It’s Time

This is a post I wrote in 2013 which I believe is more relevant in 2019. While these writers’ works were written decades ago, I believe they provide sources for new generations to gain perspective to navigate our time. We are facing a world in which basic morality, i.e. “being human”, is under assault. We can no longer make sense from our press, out leaders, and our generation. We must reach back to go forward.

E.F. Schumacher, the British economist-reformer, dubbed American culture “the people of the forward stampede.”  He noted our culture’s technological penchant for doing something just because it can be done.  Thus far American citizens have been the unwary laboratory critters on whom the pharmaceutical and food industries experiment.  That is, the burden of proof on the safety of products is shifted upon the public to prove otherwise. 

Schumacher is remembered for defining and illustrating the concept of appropriate technology – technology that has a “human face”.  His supported technologies of scale, technology based on more ecological principles, and demonstrated that these industries become most economical when ecological integrity and human welfare are factored in as values.  He looked upon American technologies as violent toward humans and life itself due in large part to their scale.  Schumacher’s classic, Small is Beautiful, joined progress with values that embrace respect for life.

Schumacher was ahead of his time in making new calculations about “profit” (the current idea of ecosystem services), and economic viability that take into account the natural resources from which all human economy arises.  He first coined the term “natural capital”.

We have evolved far from ancient ways that recognize the value of preserving natural capital, preferring technology based on profit only, and we are firmly convinced this is an enlightened and modern practice. 

Yet in recent times as environmental toxins accumulate and become apparent in deteriorating health, decreased fertility, and declining stores of natural resources to sustain economic development, this point of view is being called into question.  We have an opportunity to reevaluate the basic values that drive our culture.  We are at a critical juncture right now.  The window is open.  But not for long.  Critical decisions are being as I write this about who will own the genome of many species, and genetically modified food is already all over our grocery stores.

The ancient Essenes held this truth: “I tell you in very truth, Man is the Son of the Earthly Mother, and from her did the Son of Man receive his whole body, even as the body of the newborn babe is born of the womb of his mother.  I tell you truly, you are one with the Earthly Mother; she is in you and you in her.  Of her were you born, in her do you live, and to her shall you return again.  Keep, therefore, her laws, for none can live long, nor be happy, but he who honors his Earthly Mother and does her laws….

“Seek not the law in your scriptures, for the law is life, whereas the scripture is dead.  I tell you truly, Moses received not his laws from God in writing, but through the living word.  The law is living word of living God to living prophets for living men.  In everything that is life is the law written.  You find it in the grass, in the tree, in the river, in the mountain, in the birds of heaven in the fishes of the sea; but seek it chiefly in yourselves.  For I tell you truly, all living things are nearer to God than the scripture which is without life.”

These ancient teachings were taken and hidden from what would become Western civilization.  We lost our compass on a living planet, the ancient wisdom that has guided humans to live sustainably for all time.  We lost the wisdom that emanates from Natural Law, the law that spirited Moses and St. Frances. 

We must recover this wisdom in modern terms.  We know it intuitively, for it runs in our blood, and infuses every cell in our bodies.  This window of time (to slow down our “stampede” of progress for progress’ sake), depends on the engagement of citizens in thoughtful evaluation of personal values and how culture influences them. 

E.O. Wilson, the Harvard biologist, maintains that culture is a construct perpetuated through the interaction of our genes and the prevailing culture from one generation to the next.  On the level of thought, individuals have a choice between kinds of thoughts and actions they choose.  Thoughts and feelings arise from deep tendencies: survival, innovation, procreation – passed on via genes to the next generation.   If we are not aware of how these powerful and old “rules” influence behavior, then we will continue to make decisions based on responses that may or may not promote true survival outcomes.  Our environments are changing faster than our genes can keep up with.  Where competition may once have been more important to our survival, cooperation now takes precedence.  The genes that pull us into community are more important than ever, and individualism without a social context is no longer of survival value.

“Culture is created by a communal mind, and each mind is the product of the genetically structured human brain…. Genes prescribe epigenetic rules, which are neural pathways and regularities in cognitive development by which the individual mind assembles itself.  The mind grows from birth to death by absorbing parts of the existing culture available to it, with selections guided through epigenetic      rules inherited by the individual brain.” – E. O. Wilson, Consilience p. 127

Wilson explains the gene-culture co-evolution, and how each generation “reconstructs culture” collectively in the minds of individuals.  This has important implications, and requires that if we want to change the values that underlie American culture, we must actively participate in evolving it.  As young minds are growing what are they absorbing from this culture? 

The medium we use for transmitting culture is language.  Each word represents a concept, and these are grouped together by the brain into nodes of reference.  When nodes are linked by the brain to other nodes there is meaning.  Meaning is conveyed through language. We cannot change the genetically driven propensities that influence the choices people might make inherently, but if we accept that culture can influence those choices then we have the possibility to shape culture for long-term sustainability in both ecological and ethical terms.

The collective mind of our culture must understand survival in terms of the ecological integrity of biomes across the Earth, and peaceful resolution of conflict between members of our species.  These are the basic elements of national and international security as well as survival and fitness of the individual.

Language becomes the tool for shaping our culture’s understanding of this profound shift in values.  We are witnessing a time when the most fundamental values upon which our nation is founded are being eroded by twisting the meaning of words like justice, security, peace, and liberty.  When a word’s meaning becomes its opposite on the level of action, it is rendered meaningless.  This is the frightening reality of our time, when leaders espouse justice yet preemptively take away sovereignty, when hostility to others becomes security, when we are told that violence will bring peace, and when our liberties are taken away for freedom. 

For many Americans our government does not represent their values, beliefs, and vision for the future.  Years ago Aldo Leopold wrote this prophetic statement in the essay The Ecological Conscience (1947):  “Cease being intimidated by the argument that a right action is impossible because it does not yield maximum profits, or that a wrong action is to be condoned because it pays.”  He was making a serious challenge to prevailing economic assumptions that threaten life everywhere. 

Surprisingly, one might think that the majority of Americans accept that what is profitable should be the measure of whether we do something or not.  This is not so.  According to Paul Ray and Sherry Ruth Anderson, authors of The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Millions People Are Changing the World, surveys show that in fact 89% of the American public believe that “economic growth and protecting the environment are fully compatible”, and “the environmental crisis justifies change in our way of life (75%).”

Ray and Anderson identified a “sub-culture” which they have named “the cultural creatives”.  This group of people in the U.S. represent people with many different lifestyles, education levels, religious or spiritual traditions, i.e. it is a diverse group of people.  However, what they do share in common is dissatisfaction with government, a government which does not represent who they are or their vision for the future.  Within the cultural creatives are people who are concerned about women’s rights, the welfare of children, the sustainability of the planet, and the value of diversity.  Their focus is on localism, supporting the local community’s sovereignty, the vibrancy of small business, and the protection of freedom of choice. 

We are in a time of great upheaval, a time of chaos socially and politically when what we have always taken for granted is changing.  Ray and Anderson point out the opportunities during transformational times when we can create new social and political processes that can result in a sustainable way of life for humans and the planet. 

They assert that we first must become aware of moving into a “historical window of time”.  They point to our power to organize with diverse groups who share common values coming together to tell a bigger story about who we are and where we are going.  Are we here to just “get ours and to hell with everyone else?”  Or, are we here to be a part of a greater dream? Citizens can weave a picture and a strategy toward an ecologically sustainable world view, one Ray and Anderson call Wisdom Civilization.  Just as Nature throws out thousands of strategies to develop successful designs, we can do the same by inviting the majority of people to participate, not a few who do not represent who we are or what we envision for our families. 

Science and spiritual traditions can find new resonance.  Thomas Berry the ecologist/monk writes in The Great Work:  “There are cosmological and historical moments of grace as well as religious moments of grace.  The present is one of those moments of transformation that can be considered as a cosmological, as well as a historical and a religious moment of grace….A comprehensive change of consciousness is coming over the human community, especially in the industrial nations of the world….A younger generation is growing up with awareness of the need for a mutually enhancing mode of human presence to the Earth….The distorted dream of an industrial technological paradise is being replaced by the more viable dream of a mutually enhancing human presence within an ever-renewing organic-based Earth community.”

This statistic is riveting:  among Americans surveyed, 77% believe we must achieve ecological sustainability.  They expressed the need for leadership to accomplish it.  As Ray and Anderson point out, this is a huge change in world view.  It is currently not represented by our leadership or big business or the media.  We must create a new leadership by bringing forth the values and beliefs that the majority of Americans believe in. 

The time has come to make the shift, and we can be a part of it.It is up to us now; the window of time is here.  We must not fail our children and all those to come. 

 

 

 

 

Dream Acres

DREAM ACRES FARM

Holding-Out and Holding-On in America’s Heartland

Dream Acres Farm in Bowling Green 2018

Golden meadow grasses wave in the afternoon breeze along a far bank of dark green pine and hardwoods aflame in fall colors. The trees form the meadow’s northern border. Lover’s Lane, Old Towne Apartments, and Interstate 65 serve as other borders to Dream Acres Farm—a sliver of Kentucky farmland and noble hold-out against development.

The white picket fencing, farmer’s house, and rolling green lawn that face Lover’s Lane were built when this land near Bowling Green was “the country”. I imagine teenagers romanced in a car along a moonlit dirt shoulder, and that dense forests still grew to the horizon. The farm’s 15 acres are worth millions now that the town has grown up around it. Everyday another few acres of Lover’s Land churn under the blade in becoming hotel, medical center, nursing home…

Every day I thank the farmer for holding fast to his farm amidst the pressure of land sales. He tends a dozen fine steer and occasional cow and calf to graze and grow in his meadow. Because the windows of my small apartment face the meadow, I am a constant observer of the herd’s movement, their presence or their absence. When the first hard frost arrives, they are gone to groceries and restaurants, and suddenly the meadow feels abandoned. Slowly, I’ve learned much about bovines: how they form attachments with the farmer, running and frolicking around him whenever he drives his rusty tractor out to inspect fences. I never knew cattle could move so fast. I’ve sketched their charcoal-black postures in the emerald grass of springtime and photographed them hip deep in a field thick with golden grasses in the fall.

This spring a community of swallows took up residence at my apartment complex, nesting on windows and gables facing the meadow and from which they emerged and returned with lightening-speed, providing me with more entertainment. After some time, I realized why they had come. As the cattle moved in the high grass, grasshoppers and gnats rose in swarms. The swifts careened in and around the thick calves and heavy hooves like fighter pilots after targets. When the insects’ life-cycles ran their course, the swifts disappeared into thin air.

Daily observation helped me discover the diversity of life in the meadow beyond the obvious farmer-bovine-grass relationship. Black silhouettes circled in the late afternoon sky portending prey moving in the grass sea: rodents, rabbits, snakes, perhaps frogs. I am sure there is an owl perched in the far border of trees whose throaty hooting I cannot hear over the constant roar of I-65. The life in the meadow also includes a neighbor’s acre of goats attended by sheepdogs that escort them in and out of a sagging, grey barn. Dream Acres Farm has its own barn from which the cattle emerge and return, but most days they sleep out under the stars.

When the farmer dies, will his heirs sell the farm and make millions? Probably—in the way of progress. When they do, I will disappear as the swifts to find another teacup of wild. And then, when no teacups remain, shall we all disappear like the swifts, into thin air?

I pray for the old farmer to live another day—my knight, my muse.

Bountiful the Love We Share

PROLOGUE

A small town in the North American prairie . . .

Bountiful lay in a curve of green mantle under the pink gold of dawn. Soft light moved slowly on the broadsides of its homes and stores and played among the trees that lined the streets. Inhabitants cuddled under quilts or shivered in feathered down on a high tree limb or snuggled under a copse of trees in mist-cloaked meadows at its boundaries.

Every dawn was a hushed moment—the briefest pause when earth holds her breath. Then, the day began again as it had since the prairieland had formed. Its people were latecomers, a noisy lot, the birds had long ago concluded. The cattle grazed and watched without comment—a very dignified way of being.

The people of Bountiful were practical folks who lived life by accepting its limitations as well as its potential, planning for all its contingencies, working hard, praying hard, and trying to not take any of it too seriously. Life had been generally good to the people and creatures of Bountiful which went a long way toward explaining why they were so happy, in the main. Yet, this general feeling of wellness might have a subtle formula: early settlers made structures close to one another in grids and circles that articulated meaningfully, keeping families, quite streets, green lawns and gardens safe. It was the custom to give thanks for a land of plenty understanding that certain ways brought order and predictable outcomes. It was a town that retained its youth by raising them to love it. Most returned to Bountiful after college or brief forays into other places. It was just a good place to live and love. In the more complex world around it, Bountiful remained predictable and renewable like the dark soil of its farms. Stretching in ordered rows that hugged the contours of the landform, Bountiful farms yielded good harvests of wheat and corn, and vegetables for local markets. Well-tended farm animals produced excellent grade meat, milk, and eggs. After two-hundred years of existence, Bountiful remained the same kind of place—undisturbed and self-generating.

TIME BEFORE

A sweeping vista of tall grasses higher than any man, the whole of it moved in slow undulations on the breeze, no shade crossing its shoulders. Bright golden green halo giving way to sky—blue dome, white cloud—floating. Above the tall grass stems swirls of yellow blossoms followed the sun on its path across the heavens. Crimson and cerulean wildflowers like shooting stars painted the tall grass prairie on God’s vast canvas. Bees and birds dined and swooped in and out of the movable feast. Into the dark soil the grasses plunged and held in mats and networks thirty feet to bedrock. In the cool, subterranean kingdom the microscopic inhabitants of the soil shared or stored minerals, energy, and water—a prairie dynamo.

In late summer, a strike of lightening ignites the sea of dry grass. Flames burst and rush across it consuming the air unbound. Inferno envelops and burns to the ground all that waved before. Later, seed coats burst open onto enriched soils, rains pour, and the prairie regenerates. Fire is the prairie flower of the gods who reigned over the land where Bountiful now lies.

AND THEN

The people who came to live and to know the prairie came by it in hardship and fear. Surrounded in flames and smoke, huddled in sod huts, shivering in cold or sweltering in heat, they held like the roots of the grasses, held fast in fortitude under the blue dome. They dug and clawed away the grasses that held the land not understanding it but prevailing above it with plow and horse. They laid their furrows in soil so black it swallowed the seed into its abyss. From the seed emerged green shooting stalks and leaves that pushed a flood of kernels into being, golden kernels that moved the dynamo from under the land into the crop of man. The cycle continues. So powerfully wrought, the ghost prairie gave its wealth for centuries even as it renewed itself.

Bountiful lay upon this powered land with only a faint memory from a pioneering past. Few understood what had been before the coming of the Europeans who created the town, mapping streets, dreaming a dream that belonged to a distant land.

It came to pass that a prairie girl would leave Bountiful to become a writer in the distant metropolis of New York City. Her return to her homeland would be prolonged by a successful career and a late marriage. Only upon the passing of her dear husband did she decide to return. It had not been a conscious decision, but the pull of an ebbing tide that swept her back to her origin.

Her family’s farm had been the center of her world as a child and youth. Now, it held an unexamined power over her. Compulsion, yes, that was how it felt to Charlotte, like she had no control over the surprising decisions her city friends could not fathom. An ad in the New York Times, the sale of her gorgeous townhouse on the upper East Side of Manhattan and leaving art and culture for the agrarian life of a senior community at Green Fields Farm. Was it self-destructive? A compulsion spawned by grief?

“Not at all,” Charlotte had said to her friends. “Somehow it feels natural to return to quiet and openness of Bountiful. It just feels right.”

Keep Up with Publication Dates on Bountiful’s FB Page:

 

Unsheltered – Barbara Kingsolver

With authors I value, like Barbara Kingsolver, the wait for a new work can often be lengthy. My wait was amply rewarded. In Unsheltered–2018 HarperCollins–she had created parallel narratives that articulate across two centuries in the American experience. Her device is a house and property shared by the characters in different centuries. The 21st Century Wilma and  19th Century Thatcher are adults navigating giant shifts in social paradigms. For Wilma and her family it is the economic collapse of the middle class and the dissolution of the ideals her generation pursued. Climate change knocks ominously at her door. For Thatcher it a pre-Darwin American culture in a panic to hold onto Christian perspectives by rejecting rational observation of how the world works (akin to today’s denial of science).

Wilma’s multigenerational family reflects at once a 1) disenfranchised, racist white America (grandfather); 2) boomer parents (Wilma and Iano); 3) grown kids who pursued differing paths–Harvard financial education (Zeke), and post-apocalyptic youth (Tig). Add Baby Dusty, Wilma’s grandson whom she is mothering after the death of Zeke’s wife,  and you have four generations, each navigating their own realities. The dialogue along the way explores the contemporary ocean of conflicting values and ideas of today’s American society with our economic, social, and environmental challenges.

Unsheltered is a nuanced conversation between Kingsolver, her characters, and the reader that is slow at times but never boring and long enough to examine previous and contemporary times for understanding the confabulations of collective memory–an existential wail of ‘Who are we?’

Twenty-something Tig exclaims to her mother, “The guys in charge of everything right now are so old. They really are, Mom. Older than you. They figured out the meaning of life in, I guess, the nineteen fifties and sixties. When it looked like there would always be plenty of everything. And they’re still applying that to now. It’s just so ridiculous.”

For individuals like me, awash in Trump-a-Con,  Unsheltered is a beacon. Kinsolver’s Afterward explains her own journey to understand “the times”, explaining to readers how she wrote a novel about real historical figures and set the novel in South Jersey in a small town, Vineland. Along the way, she traveled many miles, including London where walked in the footsteps of Charles Darwin.

This book is a needed contribution to understanding our time as one when the “world as we know it” appears to be ending. It is ultimately a great story that takes us into the author’s creative mind. I am so grateful to Kingsolver!

Corn Tastes Better on the Honor System – Robin Wall Kimmerer

Robin Wall KimmererRobin Wall Kimmerer is a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and a botanist who explains her knowledge of an indigenous worldview about plants with that of the western worldview. In that process, Kimmerer embeds whole Earth teaching along with botanical science. Here in this beautiful essay, ” Corn tastes better on the honor system” published in Emergence Magazine, is one of the author’s best teaching contrasting indigenous ways of knowing with western perspectives about the Earth. At this ragged time in American history, return to sanity. Listen.

Robin Wall Kimmerer is a mother, scientist, decorated professor, and enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. She is the author of Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teaching of Plants and Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses. She lives in Syracuse, New York, where she is a SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor of Environmental Biology, and the founder and director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment.

Replenishing the Earth – Wangari Maathai

Winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2004

Wangari Maathai grew up in her homeland in Kenya, living close to the earth and learning traditional Kikuyu values and practices. Her memoir, Unbound, describes her daily activities as a child, her mother’s teachings, and how her people regarded the streams and forests in a land where the balance of nature is delicate, not to be abused without serious consequences for its inhabitants.

In Replenishing the Earth: Spiritual Values for Healing Ourselves and the World, Maathai’s wisdom is distilled onto each page, every sentence the next drop in the flow. Wangari describes herself as working practically to solve problems she learned about in discussions with communities and among women’s groups. Their need for clean water, and for access to earn a living, were her daily concerns. Eventually, Wangari and the women she served established the Greenbelt Movement that planted over 30 million trees in Kenya.

In Replenishing, Wangari’s concerns about the destruction of the environment in Kenya are examined in light of the world’s sacred traditions. Always a practical perspective, her observations and reflections give readers much to consider often through humor. For example she writes that God in his wisdom created Adam on Friday. If he’d created him on Monday he’d have perished for lack of food!

Wangari Maathai’s clarity of thought is invaluable in this age where massive destruction of oceans, rivers, wildlands, and forests have imperiled life the world over. She and the women of Kenya remind us of the earth-shaking power of people to replenish the earth, if we choose to do so.

Listen to an interview with Wangari Maathai on OnBeing.org.

 

 

Leadership by Doris Kearns Goodwin

A book for our times

The great historian and writer, Doris Kearns Goodwin, has gifted students of American history with a rare treasure. Leadership In Turbulent Times, is a masterwork by one of America’s preeminent presidential historians. Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson are examined through three lenses: 1) Ambition and Recognition of Leadership; 2) Adversity and Growth; 3) The Leader and the Times: How they Led

Goodwin has written biographies of each President, and she worked in Lyndon B. Johnson’s Administration as a student fellow and later helped him organize his presidential library and archives which are extensive.

I highly recommend this book for its relevance to present turbulent times. How can we recognize a great leader? What do they share in common? How do their leadership qualities emerge over a lifetime, and how do they use their particular talents to lead the largest democracy on Earth?

Goodwin is a great storyteller. The intimate portraits she paints for us are gritty, truthful, and surprising. In the last section on Visionary Leadership Goodwin becomes a classroom professor subheading points she wants to make clear such as 1) Make a dramatic start; 2) Lead with your strengths; 3) Simplify the agenda — and so on. One critic felt this was too elementary. But I like to think that Goodwin, out of her concern for the state of leadership in Washington was giving us a primer on how to identify a true leader. And for younger men and women who are coming up in the political ranks in their counties and states, she may also be showing them how the greats managed to bring our country together in times of very dangerous challenges such as the Civil War, the Depression, WWII, Civil Rights and Vietnam.

Call it a primer on Leadership. Here is an interview with Doris Kearns Goodwin about the book.

 

 

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

Dear Martin by Nic Stone is a YA novel for our time.

It deals with injustice and racial profiling but in the most personal manner. Stone used newspaper articles, and stories from real teens who have faced similar injustices to develop her story. Stone writes a nuanced plot and characters as real as the people around you. Everyone is welcome in Justyce’s story because diverse perspectives are represented in the characters, their thoughts and responses to events in the story.

This is a national bestseller. Free copies were distributed by the Warren County, KY library in my home town of Bowling Green, KY. Nic Stone will be here in October and I cannot wait to meet her.

The novel is a short book (less than 200 pages) but it moves powerfully along to an ending that made me weep with joy, sorrow, and HOPE!

It is my wish for this coming year that Americans will read it because it shows a way forward in addressing injustice in our law enforcement as well as in society in general–what we must finally deal with to complete the Long Road to Freedom.

Some books are necessary. This is one of them. A brilliant achievement.

Revisiting Jack London

Jack London is one of my favorite American writers.

“I would rather be ashes than dust!
I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry rot.
I would rather be a superb meteor,
every atom of me in magnificent glow,
than a sleepy and permanent planet.
The proper function of man is to live, not to exist.
I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them.
I shall use my time.”  ~ 
Jack London  (1876 – 1916)

Amazon has a two-part documentary of London’s life and work that is worth watching for insight into the personal and historical influences that shaped London’s development and ultimately, his contributions to literature. It is also a great teaching film for new writers.

Here is the link to the documentary.

Read Call of the Wild online. Serialized in the Saturday Evening Post.