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Report from Dayton

Posted on Friday, July 7, 2006 at 12:01PM by Registered CommenterMarshall Massey in , | CommentsPost a Comment

Dayton was/is the largest city directly on my route — and one of only three towns (the others being Omaha and Peoria) where I had figured I’d need a full day of walking simply to get through the urban core.

That, of course, was before I rearranged my schedule to meet the needs of the Friends I was meeting with. Now, with the rearrangement, I only had a few hours to go from potluck lunch at Englewood Friends Church (Indiana Yearly Meeting [FUM]), at the north edge of the city, to my planned destination, a Friend’s apartment in southeast Dayton, before potluck dinner at Dayton Friends Meeting (Ohio Valley Yearly Meeting [FGC]).

(I should mention here, perhaps, that in this part of the country, they don’t say “potluck”, they say “carry-in”.)

jul 03-05.jpgA few hours wasn’t enough. I did the best I could, driving slowly across the city, stopping a few times and getting out of the car, taking it in as best I could. The constant shifts in ambience from each neighborhood to the next, the changes in the way the places felt, were more than I could absorb and comprehend.

The one thing that fully registered in my awareness was the fact that most of the land directly along my route had been almost totally stripped of native life and original character: aside from a few old trees here and there, there was not much left of it except the unremovable dirt on which the human inhabitants built their structures and played out their dramas. The rest of what I might have hoped to hear if I’d walked down that road — all the nuances of place — largely eluded me.

Dayton Friends meet in rented space in an old Brethren Church in an older neighborhood in north Dayton. Nine of them met me for our carry-in dinner on the evening of July 2, along with three visitors from Yellow Springs Friends. After dinner, we worshipped in silence for a bit, and then began our called meeting for discernment.

One Friend opened by saying the single word, “Love.”

A Friend said that she’s been labeled as “not caring” by various environmentally-minded Friends because she didn’t understand the issues in the same way they did — it wasn’t that she, or they, felt the problems were unimportant, but simply that their understandings were different. She said she’s heard Friends using quite harsh language to describe those who didn’t agree with them. Their frustration made it hard for them to hear those who saw things differently.

A Friend said, she tries to consider in every decision its impact on Mother Earth. This inevitably entails long-term thinking. She said she’s a huge believer in the power of the pocketbook. She added, some divisions among Friends on environmental issues stem from a feeling of powerlessness. How do we heal those divisions? What came to her was: think of my grandchildren. Concern for our descendants will help unite us.

A Friend spoke of how Ohio Valley Yearly Meeting struggled a few years back to write a minute on sustainability. It ended with a list of things to do. “I’m not sure,” she said, “that we’re all called to do the same things. I’m not able to ride a bicycle (at my age).” She asked if what we need is a query: just, “be very conscious of all our actions and whether they’re necessary”? “I wish,” she said, “that all our meetings could take some sort of stand against consumerism and placing a money value on everything.” Maybe a query is as far as we can get right now: a query we are asked to answer, not just read.

The Friend who had spoken first said, “What I meant by love is the struggle to make choices based on love, not materialism.”

A Friend said, “I hesitate to be judgmental. ‘Wear it as long as thou canst,’ I guess.”

A Friend spoke of her dream for the future of the environment: it wouldn’t be one in which every person had a car. “I dream of a time when buses and trains can get us where we need to go.”

A Friend said that selfishness, self-centeredness, is at the root of all our troubles.

A Friend said that centering on the inward Teacher takes us out of our self-centeredness. This has to be Spirit-led. If we could live in the Spirit, self-centered acts would cease to be important to us.

A Friend observed that we are bombarded with suggestions that we go in self-centered directions, not just in advertising, but everywhere.

A Friend reminded us that we do have a testimony of simplicity, “to me, meaning consciously, with God’s guidance, make each decision”.

A Friend said, one thing that bothers her is that choices and products that are more environmentally sound are not made readily available to consumers. Young families often don’t have time to seek the best products out.

A Friend observed that the power of early Quaker testimonies was the power of a community that chose to live in a different way. Part of the answer is seeking as a community together.

A Friend remarked that part of the tension in this area has to do with people being perceived as anti-environmental when they’re just trying to be sure that what is done is grounded. In the abolition movement, there were people who were quite cranky, but it took people like Woolman who were willing to labor and were grounded.

A Friend wished aloud that there were more visible ways to model commitment to the environment and to simplicity, like old-fashioned plain dress.

A Friend observed, “We’re talking about changing human nature. It’s not an easy task.”

A Friend spoke wistfully of how, in World War II, unity and clarity of purpose and a clear sense of who the enemy was, combined to motivate everyone to conserve, plant Victory gardens, and the like. She asked: Are we united enough to make a difference?

Several Friends spoke about the significance of sharing material goods. One Friend began by saying that one thing that holds us back is our sense of individualism; Seattle Friends took an inventory of their belongings, asking what each Friend owned that she or he would be willing to share, but it never really worked. Another Friend said, it does work in rural communities; she instanced her grandmother, who practices tool-sharing with her neighbors. A third Friend pointed out that practices of sharing don’t need to be restricted to Friends only.

A Friend stated that a sense of community is a big part of the puzzle.

Because we’d moved the Dayton meeting a day ahead, I now had July 3 as an extra day on my schedule. I used it to double back, and spend some extra time walking and sitting with the land in the region from Lewisburg to Englewood and from Englewood to south Dayton. My ankles, I found, were continuing to improve slowly, but still became quite painful if I tried to walk more than a mile at one time, or more than three miles a day.

Once again I felt: This isn’t quite enough. I miss the ability to walk the full distance!

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