30 July 2015

Home town

I keep seeing these charmingly ancient photos in ads on Facebook for Ancestry dot com, and yesterday it occurred to me that I have equally evocative pictures in my own collection. For example, the photo above really intrigues me. It looks so dawn-of-photography (except for that nice camera hanging around the neck of that man about a third of the way from the left edge). But it can't be all that old. My mother's parents are in it, second and fourth from the right, and they look about the same age as my earliest memories of them. It's their similarity to my own memories of them that make it likely to me that this was a post-war photo, taken sometime after they left Japan for Germany in 1948. (A few years later, their photos included me!)

Maybe the photo was antiqued on purpose. In any case, this image of a group of tourists set off a chain of thoughts about "home." I guess I was already primed to meditate in that direction by several recent gatherings where we participants were asked what or where we called home. I always have a hard time with that question. I was born in my father's parents' home in Oslo, but my first memories are of my mother's parents' home in Stuttgart. The memories are all wonderful: my grandmother is giving me a wooden sailboat to sail in the park. My grandfather's hand is around mine as we take a daily walk together. (Years into retirement, he was always dressed as shown in the photos.)

Last year, I returned to Stuttgart for the first time in 48 years. After that long, my ties to the city as a whole didn't feel strong. And as I recounted last year, the house we lived in had been torn down and replaced by high-end condominiums. But one of the owners was willing to let me look over her back veranda. There was the garden where my sister Ellen and I gathered plums. That place tugged at my heart.

Sometimes, when I'm asked for my home town, I say "Chicago." I love that city, even though I haven't lived in Cook County since I was 18. I love it even though my sister was murdered there. That's where I grew up. Bob Elson and Red Rush, broadcasting the White Sox baseball games, were the voices of summer. Rev. Clarence H. Cobbs was the voice of Sunday night, although I had to conceal my faithful attendance-by-radio from my parents.

There have been times when I wish I could name a real home town for myself like normal people. But in this world, I'm hardly alone in my nomad status: countless others have been violently dispossessed; others are forced on the road to look for jobs and food. My own grandparents had their home in Osaka taken from them by the occupation forces, but I don't believe they suffered as much as others in that great war-era redistribution of populations that resulted in my parents meeting in Chicago. If they did, they never talked about it.

Anyway, most of the time this lack of roots doesn't give me any genuine distress. I'm glad to be on the same planet as you.

If I had any pretensions to journalism, I would be embarrassed by my post last week, in which I mentioned how refreshingly routine this year's Northwest Yearly Meeting sessions had been. But I don't, so I don't feel obligated to comment on the bombshell that dropped the very next day -- the Elders' discontinuance of West Hills Friends Church's membership in the yearly meeting, a decision that was announced two months earlier than many of us had expected. Behind the outpourings on listservs and social media, there are tender conversations going on, and the space for them is important to guard. And there is an appeals process underway. Transparency is important as well, but right now I don't personally see how I would serve that goal directly. Trustworthiness in friendship and persistence in prayer will have to do for now.

On Quaker community: a dose of humility? "... I have never been able to get over the pride people often have in being Quaker. It's good to be proud of your tribe, but often this goes over the top...."

On marching Israelis to the door of the oven: Isn't there a better way to refute Mike Huckabee than predictable denunciations for using a Holocaust reference? Yes, the comparison is completely nonsense: even if Iranian politicians talk in such terms about Israel, Obama works for us, not Iran, and he's trying to deal with things as they really are. But what use is it to attack Huckabee's rhetoric as "offensive" and "disgusting" instead of dealing with the underlying argument? That sort of storm just builds him up in the eyes of others who feel the same way, or those who despise what they sneeringly call "political correctness." We have freedom of speech. If Huckabee honestly believes what he is saying, let him speak -- let him marginalize himself. Don't turn him into a hero.

Micael Grenholm on four prooftexts that rich Christians use to keep their wealth. Hmm, which one do I rely on?

The Rolling Stones, fifty years ago: "Walking the Dog."

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