For the last 50 years, he's lived in defiance of our national character. Instead of being materialistic and acquisitive, he has pursued a life of minimalism and sharing. Instead of being xenophobic, he has sought to connect with other cultures. Instead of being strident and bellicose, he has pursued peace. Instead of embracing our addiction to television and computers, he has never owned either.
At the age of 14, he participated in his first civil rights march. It was Chicago, 1962. Groups of white detractors lined the route, taunting the marchers. He remembers the hatred in their faces. Instead of being cowed, he resolved to follow—truly follow—the compassionate teachings of his Christian upbringing.
His desire to better the world led him to apply to the Episcopalian priesthood as a young man. At that time Vietnam was raging. When he expressed in one job interview that the ministry should be at the forefront of the civil rights and anti-war movements, he was politely shown the door.
This was the same time Martin Luther King Jr. was being ostracized by fellow clergy for speaking out against the war and enjoining the country in protest. “If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight,” King said during a speech in 1967.
He began attending Quaker meetings. Several years later, in 1970, while teaching math at a Lower East Side alternative school in New York City, he met his life partner, Mary Ann Fiske. Married in 1971, they committed themselves to social justice and global equity.
After relocating to Albuquerque in 1982, Chuck and Mary Ann did everything possible to live their values of economy, conservation, love of others and sustainability. For the next 25 years until Mary Ann's death in 2007, they subsisted contentedly on about $6,000 a year, tending a robust garden, canning vegetables and practicing thrift.
This was made possible in part by the purchase of their South Broadway home in 1984 for $20,000 in savings, which meant no mortgage. Any other income they earned over the years was donated to charitable organizations in developing countries. Given that their annual income remained below the taxable minimum, they took comfort in not funding war.
I am in awe of Chuck. Not only does he live his values, he does so without arrogance, narcissism, spite or hostility.
For too many years I believed in the wrong religion and practiced the wrong faith. I believed in the religion of violence, the religion of superior firepower. I believed, narcissistically, we had the right to menace the world, spending half our tax dollars on weapons and weapons research and weapons training.
Now that I have a garden to tend, I am hopeful. Is not a soldier planting seeds a harbinger of peace?