deborahjross: (Tajji in meadow)



My novelette, "Among Friends," (featuring Quakers, the Underground Railroad, and a slave-catching automaton) will appear in The Shadow Conspiracy III (edited by Phyllis Irene Radford and Brenda W. Clough, with this gorgeous cover by Dave Smeds). ("Among Friends" previously appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, March 2013). The book will be available June 28 in print and various ebook formats.

Here's the back cover copy:

In the world of the Shadow Conspiracy where the human soul has proven to be measurable and transferable to an automaton, the question arises: is the robot a person? The Emancipation Proclamation of January 1863 freed all the slaves in the states in rebellion against the Federal Government. What if that same document freed ensouled automata as well?

This third volume of the Shadow Conspiracy has seven stories that examine the question of humanity. We take you from an observation hot air balloon above the siege of Vicksburg to the soul-grinding Battle of the Crater, from simple farm folk who call themselves Friends, to the mysticism of Marie Laveau and Voudon. Our award winning authors ask the age-old question of what makes us human, what is the nature of slavery, and who deserves freedom? Only you can provide the answers.
deborahjross: (Default)
From Quaker oaths:

In 2007, Marianne Kearney-Brown, a Quaker math teacher, got fired from her job at a university in California because every time she was asked to sign an oath of allegiance, she would cross out “swear” and put in “affirm.” She would also insert “nonviolently” before a clause “to support and defend the US and California constitutions against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” She was fired for insisting on the insertions. She brought the case to court and eventually a compromise was made, with the university issuing an apology and declaring, in writing, that “Signing the oath does not carry with it any obligation or requirement that public employees bear arms or otherwise engage in violence.” Kearney-Brown was rehired.
deborahjross: (Default)
So, as posted earlier, I've either fallen into or been led (in the sense of a spiritual leading) into speaking out as a family member of a murder victim against the death penalty. The word "abolition" comes up in reference to ending the practice, and it has interesting resonances. It's quite different in my mind from "prohibition," which means "nobody should be allowed to do this and we want the government to enforce it." Abolition in the sense of both the death penalty and the practice of slavery (more about that in a bit) means, "the state is doing this or sanctioning that and we want the state to stop."

I've been working on a sort of Quaker-Underground Railroad-Steampunk story, and in the process have been reading about Quaker history, their attitudes toward slavery, and how they saw their own leadings. They (and others) were the abolitionists of their time.Thomas Garrett, one of the most well-known "conductors," is said to have worked “without concealment and without compromise,” even though what he was doing put him at risk of criminal and civil proceedings. (In a famous 1848 trial that inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe, he and fellow Quaker John Hunn were convicted of aiding fugitive slaves and fined so severely that Garrett was forced to sell his iron and hardware business along with his personal property at auction. Friends purchased Garrett’s property, allowing him to use it and buy it back when he could. And then, of course, he went right on doing what he had been.) (Garrett was also an ally of Harriet Tubman, who used to hit him up for money for shoes for escaping slaves.)

Early Quakers (and contemporary ones) considered equality a spiritual testimony, a fundamental religious tenet. From a 1836 Address" from Farmington Quarterly Meeting to Quakers in Western New York: "A mere theoretical belief in Christ is of no avail. Living faith calls for the exercise of active virtues. The practical Christian... considers all mankind... as his brethren, and himself under solemn obligations to use all in his power to ameliorate the condition of his fellow men, of every color and every condition in life.... When a plain and positive duty is enjoined, no excuses... can shield us from responsibility."

For me, death penalty abolition work has somewhat of the same quality, which is that the motive force is not academic but personal. I'm not interested in giving a lecture on how capital punishment has failed to deter violent crime. I am, on the other hand, inspired to talk about my own healing journey and the crucial aspect of letting go of bitterness, of turning away from revenge and retaliation. I'm not prescribing what worked for me for anyone else. On the other hand, I'm not giving anyone else the privilege of passing judgment on my own experience, either. This has the effect of creating a space of safety and solidity for me, which in turn makes it easier for me to speak from my heart. Considering how many others are screaming at each other, or pontificating based on the illusory need to appear "tough on crime," or out of bigotry, this opportunity to be tender and authentic could be a very good thing.

We'll see how it goes.
deborahjross: (Default)
So I'm sitting in Quaker meeting, as usual wrapped in the beautiful tallit (prayer shawl) that [livejournal.com profile] davetrow gave me, singing silently to the Spirit in Hebrew, or maybe Spirit is singing to me in Mozart. Whatever, my thoughts are all music and my breath has gotten slower and more yogic. Sometimes meetings center down into rich, deep silence. You can never tell what may arise then. This time, it was a whole series of ministries of the more-or-less-specifically Christian flavor, except for a woman who talks in free-verse poetry about the divinity in nature.

One of these was a newcomer, and I always have this jolt of transition, a moment of uncertainty as I shift from inner music to listening with my outer ears. In the years I've been attending, there have been a number of times when people wander in off the street, Bibles clutched prominently, then get up and shout at us about redemption from sin and depart afterward posthaste, before any of us can speak with them. Too, we as a meeting have been struggling with how to deepen worship without censoring or judging ministry.

So this middle-aged man gets up and begins speaking in the sermonic mode. A thought had been noodling around in back of my brain, not yet rising to ministry, about the coinciding this year of Passover and Easter and how each reminds us of a remarkable event, an iconic event in each tradition. Each, need I say, equally improbable but deeply resonant and meaningful.

So my response to this man, speaking so earnestly about loving "The Lord" and living a righteous life and taking care of one another as Jesus bade him, was what Friends call tender. I don't think of Spirit that way, I receive the mitzvot as loving affirmations, not marching orders, and I usually resist being lectured with considerable ferocity. Today, however, I was able to hold him in the Light, to listen to the passion and compassion behind his words, and to appreciate that we each experience The Great Mystery in our own unique way, even if we share a teaching and a tradition. I perceived what an amazing gift it was for this man to share with us -- with me -- his experience of holiness.
deborahjross: (hands)
...in this case refers to a Quaker custom of using "thee" instead of "you." It originated in the testimony of equality; one used "you" for people of higher status, so the Quakers used the same word for everyone. The usage went along with not tipping one's hat or calling another person "sir." As one can imagine, this behavior did not endear the Quakers to the British aristocracy.

To simplify the grammar, "thee" was used exclusively (rather than "thee" and "thou," which most Americans find challenging to sort out). Over time, fewer Friends used plain speech, although there has been a modern rekindling of interest.

[livejournal.com profile] davetrow and I began using plain speech between ourselves a few years ago (and now he will use it with others, mostly but not exclusively within the Meeting community). At first it felt awkward, almost as if I were channeling Shakespeare or Torah. Although I must still be mindful of my speech (which one should always be), the change has become easier.

I love the repeated, gentle reminder to strive for an "I-Thou" relationship, not only with my beloved, but with the world and all its inhabitants. I love the sense of intimacy, as if this were our private language, and the way the word "thee" can communicate cherishing and being cherished without making a big deal of it.
deborahjross: (Default)
From Santa Cruz Friends Meeting (Quakers), where Dave is a member and I attend:
The Religious Society of Friends from its earliest days has valued that
of God in everyone. This value, as embodied in the testimony of
Equality, has long led Friends to work for a more just society and to
stand by those who face discrimination.

Today we recognize that discrimination is faced by queer* adults and
youth in the form of unjust laws, acts of rejection and violence.
Frequently the results are serious psychological injuries which include
a sense of inferiority, depression, risky behaviors and suicide.

Santa Cruz Friends Meeting re-affirms creating a world in which all are
honored and accepted as equal members of our society. We affirm that:

+ all queer people should have full and equal rights to live their
lives, without fear, as they are led.
+ the community environment of Santa Cruz Friends Meeting is and will
continue to be a space where queer people are safe to be open about
their identities, their needs, and their fears and concerns.
+ equality for queer people shall be reflected in our work within the
Meeting and in our community outreach.


*For the purposes of this minute, "queer" includes individuals who
identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual; individuals who identify as a
gender other than that assigned them at birth; individuals who are
classified as intersexed, such as those born with "ambiguous" genitals;
and any other individual whose sexual or romantic attractions or gender
identity differ from society’s norms or expectations for their sex.
deborahjross: (Default)
These times are financially challenging for most of us, and as much as we would like to help those less fortunate, all too often our pocketbooks can't stretch that far.

One of the organizations that has made a little money go a long way is the Quaker organization, Right Sharing of World Resources. Very small amounts are enough to jump-start micro-enterprise ventures for women entrepreneurs in developing countries, mostly Africa and India. The women themselves participate in designing and monitoring the projects. (Click Projects to see how this works.)

Even if you don't have dollars to donate, you can help by saving postage stamps. They've raised over $50,000 this way, an enormous difference in the lives of the poorest people. Send them to Earl Walker, Claremont Friend Meeting, 449 Alamosa Drive, Claremont CA 91711.

Mission statement: We believe God calls us to the right sharing of world resources, from the burdens of materialism and poverty into the abundance of God's love, to work for equity through partnerships with our sisters and brothers throughout the world.

Holidaze

Dec. 23rd, 2009 06:06 pm
deborahjross: (Deb and Cleo)
I can't decide if I enjoy the season more when Christmas comes in the middle of Chanukah, thereby generating terminal overload, or when, as in this year, the holidays come in waves, as it were, each separated by a trough of exhaustion.

Such an interesting year we're having. Chanukah was early and began with much festivity. [livejournal.com profile] rosehelen and [livejournal.com profile] flyingamazon joined us for the first night, which was also Shabbat. So we had candle lighting and blessings and a festive dinner ... and then proceeded to more candle lighting, more blessings, and the family traditional read-aloud of Eric Kimmel's Herschel and the Hanukkah Goblins with obligatory funny voices.

Night #2 was also the monthly potluck of the older folks at our local Quaker meeting. December's gathering is also a white elephant exchange and takes place at a remodeled hotel that is now apartments, mostly elderly folk and mostly Quakers. We had silence and dinner and much good chat and entirely too much chocolate. With the permission of the host and to everyone's delight, I set up my menorah on the little table by the tree (but not too close), lit more candles, said more blessings.

The deal with the white-elephant exchange is that you draw numbers for the order of selecting presents, one person goes at a time and usually passes around what they got. When it's your turn, you can either choose a wrapped gift or claim one that's already been unwrapped. This takes some time, with much hilarity. Even among Quakers.

The third night, I just stared at the menorah. It's a family joke that I never make all 8 nights. Not quite true, but this year I was just holidayed out. We'll be just the two of us on the 25th and it's just as well. I may have recovered by the time [livejournal.com profile] manawolf and[livejournal.com profile] otana join us next week.
deborahjross: (teddy bears)
Here is a thoughtful article by Quaker Eileen Flanagan on how our perception of a compassionate or authoritative universe/divinity colors our politics. "Authoritative" isn't quite right, since it carries a negative connotation in this context. My brain couldn't come up with a more neutral word. Flanagan is using George Lakoff's terms:

George Lakoff, a Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics who has written for Tikkun about the importance of "framing" issues, has described "the politics of authority" and "the politics of empathy" as competing moral systems that co-exist within most of us, though we may tend toward one or another. An authority mindset values self-discipline, obedience, and personal responsibility, while an empathy mindset values caring for one's neighbor, whether through personal charity or government programs. A sick woman without a green card is an "illegal alien" who deserves what she gets, or she is the very "least of these" that Jesus instructed his followers to care for, depending on how you think about morality.

What strikes me is the merit in both viewpoints. Personal responsibility and initiative (hence, valuing government letting people make their own choices) can be a very good thing. I think there are areas -- like relationships, sexual conduct, speech -- where government has no business. Where does 'caring for one's neighbor' stop and managing that person's life begin?

I notice my own reactions when a street person asks me for money. Part of me says, "Don't give him cash, he might spend it on drugs." Another part says, "Accord him the dignity of making his own decisions." Then the first part says, "I don't want to contribute to behavior that might kill him." "Who are you to judge? Maybe this is just what he needs to 'hit bottom' and turn his life around. And maybe he really is just hungry or in need of bus fare."

Some thoughts that help me through this: one is that a kind word and direct eye contact, while perhaps more difficult than simply shoving a dollar into his hand, are more meaningful. This is a human being, to be treated with respect and compassion. If I cannot "spare" some change, I can give him a minute of my undivided attention, to be as present and caring as I can. This demands that I tell the truth, especially about my own boundaries.

Another response is to say, "I'm not comfortable giving you money, but I can buy you a meal." And then let him select what he wants. Obviously, there needs to be a restaurant or food cart nearby, and there usually is, and a minimum amount of time. But if I'm feeling rushed or late, maybe I need to examine my priorities. My day may be filled with chores to be done, none of them very consequential, but only one opportunity such as this.

Eileen's article was published in the magazine Tikkun, from the Hebrew "tikkun olam" -- "repairing the world." Repairing, one little bit at a time, sorrow and want, injustice and despair. I get to do that? What a gift.

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Deborah J. Ross

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