Western Lessons

I have crossed the American West, particularly Montana, several times in the last two years. The first time was by car, via Interstates 90 and 84, when some friends and I were traveling from Seattle to Friends General Conference (FGC). After that, I started visiting my beloved, Adrian, in Chicago. The trips, and what I’ve learned subsequently, have taught me vital lessons about what Friends—and indeed, all humans—are now called to do.

The friends I traveled with to FGC are dedicated environmentalists. One is the founder of the Seattle chapter of 350.org, and the other is her daughter, who planned and led a protest against climate change at the Federal Building in downtown Seattle before she left for college this fall. As we crossed the western plains we saw hundreds of windmills, generating electricity with no carbon required, and we were cheered to see them. But as we drove we reflected on the emissions we were pumping out, for even though we were driving a Prius, we were still burning oil. Continue reading

Great and Small

(As I expect we will have some new readers shortly, this is both a new post and a guide to some of my recent thinking. Most of the links connect to earlier posts I’ve made.)

It’s quiet in my apartment this week. My partner Adrian is gone on work business, and it’s the first time we’ve been separated since we moved in together, so the daily rhythm that we’d begun to get accustomed to is suddenly gone. I’m not alone in the place, however; our cat, Hannah, is with me. Hannah is a tiny cat—in fact, her official nickname here is “Small One.”

I decided to take advantage of the quiet, and of Adrian’s library, by doing some reading and then some meditation. I picked up a book on alternatives to capitalism, a topic much in my mind of late. The theme dominated my thoughts as I tried to balance on my exercise ball and enter meditation.

I put the query out to the Spirit: “What would you want the economy to look like?”

And the Spirit answered, quite promptly: “Listen, and I’ll tell you.” So I listened. And the Spirit said:

“The great take care of the small.”

Ah, I thought. That makes sense—those with the greatest resources should take care of those with the least. Very Biblical, really. But how is that to be enforced? After all, there are many mechanisms in today’s society where the powerful and wealthy are supposed to look after the weak and poor, but too often they don’t seem to be doing it, or seem to do it so selectively that it’s not generally helpful for most people.

As I pondered this, a plaintive noise intruded on my thoughts. I looked down and saw the cat, trying to climb up into my lap. But since I was sitting on the exercise ball, I didn’t really have a lap, and Hannah was mewing with dismay. Oh, right, I realized. The great take care of the small. And here was the Small One, asking for some help. So I moved to the couch to generate a lap for her.

At first she decided she didn’t want it, after all, and roamed about the apartment for a bit—but before long she came back over and settled down, purring up a storm as we helped keep each other warm. Then the second piece of the lesson fell into place. “The great take care of the small” isn’t just an instruction—it’s a definition. If you don’t take care of others, you’re not great. Simple as that.

Which reminded me of many things: the idea of asking and giving rather than buying and selling; my thoughts on heaven and hell; how you get into heaven, according to Jesus in Matthew 25:31-46; the laborers in the vineyard; and the story, probably apocryphal but still containing much truth, of Rabbi Hillel, who was once asked to recite the whole of Hebrew Law while standing on one foot. Hillel promptly stood on one foot, recited “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18), put his foot down, and said, “The rest is commentary.”

What should the economy look like, according to the Holy Spirit? One where people take care of each other. The rest is less critical.

Ferguson Queries

As I was coming home from work the other night, a song came up on my headphones: “The Suburbs,” by Arcade Fire. I have always thought of that particular piece as a “prophecy song,” in large part because of the music video, which can be found here. It’s about six minutes long, and I encourage all to watch it.

For those who are unable to watch, the video centers on five friends, in their early teens, enjoying their life among wealthy suburbs, riding bikes, playing with BB guns, roughhousing, and in general becoming fast companions. But they live in a slightly different America, a dystopia, set against the background of, as the song lyrics say, “a suburban war—your part of town against mine.” Armed soldiers patrol the streets. Occasionally people are dragged from their homes in the depths of night. Military helicopters fly overhead, trucks and tanks are common sights. And gradually this background seeps into the foreground, as the twisted world the kids live in begins to destroy their friendship, culminating in an act of brutal violence.

As I listened to the song on my headphones, I thought of the current situation in Ferguson, Missouri—the St. Louis suburb where Michael Brown, 18, was shot and killed, unarmed, prompting protests and riots. I thought of the militarized police that has been so aggressive and so criticized in Ferguson. And it finally hit me, years too late: Continue reading

Options, Part Two

One of my more common failings, friends, is getting something started and then forgetting to finish it. And such was the case with this. My apologies for the delay in posting part two of this essay. Part One can be found here—or, if you’re looking at this on the main screen, just scroll down.

Now to the communal options! I’ll list these in ascending order of audacity. Continue reading

Options, Part One

A Friend came to the Spirit and asked, “Spirit, how may I achieve perfect peace?”

The Spirit said, “Follow the testimonies, follow my leadings, subscribe to Friends Journal, and love your neighbors as yourself.”

The Friend said, “I have done all of that for years.”

Then there is one more thing to do,” the Spirit said.

Tell me.”

Go, sell everything you have, and give the money to the poor.”

The Friend waited expectantly, and, after a few minutes, said, “Please, Spirit. What is the one thing I have to do?”

The Spirit said, “I just told you. Go, sell everything you have, and give the money to the poor.”

The Friend was becoming agitated. “Spirit, why won’t you answer me? I’m listening.”

Sell. Everything. Give. The money. To. The poor. …Is this thing on?”

The Friend was by now distraught, and wandered away wailing, “Spirit, where are you? I feel so lost; I cannot find the Light! I don’t know what to do…”

(Later…)

And that’s how the Quakers died out?”

Of course. They had exactly one thing going for them: listening to Me. Have you seen their business meetings? They never would have survived so long if I hadn’t been helping out. When they stopped hearing Me they were doomed. But money talks louder than I do… and fear talks louder still.”

~~~

Or…

We could do something different. Continue reading

The Economy of Love in Action

I’ve spoken of the Economy of Love as if it were something to be done in the future. But when you look around, you can see hints of it already present. Friends, I encourage you to take these hints as inspiration and build on them.

From the menu of Chaco Canyon Organic Cafe, here in Seattle:

The Community Bowl: We created this bowl to allow those in financial need to have access to nutritive, organic food. Brown rice, black beans, mixed vegetables, tahini sauce and spiced sunflower seeds. Choice of orange or banana. Payment is by donation. No one is turned away. Suggested value is $7. Feed yourself and someone in need for $14 or more. Overage will be donated to a local food bank.”

Love and Potatoes

This evening I started making potato salad. Since this is for a Young Adult Quaker potluck on Labor Day weekend, I thought it would be clever to procure the eggs and potatoes from Young Adult Quakers. So I went out to Secret Spring Farm and did a little shopping.

I took some time to meditate today, as I do when I’m being good, and I emerged from the silence to work on the potatoes and eggs, trying to keep centered as I washed and cut and boiled and mashed. Perhaps that is why a thought came to me, as I rinsed an egg: this is life.

To one degree it was because an egg is such a potent symbol of potential. But a second aspect followed quickly after: this is real food. I was there when Felix pulled the potatoes out of the ground and handed them up to me. It’s food that he feeds to his own daughter. I know it’s clean and safe and rich and tasty. Then a third facet came into the light: this is a great example of the Economy of Love.

So, here’s a quick explanation of what that economy looks like, at least for me:

It looks like coming home from my part-time job (part-time so that I can keep body and soul together while spending most of my time on other, better things) to cook with food my farmer friends have grown right up from the seed, for which I paid a fair price. It means reusing the water from boiling the eggs to then boil the potatoes. It means frying up the potato peelings so that as little as possible is wasted. It means taking the food I’ve made to a potluck and sharing it with all the Young Adult Friends who attend, including the farmers in question, as all the other Young Adult Friends in turn feed me. It means praying over boiling eggs and laughing with my friends and building community one potluck at a time. And it means looking for the voice of God and the total interconnection of God’s creation in the smallest, most mundane moments.

I don’t mean to make too much of this. It’s a small thing, and not for everyone, and farm life isn’t the answer to all things… but to care for each other in this way, I think, is the soul and center of the economy of love. Find your own examples and make your own way.

~~~

Blogger’s Note: things have been quiet around here — the summer has kept me quite busy. Look for more activity in coming weeks, however. A lot has happened since last we spoke, my friends!