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Called Meeting at Athens

Posted on Wednesday, July 19, 2006 at 10:15AM by Registered CommenterMarshall Massey in , | Comments2 Comments

The Friend I was now staying with, just west of Athens, has been working at nurturing an ecologically-sustainable community on his land for many years. He builds alternative-energy devices, raises goats and chickens, even collects rainwater so that his household can be less dependent on the region’s groundwater supply.

Several families have expressed an interest in joining him on his land and collaborating in this endeavor (he calls it “not a project but a modality”) in some way, and I’ll be very interested to see what comes of that.

His son volunteers as a water quality monitor, periodically testing the local stream. Since it had been raining for the last few days, and this had been bound to have some impact, we went out together to see what was happening. My friend pointed out that the stream was full of sediment and running well above normal — a depth of thirty inches, instead of six. It was also a bit orange, a sign of runoff from the coal mines above.

More cloudbursts passed overhead that night, dumping still more rain into the streams. The morning was intensely foggy. I spent much of the day walking and driving and sitting with the distance from my friend’s home down into the college town of Athens — a pretty journey, though fairly suburbanized.

That evening we drove to the town of Chauncey (“Chancy”) for potluck and meeting for discernment with the Friends of Athens Monthly Meeting. Chauncey, as it turns out, sits in a flood plain, and my hosts regaled me on the way there and back with stories of times when the town flooded and the meetinghouse was unapproachable. Fortunately, that was not a problem this time around!

Fourteen people were present at the meeting for discernment, and I was delighted to see several among them whom I had known in times long past. I began with my usual introduction, explaining what Baltimore Yearly Meeting had asked me to speak on, discussing the process of corporate discernment, and laying my questions before the group.

A Friend began by speaking of a choral performance she’d recently attended, titled “Praises to the World”. She spoke of how the entire group had come together on the chorus, and how moving she had found it. Something in us, she said, wants to unite on that level.

A Friend offered a definition of sin: “Sin is that which our grandchildren will regret that we did.” He observed that his grandchildren and he are alike, fundamentally the same: what would offend him, would offend them. Part of the way forward in environmental matters is recognizing that we’re all the same.

A Friend spoke of how, years ago, he tried letting go of the concept of “environment” in favor of “the larger self” — letting go the notion of separateness.

A Friend said that at Athens Meeting, “we’re patient and kind with our differences. One step in coming to unity would be to face our disunity more clearly. I’m not sure how we’d start.”

A Friend said she felt “comparable to a Quaker slave owner who’s just been visited by John Woolman. I treat my slaves well, I’m thoughtful and responsible, but I need to make some changes — and I’ve got to figure them all out.” She also spoke of “the parable of poison ivy”: “I’m struck by its luxuriance and abundance in my yard; I did something I said I’d never do, sprayed Agent White on it: one of the poisons we used in Viet Nam.” She said, “I took the ecological footprint test and it said my house is the biggest contribution I make to global warming.”

A Friend said, “I struggle with how we can disassemble our impact on the environment. The notion of a testimony sounds over-simplistic. What must we do? We must do thousands of things. We haven’t got a lot of time. I believe Al Gore when he says in his film we’ve got about ten years. I don’t just have to get rid of slaves, I have to get rid of almost everything.”

A Friend said, “We should try to set a good example; we never know who may be watching us. Our daughter-in-law has very different values from ours, but when she was visiting she said to her kids, you put the food you didn’t eat in the composting bin, not the wastebasket. This was because of our example —”

A Friend said, “We aren’t ‘called’ to have a solution, but to talk about the problems as a way of arousing the mass of human capability. If they’d only look at what is needed!”

A Friend said that celebrating our differences is important. The only way to get unity is through action; people aren’t persuaded through speeches or rationality. “It’s a gut thing.”

A Friend spoke of how a speaker at a conference she’d attended said, “Social change occurs in the heart.”

A Friend said that encouraging people to celebrate diversity is helpful. “Let each of us work on the thing that interests and excites us, instead of being so overwhelmed that we don’t do anything. We shouldn’t expect people to see as we see things.”

A Friend observed that the more we try to persuade people in the interests of unity, the more we move away from unity.

A Friend said, “Somehow we have to connect to that deep spiritual longing to celebrate Creation. Is this God’s world? Do we believe it is God’s world?”

A Friend said, “We have the responsibility to be as informed as possible. It’s easy to think things are too complicated.”

A Friend spoke of how “entering non-resistance mode frees up energy to be more sensitive, more aware.”

A Friend talked of how, working at a mental health center, “we ask patients to pick a place where they feel safe, calm, and centered,” and it’s always a place in nature. She wondered whether this might not be a way to experience an awareness of connection to the Earth.

A Friend spoke of how, in a near-death experience, he saw a valley and flowers and a stream that he eventually realized were a place he’d known as a boy in Tennessee. The place, he said, has been long since scraped off for a surface mine. “What did we get in return? Plastic toys and hair driers. When I think of what I paid for what I got, I get angry, which I can’t afford to do, and then I burst into tears.”

A Friend said, maybe we need to be open to a diversity of ways in which people get in touch with the natural world.

A Friend said, as we search for unity, it’s important to remember that behind the anger is a flood of tears.

The following day I proceeded eastward toward the Ohio River. From Athens my route took me along a narrow back road that began by rising to the top of the bluffs overlooking the Hocking River, and running along the edge of the bluffs for several miles.

jul 15-16.jpgThis portion of the road was lined with fairly prosperous-looking homes on both sides, and even though there were substantial passages where it passed through lush-looking woods, it felt very gardened. Eventually the road dropped back of the ridge and began hopping from one little stream’s valley to the next, one range of hills southward from the river. The valleys were cozy, the woods younger and scrubbier, the homes humbler and visibly more grounded in lifestyles directly related to the land.

Finally the road merged into the main highway running through the Hocking River Valley, a four-lane divided superhighway whose route had been casually dynamited through whatever hillsides that happened to be in the way. Not the most pleasant route to walk — I came in time to the turnoff that led me to the commercial campground where I was scheduled to spend the night.

It was at that campground that I encountered the bird that had fallen out of its nest. But I told that story in my previous posting.

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Reader Comments (2)

Chauncey is not, of course, the only thing on the Hocking River flood plain. So is the East Green of Ohio U. I remember well sandbagging a dorm against flood waters as a freshman at that one of my Alma Maters. Now the river has been channelized (to the South I think).

-- comment posted by Alan Palmer
July 20th, 2006 at 2:23 p.m.
Sep 4, 2006 at 10:56AM | Registered CommenterMarshall Massey
Thanks for including some of what was shared during this Meeting for Discernment. I am glad you had these spiritual companions from time to time during your trek.

We thought of you during IYM(C) sessions [post forthcoming, God willing!], knowing our time together would be ending as your time among BYM Friends would be nearing its start.

Liz, The Good Raised Up

-- comment posted by Liz Opp, http://thegoodraisedup.blogspot.com/
August 1st, 2006 at 9:33 a.m.
Sep 4, 2006 at 10:57AM | Registered CommenterMarshall Massey

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