The second time I fled to San Francisco, I moved into a spacious first floor flat in a three flat Victorian on Divisadero between California and Pine. The room my friends saved for me was a purple painted bedroom with a double bed comprised of cinder blocks supporting a sheet of plywood on which was placed a six inch thick foam mattress with mattress pad. I shared the room with Jude.
Jude was a fair-skinned red-headed girl, seventeen years old, pretty, gravity defiant in that adolescent way, and just in town for a short time from the midwest where she had accidentally gotten
pregnant. Brautigan had just published "The Abortion, An Historical Romance - 1966,"I was moving into a place less than four blocks from the Sacramento Street Library, and I had a sweet and upbeat roommate going through the same abortion thing. There all resemblance to a literary life and the historical romance ends.
I didn't really get the sixties straight until the nineties, and for me the seventies didn't come together until about 1985; but, back there on Divisadero in 1971 I was reading Brautigan and living in hog-hippie splendor with eight or ten other flat mates, sharing my bed with someone I had just met and with whom at best a platonic relationship was possible. Even the platonic relationship took work. Jude was withdrawn, as one might expect. But she must have been a trusting little snuggle-bug because of course she didn't know me either, and we went to bed together every night and chastely drove away the loneliness with each other's presence. Soon enough she vanished, returning home to god knows what, and I didn't hear from her again.
Carol Thatcher came naked down the hallway toward the shower. "I thought I was alone," she said. Carol was twenty-two, also quite gravity defiant, smooth and curved, and I thought about her a lot after that. But Carol was a practicing Unitarian, and I didn't quite get that. I thought we had won the battle against religion, driven it back into some dark medieval place where it belonged.
Ten years later, in 1981, the dark curtain would be drawn on the American dream and Reagan the Senex - avatar of oil - and his sidekick Poppy Bush, the two of them propped up by the Chicago School's trickle-down supply-side bullshit would rule without interruption for twelve terrible years. And on the religious front Falwell and Robertson would make short work of any upbeat christian competition in the fundamentalist game, witness Jim and Tammy Faye, and they would go on to create the spiritual conditions of fundamentalism necessary for the four horsemen and the hellhound to lead us howling into Armageddon and on to doomsday when only the Bush family and a few hundred thousand other prune-faced white bigots will find salvation and the rest of us will be doomed to live gasping for breath in a CO2 enriched atmosphere, picking the scabs of our oozing tumors and wishing the dust that blows over everything was slightly less radioactive.
There in San Francisco in the early seventies I ran into a book edited by Fred Nelson and Ed McClanahan called "One Lord, One Faith, One Cornbread." I think the phrase was Wendell Berry's and I think I have these books, the Brautigan and the McClanahan and countless more, out in the barn mildewing in boxes that were shipped here from Berkeley fifteen years ago and never opened for lack of shelf space in the house.
Today AKMA quotes Dietrich Bonhoeffer in a post titled "On Communion." The quote, rolls with protestant thunder echoing Ephesians, Corinthians, Romans... "one body, one spirit, one lord, one faith, one baptism, one god...." You can see why I was reminded of "One Lord, One Faith, One Cornbread," my earliest theological study in community.
Quakers try to grasp the essence of this unity in all of our communitarian efforts. We are not satisfied with majority rule, not even with consensus which so often smacks of coercive influence, quiet misgivings and unspoken reservations. Finding unity of purpose, centering on the divine spark of love within each of us to unite us in our plurality, our diversity, is the challenge that we face whenever we gather. That we gather in unity is a miracle. It requires no bread, no wine, and no metaphysical hoot.
I think in the sixties there was a movement toward understanding Bonhoeffer that has been obscured by a lot of "post" this and that. As a non-theist with a respect for the community to be found in gatherings of the worshipfully religious, I want to read Bonhoeffer's line that "unity of spirit, community of spirit, and plurality of spirit are intrinsically linked to each other through their subject matter" as a step up and away from the wine and cheese bits of christian communion, a step toward a unifying principle that requires no priests, no rabbis, no incense, no liturgy, nothing but a common sense of right and wrong and a commitment to good service. Some Quakers say that the service begins when the meeting ends and I think that is right.
Bonhoeffer was a pacifist who was hanged for his involvement in a plot to kill Hitler. The pacifist/assassin paradox provides a lot of food for thought, and raises questions that may be resolved by a peek at this article on Bonhoeffer's "Ethics." The foundational assumptions regarding the mercy and the grace of god, I think, bear a closer look in a world that has "come of age." Mercy, grace, and even "god" have a largely symbolic, perhaps Platonic, descriptive function in an objective framework. Bonhoeffer helped us take a step toward that spiritual maturity, that coming of age, but of course the latter day fundamentalists in the service of Bush, the service of mammon, have reversed spiritual and ethical progress in the US, if not elsewhere in states rooted in a christological tradition. What are we to do about it?
[props to Shelley Powers for her recent use of the phrase "gravity defiant," which got me thinking...]