniel and Vanessa Julye.

Vanessa Julye, who is African American, wrote “When I joined the Society of Friends I believed that Quakers of European descent had a wonderfully special relationship with Friends and non-Friends of African descent.  Thus the book provided the opportunity I needed to understand what had happened to this relationship.  I learned that the relationship in which I believed had never existed.  As a whole community the Religious Society of Friends through the centuries has always reflected the beliefs and cultural practices of mainstream North American society.”  page  xix

In our first meeting to discuss this book, we struggled to understand how anyone could justify enslaving another person.  How especially Quakers, who say they believe “there is that of God in everyone” could be involved in the slave trade, and enslaving people themselves.  And the only, unsatisfying answer anyone could come up with was that they didn’t see Black people as people.  How much effort, and spiritual cost, did that take on the part of the enslaver, let alone the many much more severe costs to the enslaved?  Quakers live in the culture of their time, then and now.

As someone wisely asked at the time of the discussion, what things are we doing today that are similarly wrong, just because they are part of our current culture?

I used to wonder about Friends’ idea of a “guarded” education.  Now it is clear to me that they were hoping to teach us (as Scattergood Friends and other Quaker schools have done) to try to be aware of the dangers of the culture we live in.

This is all the more important in today’s culture of materialism and militarism and spiritual void.  The Advices and Queries Friends meetings use, questions about how we are living our lives right now, are one useful way to force our attention to these cultural dangers.

One of the reasons participating in things like Black Lives Matter, and trying to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline and respect Native rights, is because these movements are shining a light on the ongoing injustices of our dominant society.  For our own spiritual good, we need to get involved with these things ourselves.  We need to start from the assumption that there is much in our dominant culture that needs to change.  What things do we accept because “that’s the way things are”, that are actually unacceptable?

As just one example, because this has been a lifelong issue for me, now that there is no question about how much damage driving a personal automobile does to our environment, doesn’t that tell you that you have to get rid of your fossil fuel burning car, and support mass transit and walkable communities now?

Doesn’t it mean that we have to change policing practices now so that families of people of color don’t have to teach their children how to interact with police in a manner that hopefully won’t get them killed?

Doesn’t it mean that we finally honor Native rights, especially when doing so can save us from our own environmental destruction?

We have to stop living under the influence of culture.  Sometimes it helps to look from a different perspective.  What do you think future generations will think about the way we are living now?  In the environment they will be living in, with much higher temperatures and more frequent and violent storms, and rising seas and flooding, scarce food and clean water?

As I have been writing lately, and as Rev. William Baber has admonished us in a recent article in Friends Journal, it is time for Quakers to get back into the public square to speak about these things.

“One of our people in the Native community said the difference between white people and Indians is that Indian people know they are oppressed but don’t feel powerless. White people don’t feel oppressed, but feel powerless. Deconstruct that disempowerment. Part of the mythology that they’ve been teaching you is that you have no power. Power is not brute force and money; power is in your spirit. Power is in your soul. It is what your ancestors, your old people gave you. Power is in the earth; it is in your relationship to the earth.”  ― Winona LaDuke

The parts of Friends’ history that continue to help us today are the lessons that teach “power is in your spirit.”

 

 

 

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