Last Night at the Frederick Peace Meeting

An impressive group of Frederick citizens exercised their constitutional rights and civic duties last night in thoughtful, impassioned dialogue concerning the planned Fort Detrick multi-agency expansion (which includes the Departments of Agriculture, Defense, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security.)


An articulate lifelong activist expressed her concern that necessary security precautions might screen the illicit activities of a small but powerful paranoid minority. What if a secret few rationalized production of dangerous new viruses? Wouldn’t those new viruses be subject to misuse, terrorism, theft, accidents, and carelessness? Even with past assurances, she thought, bad things can happen. They’ve happened before.


A caring, erudite scientist advocated cool heads, citing good intentions, expertise, experience, safety, and the many advantages of the planned diagnostic and protective research for both soldiers and citizenry.


A thoughtful businessman offered practical suggestions on how to continue to spread the group's concerns and ideas–where concerned citizens might go and whom they might see–the mayor, Ft. Detrick leaders, members of Congress. He encouraged continued participation in the issue.


A young Quaker pacifist asked how everyone felt about working cooperatively with Ft. Detrick to assure transparency and open processes? Did the group still hope to influence Ft. Detrick to reverse itself on the expansion in general?


No compromises, urged a war-weary longtime activist, suspicious after many years of uphill battles. What if we collaborate while new strains of deadly viruses are weaponized? What if the Ft. Detrick expansion begins a new arms race in biological weapons as uncontrollable and dangerous in this brave new world as the current arms races in nuclear bombs, missiles, and conventional air, sea, and land weaponry?


A retired teacher wondered aloud whether the expansion might attract terrorists to Frederick. What if someone lobbed a bomb over the post perimeter fence from a home in any of the nearby neighborhoods? It’s not only the loss of lives and property, she added wistfully. Wouldn’t there be a national panic over the possible biological contents of floating and falling debris? Would that panic be legitimate?


The possibility of a bomb alarmed a tireless peace worker who handles much of the group’s paper and phone work. Nothing in the Ft. Detrick report said anything about a bomb, she worried, passing chocolates down the conference table (the group was temporarily meeting at a nursing home where she was recovering from a stroke.) A bomb. What about all our lifelong Frederick friends, family, our grandchildren?


The Peace Resource Center’s founder, a selfless, peaceful activist and community leader for more than twenty years, sought consensus by restating what he had heard from all of us:  Were we still hoping to prevent the Detrick expansion? Or were we willing to continue to strongly share our concerns while working for transparency and openness in all processes?


A firm “NO” came from a knowledgeable woman who dons black clothing to conduct public evening vigils in solidarity with women everywhere suffering from violence. What would spending this money tell the world about our national priorities? How could America throw money at potential threats when so many here and abroad are suffering and dying right now from real and present threats, like preventable diseases and malnutrition?


A soft-spoken newcomer wondered aloud whether bioterrorism research was at all suited for a military base, especially a base historically synonymous in the minds of the international community with biological warfare. Was it wise to deliberately inflame international perceptions? Why create more fear and anger? Even if U.S. actions are unimpeachable, will anyone trust our intentions, given our bioweapons history, our military presence in hundreds of bases all over the world, the size of our defense budget, our use of atomic weapons, and our current proactive conduct of the war on terror?


One powerful citizen offered a European perspective: All this focus on terrorism–wasn't it just serving the interests of those who might wish to divert national attention away from greater threats to our homeland’s  security—our unpopular foreign policies and wars, our national debt and deficit, our lack of living wages, unaffordable health care, housing, and higher education, our troubled education system, our threatened civil and political rights, our beleaguered environment?  And what about our fights against drugs, pornography, alcohol, crime, low moral standards, and imprisonment? Aren’t these threats endangering our beloved country’s security right now, every bit as as much or even more than potential acts of terrorism?


A young collegian who had listened in silence spoke out in challenging yet measured terms. If you want young people to support your efforts, he said, don’t water this stuff down. Speak up. Take a stand. Be clear. If you know what you want, go after it. I think we should oppose the expansion.


A cacophony of sharing and side-conversations ended the meeting. We can still do some good…. We can support needed work without supporting secrecy and dangerous experimentation…. Let’s talk more at our next meeting about our films-for-peace  project…. You can’t control technology—didn’t you see Jurassic Park?… You just have to be careful…. Are you coming to the peace conference?… Can the rewards match such risks?… Someone should write all this up…. Hugs…warm handshakes…. That new website looks great…. Courage…. How is your family?… Want a ride home?… Here, take this candy…. Good-bye good-bye, until next time.


(The people and ideas shared in this article are composites of attendees and opinions exchanged at recent meetings. The Peace Resource Center of Frederick invites constructive participation and objective debate on this and other issues. They meet at 4 East Church St. on the 2nd and 4th Tuesdays of each month from 7:30-9:30 pm.)

Acceptance 8 – Where do I start with acceptance, on myself or others?

I'd say start with learning to accept others. You can start with both if you like, but if you want to choose one to focus on first without confusing yourself or getting distracted, start by accepting others, or even one other person. People are pretty much just about as hard on themselves as they are on others–or on the other hand, as easy on themselves as they are on others. When you can learn to give everyone else a lot of slack, along with the space to be fallible human beings and make lots of mistakes, you'll find that suddenly you're giving yourself a lot more slack too. And during the time you're not walking around feeling guilty and angry and resistant and resentful about not being perfect, you just might do some good.

If you're hard on everyone else, even just mentally, what room do you leave yourself? What room have you left yourself, to fall and stumble and flail around–which we're all going to do, whether we like it or not, forever. Failure, mistakes, weaknesses, they're inevitable. None of us is ever going to get everything, or anything, right. We're human beings! We're made that way! Please notice that.

Failing and messing up are among the things all humans regularly do. So why not, while we're all messing up, be good to others, be easy on others, forgive them, let up on them a bit, give them a break and some slack and try not to worry about their wrongness or rightness or goodness or badness. When you take such an approach, surprise–you'll find that you, yourself, are a lot nicer to be with on those long dark lonely nights and dark early mornings when you're lying alone and lonely in your bed and all your own big and little mistakes that you ever made want to get up in your face.

When you've learned to give others more slack, you'll find to your delight that you'll let your own mistakes and weaknesses go too, just as you let everyone else's mistakes go. You'll also be prepared to make even more mistakes, because that too is the human thing to do, at least when you're attempting anything challenging, when you're thinking big and reaching for your dreams.

And your own self-acceptance will feel good, so good that you might wake up in the morning willing to try again, unlike the way you felt on all the other morning-after-the-other-nights when you spent all night kicking yourself around. Remember those mornings, when you woke up angry and kicking at anyone who crossed your path, and just generally resisting and not accepting, and making everything worse?

Isn't it immoral to accept something that's wrong?

So what is morality? Isn't morality about living a happy life, getting along with people and helping each other and being kind and having fun and celebrating life? Isn't morality about treating everyone else the way you would like to be treated? About treating everyone the way you wish everyone would treat each other?

What isn't morality is: being judgmental, critical, huffy, angry, picky, demanding, unkind, unfriendly, snobby, haughty, holier-than-thou, etc. Who would want others to treat them that way when they made a mistake? Or failed? Or were weak? How would we like  people to treat us when we've failed? We want them to pick us up, dust us off, love us for the special unique people we are and send us on our way again. In other words, we want people to accept us, warts and all, as we go along trying to find our way in this world. Morality is about treating others as we wish they would treat us.

People who are accepting of themselves and others and the world as it is, just as it is, just as we are, are the kindest, most giving, most loving and happiest people in the world. And the most moral.

But if everyone accepted “what is,” nothing would ever change, right?

If everyone accepted “what is,” then everything would change. People who accept others “as is” have no reason to be unkind to them or reject them or be unfriendly to them. Imagine a world where everyone accepted everyone else, as is. If everyone accepted “what is,” everyone would go about doing whatever interested them most, instead of beating each other up, or blowing each other up, pushing people around, insisting that they live up to some particular version of right and good….

If everyone were accepting, more people would live and let live. If more people just accepted themselves “as is,” more people would feel good and get a lot more good work done. If the whole world accepted the rest of the whole world “as is,” then everyone could go about their business living life and not worrying about what everybody else was doing. Of course, that's a big if, but I use it to make a point, that acceptance does lead to a lot of good changes.

So what if I decided to try acceptance, where do I start?

Start by letting go of the past and future, just for now. Let go of how you were and who you want to be, just for now. And also, just for now, be OK with your own life, who you are right now and everyone in your life too, as is. That's it. Just for now. That's acceptance. For this moment. For today. You've got it. There's nothing more to it than that, nothing more complicated. And what about when you wake up tomorrow? What do you do about acceptance then? Try it again. It gets easier. And your life will get better.

Next: Acceptance seems to work, but it's so hard. Any suggestions? Help?




How I See the World (Today)

Every person creates his or her own unique “reality.” Reality is not something “out there,” but something “in here,” created (during youth) as each person’s unique brain interacts with its particular environment, attempting to make some kind of systematic and predictable sense out of the relatively narrow set of confusing experiences and nonsense correlations it is confronted with. Thus, each individual arrives at adulthood with a unique belief system and worldview different from any other's. Much of adult learning consists of unlearning what we came to “know” about life in childhood that doesn’t happen to be so.


No one’s perspective is complete, or objective, or “right.” No one knows what he doesn’t know. No one ever achieves a complete understanding of anything, nor will anyone ever get anything completely “right” or “perfect”—no goal, no relationship, no choice, no idea—except, of course, that we are all perfect and right in the sense that we are all at every moment just exactly what we were meant to be, i.e., perfectly human.


Nature reveals a lot about the way my-unique-view-of-God works. “By the work, ye know the workman.” Nothing in nature or science contradicts anything I think or believe.


People are a completely natural part of nature.


Every person is born capable of the complete and astonishing range of human behavior, from the depths of depravity to the pinnacles of goodness.


It is written in the (very fallible but often wonderful) Bible, that when God “created” man and nature, he declared that both were “good.” I like the wisdom here. Who are we to argue with God, to call ourselves fallen and evil and sinners, when the creation-God of so many cultures has declared us “good,” and the earth good, just exactly as we are, just exactly as it is? We are exactly as God intended us to be—capable of all things, on this best of all possible worlds. We did lose peace, though, when we chose to see ourselves as separate from each other and God/higher power, and thus somehow shameful. (If you don't believe in a higher power, sin and evil and hell and such aren't issues for you….)


It’s interesting and fun to try to figure everything out, but only if you approach life as a wonderful surprising adventurous process with no goal at all but what you are doing right now—and not as an impossibly difficult and dangerous maze with a mysterious end  reward or goal. But whatever way you choose to look at life, you’ll still never figure it all out or get it “right.”


Since none of us knows what we don’t know, and since we don’t know what part of what we know isn’t so, then with each moment-to-moment choice we make, we act out of a  particular belief system, which is, in a sense, our unique and chosen faith about “how things work.”


There are two very general but very different things one can choose to put one’s faith in: fear or love. We all grow up with a mixture of the two faiths.


In any given decision moment, we decide to put our faith into either the one or the other–but we can never choose both at the same time, because fear and love can’t coexist in any one mind in the same instant.


The word “love” as I use it comprises all the good stuff humans are capable of—caring, hoping, kindness, forgiveness, acceptance, gentleness, giving….


The word “fear” as used here comprises all the bad stuff we’re capable of—like defending, attacking, controlling, hurting, hating, anger, greed, pride….


All of us have learned a lot of very reasonable, logical, arguable, cultural and personal reasons why we shouldn’t choose to act with faith in love in various situations. However, if we decide we want to, we can learn to recognize and drop each of these barriers to love, one by one, by seeing them as beliefs that don’t serve life very well. We can unlearn them, moment-to-moment.


Whichever way we decide to go, both kinds of faith–faith in fear or faith in love–are shots in the dark. In fact, that is what faith is, a shot in the dark. Faith is acting as though you know something to be true, when actually you don’t, at least not unarguably. You never know anything for sure–no matter how strong your faith–but you still have to choose how to act. Faith is choosing to act as if you know something and trust something for sure, when you don’t.


You can act, moment-to-moment, as if you know that being loving will out work for the best in the long run for you and for everyone else. Or, you can act as if you know that things will work out for the best if you choose to “fight back,” defending and protecting yourself against all the bad stuff you see in others.


All decisions and all actions, large or small, require courage, and all people (even those labeled the most “evil” in history) take only the actions they’ve decided will work best for them, based on what they think they know and don’t know.


“Love beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.” Being a loving person means having faith in the good intentions and sincerity of all others, all the time. We need to “believe” what others tell us, even when what they tell us seems completely unbelievable–because in some respect, from their viewpoint, they do believe it.


As Jesus was crucified, he said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” We need to forgive ourselves and each other all our mistakes, small and large, because we are all  just wandering around and acting in the dark, doing the best we can, and you can never know what choices makes sense from another person’s worldview, or why. Besides, you'll never “forgive and forget” your own mistakes until you first learn to forgive and forget the mistakes of others. And the weight of constant self-judgment is exhausting.


When you treat all others as you would like all people to treat you, you are acting out of a faith in love. When you make an exception to this universal rule, which is the foundation of all human ethics, morals, and religions everywhere in the world, you are acting out of your faith in fear.


When you come from a mental place of being “right,” (“I am right about this”) you automatically make all the people who disagree with you “wrong,” which doesn’t work very well either.


Everyone, without exception, is deserving of our respect for their courageous (or timid) efforts to negotiate a life that is often difficult and painful, and always challenging and confusing.


“Vengeance is mine saith the Lord” means, “Vengeance isn’t yours.” Things may not seem fair or just from our own narrow perspectives, but God has a different, bigger, better, longer, more just picture, one we usually don’t get. We can ask him to share it with us, though. When confronted with problems, I often ask God to help me “see” things his way. And so he does.


God gives us all the good spiritual gifts we ask for—strength, insight, wisdom, help, comfort, understanding, forbearance, patience, and all the others, which can make a huge, even miraculous, difference. If we feel bereft, it’s because we haven’t asked for help. I don't think that God interferes with nature, but rather, works with it.


When we act out of fear, we deprive ourselves of the nicest state in the world, feeling harmless and safe and loved and lovable and peaceful.


Others generally will treat you the way you treat them. Others generally will see you the way you see them. So if you want others to start seeing you and treating you caringly, you go first. And be really patient—it can take a long time to change old patterns, both yours and theirs.


We can decide to look at the world and people lovingly, or we can decide to see the world and others fearfully, moment-to-moment, over and over again. Our lives and choices are not about “what’s out there.” Everything we see and do is always about “what’s in here.”


I choose to live as much as possible as if the past and future don’t really exist. This approach has a lot of freeing implications concerning “identity” (i.e., it’s much more fun to think of yourself as nothingness-full-of-possibility than to drag around a heavy burden of past and future.) The present is the only time I can be happy, be creative, can give and receive, can fully experience life; I’ve also found that whenever I notice I’m afraid or mad or sad, I can be sure I’ve been thinking about the past or the future, not the present. So I try to stay in the present….


In this world which often seems hopeless and terrifying, and despite having very little knowledge, and often no reliable human hand to hold—my challenge is to take the next step with love.


Sometimes the result of putting our faith in love seems unkind or unjust or unfair to ourselves, but it is always nobler to suffer injustice than to add to it. When we put our faith in love, at the worst we will do no harm.


God is what comforts me when I ask for comfort; God is what inspires me when I ask for inspiration, what creates through me, what loves through me, the light I see in the eyes of every person, all the beauty of nature, all that thrills me and brings tears of gratitude, all that connects me with everyone and everything that is, all that is profound, awesome, true, good, meaningful, the highest and best in man and nature. God is all the answers and all the questions, all the pain and all the joy, the beginning and the end of everything. That's as close as I can come to defining my personal God, and my personal belief system.


I don’t “know” any of this stuff, except through my individual experience and learning; every time I act with love, I feel confirmed in my faith in love, and every time I act in fear or anger or hatred, I am even more miserable. I choose to believe all this because it works for me in my day-to-day life. It’s also interesting and fun/light. What others learn is often different, what works for others may be different, and what others choose to believe is often different. I don’t think I’m right and I don’t think you’re wrong—we just have different realities, as does each person on this planet….


These are some of the things I try to remember as I go through life. I don’t ever get them right, though, and that’s OK too. How I see things will continue to change as I keep learning and growing.

My comic strip and watercolors, plus two Eppy portraits…

I've posted two portraits of eppy, plus some of my drawings and paintings and a comic strip…. Look down the left column, or click on various “topics” to see all of them. More to come (my scanner temporarily conked….) Thanks for coming back…. More cultural/political writing and “acceptance” articles coming soon….