Loud Machines and Climate Silence

The other day I read an article in the Guardian, The Great Climate Silence by Clive Hamilton.  I found it easy to agree–no one is really talking about or dealing with the coming catastrophe of climate change.  Having had these issues on my mind for a while, I moved on to other things that day.  But sometimes it is the little things that break through to our hearts.

This morning, I was planning to walk over to Evergreen Cemetery for the Warbler Walk sponsored by Maine Audubon, but though I searched everywhere, I couldn’t find my pair of binoculars. So I left the house feeling that sense of frustration I am sure we all feel when we can’t find something.  As I walked, I opted to forego the warblers, and go by Capisic Brook near the Hall School.  I wrote previously about the cutting of trees that is going on for construction of the new school.

Hall School Tree Cutting 1The big loud machines are still there, but today I was startled to see that they have also cut trees between the school and the brook, a whole section that I thought should be safe. The wide swath of trees that made for a little wilderness in the city, is being narrowed so that the sanctuary is no longer as much a sanctuary.

I am not in on any of the planning or decision-making, so I feel very helpless and sad and angry about all of this, wishing there were someone I could yell at, like, Really, you have to cut those trees too?  Isn’t it bad enough that you destroyed the trail on the other side of the school?  Meanwhile the big machines kept digging up the earth near the pathway, now widened to a road, that goes over the brook.  As I walked back over that pathway, I heard the plaintive chirps of a woodpecker that I have often seen in this little ecosystem.

On my way home, I thought about the article about climate silence.  But this time, my frustration and grief and anger were open, and I felt for the earth as a whole what I had been feeling for my little brook and its trees and birds and newly blooming trout lilies.  Why are we doing this?  Isn’t it bad enough that we’ve already caused extinctions, and destroyed so many ecosystems?  Why do we just keep on destroying more and more?  We’ve got to get out of our denial, face our grief, and break our silence.

And for some reason I also thought about the proposal to borrow money to re-build four of the other elementary schools in Portland.  Most progressives I know are in favor of that proposal, but when I think about climate change, I have misgivings.  It is not about particular trees or construction damage, or not wanting the best schools for our kids.  But just as Clive Hamilton suggests, no one takes into account the coming catastrophes as they go about making plans for the future.  The new Hall School is slated to be a “green building.” So yes, that is good.  But there are other issues, too.

The one that came to my heart today is debt.  I think about cities in Michigan that are under “emergency management” because they went bankrupt from debts they could not repay.  Those managers, with no democratic accountability, can close school districts, sell off common resources like parks and museums, and change public water systems, such that the children in Flint were poisoned by lead.  If we take into account the coming climate catastrophes, wouldn’t it be wise to get our cities and ourselves out of debt?  So that we can preserve local control when things get worse?  Do we really want the banks to be in charge when everything gets more chaotic and difficult?

Everything shifts when we include climate change and the earth ecosystem in our conversations about the future.  What questions might you start asking, that you haven’t been asking up until now?

Loud machine

[Forest City Trail sign, with big machine digging up the earth]

Intro to Permaculture Design

IPD courseOn March 11 and 25th, Margy and I hosted two sessions of an “Intro to Permaculture Design” course, through the Resilience Hub in Portland. Two trainers, Julie and Heather, along with about 7 others came to our house for two Saturdays, for presentation and conversation about Permaculture Design Principles.  Our being the hosts meant that we used our land as the practice site for exploring the principles and how one might put them into practice.  Despite the bitter cold one day, and deep snow the next time, we went outside for part of the time and wandered around the yard checking out things like the patterns found in nature, the movement of water and wind and wildlife, the path of the sun.

IPD outside observationsOne of the first aspects of Permaculture Design is observation, and so Margy and I have spent the first year of our residence here mostly in observation–trying to learn everything we can about the land, before we begin gardening.  Having another group of eyes was marvelous!

I had participated in a full Permaculture Design Course six years ago, so the ideas were not new to me, but I have noticed that each time I hear them again, they sink a little deeper, and I gain more understanding.  Permaculture is a design process, looking at the hopes and visions of the human inhabitants in conversation with the needs and conditions of the land itself.  What I am finally beginning to better understand, however, are how the fundamental teachings of Nature might influence our own hopes and visions.

The week after the course, I finally read cover-to-cover Gaia’s Garden, by Toby Hemenway.  Permaculture, at its heart, is about working with Nature, using the principles found in Nature, to create beautiful abundant gardens that can provide food as well as building up the soil, offering habitat to beneficial insects and birds, and creating backyard ecosystems by “assembling communities of plants that can work cooperatively.”

The part that is most exciting to me right now is moving away from the common practice of having separate garden beds for vegetables in one place, fruit trees in another place, etc., and moving into the vision that these functions can be interwoven–that a fruit tree can be the central element in a group of plants working together, with a few veggies tucked in, and herbs, and flowers, all in one mini-ecosystem.  And that this kind of garden might be built one mini-ecosytem at a time.  Cherries, anyone?

 

 

Pray with Water Protectors Today

The Water Protectors at Standing Rock have called for a day of prayer today.  The Governor of North Dakota and the Army Corps of Engineers have given an eviction notice to the Oceti Sakowin camp that takes effect 2 p.m. today (Mountain Time).  They have said that everyone remaining in the camps will be arrested. You can call the Army Corps at 202-761-8700 and demand an extension. But also–Pray!  The people in the camps have been cleaning up the camps from the aftermath of the blizzards in December and in preparation for spring flooding.  In a video released Monday, women said

“After the deadline for February 22 at 2pm, we are all at risk of facing arrest, police brutality, federal charges and prison time.”  “In the history of colonization, they’ve always given us two options. Give up our land or go to jail, give up our rights or go to jail. And now, give up our water, or go to jail. We are not criminals.”

From Arvol Looking Horse, last night:

Right away I woke remembering our history of abuses we have suffered from the continued need from Mother Earth’s Resources. My heart is heavy today, for what we are all facing together with tomorrow’s deadline in the removal of the Standing Rock’s Camps…
Because of the seriousness of this situation, I humbly would like to once again call upon all the Religious/Spiritual Leaders, URI and the People who traveled to Standing Rock’s sacred fire on December 4th. (Sari At Uri) Pray with us at your own sacred places for Mother Earth, her Mni wic’oni (water of life) and the protection of our People who are still at the Standing Rock Camps.

We also need to remember healing for those who are making these dangerous decisions that have only ended up abusing all life.

I too will stand in the sacred place with our Sacred Bundle to offer prayers – if anyone would like to join me by bringing offerings to the Bundle, they are welcome – @ 2:00pm mountain time on Wednesday February 22, 2017.

Please pray with us where ever you are upon Mother Earth.

Mother Earth is a Source of Life – Not a Resource.

Onipikte (that we shall live) ,

Nac’a Arvol Looking Horse C’anupa Awiyanka (Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe)

When I walk in my own neighborhood at dawn, I pray, and I come to this sacred place, the small brook that feeds into Capisic Brook.  On the walk, I hear and see the cardinals singing.  They are praying.  Back in my yard, I pray there, because this too is a sacred place. The crows are shouting to each other.  They are praying.  Let us all join in this sacred work, from wherever we are.  Water is life.  The Earth is our mother.  We are all one.

Capisic Brook feeder

[Capisic Brook]

What now?

chickadee-bird-bath-mj-dsc00898

Are you getting thrown off-balance by the shocking pronouncements every day from the Trump administration?  I have been wrestling with my heart, needing quiet, needing spaciousness to hear, underneath the din, the voices of the Spirits.  I think I am coming to some clarity.

It is easy to want to pass along the latest Facebook post with one more horror that is being perpetrated on innocent people or the earth.  So much outrage fills my heart when I hear about what is being done.  But it is their plan to stun us with horror, so that we are debilitated and unable to act.  So I plan to stop passing along horrifying posts. I will try to pass along posts of resistance and beauty and solidarity and compassion. I will also continue to post what news I hear from the resistance at Standing Rock, since that is often kept from the media.

Every week I am invited (via Facebook) to several rallies or vigils or demonstrations.  I am happy to see people in the streets–it is important.  But for me, I need so much solitude to keep on track, so much quiet to hear what is going on.  Unlike some people, I don’t find it empowering to be anonymous in a passionate crowd.  I can’t go to the rallies and marches every week.  Maybe I can do this once a month.  Rather, I need to make connections at a personal level.  So when something is coming down that might be hurting people, I will try to reach out to those with whom I have some possible link, to offer more personal support.

Similarly, we’ve been encouraged to inundate our elected representatives to try to stop what is happening.  I know this needs to happen, but it is generally not my own area of strength or passion.  (I have also come to understand that petitions aren’t usually effective, so unless it seems particularly well-suited, I am not going to spend energy on those.)  Phone calls are supposed to be the most effective way of getting counted.  So, I have found a website that sends an email once a week, with simple options for making phone calls on the current issues.  5 Calls uses your location to find your local representatives, and provides phone numbers and scripts so that calling is quick and easy.  I can do that once a week for 5 minutes, and maybe it might work for others too.

I don’t want the Trump administration to hijack my own calling, my own work.  I don’t want to be overwhelmed with guilt or “shoulds” or some internalized expectation of what an activist must look like.  The Spirits say to me, “Be a human being! You don’t have to have all the answers. You don’t have to be the “savior” of the world. Risk your heart. Use your preaching voice to speak the truth. Keep doing your core work.  It is still necessary to wake up to our connection to the earth, our connection to spirit, our connection to each other.  Stay centered in that work.”

Do you have core work that you need to do?  Please know that it is okay to Listen.

 

My Dad and the Land

Johnsons 1936.jpg

[1936, his brother, sister, & my dad in back.]

My dad was born in 1930 in Gillette Wyoming, where his parents were homesteading.  Some stories I remember from his childhood there.  My grandmother made cinnamon rolls. They had a fire that burned down their house.  His mother grabbed the laundry, and all the family got out safely, but they lost their other possessions.  One time, maybe 3 years old, my dad went into town, with his dad perhaps, and when he came home he proudly announced “I buyed me this!” He had spent a coin to purchase some candy or some small toy.

The family left their homestead in 1938, when my dad was eight years old, and they ended up in Detroit Michigan.  For the rest of his life, in many ways, he was trying to get back to Wyoming.  He went there at 16 to work on the ranch of a family friend.  Back in Detroit, he met my mom at a riding stable, and we lived in Michigan when I was young.  We moved to Texas when I was 7, but after six months returned to Michigan.  When I was 12 we moved to Sheridan, Wyoming, and my dad worked on a ranch in Montana. There were six children then. I was the oldest, and my sister Mary was the baby.  We went to the Catholic grade school in Sheridan.  We stayed there for one school year.

We could walk to school–I think it may have been about 8 blocks.  One time the weather reported it was 17 below zero.  My mom called another mother to ask whether she should send us to school.  Just bundle them up! she said.  I was in seventh grade that year, and was amazed that the popular kids were also those who got good grades.  I was in a drama club and a science club.  But it took a while to make friends.  By the end of that year, I had gotten close to a girl in my class whose name was Patricia Ann Rhodes.  The drama club put on Thornton Wilder’s Our Town.  I shared the role of Mrs. Gibbs with another student.

My dad stayed up in Montana during the week.  Actually, I don’t remember the exact schedule of him coming home.  He did go back and forth.  That year we spent Christmas week at a one-room cabin in Montana, which was a lot of fun.  Shortly after that, he stopped working at the ranch, and went back to Michigan to work again in drafting.  I didn’t know the full story until years later.  I had always thought he left the ranch because you couldn’t support of family with six children on a cowboy salary.  But really what happened was that he hurt his back in a fall from a horse.  Someone unexpectedly tossed him a bag of feed, and the horse startled and jumped away.  That was how he fell.  It was very physical work, and he was in too much pain to continue.

He told me later how devastating that fall had been for him.  He went back to his old job–but felt a deep sense of failure.  The year before, this company had held a going away party for him, and gave him a gift, a rifle I think, with many good wishes on this new adventure he was looking forward to.  So coming back was to admit the defeat of his dream.  Back in Michigan, he found a house for us to live in, and the family moved back to Michigan after the school year ended.  I cried when we had to go back.

I am thinking about how much he loved the open range, and longed for the land in Wyoming.  He found God in that land.  He said once that “people called it a ‘God-forsaken land’ yet even in that naming they were reminded of God.”  His longing for this faraway land was a part of my growing up years, one root of my own sense of disconnection and longing for the land.

I have been thinking a lot about my dad these last few weeks because he had a fall at home in West Virginia a few weeks ago and hurt his back.  He is now in a nursing home, theoretically to get some rehab and pain management, but he is feeling very discouraged, and not really participating in therapy.  He had a stroke in September of 2014, and recovered well at first, but it has been a hard two years. I am thinking about how much I love him, even though my own journey took me so far away from his world. Cowboy, mystic, dreamer… I send you blessings on this difficult chapter.  And gratitude to my sister Julie who has been caring for him and my mom close up these last eleven years.

The Story We Are Called To Be

You don’t have anything if you don’t have the stories.   Leslie Marmon Silko

The word “story” can be used to describe the way we understand the reality in which we live. A story is what we tell ourselves about our lives, the meanings we attach to reality. This past week we saw that people in America are holding vastly divergent stories about what it means to be American, that we hold vastly divergent understandings of the reality of our times.

One thing about stories is that even vastly divergent stories can exist in the same space, and in a sense they can all be true—because people live out their lives based on their particular understandings of reality. Stories are a way to understand reality, but stories also shape reality. In this way, stories have incredible power: to harm or to heal, to destroy or to protect, to create the future and even the past.

One story I heard a lot during the last several weeks was the story of a woman who would finally break the ultimate glass ceiling and hold the highest office in the country. This story identified its beginnings in the sacrifices of the suffragists to win the vote for women. But it also included a vision of a multicultural nation that honored all of its people, and welcomed the immigrants who came into our midst. There were many people who believed in this story, who were deeply inspired by this story. In fact, the popular vote of our country would have elevated Hilary Clinton to the presidency. When the electoral votes were all in, and Clinton had lost, the people who were holding this story in their hearts were crushed and heartbroken.

There was another story that took more effort for me to discover, a story of those who supported the other major candidate, now president-elect Donald Trump. I was able to get some insights into this story by looking at Facebook posts from more conservative members of my own extended family. In the best versions of this story there was a hope that a very imperfect outsider would bring the jobs back; that he would shake things up and pay attention to people in the middle of the country, the working Joes whose lives had been upended by free trade deals. There was a lot of pain in the heartlands that no one was paying attention to. These folks were not oblivious to the problems he represented, but they saw the other candidate as much worse. I respect those folks who wrestled with their values searching for the best way forward.

But there has been a much more troubling story in the support shown for Mr. Trump. It is a very old story, an ideology of white supremacy in this nation that originated in the destruction of Indigenous nations who lived in this land, and in the capture and enslavement of African people. White supremacy has morphed and changed through the centuries, but it has never gone away. Some hoped that the election of Barack Obama signaled a transformation had been achieved. But that was never the case, and during this election season, we saw the flames of hatred stirred up and given more oxygen. Mr. Trump played on the real pain of people in our country, and through scapegoating, channeled that pain into hatred. Hatred against people of color, immigrants, Muslims, women, queer people, people with disabilities.

Since election day, I have been hearing stories about people already experiencing violence from blatant white supremacists emboldened by the Trump election. Muslim women whose hijab scarves have been ripped from their heads, Latino children beaten up in school, Swastikas painted on the door to a Jewish community center, rainbow flags being burned, and heartbreaking fears about what will happen next.

A story is what we tell ourselves about our lives, the meanings we attach to reality. Some of the stories we tell about our lives are so ingrained that they are almost invisible to us. We think of them as just “the way things are.” But we do not have a shared reality as a nation, a shared sense of “the way things are.” That may not be a bad thing, if it helps us to wake up, to ask questions about what story we are telling ourselves.

There are some people saying that now is the time for our country to come back together, now is the time for us to unite as Americans and let go of the hostilities of the election season. I would agree that letting go of hostility is a good thing. Letting go of blame and hate. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said: “If we could read the secret history of our enemies we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.” It is important to understand the suffering in each other’s lives, to understand how we come to the choices we make. It doesn’t help us to hate each other.

But the call to unity covers up something very important—the call to unity relies on our going back to a story that Joanna Macy calls “Business as Usual.” This is the foundational story of our Industrial Growth Society. In this story, our economic and political systems depend on ever increasing extraction and consumption of resources. They require the generation of ever more rapidly increasing profits. In this story, human lives are valued only insofar as they can be used in the generation of profits and the consumption of products. In this story, the Earth is seen as a resource bank for the generation of profits, and also the septic tank for human waste. The underlying power in this story belongs to the multi-national corporations and elite business-owning families. This is the story that sometimes we think of as “the way things are.” We don’t really think of it as a story at all.

So I cannot answer a call to unity like that. I keep hearing in my heart a different call, a call to a whole new story, or a story that is so old it seems new. That call is sometimes just a whisper, but more and more it echoes like a great shout—a call that demands that we look beyond the superficial unity of the realm of the status-quo, and look deeper into a more essential unity that we are beginning to awaken to.

For the Business as Usual story is actually a story built on separation. Business as Usual is a story that says that human beings are separate from each other, that one can build a wall between different races and religions. It is a story that says that human beings are separate from the earth, as if the environment were a special interest and has nothing to do with our food and water and life itself.

Joanna Macy talks about three foundational stories. The first is Business as Usual. But Macy suggests that if we keep trying to follow Business as Usual, we will end up in another story, “The Great Unraveling.” This story is about the disasters the Industrial Growth Society is causing. This story is the stuff of our nightmares of the past week. Race hatred, violence in the streets, the people torn apart fighting over scraps to survive. This story is about the environmental disasters of global warming and rising sea levels and mass extinctions. It foretells a future of destruction, hunger, disease, and war, and the likely extinction of human society as we have known it.

But there is a third story. Macy calls it “The Great Turning.” In this story, people choose to create a transition away from the Industrial Growth Society toward a Life-Sustaining Civilization. In this story, people come to understand their profound interconnection with each other, and with all of the natural world. People join together to make the changes that can heal and defend life on earth.

Human beings have the capacity to meet our needs without destroying our life-support system. We could generate the energy we need through renewable forms such as solar, wind, tides and algae. We could grow food through organic permaculture methods in thousands of small farms and gardens in every yard. We have birth control methods that could bring human population under control. We have developed social structures to mediate conflict, and give people a voice in democracy. When we realize how profoundly interconnected we are to all beings, we know that we need each other, that no one is outside of the circle of worth and dignity. The name of this third story, “The Great Turning,” grew from imagining how future beings might look back on our own time, if humanity survives because we’ve made a transition to a Life-Sustaining Civilization.

Business as Usual. The Great Unraveling. The Great Turning. If we understand the stories, we realize that each of us can make a choice about what story we want to tell about our lives, what version of reality to which we want to give our energy. And there is power in that. We don’t have to sit back and observe with horror the increasing violence and destruction that have been unleashed. Instead, we must remember the story we are called to be. We must recommit ourselves to live out our deepest values. Now, more than ever.

In the contest between Business as Usual and the possibility of a great turning toward Life Sustaining Civilization, the front lines are perhaps most starkly drawn right now on the plains of North Dakota. The Indigenous people of Standing Rock have made a stand to protect the water from the destruction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. They have been joined by thousands of Native people from across the Americas and the world, and thousands of non-Native allies. Robin Wall Kimmerer and Kathleen Dean Moore talk about it in a story called “The White Horse and the Humvees.” I want to share a few of their words:

On one side is the unquestioned assumption that land is merely a warehouse of lifeless materials that have been given to (some of) us by God or conquest, to use without constraint. On this view, human happiness is best served by whatever economy most efficiently transforms water, soils, minerals, wild lives, and human yearning into corporate wealth. And so it is possible to love the bottom line on a quarterly report so fiercely that you will call out the National Guard to protect it.

On the other side of the concrete barriers is a story that is so ancient it seems revolutionary.  On this view, the land is a great and nourishing gift to all beings. The fertile soil, the fresh water, the clear air, the creatures, swift or rooted: they require gratitude and veneration. These gifts are not commodities, like scrap iron and sneakers. The land is sacred, a living breathing entity, for whom we must care, as she cares for us. And so it is possible to love land and water so fiercely you will live in a tent in a North Dakota winter to protect them.

..The people at Standing Rock and their busloads of allies… are making clear that we live in an era of profound error that we mistakenly believe is the only way we can live, an era of insanity that we believe is the only way we can think. But once people accept with heart and mind that land is our teacher, our mother, our garden, our pharmacy, our church, our cradle and our grave, it becomes unthinkable to destroy it. This vision threatens the industrial worldview more than anything else.

Leslie Marmon Silko says, “You don’t have anything if you don’t have the stories.” I know so many are feeling discouraged right now about the change to our elected government. We can see that it bodes suffering and hard times. But here is the thing. A change in stories, a change in world view, has never happened because of the people in power, the people at the top. This kind of fundamental change always happens from people on the margins, people on the bottom, people in unexpected places.

We don’t have to follow the call to return to Business as Usual. We can follow the call of old stories and new dreams, of deep values and courageous ideals. We never know if our own acts of love and kindness might tip the balance. We never know if our willingness to welcome an immigrant to our community or visit a neighbor’s house of worship might tip the balance. We never know if our planting a garden, or living more simply, might tip the balance. We never know if reminding each other of the interconnections between all beings, might tip the balance.

This is not going to be an easy time ahead of us. But it was never going to be easy. If you were hoping it would be easy, it may be that you need to grieve that old story. Let yourself take time to weep and mourn. We are all being called upon to make a choice. We have our work cut out for us. Our job is to keep track of the story we are called to be: to remember our connections with all people and all beings of the earth, and to live in such a way to further those values. May we find strength and courage.Birch light and dark DSC07802

Portland Stands with Standing Rock

Standing with Standing Rock in Portland ME

Portland Stands with Standing Rock, Photo by Katrina Van Brugh

Sometimes our spirits know that we must go to another place to support the struggle to protect Indigenous rights and water. But sometimes our spirits tell us to stay put, and lend support from where we are, in whatever we can.  That is my particular calling in this moment, even though a part of my heart is out in Standing Rock every day.  But I was happy to stand in the rain on Saturday in Portland, Maine, with a few dozen people, including these young people from my congregation. Somehow being in the rain also felt right, because #waterislife.

This week many of my clergy colleagues have gone to the site of the camps, to bring a message of support, and I am glad for them to be there.  I am happy that our religious voices can be aligned with sovereignty and justice, after so much damage has been done in the name of the churches throughout the history of this land.

I am also glad personally to be following the spirit’s lead on this, because something is happening right now in our world which is deeper than politics, deeper than the divide between right and left, deeper than what any of the media are willing or able to talk about. It cannot be figured out by thinking or talking.  It is deeper than that.  It comes from the depth of the mysterious forces that give life, that sustain life, on our beautiful planet.

In a time of despair, that which can give us hope is often hidden from public view, bubbling up in unexpected places.  The energy and magic that is Standing Rock is not limited to that one place, but emerges wherever the people find our connection to the land, our connection to the water. Still, what is emerging at Standing Rock goes much deeper than I am able to fully understand, even when I open my heart to the mystery and the flow of it.  But every morning, I do open my heart to that mystery, and offer what energy and gifts I may offer to it.