“Bread for Home*”

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Refreshed and renewed**, now back home from New England Yearly Meeting (NEYM). A wonderful experience this year—year by year, YM wildly veers from incredibly great to incredibly horrible for me—especially the Bible Half-Hours. Michael Birkel gave a rich, accessible, often hilarious series of talks linking the writings of early Quakers with passages those early Friends basically lifted, often verbatim, from the Bible. That these Biblical passages referenced relevant Biblical events, i.e. George Fox writing a letter to imprisoned Quakers employing Bible passages written to Old Testament exiles, made clear that, yes, those early Quakers knew their Bible in a way I can greatly appreciate. And their writings were, I now see, layered. “Echoes,” Michael kept saying. Those early Friends echoed the voices of Isaiah, of Jeremiah, of John et al; those yearning to express their experience of The Divine—or the Kingdom of God—in words. (How do you “explain” the inexpressible/beyond words in language?)

Words are my tools so am intrigued by the possibility of more fully embracing the beauty and the poetry of the Bible—judiciously. (Like many former UUs/current feminists, the Bible infuriates me, too.) “Sustain me with raisins, refresh me with apples; for I am faint with love.” (Michael teased that “The Song of Solomon” is the only book of the Bible Quakers take literally!)

Among New England Quakers this year there was much talk of our shrinking numbers; several sobering conversations re our fading from existence, how we are, perhaps, fated to become extinct. And, indeed, if you look at numbers, there is cause for alarm.

BUT: Check this out: When Quaker environmental activist Jay O’Hara talked about his witness against a coal-poison-spewing power plant near Fall River, Massachusetts (“Walking Cheerfully into the Arms of the Police”) at YM this year, I felt that tingly, goose-bumpy Connecting-The-Dots Thing between Michael’s ‘echoes” and what I was hearing: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me.” (Isaiah 61) Jay didn’t say that! I heard it. I experienced it.

Quakerism is dying out?  If I’m to believe that I’m asked to believe that the powerful, prophetic “echoes” of the Bible and Rumi and Margaret Fell and . . . no longer speak.

And I can’t.

 

*A Quaker expression shared by Michael Birkel meaning an inner awareness gifted during a meeting for worship NOT spoken aloud but meant “to be brought home,” so to speak.

**In the spirit of this year’s Bible Half-Hours, am footnoting this quote from NEYM’s Faith and Practice queries: “Are your recreations consistent with Quaker values; do they refresh your spirit and renew your body and mind?

Surprised by Joy

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True confession: I’d secretly hoped that the earnest, good-hearted, energy-saving, Prius-driving efforts by environmentalists all over this planet were actually having a global impact. Nope.

So what are you, what am I, what are we to do re this grim news?

Here’s what’s keeping me going*: Two weeks after the Marathon bombings and still feeling it, when walking through Harvard’s campus during an arts festival, I passed a crowd of people standing outside the Busch-Reisinger Museum. An organ concert, maybe? I wondered, joining the crowd just as it surged forward. “You’re last,” an usher whispered, closing the door behind me. “We have one more seat.”

Weary and heartsick, I took that last seat and, like many others in that austere, lapideous hall, tuned my seat around to face the organ loft. Immediately I was overpowered and entranced; organ music does that, doesn’t it. Talk about “wall of sound”!

Overpowered—and filled with surprising, out-of-nowhere joy at the sometimes-magnificence of  our species.

As Joanna Macy reminds us: “We can wake up to who we really are.” (Emphasis added)

Yeah!

 

* Instead of staring vacantly into space for minutes at a time when I first heard this awful news.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Speaking Through the Super-Storms (and the Droughts and the . . . )

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This is an entry about leadings. This is an entry about discernment. This is an entry about process—so this is an entry about bumbling around:

In the odd way these things happen, sometimes, the day after way opened* for another leading (my role vis a vis Opportunity Knocks, an exciting, greater-Boston re-entry initiative for ex-offenders became clear), I met with the incomparable Vanessa Rule of the Better Future Project, who’s working on another exciting initiative: Mothers Out Front.

As my sister would say, “I was torn.” Mobilizing mothers in Massachusetts to become a political force around climate change is a terrific idea. Yet who’s the most stretched-to-the-max group there is? Mothers.

What to do?

Well, the first thing I did was talk about this idea with a young mother—who also happens to be a daughter. “Sure, Mom,” she said. “Send me more information.” So I did. And to 4 other mothers, too.

Guess what? Only one mother responded. But then she had to beg off our scheduled lunch date. And still hasn’t gotten back to me to . . .

So, apparently, this is also an entry about Having It All and about the scarcity of time for most mothers and about how incredibly challenging it is to have “come a long way, baby.”

This morning, however, in the wonderfully odd way these things happen, sometimes, I woke up  thinking maybe I’d direct some of MY time towards developing a curriculum for parents and children that addresses climate change. Or as the wise Maggie Edmondson puts it: “Deicide.” A curriculum that acknowledges, as the wise Joanna Macy puts it: “We are our world knowing itself.”

BTW:  As a brand-new member of my Quaker meeting’s First Day School Committee, I’d decided to work on such a curriculum TWO YEARS AGO! But in the way that these things happen all the time, I never quite got around to it. Because although passionate, I was working solo, disconnected and overwhelmed. But now, I’m sensing, there’s energy around such an idea. Resources.

I’ll let Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier have the last word:

Breathe through the heats of our desire

Thy coolness and Thy balm;

Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;

Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,

O still, small voice of calm.

 

* “The old Quaker expression ‘Way Opens’ describes the serendipitous unfolding of God’s will for a person or community.” —Alex Levering Kern—

Sand, Sandy.

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Friday I took the Amtrak (ah, Quiet Car) to Westerly, RI to spend the day with my dear friend, Diana. She picked me up from the train station; first stop, Westerly’s waterfront, devastated by Hurricane Sandy.

Driving past beachfront homes, some still in tough shape, I suddenly realized: my lifelong dream to own a house on the water is GONE! Poof. Buy expensive property exactly where the super-storms of the future will strike? That’s just crazy.

There’s a mild sort of freedom, of course, to be free of this covetousness. (There’s some nasty family history folded into this lifelong desire, too, but why get into that?) More importantly, of course, I am deeply, deeply sad, a sadness shared by my generation, to acknowledge that the world we grew up in is no more.

Diana and I stopped at Watch Hill for a brief walk. Sandy-swept sand had reshaped the beach, sculpted odd spots such as the entrance to an ancient carousel, covered sidewalks. Sand was pervasively, immutably, grittily, chafing-against-skin everywhere.

May I remember that chafing. May I remember to keep asking, keep asking: What is it I am asked to do to help heal a broken world?

 

 

November 4, 2012: Can We Talk?

[Written—because I HAD to—the day after Hurricane Sandy]

Can We Talk?

  Mid-morning yesterday a loud crack sent me to the window. A huge limb from one of the Norway maples next door had snapped off and crashed onto my neighbors’ third-story roof. The limb’s extra length and girth meant that despite Hurricane Sandy’s increasing winds, that thing wasn’t going anywhere. Solidly wedged between the remaining tree trunk and the roof, that broken limb did not budge. Believe me, I checked. Repeatedly.

My neighbors on all three floors, I noticed, had shut their blinds; a good policy. Better to not watch the other wind-challenged Norways next to their building flail and flap, better to keep something between themselves and exploding glass should another branch smash through their window.

But even after I’d stopped watching that broken limb every five minutes, I kept my curtains and blinds open. Indeed, as the storm increased, I lay on my bed and watched sheets of rain and bending trees and the occasional bare-headed hurricane-worshiper dreamily walk past. Windows rattling, I allowed myself to think about man-made climate change.

There are some ideas so huge, so overpowering, so engulfing that we can only let the tiniest bits into our consciousness. Sometimes, under only the most ideal of circumstances, when we’re absolutely sure we are safe and strong and willing to do so, we can allow a larger piece to penetrate our defenses. Once, years ago, for example, on the Sunday before Memorial Day, in the quiet of Quaker meeting, I contemplated War; I allowed myself to imagine War’s toll as thoroughly as I could. And when I discovered that, despite the enormity of pain and suffering I acknowledged, I hadn’t shriveled up and died, I began to try thinking honestly and comprehensively about other horrors.

That’s what I did, yesterday. I truly contemplated Sandy or, more accurately named, Frankenstorm. I allowed myself to truly acknowledge that because of warmer ocean water, this monster storm was not a once-in-a-lifetime freak show by nature but man-made. It took all my courage and all my meditative practice; it took hours.

This morning I was scheduled to stand with others at Government Center to silently ask: “Why aren’t we talking about climate change?” I’d planned to wear my yellow slicker, maybe put a piece of duct tape across my mouth, maybe hold photographs of my grandchildren. But the vigil, which had been held around the clock since Saturday, ended early because of Frankenstorm.

So this morning  I write this, instead. And because this monster storm has taken out my Internet connection, I will mail this to The Boston Globe. Because today the question is so much more pressing: “Why aren’t we talking about climate change?”

July 12, 2012: “Beasts of the Southern Wild”

At meeting for worship last Sunday, we heard  (maybe too much?) ministry re tribes/tribal identity.

So I was kinda forced to think about tribes. And here’s where I got:

Seems like one, very important organizing principle of a tribe is this: Everyone in that tribe knows the same stories. (Do the words “Bucky F-ing Dent!” mean anything to you? If so, you and I are in the same tribe.)

The day before all that ministry and pondering, David and I saw “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” the first story-telling re climate-change movie I’ve seen, certainly the first non-documentary, non-urban-setting apocalyptic film I’ve ever seen.

I thought I recognized something else: the prequel to “The Shambhala Warrior Prophecy.” Here’s a video—with a way-too-earnest intro—of Joanna Macy telling that tale. (If you want to skip right to the Aesop’s Fable, the moral-of-the-story ending, here is it: The two weapons of the Shambhala warriors are compassion and insight.)

I invite you to see the movie, watch the video. So we can be in the same tribe.

 

June 20, 2012: Narrative(s) from The Left

Last night I joined a smallish group of people to watch “Growthbusters: Hooked on Growth” (wish more people had come*; the film’s too dense yet excellent.) Afterward, Boston writer and activist  Jack Thorndike gave a brief talk. (Jack also attends Friends Meeting at Cambridge.) Still reeling from the film and struck by how much his body language reminded me of his daughter’s—I’ve been lucky enough to be her First Day School teacher a couple of years—I finally tuned in to what Jack was urging: that people from the Left, people of conscience, climate change activists, et al, share our narratives.

So here’s one:

A week ago, I again went to the Davis Square farmers’ market to collect signatures for the “Budget 4 All” (for Massachusetts) referendum. Only this time, it was POURING.

Loathe to get signature sheets wet—we signature collectors had been warned not to spill coffee or damage the sheets in any way—and not possessing enough hands to hold an umbrella, hold a clipboard and, being me, wildly gesture as I explained what this initiative’s all about, I was about to quit when a young woman holding a large box of tomato, basil, and other herb seedlings, walked up to me.

“Where’s your pen?” she asked after politely standing in the rain listening to my (hurried) spiel.

“You really want to do this?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

So like two contortionists just beginning to work on their act, she still clutching her box, we eventually managed to get her vital info on the dampened sheet.

“You’re amazing,” I told her. “I’m gonna blog about you.”

Done.

 

*This film, shown at Somerville’s Center for Arts at the Armory, was the last of the series co-sponsored by Somerville Climate Action and State Representative Denise Provost.

 

 

June 7, 2012: “Only connect.”

As noted before, that Mother’s Day spent with Joanna Macy was, as my Aunt Kay would have said, “only transformational.”

And here’s a significant way I’m feeling The Change:

Having been away for a couple of super-fun weekends lately, I have twice, now, returned home to hundreds of e-mails. Hundreds. And 90% of them are DIRE. “Call this politician!” “Take action!” “Send $$$” “Save (affordable housing, fair elections in Louisiana. . . )” You get them too, right?

But here’s the thing. If I can’t sense the connectedness of a particular action to something greater, something profoundly, cosmically Whole I can feel in that hair-rising-on-the-back-of-my-neck way that I feel about, say, God, I push Delete. No longer will I get swept hither and yon by demands on my time and energy and credit card unless I can comprehend this action’s connectedness to Something Hugely Interconnected & Sustainable & Systemic.

This, too: Joanna Macy said something like “Our intention is more important than effectiveness.”

Which is why I’ve volunteered my time and my energy to collect signatures for a Massachusetts referendum, “Budget 4 All,” that on one level is absolutely hopeless and on a deeper level, all about HOPE.

Basically the referendum says, “Let’s end the war in Afghanistan, let’s close corporate tax loopholes, let’s raise the taxes on people making more than $250,000 and spend that money on things like renewable energy, public transportation, public education, et al.”

Pretty comprehensive, right? Pretty Big Picture, I’d say. Pretty “Hey, guys. Let’s do it differently.” And, of course, this referendum, if it does get on the MA ballot, doesn’t have a snowball in Hell’s chance of actually Implementing Anything!

But here’s the third and last thing. Joanna Macy urges all of us to do work that “reconnects.” Which, as I discovered yesterday when I collected signatures at the Davis Square Farmers Market, is a two-way street. People were so damned grateful to hear that such an initiative is happening! “Really? I love it.” One guy thanked me!

Which, is guess, brings me to another hero in my life: Wendell Berry. Who said something like this: That in his poems he offers hope because that’s the way to pull people in. (He was talking about climate-change work.)

“Only [re]connect.”

 

May 23, 2012: I’m “Going Forth”!

On Mother’s Day, maybe 50 people and I got to spend the day with Joanna Macy, the Buddhist environmental activist—heck, she’s a prophet for our times.

And as they say, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.”

I was ready to go deeper. I was ready to cry. I was ready to acknowledge my despair, to even pour my heart out re the things that terrify me re climate change to a young man who happens to look a LOT like an ex-husband. (Now there’s a bit o’ fate, huh?!)

And I was ready, spiritually, to have faith that the “that of God” is all of us and in Mother Earth means something. So with gratitude, after honoring my fears and outrage and despair, armed with compassion and insight, I am ready to go forth.

Wanna come along?

 

 

April 27, 2012: Connecting Dots

What a week! Hearing Michelle Alexander speak Wednesday night, Bill McKibben last night. How often do you get to listen to two righteous, profound change agents back-to-back, huh?

But who can bear what these modern-day prophets preach?

* Our supposedly colorblind nation systematically incarcerates men and women of color by the millions; the scope of this 21st century Jim Crow is beyond comprehension—although if you happen to be Black and live in a community eviscerated by this mass round-up of (mostly) men and boys you’re living, breathing what Dr. Alexander preaches.

* Because of carbon emissions, our planet is heating up at an alarming rate, causing unprecedented draughts and floods, hurricanes and alarming weather patterns (shorts in March in New England?)  If we don’t do something NOW we’re doomed.

Yikes.

Here’s what I do: I connect the dots. I see the horrors passionately elucidated by Alexander and McKibben and Chomsky and all those who speak out/have spoken out re “this filthy rotten system” as—are you ready?—symptoms. Symptoms of brokenness.

Somehow this construct lets me feel great compassion rather than despair. And allows me to be humble; always a good thing. Because what can I do? Am I going to heal this planet? Am I going to recreate human nature? Will I eliminate greed, fear of Other, how easy it is for my species to rationalize, deny, distract and distance ourselves from what’s really going on?

Nope.

What I can do is ask Spirit: What am I called to do to heal this broken planet?

What I can do is spend time with others who ask the same thing. Sometimes, like last night, when BMcK said, “When we have ‘a solar spill,’ we call it a sunny day!’ we roar together.

What I can do is “show up,” witness. (It’s truly terrifying how affective a White woman sitting in a courtroom earnestly taking notes can be.)

What I can do is practice mindfulness.

And to praise and be grateful.

 

December 8, 2011: And today’s day-blind star is . . .

U.S. Youth Ejected from Climate Talks While Calling Out Congress’s Failure
Durban, South Africa – After nearly two weeks of stalled progress by the United States at the international climate talks, U.S. youth spoke out for a real, science-based climate treaty. Abigail Borah, a New Jersey resident, interrupted the start of lead U.S. negotiator Todd Stern’s speech to call out members of Congress for impeding global climate progress, delivering a passionate call for an urgent path towards a fair and binding climate treaty. Stern was about to speak to international ministers and high-level negotiators at the closing plenary of the Durban climate change negotiations. Borah was ejected from the talks shortly following her speech.
Borah, a student at Middlebury College, spoke for U.S. negotiators because “they cannot speak on behalf of the United States of America”, highlighting that “the obstructionist Congress has shackled a just agreement and delayed ambition for far too long.” Her delivery was followed by applause from the entire plenary of leaders from around the world.
Since before the climate talks, the United States, blocked by a Congress hostile to climate action, has held the position of holding off on urgent pollution reductions targets until the year 2020. Studies from the International Energy Agency, numerous American scientists, and countless other peer-reviewed scientific papers show that waiting until 2020 to begin aggressive emissions reduction would cause irreversible climate change, including more severe tropical storms, worsening droughts, and devastation affecting communities and businesses across America. Nevertheless, the United States has held strong to its woefully inadequate and voluntary commitments made in the Copenhagen Accord in 2009 and the Cancun Agreement in 2010.
“2020 is too late to wait,” urged Borah. “We need an urgent path towards a fair, ambitious, and legally binding treaty.”
The U.S. continues to negotiate on time borrowed from future generations, and with every step of inaction forces young people to suffer the quickly worsening climate challenges that previous generations have been unable and unwilling to address.


June 2, 2011:Talking about climate change

Just back from a wonderful, five-day trip to Louisville, KY and still in that never-neverland mood when the sensibilities of that quirky city feel pretty real. I can still smell boxwood.

For this trip, my husband and I had opted to stay at an elegant B & B, the Dupont Mansion, in the heart of Old Louisville and one block from “Millionaire’s Row.” So the scene for this B & B’s making-polite-conversation-with-total-strangers-while-having-a-sumptuous-breakfast-ritual was an elegant, high-ceiling, crystal glassware-filled dining room.

Nine times out of ten, under such circumstances, after collectively oohing and aahing over such palatial surroundings, what would most strangers—sleepy strangers—talk about? Of course: the weather.

Except that it seems as if weather, like religion and politics, is not a safe, banal conversation-starter any more.

This became crystal-clear (get it?) one morning when my husband and I sat across the dining room table from three people from—yup—Missouri. After we’d heard the story about being shunted into a supermarket walk-in cooler for almost an hour with forty other shoppers to wait out a tornado, the five of us began looking into our laps.

Bill McKibben’s Washington Post article playing in my head, I was hyper-aware of how fraught, how layered that lap-studying moment was. Because one simply doesn’t say aloud, “Jeez! This weird weather we’re having scares the bejeesus out of me!” to a total stranger.

First of all,  there’s the possibility you’re talking to a climate change denier—and who wants to get into that over fruit cups and french toast?

But I sensed something else in that heads-bowed moment: A still-working-on-it etiquette: One simply doesn’t talk about the scariness of tornadoes and droughts and deluges and violent weather because it IS so terrifying. It’s a kindness not to speak The Truth?

Well, yes and no. Like discussing religion and politics, it’s a kindness to strangers to tread gently. But now that I’m home, I’m pondering what I could have said in that lap-studying moment.

Or asked.