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]

Standing Rock-What to do Now!

Write YOUR comment to the Army Corps of Engineers demanding a comprehensive environmental review of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Click: “Click to Open and Write Comments” to go to IEN page and follow instructions there. We have added 25 Reasons to Oppose this pipeline below. We’ve also provided links to more information if needed.

Stand alongside the indigenous leaders who brought over 500 tribes together to Protect the Water for millions downstream.

Stand with the hundreds and thousands of people who braved the cold in North Dakota and loudly proclaimed; MNI WICONI – WATER IS LIFE!

Stand with the millions of people supporting us from across the U.S. and around the world – SAY; “NO DAPL!”

From the first days in office Trump has made it no secret that he will do whatever he can to finish this and other pipelines. He cares nothing for the future of our nation or people as he pushes us ever-closer to becoming a resource colony for the world. He went another step further and ordered the US Army Corps of Engineers to stop their comprehensive environmental review of the Dakota Access Pipeline and grant the final permit.

WE are not going to stand by and allow this to happen…It’s up to us to deny that request. Please add your comments of opposition to DAPL TODAY!

A complete review is needed to assess the impacts on drinking water, tribal rights and the climate and we need your help to make it happen so, Please share this page with your social networks. Thank you!

IEN’s Dallas Goldtooth  asked Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe permission to share an outline (below) of issues discussed in our engineering report to assist in forming opinions and comments. You can read the  FULL REPORT and the COVER LETTER

At any time, construction, could resume – unless we flood the Army Corps with REASONS they MUST conduct the full environmental review that includes impacts to land, water, and people along the pipeline route, violations to long-standing tribal rights, and the future consequences to climate change if we continue down this path.

Illegally forcing this project through is an obvious example of corruption — AND a gross violation of Indigenous rights and the science of climate change. Trump and members of his administration stand to PROFIT personally from the completion of DAPL. He owns stock in the Dakota Access and has never proven otherwise. Another prime example of Big Oil’s influence on our government and the violation of our rights if we don’t stand up and say NO!

The Standing Rock Sioux tribe, whose drinking water and sacred sites have been desecrated by this pipeline, already announced plans to sue to stop any action to expedite DAPL. Every comment we send bolsters their legal case that the federal government would be abandoning their own rules and procedures by illegally forcing the project through.

To help you compose an original comment to submit (very important, as canned comments are combined and counted as just ONE comment reducing the appearance of overwhelming opposition) we’ve provided a DAPL Environmental Assessment Explanation of Issues by Steve Martin a citizen of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians of North Dakota:

  1. The finding of no significant impact (FONSI) for the crossing of Lake Oahe in a HDD tunnel 92’ below the surface of the lake is a wrong conclusion presented by the DAPL EA and initially supported by USACE.
  2. The DAPL EA was prepared with a pre-decisional intent and is a biased document that appears to have been prepared with the desired result known from the outset.
  3. The DAPL EA lacks engineering integrity. The FONSI can neither be supported by previous precedent nor generally accepted industry practice and should be vacated immediately.
  4. Not enough reasonable alternatives were seriously considered by DAPL to address the unresolved conflicts between stakeholders. In particular, routing alternatives.
  5. The DAPL solution is the perfect technical storm and relies on the worst of all potential technical factors, including: (1) crude oil product (2) in a large-diameter pipeline and (3) in a 1.5 mile-long HDD tunnel 92 feet below the surface of the lake.
  6. So much emphasis was placed on following the existing Northern Border gas pipeline routing completed in 1983 that an alternative route further north that would have resulted in no major or minor river or lake crossings was not even contemplated.
  7. It is inappropriate to authorize DAPL to cross Lake Oahe as contemplated in the EA without further analysis, more rigorous exploration and analysis of siting alternatives. Accordingly, the USACE did not grant easement to cross Lake Oahe as contemplated based on the current record.
  8. Preparing a full Environmental Impact Statement is the best and most responsible recommendation at this stage given the level of conflict between stakeholders and fatal flaws thus far discovered resulting in an inadequate EA.
  9. The USACE have clearly sided with the obvious need for the tribal government leaders and representatives or experts to be granted the ability to review and respond to the critical documents that had been previously kept secret from the tribe. These documents are
    • Lake Oahe Spill Model Discussion Report
    • Lake Oahe HDD Risk Analysis Report
    • DAPL Route Comparison.
  10. It is disappointing and troubling that these documents have still not been made available by DAPL to the tribes team of technical experts.
  11. The DAPL solution is the perfect technical storm and relies on the worst of all potential technical factors, including: (1) crude oil product (2) in a large-diameter pipeline and (3) in a 1.5 mile long HDD tunnel 92 feet below the surface of the lake.
  12. Without access to do a full technical review to evaluate further technical difficulties and based on what what was presented in the DAPL EA, there is no foundation that this is the least risk alternative or the finding of no significant environmental impact.
  13. The business interests of DAPL have compromised the integrity and responsibility of the engineers responsible for the DAPL project.
  14. The selection of the route was not based on the route posing the least risk alternative and that alone should be reason to support the need for a full review as contemplated by the USACE memo of December 4th.
  15. It has become well known that DAPL has negotiated commercial off-take agreements that required the pipelines commercial operation by January 1, 2017. It should be investigated further as to whether the routing recommended was premature and may have been the fallout of DAPL’s management desire to shorten the time to full commercial operation.
  16. The decision to recommend the routing under Lake Oahe appears to be the direct result of the heavy weighting DAPL applied to the requirement to follow the existing corridor in the questionable and subjective evaluation tables 2.1 and 2.2 in the EA. This was by far the dominating factor in the outcome of their analysis. Alternative objective routes should be evaluated.
  17. The results of the EA and the FONSI allowed USACE to prematurely issue the highly-contested Section 408 permit. Unfortunately, the result led to the requirement to place the crossing at Lake Oahe.
  18. What the EA failed to evaluate or even present was another alternative route even further North and East of the Missouri River that should have been evaluated. This alternative routing has no major or minor river or lake crossings and is actually shorter than the current DAPL proposed routing.
  19. The key factor we would like to emphasize that the EA fails to discuss objectively is the fact that no similar application of a crude oil large diameter pipeline exists that crosses a freshwater lake via a large-diameter HDD tunnel anywhere in the World.
  20. The DAPL solution is the perfect technical storm and relies on the worst of all potential technical factors, including: (1) crude oil product (2) in a large-diameter pipeline and (3) in a 1.5 mile long HDD tunnel 92 feet below the surface of the lake.
  21. This design solution culminates in such an extreme high level of potential environmental and safety risk that an EIS is required because The EA does not currently address a leak or spill in the HDD section and full remediation of a clean-up of contaminated soil around the tunnel. Actually, clean-up of a spill in the HDD tunnel outside the pipe is a technical impossibility to perform.
  22. Unfortunately, the worst in this case means that any leak or spill in the HDD section results in permanent and deep contamination to the surrounding soils 92’ below the surface of the lake. Those contaminated soils will inevitably seep and poison the Hell Creek and Fox Hills aquifers and waters of Lake Oahe. The Hell Creek and Fox Hills formations are the major aquifers in the state and many residents depend on these formations for the water usage. These are regional aquifers for not only North Dakota but also other surrounding states.
  23. It appears placement of the HDD tunnel could not be any lower than the 92’ section because it would have run into the Pierre Formation, a dark grey to black shale that has low strength and has the high risk potential for causing landslides. Concerns about landslides have been presented by various local stakeholders as a significant project risk, including the Accufacts report prepared on behalf of the Standing Rock tribe dated October 28, 2016. The EA seems to support that this risk does not exist and we don’t have enough information to credibly confirm or deny this at this time.
  24. It is a proven fact that significant pipeline leaks and spills do occur regularly cannot be credibly denied. Project sponsors involved with this project thus far have completely ignored that the HDD crossing at Lake Oahe would become one of the rare examples of a perfect pipeline that never leaks or ruptures if it were to avoid soil and water contamination.
  25. NEPA requires the best currently available technical data be used in impact assessment. There is no way to mitigate a leak or rupture from contaminating the soil and water if a leak should happen in the HDD tunnel 92’ below the surface of the Lake.

Prophecy, #5

To be a community of prophecy, to see what is happening, we must listen to the voices that are speaking the truths we cannot see ourselves. We must listen to history, we must listen to the earth, we must listen to people of color, and we must listen to the voice from within, the power in our spirits.

And then we must say what is happening, and act in accordance with what we know. I am reminded of the words of Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, who said, “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

There are many ways to speak and act. I was inspired by the Hollywood actors and singers who refused to perform for the Inauguration—in this way using their influence and their silence, as a voice to send a loud message that they could not support the racism and misogyny of the new president. I was inspired by the woman who tendered her resignation from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, when they chose to participate—because she could not condone a presidency that went against all her values.

We have more power than we know. We can’t lose sight of that. It is so easy to get swept up in horror over what the leaders are doing, that we can forget to use our own power for good. African American lesbian activist Audre Lorde said, “Use what power you have to work for what you believe in.”

One kind of power is to march and protest, and it was heartening to learn that 10,000 people marched in the streets of Portland on Saturday January 21st—10,000 in our small city!  There were also more than 10,000 in Augusta, Maine. Hundreds of thousands marched in DC and many more in other cities around the world. That is a lot of marching power.

Myke in Hat

[Photo by Barbara Freeman]

Another kind of power is to knit, and I was thrilled to know that members of our congregation were knitting pussy hats for marchers. I wasn’t able to march, but they gave me a hat too.

Not everyone can march, but Michael Moore suggests that we all commit to calling our congregational representatives every day for the next 100 days. Or if that 3 minutes a day is too hard, call them on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, when congress is in session. 

Not everyone can put their bodies on the line, like those who go to Standing Rock to protect the water there. But some people have been moving their money out of banks that support the Dakota Access Pipeline, or the tar sands in Alberta, and opening accounts with local credit unions instead. We have only begun to explore how to act for justice in our time.

To be a community of prophecy is to see what is happening, to say what is happening, and to act in accordance with what we know. Not that it will be easy. We are in for some hard times ahead. As the great African American abolitionist, Frederick Douglass once said,

“Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are people who want crops without ploughing the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning; they want the ocean without the roar of its many waters. The struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, or it may be both. But it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand; it never has and it never will.”

This is what we are facing, dear ones. My colleague, Wayne Arnason, said “Take courage, friends. The way is often hard, the path is never clear and the stakes are very high. Take courage, for deep down there is another truth: You are not alone.”

Prophecy, #3: The Limits of Fact Checking

For those who love the truth, the current administration can be maddening.  I just think about the rejoinder used by Counselor to the President, Kellyanne Conway, in which she defended White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s false statements about the numbers of people attending the inauguration.  She said, they had “alternative facts.

But, then I found this post on Facebook at Rising Tide North America, which put a new layer into the equation for prophetic witness.  When Trump or his staff make outrageous untrue statements, these are not statements of fact, but statements of intent, stating what would have to be true to justify their next actions. Thus, we should not be trying to fact-check their big lies, but rather read into them what we can expect will be the next assaults on all that we hold dear.

Fact checking inadvertently legitimizes Trump.

For ex., Trump is not saying that 3 million undocumented people voted. What he’s saying is: I’m going to steal the voting rights of millions of Americans.

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Too Small to Make a Difference?

Snow on branches

[Snowflakes on branches]

Continuing from my prior post, as we confront the great challenges of our time, there is another hurdle that we may face—sometimes we feel as if the problems of our nation are so big, that what we have to offer is too small to make a difference. One approach to this problem is offered by Israeli writer, Amos Oz. He says,

Everyone of us has to choose confronting a big fire. Everyone of us has a teaspoon. Fill it with water and throw it in the fire. The teaspoon is very small and the fire is very large, but there are many of us and every one of us has a teaspoon. I do what I can as a teacher, as a writer, as a neighbor, as a citizen, to pour some water on the flames of hatred and incitement and fanaticism and bigotry and prejudice. I have words and I use words. My words are my teaspoon. This is what I can do. What can you do?”

When each of us does our small part, something can change about the larger problems.

Writer Charles Eisenstein goes even further. He addresses the underlying logic that permeates our society and our movements, that we need “big solutions to big problems.” This logic says, “whatever you do on a local level, you’d better make sure… it can go viral, because otherwise its impact will be trivial.” He says that “contained within this logic is an implicit hierarchy that values the contributions of some people more than others. It values the activities of people who have a big reach, a big platform, a loud voice, or the money or institutional power to affect thousands or millions of people.” And he finds this suspect in the movement for transformation because it is the same valuation as the dominant society’s allocation of status and power.

He explores the theories of change that underly such logic—that “change happens only when a force is exerted on a mass.” But the problem with this logic is that “the ruling elites” of the world always have “more force-based power—more money, more guns, …a bigger voice—than any activist organization ever could.” Yet, throughout history, there have been changes that happened in unexpected ways, from unexpected places. He says, “Reality often turns out to be the opposite of what the arithmetic of measurable impact would suggest. The most potent actions are often the ones done without forethought of publicity… Every act we take ripples out to affect the whole world…”

He goes on to reflect,

“My indoctrination into the logic of bigness has exerted an insidious effect on my own life, causing me always to question whether I am doing enough. When I focus on the small, intimate realms of life, taking the hours to tend to a relationship, to beautify a space, perhaps, or to enter the timeless child’s world with my youngest son, I am subject to an unease along the lines of, ‘There is something more important I’m supposed to be doing.’ The logic of bigness devalues the very heart of life.”

I thought about this logic of bigness quite a bit when I was trying to publish my book. I sent book proposals to several publishers, but got only rejections. One publisher was kind enough to give a reason. They said, your writing is good, but we don’t know how to market this kind of book because you are not well-known, and there is no big hook to pull people in. I didn’t have a big enough voice. But when I decided to self-publish the book, it grew from a sense that even a small voice must speak its truth, even a small bird has a song to sing. And so I named my publishing imprint Small Bird Press.

If we are all interconnected, then our gifts and our limits are intertwined for the life of the whole—what each of us has to offer is unique and irreplaceable. In the world of which we dream, hierarchy has given way to the circle of community. In the world in which we struggle, some of us will have the power to lobby, to protest, to rage against the destruction that can be caused by greed run amok. Others will have the power to grow gardens, to teach children to be kind, to dance and sing so that our spirits are replenished. All of it is important in this time.  We must live the life that wants to be lived in us, we must follow the lead of our hearts.

Questions to Ask Ourselves

img_0448I have been asking myself and others, what does the change in our country mean for our personal activities and commitments?  Every day I receive dozens of emails asking me to sign this petition or donate to that organization working on behalf of immigrants, or women’s reproductive health care, or the environment, and on and on. Invitations to March on Washington, or Boston, or Augusta. Invitations to lobby my senator or call my congressperson. I can feel overwhelmed by trying to make decisions on what to choose, what to ignore, what to do with the same amount of time in each day, in each week as I have always had.

How are we meant to respond to the current challenges in our world, to the pain and suffering we see? On the one hand, we can say simply—follow our values, care for the vulnerable, fight for justice. But Quaker educator Parker Palmer, in his book, Let Your Life Speak, asks us to take a step back, to look more deeply at what we are being called to do. Palmer says, “Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic selfhood, whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be… True vocation joins self and service, as Frederick Beuchner asserts when he defines vocation as ‘the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.’”

So one question we might be asking ourselves is, What is our own deep gladness? What sparks in us a sense of joy, because it taps into the very essence of our gift, our personality, our being? Another way to think of this might be, What are we good at doing? The influential African-American theologian, Howard Thurman, puts it, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

But is it really okay to pay attention to our own hearts, to our own deep gladness, to what makes us come alive? Shouldn’t we be mobilizing, organizing and lobbying every day to support our values in a society where they are under attack? I think what Palmer and Beuchner and Thurman are reminding us is that we can’t give what we don’t have. Not that we can’t learn new skills and rise to challenging occasions—but we can’t sustain a commitment if it goes counter to our nature.

For example, some people might be very at home with organizing a protest rally—making phone calls, posting on social media, renting sound equipment, contacting the right speakers, giving a stirring speech, and so forth. Some one else might be very good at going door to door, talking to neighbors and strangers of all political persuasions, making a connection and bridging the divide. Someone else might be good at strategizing behind the scenes, mapping out goals and objectives, and a course of action to take to get there. Someone else might be very good at bringing coffee and cookies to the meeting, and making sure that each new person is welcomed and brought into the conversation, and leaves feeling a sense of connection and involvement. Even in organizing and mobilizing, we each bring our particular gifts to the table.

And by that same token, we each have limits. Parker Palmer points out that he learned as much about understanding his calling from his limits as from his talents and gifts. He said, “Lacking insight into my own limits and potentials, I had allowed ego and ethics to lead me into a situation that my soul could not abide.”

He isn’t referring to the external limits that society places on people because of our gender, or the color of our skin, or the country of our origin. Rather, he means the limits that arise from our personalities, from our natural way of being in the world, from who we are at our core. We are encouraged to be tender with our natural way of being in the world, and not ask our souls to bear what they cannot abide.

For example, if someone is a complete introvert, they would not best serve their soul by forcing themselves to go to a march or a meeting. Rather, they might be happier to write letters to the editor or to their congressperson. Another person might not be able to go door to door, talking to neighbors, but they are really good at tutoring asylum seekers one-on-one to help them learn to speak English more quickly and feel at home in this country. Our limits and our strengths are mirrors to each other. We need to ask ourselves about our gifts and our limits.

I want to mention something about external limits. Parker Palmer admits that he holds a lot of privilege as an educated white male. Even to ask ourselves about “our soul’s calling” assumes that we have the privilege to ponder the question. Many people work overtime in jobs that do nothing to provide gladness, and barely enough to support a home and food. Another important question to ask ourselves is about our areas of privilege or areas of marginalization. What we can offer the community is dependent upon our social location—and that goes both ways. As a woman, I would not be welcome to share a gift for leading worship in the Catholic community. This is an area of marginalization for me. On the other hand, as someone currently with a steady income, it would be inappropriate for me to try to teach people in poverty how to save their money. It would be intrusive and disrespectful.

We must understand our position in a social fabric, the powers we hold and the challenges we face just by who our people are, where we live, the color of our skin. I am reminded of the advice given to budding writers—write what you know.

So we must ask, What are our gifts, what gives us joy, what are our limits, what is our location? Palmer says, “Is the life I am living, the same as the life that wants to live in me?” It is from this place of understanding our own essence that we can best respond to the great needs of our world.

Book Launch Party

book-2-send

[Photo by Rick Kimball]

On January 14, I had my first book reading and a wonderful book launch party for Finding Our Way Home: A Spiritual Journey into Earth Community.  It was organized by several members of Allen Avenue UU Church, and held at the church, but open to the public.  Thank you Mark, Cathy, Connie, Sally, Sonia, Tirrell, and Sharon, and everyone who brought food, and everyone who came.

Book Launch Party MD

[Photo by Margy Dowzer]

I did a reading from the book, and sold and signed many copies. There was music by Dale Churchill and lovely refreshments, including a cake reproducing the cover of the book.  It was the perfect launch, since so many ideas and stories in the book were born in the context of my relationship with this community of people.  Thank you everyone!

Book Cake MD

[Photo by Margy Dowzer]