Inner peace and the right use of media: T. Shillitoe makes me think

Thomas Shillitoe was a prominent British Friend (1754-1836). He was a fascinating blend of Quietist practice and truculent defender of orthodoxy. He traveled extensively in the British Isles and Europe (including Scandinavia and Russia), and was absolutely fearless in his obedience to the least promptings of Truth. When traveling in America during the time of the Great Separation, he was among the most engaged of the British ministers fighting (the word is not too strong) against the views held or attributed to Elias Hicks. Hardly more remarkable than his travels is his documentation of them in a lengthy journal full of detail (perhaps most easily (!) found in the Friends Library, vol. III, pp. 74-486).

In 1820, Thomas Shillitoe wrote a lengthy general epistle to Friends in Great Britain and Ireland.  Among many pieces of advice, he says (on page 178, column b, for those following along at home):  “Endeavor to keep that ear closed, which will be itching to hear the news of the day, and what is going forward in political circles…

Thomas S .was living in a world with a lot fewer “media”— newspapers were about it, in terms of mass communication.  Interestingly, his position on this is not just an elaboration of warnings against the evils of music, theater, and the like.  Thomas knew that sometimes you have to read the newspapers — and that you can get caught up in it:

I have found it one of the many crosses I have had to take up, and avoid reading political publications, and, as much as possible, newspapers… I am well aware that men in trade, and sometimes those who are free from its encumbrances, have occasion to resort to those channels of general information; but when this is my case, I find it safest for me, after I have received information on the subject in question, then to put the paper away from me.   I am aware that it requires firmness so to act, there being something in our nature so anxious to know what is going forward in the world…

Once the information starts to flow, pouring into eyes and ears, it gathers momentum, tickles  our novelty-detectors, triggers our reflexes for pattern-making, and awakens our curiosity.  Maybe reading just one more story, following just one more link, consulting one more pundit or reference — and then I’ll “get it.”  What is it I’m trying to “get”?

There is a real satisfaction, probably deeply seated in us,  that comes from finding the answer to a question, solving a puzzle, hearing the end of a story.  We can get into the habit of reading or listening or watching without a specific question (aside from maybe “What’s happening?”), or intent, driven by the  desire for that sense of fulfillment or completion.  You never can tell when something might come along that’s “important.”  Better check it out…

When is it too much?  How much news or information or narrative or amusement is enough?      From the vantage point of Quaker spirituality, the only answer is:  When your peace is broken.  Shillitoe in his letter does not lay down any rule about what content to avoid, how much time is too much.  His metric is, What does it take to keep my inward peace, stay gathered and near the Guide?

[The practice of stopping when one’s purpose has been achieved] ...is the only way for us experience our minds to be preserved tranquil, amidst all the commotions, all the turnings and overturning, that may be permitted to take place, when the measure of inquiry may be filled up…I have found that, if we suffer our minds to be agitated with political matters,our dependence becomes diverted, by little and little, from the true centre and place of safety, where perfect peace is experienced, though the world and all around us may speak trouble.

This is not a counsel of retreat, though the emphasis on “quiet” can seem so.  I am reminded of a time when I was talking about the spirituality of Woolman’s time to divinity students in Kenya, and one young man said, “All this sounds very good, but with all that waiting, when do they ever do anything?!”  It was important in that conversation to bring our social, connected, bodily selves into the picture:  We can not ever really disconnect, nor cease from acting, as long as we are alive.

Jesus told us not to be anxious about what we will eat or wear.  He did not say “You don’t need to eat, physical things don’t really matter.”  He fed the five thousand, got wine for the wedding feast, healed people of their miseries — he understood Incarnation!!   But we need to take time to live in the New Birth, care for that fragile life, with its gentle imperatives and quiet voice — otherwise, the more familiar native urgencies will overwhelm it.  We can count on our bodies and our emotions to do their work — so there’s really no danger in restraining ourselves for the time it takes to live into the new perspective, the new possibility, of more abundant life.

Penn testified True godliness don’t turn men out of the world but enables them to live better in it and excites their endeavours to mend it.  The question is, How by yielding to the  Holy Spirit can we so order our lives that we more and more are living in the delight, freedom, integrity, and love to which we are invited to by the Light of Christ?

 

From the Quaker toolbox: making a testimony happen

New England Yearly Meeting has asserted two testimonies recently, and I am watching with keen interest how we go about accepting the challenge we’ve given ourselves. We sometimes forget all the tools Friends have used to make this happen.  We have used these tools for centuries.  They are the ways Friends teach, learn, experiment, and realize a testimony (in the sense of “make it real”).

It’s not only “going from words to life.”  “Life,” the living out of the Spirit’s guidance, also tutors us in how to talk about, think about, understand, what we’ve been led to live.  The divine Word is also divine act:  creation’s Let there be!  , now being enacted in the substance of our living: part of the mystery of Incarnation.

As you read this catalog (in the comments, add things I’ve missed!!!), I urge you to remember that “unity” around a testimony is not the same as “unanimity,” because each of us, in grappling with what the testimony means for us,  will bring to it different constraints and resources.  (We are all familiar with this, insofar as we have grappled with our living out of “simplicity” or “peace.”)   These are not methods to force anyone’s conscience! In the Lamb’s War, we are to use the Lamb’s methods.  I will return to this at the end of this post.

A. Meeting actions
1. Minutes. It’s glib to say that “it’s easy to pass a minute.” Anyone with a concern who’s worked to bring it to the meeting for business, and then participated patiently and persistently in the deliberation, debate, revisions, delays, questions, threshing and committee work that likely ensues before the meeting feels easy with the minute — such a Friend will say “What do you mean, ‘easy’?!” But in truth, how often a minute is passed by a meeting, and essentially no measurable change results in the lives of most of the members! Yet a minute can be a powerful starting point, a tool that equips us, gives us a way into the next layers of change and following. You could say that when a meeting has gotten to the point of affirming a statement on a matter, it has undergone something like convincement. How do we move then to conversion, not of “the meeting” in some abstract way, but of the meeting in all its members?
After all, a testimony is a way of saying “We are clear in this matter of what God’s will is for us, and consequently we can say that this should be characteristic of every Friend.”  A minute codifies the understanding thus far, and should begin the work of grounding the witness not only in reason and present circumstance, but also in Friends theology and Scripture.

2. Meeting for business.  In meetings where there are committees, we tend to delegate testimony work to one or another committee (Peace and social concerns, for example) or the Meeting on Ministry and Counsel.  But a testimony is something that bears, to some extent,  on all aspects of our group life and work, so even if it’s in right ordering to ask a particular standing or ad hoc committee to pay special attention to the testimony, all committees ought to explore its implications, from the point of view of the committee’s charge — and this can be a way to bring it “home” to the committee members, too.

But the meeting for business is a time of united worship, where as much of the body as possible is present together, and so the clerk can serve the meeting’s growth by finding room on the agenda for some consideration — even if it’s only a period of focused worship — of the testimony.  This will be increasingly useful if other activities within the meeting are also exploring it in other ways.  No action need be on the agenda, until it arises as a clear leading, and then gets taken into the “seasoning” processes.    When we read the Queries at our meetings for business, we bring forward at least for that time something the Society has agreed is an important challenge, and so with a fresh testimony — the only result may be increased awareness, or some opening to ministry — but the issue is kept alive in the meeting’s mind.

3. Visiting committees.  For most of our history, meetings at every level have felt it important from time to time to ask a few Friends to visit in homes under the weight of some concern.   These visits can be educative in intent — making sure that each member is aware of the meeting’s commitment, and explaining how it came about, etc..  They can be information-gathering:  Do you know about the meeting’s minute?  What issues do you see?  What do you think, what are you doing, what do you hope Friends will do, what might help you address and live into the testimony?

4. Threshing sessions. These seem to me sort of like meeting-sized worship-sharing, in which information can be passed, questions asked, issues raised – but in a spirit of worship.  Meeting  leadership should be present, and in addition to any other role, seek to feel the meeting’s condition, and to be on the lookout for indications that some other more specific work would be helpful (such as something else on this list!).

5. Meeting media — newsletters, announcements, list-servs, websites. Circulate the news until it’s not news to anyone in the  meeting community.

6. Public declarations.  Letters to the editor, to politicians, to area organizations;  websites;  epistles to other meetings, etc.  To quote William Penn, when he was encouraging Friends in the ministry (in Rise and Progress, see the Library on this blog for a copy!):

Your country folks, neighbors, and kindred want to know the Lord and his truth, and to walk in it.  Does nothing lie at your door on their account? 

Being on the lookout for places to announce, articulate, perhaps defend, the testimony will do at least three important things which make for spiritual growth:  First, it will challenge you to understand ever better what it is you’re led to, and why, and what the implications are beyond the nurturing confines of the meeting.  Second, it may provide an occasion for a spiritual opening in any who encounter the declaration.  The prophet’s words are certainly true of our times:   I will send a famine on the land:  not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. (Amos 8:11).  Third, it may make you visible to others, in other communities, who are being led in a similar fashion, and so build a sense of unity between Friends and others.

7. Dedicated worship.  Appoint a public meeting for worship with the specific concern to hold the testimony in prayerful consideration in the divine presence.  The meeting might open with a reading of the key minute, but the whole tone here is not one of information sharing and deliberation, but waiting on the Lord, each in our current condition, with an expectation of guidance, solace, challenge, and accompaniment.

8. Naming and nurturing gifts.  Concerns and testimonies are channeled through individual hearts and minds, and individuals’ “experiments with truth” (as Gandhi would say).  Some Friends may find more laid on them than personal transformation;  part of their faithfulness may require them to travel, or teach, or engage in a visiting ministry, or some other action.  Does your meeting have a practice of noticing, identifying, encouraging, and overseeing gifts in ministry and service?  If not, now’s the time to work one out!  New England Yearly Meeting is rich in meetings and individuals who are experienced with this process, and there are of course a jillion things to read, too.  If you don’t know where to begin, reach out to Yearly Meeting Ministry and Counsel, or the Yearly Meeting secretary, and say “We would like to get ready for when gifts are activated among us — who knows, maybe there are some already present, and we didn’t notice!  Now we want to learn how to notice!”  You will get lots of help! (Penn once again, talking about good and wise people who may be found in meetings — “yet it does not always follow, that they may have the room they deserve in the hearts of the people they live among…”  May this not be true of your meeting!!!)  If your meeting has not yet done this work, Now is the time!  Penn again:  Behold, how white the fields are unto harvest… and how few able and faithful laborers there are to work therein!    This takes work, organization, persistence, hope, and information — and nothing is more urgently needed.

9.  Clearness committees!

B.  Acts of individual concern

  1. Prayer.  Everyone means something different by “prayer.”  Start with your version, and bring the testimony (perhaps in the form of the originating minute) into your prayer intentionally — more than once, but patiently, openly, sweetly, expectantly.  Now would be a good time to ask someone else in your meeting “What do you mean when you say ‘I’ll pray about it,’  or ‘I’ll hold it in the light'””
  2. Talking with your friends.  Just because a meeting for business has threshed an issue, and emitted a minute does not mean that you know what your friends think — or maybe even what you think.  Dialogue and dialect are powerful and free!
  3. Opportunities.  By this I mean “informal periods of worship with another Friend or Friends.”  There are good guides for this practice, ancient among us, and somewhat revived over recent decades.  One simple way to start:   settle into worship for a while (± 20 minutes), and then in the quiet, cleansed atmosphere created by such intimate worship, slowly surface and ask the question, or name the issue,  closest to your heart.
  4. Following leadings in ministry.  Be on the lookout for a sense that a concern has been laid on you.  Hold it steadily in prayer and reflection, until some clarity about the leading, and the first step you should take to follow it.  Then bring it to a discerning Friend or two, and as the way opens, bring it to the meeting for clarity, support, oversight.  Don’t let it go until the leading is definitely taken from you!  Once again,there are plenty of people and books to consult, as you begin and go on in the work, as it is given you to take part.  Your meeting should have resources about this (see A8 above) — if it doesn’t, well, I will repeat myself:  Now is the time!  Behold, how white the fields are unto harvest… and how few able and faithful laborers there are to work therein!    This takes work, organization, persistence, hope, and information — and nothing is more urgently needed.
  5. Seeking to understand how this testimony is rooted in the whole edifice of your faith. Study, think, explore, dream, listen.

    The point, Friends, is that  — in our testimonies of simplicity, abolition, and everything else — we have needed all of these and others I have not added to the list.  “Success” means that every Friend can see the importance of the testimony, and sees that they cannot ignore it.
    To put it in terms of the NEYM Climate Change minute:  Not everyone will be called to make climate change their first priority, to drop everything else to work on that. Jesus did not say “Sell all you have and give it to the poor” to everyone he spoke with! But we have been led as a body to unity, to a unified statement that, to the extent we understand the Divine will for us, this issue must be incorporated into our understanding of the Gospel as held by Friends, and none of us is free to ignore it — just as we accept that it is our responsibility to come to worship with hearts and minds prepared.  What that looks like will vary, and most of us have misgivings that we are not as faithful as we can be;  but that discontent can be a God-sent goad, preserving us from complacency, and keeping the door open to fresh responses to the divine initiatives that may come to us inwardly, or from the witness or words of others.

    The two watchwords on my mind this morning as I write this are:  Behold, I stand at the door and  knock and  to turn ourselves and all we possess into the channel of universal love becomes the chief business of our lives.  The listening and the following, the seeing and the turning take preparation of our selves and our beloved communities. We have the resources, we have the Teacher, we have each other— let’s be about the work!

Letter: Friends, welcome prophets among us in these dark times!

To New England’s Meetings

Dear Friends,
Many of us are feeling under the weight of grief, fear, and anger in the face of national and world events. Many of us are digging deep, to feel where a prophetic response may be: Is there a word from the Lord that Friends are to carry at this time, in deed or in word? Is our spiritual condition healthy, alert, and clear enough to hear and receive such a word?

Here is one thing I know: A prophetic people is one which welcomes the arising of prophecy.  The first motion is, in love, to make room for the leadings, and the people who are led, and give them opportunity to bring what they have been given.  This advice comes from the earliest life of the Christian movement. In the ancient book of advice called the “Didache” or “Teaching of the apostles,” the little fellowships gathered in Christ’s name are admonished to be open to the motion of the Spirit as embodied in traveling ministers: “Let every apostle [one who has been sent] who comes to you be received as the Lord.”  Knowing that we have this treasure in earthen vessels, we are to “try the spirits” and feel where the divine is present when someone feels moved to act or speak under the guiding influence of the Divine Spirit — but we are warned not to quench the Spirit’s motion, but to accept the unexpected activity of that Spirit in our lives as a community as well as individuals:  “The spirit blows where it will, and you hear its sound, but don’t know whence it comes or whither it goes.  So is everyone who is born of the spirit.”
As a people, we have fallen so far into a comfortable and secular mind,  that we think concerns and leadings are somehow a matter personal to the concerned Friend, and our meetings can pick and choose whom to hear, whom to invite and allow to come among us!  That is a way to avoid the uncomfortable evidence that the living God is still working through us, preparing individuals and pushing them or drawing them into service.     It is a way not to change, not to grow, to keep control of our schedules and our attention; to keep ourselves unfree.  We often talk about being “spirit-led,” but as a people how available are we really to that experience?

When we make time for the unexpected, when we accept the opportunities that come to us through Friends who are called to travel to us, and have the encouragement of their meetings to do so, we enable those Friends, and others not yet arisen, to learn better how to watch for, hear, bear, and accomplish their service.  Our meetings  are “schools of the prophets” — or can be if we recognize the opportunities that come our way, accept them with joy, and learn from them — both from the message and from our experience of reception and discernment.

I have known many Friends, newly drawn into service, who have been discouraged by the convention that prophets come to meetings only when meetings issue invitations.  This turns the matter upside down, Friends:  The calling and the service are given through the body, through and out of the common life in the Spirit, and represent an invitation from God to see, to feel, to know, and perhaps to act in fresh ways, in ways renewed by the living water of God’s life that brings these leadings and opportunities to us.

It can be inconvenient for a meeting to make room for such an unplanned, “wildcat” experience of the Spirit.  It may also be that a Friend’s concern, to be brought to a meeting, will require some discernment by the meeting about ways and means.  I can assure you, though, that it is pretty inconvenient for a Friend to have such a concern, to set aside other things, and dare to stand forth, dare to speak for God and for us.  The sense of unreadiness, of unworthiness, of emptiness, is very sharp in such a Friend, and he or she is only too conscious of difficulties for themselves and for those they visit.  Yet the act of faithfulness, however imperfectly accomplished, is a step into greater life, and if it is rooted in love, it is evidence of God’s work and life active among us.  And Friends, there is such a famine among us, and among people in general, for such evidence!

So if a Friend reaches out to your meeting, with an earnest statement that she or he is traveling under concern, with the unity of their meeting (your brothers and sisters!), remember that we can earn a prophet’s reward even by offering a cup of water to a prophet.  Find a way to entertain this Friend, as we are to entertain strangers sent among us, for thereby we may unexpectedly be visited by an angel — not the traveling Friend, but the beloved Spirit, the Shepherd and Teacher, made available in the giving and receiving of spiritual hospitality.  Make room, Friends, light your lamps in welcome, live like people who truly love the Spirit, and who love to see the springs of Life break forth in any!

In Christian love your friend,

Brian Drayton

Three mottoes for today

I keep these posted on my wall at work, and often return to them for encouragement. This morning, they are relevant to me afresh.

“Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.”

                                                       —  Gramsci

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The satisfaction that comes from being in tune with our times is certainly not a charism, still less a sign of supernatural life.

Thomas Merton: Contemplation in a World of Action

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Art thou in the Darkness?  Mind it not, for if thou dost it will fill thee more, but stand still and act not, and wait in patience  till Light arises out of Darkness to lead thee.  Art thou wounded in conscience?  Feed not there, but abide in the Light which leads to Grace and Truth,  which teaches to deny,  and puts off the weight, and removes the cause,  and brings saving health to Light.   James Nayler


And from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:

….we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

Teaching climate change,Pt 3: Children through the elementary grades

For anyone reading this, a brief Public Service Announcement: I have not been providing lots of references or links in these essays so far. I will remedy that over the next week, by adding a “Climate Education References Starter Kit” in the Library. It’ll be a document that will grow over time, and will wherever possible include links to freely available resources. When I upload it, and when I update it , I’ll post a brief note here on Amor vincat.

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I’d like to outline strategies for teaching young children about climate change — up to or into middle school, depending on the child.   At this stage, there are two primary goals for you to keep in mind:  Young children at this age are establishing the foundations for hope and for positive (loving) response to their world.  These are essential if children are to have the resilience and love that drive courage, hope, persistence, and imagination in the face of crisis or paradox.  Anxiety is NOT productive at this age (well, probably never, but we should not be teaching fear to the young)!

Now, I realize that these two goals are generic, and that is part of the point.  During these years, children are learning to learn, learning to care, and learning how to turn a wish to do something into the thing done.  “Care” here does not mean “feeling positive,” but “taking care of” — moving from feeling to constructive act, based on the experience of being taken care of, and watching people take care of each other.  This is precious work, as personalities are taking shape!

With this preliminary, I will group my recommendations for this age around two words:  “earth” and “care.”  I am flirting with “earth care” intentionally, because I want to emphasize that “care for the earth” is rooted at this age in “caring” in general, and the earth becomes a recipient of this caring as the child comes to know it personally.

Earth.  So let’s start with “earth.”  Remember that kids at this age don’t have lots of experience, and American kids in particular have remarkably little direct encounter with the non-human world.  The key here is knowing (and enjoying) the great cycles of the year, and how the lives of organisms (animals including invertebrates, but also plants).   This starts by noticing, and giving value to such things.  Kids take cues from the adults in their lives, so if the adults pay attention to weather, the seasons, and the lives of creatures, children will get the message that this noticing and knowing is part of how one is a human being.

Your work may lie in two areas:  First, in making the noticing a daily habit.   If you are not a noticer of nature, start right now!  Second, you may not be well acquainted with the clouds,  phases of the moon, birds, plants, etc.  Encyclopedic knowledge is not necessary!  Just make it a habit to notice, to ask questions, and to seek answers.

Remember, too, that for younger children, simpler is better.  Long mechanistic explanations about the reasons for the seasons, or biochemistry, or whatever, are not needed.  As with other big topics like sex, death, and politics, children mostly need enough to get on with, and they are not yet at the stage of building big theoretical models of How It All Works.  Remember, too, that story is at the basis of human cognition and all other explaining, including science.  This doesn’t mean fiction, necessary, or fable (though these are not bad resources!!)  It just means being able to talk about how a creature gets through its day or year.

So cultivate conversations and simple explorations that address fundamentals like “What’s the moon doing tonight?  Clouds’ re coming in, wonder if it’s going to rain?  Boy, it’s really coming down, I wonder what the squirrels do on a night like this?  What color do you think that tree will turn in the fall?  Look at all the tiny little bees on that flower!”    Simple!!  (It also helps to cultivate an attitude of curiosity about things that you may not have a lot of comfort with, like spiders in your house, snakes in the grass, thunder storms, etc.)

Related to such observations are natural narratives about how plants and animals make their livings:  “What lives down there, do you think?  Do you think those two birds are quarreling, or what?  What does this bird do in the winter time?  Does anything eat slugs?”  These are stories, or the nub of stories, in which you can together build up an account of the lives of other living things on the earth.

Make sure NOT TO SUBSTITUTE VIRTUAL REALITY FOR THE REAL.  Videos and museums etc. are all fine, in their place, but the goal is to help the child incorporate their world and its extraordinary diversity (as visible in their own native habitat!) into the child’s sense of identity and belonging. If you watch a nature video, look for ways to ask, “I wonder if that creature lives around here?  Do you think it could?  Have you ever seen the birds at our bird feeder doing that?  Well, I wonder what they do instead….?”

Care.  In the first instance, responsible use of resources is an early and basic lesson — not to waste things, to be aware that other people and creatures may be sharing the same resource (space, water, air, sound space, city park, etc.)

A second important lesson is celebration and appreciation of the world, including both human and non human.  Some things to do:

• Get to know the neighborhood in all seasons — take walks just to do it, just to see, hear, smell.

• Get to know specific organisms, and learn to love them– pick a flower, a tree, a bird, a toad, and visit (or observe) every day, as you would a family member.

• Make a point of celebrating seasons and other cultural rhythms — solstice and equinox, first flower of spring, first frog call, returning hawks, Easter/Passover, Hallowe’en and harvest, New Year’s and the mid-winter festivals of light.  Build in these rhythms, and learn about the times they mark — and use them for more questions about the world.

• Develop simple chores that represent practical caring:  you know the sort of thing I mean — planting and weeding a garden or window box;  watering indoor plants;  picking up trash in the neighborhood;  shoveling the  sidewalk really well, and talking about how it’ll help someone walk without falling…

All these very simple and obvious recommendations are aimed at helping children notice the world in which they live, and feel that they are citizens of it.  Moreover, they should be given the sense that the world works, that animals and plants are going about their business of creating and recreating their own lives, and the landscape on which we live;  that there are such things as resources (food, water, air, space, time) which are not endless, and which are shared.  Finally, during this time, the children should be helped to develop habits of delight, wonder, and gratitude.  These are inexhaustible resources.

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I close with a passage from George Elliot which says it all better than I could, and which repays frequent meditation:

A human life, I think, should be well rooted in some spot of a native land, where it may get the love of  tender kinship for the face of earth, for the labors men go forth to,  for the sounds and accents that haunt it, for whatever will give that  early home a familiar unmistakable difference amid the future widening  of knowledge: a spot where the definiteness of early memories may be  inwrought with affection, and kindly acquaintance with all neighbors,  even to the dogs and donkeys, may spread not by sentimental effort and  reflection, but as a sweet habit of the blood. At five years old,  mortals are not prepared to be citizens of the world, to be stimulated  by abstract nouns, to soar above preference into impartiality; and that  prejudice in favor of milk with which we blindly begin, is a type of  the way body and soul must get nourished at least for a time. The best  introduction to astronomy is to think of the nightly heavens as a  little lot of stars belonging to one’s own homestead.         George Eliot:  Daniel Deronda

Happy Birthday, Erasmus! You’re 550!

I could say with Roland Bainton:

I have long been drawn to Erasmus on a number of counts. I share his aversion to contention, his abhorrence of war, his wistful skepticism with respect to that which transcends the verifiable; at the same time I am warmed by the glow of his piety… I relish his whimsicality and satire. I endorse his conviction that language is still the best medium for the transmission of thought, language not merely read but heard with cadence and rhythm as well as clarity and precision.

Like generations of schoolboys, I first met Erasmus in Latin class (reading “The Shipwreck”), where I was delighted with a living Latin, as conversation and repartee.   Who was this guy? I soon found that he was more than a schoolmaster — as I was coming to terms with the draft, he was the first person to speak to me in spiritual terms about war, and helped me see that war among other things is a symptom, and part of a larger system of interests, motives, and values.  It sharpened my ear for the 20th century voices that were telling the same story about my times, my world.

It took a few years more for me to hear what Erasmus had to say to me about the gospel.  By then I’d found Friends, and was reading Fox and Woolman and other guides to that path.   The battles that Erasmus fought for freedom of conscience, and (beneath all his passionate erudition) a “philosophy of Christ” that transcended party and forms, in a time of sectarian conflict, helped me think about ecumenism (Quaker and beyond).  I was moved and inspired by his committed if sometimes petulant moderation, and his willingness not to know, not to rush to certainty.  I came to treasure and learn from his trust in the divine wisdom, and in the knowledge that those who in some measure incarnate that living Wisdom will surely appear foolish and weak in the eyes of most people.

All this has been put in the past tense– but I keep learning from Erasmus, and from the many others who learn from him, and are stimulated by his example and his writings to look on their own times, tasks, and lives with fresh eyes.

On the occasion of his birthday, I re-read the “Paraclesis,” the introduction to his epochal edition of the Greek New Testament.   Here is a snippet that I love, in which he invites the reader to learn the “philosophy of Christ” (I slightly modify John Olin’s translation). There is much Erasmus in this!

The journey is simple, and it is accessible for anyone….Only be teachable, and you have advanced far in this philosophy. It itself supplies inspiration, as a teacher which communicates itself to no one more gladly than to minds that are without guile. This doctrine in an equal degree accommodates itself to all, lowers itself to the little ones, adjusts itself to their measure, nourishing them with milk, bearing, fostering, sustaining them, doing everything until we grow in Christ. Again, not only does it serve the lowliest, but it is also an object of wonder to those at the top. The sun itself is not as common and accessible to all as is Christ’s teaching.

Teaching our children about climate change, Pt2: Why climate change is hard

Climate change is hard to learn, and therefore hard to teach. It’s useful to know some of the main barriers to understanding that have been documented in research on climate change attitudes in the US over the pat 15 years or so (and I am focusing on the United States here). These barriers have been remarkably durable, so anyone seeking to educate about the issue should consider them as they think about how to go about it.

  1.  Information is not enough. This is the most important thing to remember.  Attitudes and beliefs, and even more so behaviors, are little affected by knowledge.  The world has been awash with effective, compelling presentations of climate change science for years, but public attitudes have changed very slowly indeed. Personal engagement together with good information is the way to go — and talking with others is critical as a way to help people make sense of the confusing new world whose threshold we are crossing.
  2.   Some other time, some other place. Data suggest that a majority of Americans see climate change having its effects in the future, 10 or more years away, and on people in developing countries.
  3. Climate vs weather, and personal experience.    Many studies have shown that people’s feeling about trends in climate are very much influenced by recent personal experience.  To take an example from my own work:  When we asked students in several Massachusetts schools if they thought the climate was changing, the majority said Yes. When they were asked how it was changing, the majority said it was getting colder and snowier — this in the wake of some unusually tough winters.  Anomalous weather events such as record heat, mega-storms, or unusually intense rainstorms, have some impact on people’s perceptions—but only temporarily
  4. The unseen world around us. The majority of people have little knowledge of their landscape and its behaviors, much less the organisms that live upon it.  Aside from major holidays, we tend not to be aware of seasonal rhythms — and therefore are not attuned to subtle changes that are happening.  The more acquainted people are with nature around them — their personal landscape — the more they are likely to notice trends, and care about them.
  5. Abstractness and complexity. The climate system is complicated.  While scientists are pretty certain about the major points (the greenhouse effect, the causes of especially rapid Arctic warming, the increase of water vapor in the atmosphere as the climate warms), there are many things yet to understand.  Currently, for example, there is active debate about whether and how Arctic warming is changing the behavior of the jet streams, on which a lot of our weather “rides”.  Another big question is, Are the massive deposits of sea-floor methane ice about to melt and release vast amounts of heat-trapping methane gas?  And of course there are many lively debates about different ways to reduce greenhouse gasses, and how quickly this can and must be done
    Such questions matter a lot, but they often turn upon scientific or engineering questions that most of us don’t understand very well.  In any case, the most important climate science rests upon well-known physics and chemistry, much of it dating back decades or even a century or more.
  6. Regional and local responses less well understood. Our lives are affected by local weather, by the trees and organisms around us, by the farms and watersheds we depend upon for nourishment and refreshment.  How they will respond (are responding!) to the “new normal” of 21st century climate is still largely unknown.  One hunch is that, just as climate warming started slow and is now speeding up, so also changes in the forests, fields, and waters of your neighborhood have been going on, slowly and mostly unseen, for decades now — but things will start speeding up.
  7. Finally, people’s beliefs about other things affect their attitudes about climate change.  People don’t want to hear bad news, of course.  People want to trust the authorities they respect, and be in harmony with their friends and neighbors.  According to good research, people mostly don’t understand, for example, that the vast majority of climate scientists accept the facts of human-caused climate change (and are worried about it)<  When they are given evidence that this is the case, however, they tend to be open to changing their own beliefs.
    Another study has shown that in good economic times, people are  more willing to acknowledge the facts about climate change;  in tougher time, they tend to turn away from the science, under the weight of more pressing personal concerns.
    Moreover, the majority of people don’t talk to anyone else about climate change more than a few times a year at most.  So in many settings in which we live our lives, we and our friends, family, colleagues, neighbors “manufacture silence,”  so that the scary and complicated issues can be ignored for a while longer, and hard choices can be avoided.

In the next few posts, as I turn to climate change education for different age groups, you will see that this list of barriers is not a curriculum for children.  Good teaching is informed by this kind of information — but the child’s experience must be on a very different level.

One last note:  I have not written about the psychological/emotional/spiritual costs of climate change. These are very real, and pervasive, and they should also shape how we work with children (or others).  Aldo Leopold said it powerfully, in words that I often quote because they reflect my own experience over many years:

One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.

We will come back to this dimension of climate change education in a later post.

“Wisdom! cries the dawn deacon”: listening in a different key

Dear Friends
Once again, I am delaying Part 2 of “Teaching our children about climate change” because something has arisen with some urgency in my mind. The next Climate Change post will be coming tomorrow! I think, however, that this post is closely akin to the climate theme, so I merely explain, not apologize!

I have long meditated on the following passage from Isaac Penington, in which he talks about why Friends refer to the liberating Spirit of Christ as “light”:

we call him light, because the Father of lights hath peculiarly chosen this name for him, to make him known to his people in this age by, and hath thus made him manifest to us. And by thus receiving him under this name, we come to know his other names. He is the life, the righteousness, the power, the wisdom, the peace, &c., but he is all these in the light, and in the light we learn and receive them all; and they are none of them to be known in spirit, but in and by the light. Pennington Works 1: 124

Reflecting on this passage, I have been led to raise the following question:
The experience of Light is central to our spirit language, and we know that the life that is in Christ is the light of the world.But is there another manifestation of that life for our time, which is being offered to us, in the needs and troubles of our times, for insight, for comfort, for challenge, for nourishment? Not to replace “light” but something that might be particularly important and tuned to our condition now?

This is not a matter of just finding an additional ‘metaphor’ for talking about or thinking about the divine life at work. It is, rather, enriching what we listen for, where and how we listen for it, as we seek to know and (in our measure) incarnate the life of God.

What kind of thing am I looking for? Well:  “Light” is something that we have a visceral, personal, sensual experience of, and connects effortlessly and naturally with experiences like heat, fire, vision, color, clarity, and so on. Drawing power from this experiential root, “light” is also expressive of many kinds of spiritual and emotional conditions. Finally, quite aside from other cultural and historical associations, “light” is associated with the Divine Life, and with the person and work of Christ, throughout Scripture. Friends first called themselves the “Children of the Light.” What else has comparable resonances?

In pondering this, I have been led to meditate on Sophia, the Wisdom of God.

Learning from Sophia

from Proverbs:

The LORD created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old.
23 Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
24 When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water.
25 Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth;
26 before he had made the earth with its fields, or the first of the dust of the world.
27 When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
28 when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep,
29 when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
30 then I was beside him, like a master workman; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always,
31 rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the sons of men.
32 And now, my sons, listen to me: happy are those who keep my ways.
33 Hear instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it.
34 Happy is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors.
35 For he who finds me finds life and obtains favor from the LORD;
36 but he who misses me injures himself; all who hate me love death.

Sophia. permeating the whole of creation, the delight of God, the comforter and companion of humanity, sounds a lot like Logos, the sense at the heart of the world. Indeed, it feels even more closely aligned with Christ as I have come to understand him, from the gospels, from Paul (that indispensable, irritating, mystical brother), from my own measure of experience, from you — from everything! It connects directly with the visceral, primeval experience of joy, such as children and aging children can feel in nature (and in some art): God’s creation still abounding, still at work in and through everything, delighting in us and in all. Thus it is a way to relate God’s many channels of revelation — nature (Creation), science, tradition, Scripture, personal experience— each enriching and hallowing the others.
Sophia has been often been used as a way to speak about the feminine “principle” in God, and that is an important viewpoint, because it allows many personal, human resonances. In addition, however, one can also feel Sophia/Wisdom in un-personated terms, as God’s active, energetic, creative, loving, yearning presence in His creation (including us) — God’s eros.

What are some of the lessons of Sophia that seem important for our present time?
• God loves diversity, This the astonishing, delightful, overwhelming message of life and the universe. God’s unity, embodied in Sophia, pervades and is expressed in this diversity. We love diversity, texture, novelty– this is the ground inside our love of the new and different.
• God loves growth and transformation;
• God sets us among the creatures, the earth, the seas, and the heavens, and it is in that system that our growth and transformation happens, including our spiritual growth. If we were not in this body, in this system, we could not grow towards the Light, nurtured and accompanied by (as Friends used to say) “adorable wisdom”;
• God loves the little things: Among all the great and astounding and heart-piercing things in this world, there are also as many or more small, simple, transitory creatures, objects, and events, and just as God is present in fullness no matter how small may seem his manifestation to us, so also the loving, appreciative wisdom of God is found in the mean and low as well as the high and impressive — and most of the essential processes of life are rooted in the little, the humdrum, the quickly ending things.
• God’s delight is in service and creation, and so Sophia is to be found at work there. This is the power of the Gardener of Eden, not the Commander of Hosts; Wisdom and Christ both teach us that this is where God’s heart resides.
• Transformation may require a loss, a dissolution of beloved forms, and the experience of crucifixion is part of the experience of transfiguration.
• Sophia teaches us about the play of creation.
The more I meditate on these things, the more challenging, scary, and exhilarating they seem. I exult at the realization that this is really the same message that the prophets taught, that the Light has taught, that the apostles of truth-force, and the eightfold path, have taught. I can see how the wisdom of God is indeed folly to the world, though it is the substance of the world as we know it — but not as humans want to see it. And Christians are called, like Jesus, to be fools in the world’s eyes, loving creation, loving diversity, loving the little things, loving service, called to accept the messages of Wisdom (which so much of our culture is designed to deny), and to walk more and more in the perfect freedom of the Light.  In that wisdom, this vision of the divine is understandable, and even unbearably sweet:

A vagrant, a destitute wanderer with dusty feet, finds his way down a new road. A homeless God, lost in the night, without papers, without identification, without even a number, a frail expendable exile lies down in desolation under the sweet stars of the world and entrusts Himself to sleep. (Merton, Hagia Sophia)

Teaching our children about climate change: Pt 1, Appendix– a climate science primer

 

Before I get on with the main focus of this series of posts,  I thought maybe it might be helpful to some readers if I set the stage with a short overview of what climate science is telling us.  I know this is partial!  It is meant to just help someone get oriented, and suggest where to go next. There are many excellent books and websites that provide information on the nature of human-induced climate change. At the end of this appendix, I list a few, with comments about each.  Add
1. Already by the 1890s, scientists had understood the physical mechanisms by which an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) would lead to climatic warming. The “insulating” effects of the small amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere are what keeps the earth’s climate hospitable for life as we know it. A surprisingly small increase, however, significantly slows earth’s loss of heat, so that the average temperature rises. The earth’s geography and its dynamic nature mean that this average temperature will be reflected in complicated ways, both directly and indirectly. At the beginning of the industrial revolution, which is also the beginning of significant and sustained use of fossil fuels, CO2 constituted about 280 parts per million (ppm) of the atmosphere. The present levels are just over 400 ppm.
2. There is a time-lag in the effects that come from thickening the atmospheric “blanket” with more CO2. The global temperature has risen perhaps as much as 1.3°C (2.3°F) above “pre-industrial levels” so far. (Note that the recent Paris Climate accord committed to limiting this increase to 1.5°C in order to avoid the worst predicted effects.)There have been exponential increases in CO2 emissions since that time, and because of the time-lag, we are therefore already committed to at least 1-2 degrees’ more warming, even if we ceased all CO2 emissions right now. It is very likely, given the slow pace of political and economic action, that we cannot avoid reaching 450 ppm, or even higher. This might commit us to an increase of at least 6° F (3° C) by the end of this century; the difference between our current climate and the last glacial period is about 9°F.
3. The 11 months ending August 2016 were each the hottest in the temperature record, and July 2016 was the hottest month ever recorded (not just the hottest July), and 2016 will be the hottest year. Over the last several decades, each 10 year period has been hotter than any decade in the prior weather record. The 1980s were hotter than the 1970s; the 1990s were hotter than the 1980s; the decade from 2000-2009 was hotter still. The current decade will be the hottest so far.
3. Because of how the weather system distributes heat, the Arctic is warming faster than anywhere else. While New England has warmed about 2°F in the past 40 years, the Arctic has warmed 8-10°F. Summer sea-ice in the Arctic is shrinking at a dramatic rate. As the ice has melted, the ground and sea, darker than ice, have absorbed more heat, thus speeding the melt. The melting permafrost has started releasing its vast reserves of frozen plant matter as CO2 and methane, another very powerful greenhouse gas. This is speeding the warming. If we do not dramatically decrease human-caused CO2 emissions, the natural emissions from these and other sources will soon increase so swiftly that they will become the most important factor in the CO2 imbalance, and human activity will not be able to prevent the earth’s tipping into a new, stable operating condition, dramatically warmer than anything humans have ever had to deal with.
4. Ocean levels are rising at increasingly rapid rates as the water warms, and as ice-caps melt (the West Antarctic ice-sheet has entered an irreversible melt, and Greenland is shedding hundreds of cubic kilometers of ice a year). The seas are absorbing CO2 and becoming more acidic at a rate that is astonishing researchers. Plants and animals are changing their ranges, or altering behavior, or going extinct, depending on conditions where they are, and their own physical constraints. Deserts are spreading in Africa and Asia. The great ice cap of central Asia is melting fast; this is serious because it supplies the Ganges and many other major rivers supplying water to China and south Asia. Similar effects on ice-fed watersheds are being felt already in South America and elsewhere.
5. Weather patterns are becoming more variable, with dry places mostly getting drier, and moist places (with important exceptions like Amazonia) getting wetter. Both precipitation events and droughts are becoming more extreme. Indeed, increased variability is a central expected outcome of global “warming,” because the increasing heat intensifies important weather processes like evaporation and cyclone formation. This is why the New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman, no radical, likes to refer to “global weirding” instead of “global warming.”
6. There is increasing evidence from around the world about climate change impacts on organisms and ecosystems— species moving their ranges (where the human-altered landscape permits), becoming more or less abundant, evolving in response to the climate signal, changing their seasonal behavior (sometimes getting out of synch with other species they interact with)… the list goes on and on.  Since we have such an inadequate  understanding our fantastically complex and diverse biosphere, we are encountering many surprises and new puzzles.

7. While the most important variable under human control is CO2 emissions from carbon combustion and deforestation, there is at present no evidence that humans are responding at the necessary speed and scale to prevent dramatic and indeed catastrophic changes in our climate which will last for at least a thousand years, affecting food supplies, biological diversity, and many other “ecosystem functions” which we take for granted and which are essential to our human systems. The best scientific analysis suggests that the worst case can still be avoided, if we take concerted action within the next 5-10 years. Energy conservation is a top priority (lowering the use), as is total and prompt conversation from fossil fuels to non-emitting sources of electricity. Social change is required both to take these and other radical steps — and social and spiritual work will be required within all communities to adapt constructively and justly to the hotter, stormier and more uncertain world that is now emerging.

For further reading
Blogs
Here are three blogs which are good sources of reliable information, and also serve as gateways to many other sources of information, both more technical and less. There is a lot of good science writing in the blogosphere; as with other subjects, of course, there is also a lot that is less good. Start here, and follow their links.
Skeptical science. Provides excellent scientific explanations, and up-to-date science news. Provides a very accessible and reliable discussion of “most used climate myths.”
Climate Progress. This is run by Joe Romm, a physicist with a long career in energy policy. Lots of current science news, and Romm and guest bloggers analyze new research findings as well as policy proposals, climate politics, and many other related topics.
The Guardian newspaper has a strong climate change section, including a regular blog by Dana Nuccitelli, who also blogs for Skeptical Science.
Also check out Biosphere and Climate, a website that focuses on the biosphere’s reaction to climate change in New England, with links to many other resources and organizations.
Books
Again, the number of powerful and useful new books on different aspects of climate change is exploding. Here are some to get started.
Climate Central (2012) Global Weirdness: Severe Storms, Deadly Heat Waves, Relentless Drought, Rising Seas and the Weather of the Future. This new book is an excellent, step-by-step primer on the basic science and some of the possible solutions for climate change.
Hanson, James (2010) Storms of my grandchildren. Hanson was the first prominent climate scientist to sound the alarm about the reality of climate change. Very solid science, and interesting if controversial suggestions for policies that can minimize the potential harm of climate change.
Kolbert, Elizabeth (2006) Field notes from a catastrophe. Lucid, challenging, and engaging science writing about the science and impacts of climate change. Originally a series for the New Yorker. Though 10 years old, still a great introduction.
Macy, Joanna and Chris Johnstone (2012) Active hope: How to face the mess we’re in without going crazy. Not about science, but about coping. A powerful guide for engaging with “the Work That Reconnects” : Coming from gratitude, honoring our pain for the world, seeing with new eyes, and going forth. Very much in harmony with the spirit of my own concern. Draws on the authors’ years of “despair work” and other faces of the spirituality of healing wounded spirits.
McKibbin, Bill (2010) Eaarth: Making a life on a tough new planet. Speaks in concrete and passionate terms about our present situation, and the challenge of responding constructively to the changes that are our present and future reality.
Pope Francis (2015) Laudato Si’: On care for our common home. This encyclical is available in a lot of editions. You may not be interested in Catholic teaching but this is one of the best attempts to explicate the interweaving of morality, science, economics, and social justice. Thought provoking.
Seidl, Amy (2009) Early Spring. A moving and well-informed exploration by an ecologist living in Vermont of the way that climate change affects the life and culture of New England.
Seidel, Amy (2011) Finding Higher Ground. Another lucid book from Amy Seidl, this time on how human and non-human organisms can adapt to the new world that is taking shape.

Teaching our children about climate change- Part 1: Introduction

This is the first in a series of posts which will address climate change education for children (with some notes specifically for Quaker children). It may well burgeon into related topics — like, climate change education for adults.
These posts draw on my professional work: For 30 years, I’ve done research and curriculum development in science education, mostly for middle and high school ages (and their teachers). Since at least 1989, climate change has been a primary or secondary focus. Indeed, if (as the climate scientist Kevin Trenberth says), climate change is part of all weather now, it is just as true to say that climate change is now part of all science education.
This work has made me acquainted with research on the psychology and cognitive science of climate change and climate change communication, and the results are important enough that anyone who is involved with climate change education should make use of them.

Here is a rough table of contents for this series

Part 2:  Why is climate change hard to learn, and to teach?

Part 3:  Pre-school and elementary age— Coming to know and love the world  (with stories of earth care and discovery)

Part 4: Middle-school age, and the awakening social consciousness (and stories of witness)

Part 5: High school:  Envisioning and creating the future (with stories of prophetic movements for climate, peace, and justice, their methods and consequences)

Along the way, I will provide links or references to resources that I have found useful.  I will also be grateful for feedback and discussion!  It will be especially important and useful to hear from people about their experiences — either in learning or teaching about climate change.

I here note also that while climate change is the focus of these posts, there are important other challenges facing life on earth — in particular, the biodiversity crisis in all its forms, and what I will call the “pollution crisis,” referring to the increasing load of toxic waste that leaves few organisms unaffected.  Each of these crises  has a long history, but a different tempo of development;  for each of them there are many unanswered questions.

Before I start writing more about the specific content, a couple of further comments.

  1.  As I have thought about “learning” in our faith community, about any concern, I often recall this passage from the gospel of Luke (10:27):  Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy strength and with all thy mind.  This is first and greatest commandment, and the second is like unto it:  Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
    This helps remind me that emotional work (heart), spiritual work (soul), intellectual work (mind), and changes in habit and behavior (strength) must all be held in consciousness and given their due as one follows the concern; and moreover, all these are surrounded by a social context and meaning (neighbor/self).  While it is useful sometimes to focus on one or another of these aspects, they are all facets of one jewel.  Therefore, my exposition (I hope) will address all these facets to some extent, and also suggest places where I think Quakerism has resources (in its practice and theology) that can be of use.
  2. Climate change is a spiritual challenge.  What does that mean?   I here make so bold as to quote a letter I wrote to New England Friends in 2012:
    A spiritual challenge is one which requires us to grow, because it is hard to integrate with our prior spiritual beliefs and habits.  It demands some definite change in the way we act on and interpret the world and our condition; and  it may require us to seek and use spiritual, intellectual, community, or physical resources to guide and feed the growth required.  If we engage with such a challenge whole-heartedly, we will know we have met it, for the time being, by the reward of peace or sense of inward reconciliation, by a sense of clarified understanding, by a removal of some fear and sense of insufficiency, and by a renewed understanding of and faithfulness to all of our most essential spiritual commitments.If we take seriously the news coming in from all parts of the planet about the gathering storm of changes,  the spiritual challenge is desolation.  There is grief, and alarm, at the loss of much that is beautiful and valuable in itself, and at the consequent increase of suffering that will accrue to our ever-more-numerous human family. The changes we have set in motion will take decades to fully unfold, and it will be centuries before a new equilibrium is reached.  At this point, even if dramatic measures are taken in the next 5 years, we will only be able to somewhat soften the blows that are coming.  The temptations to self-preservation at all costs, to competition and exclusiveness, will only rise, because these are the most natural responses to crises that are already under way, and indeed accelerating.   Moreover, our political systems by and large have developed in such a way that they are now best suited to serve a few powerful interests, rather than the common good.Beyond the invitation to anger and despair that the science news brings daily, I have therefore found myself losing illusions that, I realize, have been sources of hope, but which cannot any longer be relied upon. Some of my hope has been placed in enforcing social structures, such as government or other political agencies.  It is increasingly likely that the major social structures will not respond in time to prevent protracted climate disruption.  Some of my hope has been wedded to the idea of progress and reform. God’s will is peace and justice, abundance, agape, and creation — but I no longer see how this translates to “progress” as Americans and optimists have usually meant it. Finally, I have placed stock in knowing, being able to comprehend not only my personal dilemmas, but also the trends in which I am embedded.  And I must admit that the hope that I have in knowing really reflects my deep desire to have control over my life, for my well-being and that of those I love.We have not confronted the spiritual challenges of climate change until we recognize that some of our grounds for hopefulness are false, and that we need again to ask where the Holy Spirit and the Gospel story (including its later, Quaker chapters in some of which we are appearing right now), can be found in the midst of it all.  At such a time, indeed, we are challenged to bring our grief and our need before the Living God. Many Friends [and others] have experienced surprising grace when driven to such an extremity, seeing that many of their props and resources were unreliable  —”When all my hopes in them and in all men were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could I tell what to do…”  We cannot tell God what to do, but we can know some things about how God moves among us.