Tuesday, April 28, 2015

mini book reviews: the river why

I decided to start a series I'm calling "mini book reviews," because I read tons of books right now, and I don't have time to write full-fledged reviews, but I want to share them with you all anyway. I'm going to write whatever I can write in 15 minutes. Ready, go!

I'm starting with David James Duncan's The River Why, which I just "read" as an audiobook. Audiobooks are the best, by the way! I love listening to them while I'm cooking, doing dishes, gardening, folding laundry, etc. I get them from my public library.

This was my third time reading The River Why, and each time has been a very different experience. I read it in college for a class, and I hated it. I was so bored with the details about fly fishing and bait fishing that I didn't really see the humor or the philosophical poignancy of it. I think I pretty much skipped most of the last third and just read the end, so I missed the best parts. (Sorry, if you're reading this, Professor Higgins!)

The second time I read it, I loved it! My husband is a fly fisherman, so I had a bit of a vested interest in understanding the sport. Since I didn't have a time limit to finish reading it, I read it slowly and realized how funny it is. I was in a similar life stage to the main character, Gus, just growing up and leaving home, trying to figure out what life is all about, gathering folks who seem to know something about such things, and building a sense of who my people, my community, were going to be. I loved Gus's internal quests that required natural spaces as well as times sitting around reading books and/or talking to people. I loved the questions and the mystery, the hinted answers, the resolution, the humor threading through it all and the sense of the transcendent-immanent Ultimate.

Having been to seminary since reading the book last, this time I found myself analyzing Duncan's theology and philosophy with a more nuanced understanding. I agreed with some of his characters' philosophies, but there is also a subtle hierarchy, where he suggests through the philosopher in the story that the ultimate created being is humanity, the pinnacle toward which all other creatures want to climb. I struggle with this concept now, since it has caused so much harm to the rest of the created order.

Much of the philosophy I appreciated, however. I loved how he weaves together overtly Christian metaphors and stories with ideas of vision quests and finding God in the natural world. He doesn't force people to be Christian, but he leaves the door open. He expects them to find God in their own way, completely in their own bodies, when they're most in contact with the world around them.

I loved hearing Gus's story, but I also enjoyed overhearing (through his experience) the relationship between his parents. Reading it this time, I realized I see it from the perspective of the parents more than the coming-of-age young man. This made me feel old, but also just in the place I'm supposed to be right now, and I was encouraged by the joy and meaning that the two very different parents made with one another as they learned to truly be themselves without fear of the other.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

writing elsewhere

Although I haven't managed to keep up well with this blog lately, I've been writing a lot elsewhere! If you'd like to read it, feel free to follow the links.

Of particular interest to those of you who follow this blog because of our Quaker connection, I had a couple pieces published in the last edition of Quaker Life Magazine. Kindred Courage connects my own life and ministry with the inspiring example of Elizabeth Fry, and the beautiful book of poetry about Fry by Friend Julie C. Robinson, Jail Fire.

Quaker Life also re-published pieces of the Peace Month 2011 curriculum, SPICE: the Quaker Testimonies, and SPICE: a Quaker Youth Curriculum.

I've also been writing regularly on the blog for the journal I edit, Whole Terrain. I've been enjoying talking with documentary makers and authors to review their work, and learning about all the excellent environmental thought and activism going on out there. As a "journal of reflective environmental practice," I feel like Whole Terrain's ethos lines up well with my own Quaker desire for the coupling of reflection and activism.

Here are some of my favorite pieces I've written lately:

Thursday, September 25, 2014

my environmental history

Photo of my grandpa, Ralph Beebe, and me
a few years ago when we got to teach a class together
(Photo credit: Joel Bock)

For my Environmental History class this semester, I got to conduct an interview with a family member regarding my own environmental history. I enjoyed meeting with my grandpa, Ralph Beebe, and talking with him about his recollections of his own life and lives of his parents as they established homesteads in Idaho. It was fun talking with him about issues we'd never thought to talk about before, like how his family got food when he was a kid. I learned I have a lot in common with his mother, canning and growing a lot of our food, and I'm a composite of him, his mother, and my own parents: connected to the land, focused on faith and social justice, and interested in organic, healthy food options. These come down to me through different generations so that I do not share the same concerns and worldviews as do my ancestors, but I can see how each of these values came to me through my family history. And do, without further ado, my story.

I spent some time with my maternal grandparents recently. My grandpa, Ralph Beebe, has a PhD in history, and at age 82 he's currently working on a memoir of his life. This assignment gave me the excuse to talk with him about memories I hadn't discussed with him before. I greatly enjoyed meeting with him and learning more about his life and perspective. (My grandma, unfortunately, has Alzheimer's, and so I learned about her family through my grandpa, as well as through stories my great-grandma Hazel wrote down, but I don't have the space to discuss that part of my history here.)

He and I both live in a small town in western Oregon's Willamette Valley. To me, this feels like my family's home. This is where I grew up and where my dad grew up; it's where my parents went to college and met. But just a few generations back, my ancestors lived in the midwest and then in Idaho and eastern Oregon. I'll mainly focus here on my grandpa's recollections, due to the brevity of this paper. I'll add a few thoughts about my dad's side of the family toward the end.
My great-grandparents' grave stone

Ralph's father, Glen, was born on a farm in Cheyenne, Wyoming in 1894, and his family moved to Rupert, Idaho around 1914 for now-unknown reasons. Similarly, Ralph's mother, Fanny, was born in 1900 and grew up on a farm in Missouri. She moved to Rupert, Idaho with her father and two brothers (out of a total of 10 siblings) in 1914. She conducted all the chores that go along with running the house as her father and brothers homesteaded their new land. This included cooking, growing vegetables, butchering and preparing meat, and going out with a rifle to shoot rabbits. There is no current family memory of where these families came from before the midwest, although we are presumably mainly of European descent.

Cattle ranch in Idaho,
similar to my great-grandparents' homestead
After World War I, Glen and Fanny married, and moved to another town in Idaho called Wilder. They rented farms, living on 21 farms in 20 years, and they had to give the landowner half their profit each year. Finally, along with the New Deal and the subsequent damming of the Owyhee River, new areas were opened up for homesteading along the Oregon-Idaho border. Glen and Fanny moved their family just across the Oregon border from Adrian, ID in 1939, homesteading a 240-acre farm, 160 acres of which was "under water." Ralph was almost 7 years old.

Ralph remembers their cash crops as dairy cows, alfalfa, wheat, sugar beets, and corn (though the alfalfa mainly fed the cows). He remembers his mother gardening and raising chickens and pigs, along with the farm's many dairy cows. He helped weed the garden and gather eggs. He also remembers harvesting beets. They lived mainly on the food his mother canned, as well as the eggs, milk, and meat from their animals. He remembers getting a refrigerator after World War II.

He had the opportunity to go to college, which he considers very lucky, because he says he's not smart enough to be a farmer. He's book smart, of course, but not as mechanically minded as one needs to be in order to fix tractors, fences, and everything else that can go wrong on a farm. He moved off the land, but his brother stayed, and his nephew now runs the same farm. I've been there a number of times, floating the irrigation ditches on inner tubes as a kid.

I asked my grandpa his thoughts on the changes that have occurred in his lifetime. He recognizes that some people are really connected to the land that they work, the land that raises food for them and their families, but he never had that sense of the land. He likes the farm, and he appreciates the people who work it, and the hard work they do, but for him, a connection to the land seems like more of a personality characteristic or personal interest someone might have, rather than something everyone will experience.

My dad's 12th birthday
He went to college in western Oregon and stayed in this area for his married life, quite happy with the life of an academic, loving his students and providing excellent classroom experiences for them, living into his own talents.

One final note regarding my dad's side of the family is that my dad moved to Oregon, from Iowa in 1963, and the house he grew up in is now part of the property of the university where I coordinate a community garden. There are fruit trees in the backyard of his old house and the neighboring houses--apples, pears, and plums--and I've been preserving the apples from those trees this week.

In the scope of human history, my family does not have a long history on this land. But in the scope of present-day American experience, I'm incredibly connected to this town, this little corner of the Willamette Valley called Chehalem Valley. I'm putting down my own roots here, benefiting from the forethought of my grandparents and their friends when they planted the fruit trees that will sustain my family this winter.

As an aside, I've attached a photo I took of my grandma's ration card booklet from World War II!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

whole terrain

In case you all are interested, I'm now serving as the editor for Whole Terrain, Antioch University of New England's environmental studies journal. I'll be looking for submissions to the journal, this year on the theme of trust and nature or the environment. I'm blogging for them each week, and/or soliciting blog posts from guest writers. I posted one yesterday called On Trust & Electric Cars, if you want to check it out. We're calling for submissions on the theme of trust and the environment, so if you have something you'd like to write, let me know! Submissions for the journal are due February 15, or if you want to write for the blog, that will be an ongoing theme throughout at least part of next year.

You can also join Whole Terrain on Facebook or Twitter to see when there are new posts, and to learn about other opportunities and events.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

people's climate march

Are you going? I'm getting so excited! The news and photos are rolling in from marches around the world, and tomorrow I'll be going to the one in Portland. The main march will be in New York City tomorrow. You can get all the info here. The main reason for having these climate marches now is that the UN is convening a climate summit in New York City, starting this coming Tuesday, and we want them to go into the meeting with a clear signal that the world is watching and that there is strong support for them to make laws that will benefit the environment and, therefore, all of us.

I always wanted to be part of the "Million Man March" for civil rights, but I wasn't alive yet so that kind of put a damper on that opportunity! But I believe climate change is the most pressing social justice issue of our time, and I'm excited to go to this march and show my solidarity with people around the world and in my own home state who care about the continued health of our planet and the people on it.

My son and I watched 350.org's video about the march, Disruption, together, and he wanted to make a video to tell world leaders, especially our president, that he wants them to make stronger laws to limit pollution and make the world a better place.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

life update

Back in June, I shared the exciting news that I'm starting a PhD in Environmental Studies at Antioch University of New England, and that I'd be moving with my family to New Hampshire.

Electric Vehicle charging station
at Antioch University of New England
Well, the first part of that sentence is still correct, but we decided to stay in Oregon. I'm commuting back and forth for school, which is a low-residency program, so I only have to be there one weekend a month for the first year, then a couple times a semester next year, and once a semester or so for the years after that. I love the program and I'm so happy with my choice! Commuting back and forth has the difficulty of causing lots of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, which is problematic, especially for a degree in environmental studies. Some airlines are now providing the option to buy carbon offsets in programs they're working with, so basically what this amounts to is a voluntary carbon tax. I wish it were incorporated into the airline fees, but this is better than nothing! Here is United's carbon offset program.

We decided to stay in Oregon for a number of reasons, including our family and community here, our desire to be in the Northwest after I'm done with school, and a sense of stability for our kids. We also found it really difficult to find a place to live that was affordable, walk/bike friendly, and where we could plug in our electric car. There are now two electric vehicle charging stations in Keene, NH, one at the Nissan dealership and one at Antioch University of New England. It's great that there are two, but they're both trickle charge stations, meaning it would take upwards of 12 hours for a full charge. If we didn't live close enough to leave it there all the time, we would have a hard time using our car! Here in the Northwest, we have what's been dubbed the "West Coast Green Highway," with charging stations all along the I-5 corridor, and even reaching to central Oregon and the Oregon coast.

Another reason for staying in Oregon was housing. First, our house was having a hard time selling, and we really like our house (mainly the yard). Also, affordable housing in Keene is run by the Keene Housing Authority, which in theory is a great idea: they help people find housing, and they are able to subsidize the costs for those who can't afford the full price. But many places in the Keene area would ONLY work with the Keene Housing Authority, and I called them and there's a 1-2 year waiting list for finding a place to live, even if you can pay the full price. Therefore, we couldn't live in most of the apartment buildings in Keene for the next year or two (the length of time we need to live there, ironically). This seemed like a very strange arrangement.

Finally, the very best reason to stay in Oregon (besides the lack of ticks carrying Lyme disease) is being rooted in our bioregion and our community. If I'm going to school to learn about how to more deeply care for the environment and how to create connected communities, why would I go anywhere other than the Pacific Northwest to practice this kind of environmental, justice-oriented, community-based, holistic care for the Earth? Unfortunately, there aren't any PhD programs of a similar thrust here in the Northwest, so I have to go to New England for the actual program, but at least I can stay rooted in my community, and put what I'm learning into practice in the place where my heart resides.

Friday, July 18, 2014

GFU & transgender



This week, a fairly public news item emerged, regarding George Fox University's win in a case with the Department of Education, allowing Title IX religious exemption for the university's housing policy and a transgender student, Jayce, who wanted to live in a male dorm. Here's a Register Guard article about the court decision, and here's an Oregon Public Broadcasting news spot on the issue, featuring Wess Daniels and my grandpa, Ralph Beebe. Both are supportive of Jayce and desire to make him feel welcome and like he can be himself at Fox. Here is GFU's statement about the case. I want to just write a brief post on this issue, what's going on, and my thoughts.

First, I wanted to note that there has been some misrepresentation of GFU's policy. Some news reports are stating that the transgender student was "denied housing," which isn't true: he was offered housing on campus housing in a single apartment. One issue is that he hasn't yet undergone sex reassignment surgery, it sounds like, making it a little bit difficult for the university to give him housing in one of the single-sex housing options. Fox cites similar difficulties deciding what to do at Smith College, an all women's college. Do they admit male-to-female transitioning transgender students? Such questions of sex and gender are far from resolved in society at large, let alone in a Christian context such as Fox.

Second, luckily it sounds like Jayce has been fairly happy with the way he's been treated by other students, staff, and faculty, besides this issue of housing, so that's good.

Third, GFU cited Northwest Yearly Meeting's policy to shore up its claim that this was a religious belief. As far as I can tell, NWYM doesn't have a real policy about transgender identity.

This coming week, Northwest Yearly Meeting will be discussing a revision to the Faith & Practice statement on human sexuality (p. 80 of that document). The major question really pertains to what sexual acts are consider "sinful," especially including homosexuality. There is quite a range of opinions about what should happen with the current statement, although the fact that we're discussing it this week probably means that a majority of NWYM Friends believe that it should be changed and does not represent current belief. I don't know if we'll even have time to talk about transgender issues this week in the limited time we'll have in meetings for worship for business.

Fourth, a few queries: Why is it so troubling to us when people don't want to remain within traditionally-defined gender boundaries?

Every culture has different opinions, practices, and beliefs about what it means to be "feminine" or "masculine," what roles and behaviors go along with each, and which attributes are considered "good" or "bad." There are different traditions and beliefs about what men and women wear, how they behave toward one another and toward their own gender, and what occupations or tasks belong to each. We can't really define, once for all, what it looks like to be "female" or "male." We can't even describe this physically, for many people, since many are born with secondary sex characteristics for both sexes, chromosomal differences from their "normal" sex, or other differences that make sex more of a spectrum rather than a duality. Moreover, due to both "nature" and "nurture," I'd expect, each individual displays traits that are more or less "feminine" or "masculine" in different areas. Very few individuals fall in furthest end of each category on all of the things we use to measure our own culture's understanding of what it means to be "feminine" or "masculine."

What does it mean to YOU to feel "male" or "female"?

Why is it more culturally acceptable, on the whole, for women to be relatively "masculine" (wearing clothes designed for men, or at least similar to those designed for men, portraying "masculine" traits like assertiveness, etc.), and less culturally acceptable for men to act "feminine"? What does it say about us as a culture and what we value?

What would it look like for us to not really care about who's male and who's female, and just to love one another for who we are, regardless of how we dress and which body parts we have? Would this not be more congruent with our understanding of who we are as part of the Body of Christ, in whom there is no male or female, because we are all one as children of God?

Hold us in the Light this week as we have our annual sessions. Pray for unity and that we will listen to the Spirit, that we will be slow to anger, and that the love of Christ will abound in our midst.