Saturday, May 12, 2012


Yesterday I ran into a young man whom I know vaguely through the local Conservative Quaker worship group. I have done child care for them on occasion, and have a number of friends in the group, but have never really been an attender. I attend the larger liberal meeting slightly farther away from my house, but much closer to my heart.

 We chatted for a while about Quakers, how I haven't been around for a while (their Sunday school program has been up and running for this school year, so my services haven't been required) and somewhere in this conversation he said something like, "I understand you to be something of a lapsed Quaker"

Um, what? I mean, I'm not super-Quaker or anything, nor do I strive to be, but I'm a member of my meeting, attend pretty regularly, and have considered myself a Quaker consistently for over twenty years. At no time have I considered myself anything along the lines of "lapsed" I mean, so, okay: He saw me at his meeting a few times and hasn't in over six months. Perhaps I have even presented myself as somehow failed. Sometimes I am surprised at how self-deprecating I can be when I actually listen to myself.

 But my first thought was that OF COURSE anyone who knew me through that group would think I was "lapsed" - not that I am not adequately committed to my Quaker community, but that said community doesn't really "count" when it comes right down to it. We are all lapsed, or at least inadequate, Quakers.

 A few months ago I was talking to another friend who is part of this worship group about a mutual friend who had left it a number of years ago. He said that his impression was that they were "too Quaker" for her. I know that she might say it was too christocentric, too controlled, too rule-bound, too concerned with being some image of a "good quaker", and therefore too far from God, as well as too dominated by one or two strong personalities. But no, not "too Quaker" - not at all.

The thing is, I dont' think these comments were malicious in any way. In fact both led to rich and satisfying conversations where I did not feel judged in the least for my imagined shortcomings. In one case it seems he's actually a liberal friend at heart, but little enough of a morning person that meeting at 4pm is significantly more appealing than meeting at 11am. I can understand this, though my life hasn't been that way in a long time.

But that almost freaks me out more. It's not a position anymore. It's like it's in the water. It's just a "given" that quakers who do not do things the way they do are less quaker. I guess I can't explain how or why that makes me queasy, but hopefully it's apparent?

 In the course of conversation he said that one friend speaks of it as wanting to play basketball, and if you're playing basketball everyone you're playing with should be playing basketball too. If some people are playing tennis then it just doesn't work. I have heard this metaphor before, and it made sense to me, though it didn't sit quite right. Of course you can't play basketball and tennis on the same court at the same time, in any useful way. I get it.

And yet. I finally realized that the problem is that I DON'T want to play basketball. The thing is, I don't want to play tennis either. The point of Quakerism to me, the hook, the draw, is that we are not playing a game (mostly/hopefully) with a bunch of rules set out beforehand. We are waiting on the light. We are open to continuing revelation.

It's not a game at all, but if it was to try to be, it would be a "new game" - no rules (beyond basic, "be good to each other"), no lines on the court, just a goal (a little bit of a stretch, it's not like we have an actual achievable goal set out, but something almost like it?) and a community of people working toward it. A community with all of the knowledge and baggage and shortcomings and gifts that its members bring. I really really like it that way. And I've been blogging forever (once a year, anyway) and still seem to be talking about the same thing. Makes me sad, I wish it wasn't such a persistent topic.

Friday, May 11, 2012

reading "Doubt"

Some quotes:

"In dark ages people are best guided by religion, as in a pitch-black night a blind man is the best guide; he knows the roads and paths better than a man who can see. When daylight comes, however, it is foolish to use blind, old men as guides" - Heinrich Heine (p 346)

"The Atheist says to the honest conscientious believer, Though I cannot believe in your God whom you have failed to demonstrate, I believe in man; if I have no faith in your religion I have faith, unbounded, unshaken faith in the principles of right, of justice, and humanity. Whatever good you are willing to do for the sake o your God, I am full as willing to do for the sake of man." Ernestine Rose (p 387)

Sunday, June 12, 2011


Wow, it's been almost a year since I posted. Not sure if I feel bad about that or not, but my inclination is to feel bad - blah.

And this post is basically about the issue my last post was about, plastic, and plastic monitoring/plastic fasting. hmmm... It's been a year since Cat started her plastic fast and she's issued an invitation for others to try it.

I kept all my plastic last week and weighed it, about .63# So I think I will sign up and next week do this challenge - it's an interesting process.

I am a little overwhelmed by trying to keep a)gross plastic (I just threw out a bag from traction grit that has been sitting in my yard since last November - I will find something similar to throw in the tally) and b) plastic that by the time I know I'm throwing it out is full of garbage (again, just put in a substitute and take it back out?)

A lot of what I throw away is second-use. I get plastic shopping bags and bread and newspaper bags from friends to use respectively for trash and dog poop pickup. I feel like I should get credit or some sort of moral discount for this, but I am actually the one throwing that stuff away.

My project has inspired me to ask the local ice cream store to get wooden sample spoons. My first taste of activism! :)

Anyway, should be an interesting project, plastic is pretty horrifying, if you think about it for a moment.

Also finding it interesting that this process is somehow alleviating my guilt a little - not like it's license to use more plastic, but it's like confession I think. Somehow holding myself accountable and owning up to what I'm doing takes part of the yuckyness of it away? hmmm

Sunday, July 04, 2010

I have been lazily following Cat and Peter's initiative to track and reduce the amount of plastic they throw away each week. It's kind of a cool process, and has definitely got me thinking about it in a new way (I don't save an weigh my plastic, but I now look at all plastic I buy and think about what it would add to the pile.

I think it has actually prevented me from buying things a couple of times (bottles of juice, etc)

But it's also spun off in it's own direction.

I think the craze is mostly past, but for a while "my year of abstaining from _____" books seemed to be all the rage. I read quite a few of them, and most of them were really interesting (though the one about stuff made in China, I have to say, could have used a lot more analysis, and some sense of purpose on the part of the author)

These books are really great for trying to approach a big, unwieldy problem from a very distinct angle. To try to take everything into account, and to actually achieve some sort of balance, certainly makes my head spin, and is just too out of control to write a book about.

But hopefully not to do, or at least attempt, in a real, three-dimensional life.

So, I've been thinking about my plastic use, and my petroleum use (which is more to the point, and includes plastic, obviously) I'm not buying stuff in plastic nearly as much, but I am also more careful about buying stuff in glass (which is heavier, and takes more fuel to ship across the country, so that between the two, a single serving plastic bottle might be a more "eco-friendly" choice than a glass one, if it's travelled over a certain number of miles - I certainly don't know the math.

But also, plastic and petroleum use mostly isn't visible. I remember my horror, working in a produce warehouse (a cooperative one that stocked a lot of organics and supplied mostly co-ops) at how much plastic was used and disposed of inside our warehouse (pallets of fruit crates or whatever else were wrapped in heavy duty plastic wrap to keep things from falling just to transport them across the warehouse sometimes!)

One of my issues is that I never remember numbers, just vague inferences. But I've been hearing a lot lately about how our household trash is almost entirely insignificant. When you throw away a candy wrapper or a plastic strawberry container, you're contributing to the waste stream, but only about 1/10 (?!) of what you already contributed by buying it in the first place (don't quote me on that, the point is that most of the waste is invisible to us as the consumer. That's not to say it's wrong to worry about it, and think about it, but I think it's important to think about it in the larger context (like, if you can get something that is wrapped in paper but was produced by a giant corporation and shipped who knows how far to get to you, versus something in plastic which was produced in your neighborhood, your carbon footprint will most likely be much smaller with the latter.)

Saturday, May 29, 2010


"(W)e have to ask ourselves how these religions are expressed on the ground, in the real world - I mean both of these literally - how they play out in the lives of living breathing human beings and others. What have been the effects of Christianity on the health of landbases? Has biodiversity thrived on the arrival of the cross? How has the arrival of Christianity affected the status of women? How has it affected the indigenous peoples it has encountered? We can and should ask the same questions of Buddhism, science, capitalism, and every other aspect of our or any other culture. Not how they play out theoretically, not how their rhetoric plays out, not how we wish they would play out, not how they could play out under some imaginary ideal circumstances, but how they have played out.
- Derrick Jensen, Endgame, volume I

I just (just, like moments ago) finished reading this book, and it's got me disassembled. I'm not sure what to do with myself. It's like it finally confirmed (or at least one other person sees it) something I have suspected and felt all my life (the inherent destructiveness of our culture) and I feel a little less alone, and I feel way more alone.

Jensen's position is radically anti-civilization. It sounds a little nuts, but to me in the exact same way the kid saying the emperor has no clothes sounded nuts (or would have, at least, assuming everyone else was truly and fully deluded, rather than just lying). He also believes (as do I) that our civilization WILL crash (and soon) - there is no way out of that. In addition, the sooner it crashes the more things will be left alive to start over (including humans and things humans eat - in addition to relatively unpoisoned air and water) so actively working to take it down is a good thing. (Neither he nor I actually do this as yet)

So, there's this joy of validation - yes, it really is that bad, you're not hysterical, and you're not nuts. And then, well, it's really that bad, a horror beyond my capability to process it (brought to stunning relief by all that oil spilling into the gulf killing everything in sight while those in power sort of bumble around to see what they can do without doing anything radical, or changing anything too much, which is pretty much nothing, obviously.

But Jensen also goes after religion. Not all religion in terms of spirit or a sense of awe at the wonder of things, but big religion, our big religions (Christianity, but also Buddhism) - any religion that is not rooted in place.

This makes a lot of sense to me, at least at some level. I think what he's getting at is a lot of the trouble that I have with Christianity (and other religions) - they do not speak to (of/through) me about how to live me life as it is and as I experience it, they speak of a number of things that have nothing to do with me, and leave me cold.


(and this feels like a big and) he takes them to task for both letting us off the hook and for comforting us when we should not be comforted.

Some of the problem with our view of the environment is our cultural assumption that the point of it all lies elsewhere. Many of the worst offenders in US politics have been born-again christians who believe that the rapture is coming, and at best it doesn't matter because Jesus will come and take us away, and at worst it is a GOOD thing to destroy the planet, because it will somehow hasten (and facilitate?) Jesus' coming.

Joanna, in responding to my post about Christianity, said: "when I focus solely on what needs to be done and what I can do to meet it I am sometimes overwhelmed by my impotence, blindness, double-mindedness; and I need to be reminded that my hope for the world is based on God's goodness not my own. That doesn't mean that I can sit back and assume that God will fix everything"

which totally made sense to me. It IS overwhelming to think that we're all there is. And sometimes, it's not good to move forward with an ego grounded in that notion either :)

[and, I'd like to point out, Joanna lives a life, from what I can tell, about 300x closer to the life I think I "should" live than I do, so I do not mean to denigrate her choices or approach at ALL, but it doesn't work for me. At least not yet]

But, Jensen's point would be that all religions have been used to say that somehow it doesn't matter all that much. There is sometimes a sense that God will take care of it all, so we don't have to work so hard, OR even more, that it doesn't matter if God takes care of it. It doesn't matter, actually, if polar bears die because there is no ice for them to live on. It doesn't matter if tons of sea creatures die from toxins, fishing nets, or from having so much plastic crap in their bellies they starve to death because they can't fit in any actual food.

The point is to do our best, or to live up to our own light, or to be faithful.

And that is NOT the point for me. I want action, I want to make it better. I was drawn to quakerism because I thought we were IN the world, that we cared about things, really cared (not like cared about our own spiritual development in relation to slavery, actually cared about slavery, and stopping it)

I do think this attitude has a benefit in taking away our tendency to beat ourselves up about things. Evaluating how you did at the end of your life, when you can do no more, it is really "as good" to have done the best you could as to have won. But it does make a difference in the real world if you won, and the real world matters. (to me)

Maybe I"m not a Quaker?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Wondering about Christians

Turns out I wonder much the same about Christianity as I do about Paganism. Basically just, what is it? who "counts" and who doesn't? Is just saying you're one all you need? What if you DON'T say that you're one, but follow many of the tenets or it, even more so than many of its followers?

This came up recently for me because a friend who is a pastor posted some bit of pastorly wisdom to facebook, and I responded that it was useful to me even though I wasn't christian. He wrote me in private to say, "well, why not become one?" To his thinking, as I'm already concerned with social justice and ethical behavior, I'm halfway there!

So, what I wonder about first, with Christians is, again, what is one? Not that I think there's an answer, though unlike Pagans, there are lots of legally incorporated entities with tax-exempt status in the US and lots of rules and creeds and probably bylaws and stuff like that (which all help us to be better, more evolved spiritual beings, right?)

I assume there are bits of that in neopaganism, but I'm not actually sure. Anyway, the fact that christians have it doesn't really help me understand how people frame their own understanding of their own christianity anyway.

I've studied some, but it sort of all boggles my mind. A friend who used to be an evangelical christian pointed me recently towardthis page about all the different ways to interpret the book of revelations and what it says about when Jesus will come back, when the dead will rise, all that. I don't think it includes the "someone was just trippin'" or the "they were just wrong" interpretations of the book - no, this is just a ton of different ways to think the rapture and stuff is for real.

Which I tend to assume MOST christians don't believe, but there are probably polls proving I'm wrong.

The christians who tend to annoy me the most are those who are excited for other people to go to hell, followed by those who thank Jesus every time they find a good parking space (really, that guy needs to get a life, if he's worrying about where you're gonna park), but I don't interact with either of those types, much....

What I'm left confused about is people who aren't too worried about the super literalness of the Bible, and probably don't think I'm doomed to hell for not thinking Jesus was especially the son of God or whatever other magicalism it might be.

But they still think I'm missing something, and I can't for the life of me figure out what. Occasionally, the really convincing ones don't seem to worry about what I'm missing, but live their lives in a way that makes ME wonder if I'm missing something. (not that they're nicer people than I am, though maybe, but they're more at peace, I think, and often nicer, now that I think of it)

A LOT of what I run into, in my own dancing around with this in my head, is a sense that my best sense of Jesus (both what feels truest, for the most part, and what feels more likable) is of a man supremely concerned with justice and love, and enormously pissed off by dogma, religious strictures, etc. As if he was almost always saying, to those concerned more with tradition, "forget all that nonsense and heal the sick, feed the hungry, love each other, enjoy life"

And I guess I find myself wanting to say pretty much the same things to a lot of christians a lot of the time

Which feels a lot like wanting to be outside more than a lot of pagans seem to.

Plus, there's this sense, and I just don't get it, that being concerned with, for example, social justice is a really important first step in some larger process, the end of which would be something like "becoming a christian" (and that's where I'm wondering, what is that? is there a hope I'll believe something different? start praying to Jesus (like, and mean it?), just join a church, exactly as I am?

but most importantly, to me these things seem like ends in themselves - housing the homeless, feeding the hungry, comforting the suffering, preventing war, fighting for justice. And I'm baffled, and somewhat angry, when I run into, over and over again, what seems like the notion that they are somehow accessories to THE POINT, which I still don't even understand - that would be belief in something? It would be _________ - what would it be?

Liz blogged a bit ago about being a faithful servant. I didn't really get it, and it didn't resonate with me (I don't think/care much about being a faithful servant, for after all, who would I serve?) but it DID bring up this issue again. One item she mentions is helping a friend facing homelessness (I'm not sure what that entailed) but I had done something similar this winter (sadly, I think many of us probably had opportunities to do so for the first time) but it was radically different for me, I think, because God never entered my mind, not for a second. It's cold, she's scared, I have space - a number of thoughts/reasons/motivations, but not remotely related to God or religion.

And I *like* it that way. Perhaps only because my view of religion is still so shallow? It made sense to me, after all, when I was a small child with a simple philosophy. It *sounds* like wanting to house the homeless out of a hope for garnering favor with the divine, rather than out of some inborn sense of empathy or compassion. Am I missing something that is better/bigger/more awesome than empathy and compassion as a motivation?

This extends to other areas of spirituality for me as well, religion seems to cheapen it. Trees are AMAZING, the ocean is AMAZING, life is AMAZING - you can just be drop dead (hopefully not literally) blown away by the wonder of it all, and then someone bops up and says something like, "you're missing the really amazing thing, which is that some dude made this" - which leaves me completely nonplussed.

I dunno

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Wondering about Pagans (actually, I don't know what this is about)

Stasa just recently blogged about how much it hurts to have quakers (and others?) assume that all pagans do ritual. And I have to say I'm a little surprised. I suppose I was one of those guilty parties. My natural reactions so far have been all along the lines of "but don't they?"

Which I guess I just have to leave out there until some pagans stumble across this and have something to say. I suppose I could also go poke my nose around, but I feel like I have. The thing about looking things up online is that stuff that's posted about pagan rituals is mostly going to be rituals that happen. you're not going to find an instance on the web of a pagan going for a walk in the woods and communing with nature (well, you might, you might even find it here, but it's not gonna turn up on a calendar of what's happening at your local community center, where a ritual just might)

I've actually been wanting to just whine about pagans, really, for a coupla days. It's silly, but I feel like when I encounter organized pagans in real life they're like afraid of nature. This really boils down to two experiences. Once a year or two ago when we were having a meeting of some sort at the meetinghouse on or around June 21st and there was a scheduling conflict because the pagan group that uses our meetinghouse had booked it for summer solstice, and I just though, my god, don't they want to be outside on summer solstice? is that more prejudice? is it silly to assume pagans want to worship outside? I want to worship outside! especially at midsummer. Then again, I don't think I'm pagan.

The second instance was just a week or two ago at our local May Day celebration. Some pagan group (except maybe they didn't even say they were pagan, they were "earth" something, oh well) was trying to recruit members and their big upcoming thing was a camping trip they take for a week every summer, and like three different people told me enthusiastically that it's at a professional campground and you can take hot showers every day and there's electricity at every site. I personally like camping without electricity, and can do without a shower for a few days (though I'd probably want one if I was gone a week)

I can't quite explain how it makes me want to cry that people who identify around, and, well, worship, the earth can seem so disinclined to like BE on the EARTH.

And no, this is not meant to be a pagan bashing rant. Like I said, I don't even know if the people I'm talking about are pagans, or if other pagans would think they were pagans or what. Plus, I'm not very good at organizing my thoughts before broadcasting them. I learned the word "tact" as a child from people telling me that I don't have it. Sorry (really, I'm sorry)

Which actually maybe brings me to my point (really? can that happen?) which is more about how pagans seem even harder to pin down than quakers. Who are they? what do they believe? Do they marry same sex couples? do they have female clergy? do they have a book? What do they DO? (which,I have to say, I've been asked more as a lesbian than as a quaker, but it might be close) This is something I should be able to look up somewhere, right?

Is there a membership process for being a pagan, what would you become a member of? I get the impression there are pagan clergy (like, who can marry a couple legally and stuff) so then, who ordains them? what sort of things do they have to know first? What IS a pagan? is there any agreed upon definition? Can you be an outcast from Paganism? I suppose I had thought not, but I don't know. says:

one of a people or community observing a polytheistic religion, as the ancient Romans and Greeks.
a person who is not a Christian, Jew, or Muslim.
an irreligious or hedonistic person.

So I don't think that's all that helpful.

Actually, writing this, I am finding I have a lot of similar questions about christianity, possibly another post to come soon.....

I think for me, the thing is, that why I'm a QUAKER has a lot to do with basically the spiritual power I feel in the world. As a christian-by-default child, I felt what they were talking about sometimes - love for my fellow human beings, a strong sense of justice, I just didn't think that stories about fishermen and churches with stained glass windows, men in robes, incense and candles, had to do with any of it. I found that they detracted from something that needed no embellishment, so leave it alone.

As I've grown I've been somewhat inclined to call myself a pagan quaker, because that power that I feel is most present in nature and "natural" things (trees yes, cars no) - for me this is roughly parallel to being a christian quaker - yes to Jesus, but no to most of that other stuff we (possibly) grew up with as non-quaker christian children. But most pagan quakers I know seem to be more organizedly pagan than that, maybe because they didn't have it growing up and still feel the need for it? I'm not sure. I personally don't have a strongly anti-ritual view of quakerism. it doesnt' work for me, and I don't want it to become, even a little bit, how my community "does" quakerism, I think that would be a problem, but I don't think that people who do ritual (be it catholic or pagan, or something else) outside of meeting need to be excluded or shunned or anything. I guess I'm also wondering if that's a concern among people for whom ritual in other contexts is important?