You know the
experience. You passionately advocate taking action on climate
change, and offend both the deniers and the moderates, who are people
either on the fence or wanting to hedge their bets between really
bad, bad, and “Maybe it's happening, but look at this unusually
cold spring.” I once had a conversation at a Rotary Meeting in
Burnsville with a nice guy who was advocating building new four-lanes
through the mountains of NC and Tennessee. I replied, “I can't
believe you said that.” And he said he felt the same thing of me.
Classic end of conversation.
But what if I
had engaged the man, asking how he thought the highway construction
was a “moderate” position? What if I had cared about where and
how he grew up, seeking common ground in beloved places of his
childhood? Where are these places now (for all of us)? What if I
had tried to learn what his “moderate” environmental values were?
Instead, I angrily took a position, and he did the same in return.
We were both reduced to ideological cartoons, rather than taking the
opportunity to be grateful for our Mother's gift of these ancient
It's not that
far from this conversation with a main street “enemy” to my
series of spoken ministries at our rural Appalachian Friends Meeting.
For years I have been called to speak about “the gravest moral
challenge in human history.” Sometimes what I heard myself say
felt prophetic. Observing that my listeners were seemingly unmoved
(with a few exceptions), I repeated the message, always being careful
not to except myself. There was usually a context, such as the yearly
Conference of Parties sponsored by the UN, or a bill before Congress,
or a tarsands pipeline to stop. So I would briefly outline this
context. Increasingly, I found myself being eldered for bringing
“politics” into our protected worship space ( I almost said
quietist). After the third eldering, I essentially stopped
speaking in Meeting on climate change.
back, sometimes it worked. These were the times when I framed my
message as a query, addressed to us all. And each time I actually
felt the message being received, I noticed that my heart remained
open: no judgments, no “them” in the room. So the key, from the
mixed record of this series of vocal ministries, is to pay attention
to the heart – before, during, and after giving a message. It is
not possible to love the Lord without loving the listeners. And
since I accept Thomas Berry's insight that “we are the universe
reflecting upon and celebrating itself” - thus recognizing the
divine within the whole, it is not possible to love the earth without
But don't folks need to hear sometimes that they are missing the
mark? Isn't a prophetic edge to our ministry sometimes in order? We
are a wayward people, leading the rest of the world into industrial
consumerism, trashing the earth. The fact that my ministry felt
shunned does not invalidate it. The point is, “us” can easily
slide into “them,” my neighbor Quakers who don't see that we must
change our lives in response to this huge moral challenge brought on
by ecological sin which has become monstrous through the habit of
unexamined life. In the Hebraic patriarchal culture, people responded to prophetic rebuke. But in our liberal Quaker context, they hear the message better if they feel love
and acceptance. But it's awfully hard sometimes to accept the actor
while condemning the action. I struggled with these issues in a
(scroll down to April 13).
is there an effective way to pursue a deep, tested leading without
taking a strong position, which makes the other wrong? I have been
enrolled for several years in a self-inquiry training in which we are
taught, rather we come to realize from within, that taking a strong
position invariably creates its opposite. They appear together, one
necessitating the other. But if we we hold these positions together,
not trying to resolve them, we honor them as contrairies,
rather than negations,
as the romantic poets realized.
But what if I pursued a leading without taking a position?
can still nurture our leading, and act upon it, without expressing it
in a way that we demonize those who are not motivated by it. So
what's left if we can't preach, demonstrate, and resist? The still
small voice. And what about
civil disobedience? The examples of both Gandhi and King show that
one can love one's enemies, even as one challenges their habitual
behavior and laws. Again, it's a matter of what's in your heart as
you perform the disobedient act.
During my training with Joanna Macy in Northern California many years
ago, some neighboring tree-sitters came to address us, asking for
support in their efforts to halt timbering of old-growth redwoods.
Immediately, most of the group volunteered not only to supply the
sitters, but also to organize a protest at company headquarters
nearby. A few of us, the “Stand-up Group,” thought this was
precipitous and reactive. There was a 200-page description of the
project from the state forestry office that needed to be read; it was
a complex legal situation. So we had quiet discussions and prayed
about what to do. When the time for the protest came, some of us
stayed at the retreat. My friend Elizabeth accompanied the large
group who went to the protest, but did not sit in, carry posters, nor
chant rebukingly. Instead, she slowly walked walked back and forth
along the picket line in meditation, holding both sides in her heart.
This example is what we need more of in the internal climate wars
that are now starting in earnest. Ultimately, not only our neighbor,
but our enemy is our very Self, and to witness otherwise is to treat
the contrary as a negation, which does not encourage resolution.
There is that of God in everyone – no exceptions. So yes,
let's stand up for our leadings, but continue to hold all sides in
our hearts in prayer, visualizing a resolution that is peaceful as
well as just. This is a place for Quakers – as well as Green
Advaitists - that is more consistent with being followers of the
God-self within, rather than our minds, which are constructed of
positions, of being right above all else.