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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.


Anonymous Susan Jeffers said...

Eileen, thank you so much for this. I got a phone call this morning from a Friend who's at the Gathering, telling me of Bonnie's death. I have so many conflicting thoughts and feelings, and your post has helped me center and reflect.

11:14 AM  
Blogger Mary Ellen said...

Thank you for this post. There were a couple of cryptic posts on Facebook about Bonnie from my local Meeting folks, but this gives me a richer sense of both the gifts Bonnie gave us and of the shock and grief Friends at FGC experienced at this tragedy. The grief is being shared by many, many more than are present at FGC, and perhaps Bonnie's life and example will be known by many who would not otherwise have met her or known about her.

2:05 PM  
Blogger Bob Fisher said...

Bonnie was a true inspiration to me. I was honored to have met her and to attend a few of her workshops. The LARA method that she developed and promoted has probably been responsible for much of the progress that the LGBT community has experienced and will experience. And just the concept that "Love Makes A Family" speaks volumes. Bonnie, we will miss you.

3:05 PM  
Blogger naturalmom said...

I didn't know Bonnie, but I'm sorry to hear of her death by way of such a terrible accident at Gathering. Thank you for sharing something of her life here. My thoughts are with those who are grieving her death and with the driver of the truck. Holding you all in the Light as the week draws to an emotional close.

3:51 PM  
Blogger Helen said...

I often felt as if I knew Bonnie, since I used the nonviolent LARA method she developed in my university classes, in the Ann Arbor Meeting, and in my personal life. Bonnie's work also made its way into my book on teaching about race and racism, where deep and compassionate conversation is much needed. I was shocked and saddened to hear of her sudden death. It's a reminder that every day is precious, as I'm sure she was aware.

4:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really like your last paragraph.
What a beautiful spirit she had.
I lived with Bonnie at the "Who" Farm in the seventies, and she made a lasting impression on me. I am grateful for all the trails she has blazed and all the people she has brought together.

5:55 PM  
Blogger Comrade Kevin said...

I remember that I spoke to her at length back in January. She was in DC for First Hour worship at Friends Meeting of Washington because she was one of many millions in town for the Obama Inauguration.

I remember well her vocal ministry that day and I also remember being moved enough by it that I made a point to talk to her after First Hour had concluded. This news is so sad.

11:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I knew Bonnie thru the Rosetown Ramblers, our local gay and lesbian square dance group here in Ptld Oregon. Bonnie was a good friend to all, and one of the things I admired most about her was that she wasnt afraid of trying something new. At one point she decided to learn to be a square dance caller, took lessons, and became pretty good at it.
She will be missed by our group, as well as every organization in which she played a roll.
My thoughts and prayers are with her family and many friends, now and in the coming days.

7:05 PM  
Blogger Eileen Flanagan said...

Thanks, all, for your comments. It's good to realize we are all part of such a wide web of caring.

9:58 PM  
Anonymous Sally Campbell said...

I may have been the last person to talk with Bonnie. After a concert I gave in the Quaking Cabaret she got on the bike she'd rented for the week of Gathering. She said she had to return it the next day, that she'd done 45 miles and wanted to do 5 more before going to worship. Much later I found out that she was planning to be part of a 300-mile bike ride this fall to bring attention to climate change, so I'm pretty sure she was preparing for that as well as just enjoying a good ride on a lovely day. So that makes another connection with Hollister and her ministry.

What a fine person, absolutely alive, real and herself! She will live on in so many ways.

7:22 AM  
Blogger Eileen Flanagan said...

For anyone who found this post through a Google search and didn't see the follow up post, please see

10:41 AM  
Anonymous Mary Beth Tinker said...

Thank you for your beautiful article, Eileen. My "big" sister was a source of strength and wisdom for my whole life, and I believe her work will continue because she lives on in our hearts. She was so kind and caring as we were growing up, and through her whole life, and this made such a difference in my life.
Now I hear Mother Jones' saying, "Don't mourn, organize!" which, for anyone with open eyes, is something we've had plenty of practice at. Still, this new sadness is so strong. I believe that somehow, we'll find the way to weave it into our lives, along with other sorrows, but the beauty and wisdom of Bonnie will be there as well. Thanks again.

1:25 PM  

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