The news of Li’l Rhody’s marriage equality victory ricochets from coast to coast.
In our internal arms race there is no end to fear. More weapons and more lethal weapons are an escalating response. It’s important to remember that there are other forms of power than killing power. The life and mission of a great Rhode Islander demonstrate another way.
Thirty years ago, Providence was home to a Nobel Peace Prize nominee. Called Cambodia’s Ghandhi, the Venerable Maha Ghosananda lived and taught in a triple-decker on Hanover Street, near the Cranston Street Armory.
Displaced by the Southeast Asian War, Maha Ghosananda lived for a year in the Sakeo refugee camp on the Thai border. He ministered to Cambodians fleeing the Khmer Rouge, and later to Khmer Rouge soldiers fleeing the Vietnamese. It was said that he was given an airplane ticket to safety, but he cashed it in and used it to print tracts on Lovingkindness, which he distributed to all in the camp, regardless of which side they were on. After leaving Sakeo, Maha Ghosananda traveled the world as one of the last surviving Cambodian Buddhist monks, arriving in Providence in 1980. Here he founded a temple that became the Khmer Buddhist Society, a center and heart of the community.
In 1992, Maha Ghosananda established the Dhammayietra Walk for Peace– an annual walk across Cambodia to minister to the suffering and bereaved survivors of the war. This was truly a walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Peace was not securely established. Gun violence, for politics or robbery was a threat. Maha Ghosananda was a politically challenging figure and his teacher had been murdered by the Khmer Rouge. He was a target for assassination. In addition, the countryside was strewn with land mines. War still smoldered– one year two of the marchers, a monk and a nun, were killed in crossfire between government and Khmer Rouge forces.
But the Dhammayietra brought healing to people who had suffered the dismantling of their society, and seen the near-eradication of their religion.
Nonviolence is not for the faint of heart. When he lived in Providence, Maha Ghosananda was a close friend of the minister of First Unitarian Church, Tom Ahlburn. It was just before the first, or maybe the second Dhammayietra that Tom held a gathering I can only describe as an Irish wake. Tom told Maha Ghosananda stories and we sent our thoughts and hope to those marchers traversing a mined disaster zone in an uneasy peace.
Maha Ghosananda, in fact, outlived Tom Ahlburn. Maha Ghosananda led several walks across Cambodia. He spent his last days in Lowell, Massachusetts, and passed from this world in 2007.
I was blessed to meet him. He was a saint.
He taught me three words, Truthfulness, Forbearance and Gratitude. His message was Metta–Lovingkindness.
Today our country is feeling the shadow of death in the senseless violation of a school and the murder of children. Nonviolence is not an absence, but a radical response to violence. Pacifism is not passivity. Maha Ghosananda lived a life of activism and great courage. It comforts me to think of him in these times.
[Santidhammo Bhikkhu's book, 'Maha Ghosananda the Buddha of the Battlefields' was used as a resource and aid to aging memory in writing this post.]
Thomas Lewis, a professor of Religious Studies at Brown, provides an excellent summary of the prayer banner controversy. He points out that Frank Lombardi, whose terrible judgement (IMHO) in the prayer banner controversy helped to fuel the fight with the ACLU, will be squaring off against Gene Dyszlewski, an ordained minister who defended Jessica Ahlquist, for the Rhode Island Senate District 26 seat. More on that to come.
May Day, when the weather cooperates, celebrates a time of year when the intoxicating beauty of Spring reaches even the most frozen, internet-addicted soul. Known as Beltane in the Celtic Wheel of the Year, it is a worker’s holiday in much of the world. May Day stands across the Wheel from another disreputable holiday the Celts bequeathed us–Halloween. It’s a time to test boundaries. May Day will be Occupied this year.
At this latitude, we usually don’t get into our groove during Earth Month. Most years, May is when the world blooms– this warm April being an exception. America celebrates Labor Day at the end of Summer, and the change of the seasons not at all, officially. That’s okay, nature celebrations don’t take to official sanctions.
In this week’s New York Times the Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood mentioned New England’s own Nathaniel Hawthorne as a writer worth re-visiting. I checked it out and darned if his writing isn’t subversive, Pagan and kind of gay (if a rainbow scarf counts). Here is what happens when the Puritans meet the May Pole dancers…
Here might be seen the Savage Man, well known in heraldry, hairy as a baboon, and girdled with green leaves. By his side, a noble figure, but still a counterfeit, appeared an Indian hunter, with feathery crest and wampum belt. Many of this strange company wore foolscaps, and had little bells appended to their garments, tinkling with a silvery sound, responsive to the inaudible music of their gleesome spirits. Some youths and maidens were of soberer garb, yet well maintained their places in the irregular throng by the expression of wild revelry upon their features. Such were the colonists of Merry Mount, as they stood in the broad smile of sunset round their venerated Maypole.
Had a wanderer, bewildered in the melancholy forest, heard their mirth, and stolen a half-affrighted glance, he might have fancied them the crew of Comus, some already transformed to brutes, some midway between man and beast, and the others rioting in the flow of tipsy jollity that foreran the change. But a band of Puritans, who watched the scene, invisible themselves, compared the masques to those devils and ruined souls with whom their superstition peopled the black wilderness.
Within the ring of monsters appeared the two airiest forms that had ever trodden on any more solid footing than a purple and golden cloud. One was a youth in glistening apparel, with a scarf of the rainbow pattern crosswise on his breast. His right hand held a gilded staff, the ensign of high dignity among the revelers, and his left grasped the slender fingers of a fair maiden, not less gayly decorated than himself. Bright roses glowed in contrast with the dark and glossy curls of each, and were scattered round their feet, or had sprung up spontaneously there. Behind this lightsome couple, so close to the Maypole that its boughs shaded his jovial face, stood the figure of an English priest, canonically dressed, yet decked with flowers, in heathen fashion, and wearing a chaplet of the native vine leaves. By the riot of his rolling eye, and the pagan decorations of his holy garb, he seemed the wildest monster there, and the very Comus of the crew.
“Votaries of the Maypole,” cried the flower-decked priest, “merrily, all day long, have the woods echoed to your mirth. But be this your merriest hour, my hearts! Lo, here stand the Lord and Lady of the May, whom I, a clerk of Oxford, and high priest of Merry Mount, am presently to join in holy matrimony. Up with your nimble spirits, ye morris-dancers, green men, and glee maidens, bears and wolves, and horned gentlemen! Come; a chorus now, rich with the old mirth of Merry England, and the wilder glee of this fresh forest; and then a dance, to show the youthful pair what life is made of, and how airily they should go through it! All ye that love the Maypole, lend your voices to the nuptial song of the Lord and Lady of the May!”
As history tells, the Puritans won. Still, they never quite succeed in pulling all the dandelions out of the lawn. Hawthorne has a lot to say to us today, in this short story. Read it all here,–The May Pole of Merry Mount, by Nathaniel Hawthorne.
And as history is stranger than fiction, here’s one link to that renegade ‘English priest’, Thomas Morton, founder of New Caanan. If the Puritans had followed Morton’s lead and made peace with the Native people, what new path might our country have taken?
It’s National Social Work Month. For that reason, I would like to honor some of the amazing social workers in the state of Rhode Island including Kate Coynemccoy, Kate Brewster, Maria Cimini, and Pamela Lischko Lowell. There are many other great social workers in Rhode Island. If you happen to know of one, please add them to this post.
My overall analysis is that the real problem we have right now in Rhode Island is not that the Cranston Schools had a banner hanging in an auditorium that had a prayer on it. The real problem is that our economy is sagging big time, and we need to figure out how to turn that around. But the prayer banner controversy does define an important distinction about what government can and cannot do. The thoughts of Oswald Krell also serve to give more historical context to the discussion:
[...]To begin: any sentence that contains “the founding fathers believed/thought/said/wanted/intended/were, etc is necessarily wrong.
The founding fathers were not a monolithic bunch. Exactly the opposite. They were a group of men, many of whom had long years of experience in politics in some form. As such, as a group and for the most part, they understood the necessity of compromise. Not all of them; there were some doctrinaire ideologues, especially in the earlier days, but they were weeded out as time passed.
A great example of this is Sam Adams–whose father was a brewer, by the way. He played a major role in the early days of the protests that led up to the outbreak of fighting, but he did not have the political chops to play any role in congress during the war.
If I had to call it, my call at this point would be that the Board of Regents will vote to approve one, and only one, Achievement First School to start up in Providence. I have followed this issue closely for the past year, though I am by no means an insider to the process. I am merely a concerned parent and a somewhat obsessive follower of the corporate-influenced education reform movement and its critics, of which I am one.
But it appears, with the Providence Mayor, the (Providence-Mayor-appointed) School Board, and many Providence legislators on board, this Achievement First thing is headed for a ram-through. It’s not going to be a big ram-through, and for this I am grateful. It’s just going to be the first foot onto the slippery slope of the corporate-influenced divvying up of the education money pie. There will still be one foot on firm ground, so if we want to pull back and cancel this whole thing in a few years with only one Achievement First school opened and closed, that will still be possible.
In the meantime, if you still want to try to influence the vote on this matter by beseeching our Governor to intercede (not sure he could actually do that, other than by trying to influence individual Board of Regents members), you can sign the petition at Change.org.
Brown University is a short walk away from my house, but unless I’m cutting across the quad, university business is not on my radar.
I can only name two Brown presidents– Vartan Gregorian and Ruth Simmons. I think it’s because both reached out to the greater community and all the students of Providence, and both were such warm and effective communicators.
Doctor Simmons gave Brown a running start into the 21st Century. Her defense of free speech, even at personal cost, her institution of need-blind admissions, and her straightforward confrontation of Brown’s legacy of slavery may stand longer than the buildings that rose during her tenure.
Good luck, Doctor Simmons in all you do.
ProJo.com has a timeline of Ruth Simmons’ tenure at Brown.
And it wasn’t even close. The Board of Regents voted 7-1 to reject the proposed Achievement First Mayoral Academies proposal. Projo blog has the details here.
The politicians lined up one after another to consent to this proposal: Allan Fung, House Speaker Gordon Fox, various members of the Providence City Council and members of the General Assembly, and then Mayor Taveras and his appointed school committee. From the standpoint of a Cranston resident and parent, it felt like the cards were being stacked against us, one after another. As it turns out, we were on the right track, and the Board of Regents almost unanimously supported our assessment of this proposal.
Congrats to all who helped make this happen!
The Westerly Sun has an obituary for John E. Shibilio who passed away June 8.
There is no mention of the heroic ambulance transport from Wood River Junction to Rhode Island Hospital, and this may not even be the same John Shibilio. But Rhode Island is small, and I’ve been getting a lot of hits on the post that quotes Christopher Rowland’s Providence Journal article of 1990, ‘Chain Reaction’, so here’s the link.
I send my sympathies to Mr.Shibilio’s family, and if this is the same man, his courage in carrying out his mission is not forgotten.