Last weekend I had the pleasure of participating in the 15th Annual Philadelphia Interfaith Walk for Peace and Reconciliation with members from my Quaker Meeting, and it was an enjoyable experience. This country could use one of these on a daily basis.
The theme for the walk this year was “Recognizing the One in All of Us.” This is appropriate for many reasons, in and out of religions.
Although this is something that has been going on for 15 years, it was my first, but certainly not my last. There is just something fulfilling about being surrounded by a group of like-minded folks that energizes me in a way I cannot put into words.
We started our journey at the Arch Street Meeting House in old city Philadelphia. The Meeting room was filled with Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, Hindus, Baha’i, secular humanists, and others who share the values of peace and justice. We sat in silence, as we do in Quaker tradition before heading to the streets.
Our first stop was the Society Hill Synagogue where we were greeted by members lining the entrance. Musicians were playing inside that filled the room with joy. The Rabbi welcomed all of us with prayer and a dash of humor. We then enjoyed a musical prayer performed by the Philadelphia Sikh Society youth group. A reading by Philadelphia Youth Poet Laurite, Husna Hashim, that rose the room to their feet in applause, and a Recitation from the Qu’ran by Muhammed Shehata from the Al Aqsa Islamic Society, which thankfully was translated for all of us to interpret. Notice the Rabbi & the Muslim embracing in the background. Who would have known ….
All throughout the walk, we were encouraged to use this opportunity to strike up a conversation with someone outside of our comfort zone and LEARN. Questions like “does your turban come pre-wrapped or do you do it yourself?” were not off limits.
Just in case you were wondering they are not pre-wrapped and there are YouTube videos for guidance. According to his smile, I would say he was relieved at the lightness of my question.
Once we left the Synagogue, we made our way back to the street and headed out for a 60-minute walk to Al Aqsa Mosque. We were greeted by the sounds of music compliments of a woman DJ wearing a hijab and Beats by Dre headphones. Something you don’t see every day.
The parameter of the facility was lined with the World Peace ballons in the above photo. It was indeed a site to witness. The air was consumed by the fragrance of dinner being made by the members of the Mosque, and dessert prepared by the Sikh community for all of us to share. All I can say is …. YUM!
As we were all settling in I took a moment to look around, I mean really look around at the oneness surrounding me.
I watched the men carrying out trays of food, and the women were not only directing where everything needed to go, but they were also getting annoyed if the men did not do it accordingly. Every woman reading this knows exactly what I’m talking about.
The children were running around excited to have company in their “home.”Look what I can do! Look at me! Watch this! Free entertainment.
I realized that the ONE woman in our lives who insists you try her dish over the everyday meals made by the other women even though your plate is already overflowing exists in EVERY culture. You know who you are ladies.
This was when I understood that the core ingredient to solving World Peace is FOOD. We really need to stop overthinking, start cooking and
Enjoy the Ride!
I came across this amazing story 3 years ago and believe it should shared yet again. These men and their non-violent sacrifices should be recognized for their service at a time of war and their lifetime commitment to continue that service right here at home.
With Memorial Day approaching I would like give a well deserved nod to a group of very brave men. We rarely hear about this peaceful group, especially on holidays that memorialize war heroes, but they are heroes too. The Conscientious Objectors or CO’s as they were better known, provided services that were not combative. Non-combative rolls served this country long after the dust of the war had settled.
In my personal search for “something more” I began attending a Quaker Meeting in my area. After years of attending regularly I proudly made it official and became a Quaker. It was among this group where I first learned about these very brave peacemakers. Being a pacifist in a country that prides itself on war could not be easy, but that’s how Quakers roll. Throughout history they stood for unpopular injustices without batting an eye.
This story touched me for many reasons, but it hit home since I was raised in a neighborhood that literally sits in the backyard of this hospital. I grew up looking at the shells of these abandon buildings. They were a constant reminder of the horrors that took place.
Please take a minute to read this well written story by Joseph Shapiro. He brings the works of these very brave men and the POWER of PEACE to life. Click below to see and hear the moving work of these men. Their quiet works should be an inspiration to us all.
WWII Pacifists Exposed Mental Ward Horrors
In September of 1942, Warren Sawyer, a 23-year-old conscientious objector, reported for his volunteer assignment as an attendant at a state mental hospital. The young Quaker was one of thousands of pacifists who had refused to fight and instead were assigned to work in places few outsiders got to see — places like Philadelphia State Hospital, best known as Byberry.
“Byberry’s the last stop on the bus here in Philadelphia,” Sawyer recalls. “Any young man on the bus, other people knew that we were COs working at the hospital. And they’d make different kinds of remarks, supposedly talking to each other, but hoping that we hear. And you know: ‘Yellowbellies, slackers.’ ”
Those slurs were harsh. But not nearly as harsh as what awaited the young men inside the gates of the chaotic and overcrowded hospital for people with mental illness and intellectual disabilities.
The young pacifists would be changed by what they saw in places like Byberry, and then become a force for change themselves.
Serving The Country At Home
Ten million men were drafted into the military during World War II. But more than 40,000 refused to go to war. These conscientious objectors came from more than 100 religions. But most were from the traditional peace churches: people from the Church of the Brethren, Mennonites and Quakers. Still, they wanted to serve their country. Many did serve in the military in noncombatant roles. Others did alternative service, like the 3,000 who were assigned to 62 state mental hospitals around the country.
“Well, I called them hellholes,” says Sawyer. “Terribly overcrowded. All we did and all we could do was just custodial care. Because when you have three men taking care of 350 incontinent patients with everything all over the floor, feces and urine and all that kind of thing.”
The smell got into his clothes and was so strong that even after he washed them, the smell lingered. “In the incontinent ward,” he says, “it took a few weeks before you got used to eating supper with the smell all through your clothes and everything.”
The “incontinent ward” was what the men called A Building. It was a large open room with a concrete slab for a floor. There were no chairs. There were no activities, no therapy, not even a radio to listen to. So hundreds of men — most of them naked — walked about aimlessly or hunched on the floor and huddled against the filthy bare walls.
Nearby was B Building; it was called the “violent ward” or the “death house,” because angry men sometimes violently attacked one another. In one room, rows and rows of men were strapped and shackled to their bed frames.
Sawyer wrote frequent letters home, and those letters provide some of the best surviving historical record of the conditions in those grim wards and of the work of the conscientious objectors at Byberry.
“It was in B Building, the death house,” he started in a letter written in September 1944 that explained one day of violence. “Due to the shortage of cuffs and straps and restraint locks that has prevailed in B Building for some time, one of the patients was able to get himself loose. He was a very dangerous fellow. He only had one cuff and strap on and he got out. He had a spoon that had been broken off at the end and was sharpened almost to a knife edge.”
“After he was loose, he went to another patient and jabbed him in the side of the neck on top of his shoulder and drove the spoon down about one inch deep, just missing the jugular vein.”
“Our work was to try to get attendants to realize these were ordinary people with a little problem and they needed help,” says John Bartholomew.
Working in such a brutal and chaotic place tested the men’s own ideals of nonviolence.
“But I found out there, the difference between violence and force,” says Hartman, who at the time was a young Methodist. “We used force. We’d grab a man and we’d pin him. And then maybe get a nurse if we could to give him a shot. But we didn’t use violence. And the difference was: It wasn’t unusual next day for the patient to come around and thank us for not using violence when we could have.”
There was lots of violence at Byberry. Many of the regular attendants were drunks who’d get fired at one state hospital and just move on to a job at the next. Some kept control by hitting patients with things like sawed-off broom handles or a rubber hose filled with buckshot.
Hartman says the patients came to appreciate the gentler manner of the conscientious objectors. “Cause they knew, the regular attendants, one of their tricks was to use a wet towel and put it around their neck and squeeze it. It, of course, choked them awful, but it didn’t make any mark on them so no state inspector could catch up with them,” he says.
Making A Lasting Impact
Still, the young pacifists worried that it wasn’t enough simply to show kindness. With the end of the war nearing, the conscientious objectors soon would be gone, but they didn’t want to leave behind a place where untrained and underpaid attendants ruled patients by brutality and violence.
So the conscientious objectors came up with a daring plan. Sawyer wrote about it in one of his letters home:
“We are working on a carefully laid out plan to blow this place open in two months,” he wrote. In secret, they went to newspapers, with details of the scandal inside the institution. “If we COs do nothing about this place to improve it,” Sawyer continued, “our stay here has been to no avail and we have accomplished nothing. Two other fellows and I are heading up this thing to launch a campaign and gather material.”
One of those other fellows was a conscientious objector named Charlie Lord.
Today, Lord, 89, lives in another Quaker retirement community, this one in Tennessee. In the living room of his brick bungalow, he flips through old yellowed photographs. “Here’s the original one. Here, 1946. This is the day room with dozens of naked men along the left wall.”
At Byberry, Lord sneaked a small Agfa camera in his jacket pocket. It was the camera he’d borrowed to take on his honeymoon. But he’d dropped it in a lake and then felt he had to buy the damaged camera from his friend. Now he could use it to take pictures to show conditions in the A and B buildings.
When no one was watching, he’d quickly shoot a picture without even looking through the viewfinder. “I’d try to fill the frame,” he says. “You know, not just have little people far away. I’d get up as close as I could. I was aware of composition. But the main thing was to show the truth.”
Over a few months, Lord filled three rolls of film, with 36 exposures each. His pictures showed the truth, in black and white. In the past, reformers and journalists like Dorothea Dix and Nellie Bly sneaked into institutions and wrote exposes about the horrific conditions there.
But Lord was one of the first to ever expose institutions by using the power of photography. “I just thought this would show people what it was like. It’s not, not somebody writing to describe something,” he says. “They can use flowery words or you know, do whatever they want. But if the photograph is there, you can’t deny it.”
One of the first people to see the photographs was Eleanor Roosevelt, in September 1945. A meeting was arranged between Roosevelt — whose husband, President Franklin Roosevelt, had died just a few months before — and a couple of the conscientious objectors from Byberry. They brought along Lord’s disturbing photos. But Roosevelt at first doubted them.
According to Steven Taylor, a professor of disability studies at Syracuse University, Roosevelt assumed these were photos from some institution in the South. She said she knew about those kinds of conditions in Mississippi or Alabama. When told that they had actually been taken at an institution in Philadelphia, Roosevelt then promised to support the reform campaign and wrote about what she’d seen to government health officials and journalists.
Lord’s photographs would have their biggest impact several months later, when they were published in Life magazine in May 1946.
Taylor says the images of thin, naked men lined against walls echoed some other disturbing images Americans had just seen. “The immediate reaction by many people to these photographs were that these look[ed] like the Nazi concentration camps. People could not believe that this was the way we treated people with mental illness and intellectual disabilities in our society,” he says. “So it created a kind of mass uproar, nationally.”
Of course, one can’t equate the conditions in American mental hospitals back then — no matter how inhumane — with the extermination of more than 6 million Jews and others. In fact, among those killed by the Nazis were up to 250,000 people with disabilities. They were mainly people with mental illness and intellectual disability, the same disabilities as the people who lived at American institutions like Byberry.
Still, Taylor, who has written a new book about the World War II conscientious objectors calledActs of Conscience: World War II, Mental Institutions and Religious Objectors, says the photos punctured a national sense of American superiority.
“We saved the world. We stood for human rights; we condemned the Holocaust,” he says. “America’s confidence was soaring in the immediate post-World War II era. We were morally superior; we were militarily superior. And I think this was a stark reminder that America wasn’t perfect. America had its shortcomings.”
In postwar America, the country turned to righting those shortcomings. Conscientious objectors from Byberry started a national association that helped train and professionalize workers at state hospitals. And, most of all, they helped improve the lives of the vulnerable people who lived in those state institutions.
The COs from Byberry continued to work for social change, in political activism and in the jobs they chose.
Charlie Lord became a professional photographer and a social worker. The Bartholomew brothers both went into social work. John Bartholomew worked for a mental health group that moved people out of institutions and into small group homes.
Neal Hartman was a teacher. Warren Sawyer sold real estate and is proudest of the way he helped integrate neighborhoods.
Sawyer says what he saw at Byberry — and what he saw could be changed — fortified his dedication to work for human rights. His work at Byberry, he says “changed my life in terms of appreciation of people who are forgotten. It makes me want to make people aware of the many things that need to be done, that people need to be involved in doing things.”
A couple of years ago I found a little pamphlet or should I say it found me that contained the keynote address given by Arthur Larrabee at the Friends General Conference Gathering of Friends, which was held back in 1998. If you weren’t aware, I attend Quaker Meeting every Sunday. It’s where I’ve regularly been going for the last 3 years to … well … get my peace on.
One Sunday I entered Meeting very troubled. Things were beginning to get somewhat extreme in my head over a particular situation. It wasn’t good. I found myself sitting somewhere differently that day, but it was right where I was supposed to be, next to this wonderful little pamphlet. Psst…Lisa…sit here you need to see this now.
When I opened it up the words resonated so deeply that I found myself unknowingly crying. I know right? I’m sharing this now because as I was cleaning during my oh shit, we’re having company for Easter frenzy, I came across the pamphlet in my house and paused to re-read it. This must be shared….it just does.
Simma down folks I’m not going to get all religious on you, but I am going to fill you in on some of the messages that I received that day. The first thing that hit me was the story he shared, which some of you may have already heard over the years. I had not. It is a Taoist fable of sorts … here it is.
An old man and his son lived in an abandoned fortress on the side of a hill. The son was the sole support of his father, and their only possession of value was a horse. One day, the horse ran away. The neighbors came by to offer sympathy. “This is a terrible thing,” they said. “How do you know?” asked the old man.
Several days later the horse returned, bringing with it several wild horses. The old man and the son shut them all inside the gate. The neighbors hurried over. “This is fabulous,” they said. “How do you know?” asked the old man.
The following day the son tried riding one of the wild horses. Alas, he fell and broke his leg. Sure enough, the neighbors came around as soon as they heard the news. “What a tragedy!” they said. “How do you know?” asked the old man.
The following week, the army of the emperor came through the village, forcing every young man into service to fight faraway battles. Many of them would never return. But the son couldn’t go. He had a broken leg.
The message here is that the old man lives in the now. He doesn’t attach himself to the big “What Ifs?” surrounding him. He embraced the situation he was presented with, therefore giving him peace of mind … which I was desperately seeking in my life.
My personal story was a little different. It didn’t involve an old man or a horse, but it did include that annoying neighbor in the fable … that was ME a/k/a Debbie Downer. No one was more surprised by this news than yours truly. As much as I want to deny the whole experience…I can’t….it’s true.
There I was sitting in Meeting sobbing due to the realization that I was slowly strangling my own life with predetermined judgments, while blowing any chance of peace of mind right out the window. Yep, Debbie has a way of sucking the life out of every party.
The Debbie Downer in me immediately put her negative judgment on the situation at hand. Why, because it’s easier than moving on to something new? Umm…yep. She put her preconceived notation that this new experience I was presented with was a “bad” idea and she wasn’t afraid to let it be known … over and over and over again. Clearly, Debbie is also a huge pain in the ass! What I wasn’t “seeing” was that this event was just a teeny tiny piece of a much larger story, one that needed to be TOLD not INTERRUPTED.
So, I spent months, yes months, holding on to what was comfortable, while fighting the new. I was literally being held prisoner by my own resistance! It’s really no surprise that the tears were flowing because at that moment I was empowered to give Debbie the big heave-ho out of my head. Toodles Deb, don’t let the door hit ya!
As I re-read the pamphlet this time around it was more of a reminder … one I constantly need! I need to stop killing my own chances at life and embrace the resurrections, even if they’re filled with challenges … I think I’m worth the risk.
Stop the death in your life by letting go of your attachments to the pain, the past and your pre-conditioned thoughts on how things are “supposed to be.”
Resurrect your life by embracing the challenges, the hopes, and the risks by letting things “just be.”
So, say YES! to life and Enjoy the Ride …. it’s a gift.
Below is a message that was shared by Parker J. Palmer. Mr. Palmer is well known Quaker, who I admit has influenced me in many ways. Listening to his words have made me a better person. Here is his thought for this very special day.
Take time to reflect this important message:
On Monday, January 21, Americans will celebrate our 57th Presidential Inauguration and the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Here’s a quote from Dr. King about the relation of love and power that’s worth pondering on this or any other day. I kept this quote close at hand as I wrote my new book, sub-titled “The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit”
The best way to honor the gift of American democracy is to do whatever we can—in our homes, schools and workplaces, in our communities, states and nation—to help create a politics that joins love and power.
An impossible dream? Of course. But where would we be if people like Dr. King had been unwilling to dream impossible dreams, confident that others would come along to pick up where they left off?
Was their confidence well-placed? The answer to that question is in our hands…
I’ve been pondering about writing on this subject, but I decided it was necessary.
My feeling was the ticket availability was due to the lack of enthusiasm for venturing into NYC on 9/11, but I don’t think that was the case. It seemed to be business as usual 11 years later.
As we headed out in the wee hours of the morning, I couldn’t help but notice how this day seemed to mirror 11 years ago, as far as the weather was concerned anyway. It was absolutely perfect with clear blue skies, cool air and bright sunshine. No one expected the darkness we all experienced later that morning and I certainly didn’t anticipate what I experienced 11 years later, which was absolutely nothing. No extra kindness, smiles, eye intact or a word spoken the entire 2-hour ride for that matter.
My Facebook, however, was exploding with images reflecting the towers draped in flags, flickering candles with prayers and, of course, the famous shot of the fireman planting the flag on the rubble. It was borderline annoying considering what I was experiencing in the real world.
All of these powerful images were met with the words “Never Forget.” News Flash….we’ve forgotten something very important. Not the event, that will be embedded in us forever, but the lessons seem to be MIA. What happened to our vulnerability?
I couldn’t help but think “If this bus blew up could I depend on this crew of statues to lend a helping hand?” Hey, I don’t walk around in fear of the sky falling, however, I don’t dismiss the possibility to the point of disconnect with the people around me.
Have we forgotten that the target that dreadful day 11 years ago was not the physical structures of these massive buildings, it was the strength they represented?
The real targets were our freedom, tolerance and decency. What happened to a sense of humanity?
As I sat outside of a cafe waiting for my nephew to eat his 100th meal of the day, I watched a homeless man being passed by an endless sea of people. Did I mention he was an Army veteran, oh and that it was 9/11?
I understand people get tired of giving up their dough to strangers that might be complete frauds…I get that whole thing. What bothered me was no one even made eye contact, he was invisible.
Well, call me what you will I had to give him something before I left. He stood up, shook our hands, thanked us, complimented my nephew’s bow tie and explained his recent homelessness. He was legit, alive and very visible and long as you’re willing to open your eyes!
I was the last to enter the bus to return to Philly, only to find there were no seats..or so I thought. Apparently there was a seat being occupied by Louis Vuitton. Simmer down folks, not the man the travel tote! Seems like the designer travel tote, who was not a paying customer, suddenly had more value than me. After numerous requests, the
bitch woman reluctantly moved Louis to the side without an ounce of acknowledgement to my existence…I was invisible.
It could have been worse, it could have been a cheap knock-off! I had to justify it somehow people!
All of this, along with the negative climate that seems to be clouding over us daily, really has me questioning my own Truth to Power. Why is it so hard for us to exercise these simple tasks?
We speak to power in three senses:
- To those who hold high places in our national life and bear the terrible responsibility of making decisions for war or peace.
- To the American people who are the final reservoir of power in this country and whose values and expectations set the limits for those who exercise authority.
- To the idea of Power itself, and its impact on Twentieth Century life.
Our truth is ancient:
- that love endures and overcomes.
- that hatred destroys.
- that what is obtained by love is retained, but what is obtained by hatred proves a burden.
You can check out more on this powerful statement right here….sttp.html
Honestly, if we want things to be different, we as individuals need to take serious action to recommit to communicating rather than acting rashly, focus more on building rather than destroying and observe wisely rather than acting without thought.
These small changes can make a huge difference, not just in our daily lives, but as a nation and a world.
We can do this folks….Truth to Power…one day at a time. Enjoy The Ride!
Recently I had the pleasure of attending a meeting held by the Interfaith Hospitality Network. This group does an enormous amount of good for families who have become homeless due to circumstance such as job loss, divorce and excessive debt just to name a few.
I am a regular attendee at a Quaker Meeting in my area and we were asked to participate, along with other faith congregations in the area, in a program being introduced by this group. One of the congregations has offered to open its doors to house 3 homeless families for the month of August. It will be our responsibility to make meals, host meals and chaperone over night for 1 week within the month. Sounds simple enough..right?
The evening started off with an exercise that encouraged us to introduce ourselves and provide insight to one another regarding our Hopes & Fears as we enter into this program together. I have never felt comfortable in this arena, but like any thing else the more you do it the easier it becomes.
I shared that my Hope would be that as a group the experience would empower us to do more together either within this program or in our immediate community, followed by my Fear that our judgments wouldn’t stand in the way of making this a positive experience.
Now, I said this as a reaction to a previous experience I had a local Food Cupboard. It is important to understand the mindset of guests who are in need. For instance, if someone came in for food sporting a fresh manicure, you have to put yourself in his or her shoes and not judge that their money could have been spent more wisely. That manicure could have saved that person from jumping off the edge. Sometimes lipstick and a hairdo make a world of difference. As the wise director of this program stated: “You have to learn to be poor.”
We continued around the table and it was evident that the majority of the hopes & fears were coming from a positive base well, at least until we reached 2 very vocal members of the host congregation. This is the moment I realized that Hopes & Fears weren’t as cut and dry as I once imagined. I have a terrible habit of thinking everyone thinks like me….they don’t, but life would be so much easier if they did.
One of the women, who announced she had been a member of this congregation for 52 years, stated …”I hope that there are no fights” and “I hope I don’t see a mother beating her child.” Ok, what the hell are the fears? Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse, she blurts … “I’m afraid I’ll have to call 911” and “I’m afraid someone will steal chalices from the church.” This was a game changer. Now I’m hoping I will be able to work with these people and I fear killing one before it’s over.
These women sat across from me with their hands neatly folded on their Bibles. My fear was coming alive right before my eyes. Our homeless guests were being judged before they even crossed the threshold. Umm, yea…maybe you could open that hand rest…I mean Bible and take a peak inside ladies.
The director of the program listened intently, but never flinched. Needless to say she has had her share of negative inquiries over the years. Once the women were done, she calmly informed them that in her 20 plus years in that position, she never once experienced any of the suggested scenarios, but there was always a first time for everything. Well played Ms. Director, well played indeed.
“Collective fear stimulates herd instinct, and tends to produce ferocity toward those who are not regarded as members of the herd.” Bertrand Russell
As soon as I committed to this project I knew it would be eye-opening, but I never anticipated it to happen during the planning stages. I was so moved by the effective listening skills of the director. Her contentment quickly altered the negative vibe in the room, which allowed us to continue planning with a much-needed positive outlook.
Note to Self: Never follow the herd, find a spot outside the fence and Enjoy the Ride!