Another time of cultural chaos

As I often say, I usually don’t know what I will be writing when I sit in front of this laptop first thing in the morning. It is a spiritual practice to try to discern what the Spirit is telling me to say. I am a Quaker, and our worship is to gather together for about an hour as we collectively, expectantly wait to hear or feel what our Inner Light is saying to us.

There are any number of things I thought I might write about when I finished, after about 5 hours, writing yesterday’s post. I could see many things that could build on that foundation.

Writing these blog posts is one of the primary ways I try to make sense of my life currently, and how to move into the future. Yesterday I wrote “look beyond your culture” to try to make sense of the dramatic changes COVID-19 has forced upon us. I believe critical thinking about our situation will be helpful. But also suggested what I’ve been learning about Indigenous peoples can help us live with environmental integrity. Help make sense from a more spiritual perspective.

I’m often surprised when I go back to research materials, like this essay by James Allen, written less than a year ago, and find how much has changed in the intervening time. As a result of the novel coronavirus.

The viability of our civilisation is uncertain. While opening our eyes means we’ll confront darkness, keeping them shut means it’ll stay dark. Let’s dare to look and start building new worlds alongside the old.

Dear reader

I offer you this essay in the hope that you may find something within it that will keep you buoyed in the years ahead. It reflects my own attempt to understand the converging crises in our near future, and to grapple with the question of what I might be able to offer that will be useful in that future.


Finally, there remains the most existential risk of them all: our diminishing capacity for collective sensemaking. Sensemaking is the ability to generate an understanding of world around us so that we may decide how to respond effectively to it. When this breaks down within the individual, it creates an ineffective human at best and a dangerous one at worst. At the collective level, a loss of sensemaking erodes shared cultural and value structures and renders us incapable of generating the collective wisdom necessary to solve complex societal problems like those described above. When that happens the centre cannot hold.

Pontoon Archipelago or: How I learned to stop worrying and love collapse by James Allen, Medium, Jun 18, 2019

Let this darkness be a bell tower

Quiet friend who has come so far,
feel how your breathing makes more space around you.
Let this darkness be a bell tower
and you the bell. As you ring,
what batters you becomes your strength.
Move back and forth into the change.
What is it like, such intensity of pain?
If the drink is bitter, turn yourself to wine.
In this uncontainable night,
be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,
the meaning discovered there.
And if the world has ceased to hear you,
say to the silent earth: I flow.
To the rushing water, speak: I am.

Sonnets to Orpheus II, 29. By Rainer Maria Rilke

It was a complete surprise to find myself thinking of two poems. And for “Testimony: 1968” to evoke so many stories and images of that time. To realize the parallels of that traumatic time to ours today.



“Two years ago, the composer Richard Danielpour and I were commissioned by Copland House in New York to begin work on a song cycle that would span the past half-century of American history: a baker’s dozen worth of testimonials, lyric vignettes arranged for a single soaring mezzo-soprano. ‘Testimony: 1968’ sets the trajectory in motion by chronicling the turbulences of 1968: the Vietnam War, the ongoing struggle for civil rights, and of course, the assassinations. I chose the villanelle form, with its relentless double-refrain, to evoke the turmoil of that year—the spiraling outrage and eddying despair—but also the swirls of hope that have risen and fallen through the years since. The entire song cycle, called A Standing Witness, was scheduled to premiere this summer at the Tanglewood Music Festival in Massachusetts but, because of the pandemic, might have to be moved to a later date.”

Rita Dove

This poem, Testimony: 1968, brings back many memories. Our culture in the U.S. seemed to be falling apart from the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement occurring simultaneously.

I was a student at Scattergood Friends School and Farm, a Quaker boarding high school, from 1966-1970. I kept a journal during that time. Then recently wrote a number of blog posts from those journal entries. https://kislingjeff.wordpress.com/2017/11/07/scattergood-journal-1969/

That was roughly the time of the assassination of President John F Kennedy (1963) and later (1968) his brother, Senator Bobby Kennedy. And that same year of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Of Medgar Evers in 1963. Four girls, Addie May Collins, Carol Denise McNair, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Rosamond Robertson, were killed in the 1963 bombing of their church in Birmingham, Alabama. In 1963 three civil rights activists, Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney, were killed by the Klu Klux Klan. In 1968 Samuel Ephesians Hammond Jr., Delano Herman Middleton and Henry Ezekial Smith were shot and killed by police who fired on student demonstrators at the South Carolina State College campus.  On Sunday, March 7, 1965 twenty five year old John Lewis, now a U.S. Congressman, was among those who were beaten crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge as a civil rights march was going to Selma, Alabama.

The Kent State shootings (also known as the May 4 massacre or the Kent State massacre),[3][4][5] were the shootings on May 4, 1970, of unarmed college students by the Ohio National Guard at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio, during a mass protest against the bombing in neutral Cambodia by United States military forces. Twenty-eight National Guard soldiers fired approximately 67 rounds over a period of 13 seconds, killing four students and wounding nine others, one of whom suffered permanent paralysis.[6][7]

Kent State Shootings

Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young wrote “Ohio” about the Kent State shootings.

All the students and most of the staff of Scattergood marched about 14 miles from the School to the University of Iowa during one of the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam days.

As I wrote above, I’m often surprised by what I end up writing about on any given day. I’m not sure what should be taken from this blog post. Perhaps this might evoke memories you have from that time, if your are old enough. I’d be interested to hear what you have to say if you want to leave a comment.

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2 Responses to Another time of cultural chaos

  1. Wendy Linow says:

    Jeff, this post evoked many feelings and many memories. I have been discussing sense making (without using those words) a great deal lately. I have been grappling with the incongruous nature of our society now. My spiritual journey lately has included many teary moments. How do we Jews practice effective Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) in these very difficult, divisive times?

    The 1968 poem and your commentary brought up many memories of those years. I remember my father marching from Selma across the Pettis bridge. My uncle told my mother to not let him go. He said “when you’re dead, you are dead all over.” When I heard him say this, I was scared but proud of my father. I remember our silent walk to Iowa City our senior year.

    There are lessons learned during those times and I see many comparisons between then and now.

    Thanks for this thought provoking post.

    • Jeff Kisling says:

      Thanks Wendy. This is very interesting. That’s amazing that your father marched to Selma across the Pettis bridge. I think you know I’ve written about our silent walk to Iowa City our senior year.
      I am very glad you posted a comment. Every once in a while I’ll be led to write something, and not sure exactly why.

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