Thursday, July 11, 2013

Travel Post 3: Tiny House

On our way back across the country we stopped at a tiny house in Omaha, Nebraska. A house compact enough to be on a trailer, this ‘teeny tiny teeny house’ as my son called it, had space enough for 4 to sleep, a composting toilet, shower, and a small kitchen.

The tiny house movement has been around for awhile, and I was excited to stay in one. More than living in an RV, the tiny house is one that models sustainability—composting toilet, gray water system—and efficiency. It’s also cute as hell.

My son was taken with the tiny teeny house. As we drove there, he held up his thumb and said, The house is THIS big, it is so tiny. We got into a discussion about whether or not Norman would fit in the tiny house, or if in fact it was only big enough for Forrest and Mama. It was adorable.

Now, days later—through 2 nights in Chicago and a night in Foxburg, PA, all lovely places, Forrest is still talking about the teeny tiny house.

I’ve realized that these 2 months on the road, with a plane jaunt to Alaska in there, too, is about living in our own teeny tiny house—our Prius. We’ve stocked the car with Forrest’s books and toys, and the car has become a safe place for him. He doesn’t always want to leave the car when we stop, instead sitting and telling stories with whatever parent is available. We have no problem getting him to nap in the car, now. Before, when we were apartment bound, we had to make sure to be at a bed for Forrest to nap.

Back in 1995 I drove around the country by myself, visiting and participating in happenings that interested me after graduating college and before my organizing job started in the fall. I spent a week in West Philadelphia, at a then Training Center workshop with George Lakey. I was living out of my car, and was worried about its safety. A participant told me to not worry, that the universe is my home. And I said, sarcastically, that this was a nice idea, but the universe has NO ROOF.

Now I am a bit calmer about this, and trust more that things will work out. Financial knowledge, a network of friends and relations, and a sense of duration helps. But I am seeing in my son the need for a sense of place that was pretty unconscious in me in 1995. 

He talks about the tiny house, and our home waiting for us in Vermont, in the same breath. We are traveling with our home, and moving toward it—if circuitously—building our shared memories and plans together, in our moving little home and our infinite home of love. 


I had the opportunity to listen to Tink Tinker speak in dialogue with Friends this past week at the FGC Annual Gathering in Greeley, Colorado. Dr. Tinker is a member of the Osage Nation and the Clifford Baldridge Professor of American Indian Cultures 
and Religious Traditions at Illif School of Theology in Denver.

He came as part of a dialogue with Friends gathered and Dr. Vincent Harding (link to his Veteran of Hope Project), elder in the freedom movement and religious and social change leader. In a room of almost 1000, these two men attempted to converse with Friends about the truth of the history of this country, and the growing edges of faith that call us to seek a more perfect union with those who have been on the losing side of USA imperialism—both overseas and on this continent.

It was a very extensive conversation, with a lot of pieces to it, and I can’t do it justice. I hope someone else does. What I want to write about is something Tink Tinker said in response to a question about the project to carve an image of Crazy Horse into a mountainside.

A woman stood up and asked him to speak to the project, and to the legacy of Crazy Horse. Tink Tinker said—and I paraphrase here—that the project of the Crazy Horse Memorial was something a group of white people are trying to do to compete with Mt. Rushmore, and that for Native Peoples, both of these projects are defacements of the inherent rightness, the sacredness of the mountains themselves.

And then he said something that has been sticking with me for days. He said something like “You white people, you are always making things romantic! Always romanticizing things.” And he went on to honor Crazy Horse as a powerful icon and hero of the struggle for Native freedom from European destruction.

This has just stuck with me, echoed in me every damn day, as I have been driving, visiting, driving, and driving some more, back to the east coast. We white people, we are a romantic bunch. What is this about? 

When I think about this specific type of romance with ‘the other,’ the native, the war hero, I think about fetish. Not so much the sexual type, but the magical type, the special something we want to keep close to us for its properties, the something it gives to us by being in our possession, something we fixate on or give almost unnatural power to. This feels like a piece of the romantic relationship that Tink Tinker is referencing.

But there’s more. The romance of white folk with just about everything from our forebears, is everywhere. In our pop art, in our fashion shoots, in our incomplete history lessons, in our new age seeking, in our critical consciousness work. A friend enjoys the joke about how we name our streets, our housing developments, our sports teams, after things that we killed in order to build them.  

What motivates this flattening, this fetishizing? Is it a cloying sense that our whiteness has expunged any depth or value? Is it guilt? Is it fear? What makes white folks so afraid to really see, with wide eyes, what is? 

I think about authentic vision these days. I think a lot about the need to not idealize the life I am living, the decisions I am making, the work I am doing. In a previous post I wrote about excrement, and the need to really see where the shit is. Shit is useful. And it can be deadly if it is not dealt with well and with integrity with the land. 

I am thinking that I, as a white person, am swimming in a sea of shit. The history I have benefited from could drown me, and I can't spray perfume on it anymore. The excrement of my forebears has made the privilege and opportunity I experience now. I cannot divorce myself from this privilege. But why would I front about this-- deny its existence? Or, conversely, why would I want to lose my own sense of power and authority in the face of this excrement? Both sides of this coin are wrong. 

I know, the desire to flee pain is large. I know, the desire to self-flog in some Catholic sense is strong—at least in me. I also know that the truth is much stronger than any fantasy or fetish I can fabricate. 

As I plan to start farming in Vermont, I encounter folks who are both fascinated and repulsed by this plan. Some folks think it is an impossible task, others express envy. Both of these responses are incomplete, and flat. There is nothing impossible about farming, and there is nothing easy about it. When I was first learning about farming, I confronted the actual work involved with bringing food out from the wild. It was not pretty, and it still isn’t. But it’s real. 

And as I sit with this notion of romance as a limitation of my heritage, I ask myself, what else will I let go of idealizing, fetishizing? What can I do to truly know the shit of my ancestors, as well as the well tended compost, and fruitful fields? 

For me, I need to learn more about this land we are moving to, who has lived there, what it has carried. For me, I need to stop idealizing my ancestors, my mentors, the cool kids with the jobs and the nice lifestyles. For me, I need to stand on the land, feel its movement, be humbled in the years long task of learning to listen, again. Then, maybe I’ll know something more. 

Without romance. And without its opposite, shame.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Are You Big Enough for this World?

I am attending the Friends General Conference Annual Gathering, having driven half way across the country to Greeley, Colorado. We made it, and I've been splitting my time between facilitating a workshop and taking care of my son. It's been challenging, to be in a place with so much vibrance and interest, and to feel like a giant nurturing machine. My son is weaned, have done almost six months past, but this week it feels like he's right back on the breast, if figuratively, trying to handle the meals with 1200+ Friends, the late nights, the 'camp' he attends in morning and evening so my beloved and I can be part of some of the activities. Our son is lovely, brilliant, and almost 3. Enough on that. 

But there is more that I have taken on-- facilitating a workshop with the dear and talented Amy Keitzman on spiritual action, called Growing Our Capacity for Spirit Led Action. This is only for 3 hours a day, but it feels like a lot more. I had never realized that the head space of facilitation and of parenting were so similar. I am intently caring about this group of 14 folks, sitting in a circle, daily attending to their place on the journey. 

Our primary modes in the workshop are two-fold-- strategic public engagement, and engaging in the Great Turning. We have spent our time together asking ourselves about the distinction between prayer and action, and what constitutes 'activism.' The stigma on both sides of the false dichotomy between spiritual practice and activist practice is strong. Activists feel alienated from recognition of their spiritual ground, contemplatives and lifestyle radicals feel alienated and distant from those who are more traditionally engaged in campaign work. 

We chose to do this workshop to make space for that false separation to end. Joanna Macy, in her work of the Great Turning, describes a spiral of change work that reflects the sea change underway in our midst. As opposed to the industrial growth society, where the linear acquisition of power, possessions, and resources leads to a planetary and societal crisis leading to apocalypse, the Great Turning offers a new paradigm for understanding this historical moment. Instead of seeing direct action as rearranging deck chairs on the climate change Titanic, or alternative structures as ill-gotten gains from the margins, not effecting anything in the face of the Dominant System, the Great Turning tells us that all of these things are needed for the task of seeing with new eyes. 

And what are we supposed to see, exactly? Where the power-over paradigm sees human and ecological action in atomistic isolation, the power-with paradigm of the Great Turning sees all of these actions, organizations, movements, prayers, and ecological systems as connected. Big or small, the life-giving truth of our interconnection can change our view of this moment in time, and give us energy for committing to this work for the long term

But this new way of seeing is not something we can know in our minds, only. As Friends gathered, we are in a good position to know that we need to know this with our bodies, as well as our minds. An embodied faith makes it possible for us to know the truth of our experience. The activities we planned-- including participating in a youth-led action with the Coalition for Immokalee Workers-- have made space for people to engage the different places they might feel led to act, or worship, or minister. 

The truth of our work together, for me, is a lived panentheism-- a recognition of the God(ess) in the work of liberation for all beings, human and non-human. The nested systems of our selves, our communities, our alternative organizations, modeling and building the kin-dom together, is where my theology lives. The gift of this time with Friends is to reflect and experience together the inward activism and outward prayer of lived faith. And I am grateful for it. 

And so the answer to the question, of course, is that yes, you are big enough for the world, because you are a part of the world, and the world is a part of you. And God(ess) is in all. Welcome to the Great Turning, may we travel this spiral in peace and love.

** Update 7/11/13 **
 A Friend and friend asked me to outline the effects of this long-term campaign on the lived realities of farm workers in Florida. Having been a participant in CIW action on and off since 2002, I trust this movement and its information, so I direct folks to the FAQ page of the Fair Food Program, the implementation and oversight program for the gains made by the work of CIW.  From the CIW website, this work has taken a decade to come together, with its first signer in 2005-- Taco Bell, and the organization of oversight and implementation began in the 2011-2012 growing season.

I will also write that my understanding is that this agreement for increased compensation for harvest and a code of conduct for the farm workplace is based on pressure at the local level-- or at least this is the context in which I have participated. The momentum needed to effectively pressure an industry requires longterm and strategic engagement. And I will also write that these gains are hard won and important-- but they are not the only gains that are effected by a long-term campaign like this. Organizing based on the stories of workers, bringing the story of these workers reality to the front of folks' consciousness is a battle for story that I think CIW is winning. I also think that the process of empowerment and self-determination that happens with long term committed work can have long reaching effects that are yet to be seen.

The action that young people at the Gathering organized was beautiful, and at the end of it, before we returned to the grounds of the Gathering, we were gathered outside of Wendy's, watching the young people walk out of the store. As they finished telling their story of the successful conversation with the manager on site, some elder Friends started chanting-- Lead Us! Lead Us! It was a bit surreal at first, for me, but as I saw the faces of those gathered, I heard in that the cry of hope, of desperation, of love across generations. What would this chant look like, what would it be lived like, if we called it across other chasms in our relationships? I am glad to be led by young Friends, and by Florida farmworkers and their allies. 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Travel Post 2: The River

The River

So we are stranded in Hannibal, Missouri, for two nights, because a small crack in our windshield rapidly spread across our view, as the vibration of the overhead cargo hold in crosswinds encouraged it along. We were rushing, it’s true, to get to Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, trying to travel from the amazing IDA community (of which I will write more later) in Smithville, Tennessee, to Rutledge Missouri in a day. With a toddler. Bad idea.

But we made the good decision to not continue on into the night, watching the crack spread. We stopped at the Best Western here, and today we took the Mark Twain Riverboat tour around the Mississippi River for an hour. Tomorrow the glass folks will have a replacement piece for our car, and hopefully we will get to Des Moines by dinner. We’ll see.

The Mississippi River is a wonder. Hannibal, which prides itself to a fault on its hometown to Mark Twain status—Mark Twain Museum, Riverboat, Fried Chicken, is missing something, as one of the many small towns on this giant’s shores. As we chugged along on the riverboat excursion, I could feel the roiling weight of the river, and as Forrest spoke at one point, ‘I can feel it moving.’  The river is alive in a way that seems unbeatable. And believe me, I believe we humans have tried.

The tour guide told us that the locks were to be closed tomorrow, because the floodwaters are coming—again. Once the locks close, the businesses and building on the other side are ignored, the railroad is abandoned-- the river wins. Islands in the river are covered with water yearly, and the famous Twain Island of Huck Finn fame has been flooded four times already this year. There were also many mentions of the flood of 1993, when the river was 17 feet above the normal range.

The river wins.

But something happened to me on that tourist boat, so close to the brown god below us, looking out at an ancient landscape so fundamental to this country, to the history and culture this country birthed, and is still forming, still struggling through. Something that I had not let in for a long time, and something that caught me so surprised and humbled, and well—I felt happy. Looking at my family, gazing out over the water. I felt happy.

And the tears came, at the gratitude and awe that I got here, finally feeling the freedom of letting go of a life I no longer wanted, and finding that what I truly wanted most stuck around. I no longer had to think that I had to suffer for my happiness. And that in fact I did not have to prove myself worthy of this love and life, fear for its destruction, or defend it from the avarice of others. I get this life, and this is the life I want. And I found this, today on the Mark Twain Riverboat.

So thank God(ess) for the broken windshield and the river and the chance to live this life. And as the quotation from Twain on the wall at the Mark Twain Dinette told me today:
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

Travel Post 1: Mountains

I'm traveling for the summer, and am posting about my experiences, as they occur to me. I will post as often as I have internet access. Welcome to a life unhinged......
We are driving away from West Virginia, where we spent the weekend visiting with extended family and re-connecting with my partner’s fathers childhood in Huntington. I hadn’t thought much about this, our first stop on our trip, at all, instead focusing on the hours it would take to drive, the last push to get out of Westtown School. We did it, right on time, and managed to get to the Comfort Inn of Barboursville, adjacent to the Huntington Mall, in time for dinner on Friday.

The inn itself was a jarring reminder of what we were visiting. Truly a concrete jungle, the Huntington Mall stretches at least 50 acres, nestled in a ring of West Virginia mountains. The heat coming off the parking lot as we walked to dinner at Olive Garden was oppressive. The early morning jog I managed around the perimeter of the mall worked only because it was before sunrise. A few abandoned cars, or worse, cars with folks sleeping in them, smattered the giant grid of parking lines. It was surreal to say the least.

The family reunion was motivated by a cousin looking for his roots, in the face of the smallness of his immediate family. Four years ago, Paul sidled up to Milton, WV, on his hog, called over to Jeff Carter, his only contact, and started the journey of re-connection with this slice of land that, unbeknownst to me, is in my partner’s blood.

I really didn’t prepare for this trip. The depression of Huntington and Milton and Barboursville came like waves of nostalgia, reminding me of the depression of mid-80s Providence, Rhode Island, where I grew up.  Empty storefronts, the specter of industry and business, the population of Huntington currently half of what it was when Norman’s father was growing up in the 1940s and 1950s.

And more, the sense of pressure and brilliance of memory. I asked Norman’s father if he was enjoying the visit, as we wandered through Ritter Park, and he let me know there was a dual sense of the powerful memory of his childhood, and the pressure and tension of knowing that Huntington is much diminished from his time there. He let me know that for a time he had the sense of being attracted and repelled by moving back, and had the very common and compelling desire to regress into his childhood sense of safety, returning to his mother’s arms, safe as houses.

But he recognized the risk of regression and chose to lead a life unhinged from this place that holds the names of his ancestors on mausoleum wall and park title. Though the deep history calls, and he returns every couple of years. 

Visiting like this, given these broad swaths of information, was overwhelming, as we roasted in our mall adjacent Comfort Inn. The ring of mountains that witnessed the excess and decay of Barbourville seemed a rebuke that left me feeling like my sweat was from some unnamed shame, instead of the very normal heat ramped up by concrete. 

But that's too simple a judgment. At the reunion I attended, until my son called me back to frustrated napping attempts, I was struck by the bigness of the Carter family, and its location. Although there are slices of this extended family chaos that is as far flung as Alaska, Colorado, Massachusetts-- the largest grouping, hand over fist, is in the Huntington area. This family is this family because of the land on which they stand, and keeps them naming themselves as a part.   The history I witness, I now find myself a part of, lives in the land, the places and names themselves. This family is sacred, and deserves a place, a life if its own, in the land from where we come. 

We all come from these mountains, these places that are rare and precious, and endangered. These places live their sacred roles, their profane manifestations, as do we, as we live on and in these lands. The land is we, and we are the land. No matter how much concrete we chuck over it, or depressions we visit on its communities. Life wants to live, and all parts are in the river. 

I didn’t prepare for this trip, but family found me on it. Amen. Amen. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013


It's been quite awhile since I've posted. Major life changes are underway, and in the middle of change, I often get stuck. Stuck in writing, stuck in feeling. Overwhelm does not produce eloquence.

The truth is I am leaving the state, the relationships, the communities with whom I have the most connection, the most satisfaction, the best possibility of fulfillment. And we are moving up the coast to the land that calls to us, the lifestyle that we dream of, the reality we want to make.

I wish we could do it in Pennsylvania, and know that we cannot. Family resources make it possible for us to make the move to Vermont, and family is what calls us back to our New England roots. This call is not without its challenges, its risk, of course. But the call needs response, and we are ready to do it.  And so, a summer of travel and visiting, presenting at the FGC Gathering in July, family on Cape Cod and Alaska, and finally we land in Vermont in mid-August-- just in time to prep some beds and plant 10 pounds of garlic.

Our dream is to grow food on the land, building soil and community, finding the quiet and space for relationships and family that we hunger for. Our dream is to live differently then the powerful and persistent race-of-the-rat that has so thoroughly hoodwinked us all into believing that someone else owns our time. Our dream is to move beyond the mediated life of the work-a-day, and into direct confrontation with what is.

Along those lines, I have been enjoying completely re-listening to The Dispossessed, by Ursula Le Guin, as I do my last bits of work on the farm I have been cultivating these past six years. This book is a revelation whenever I encounter it. One of the most powerful things that stays with me is the awareness of reality connected to the centrality of self-determination as expressed in a utopian anarchist society.

This is most directly expressed in the protagonists experience, as an anarchist, of visiting a highly polarized capitalist society. The protagonist-- a revolutionary physicist limited by his anarchist society, named Shevek-- travels to the home world from which the anarchists had fled, in order to explore his physics in intellectual freedom, in order to keep a sense of revolution alive in a complacent society. What Shevek notices clearly at one point on this highly polarized, classed, and capitalist world, is both the proliferation of and invisibility-in-plain-sight of excrement. Excrement-- human shit. Excrement-- human excess. Excrement-- art that is propaganda, distraction, drug. Excrement-- life without center, without purpose.  Excrement to Shevek is real, part of life and necessarily something to be dealt with. But outside of the reality-loving society from which he comes, this is stuff that is pushed out of sight to the marginalized classes, and the results are bizarre to him.

Oh how this book makes me see our own society with new eyes, and my path with critical awareness. One of the issues that is so crucial in our farm project is compost. Where will we put it? What will we put in it? Water is an issue, we don't want to put it too close to well or upstream from pond. And location matters because we want it close enough so we can monitor it, use it, maybe easily add our own waste to it, as we get better at tending to its heat. I want to be up close and personal with this excrement that will make our gardens grow. I want to know this compost like the back of my hand, and know the value in all its forms.

And so I hope for the ability to see the excrement all around me, and to see its value, its reality. As I unhinge from a lifestyle of rush and tumble, reach and strive, I want to see all of life as it is, and not hide behind the structures that would keep life from me.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

To Make

As I was walking down the hallway of the dormitory where I live and work, a student had left outside her door one of those very fine reusable shopping bags. On it is printed, "Improving lives with every purchase-- WholeTrade," from the WholeFoods empire.
I visit with the primary grade weekly for a half hour as part of my job. We've been working on learning about waste, and where trash goes, starting and maintaining a compost system in the school garden. In this class, however, I start by asking where do things come from? We know the 3 places our trash goes-- dump, recycling plant, compost-- but where does our stuff come from? I read Ox-Cart Man, a book about a 19th century farmer in New England, and the process he and his family go through every year, growing and building what they need, selling their excess, slowly purchasing what they cannot make themselves (primarily forged items, and candy).

I then ask-- what do you make at home? One student makes salad from greens she grows with her family. Another student sews sweatshirts from purchased fabric. Three students make go-carts or tree houses. When I ask where does the wood come from, one child says, From the garage. I pull from my bag items from my house-- a piece of pottery, a candle, a knit scarf, a bottle of ibuprofen-- and ask, Could ox-cart man make this? The children are not convinced when we answer Yes, to most of the items.
I am out to dinner with friends, and my son. My partner is away, and I am grateful to have the company and our dinners made for us. We are all teachers in different capacities, all live on the same floor of the dormitory. We discuss the importance of assessment in our roles, and one colleague and friend says, As someone who has worked in the least legitimate area of study, the arts... And I interrupt her,  No, no, no I would say that my area is seen as the least legitimate area of study in this school-- sustainable agriculture and Earth Literacy. None of the work I do is connected with assessment, and though this is not my value, I don't want to focus on this, our students are trained to value only what they will be graded on-- and so it makes it very easy for students to see what I do as meaningless, or tangential to their learning.  My friend says,  Why yes, most schools don't even have your job at it..., and we all laugh. And we move on.
News of rising food costs and instructions to purchase as a form of service give me pause these days. From a vantage point of self-interest, being a net consumer is a bad place to be in a constantly shifting and uncertain economic and environmental landscape.

From the perspective of values, I wonder at the values imparted in the messages above. I struggle for value in the work that is closest to my heart, that does not conform to traditional educational forms-- forms that focus on intellectual hoops and symbolic production. I bring lessons of self-sufficiency to children in a dominant culture that does not teach the value of making things useful to life in the human community.

On one level this obvious model of interdependence is really great! We rely on farmers from other countries, fabric makers from far away-- so many goods, as one of my young students said-- Everything comes from China these days!  We can see that we rely on each other. 
But the equation is unbalanced. Net consumers consume too much, and we forget what it means to make. We forget that we are meant to contribute to this world in a way that is more than symbolic-- symbolic money, intellectual property. And those who create, who build and grow and weave and construct, are debased and reviled, oppressed and exploited. Yes, in this country too.

We are meant to look out over a yard, a field, a house, and see something that wasn't there before, something made of our hands and hearts. Perhaps it's a meal, or a harvest, or a piece of art. Perhaps it's a child, or a community. We are meant to create in the world and for the world. We are meant to be of real service to each other, beyond (or in spite of, or in direct contradiction to) the exchange of money for goods.  Our souls depend upon it. 
My son is in the other room with my partner, trying to get snacks during meal prep. My son wants maple syrup, honey, jam. My son wants pancakes. My son wants parmesan cheese and pita bread. He and I have weekly rituals of making bread, pancakes. We try to use eggs, milk, flour from our local community, though he is 2, it is meaningless to him. Until I remind him of the farm where we see the goats and chickens, and buy our milk. Until I remind him of the chickens at Pete's farm where we buy our eggs. My hope is that he keeps these pictures in his head, and these pictures change his understanding of what we are doing when we bake together.

We have started to tell him stories about a mouse living in a house in Vermont with a family.  The family happily lives there, growing and making their food and storing it for winter. The mouse finds some of the food and starts to eat it. Depending on who tells the story, the mouse either gets a house in the barn, or the family gets a cat. We say the family is Forrest, Mommy, and Daddy. This is the story we want to make real. This is what we want to make.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Good Enough for Green: GreenFaith Fellowship first retreat report-back

I was pleased to be sponsored by Westtown School in my application to the GreenFaith Fellowship Program, and upon hearing of my acceptance, was at once excited and had trepidations about being part of a program with ordained clergy. As a Friend who attended an Episcopal seminary, I had the good luck of having fellow Quaker students in my cohort, and the willingness to engage with larger questions of church and justice in a broader Christian landscape.  Learning and leading with fellow travelers who were seeking ordination, I gained an appreciation and respect for those called to lead in congregations, and confirmation in my belief in the priesthood of all, the lack of laity that is at the heart of Friends’ faith.
I should not have been worried with engaging with clergy again. Having just completed the first of three retreats that are part of this program, I can safely say that those called to save our planet through the lens of diverse faiths know that what is at stake is reaching out across faith differences, and committing with whole heart to this shared challenge that our faiths call to us.
This program spans 18 months, includes three face-to-face retreats, and monthly webinars. We write eco-autobiographies, theological research from our faith traditions, and plan and implement leadership projects. This program will offer me space to engage theologically with the ecological and justice commitments that motivate me in my work.
GreenFaith’s mission is “to inspire, educate and mobilize people of diverse religious backgrounds for environmental leadership.  Our work is based on beliefs shared by the world’s great religions - we believe that protecting the earth is a religious value, and that environmental stewardship is a moral responsibility.” ( This first retreat, focused on stewardship, offered many insights into the diversity of faiths represented, and our common cause of catalyzing our communities for bold faithful environmental work. Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Atheist, Catholic, Episcopal, United  Church of Christ, Baptist, New Church Movement, Lutheran Fellows  were represented from around the USA and Canada—and one Fellow from Finland! It was truly an inspiring and challenging event. 
At the retreat, we met in year cohorts. I am a member of the 2013 cohort, and the 2012 cohort was having their last retreat with us. Although I was the only Friend in attendance, we had ample opportunity to engage Friends values, as we convened at Pendle Hill, and one of our site visits was to the Friends Center to hear about the process and results of the greening of that building. We also toured a green jobs training center in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, and participated in green site audits at a local Presbyterian Church, and synagogue.
It was exciting to hear about the leadership projects that the 2012 fellows are doing. From liturgical music with earth care themes, to lunchtime discussions in faith communities, to online interfaith organizing, to programming on the regional and national level, these fellows modeled the strategic and systematic thinking needed to bring the good word of our environmental moment to communities still unsure of what to do, or how to do it from grounding in faith.
Our next retreat, in May, is at a Buddhist retreat in upstate New York, and the theme is Spirit. We will be surrounded by beauty, and have the chance to hike and reflect on the deep well of our faiths. I cannot wait to see what work becomes clear for me as I embrace my call to be good enough for the greening of our planet and faiths.  I look forward to further reflection and growth with this dynamic program, and the openings that will occur in me as I continue my faithful pursuit of integration of my sense of ministry with the work of the land.
all photos thanks to Jamaal Reavis

Monday, January 14, 2013

Full Circle

I am at Pendle Hill for a retreat on environmental stewardship for religious leaders.  I get to spend three nights in this lovely holy place with religious leaders from many faiths-- Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist, Catholic-- learning and teaching together from our diverse locations. I am a member of the 2013 GreenFaith Fellowship Program, and I am thrilled to be back at Pendle Hill.

If you don't know Pendle Hill, it's a Quaker retreat, conference, and study center on 24 acres in Wallingford, PA. Folks come for conferences, to study, to do art, to be among Friends.  It's also where I have had some of my greatest spiritual growth. 
me in 2002 at Pendle Hill

I came here first as a student in 1997, for a term in the spring, as a resident student. I then returned in summer of 1999 to be a summer staffer in between my second and third year of seminary. And again, and finally my last return to Pendle Hill was in 2001, to be a seasoned Social Action Social Witness intern, sharing my skills with the community and engaging in non-violence training in prison and community with the Alternatives to Violence Project. I learned bio-intensive gardening here, and worked in the bookstore. I left that work in 2003. 

Pendle Hill is a type of home for me.  A home I left a decade ago and only recently started returning to, now with a child, a partner, a life apart from this place that for quite awhile seemed like the place I was meant to come back to, someday. Come back to stay. Come back to be in community, to live, to grow old and die here. 
This tree was planted in spring 1997 in honor of Wilf Howarth,
at the rise of my first meeting for worship at Pendle Hill. 

This returning, however, is different than I had once imagined. This returning is to a place that holds so much memory, is full of nostalgia and meaning. The space where we are meeting, even this space has many memories-- frenetic drumming circles raising me to crazy heights on a hot June night, meeting Vincent and Rosemarie Harding and their Veterans of Hope elders, experiencing deep healing around the hurts of racism and homophobia with Niyonu Spann in her Beyond Diversity 101 workshop, cleaning bathrooms and making beds as part of my summer housekeeping job with beloved Charlotte and Alison, doing dishes and serving food as a work exchange student with the charismatic Sonya, Costa Rican Quaker chef, teacher, folksinger, friend. All of this happened to me here, in this space where I am writing right now. And there is more that will surface over the next days. And I am ready for it. 

Even the art in this room is made by the amazing Melanie Weidner who I knew when she was here as an arts scholar. I feel like everything here has a person's face connected with it, a beloved face that I cannot keep with me when I am not here. Each memory is a gift.

Now I am seeing that I am living a full circle. I have returned here to be confirmed in my vision for the life and work in my heart. I feel as if I have arrived back where I began, at a place of need and being met in my need, in a place that has much to give. And this returning is telling me that it is time to jump off this wheel, into the blessed unknown of vision and seeking space for that vision. 

This is a post of gratitude for the deep stream that is carrying me, whether or not I recognize it. This deep stream carries these memories, these faces, the souls who have traveled along, for awhile, and touched my life. Here's a moment where I can see the stream clearly, eddying around my feet, calling me on, and downstream, further along this beloved path. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Come Unity

I just came back from a small gathering of Friends in a home, a reunion of the Called to Action 2012 group of which I was a member. This group met monthly for six months for day long workshops led by elders in Friends and movement settings, bringing the good word of integrated spirituality in activism, and strategic organizing as a vehicle of God's grace. 

It was pretty amazing. Many folks were laid low with flu, so that was sad. But among we who could make it,  what we came to, as we worshipped, ate, reflected, settled in together, was a full circle of what one Friend called the mobius strip of activism, the union of the inner and the outer journey that we strove to articulate and embrace in our time together as teachers and learners. 

At one point in the evening, we were discussing loneliness. A number of us shared in some way that loneliness had touched us, and how the convention of gossip and idle chatter were not comfortable for us. I sort of blurted out; "That's why I could never be a priest in a church-- coffee hour. Leading and sharing a deep spiritual experience and then going and drinking coffee afterwards-- that's my definition of a circle of hell. That's what's different about Friends: we are all priests, and so the burden of priesthood is not so heavy when we are all carrying it. It makes coffee hour a bit easier for me." 

This is the gift of Friends, the gift that I find unique and truly Quakerly. It's not owned by Friends, it appears in other faiths, as well-- the sense that we are all called, or could be so, to minister. But this truth is most lived, in my experience, among Friends. And because of this potential, this spark of Spirit in each of us, we all share the burden, the weighty role of holding worship, being the containers of our shared and disparate faith. 

I've traveled in a number of faith traditions, and tried to make my faith fit into those communities. But it is only among Friends that I have found this radical belief in the end of laity-- the true Society of Friends, where we are all potentially charged with the gifts of the Spirit. This I feel more lived among Friends than any other setting I've been in. And so, I am a Quaker.

This speaks to the possibility of continuing revelation. This practice and belief requires of Friends a faith that is strong and openly risking a diffuse and diverse truth! No wonder we look to our histories to give us lived examples of how to handle this hot, uncertain, risky hope. 

Some Friends speak recently of the need to be "ready to die to Quakerism so that the gospel Friends proclaim may find fullest expression." I think, more, that we need to truly live into this Quaker-ism, this mindset and worldview. Not the formalism of correct language, or idolatry of the past (which I will say I have not seen in the main in my experience among Friends), but the event of Friendship, if I can describe it thus.

We need the willingness to wait upon the Spirit, in the diverse ways we are led to do so, and minister to each other, in love and truth. Calls to die to a shared faith community smack of the wearing of hair shirts or the bizarre view that self-harm leads to sanctification. We do not help anyone, least of all the bringing of the kin-dom, through inflicting threats of dispersal and rejection of practices deeply rooted in the gospel. I believe that this shared and disparate faith tradition can move all of us closer to God, without exception or condition. It doesn't look like anything we know, but I have seen small glimmers, like at our dinner table tonight. And I know this experimentally.