Asterisked (It’s complicated)

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Saturday I went to a rally in Boston in support of Cape Wind*, a proposed wind farm that would lie off the coast of Cape Cod and is, once again, threatened. For fourteen years, this  sustainable-energy project has been fought by a) the fossil fuel industry** b) wealthy, Cape Cod home-owners concerned about aesthetics*** c) Bird lovers **** d) the Cape and Nantucket Sound islands’ Wampanoag tribe. *****  Twenty-six lawsuits! Not to mention that an offshore wind farm has never before been built in this country ******  so that, although several top politicians, including President Obama******* and former Massachusetts governor, Deval Patrick, have been in favor of the project, the actual implementation process, even without repeated, obstructive lawsuits, has been complicated by its steep learning curve. And, finally, some say Cape Wind was a lousy deal from the get-go. That took the wind out of my sails! (Temporarily)

Know something, though?  If there will be more pro-Cape Wind rallies, I’ll show up. Even though I have deep concerns about its shaky business practices. Because, know what? Sometimes, even when you do know all about those pesky, complicated/complicating asterisks, sometimes you have to just show up in support of a very simple and uncomplicated and non-asterisked idea. Like Peace. Like Justice. Like Truth. Like, in this case, supporting renewable energy. Sometimes you just have to show up.

* My late father, a Republican and a long-time, loyal employee of the General Electric Company, the world’s biggest nuclear equipment supplier, was nevertheless a huge supporter of Cape Wind. (He was also a sailor and a thrifty Yankee who, no doubt, saw the value of harnessing free, just-going-to-waste wind power.) So I went in his honor, too.

** Especially one of the Koch brothers, who also happens to own several homes on the Cape.

*** Like the late Teddy Kennedy

**** Yet Mass Audubon has endorsed the project.

***** Who claim they need an unobstructed view of Nantucket Sound to welcome the morning sun. Yet their land on Martha’s Vineyard does not face Nantucket Sound. So while, in principle, I am in sympathy with this Native American tribe, whose name, indeed, means greeting the morning sun, that I also know they’re trying to open a casino I find confusing!

****** Meanwhile, while all the Cape Wind dithering goes on, another wind farm off the coast of nearby Rhode Island has recently been approved!

******* The same week as Boston’s Cape Wind rally, President Obama vetoed the Keystone XL Pipeline, definitely NOT a renewable energy project, and so made climate change history by saying “No! Keep fossil fuel in the ground. Unburned.”

“Gets Me Every Year”

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[Limestone Mine, Louisville, KY]

Went to a badly acted, poorly-written play Friday night yet because its themes—climate change and our broken political system — were so much what needs to be said and explored and talked about, the play’s essential goodness, its gem-like imperative to be aired shone through: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Until a couple of days ago, Christmas had seemed mostly dark this year. Devastating headlines, dear friends facing hard, hard times, day after day of no sun/lots of rain (what climate change looks like in the Northeast) had made me blue. Had made me Christmas spiritless. Had made me feel like I was going through the motions. Had made me wonder: why bother?

But then, Sunday morning at my Quaker meeting’s Christmas pageant, when we all sang “Silent Night” to a real, live baby, I welled up. (This year’s baby has shining, golden hair—lots of it—so really, really did “radiantly beam”!) That sweet and gentle moment when over a hundred people of all ages quietly sang together in tribute to this new, precious life among us? It gets me every year!

My tears opened me to the words of another carol we sang that morning: “The hopes and fears of all the years are meet in thee, tonight.” Yes!  I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes from Thorton Wilder’s Our Town: “It’s like what one of those European fellas said: ‘Every child born into the world is nature’s attempt to make a perfect human being.’ “ 

That’s what we celebrate. “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.” Hope. Our collective hope for peace, for justice, for “The Great Turning.” And our collective faith, despite the overwhelming and ubiquitous darkness, that Way will open and the Light will shine forth.

 

“Dear White People”; Part 2

Show up. Strategically. Be that white face in a black crowd, especially when it really, really matters. Sad But True: when I showed up at a racial-profiling trial for a group of Somerville teenagers, one of the defense attorneys told me that my presence had an impact on the jury. Horrifying? Yes. Absolutely. But, hey!  If we’re to dismantle racism, brick by brick, let’s use the tools that work!

Be in community with other white allies. Don’t do this work alone. And don’t ask your friends of color to hold your hand or give you advice. (Or, for that matter, thank you.) Download soon and often. And, supported and cherished for the wonderful person you truly are, keep on keepin’ on.

Be in community. Work local. Work one-to-one. Keep in mind Mother Teresa’s “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.” (Love, compassion, forgiveness; they’re in our dismantling racism tool boxes, too.)

Here’s your homework: Connect the dots. How are Racism, War, and Climate Change inexorably intertwined? (Hint: it’s complicated. And fear and A strongly held belief there’s not enough are definitely involved.)

Got it? Feel it? Great. Now: let your deep and powerful understanding fuel your passion and guide your actions, especially in those moments when you’re overwhelmed.

We shall overcome.

 

“God in the Hard Places”

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[ Monday, in front of the Massachusetts State House just before a Mothers Out Front rally]

LIke many women these days, I am no longer a Woody Allen fan. But the director/writer got one thing right: It really is about showing up. So on a rainy and chilled day when I would have much preferred to stay home and play with my precious grand-daughter, I reluctantly donned my high-performance long underwear, my warmest clothes, my thickest socks and my rain gear and took the T downtown. A veteran of outdoor showing-ups since Vietnam—indeed, many of my clothing choices are strictly based on “Will it keep me warm and dry if I’m standing for hours at a vigil or demonstration?”—I understand how these things work: It’s all about the body count. So I knew I had to be counted.

Now, I have devout friends whose discernment process to test whether or not they’re really called is to ask: Is this act or choice hard? Challenging? Painful? Am I struggling? And only if the answer is “Yes,” do they trust they’re doing God’s work.

Makes sense, right? If doing God’s work were easy, maybe we’d all be doing it! And it’s hard to trust facile—like sending off, with just a few keystrokes, this or that petition to save this or that. (Let’s hear it for “AutoFill”) It’s too darned convenient!

However: My own compass telling me if I’m on the right spiritual path is: Am I overcome by unexpected joy? So I was not expecting a spiritual experience when I grabbed my umbrella on Monday.

I showed up. Sixty others did, too, an awesome and deeply moving turn-out for such a miserable day. Which, need I say this, filled me with unexpected joy!

That evening, warm and dry, when I got the news that the Senate defeated Tar Sands, I gave thanks for the millions who have ever shown up, “in snow or rain or heat or gloom of night,” to protest injustice, to witness against war.

Thank you!

 

“To know and not to act is not to know”

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[A fountain in downtown Boston]

Just finished Nadine Gortimer‘s Burger’s Daughter; she’d used the above quote by Chinese philosopher, Wang Yang-ming (1472—1529), to introduce Part Two of her amazing and painful and gorgeously written anti-apartheid novel. It just might be my new credo.

If I know that climate change is real but do nothing, I don’t know.

If I know that my country is riven by racism and the dregs of slavery yet do nothing, I know nothing.

If I know that the criminal justice system isn’t just but don’t speak out, I know nothing.

If I know that men and women have equal rights yet fail to act on behalf of my oppressed sisters, I’m an idiot.

if I can remember when water fountains and swimming pools and schools and buses were segregated but fail to exult when I notice that arc of the moral universe has bent a little closer towards justice—in my lifetime!—I remember nothing.

“Water is everything.”

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Yesterday felt like the first, perfect summer day—probably because I spent it with my precious granddaughter. But also because it’s been rainy and/or gray around here for what seems like weeks, New England’s version of climate change.* Welcome, sunshine!

In mid-afternoon my granddaughter and I went to a shady park near my house where the older children ran in and out of jets of water sprayed by the park’s sunflower-shaped sprinklers. Not quite ready to join the delighted, screaming throng, my almost-two granddaughter hung back to quietly watch at my knee. A deep, male voice behind us, speaking with a middle-eastern accent, I’m guessing, commented on what he saw: “Water is everything.”

Yes, it is. And you—humans are 50 to 60% water—don’t have to be from a rain-parched part of the world to appreciate the depth of that man’s statement, do you!

Let’s let someone else from the Middle East have the last word: Rain righteousness, you heavens, let the skies above pour down; let the earth open to receive it, that it may bear fruit of salvation with righteousness in blossom at its side. [Isaiah 45:8]

 

* Bill McKibben re climate change in New England: “Rainfall is becoming steadily more intense — if we aren’t getting more rain in total, and we probably are; it is definitely coming in more concentrated bursts than we tend to deal with.”

All One Under One Sun

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Like most urban residents, I’m guessing, I’m neither here nor there when it comes to squirrels, ranking them in the same category as feral cats, slightly more appreciated than pigeons, but way less gratifying than the cardinals and goldfinches of my neighborhood. So when a squirrel showed up on my deck, yesterday, and started eating bread crumbs thrown out for birds, at first I was annoyed.

But because yesterday was Lilian Day, i.e. the day I spend with an in-the-moment toddler, I decided to take a moment or two to just watch this creature so close by. (Lilian was frightened by this bit o’ nature two panes of glass away and quickly returned to the inanimate toys in the next room.) It didn’t take long to realize there was something seriously wrong with our little deck visitor: He/she swayed back and forth as if drunk and occasionally keeled over. But did not stop eating. I am not the Jane Goodall of squirrels so do not know if that squirrel was starving or sick (or, in fact, actually drunk from eating fermented berries at his/her feet?),  I just know he/she wolfed down every crumb!

Seeing this disturbing behavior,  that urban pest became the object of pity, calling forth both my compassion and the sort of mindfulness that sometimes accompanies such love. Oh, yeah, I realized, it’s been a hard winter for squirrels, too. Oh, yeah, I realized again, we’re all inter-connected. This wondrous creature—and being so close allowed me to see every luminous hair—and I share this backyard, this neighborhood, this planet.

We are all one under one sun.

 

 

Mother Love/Deep Solidarity

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Pulling on my thick-soled L.L. Bean boots Saturday morning, I recalled that I’d bought those boots several years ago specifically to wear to peace demonstrations! (Some war or other; who can keep track?) Boots on, dressed warm, I made my way downtown to Mothers Out Front‘s “Massachusetts Campaign Kickoff,” eager to be counted as one more warm body in support of mobilizing for a livable planet.”

Walking along traffic-clogged Somerville Avenue, joining the throngs of commuters at the Porter Square T and then on the crowded sidewalks downtown, I felt something I’d never felt before on my way to a demonstration: Love. Deep, profound love for every individual I saw, passing by. Mother Love. Fierce, tender, sustained, respectful—no—awed by Life, by the Life Force, by the living, growing, evolving, wondrous creatures all around me. As if I were each and every stranger’s mom and would anything, anything to ensure each and every person’s blessed and healthy life.

This is the gift of the Great Turning. When we open our eyes to what is happening, even when it breaks our hearts, we discover our true size; for our heart, when it breaks open, can hold the whole universe. We discover how speaking the truth of our anguish for the world brings down the walls between us, drawing us into deep solidarity. That solidarity, with our neighbors and all that lives, is all the more real for the uncertainty we face.” [Joanna Macy]

 

Can We Smile? Interact? Acknowledge One Another’s Humanity?

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[A pic from this year’s Honk—which is ALL about takin’ interactions to the streets!]

I’m missing intercourse—in the 19th-century sense of the word. I’m missing eye-to-eye sidewalk interactions as I walk. (And I walk a lot!) Those brief yet vital moments when two strangers pass each other and lift chins or smile or even say “Nice day,” or “How ’bout those Sox?”

How ironic. At a venerable age, when I am no longer in the slightest danger of being misinterpreted if I smile or say hello to another adult, my friendly, only-connect gestures go un-noticed, as men and women and even children stare at their I-phones as they stumble along. It’s sad, really, to see someone “walking” (more like zombie lurching, really) down a busy sidewalk, totally engrossed in whatever they’re viewing on the tiny screen in their hand when suddenly, for whatever reason, they look up. Such befuddled, dazed, “What the—?” confusion—”Oh, right, I’m actually in the middle of Davis Square!”—breaks my heart.

A moment of paranoia: Walking past a Brooklyn subway station I-phone ad recently, I noticed that someone had carefully written in large, block letters, “Your new master.” It is a little scary, isn’t it? This massive zombiefication? MIllions of people lurching along, under the sway of—what? Not the here and now, obviously. Not the living and breathing reality of the moment, whether precious or fraught, they’re experiencing. Yikes.

For us empty-handed folks, as has always been true in New England (a region historically not celebrated for its warmth and friendliness—even before I-phones), there’s always the weather as an interaction-with-strangers starter. “Cold/hot enough for ya?” remains an accepted opening remark around here. Which, unfortunately, amplifies another challenge of the Here and Now: How to answer that seemingly innocuous question? When the actual, real, True answer is along the lines of: “Are you kidding me? This unusually hot day in the middle of November’s scaring the bejesus out of me! I’m guessing it scares you, too, huh?”

Interesting times, huh?

 

 

Branded #6: “The drop becomes the ocean.”

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A peak-religious-experience moment at New England Yearly Meeting [see “Bread for Home”]: Jay O’Hara was showing pictures of the coal-burning plant at Somerset, MA; one pic featured a veritable mountain of coal—and someone commented on its enormity.

“Oh, yeah,” Jay said off-handedly. “It gets really tall in the summer.”

As Quaker scholar, Michael Birkal, would put it: “The drop became the ocean.” That mountain became what makes my air conditioner work. I knew this, I felt/saw/experienced the whole damned thing, from mountain-top-removal in West Virginia or Kentucky to pushing my AC remote control power button—totally and whole-heartedly.

Other faith traditions, of course, also speak of and practice this mindfulness, this Consciousness*, this perpetual connectivity, this grokking The Whole. And, of course, drugs do the trick, sometimes. A friend I’ve sadly lost track of, once told of a similar peak-experience moment when he was super-high so scribbled down something, ya know, profound. The next morning he couldn’t wait to look at what he’d written: “Everything is everything.” (Yup.)

Being a Quaker’s my faith tradition, however; here’s where I’ve landed. So as I continue to join others working on climate change, that mountain-top to mountain-top to my bedroom moment will feed me, sustain me, my very own, inner power button.

 

A Garden Beyond Paradise

Everything you see has its roots
in the unseen world.
The forms may change,
yet the essence remains the same.

Every wondrous sight will vanish,
every sweet word will fade.
But do not be disheartened,
The Source they come from is eternal—
growing, branching out,
giving new life and new joy.

Why do you weep?—
That Source is within you,
and this whole world
is springing up from it.

The Source is full,
its waters are ever-flowing;
Do not grieve,
drink your fill!
Don’t think it will ever run dry—
This is the endless Ocean!

From the moment you came into this world,
a ladder was placed in front of you
that you might transcend it.

From earth, you became plant,
from plant you became animal.
Afterwards you became a human being,
endowed with knowledge, intellect and faith.

Behold the body, born of dust—
how perfect it has become!

Why should you fear its end?
When were you ever made less by dying?

When you pass beyond this human form,
no doubt you will become an angel
and soar through the heavens!

But don’t stop there.
Even heavenly bodies grow old.

Pass again from the heavenly realm
and plunge into the ocean of Consciousness.
Let the drop of water that is you
become a hundred mighty seas.

But do not think that the drop alone
becomes the Ocean—
the Ocean, too, becomes the drop!

Jelaluddin Rumi, “A Garden Beyond Paradise”,
A Garden Beyond Paradise: The Mystical Poetry of Rumi
(translated by Jonathan Star), Bantam Books, NY, 1992, pp. 148-149