Wednesday, March 28, 2012

biking experiment

Yesterday, Joel and I started an experiment with trying to bike as much as possible instead of driving in town. We're trying to be more intentional about biking (or walking) to places that the only reason we would drive is for convenience. (Pictures are of the bike I have a a Burley double trailer similar to the one we have.)

Ground Rules of this Experiment:

  • Keep track of the miles we bike this month, then figure out how many gallons of gas and how much money we saved at the end of a month by using the average MPG our car gets...which is a sad 20 or so.
  • Keep track of how many miles we drive the car this month, and therefore how many gallons of gas we use and how much we spend on gas.
  • When can we drive? 
    • When we're carpooling (e.g., when I have my niece as well as my two kids and I have to drop them all off at different locations and pick them up within too short of a timespan to walk, since I don't have a bike set-up for three kids). 
    • When it's snowing. That shouldn't be a problem in Oregon at this time of year...but it snowed more last week than it had the whole rest of the winter, so you never know!
    • For work--Joel has a couple work-related trips, which won't count toward our total.
    • We'll keep track of these as ones that were necessary to drive, but don't count against us.
  • Keep each other accountable. By starting this experiment specifically, we're in this together!
  • Hopefully this will also make it a lot easier to figure out who gets the car!

We started yesterday, and we did pretty well at first: Joel biked his commute (2.4 miles); I biked the kids over to a babysitter and to my office and back to the babysitter (7 miles). Then Joel and I decided to use a gift card we had to see a movie in another town, so there went that day (33.6 miles)! Gas saved: not quite 1/2 gallon, money saved: around $2. Gas spent: a little over 1.5 gallons, money spent: about $6. Of course, there's also the added benefit of fresh air and exercise, so we saved in that department!

So who wants to join us on this experiment? We can make it a competition! Start today, if you'd like, and go for a month, and let me know how you do after one month.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

where to shop?

I find myself often wondering where I should shop. There are so many dimensions to this! Whether the food or other products are fairly traded, how much gas I have to use to get there and how much gas was used to move products there, local, organic, supporting various companies (or not), and stewardship of my monetary resources (cheapness).

I live in a small-ish town where we have a few grocery stores, and only one store that really has clothes and other helpful items, like kitchenware, etc.

We also have a Farmer's Market during the summer, many farms around where we can do U-pick berries and other fruits, and the ability to grow some fruits and vegetables ourselves in the summer months. There are also several CSAs in the area.

But you can't get everything from a CSA or a Farmer's Market, and I don't have the knowledge or interest to make ALL my family's food and other products myself. I think part of living in a community is that we shouldn't each have to reinvent the wheel...everyone does something to make society work, and when we all do our part then we can all reap the rewards of working together. Ideally.

The problem, of course, is that some people around the world get stuck in a factory for 16+ hours/day, sleep, and get up and do it again, just so we can have relatively cheap electronics--and we expect them to be grateful that they have a job.

And then there's the problem of transporting all these goods, which currently requires a lot of fossil fuels, which messes up the environment, and it also creates a culture that is dependent on oil, which causes us to think we have to fight wars to gain leverage in oil-rich areas of the world.

And then there's the problem of the healthiness of our food, and the health of workers who produced it, and the land it was produced upon. Using chemicals isn't good for any of these, but it's good for companies because they can make things more cheaply, which is good for us in that we can buy things cheaply and without having to grow them ourselves.

And then there's the problem of packaging, much of which ends up in the landfill. Even the things that we can recycle are often so costly to reuse that they don't actually get reused, so there are just warehouses full of "recycled" plastic.

Is using the Internet ecologically responsible, due to the huge data storage centers that have to be powered?

So, how do we navigate all of these dimensions at once? When I buy something local, it may or may not be organic. And what if something can't be found locally? Do I do without things like cars or computers because their parts are made in other countries? Do I go to another town or buy things online that are fairly traded, but waste gas to get it to me and money because said products are astronomically expensive? Do I try to buy things in bulk so that there's not so much packaging wasted? But if I buy in bulk from a big store (Costco, Winco), how do I know if their employees are being treated well and they get stuff that has been fairly traded? Do I just make my own suburban compound where I try to grow and store all my own food and make all the things I need from recycled stuff or trash?

How do you all navigate these questions? Are there Friends or other organizations you've found helpful  in discerning which companies to buy things from?

Friends in the 19th century refused to wear clothes dyed by slaves. As Friends in the 21st century, how could we begin to actively address these things together?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

"real" quakers

Maggie Harrison put up a very interesting blog post a few weeks ago and I'm just now getting around to writing my own two cents about it. It's generated quite a conversation among Quaker bloggers! Here's a compilation of a range of excellent responses, posted by Jon Watts.

I have to say that I basically agree with Maggie. None of us really look much like the original Friends culturally, theologically or dogmatically. Part of this has to do with living in different cultures--even British Friends live in a different culture than 17th century England; even those in Pennsylvania live in a culture that's a far cry from life in the colony at its inception. Part of it has to do with a consistent definition of what it means to be "Quaker," and the fact that early Friends didn't want to be able to really define who was "in" and who was "out" of their movement--they were intentionally non-credal, making it difficult to define who is most consistently following their lead.

But I like Maggie's definition of a real Quaker. She says:
Here it is: all real Friends everywhere, throughout our entire history and in every branch, no matter what their theology or worship practices, are committed to one shared thing; GETTING NAKED.
She means this in the metaphorical sense...not in the James Nayler sense! She explains:
The only thing that truly defines Friends as a distinct group and not just a bunch of Unitarians or Christians or a secular social club is that all True Quakers are committed to the process of gettin’ naked as a step in the longer path of being clothed in righteousness, which means a return to right order, or the Gospel Order, or the Kingdom of Heaven, or the Garden or Eden, or total Liberation, or WHATEVER YOU WANT TO CALL IT. 
To be fair, “True Quakers” also include those of us who don’t know anything about how to do this but WANT this transformation.
Yes! This is exactly right. This is what Quakers were trying to do before they were ever called "Quakers," before they were ever called "The Religious Society of Friends," before they came together. The people who found their way to this religious movement in its infancy were ones who felt an insatiable desire to be "naked" before God, in a metaphorical sense--to strip away everything that we use to defend ourselves from Truth, because learning the truth is often scary, and living it is even scarier.

In my last post, I talked about Jim Wallis, John Woolman and my own sense of conviction toward "poorer, slower, smaller." I talked about my feeling of failure at really living into my heritage, because living it requires action--scary action. It requires "getting naked," which is complete vulnerability and trust of the Other.

Micah Bales responds to Maggie's post with wise words and queries:
What if we stopped trying to be Quakers? What if, instead, we put our energy into being communities that truly reflect the love, joy and peace of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob [and, I would add, Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Leah...]? What if, instead of trying to preserve an heirloom faith, we cast aside everything except our determination to be God's holy, chosen and beloved people, here and now?
This is exactly true. I think Friends are trying to do this, from all branches of our denomination, in the "Convergent Friends" movement. I love having a story of which to be a part, a story reaching back to the Israelites. It helps me understand who God is, who people are in relation to God and each other, and helps me see the way to go...but it also sometimes distracts me. It makes me focus too much on the past. I'm good at reading and researching and learning, but am I willing to "cast aside everything except [my] determination to be God's holy, chosen and beloved [child], here and now?"

I ask for a community to do this with me at the end of my last post, and I think many of the responses to Maggie's post show that there is a community out there, yearning to do these same things. I hope and pray for the power of the Spirit to come on us, as the Spirit came on the biblical prophets, and on the disciples of Jesus at Pentecost, and on the early Friends, and on so many other groups who truly sought after God together. I hope and pray that same Spirit will give us the courage to follow.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

"poorer, poorer. slower, slower. smaller, smaller."

I'm feeling convicted by an article by Jim Wallis in a Sojourners email. He uses a quote from Thomas Merton (Catholic contemplative monk), who said:
Be anything you want. Be madmen, drunks, and bastards of every shape and form. But at all costs, avoid one thing: success.
Wallis goes on to talk about starting Sojourners in the 1970s, living in community with 18 people in one row house when his son was born, paying himself and the others starting Sojourners in such a way that they only received $5/month each for personal spending...I don't agree with everything Sojourners/Wallis says, but I'm so grateful for the hard work they've done over the past 40 years to bring social justice into the (positive) vocabulary of many evangelicals and others. Wallis talks about trying to make his aim "poorer, slower, smaller," and to do this by emphasizing prophetic, pastoral and monkish (contemplative) areas of life equally. He admits most of us do one of these better than the other two, and there is usually one that gets forgotten, and for him it's the contemplative one that gets left off. I think this is fairly common for many of us--at least for myself. Wallis says:
Some might say Sojourners is now a "success"....It all boils down to this: Poorer, slower, smaller may be necessary for the inner journey, but it is not a very good business plan.
This makes me think of John Woolman (1720-1772). Woolman had a successful store and it kept on getting more successful because of his hard work and his integrity. He came to a crossroads: he could continue "biggering" his store (to borrow a term from the Onceler in Dr. Seuss's The Lorax), working harder, adding employees, building, expanding--or he could quit and start being a traveling minister, speaking out against the slave trade. I'm sure the former sounded very tempting. After all, God had "blessed" him with a successful business, right? God had made him prosperous, and with his wealth he could do good things, right? He could buy only things that were not made with slave labor for his store and in that way he'd be supporting antislavery, right?

I don't know--maybe God calls some of us to do that kind of thing. Maybe some of us are called to be "successful." There were many Friends, especially in Woolman's time, who felt like they could be the best lights for God's kingdom by being successful merchants, store owners, etc., and giving philanthropically in a monetary way as well as volunteering their time for various causes. And maybe they were right. Maybe that's exactly where God wanted them to be.

But John Woolman felt called to give it up. He, too, lived by the motto, "Poorer, poorer. Slower, slower. Smaller, smaller." It takes a great deal of humility to live this way. In fact, he felt like a failure when he died. He felt like no one had listened to his message. He had no idea that 240 years later his spiritual descendants would be reading his journal and aspiring to be like him. He was faithful, and didn't let success distract him from his calling.

I personally have a very difficult time knowing how to do this well in my own life. I want to be "responsible," to make it on my own financially, to not be a burden on those around me, especially if I don't save enough for when I'm too old to make my own living. I also want to enjoy life right now, while I'm young! I don't think these are bad desires to have.

At the same time, I want to trust God to lead me, and that God will work out the financial details. But that feels irresponsible and scary because of our culture's emphasis on self-reliance, independence, security, success as the measure of self-worth.

I guess the way to overcome this is probably, as Jim Wallis reminds me, to spend more time on that third aspect: I'm pretty good at the prophetic, OK at the pastoral...but I often don't make the time for contemplation, on my own and in community. I know in my head that this would release me from fear and give me a clearer sense of direction, but somehow it's still so hard to force myself to do!

Also, I feel like as Friends of all stripes we talk a lot about this area being our strong point, but we don't actually do it very well very often. We spend time in silence together, but often it's just a "nice" space, a place where everyone has a voice, a place where we can go and relax in God's presence or connect with our Inner Light. These are all good things, but that's not the original point of meeting in silence! The point is to hear what God is calling us to do, and to struggle together with how we are going to be faithful to that as a community.

How do we create that kind of contemplative space in our worship settings again?

It often feels to me like our worship times are impotent. We come together and have a nice time. We learn and grow, perhaps; we build community. But WHY? Why not just build community with some other group in our lives? If worship doesn't lead to action, what's it for? Is it really worship? I've heard people say they don't want to always have a prophetic challenge when they come to worship each week; they want affirmation and encouragement to go back into the trenches with. But to me, affirmation and encouragement isn't enough, because we're not really IN the trenches. Most Friends in the United States are middle class or upper middle class. Being affirmed and encouraged to continue the status quo isn't enough. We feel the need for affirmation and encouragement because we have this gnawing sense that the way we're living isn't right. We're seeking after success as a community and as individuals within the community (myself included). We're forgetting that God calls us to be "poorer, slower, smaller," and that it is through God's timing and God's miraculous power that our small, poor loaves and fishes allow space for a sudden in-breaking of God into the world, a sudden explosion of whatever it is that people need in order to be truly nourished. This doesn't generally happen through our own attempts at success. We may look successful--we may be able to build a mega-church--but it won't bring about the power of God in the world.

So maybe I can form my life around "poorer, slower, smaller," but I also need all of you. Perhaps I could be something like John Woolman and just do this on my own, but I don't know if I have enough courage and patience for that! I need a community. How can we truly listen together to hear how God would have us work in the world in our generation?