Thursday, December 11, 2014

#138 Big enough

Dear all,
From a pre-Thanksgiving dinner with our oldest son Paul and some of his friends, to holiday time with Chuck's extended family, to a long lovely afternoon and evening yesterday with old friends (another extended family), to today's anticipation of the arrival of our son Tim and his wife and toddler for a month's visit from Nicaragua, I am feeling richly blessed by human connection.  And my walk this morning reminded me, as always, of my connection with the natural world around me.
How good it is to be embedded in community!

Big enough

I was having one of my—not uncommon—moments of feeling just too little.  The world was looking pretty bleak and its problems pretty big.  Economic inequality, racism, climate change—how could I possibly hope to make any difference in the face of enormous forces like these?

A friend was listening to me, and as I shared my sense of helplessness and hopelessness, my wish to not even turn my head in the direction of these big painful wrongs that I could do nothing about, I was able to hear myself in a new way.  I sounded like a very little girl.  The voice inside me that was speaking was a voice from my childhood.

It makes perfect sense.  I was too little then.  The forces that governed my life were way beyond my control.  I saw the things that weren’t working right—for me, for my family—and had no way of making them better.  In my particular situation, I didn’t even see a way to complain.  So I did my best, learned my own set of survival skills, put my head down, and found my way, for better or for worse, into adulthood.

Now this isn’t to say that my life has been bleak.  Far from it.  I’ve experienced love in a variety of wonderful forms, found many meaningful ways to spend my time, gotten pleasure from the talents of countless people on this earth, been nurtured by the richness of the natural world.  As an adult, I’ve discovered that I’m not helpless, that I can make things happen in the circles around me.  I’ve continued to look for ways to address these big evils, but through all those years I’ve still carried that image of myself as just not big enough.

I remember my pivotal “aha moment” about the relationship between climate change and despair:  the feelings of despair that come up so quickly around climate change are not its creation. Those feelings were with us long before we had ever imagined the possibility of the end of life on earth as we know it.  They are old feelings from our childhood—when things were that scary, and we felt that small.  I find the concept so refreshing:  the feelings of despair that come up in the face of climate change are not inevitable.  They are ours to change.  Climate change is just an irresistible magnet for those old fears—which are always looking for a convenient place to attach in the present.

This is not to say that we don’t have a problem, or that the challenges we face are insignificant.  As the big international forces that have brought us to this point grow in their interconnections and global impact, the threats are very real and significant—to say the least!  But what if we are big enough?

I’m helped by recognizing a similar trajectory behind climate change, economic inequality and racism. It starts with an assumption of separation and a goal of mastery—in relation to both other human beings and the environment. Those who have more justify their right to it, then they work to protect what they have.  Those assumptions and goals lead to injustice and trauma on a massive scale—for both people and the earth.  The systems that have been built on these foundations are enormous and complex, but underlying them are human dynamics that can be understood, faced and changed.  Systems that have been built can be dismantled, and people who have done damage and been damaged can be healed.

What if this is just the right sized challenge for grown-ups like us?  What if each of us gets to be our own full loving human self in relation to these big issues?  What if we assumed that we were big enough?  Big enough to look at what’s wrong; to understand; to say what we think; to apply what we know to our personal choices; to engage with our friends, colleagues and neighbors, and gather others around good programs; to be players on the public stage?

In the process, we’ll have to get good at teasing out the sticky old voices of despair from the reality of interesting and important challenges in the present.  Those voices from our childhood may be the biggest thing that’s holding back our world.  It was true back then:  we were too little.  What good news that we’re now big enough!

Bread and life

You would think that I of all people
do-it yourselfer
would be a baker of bread.

And yet I’m not
that is, I wasn’t.

Mixing together
stuff from a store
has never drawn me.

Then I was transformed by a
sourdough starter
given by a friend.

Putting flour, salt and water
in the service of
this wild life form
I became a partner in creation,
the flavor of the bread
a wonder
beyond my control.

Imagine--A new economy is possible!

Postal banking

Physical and operational structures already exist that could help USPS offer basic financial services: prepaid debit cards, mobile transactions, new check cashing services, savings accounts, and even simple, small-dollar loans.  A successful U.S. Postal Saving System existed from 1911-1967.  Every money order you deliver confirms this heritage—postal banking is as American as apple pie—and similar schemes operate overseas today, including in Germany, Japan, Switzerland, and the UK.

According to a Pew survey, 38 percent of the US population—88 million people—either have no bank accounts (the “unbanked”) or are at least partially dependent upon high-cost services like payday lending (the “underbanked”).   In 2012, underbanked households spent almost 10% of their annual income solely on interest and fees for alternative financial services like payday lending.

Thirty-one percent of the unbanked said they would open an account at their local post office branch. Eighty-one percent of the underbanked said they would use USPS to cash checks, 79 percent percent to pay bills, and 71 percent would choose postal loans over payday loans.   The U.S. Conference of Mayors has endorsed the idea, and legislation is pending in Congress.

Some things that have made me hopeful recently

How the Coalition of Immokalee Workers has pressured Florida’s tomato growers, through enlisting the might of major restaurant chains and retailers, to increase wages for their 30,000 workers and follow strict standards that mandate rest breaks and forbid sexual harassment and verbal abuse.

Learning that 85,000 trees have been planted by one women's agricultural cooperative in Nicaragua, and knowing that this is just one of many such efforts around the world.

The New Economy movement--a diverse set of communities (native climate justice activists, union leaders, coop leaders from the deep South, urban farmers, small businesses, sustainability activists) coming together in shared recognition that our economic structures are the root cause of many different crises.

How one person's story of humanity in a conflict-ridden far-away place (Gaza, Iraqi Kurdistan) can allow those who hear to open their minds and hearts to that place.

More resources

Recent posts on other web/blog sites:


Muscle Building for Peace and Justice; a Non-Violent Workout Routine for the 21st Century--an integration of much of my experience and thinking over the years:  (or just google the title), a website that I've contributed to often (check the archives), a home for all the parenting writing I've done over the past 20 years.  NOTE THE NEW URL--should be live soon. START: a way to study and work together with others to create a better world.

For earlier columns, go to  I'm currently posting at

Monday, November 3, 2014

#137 Goodness and Neglect

Dear all,
As my mind turns toward a season of thanksgiving, I find myself thankful for a number of things--
--our dear friend from Northern Uganda, who is here in Philadelphia for the fall,
--the fruits of my intention to act against mass incarceration, with doors opening up that I am able and glad to walk through,
--the chance to visit with local youth as we work together at Mill Creek Farm, providing affordable produce for the neighbors and free gleanings for the local soup kitchen,
--and always, the beauty of our natural world.
I will you rich things to be thankful for as well.   

Goodness and neglect

I neglected my backyard last summer.  There were perfectly good reasons for it, and I’m not second-guessing the choices I made that had it low on my list.  But the longer I neglected it the harder it became to choose to pay attention.  I felt bad about that neglect, and facing the result of it was painful.

When a blessedly open day arrived in October, my feet finally took me out the back door and down the steps.  What an unkempt jungle! The clouds of tiny white flies on the kale in my little kitchen garden were the worst.  How could I have been so irresponsible in tending a living thing for which I was responsible?  I found myself doing everything else except getting out the detergent spray for that tedious job.  I realized that I was mad.

I was mad at the need for all that work—but mostly I was mad at the image of myself that was reflected back to me.  So the flies, and at the kale that had attracted them, got the brunt of it.

Once I could notice that I was directing my anger at that innocent kale, my mind actually got a little space to think about this phenomenon.  I doubt I’m the only one.  Why do I get mad at what (or who) I care about and don’t treat well?  I think it’s because I would choose to believe that I’m a good person, and what is reflected back to me calls that into question.  To protect my goodness, I blame the one I’ve treated badly.

It’s logical, in a twisted kind of way.  And it makes me wonder how much this dynamic underlies neglect and abuse in many other places.  How many people who treat loved ones badly have fallen into a pattern of responding to their own less-than-thoughtful behavior by lashing out at those with whom they have fallen short?  How many people in privileged social positions defend what they haven’t earned by finding fault with those who have less?

I’m happy to say that while there’s still more do to, my backyard looks 100% better.  It reflects well on me, and my eyes can now rest there in pleasure.  I’m no longer mad at the kale, which I did finally get to spraying that afternoon (though I notice that it could use a second treatment now).

Perhaps most important, I have a personal and visceral understanding of how easy it is to try to protect our goodness when we’re in the wrong by projecting that wrong onto others—and how easily that can lead to even more neglectful and hurtful behavior.

It's not right.  But in my heart of hearts, I know that I’m not a bad person.  Perhaps my next step is to go out and just apologize to the kale—then give it another spray.


I thought we were planting
just for beauty--
big bright sunflowers
that call out their glory in August
when others have faded away

Yet here on a busy street
in a front yard smaller than
a double bed, I find
a goldfinch family has found a home,
a perfect place to tweet
and flit and dine on seeds.

The ones I planted in our big common bed
reached for the sun and bloomed
and then grew fat with seeds
Birds came here too, and bees,
and then, first day of fall,
a squirrel had hunkered down
busy with a big seed head
storing up for leaner times.

As one who planted just for beauty
I have learned
that sunflowers
have more to give.

Imagine--A new economy is possible!
Municipal Ownership

This fall, the small city of Somerset, Kentucky, drew national attention when it opened a municipally owned and operated fuel center in an effort to drive down gas prices for local residents.  While Somerset’s publicly owned gas station is the first of its kind in a good many years, it draws upon a rich tradition in the United States of municipal enterprises that reduce costs for local residents, provide services for those underserved or exploited by private operators, and allow for community participation in economic decision-making.

Historically, municipal ownership and operation of strategically important industries and services was commonplace in America’s cities. Often these included subways, trolleys, buses, power plants, power lines, telephone networks, water and sanitation systems, railroads, ice plants, bus and train stations, freight shipping facilities, grocery stores, coal distribution companies, and lodging houses.  One legacy of this approach is represented in the 2,000 municipally owned electric utilities, which, together with co-ops, supply more than 25 percent of the nation’s electricity.

Some things that have made me hopeful recently:

The new Polish Jewish museum in Warsaw that focuses on 1000 years of vibrant Jewish life and culture in Poland before World War II.

Urban farms, the networks in which they are embedded, and the networks they grow around them.

The persistent, effective, on-the-ground peacemaking that is waged in East Africa by the African Great Lakes Initiative, in conflicts that seem intractable from the outside.

The $18.5 million in personal debt that has been bought and forgiven since 2012 by Debt Jubilee for just $300,000 on the secondary debt market, where lenders sell unpaid bills to collectors for just pennies on the dollar.

More resources

Recent posts on other web/blog sites:–-deep-outreach-diverse-initiating-groups-–-pace-building-trust

Muscle Building for Peace and Justice; a Non-Violent Workout Routine for the 21st Century--an integration of much of my experience and thinking over the years:  (or just google the title), a website that I've contributed to often (check the archives), a home for all the parenting writing I've done over the past 20 years. START: a way to study and work together with others to create a better world.

For earlier columns, go to  I'm currently posting at

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

#136 Becoming Experts

Dear all,
    My big news of the month was a week in Nicaragua in early September supporting my son Tim and his family, with the biggest highlight being around 20-month-old Emilio as his language spiked, mostly in Spanish!  And by this week, I'm feeling like all the pieces of my post-summer life have been picked back up, and am hopeful that there might even be room for them all.
    It was a privilege to be at the big climate march in New York City, and it is a delight to be present to our part of the world turning toward the beauty of fall.

Becoming experts

This spring, before my toddler grandson moved to Nicaragua, I loved taking him out to our community garden, and spending time just being present to the world around us.  We smelled the flowers, dug in the dirt, watched the birds flying around, and listened to their songs. He was paying close attention, and the more he looked and listened, the more he took in.  As he started to pick up language, among his first twenty words were bird, flower and smell.
Another toddler I know got interested in cars at an early age.  He noticed, asked questions, took in and sorted new information, asked more, and now, at age three, can name every make and style as he walks down the street.  This phenomenon of people becoming experts at what they pay attention to is everywhere: people who listen to the news each day and know everything about every bad thing that is happening; people who refuse to listen to news, but watch sports instead, and are experts on every team and every player; people who follow the celebrities and know every detail about their movies and their private lives; people who pursue a hobby and become experts in their own little realm.

I think there’s an issue of power here.  In a world awash in information, it’s nice to feel like you have mastery over some little bit of it.  On the other hand, we can easily give up on whole areas where we despair of mastery.  If we don’t know anything about it, don’t have a handle on it, we’re not likely to choose to pay attention to it.

There are areas where we’ve gotten the message that we don’t have aptitude, science for some, arts for others, and areas that we are actually discouraged from investigating. (“Pay no attention to the little man behind the screen,” says Oz the Great and Powerful…) I think of the economists who turn away questions and criticism of their models and policies with proprietary warnings that they must be trusted, that only the experts can be expected to understand.

Yet, despite any obstacle in our path, we can still decide to grow into our own unlikely experts.  The bottom line is that we get to choose where we put our attention.  We can attune our ears and eyes to what we want to become experts on, knowing that it’s possible to get ever better at what we pay attention to.

If time is a limiting factor, we may choose to withdraw attention from one activity in order to put it on another. Since I don’t want to be an expert on despair, I don’t watch the TV news. Since I do want to be an expert on what gives people hope, I have found ever more places to look, and take the time to look attentively.

What if we chose to pay attention to, and become experts on, that which makes us whole?  In choosing to put attention on my place with our neighbors in this ecosystem that we share, I am coming to learn the birds.  I am no expert.  Far from it!  How to pull discreet sounds out of background noise that I often don’t even notice, much less to connect those sounds with a shape and a name, seems like a daunting task.  But I also know that the choice is mine.  If it’s important enough to me to know my neighbors, I can decide to pay attention, and that blur in the background will begin to resolve into recognizable living beings.

I miss taking my toddler to the garden, but I’m glad to have played a role in inviting him to put his attention there.  And the other morning I heard a new bird call, and for the first time in my life, could put a name to that bird.


Eyes idly resting
at the shore
on a vast and changeless scene

A darker gull is crying
another joins it, crying too
and then a third appears in
regulation gray and white

The first two turn
their cries gain purpose.
the scene slips into focus
and I see.

These two are babies
waiting to be fed.
Mama’s throat works
her babes fight for her beak
over and over
till she walks off
to the water line
to peck and eat,

A sight to common to be seen
has resolved into
a family.

Imagine--A new economy is possible!

Thomas Paine, on Property

“There are two kinds of property,” Paine contended. “Firstly, natural property, or that which comes to us from the Creator of the universe—such as the earth, air, water. Secondly, artificial or acquired property—the invention of men.” The latter kind of property must necessarily be distributed unequally, but the first kind rightfully belonged to everyone equally, Paine thought. It was the “legitimate birthright” of every man and woman, “not charity but a right.”

Paine’s genius was to invent a way to distribute income from shared ownership of natural property. He proposed a “National Fund” to pay every man and woman fifteen pounds at age twenty-one and ten pounds a year after age fifty-five. (These sums are roughly equal to $17,500 and $11,667, respectively, today.) Revenue for the fund would come from “ground rent” paid by land-owners, the privatizers of natural wealth. Paine even showed mathematically how this could work. Presciently, Paine recognized that land, air, and water could be monetized, not just for the benefit of a few but for the good of all. Further, he saw that this could be done at a national level. This was a remarkable feat of analysis and imagining.

Excerpted from With Liberty and Dividends for All, by Peter Barnes

Some things that have made me hopeful recently:

The doubling of fossil fuel divestment commitments since January 2014, with181 institutions and local governments and 656 individuals representing over $50 billion dollars having pledged to divest to-date, including the $860 million Rockefeller Brothers Fund, which was built on the Standard Oil fortune.

The SoKind registry, an alternative gift registry where instead of giving stuff, people can give more meaningful gifts - of time, of services, etc.

A law signed by the Tennessee governor in May providing two years of tuition at a community college or college of applied technology for any high school graduate who agrees to work with a mentor, complete eight hours of community service, and maintain at least a C average.      

The stories of Israeli soldiers who have refused to serve in the West Bank and Gaza.  (Breaking Ranks, Ronit Chacham)

More resources

Recent posts on other web/blog sites:–-deep-outreach-diverse-initiating-groups-–-pace-building-trust

Muscle Building for Peace and Justice; a Non-Violent Workout Routine for the 21st Century--an integration of much of my experience and thinking over the years:  (or just google the title), a website that I've contributed to often (check the archives), a home for all the parenting writing I've done over the past 20 years. START: a way to study and work together with others to create a better world.

For earlier columns, go to  I'm currently posting at

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

#135 Mastering Creation

Dear all,
    I'm still basking in the glow of my 65th birthday party last week.  I loved sharing myself as fully as I knew how with people from all different parts of my life (including feeding them from my garden!), and it was wonderful to receive such a beautiful big bouquet of verbal gifts in return.  I recommend it! 
    In addition to the usual in this month's offering, I've included links to a couple of sites that have published other writing of mine.  It's been a bountiful summer.

Mastering creation

Human struggle for dominion over creation has reached epic proportions.  While we have demonstrated a staggering capacity for mastery, the damage to the world around us has been staggering as well—and it’s becoming increasingly clear that we won’t have the last word.

Time at a co-op cabin in the woods of northern Pennsylvania has provided lots of opportunities to consider who’s in charge on a more intimate level.  Sometimes we witness forces that are totally beyond our control.  During the multi-year gypsy moth infestation, we watched helplessly as those little caterpillars ate up our woods.  Great maple trees died and then fell, opening up sunlit spaces for briars and new young saplings to move in.  Other trees survived, but took years to regain any semblance of health.  Less dramatically, a rocky area of poor soil that had once been grazing land for sheep was still open and sunny when we arrived, with dozens of wild blueberry bushes.  Gradually, with nothing eating off the vegetation, it has converted to scrubby woodland, and the blueberries have died away.

At times we have been able to nudge nature a little in the direction of our wishes.  One year, when briars seemed to be steadily encroaching on the open area around the cabin, I found a dozen or so tiny little hemlock volunteers and transplanted them to form a barrier.  At eight or twelve inches tall, they could initially be only a symbolic statement of how far we would protect our domain of human civilization, but each year they grew taller, and now tall trees form a barrier that is real.

The most vexing area of contention over mastery has been the pond.  We human beings want it to stay as clear, clean and deep as possible, while natural forces are moving it steadily in the opposite direction.  Created by others before we got there, with a small stream feeding it at one end, and a modest outlet at the other, it has little flow.  Silt collects, pond weed gets more and more of a hold, cattails flourish at the edges and expand steadily inward.  Everything that dies ends up on the bottom, and every year there is more organic material to grow and die.

We have tried many things:  Spread chemicals on the water to kill the pond weed—but nobody really wanted chemicals in the pond.  Import specially bred fish to feed on the bottom.  This sounded like a winner—but in a year or two there was no evidence that they had made an impact or were even still there.  Just keep unclogging the outlet, harvesting the pond weed and piling it up in great heaps in the canoe; wading in at the edges and pulling out armload after armload of cattails.  This has probably had the most impact, but it’s pretty clear that the forces of nature are stronger than us, and we haven’t figured out any way to get the muck off the bottom without a massive dredging project.

Do we have a right to the pond of our dreams?  This question took on more poignancy for me after reading a loving description by a Native American botanist of the richness of a cattail marsh, while all I could see was an obstacle in my path.

Then I think of our community garden, where we bring in soil, plant seeds in bare ground, define some plants as weeds and pull them out, offer extra food, water and supports to others that wouldn’t manage on their own, wage eternal battles against bugs.  We are totally bent on mastery; yet without some effort in this direction we wouldn’t eat.

How to reconcile this conflict?  Maybe we can learn from the farmers who know and love their land.  They know the different soils, patterns of water absorption and run-off, sun and shade, woodland, marsh and field habitats, sources of soil replenishment, what part each plays in the health of the rest.  With such intimate knowledge, with a sense of connection and belonging, with deep respect and thanks for the gifts of the land, I think we can see ourselves as partners and beneficiaries rather than masters.

Our pond struggle, I imagine, will continue.  But perhaps I can approach it with more love, and if I pull out a cattail, I can thank it for the role it plays in this universe.

More love

The evils of the world crowd round
War and climate change
a system breeding inequality
mass incarceration
misery across the globe. 

I used to ward them all off
feel nothing as I tried
to do my share
avert my eyes
protect my heart.

I'm after more these days
more open now to heartbreak
willing to respond.
And yet, and yet
how much more then must I do
to hold on to integrity?

Must I respond to everything
with all my heart
submit to bleak and never-ending work?

Then from this murk
the answer rises, clear and true:
You must love more--
love more widely
love more deeply
love more  openly.

Any new atrocity
new threat
new injustice
requires a response:
more love.

Imagine--A new economy is possible!

Work Sharing

The logic of work sharing is simple.  Instead of the government providing workers who lose their job with an unemployment benefit, the government effectively pays firms to keep workers employed but working shorter hours. In Germany, for example, the standard framework is that if the work week is cut by 20 percent, then the government picks up 12 percent of the workers’ pay and it requires the company to pick up four percent. The result has been far less unemployment in countries with such incentives.

Three of the most promising ways that countries have found to reduce work hours are to: trade productivity gains for more free time instead of higher pay: pass laws giving the right to workers to request shorter workweeks without worrying about retribution from employers as has been done in Belgium and the Netherlands; and introduce shorter hours at both ends of the age scale, so that young, new workers would start with shorter workweeks and workers above a certain age could reduce their hours as well.

Some things that have made me hopeful recently:

The 10,000 people in Tel Aviv who participated in a rally earlier this month under the slogan, “Changing direction, toward peace, away from war”, and all the other peace building people and groups in Israel and Gaza.

An alternatives to violence program that was initiated in the US to offer resources to people in prisons, exported to Rwanda and Burundi to help address conflict there, revised by local leaders in Africa to focus more on trauma healing, then exported back to the US as trauma healing for African immigrant communities.

The creation this spring of a partnership of indigenous farmers from Peru, Bhutan and China, to exchange indigenous potato varieties and farming methods as a way to help protect agricultural biodiversity in the face of climate change.

A precedent-setting case by the New York Court of Appeals in late June, ruling that the towns of Dryden and Middlefield can use local zoning laws to ban heavy industry--including oil and gas production--within municipal borders, a boon to the more than 170 municipalities in New York that have already passed bans or moratoriums, and a hopeful sign to towns throughout the country fighting for their right to local self determination.

More resources

Recent posts on other web/blog sites:–-deep-outreach-diverse-initiating-groups-–-pace-building-trust

Muscle Building for Peace and Justice; a Non-Violent Workout Routine for the 21st Century--an integration of much of my experience and thinking over the years:  (or just google the title), a website that I've contributed to often (check the archives), a home for all the parenting writing I've done over the past 20 years. START: a way to study and work together with others to create a better world.

For earlier columns, go to  I'm currently posting at

Thursday, July 17, 2014

#134 Naming evil

Dear all,
I've been enjoying the succession of berries in the garden--and am delighted to have learned how to make a simple fruit sorbet!  Now the summer squash season is upon us.  There's nothing better than sharing with loved ones and strangers out of a sense of abundance, and no better reminder of that than a summer garden.  I send wishes for similar abundance to all of you.

Naming evil

I don’t use the word “evil” lightly.  I don’t use it to describe the forces that are driving climate change, the greatest destruction of our time.  Yes, they are blind, short-sighted, greed-based, power-hungry, stupid, and ultimately tragic to a degree that is hard to fathom, but I see no evil intent, nobody working out a plan to make life unlivable for their grandchildren or great grandchildren.

Our country’s system of mass incarceration is different.  It follows that if you build a system that is based on retribution rather than restoration and add in the age-old tendency to find people who can be categorized as “other”, they will be disproportionately affected; any such criminal justice system becomes a breeding ground for unintended consequences.  But this is worse. As Michelle Alexander lays out so compellingly in The New Jim Crow, the War on Drugs had an intentional, if hidden, intent of targeting black men.  She quotes H.R. Haldeman, President Richard Nixon’s former chief of staff: “The whole problem is really the blacks. The key is designing a system that recognizes this while not appearing to.”

Black men are arrested, tried, incarcerated and held at rates staggeringly higher than those of whites.  The GPS anklet that parolees wear has an uncanny resemblance to a 21st century chain—with those who control it in complete power over the human being on whose leg it is fastened.  Old forms of discrimination—in employment and housing, denial of basic public benefits and the right to vote, and exclusion from jury service—have become perfectly legal again, just more coded. Mass incarceration is sucking the soul out of many communities of color, its effects eating away at them, and its threat always present.

The most chilling aspect is that this whole system can be described as totally race neutral, as straightforward and beneficial protection from a dangerous criminal element. In the face of these distortions and slippery lies, this murk of concealment, manipulation and complicity, how can we see and speak clearly, grasp the issue firmly, and find the solid ground of integrity from which to act?
I think the first step is to call this system out for what it is:  twisted, hidden, and malevolent.  It is sucking the soul not only out of our communities of color, but out of all of us whose complicit and confused acquiescence supports this evil. It is sucking the soul out of our country.

Evil needs exposure to sunlight and good air.  We need to talk about it for what it is, open out all its hidden folds and pockets of wrong, hold it out to the clear light of day.  People who hurt and kill others don’t need to be relieved of consequences, and people who are just doing their jobs don’t need to be blamed, but the forces that have twisted power and fear together to create and maintain this horror need to be called out.
We need to grieve together.  This system has caused untold loss and damage.  While it impacts some more directly, we are all caught in its web.  If we don’t look clearly and face the grief, we are vulnerable to vengeance or to the hardening of hearts that comes from separation. Without grieving, we cannot be healed.

I know there are many people attacking this system on many fronts, inside prisons, in impacted communities, and in support of both.  I’m not clear which path is mine to take, but I believe that it will open up as I take my first steps. I know these need to include talking more openly with my friends and neighbors—both black and white—finding a way past the feelings of privilege, guilt and disconnection to the firm ground that an evil done to my brothers and sisters is an evil done to me.  I know that more steps lie ahead for all of us, and I believe that, by naming this evil with each other, looking straight at it, and grieving the sorrow and loss, we can find our way forward together.

Left and right

I work my way down the patch
picking every single berry I can find
Then I turn and work my way back—
always finding more
that had been hidden from view.

Looking just from the left
or just from the right
leaves ripe fruit
to rot on the vine.

Imagine--A new economy is possible!

European cooperative banks

In a comparison with major commercial banks in Europe, co-operative banks outperform shareholder banks on a number of measures: generating more stable long-term profits, providing better customer service, and boosting local economies by lending more to small and medium-sized businesses. Plus, their more prudent approach to managing capital allowed them to weather the financial crisis better than the commercial banking sector, thus contributing to financial stability.

Ownership by members places an incentive on managers to maximise long-term customer value, and ensures that profit is treated as a means to an end rather than an end in itself. This focus presents a range of benefits, not just for customers but for the economy as a whole.

Over the past fifteen years, European cooperatives have increased their share
of European bank branches from just under twenty five per cent to over twenty
eight per cent. This is because, while commercial banks have been closing down
branches to increase cost efficiency, cooperatives, with their focus on customer
value, have been expanding.

Some things that have made me hopeful recently
The findings of a report comparing the views of people who live in red and blue Congressional districts or states across 388 questions: majorities or pluralities took opposing positions just 3.6 percent of the time, with no statistical differences in two out of three cases. 

A recent decision of the World Council of Churches, representing half a billion Christian, to stop investing in fossil fuels.

New York City’s budget for the 2015 fiscal year, which includes a $1.2 million new item for the development of worker-owned cooperative businesses, the largest investment in the sector ever made by a city government in the United States.

A tiny effort in Russia, Friends House Moscow, that supports local citizen initiatives to change conditions for orphans, people with disabilities, refugees, soldiers and conscientious objectors, among others. 

More resources

Posts on other people's blogs: 

NEW:  Check out my friend Daniel Hunter's new book, a narrative of direct action campaigning:  Strategy & Soul: A Campaigner's Tale of Fighting Billionaires, Corrupt Officials, and Philadelphia Casinos:

Muscle Building for Peace and Justice; a Non-Violent Workout Routine for the 21st Century--an integration of much of my experience and thinking over the years:  (or just google the title), a website that I've contributed to often (check the archives), a home for all the parenting writing I've done over the past 20 years. START: a way to study and work together with others to create a better world.

For earlier columns, go to  I'm currently posting at

Thursday, June 12, 2014

#133 Respecting our ecosystem

It’s heartening how sometimes a larger truth to which one is deeply committed can knock the air out of an insistent but essentially irrelevant argument.

With six children in my family growing up, one-on-one attention from my mother was a precious but scarce commodity.  When one of her children was sick, however, my mother always came through.  One of the highlights of my childhood was the time in seventh grade when I had bronchial pneumonia.  The first few days, when I was delirious, were harder on her than on me, and they were followed by weeks recuperating at home with just my mother and my precious little toddler brother.

I often wished in high school that I could have another break like that, but never got sick enough again.  There was no tolerance in my family for malingering—and no sympathy for weakness or petty complaints.  If what ailed you wasn’t demonstrably serious, you were expected to continue to pull your weight.

So I came of age still wistfully wishing that sometime I might get sick enough that somebody would put me first and make everything better, while at the same time being a harsh judge of complainers and weaklings.  This has been particularly challenging when I’ve been a little under the weather.  Quite apart from whatever was happening with my body, there was full-scale warfare in my head.  I’m not feeling well.  Oh for goodness sake, it’s not that bad; just get over it.  But really, I’d rather be in bed.  Buck up.  Tons of people keep on working when they’re sick—what makes you think you’re so special?  I think I need to lie down.  Oh, stop whining!  Maybe if I take care of it, it will go away.  Oh, if you must, you little weakling.

Over the years, I’ve had many reminders that my body is trustworthy.  I’m not one to lie in bed in general, and I tend to prefer work over rest.  But somehow the war in my head has continued, and it’s been hard to listen to my body with all that din between my ears.

Then, somehow, a totally new concept fell into that space, stunning all other voices to silence.  Your body is an ecosystem.  It deserves respect.

Well, I’m passionate about ecosystems.  I have a sense of wonder about their complexity, the amazing levels of interdependence, the variety of distinctively lovely forms they can take.  And I’m keenly aware of the threats that so many ecosystems face, and how a loss in one can devastate others.  I have some sense of both their vulnerability and their resilience, and my respect for their value is abiding and deep.

The idea of human bodies as ecosystems is newer to me.   I have loved breathing in the reality that every water molecule in my body has existed for billions of years; that our existence depends on the soil, the source of our food; that we are all miracles of recycling.

It makes sense that poisons and pollution affect my own internal system just as they affect our external waterways and atmosphere.  It’s a little harder to get my mind around the reality that the vast majority of cells in my body are non-human.  I am host to an enormous diversity of other microorganisms—with all the intricate interdependence of any other ecosystem, and with all their resilience and vulnerability.

So, this ecosystem of mine, as all other ecosystems, is totally deserving of respect.  If it is under stress, that is something that calls for thought, care and intelligence.  I can benefit from its resilience—it doesn’t need to be constantly fussed over—but I certainly don’t want to take its good functioning for granted.

What does this mean?  When I don’t feel well, when this ecosystem that I inhabit is stressed, neither moral judgments about weakness nor lingering hopes for comfort from my childhood are relevant.  What is called for is a thoughtful assessment of the whole system, and as non-invasive a program to bring it back to balance as can be managed. There’s much that I still don’t know but, with respect for this ecosystem as central, my feet are on solid ground at last.


In our big shared garden
digging baby black-eyed Susan plants
to give away
a Mexican neighbor offers me cilantro
and I go home with four sweet plants
to tuck in with my herbs.

Then, hauling pots of flowers
that have spread out of their beds
to share with rental neighbors
eager to fill bare ground with life,
As I walk, I greet a gardener
I do not know, who turns out to have
sunflowers to spare,
and digs them out most willingly—
Just what I’ve been looking for,
the final touch of glory
that our garden needs.

I’m filled up to the brim
with so much giving and receiving
in these few hours,
so much pleasure shared.
The earth, indeed, is full of gifts.

Dare to imagine:  A new economy is possible!

Who will feed us?

The industrial food chain uses 70% of the world's agricultural resources to produce just 30% of our global food supply.  Conversely, the peasant food web provides 70% of the global food supply while using only 30% of agricultural resource.

While industrial agriculture can produce a higher yield of a monocultural crop than can peasant monoculture, multi-cultures of diverse crops, fish and livestock (intercropping) can produce more food per hectare, which is also more nutritious, than any industrial monoculture, at a fraction of the cost and with employment and environmental benefits.

Looking toward the future, with "agribusiness as usual":  urban share of global population, obesity, meat and dairy production, water demand, and greenhouse gas emissions all rise dramatically.  With the "peasant web", including land and rights, rural population holds steady, nutrition and food availability increase, obesity drops, and greenhouse gas emissions, water demand and agricultural fossil fuel use all drop dramatically.

Some things that have made me hopeful recently:

Paul Hawken's unforgettable presentation of the 2 million-plus groups around the world that are working toward a just and livable future. (I've mentioned this one before, but it's made me hopeful again!)

Food distribution companies, such as Common Market in Philadelphia, that work to connect local farmers with large institutions such as hospitals and schools--thus supporting small farmers while improving the quality of food these institutions serve.

The Obama administration's recent Environmental Protection Agency ruling, which is intended to cut carbon pollution from power plants by 30% (from 2005 levels) by 2030.

The Bike Superhighways of Denmark, a network of 26 routes to connect commuting suburbanites to the city, including air pumps, safer intersections, and traffic lights timed to average cycling speed, allowing 50% of all Copenhageners to cycle to work or school every day,often faster than by car.

More resources

Posts on other people's blogs: 

NEW:  Check out my friend Daniel Hunter's new book, a narrative of direct action campaigning:  Strategy & Soul: A Campaigner's Tale of Fighting Billionaires, Corrupt Officials, and Philadelphia Casinos:

Muscle Building for Peace and Justice; a Non-Violent Workout Routine for the 21st Century--an integration of much of my experience and thinking over the years:  (or just google the title), a website that I've contributed to often (check the archives), a home for all the parenting writing I've done over the past 20 years. START: a way to study and work together with others to create a better world.

For earlier columns, go to  I'm currently posting at

Sunday, April 27, 2014

#132 A Courage Project

Dear all,
A stunningly beautiful month of April, a new grandson--life is full of gifts.  I've been taking the 15-month old to the community garden every time I have him; this week it was cold and we just sat for a while, bundled up, listening to the birds.  I'm taking in the truth that where we choose to put our attention, that is where we develop the capacity to notice more.  I hope his ear is always attuned to the birds.
And I'm so pleased that the State Department has not approved the Keystone XL pipeline, but delayed any action, and I choose to believe that our messages to the President--of all kinds--played a role in that decision.

A Courage Project

You can have fear without courage, but you can’t have courage without fear.  As I’ve been thinking about how we can best support each other to do scary things, I realize that we can take a lesson from the children.  They look for activities that will test them—climb a tree, walk through a culvert, jump across a gap, have an adventure in the dark, tell scary stories.  Children are pulled to test their courage, in a heady mix of fear and excitement.

As adults, some of us still thrive on risk; others are more cautious and prefer our thrills well buffered.  Both tendencies are being increasingly accommodated by our consumer economy.  Those who want risk without protection gravitate toward extreme sports.  Those who prefer to consume it safely have a range of manufactured thrills available, from parachute and bungee jumping to amusement park rides.

It’s a paradox.  On the one hand, we are protected from risks in small things as never before; on the other hand, the big dangers we face are unprecedented.  These are times that call for enormous courage about things that are real—the courage to face threats to our future, to welcome chaos, and to find our way together into the unknown.

I thought a lot about courage at a recent day of action on climate change, when I ended up stepping away, at the last minute, from risking arrest.  Rather than going on auto-pilot to do what seemed “brave”, I found myself choosing a path where I could stay more present and connected to myself, while still being involved in the action as a whole.  As I reflected on this experience, I realized that there are many ways of being brave, and my most courageous act had probably taken place several days earlier: after noticing that I had been very quiet about my plans, I spent an evening daring to share with a wide circle of friends both my passion for the earth and my feelings about the action.  Showing myself fully:  now that’s scary!

Courage is not one size fits all, and nobody can take another person’s courageous step, but we all can be braver in ways that are completely our own.  What if each one of us did a personal inventory of the times and places where we have been brave, and brought them to our community for acknowledgment and celebration?  Then we could look at where our fears keep us quiet and passive, and develop personal courage campaigns.  With a buddy or a small group, we could share our intentions to practice being brave—in our families, at work, with our neighbors, in the larger community—and come back to share our successes, or grieve our failures, and get ready for the next courageous step.

What are mine?  Talking about what matters to me even though others don’t seem to care.  Openly trying a response, even though it might fail.  Letting others know what I’m trying, and inviting them to join me.  Once they’ve agreed, then sticking with it, holding out confidence that any second thoughts or complaints (theirs or mine) are just a way of showing our fears.

At a recent workshop on easing the transition to lower energy use by building resilience at a local level, the leader asked if anyone had the courage to build a core group that reflected their diverse urban neighborhood.  I was surprised at her use of that word, but raised my hand.  I’m not good at it.  It’s not coming quickly or easily.  But I know what it takes to put my hand on the phone, think of a million useful things that I could do so much more easily than call somebody who is not yet in my circle, or who doesn’t yet know how much I care about something that may not be on their radar screen, pause, breathe deeply, then make the call—and, when I don’t hear back, then make it again.

We don’t know how courageous other people are.  We don’t know what it costs them to do things that might seem easy to us.  But together we can all do more. I’m looking to recapture that model from our childhood:  A gang of buddies coming across—or setting up—a challenge.  An open acknowledgment of fear:  Yikes, this is scary!  Do you think we can do it?  I don’t know.  Let’s try anyway.  Okay, here goes!  The squeals of excitement/fear, the shivers running up and down our spines, the uncontrollable shaking.  Then assessing the results together:  Wow, we did it!  Wow, almost, let’s try again!  Wow, that didn’t work at all!  What next?  Could there be a more human way of being in this world together?

Dare to imagine:  A new economy is possible!

Local planning
Cape Cod is one of the few places in the country that embeds economic criteria in its planning policies and requires that large projects get approval from both the host town and a regional planning body, the Cape Cod Commission.  The Commission is made up of representatives from each of the Cape’s 15 towns, and focuses on how the development would affect Cape Cod’s economy and environment.  After looking closely at a proposal to bring in a new Lowe's, the Commission concluded that “the probable benefit of the proposed development is not greater than the probable detriment.”

A pivotal issue was the store’s projected impact on jobs and wages. One of the region’s primary planning goals is to increase household income. In a region already saturated with building supply stores, Lowe’s arrival would cause many existing local businesses to downsize or close, leading to a net decline of 48 jobs.  Moreover, the new jobs at Lowe’s would pay $9,000 less on average than the jobs lost at local stores, resulting in a total income loss of over $3 million for the region’s residents.

Armed with this kind of analysis, the Cape Cod Commission has approved relatively few big-box stores in its 24-year history.  Not surprisingly, Cape Cod has significantly more independent businesses per capita than the national average.

Easter sunrise

Well before dawn
biking toward the Easter morning sunrise
a bird I do not know greets me with cheery song.
I take it in, rejoice, bike on.
The bird song follows,
block after block after block.

Is this one bird following me
intent to gladden my heart
and make my ride a joyous one?
Is he passing me on from friend to friend—
in some sweet welcoming relay?

Or am I just a witness
in that pre-dawn dark and cold
to all the heralds of the day?

The thought that it is personal
brings on a smile.
The sure knowledge that
these birds will sing the sun up
as long as they have breath to sing
reminds me of the chance we have each day
to give our thanks
for all the life the sun makes possible
on Earth, our home.

Some things that have made me hopeful recently

The Obama administration's Good Friday extension of the review period on the Keystone XL pipeline, pushing back a final decision on the disputed project indefinitely, to have time to review some 2.5 million public comments, and assess the impact of a pending lawsuit in Nebraska.

Philadelphia's move to the forefront of a national movement to protect immigrants from deportation over minor and nonviolent crimes, by limiting the information it shares with the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

A restorative justice program in Oakland California's public schools, which has led to dramatic reductions in suspensions and referrals for violence, as well as increases in graduation rates and test scores.

The opportunity to connect with individual women artisans in Guatemala and orchard planters in Azerbaijan and Tajikistan through the no-interest lending program of Kiva.

More resources

Posts on other people's blogs: 

NEW:  Check out my friend Daniel Hunter's new book, a narrative of direct action campaigning:  Strategy & Soul: A Campaigner's Tale of Fighting Billionaires, Corrupt Officials, and Philadelphia Casinos:

Muscle Building for Peace and Justice; a Non-Violent Workout Routine for the 21st Century--an integration of much of my experience and thinking over the years:  (or just google the title), a website that I've contributed to often (check the archives), a home for all the parenting writing I've done over the past 20 years. START: a way to study and work together with others to create a better world.

For earlier columns, go to  I'm currently posting at

Monday, April 7, 2014

#131 Seeds

Dear friends,
Spring is coming!  My mind keeps turning to seeds and flowers, and the earth--the inspiration for much of which follows.  And I'm still writing every other day or so to the president.  If you want to join me, check out


My grandmother loved a flower that she called Rocket.  It was tall and pinky-purple and bloomed at the side of the road.  She would gather seeds and scatter them—and now, whenever I see Rocket blooming, I wonder if that beauty might have come from one of my grandmother’s seeds.

Not all seeds grow.  Even if we plant and care for them most tenderly, forces without number can keep them from becoming mature and productive plants.  And when we scatter them more randomly, the chances go down even farther, as some fall on rocky ground or among the thistles.  But some do grow, sometimes in the most unlikely places.

I became very aware of this truth after Chuck and I poured our hearts into trauma healing and peer-listening workshops in Northern Uganda.  Back home, we kept hoping that something would take root as a result, but heard precious little news of growth.  Maybe the ground was just too stony.  Yet, when we returned three years later, we discovered that one of the most self-effacing young men in our workshops had been steadily teaching his friends everything he had learned.  When we returned again, we were astonished to discover that a teenage girl, who was very much at the edge of that second workshop, was now leading an energetic and committed group of students in a neighboring town.  Who would have imagined?

I’m learning this lesson again as I search for ways to play my part in the movement against climate change.  Once I got the idea that anybody who went to college could play a role by urging their alma maters to divest from fossil fuels, I was motivated to get started right away.  Yet I struggled.  The administration of my college was glacially slow in responding to my inquiries, and I wasn't able to build much momentum with the alumni that I knew.  There were no encouraging signs.  

More stony ground?  But I really wanted this fruit—and started dropping seeds among my friends and colleagues.  When it looked like disappointment might stop them as well, I hustled to work the soil.  After all, the seeds had come from me, and I felt responsible.  I was able to make contact with some enormously helpful staff people at the Fossil Free movement of, and worked to link them with my friends.  Buoyed by this resource, I scattered a little more.

Over the months that followed, there was some heartening progress at my college, but certainly no fruit to enjoy anywhere.  Then one recent Sunday a fellow congregant told me that the letter he’d written to his college had been answered by the president, no less, who was intrigued with this idea and wanted to know more.  Omigosh—a sprout!

Later that same week, a young woman who went to college with my son mentioned to others in my hearing that she was now involved with the new alumni council that had been formed to address fossil fuel divestment.  I had included her in one of my messages to everyone I knew who went to that college, but hadn’t heard back from anybody, and hadn’t expected her to make such a stretch.  Another sprout!  Now I can't help but wonder if there are yet others growing totally out of my sight.

This is not the only way to grow things.  I may choose at times to pour selected resources into a carefully controlled environment, in the hopes of getting good fruit.  But there’s something about not knowing which seeds will take hold, and spreading them generously with the knowledge that we are not ultimately in control, that speaks to me.  I think that I, like my grandmother, will continue to scatter seeds by the side of the road.

Dare to imagine:  A new economy is possible!
Participatory budgeting

Participatory budgeting (PB) is a different way to manage public money, and to engage people in government. It is a democratic process in which community members directly decide how to spend part of a public budget. It enables taxpayers to work with government to make the budget decisions that affect their lives.

The process was first developed in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 1989, and there are now over 1,500 participatory budgets around the world. Most of these are at the city level, for the municipal budget. PB has also been used, however, for counties, states, housing authorities, schools and school systems, universities, coalitions, and other public agencies.
Though each experience is different, most follow a similar basic process: residents brainstorm spending ideas, volunteer budget delegates develop proposals based on these ideas, residents vote on proposals, and the government implements the top projects.

Lenten rose

The hellebore, or Lenten rose
is new to me--
deep mauve, pale green and ivory
in bloom before the daffodils,
now planted in one corner
of our park.

A bitter winter hid the ground,
park lovers picked their icy way
or stayed at home.

But now the corner with the hellebores
has been revealed--
debased, awash in trash.

I pass it twice, in pain.
The third time, in the rain
I find a plastic bag
and pick it clean.

The corner now is theirs alone.
The hellebores can shine
in all their quiet loveliness.
My eye can rest
and I go home
more hopeful, and refreshed.

Some things that have made me hopeful recently:
The government of El Salvador, which stopped issuing gold mining permits half a decade ago, despite high gold prices and persuasive arguments about boosting economic growth--because the majority of Salvadorans get water from one large river system, and gold mining invariably pollutes nearby rivers and watersheds.

Thousands of North Carolinians, who have been challenging the state government's austerity agenda for months in protests called Moral Majority Mondays, organized by a coalition including union, civil rights, faith-based, environmental and feminist groups.

Knowing that, during the conflict in Ukraine, there were local people in the big square in Kiev actively sharing skills and perspectives of Alternatives to Violence.

The ability to act in ways, no matter how small, that increase the stock of hopeful things in the world.

More resources

Posts on other people's blogs: 

NEW:  Check out my friend Daniel Hunter's new book, a narrative of direct action campaigning:  Strategy & Soul: A Campaigner's Tale of Fighting Billionaires, Corrupt Officials, and Philadelphia Casinos:

Muscle Building for Peace and Justice; a Non-Violent Workout Routine for the 21st Century--an integration of much of my experience and thinking over the years:  (or just google the title), a website that I've contributed to often (check the archives), a home for all the parenting writing I've done over the past 20 years. START: a way to study and work together with others to create a better world.

For earlier columns, go to  I'm currently posting at

Sunday, March 30, 2014

#130 How to Love the Earth

Dear friends,
    My love for the earth has led me in a couple of strikingly different directions this week, and I'm feeling called to share, even though you heard from me not that long ago. 
    Last Saturday was a warm day that seemed like a herald of spring, and I realized that this was the time to prune the cherry and peach trees that I'd planted in the community garden.  It feels like a great responsibility--doing right by the trees that help nourish us, and I put time into doing it as well as I could.
    Then on Monday, I participated in a protest against the Keystone XL pipeline**. I went with the intention of risking arrest--a big stretch for me--but ended up standing aside.  It was clear that those of us who stayed all day, singing and supporting the civil disobedience were critical to the success of the event as well, and I went home with tons to think about:  different kids of courage; what it means to stay fully awake to both the situation around me and what's going on inside; the puzzle of how to put your body on the line when the line is not visible.  All that will take some time to brew, and you may hear more later...
    But I also came home very much under the weight of the threat of the pipeline, particularly since it looks likely that the President may well make a decision on it in the next couple of weeks.  So I decided to do something that can't be more different from risking arrest:  writing a letter to the President.  Actually I've written three so far, with two more in the works, and posted them on several FB pages.  I'd like to invite you to join me.
    So here's what I've got for you today:
Five letters to the President, and a link to his e-mail page (you're welcome to any or all of my text).
A promise to be in touch about the issues the protest brought up for me.
And a poem from last March about pruning.
**For those of you who may not be aware, this is a plan to pipe crude oil from the Alberta tar sands in Canada through the prairies of the midwest for export from the Gulf coast.  It seems clear that exploiting the tar sands fully would tip climate change to a trajectory that is irreversible and life-threatening, and that the pipeline would not only encourage that exploitation, but also pose enormous threat to the land and water supplies on its route.  For more information, go to

Dear President Obama

I implore you to do what you know is right, and stop the Keystone XL pipeline.  Big money will hate and vilify you for it, and your short term legacy may be compromised by their lies.  But if you do the right thing, and we end up with a future on this planet, all the world's grandchildren and great grandchildren will thank you for the single most important action that you took to ensure their chance to flourish.

In making your decision about the Keystone XL pipeline, please keep the needs of the seventh generation in the front of your mind.  You don't have to be re-elected.  You have the luxury to do the right thing.  Go down in history as a climate hero--the one who turned the tide. 

You have an unprecedented chance to make a difference for the whole world by stopping the Keystone XL pipeline.  Please do the right thing.  Don't give in to big money.  I bet you'll sleep better at night. 

We're smart enough to find a way to live with less oil.  Please choose for the potential of our intelligence rather than for the pressures of greed.  Say no to the Keystone CL pipeline and yes to a still-unknown, but potentially livable future.

I could offer pages of scientific reasons to stop the Keystone XL pipeline, but at root I think it's a simple moral choice:  health is more important than money.  Ultimately we can't build a healthy economy on the foundation of an unhealthy earth.  Our children and grandchildren won't thrive.  Please do the right thing.

And here's the link:

On a fruit tree pruning workshop at Bartram’s Garden

The melody line dips and soars
through roots, buds, branches
soil, sun, fruit.
The base is a steady
love, love, love.

The buds will lead the way in spring
while the roots are still asleep—
They touch the sun.

Remember the children when you prune—
They need a place to sit
a way to climb.

Feed the trees with a woodsy compost mix—
Think of what they love
and how the fungi nourish them.

I’d cut back on the branches here—
Make it so the sun can find a way
to kiss the fruit.

I would have stayed all day
never mind the standing or the cold
just to hear that song.

I don’t remember all the words
I wish I could—
I treasured every one.
But the base stays with me
heartbeat of the universe
love, love, love.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

#129 Honoring Our Elders

Dear all,
I was privileged to spend a week in February with the extended family we have claimed in Poland.  It is always good to be reminded that my country is not the center of the world.  For me this time, it was even more important to be reminded that our connections with each other are the threads that make up the fabric of community, Any change for the better requires those threads to be strong, and my thread is more important to the lives it crosses and weaves through than I can easily remember.
Thanks for crossing my life--and I send warm hopes for spring!

Honoring our elders

Last spring I had the privilege of participating in a local event to honor our neighborhood elders, organized by a friend of mine. She had encouraged neighborhood groups and congregations to nominate an elder from their midst whose life had been long, fruitful and inspiring.  Then friends and neighbors gathered at a local community hall to honor them.  For each, a brief bio was read, they stood up (as able) to share a few remarks, and then received a certificate and the appreciation of those present.  Black and white, Protestant, Catholic and Jewish, everyone in our diverse and changing neighborhood was united in being thankful for the lives of these eight elders. The concept was simple, the impact unexpectedly profound.

Our society in general is not that great with aging, and our heady faith that technology can win out over old age and death is troubling on many fronts.  Our love affair with youth verges on obsession.  The last 300 years has been a whirlwind of innovation, with newer and better replacing the old and familiar at a dizzying rate.  With our newest gadgets now completely obsolete in a matter of years, what used to be valued as wisdom is easily consigned to the trash bin of irrelevance.

But there are more and more signs that a viable future requires a concern for our roots, that we need all the wisdom from the past that we can get our hands on and our minds around.  There is the great  accumulated wisdom of our ecosystems; the wisdom of our cultural traditions, and of indigenous peoples from all over the world; the wisdom of our grandparents.  My grandfather took delight in a hole well dug—and in the digging of it.  My grandmother coaxed bounty out of her garden, and used the smallest scraps of fabric to create both utility and beauty.

There is wisdom; there is also vulnerability.   As we are coming through the bitterest winter I can remember, I’m getting better at remembering my elderly neighbors.  It was a shock to realize that I’m not good at this.  Raised in a community of all young families, we had no elderly neighbors—nobody to shovel for, nobody who needed looking in on when the power was out.   I grew up with an unaware assumption of physical competence and self-sufficiency as a norm, and I now wonder if that assumption fed a lack of attention to vulnerability in other forms and places.

I’m up for the challenge of embracing more fully both the wisdom and the vulnerability in our communities—the long-time ecosystems that support us; our native peoples; our elders.  In the midst of winter, I am shoveling for my elderly neighbors, calling shut ins—and I am looking forward to spring and another opportunity to honor our neighborhood elders.

Language density

The week was dense with Polish--
all those deep and subtle sounds
that fill the air
in homes, streets, subways, shops
as people go about their Polish days
and talk, and talk and talk.

We were with friends, family to us
cocooned in English and their love.
Others were kind and helped us on our way
so we were not lost.

Translation helped.  I listened, tried
remembered more from day to day
rejoiced in all I understood.
But still the language did not bend
to ear or tongue.

Even leaving, at the airport, on the plane,
the signs and sounds stayed true
to native land.

Animated Polish filled those narrow chutes
as we came out to London’s vast Heathrow—
then lost its density, thinning away
in moments to nothing but a wisp
in that great space filled solidly
with English.

More comfortable, but all the same
a loss, somehow.

Imagine:  A new economy is possible!

Local  currency

Just days into the job last year, the mayor of the city of Bristol in England announced his decision to be paid in Bristol Pounds.  This local currency  is designed to support Bristol’s independent businesses, strengthen its economy and keep the city’s high streets diverse and distinctive. A not-for-profit social enterprise run between the Bristol Pound Community Interest Company and Bristol Credit Union, the Bristol Pound is the UK’s first city-wide local currency.

Bristol Pounds are purchased with British Pounds and can be spent with any of the more than 500 businesses that have signed up. Additionally, the program operates online banking and has a text message payment system.  Says Bristol Pound director Chris Sunderland, “Of all the money spent in a city, most of it leaves the city almost as soon as it’s spent. It goes up to the financial institutions and gets lost. What people can be sure of with Bristol Pounds is that they’re circulating in the city and that’s where they’ll stay,” he said.

Some things that have made me hopeful recently

How fruit and vegetable auctions in rural Ohio area are getting fresh vegetables into food deserts, building community, and helping rural Appalachian farmers earn a living.

How peace, faith, environmental and union groups got Connecticut, one of the most defense-dependent states in the nation, to pass  legislation  convening a broad-based Commission to come up with a plan to diversify Connecticut’s overly defense-dependent economy.

A reduction  in  homelessness in Utah by 78 percent,  based on a recognition that it is more cost effective to give people an apartment and social work services than  to pay for the annual ER and jail costs associated with homelessness.

The new constitution,  recently agreed upon in Tunisia, which  includes guaranteed equality between men and women, a mandate for environmental protection, a declaration that health care is a human right, and a democratic system with rights to due process and respect for freedom of religion.

More resources

Posts on other people's blogs: 

NEW:  Check out my friend Daniel Hunter's new book, a narrative of direct action campaigning:  Strategy & Soul: A Campaigner's Tale of Fighting Billionaires, Corrupt Officials, and Philadelphia Casinos:

Muscle Building for Peace and Justice; a Non-Violent Workout Routine for the 21st Century--an integration of much of my experience and thinking over the years:  (or just google the title), a website that I've contributed to often (check the archives), a home for all the parenting writing I've done over the past 20 years. START: a way to study and work together with others to create a better world.

For earlier columns, go to  I'm currently posting at

Sunday, February 2, 2014

#128 Leaving the Land of I

Dear all,
A bitterly cold January has me extra thankful for warmth, in all its manifestations.  Farmers say the cold is good for the land and the crops.  I'm glad for that, but I find myself, along with the earth, turning toward the spring.

Leaving the Land of I

It didn’t take a Kansas tornado for us to find ourselves in the Land of I.  Many of us were born there and have lived there all our lives, not knowing any other place as home.  For others our homeland has been transformed so gradually that it’s been hard to notice the change from day to day.  Yet here each one of us is, surrounded by all the bright colors and the glittering promises.

All I have to do to be happy in the Land of I is to make the right choices among all the possibilities and opportunities that are flashing so insistently around me.  What products will give me satisfaction, pleasure and status?  What clothing will show me off to best advantage? What amusements will entertain?  What friends will best fulfill my needs?  What education will lead to the most satisfying career?  What family will enhance my happiness?  What choices will maximize my power and influence?  Even, what good works can I undertake to fulfill my urge toward generosity and compassion?

If I choose well, I can have a good life and perhaps leave my mark on the world.  If I stumble, I can correct and make a better selection.  If I fall, I can hope for the strength to get up and try again.  If I continue to struggle, it is because too many of my choices have been unwise.

In the Land of I, every person also gets a pair of rose-colored glasses—to make the colors and the promises more seductive, and to obscure the hard realities that nobody really wants to look at anyway.  Immersed in the bustle and hype of the Land of I, it’s hard to imagine any other world.  Yet one is there and available to all of us, just a click of the heels away.

This world is quieter. The choices are less insistent. The lights flash less, but burn more steadily.  Rose-colored glasses are nowhere to be found, and we see things happening to others around us that make us grieve.  There are still individual choices, but they are more subtle.  How is my life entwined with those around me at this moment—and the next—and what attitude can I hold, what step can I take that will increase our overall welfare?  In the longer term, how can I orient and equip myself to make my best and fullest contribution to this world, and how can I help others to do the same?

No longer in the Land of I, we don’t have to make all these choices on our own.  In this world, others don’t care so much about the glitter of our clothes or social circles or careers, but they are deeply invested in promoting our gifts, our goodness and our potential.

None of us have to abandon our own center to live here; rather we all get to inhabit it more fully as each person finds a place in the middle of ever-greater circles of “we”.  We get to be for ourselves and for others at the same time.  But first we have to make the decision to leave the Land of I.  If we can take off those rose-colored glasses, turn our backs on the glitter and the empty promises and start claiming our connections, together we can find our way back home.

Imagine--A new economy is possible!
Guaranteed basic income

In March 1973, the governor of Manitoba, Canada, began a $17 million experiment in implementing a minimum basic income:  Mincome.  With a hope to go national, the experiment took place in a small city with 13,000 inhabitants north of Winnipeg.  To ensure that no one would drop below the poverty line, for four years about a thousand families, covering 30% of the city’s total population, received a monthly paycheck.

In 1978, the newly elected conservative government decided to stop the experiment cold. Decades later a researcher discovered the raw data, analyzed for years, and came to the these conclusions about the effects of Mincome:  average marital age went up; birth rates went down; school completion improved; work hours decreased only to give mothers more time with new babies, and adolescents more education before taking work; hospital visits went down (an enormous cost savings); domestic violence decreased and mental health improved.

It’s been said that the big reason poor people are poor is because they don’t have enough money.  Maybe it would be cheaper and more efficient to address poverty by guaranteeing a basic income than by setting up a myriad of services, steeped in distrust, hedged by regulations, and administered by vast expensive bureaucracies. An overwhelming majority in the U.S. endorsed President Nixon’s proposal for a modest basic income in1970.  Maybe it’s time to revisit that idea.

For more, go to:

Some things that have made me hopeful recently:

Thousands of North Carolinians who have been challenging the state government’s antidemocratic austerity agenda for the past 10 months in protests called Moral Mondays, organized by a coalition including unions, civil rights organizations, the faith community, and environmentalist and feminist groups. -

The city of Los Angeles, that is starting the new year out with a ban on plastic bags, requiring shoppers to bring their own reusable bags or pay ten cents per paper bag--the largest U.S. city to have such a ban.

A judge in western Pennsylvania who has ruled, in a case where a natural gas fracking corporation was trying to keep pollution payouts secret, that corporations are not people, and cannot elevate their "private" rights above the rights of the people.

A man from India who has single-handedly turned a barren sandbar into a 1360 acre forest.

More resources

Posts on other people's blogs: 

NEW:  Check out my friend Daniel Hunter's new book, a narrative of direct action campaigning:  Strategy & Soul: A Campaigner's Tale of Fighting Billionaires, Corrupt Officials, and Philadelphia Casinos:

Muscle Building for Peace and Justice; a Non-Violent Workout Routine for the 21st Century--an integration of much of my experience and thinking over the years:  (or just google the title), a website that I've contributed to often (check the archives), a home for all the parenting writing I've done over the past 20 years. START: a way to study and work together with others to create a better world.

For earlier columns, go to  I'm currently posting at

My favorite magazine:  YES! Magazine reframes the biggest problems of our time in terms of their solutions. Online and in print, they outline a path forward with in-depth analysis, tools for citizen engagement, and stories about real people working for a better world:

Sunday, January 19, 2014

#127 Confidence

Dear all,
Well, the flurry of the holidays is over--what a treat to have that time with our three guys, two wonderful partners and two irresistible little ones, and see the two-year-old so excited about his one-year-old cousin!  Now we're in the midst of cold and snow, slowly picking up the threads of the rest of our lives. 
I've been learning lessons about the limitations of independence, and the sweetness of help--more on that next time.


One end of the drawstring of Chuck’s gym shorts had disappeared deep into the waistband.  He had tried getting it out without success and asked for my help.  I have sewn plenty of waistbands in my day, working elastic or a drawstring through them with the help of a big safety pin fastened at one end, so I was a good person to go to.  It was a challenge, since I didn’t have access to the end of the drawstring.  All I had was the knot, deep inside the waistband.  But as I worked at that little knot, I could feel the potential for motion.  Slowly, slowly, I worked the knot closer to the opening, till finally it came through—and the gym shorts were back in business.

This is a very small story—in itself hardly worth remembering, much less retelling.  But as I came upon those gym shorts one day, taking them out of the washer and out to the line to dry, I thought about the confidence I had brought to fixing them—and confidence is something worth talking about.

Confidence.  Sitting in the trolley, I think about how my mother would have approached that word.  “Confidence.  It comes from the Latin.  ‘Con’ means with, and you can hear the root, ‘fides’.  Think about the word ‘fidelity’.  It means ‘faith’.  So confidence means ‘with faith’.”

I approached the gym shorts with faith in the outcome.  Chuck’s experience didn’t provide him with the faith that he could fix them himself.  But he had faith in me.

I think of that little knot, invisible to the eye, and barely discernable to the touch.  I think of how hard it would be for somebody else to know that this was the movable part, how hard to believe that it could be moved so far, how easy it would be to give up.  And I can’t help but wonder what would be different if we had confidence that bigger things could be moved, fixed, or changed.

What if we could tap into a deeper well of confidence?  It wouldn’t provide any shortcuts.  The work wouldn’t be any less challenging.  But we would be much more likely to take on those struggles that we care about so passionately, and to persist openheartedly when no change was visible on the horizon.

Where could we find such confidence?  In each other for starters.  In the experience of others who have tried—and failed but also succeeded—in endeavors that are foreign to us.  In those who have found strength in very different circumstances, and those who have a long track record of endurance and hopefulness.  In the seasoned elders of our communities.  In the wisdom of our cultural and faith traditions—and the faith traditions of others.

Most of all, it means holding an expectation that faith and confidence are there to be found and are worth looking for.  It requires confronting our defeats and discouragements and not accepting them as the final reality.  It requires building our own confidence by daring to try new things.  It requires exploring for the confidence of others, more deeply and farther around the edges of our experience than may be comfortable.  But every bit of confidence that I have can be useful to others if I can find a way to share it—and if I reach widely, intentionally and persistently, there will always be more to be found.

Imagine:  A new economy is possible!

Cap and What?

Two big economic strategies being considered to help reduce carbon use are cap-and-trade and cap and dividend.  Cap-and-trade involves giving each polluter an allocation of emissions. If it doesn’t use up that allocation in a year, it may sell those emission allowances to another company that polluted more than its allocation.  Cap-and-dividend, in contrast, involves imposing a carbon cap, auctioning off all carbon allowances, and returning the revenues generated to all households on a per capita basis.

Cap-and-dividend avoids the pitfalls of carbon trading, which can be as easily manipulated and abused as has been financial securities trading.   Carbon dividends would help offset the increase in price of most goods that would come with reducing carbon.  If the money were returned to people on an equal basis, higher-income and higher-consumption households would pay out more (in higher energy and product costs) than they would receive back from dividends. But lower-income, lower-consumption households would receive back more than they pay.  Also, by offering a cash incentive, a cap and dividend strategy could spur all households to try to reduce their carbon footprints.

For more information:

Some things that have made me hopeful recently:

White ranchers and landowners, threatened with eminent domain and the loss of the right to their own land by the Keystone XL Pipeline, who are beginning to understand what the native tribes experienced during colonization, and to notice a shared pride in the land that's the source of both culture and livelihood. As they work together to oppose the pipeline, an 'us' and 'them' is turning into a 'we'.

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn's championing of the city's divestment from fossil fuels.
Native peoples' successes over the past year in reintroducing fading species--including a record return of Chinook salmon to the Columbia River, restoring habitats and challenging big industry.

Uruguay's recent legalization of marijuana--aimed at breaking the link between the lucrative marijuana trade and organized crime--that has kicked off a trend in a region wearied of the bloodshed, expense and failed results of Washington’s “war on drugs".

More resources

Posts on other people's blogs: 

NEW:  Check out my friend Daniel Hunter's new book, a narrative of direct action campaigning:  Strategy & Soul: A Campaigner's Tale of Fighting Billionaires, Corrupt Officials, and Philadelphia Casinos:

Muscle Building for Peace and Justice; a Non-Violent Workout Routine for the 21st Century--an integration of much of my experience and thinking over the years:  (or just google the title), a website that I've contributed to often (check the archives), a home for all the parenting writing I've done over the past 20 years. START: a way to study and work together with others to create a better world.

For earlier columns, go to  I'm currently posting at

My favorite magazine:  YES! Magazine reframes the biggest problems of our time in terms of their solutions. Online and in print, they outline a path forward with in-depth analysis, tools for citizen engagement, and stories about real people working for a better world: