Imperfect Serenity

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Friday, July 17, 2009

New Blog Home

After months of people telling me I should just ditch iWeb, I finally accepted what I could not change—the limitations of iWeb—and plucked up the courage to change what I could change—my website program. While I was making radical changes, I decided to finally put my blog and my site in the same spot. Please visit and sign up for my new RSS feed. Over there you’ll find a few thoughts on the whole racist swim club controversy. While you’re at it, feel free to poke around the site, offer feedback, or write up something for the new Your Story feature, if you feel moved.

Thanks for sticking with me!


Friday, July 10, 2009

Carbon Counting

Before last week’s FGC Gathering, one of the scheduled plenary speakers, Shane Claiborne, challenged the planners to offset the carbon that would be released into the atmosphere as a result of his travel to the event. As many of you know, some people purchase carbon offsets to support initiatives aimed at reducing global warming and to reduce their guilt at contributing to it. So, for example, if you go on a cruise, you can visit Cool Pass to assess the damage and buy what some people call an “indulgence.” Shane’s travel wasn’t offset that way, however. Instead participants in the Gathering were asked to look at their own lifestyles and see if there were ways they could pledge to reduce their carbon footprint in the coming year. Members of Quaker Earthcare Witness hung out in front of the dining hall at lunch and dinner hearing people’s pledges and calculating how much impact they would make, and then putting up yellow sticky notes to show how much we were covering. By the end of the week, the offsets covered all the speakers and Gathering staff, and I believe we made a small dent in the carbon released as a result of 1,300 Quakers from all over traveling to Blacksburg, Virginia. I wish I had taken a picture of all the sticky notes pressed together, demonstrating an impact none of us would have felt acting alone.

I debated through the week what I should pledge. The first time I approached the carbon reduction table, Hollister Knowlton said, “It will be harder for you because you already do a lot,” an assessment I believe was overly kind. It’s true that we own a Prius, live in a small house that’s well insulated, shop at a food co-op, and don’t make our children shower as often as other parents. “You don’t fly that much, which is huge,” pointed out Hollister, though I can’t help wondering if that is because of our virtue or our finances. I suspect that if we could afford it, we might be buying indulgences for fancy vacations, too. I never got around to calculating my carbon footprint this trip, but last time I did it was better than the average American and quite a bit worse than the rest of the world. (See Carbon Footprint by Country.) 

The problem wasn’t that I couldn’t think of ways to reduce my carbon footprint. The problem was thinking of promises I knew I could keep. I thought of giving up chocolate. I already try to buy Fair Trade, but my previous attempts to give up chocolate completely have been deliciously unsuccessful, despite the heartburn it sometimes given me. I thought of giving up all processed or fast food, which would also be good for our health, but the problem is that we usually buy those foods when we are on the road and have hungry kids. I want to make an effort to plan ahead better with healthy snacks for such occasions, but could I really promise that when we drove from Philadelphia to Wisconsin at Thanksgiving that we wouldn’t still stop at Burger King? Likewise, could I promise that I wouldn’t drive over the speed limit on such trips? No, I couldn’t.

The Prius has made me more conscious of my lead foot—I can see that my husband gets better mileage than I do—so I thought about ways I could work on that, without promising more than I could deliver. I suspect that part of the reason my husband gets better mileage is that he doesn’t gun it out of the red lights like I do. (But I’m the one who drives the kids to camp, doctor appointments, and the orthodontist, the defensive part of me protests, and it’s not my fault we’re always running late!) So I’ve been trying to drive more slowly in the city, especially being aware of the quick acceleration habit. It’s been going well, though we have been slightly late to camp most days this week. The other pledge was to turn our hot water heater down below 120. I figured that one would be easy—but I remember it every time I take a shower, though I haven’t managed to remember when I’m in the basement yet. (Not in the house right now, or I’d go do it right now so I could post with a clear conscious.) 

It makes me wonder how the honor system is going for everyone else. Somehow I think going public with my story may help me feel accountable, as I felt a weight of accountability watching Hollister put my sticky note up on the board. We need community see our collective impact. We also need community to support one another in making changes because it doesn't look like the G8 is going to solve this problem for us any time soon.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Bonnie Tinker, Still Opening Hearts

Bonnie Tinker is still teaching that Love Makes a Family, the name of the organization she founded. The mortician who cared for her body in Virginia was moved—both by her condition after being crushed by a trash truck and by the love in the room as he met with her family and a few friends around the death certificate. He collected the usual information—birthday, name of parents, etc.—and then came to the simple, loaded question: “Marital status?” There was a pause among her loved ones. Someone mentioned that she’d had a wedding. Then everyone said firmly, “Married”—which she had been for thirty-two years. The mortician nodded and checked the box. “Spouse’s name,” he asked, using the gender-neutral noun, a gesture appreciated by those present. “Sara Graham,” they answered, and he wrote the name with a nod. It was a simple thing, just writing the truth, but the state of Virginia doesn’t recognize Bonnie and Sara’s marriage, so the mortician’s act was subversive, possibly illegal, and as one observer said, “healing.”

This morning as Friends said goodbye on the last day of the FGC Gathering, they passed this story around the cafeteria, eyes brimming up as they speculated on whether the mortician had ever recognized a same-sex marriage before and whether the truth would really make it onto the printed, official death certificate. They remarked that it seemed significant that Bonnie’s ministry of opening hearts to such families was continuing. “Social change from the grave,” said one Friend.

I suppose it’s the best any of us can hope for, that our ministry continues in some way after we’re gone. Bonnie Tinker sought to open hearts with and to love. The fact that she continues to do so in death seems particularly poignant.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Remembering Bonnie Tinker

I’ve spent the week at Friends General Conference Gathering, leading a workshop on The Wisdom to Know the Difference and connecting with friends from around the country, some of whom I only see at this annual gathering. One such friend, Bonnie Tinker, was killed yesterday at the conference when her bike was run over by a dump truck. The news was delivered to the assembled community in the most sensitive way possible last night, though it forestalled what would have been the question and answer period for Hollister Knowlton’s plenary on changing our lifestyles in order to save the planet. As one of the people who had been sitting on the stage to support Hollister, I found myself after the announcement in a circle of people who were both supporting Hollister and remembering Bonnie, backing up our chairs every few minutes to allow someone else into the circle. Friends described Bonnie’s tireless work for the program Love Makes a Family, which educated people about and advocated for families with gay and lesbian parents. Since that work often brought her into confrontation with people who didn’t share her perspective on the issue, Bonnie’s other passion was teaching people how to communicate across differences in a loving and compassionate way, while still being true to their convictions. Her workshop on this topic will be meeting without her this morning, though it was clear from the workshop participant who joined our circle last night that her teaching has already had a profound impact.

What struck me as we sat around the circle were the connections between Bonnie’s ministry and Hollister’s. Although Hollister has been traveling around the country challenging people to reduce their carbon footprint—telling us, like the prophets of old, that we must change our ways or risk destruction—she somehow manages to deliver this message with love and compassion for those of us who are still driving our cars more than we need, eating more processed food than is good for us or the planet, and burying the knowledge that we could do better but just don’t want to. This work of speaking passionately about issues out of love was a big part of what Bonnie’s life was about, I believe. Perhaps using the skills she taught people, on whatever issues move us, is one way we can honor Bonnie.

The other connection that struck me last night was the clarity about what’s important. When people were remembering Bonnie, no one said, “What a beautiful house she had,” or “What fine clothes.” They remembered her spirit, her dedication, her passion—things that don’t add to one’s carbon footprint. As I try to figure out how to wrap up a workshop on the Serenity Prayer, I’m left with the thought that in addition to grief, the loss of a friend can give us clarity about our priorities and our purpose.

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