Why I Don’t Make New Year’s Resolutions

The nearby trail I'll be walking on again as soon as my knee heals.

The nearby trail I’ll be walking on  again with Guari as soon as my knee heals.

A glorious day- sunny, cold, beautiful.  Guari and I are here enjoying the fire, enjoying this first day of the New Year.  I’m grateful that I didn’t wake up with a hangover—from alcohol, excess food, or emotional or relationship distress.  I am at peace.  It is well with my soul.

It hasn’t always been like this, and I don’t take it for granted.  I’ve hit many “bottoms” in my life, usually because I talk myself into thinking that I’m on the right path, then I run into a dead end.  Fortunately, I know where to find help.  I have friends who lovingly help to orient me, stand me up on my feet, remind me who I am, and point me in the direction of healing and wholeness.  Ultimately that means letting go of behaviors and patterns that interfere with my well-being or with the well-being of others.  This I have never been able to do on my own strength alone.

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions because the ongoing transformation that I seek doesn’t always happen the way I think it should, and it’s not the result of me trying to establish control.  I’ve never been able to just whip myself (or others) into shape.  Oh, I’ve given it a good try—that used to be my solution to life’s problems—but now I have a humbler and more realistic view of my powers.  I know now that only by listening and waiting for the movement of the Spirit will I find the inner resources to enable me to change old patterns and to be deeply transformed.

I can also set my intention and pray for the willingness and the power to be able to live into the fullness of who I am and who I am called to be.  This works best for me if I renew my intention one day at a time.  This coming year I intend to enjoy my family and friends, and do what I can to make this world a more loving place.  I have lots of projects waiting.  But I have to take time to “watch and pray” so that I’m not thrown back into old, self-defeating patterns.

I’m so grateful to have shared a path of recovery with my mother, Ruth, for many years before her death.   I set my intention today by starting this day and this year with one of her favorite prayers, which I have shared in a previous post, Thoughts that Bless:

 “Morning Prayer” by Ella Syfers Schenck:

Lord, in the quiet of this morning hour

I come to Thee for peace, for wisdom, power

To view the world today through love-filled eyes;

Be patient, understanding, gentle, wise:

To see beyond what seems to be, and know

Thy children as Thou knowest them; and so

Naught but the good in anyone behold;

Make deaf my ears to slander that is told;

Silence my tongue to aught that is unkind;

Let only thoughts that bless dwell in my mind.

Let me so kindly be, so full of cheer,

That all I meet may feel Thy presence near.

O clothe me in Thy beauty, this I pray,

Let me reveal Thee, Lord, through all the day.

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Do We Have the Wisdom to Survive?

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Fires are burning week after week again this year here in the West.   The smoky skies aggravate asthma, give people headaches, burn people’s eyes, and make people grouchy.  We are warned to stay indoors due to unsafe levels of particulates.  As climate change continues to accelerate, other people in other places are also experiencing record-setting fires, heat waves, droughts,  floods, and other extreme weather events.

Do we have the wisdom to survive?  Will humanity rise to the challenge presented by climate change?  Will we change our ways of thinking and acting, will we transform our institutions and systems, in time to prevent climate chaos?  This question is always with me, even as I gather my grandchildren close to me and play and laugh and learn with them.  What will this overheating planet be like for them in twenty or forty or sixty years?

I do have hope.  I am grateful to be part of a world-wide community of people who are aware of what is at stake with the earth’s changing climate and who are willing to take action.  Tomorrow, the largest People’s Climate March in history will be held in New York, as world leaders gather in New York to discuss the climate crisis.  There will be solidarity demonstrations around the world, including here in Nevada City (meet at the Nevada City Vets Hall, 415 N. Pine, at 4 p.m.).  I hope that everyone who can come out will come out.  The time is now.

Or, if you aren’t convinced about climate change or have given up because you don’t think there is anything you can do, come tomorrow night to see the film “Wisdom to Survive” at 7 p.m. at the Nevada City United Methodist Church.  Here is the blurb I wrote for Old Dog Documentaries to help get the word out about the film:

Wisdom to Survive:  Climate Change, Capitalism, and Community is an exquisitely filmed documentary that presents an overview of the climate crisis, including its causes, effects, and directions of hope.  Poignant scenes illustrate the sacred beauty of the natural world, the tragedy of its diminishment, and our human interconnectedness with the rest of creation.

“The film unflinchingly names global free-market capitalism as the system that underlies the current plunder, with scenes of massive technological resource extraction causing industrial devastation.  Indigenous leaders, people from poor and vulnerable nations, scientists, scholars, religious leaders, activists, farmers, and poets make the case for “climate justice” and point in the direction of hope.

“Do we have the wisdom to survive?  The answer is related to community.   We are connected by our shared grief at what is happening to the earth and by our shared hope and commitment to the future.”

I hope you will join us here in Nevada City or at a Peoples’ Climate Rally near you.  This is not the time to give up, but the time to rise up and recommit ourselves to the earth and to the future.  Surely God is with us in this struggle.

One day our children and grandchildren will ask us what we were doing when there was still time to prevent the worst of climate change.  What will your answer be?

wisdom to survive

An Engineered Future?

An angel in the Christmas pageant.

Christmas angel: the image of God.

When I look deeply into the eyes of my grandchildren, sometimes I say, “When I look into your eyes I can see God.”  For me, each precious child is an expression of the divine, an embodiment of Love.  I also know that Spirit is not only manifest through human beings.  The earth and the universe itself is an expression of the glory of God.

This is ultimately what the concept of “incarnation” is about.  Matter is not separate from Spirit, but expresses Spirit.  We live in a sacramental universe–the creation is an “outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.”

We human beings, however, cannot always tell the difference between sacred and profane.  And sadly, today’s institutions and systems are built upon commercializing, manipulating, exploiting, and altering the natural world, including the very bodies of human beings.

Guari and I spent the last two days at a gathering focused on……  The presenter was Jaydee Hanson, a friend we used to work with in the 1990s when he led the Ministry of God’s Creation at the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society.  Jaydee is now Policy Director of The International Center for Technology Assessment and the Center for Food Safety.

Jaydee updated us on new technologies and how they have progressed.  For instance, no longer does genetic engineering simply consist of modifying of life forms by inserting genes of one species into another.  Scientists are now engaged in synthetic biology.   They write whole new genetic codes in order to redesign existing species or to create new life forms, using materials that can be ordered online.  Having already cloned Rhesus monkeys, a company is now seeking a patent to genetically engineer a human embryo.

Nanotechnology has progressed to the point where nano-sized particles are now in many common products, including tools, clothes, cosmetics, and even foods.  Nano particles are sprayed onto M&Ms and sugary breakfast cereals to create a long-lasting, shiny effect.  As a matter of fact, quite a few common foods contain nano-particles.  Sunscreens and anti-aging creams often contain titanium dioxide, a nano product that allows the creams to be absorbed, not just into the skin but into the cells.  Anti-fungal socks may contain nano-silver to keep your socks from smelling bad.  Tires are often sprayed with carbon nanotubes to make them more resilient, then the old tires are shredded to make (voila!) spongey surfaces for children’s playgrounds that can release particles that the children then breathe.  According to Scientific American, carbon nanotubes may be as toxic as asbestos.  Plastic bags often contain a sprayed-on nano product that can shed particles onto foods–even organic foods.

What’s the problem with having common household products that contain nanotechnology products ?  Nano-sized particles are so small that they can cross the blood-brain barrier and can enter the nuclei of our cells, causing mutations that will be passed on to future generations.

Some nano “tubes” are small enough to be breathed into the lungs (from spray-on sunscreen, hair spray, tires on playgrounds, etc.), but too long to be breathed out, so can have long-term effects.

These are yet more unintended consequences of human projects that sounded good (to someone) at the time.  Our beautiful planet is being devastated by such projects, which are the direct result of the de-sacrilization of the natural world.

Meanwhile, many of the promises of miraculous medical cures have not been realized, but the unregulated research and flow of corporate and government money continues.  There needs to be much more public awareness, debate, and ethical action on this issue, which is intertwined with the need for transformed values, institutions, and systems.  We need to slow down this process of engineering the future, where creation is being made over in the image of the ideologies, institutions, and systems that we human beings have created.

I hope and pray that the day will come when my grandchildren will be able to look into the eyes of their grandchildren and say, “When I look into your eyes, I can see God.”  I am dedicating my life to that goal.

This is not the first time I have written about advanced technologies.  My book, Shaking the Gates of Hell:  Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization, includes a chapter on “Engineering the Future:  Techno-Utopia or Techno-Hell,” which begins with the story of a Stanford project to insert human brain cells into mice. 

The website of the The International Center for Technology Assessment and the Center for Food Safety is comprehensive, and includes information about their suggestions for ethical guidelines and advocacy for regulations.  Find their Resources page here. 

 

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Why We Can’t Wait to Take Action Until Our Kids are Grown

Sharon and friend at the Nevada Test Site on Good Friday, early 1980s

I’ve been a part of conversations lately about whether parents should wait to take action for peace, justice, and the environment until their children are older, or even until they are grown.  Although I understand how busy the lives of modern parents can be, I have come to the conclusion that postponing involvement in the great social issues that face humanity is not in the best interests of either parents or children.  Caring for our children doesn’t have to shut us down or make our life smaller or keep us from taking a stand or from working to bring about social change.  In fact, concern for our children can motivate us to work to solve the very real challenges of our world today.

I first became involved in working for peace when I became aware of some very real threats to my children.  It was 1979, and Congress was debating whether to re-institute draft registration.  I had preteen and teenage children who would have been required to register when they turned eighteen, and I was totally opposed to that happening (although ultimately it did).  I had lived through the Vietnam War, and many of my peers had been drafted.  The first social justice meeting I attended was the newly formed Nevada County Anti-Draft Coalition.  I was so glad to discover like-minded friends.

I also started learning more about the threat of nuclear war, as the United States competed with the Soviet Union in building more and more nuclear weapons and changed its official nuclear policy from deterrence through Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) to “first strike” or Counterforce.  This strategy put nukes in both countries on hair-trigger alert.

I was not the only parent whose fear for their children kept them up nights, and many of us joined more seasoned peace activists in calling for an end to the insanity of the nuclear arms race.  Because (in the words of Joan Baez) “action is the antidote to despair,” I worked with another concerned mother to form a local “World Peacemakers” group, which had a spiritual component (“journey inward, journey outward”), and we got to work on the national and ultimately successful Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign.

I know now that if I hadn’t responded to the inner urgings to get involved during the time I was raising my children, my “world” would have been much smaller.   If I had stayed in the limited role that society assigns to young mothers, I wouldn’t have become the person I am today.

Also, I would  have missed so many opportunities to take action for a better future, which is our responsibility as parents and grandparents.   We can’t wait five or ten or twenty years to start protecting our children from the larger challenges that threaten them:  climate change, loss of jobs and opportunities, increasing poverty and inequity, economic or social collapse, violence, terror, war.  They will ask us someday what we were doing during this critical time in the history of the earth.  What will we tell them?

This doesn’t mean that we need to stay busy all the time working for peace and justice, or that we can’t take time off, take care of ourselves, or enjoy life.  But it’s important to stay aware of and connected to the larger patterns of history, to listen for God’s call (which may surprise us), and be ready to respond.

It’s a joyful thing to be part of a community of people who are working together to build a better society and world, where all children can be cared for.  I am so glad I haven’t missed the great joy of making good friends and working with kindred spirits who care as much as I do and who have faith in “the power of the people” to bring social and global transformation.  I believe that this is God working through us limited (and sometimes remarkably gifted) human beings.  As Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”  Together we can do so much more than we can do alone.

Hope for Transformation

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As 2013 ends and 2014 begins, I carry hope in my heart for transformation, not just personal, but social.  The phrase “another world is possible” is, for me, a matter of faith.

There are many children in my life.  I have grandchildren and great grandchildren who live nearby.  I teach Sunday School.  What will the world look like when these beautiful children grow up?  I am invested in their future.

What do we tell our children about the great environmental dangers and social injustices that we face–about climate change, about war and violence, about foreclosures and unemployment and lack of health insurance, about cutbacks to services for the poor and tax cuts for the rich, about corporate domination of the political process?  How do we explain our inability to create a society that sustains life?  How do we equip them for the great challenges they will face?  Not by putting our heads in the sand, or focusing solely on our personal lives, or pretending that there is nothing we can do.  Rather, we can cultivate hope and set an example by taking part in actions that are transformative, both personally and socially.

This is a spiritual issue, for the ruling powers dominate through money and violence, and none of us are immune.  To the degree that we internalize the values of our culture and bow to the system of domination, we further the sickness of our age.  As we awaken to the extremity of our situation and realize that the system of domination itself needs transforming, we either succumb to futility and despair or find the inner resources that enable us to cultivate hope.

This is, in itself, an opportunity for personal transformation.  As we are transformed, we become agents of transformation, joining with others to create beautiful and compassionate alternatives that demonstrate the better world that is possible.  By taking hopeful actions, we become more hopeful, and make the world a more hopeful place.

For the sake of the children.  For the sake of the future.