As many of us do this time of year, I looked back over 2011 recently, and I was amazed to see all that had happened. Some of it has been hard and some has been thrilling, but I definitely feel alive. I was theoretically taking it easier this year in order to work at the NCCC and work on writing a book, but still managed to play/speak in eleven states and four countries. Wow. I don’t usually write a “year-in-review” blog, but in jotting down a few of the extraordinary experiences that came my way in the last twelve months, it seemed like something worth sharing.
Less than a year after moving back to the US from Australia, Deanna and I got to go back for a short visit. Rotarians from Sydney flew both of us down so that I could speak at a District conference, and we built in a side trip to Brisbane to see friends there. That was a treat. Part of our hearts will always live in Oz. It was dangerous to my inflatable ego that folks would fly us both to the other side of the world so that I could speak for a half-hour, but it sure was a fun trip.
February also held some very hard news, in that Deanna’s mother was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer. As I write these words, she is in the hospital in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and Deanna is there with her. So far she has done better than expected, and we are holding her in the Light and helping in all of the ways that we can think of.
I had a ‘first’ this year that I wouldn’t have wished for — my first night in jail. Deeply concerned over the direction that the North Carolina legislature has taken on a host of issues this year, I made the decision to engage in a civil disobedience action in the state House. As it turned out, I didn’t have the chance to break any laws, but I was rounded up anyway simply for standing near those who were doing so. That was fine, though the experience was harder for me than I expected it to be. No regrets, though. The goal was to bring the things that were happening in the legislature to the attention of more people who were understandably too busy in their daily lives to tune in. I think we did that, and I congratulate Gov. Perdue on her courageous vetoes, especially of the proposed gutting of the NC Racial Justice Act, the action most significant in convincing me to take a stand.
Shortly after that I had the chance to be involved in the launch of the Wild Goose Festival here in North Carolina. It got off to a good start, with artists like Michelle Shocked and Over the Rhine, and speakers including Jim Wallis, Phyllis Tickle and Richard Rohr. I performed, but also helped to in some of the organizational work. If you didn’t make it last year, I highly recommend you check it out this year.
In July I ended my year on staff at the NC Council of Churches as their Program Associate for Peace. I worked on peace and justice issues ranging from interfaith efforts at justice in the Middle East to local school board issues. It was the one experiment with conventional employment I’ve had as an adult, and it was enriching and good to be there. I met extraordinary people and loved working with the staff at such a vital and effective organization. In the end, though, the pull of my other callings to music, writing and speaking won out, and I left the NCCC to give more time to that work. I am still doing some work for the NCCC, but on an ad hoc basis, and I continue to treasure that relationship.
Healing, when it comes, is always wrapped around hurt. September brought some of the year’s highlights for me, and they were directly related to tragedy. I spent 9/11/11 in two places — Woodbury, NJ, where I held an hour-long concert/talk/remembrance on the tragic events of Sept. 11 for a church there, then zipped into New York City to perform with Pete Seeger, David Amram and others at a memorial concert called “Love Wins,” organized by Lyndon Harris of Gardens of Forgiveness. Both of those events were deeply moving to me, and a privilege to be a part of.
Two months later I performed in Joplin, Missouri at a concert to mark the re-dedication of a church after the devastating tornadoes there. The destruction in Joplin is ubiquitous, even six months later, but so is the active rebuilding and the almost-palpable hope. One of the images that moved me was the sign in front of “Hope High School.” Like much of the town, the school was destroyed by tornadoes. Adding insult to injury, two of the letters in “Hope” were blown away by the wind. Someone immediately showed up and replaced them with duct tape letters, though. Months later, the duct tape is holding, and that speaks volumes.
Also of note this year, my sister Kathy graduated from Cornell Law, passed the bar and began work on post-conviction death penalty defense in South Carolina. How cool is that?!
I’ve been doing about as much public speaking as singing lately, and really enjoying the rich conversations that have been growing out of that work. Mostly, I’ve been addressing peace issues and “Worldchanging 101,” also the title of a book I’m working on, which has to do with challenging our cultural mythology around our own supposed powerlessness to bring about social change.
The least conventional lecture/workshop I did this year was at the US Embassy in Moldova, via Skype, with young Moldovan activists. I’m looking forward to some exciting speaking gigs coming up in the next few months, from the West Coast to the Far East.
October took me to Guatemala for the second time this year. I got to check in with several of our projects there, including the school band in El Tejar, the Escuelita David LaMotte in Tzanchaj, and the public school in Pachaj, Quetzaltenango, where I presented funds donated by you at my concerts to build a classroom onto an overflowing school. As always, work with PEG Partners is wonderfully tangible and a privilege to be a part of.
In November I organized a big concert event at Duke University called the Abraham Jam. It featured songwriters from the three major Abrahamic faiths in the US, Islam (Dawud Wharnsby), Judaism (Dan Nichols) and Christianity (yours truly). There were also nationally known performance poets and an improvisational dancer who did an amazing interpretation of my instrumental song Shadows. It was a beautiful night, and Dan, Dawud and I are kicking around some ideas about doing some more touring together as Abraham Jam.
In December Deanna finished up her first semester of a Masters in Public Health at UNC-Chapel Hill, and (am I allowed to brag on her?) did very, very well. She’s enjoying studying and she’s learning a lot, while balancing partnering with me in parenting Mason and making frequent trips to South Carolina to care for her mother. Mason is enjoying his new school too (he can’t really get the letter ‘s’ on the front of a word, so he calls it his ‘cool’). Mason turned three on Halloween, and he’s a joy. He especially likes singing with me on stage.
There’s so much I’m looking forward to in the new year. Some wonderful concert opportunities and speaking gigs are already on the calendar, and there are some extremely exciting things in the wings that I can’t quite talk about yet (stay tuned!). I’ll also begin a term as the Clerk of the AFSC Nobel Peace Prize Nomination Committee. I’ve just completed my first year doing that work, and it is an immensely hopeful thing to be a part of.
The biggest thing on the horizon for me, though, is the release of a new book, White Flour. The text is a poem I wrote four years ago, telling the true story of a Ku Klux Klan march in Knoxville, Tennessee, and a whimsical and disarming response by a group calling themselves the Coup Clutz Clowns. I am delighted to be working with Jenn Hales, an artist living in Raleigh, NC. We’re well into sketches for the book, and hoping to have it out in April, just in time for the five-year anniversary of the event it celebrates.
The new year also brings a new partner in crime (I guess I shouldn’t throw that term around so lightly any more, now that I’ve been a jailbird!), Rachel Wilson, who recently signed on to handle my booking. That is already a rich partnership, and I’m so grateful.
I’m also grateful for you. If you’ve read this far, you’re interested in what I’m trying to do with my days, and I’m humbled and moved by that. Thank you. Blessings on your next trip around the sun. Here’s to 2012…