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

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