Wednesday, September 24, 2014

God's Good Green Earth: Priuses or Pruii?, part 2: The Humble Stumble

Every summer almost 1,500 Quakers converge on a college campus somewhere in North America for a week that’s known as Gathering. In 2014 it was at California University of Pennsylvania. Confusing, eh? What made it even more confusing was that California, Pennsylvania is not some major metro area. People were a mite worried about finding the place. On Facebook, one wag wrote, “Just look for the line of Priuises with peace and earth care bumper stickers and follow them.”

Good advice. Sure enough when I looked around the cars coming in the percentage of Pruii was huge. Quakers do probably buy more Priuses (or is that Pruii – I’ve never been able to figure out the plural for Prius) percentagewise than any other faith group. It’s not because they’re trendy (the car or us) but because of this whole care for the earth thing. Because we love God we love God’s good earth. It is God’s creation in the same way that each one of us is. And so we try to the call to be good stewards of this planet during our lifetime and for those who come after us, remembering, as John Woolman said, that “to impoverish the earth now to support outward greatness appears to be an injury to the succeeding age.” That’s why so many Friends were among the 400,000 folks who participated in the People’s Climate March in NYC recently. It’s not because they’re good people (well, they are) or it’s a good political stand, it’s because their faith led them to do it.

I often joke that, as a Quaker, I’m not a member of an organized religion. If you ever come visit us and stick around awhile, you’ll see what I mean. We’re always waiting to see what God is telling us to do and we often have various takes on that which we have to sift through to discern what is God telling us to do and not us telling us what God wants us to do. Confusing, eh? Then we’ll appoint a committee with a subcommittee with a working group to discern if the discernment was right on. Then it’ll come back up the Quaker ladder for further discernment.

One thing that we’ve actually gotten to work on, though, is earthcare. At a personal level, that’s one reason you see so many hybrid or high mpg vehicles parked in front of the Quaker meetinghouse. While the percentage of the farmers among us has tumbled in the last century, those who remain often practice responsible farming practices. My friend Katrina runs the family farm her parents founded in the 1970s. Meeting Place Organic Farm is in southwest Ontario, Canada and Katrina's family farms organically with Belgian horses and has a mixed livestock operation designed to nourish the soil and produce food in an ecologically sustainable manner. While that may sound vaguely Amish, trust me, I’ve never seen bubbly Katrina dressed anywhere close to a staid young Amish woman. If she’s wearing black, it’s a fashionable little black dress and she’s stepping out for a night on the town. And step out on the town Katrina does.

In my case, the land we steward has all been taken out of production agriculture and converted to tall grass prairie or forest. This is a big change for me – a man who once saw this land as a potential development and a possible source of monetary wealth. All because of faith and an increasing awareness of the fragility of our eco-system and the vanishing species here in the Midwest. It is rather affirming to see butterflies, for example, in places where there weren’t any fewer than ten years ago.

Besides individual efforts, we actually have some groups that work directly on the issue. Quaker Earthcare Witness takes spirit-led action to address the ecological and social crises of the world from a spiritual perspective, emphasizing Quaker process and testimonies. My friend Katherine, a writer like me, is their publications person. She works with QEW because

Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve met God in nature—in the light, in the sky, in trees, flowers, and animals. I’ve had a reverence for all life because God loved it, and even as a child I would make it my job to clean up streams (and even a drainage ditch by my house) because I knew caring for creation was caring for God.

I have a number of other Friends friends who work with the Earth Quaker Action Team which endeavors to build a just and sustainable economy through nonviolent direct action. They’re leading a strategic effort to get PNC Bank out of the business of financing mountaintop removal coal mining. They use nonviolent direct action to shine the light on PNC Bank’s lead role as one of the primary financiers of this devastating surface mining practice which has destroyed more than 500 mountains and 2,000 miles of river and streambed in Appalachia.

My friend (and Friend) Eileen Flanagan is active in this group.

I’d been growing increasingly concerned about climate change when, in February 2011, I had a strong intuition to attend the Philadelphia Flower Show. Although none of the friends I’d invited were available, I kept feeling that I needed to go on a particular day, which turned out to be exactly when EQAT was protesting PNC Bank’s financing of companies engaged in mountaintop removal coal mining. PNC was also a major sponsor of the Flower Show, so here were all these Friends—several of whom I knew—singing and handing out fliers in front of the PNC pavilion. There was something about their mixture of joy and courage that really touched me, so I grabbed a stack of flyers and joined them. I felt that God had given me the nudge I needed.
What many people call “climate justice” really integrates the testimonies of peace, equality, simplicity, integrity, and stewardship. Through my work with EQAT, I’m learning how to confront injustice while still honoring “that of God” in those who are upholding the system. I have a growing appreciation for the early Friends who were willing to actively confront the wrongs of their own society, even when it meant ostracism or jail time. Their faith inspires me!

They are not bad Quakers like I am, but they’re certainly bad ass. And, again, all of this comes from a spiritual – not a “do-gooder” – base.

These folks aren’t a bunch of wacked out aging hippie types either. If you saw them on the street, you think they were as normal as you are. And they pretty much are. Except for Katrina and she’s normal in her own unique way. What they each have in common is that they’ve heard the voice of the Spirit calling them to action in caring for the earth – and often that call is tied in with their views on peace, simplicity, equality, and more.

What canst thou say about caring for the earth as a spiritual practice? More importantly, what canst thou do? Even more importantly, what canst I do?

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