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.