Death and Life - Saturday, January 31, 2009
Dying Art Welcomes New Life
In a movie I watched tonight the villain, a bad federal agent, told someone “You do not appreciate life until you face death.” Although it was not a very good movie there is some truth to this statement.
For many years of my life I avoided the fact of death and at times still do. One day in a community-organizing workshop a friend who had lived a very tough life told me that I do not face death. I was taken off guard by the remark but came to understand what he meant. By talking, keeping busy, always doing, I was avoiding the suffering and death that life embraces. “Unless the seed dies it will not rise.”
Tonight I called my brother who had recently lost his wife in a car accident. He is facing death in one of its worse forms: the lost of a loved one. He sounded so sad but was facing the death of his wife so he can continue to live.
Today after some work the last few weeks I established the Pilgrimage of Peace web page. I was feeling a little bit alone in this effort to share this experience when I received a beautiful letter from one of the other pilgrims describing her experience. I immediately wrote back, lifting her spirits and she, by allowing me to publish the letter on the Pilgrimage of Peace page lifted mine.
Just Trade Shirts
An author said about the American Economy: “I am concerned…with the ‘good’ people, the right-thinking people, who stick to principle all right except where it conflicts with the chance to make a fast buck. It seems to me that there are very dangerous ambiguities about our democracy in its actual present condition. I wonder to what extent our ideals are now a front for organized selfishness and systematic irresponsibility… Some Americans are not too far from the law of the jungle. If our affluent society ever breaks down, what are we going to have left?” The author was not a present day economist but a Trappist monk, Thomas Merton writing in 1961. (Cold War Letter # 10, Cold War Letters, pp. 27–28, The Hidden Ground of Love, p. 445)
I was reminded of this quote by Merton today when I heard on the news that Exxon/Mobile Oil company broke its own world profit record last year by making over 125 million dollars of profit a day. The billions of dollars of profits of Exxon/Mobile overshadows the billions of dollars of bonuses paid out last year by some major financial corporations that took large amounts of taxpayers money in the ‘bailout’ plan of the Federal Government.
While the stories of greed abound, the stories of lay-offs and tough economic times for millions of Americans grows. As greed grows in this county for the .1 percent, 99.9% of us suffer and argue among ourselves about tax cuts and helping out the poor and needy. (See posting on No Free Lunch earlier this week.)
Pilgrims & staff at Nature Cure Center
Tonight I finished the start of the Pilgrimage of Peace page. There is much more to go, pictures and articles from pilgrims, description of the pilgrimage in words, more Just Trade goods from India and elsewhere. Check it out and leave, if you will, a comment on the About the Pilgrimage of Peace page.
Like a pilgrimage, or any step in life, it is good to begin. There will be more to this page just as there will be more pilgrimages of peace to India. It took me almost three weeks to get a good start on this page but with the help of the other pilgrims and our friends in India there will be much more to go. We have only taken another step at integrating Power of Growing and the Power of Peace.
It takes three friends and a good agency to help a friend in need. That was the message that I sent in an email to three friends and an agency tonight seeking help for another friend in need. But my list of friends in need seems to be outgrowing at a rapid rate my list of friends that can help.
Many years ago when I was living a nice comfortable middle class life in Madison, Wisconsin, I heard about a talk that Jimmy Carter, our former president, gave at the University of Wisconsin asking students how many personal friends they had that were poor and in need. At the time I asked myself the same question and discovered that I only had one friend that was truly poor.
Over the years that friend became successful and I used to joke with him that, with his success, I had no longer any poor friends. However, times have changed. Since my retirement and with the present economic conditions I can now say to Jimmy Carter, if he asks again, that I have many friends in need.
Now this is a blessing and a responsibility. Persons in need because of finances, illnesses or just lifestyle can bring great blessing to our lives. However, at times, like this week when so many friends have asked for help, it can be a bit overwhelming.
Another email came today encouraging me to send my web address to another group opposing the military on campus. This one, however, also included, a warning that I had seen before, that the title of this web site, nonviolentworm, “scares some people into thinking it carries a viral danger and therefore they don’t want to go to it.” Normally, a champion of those stigmatized and rejected, I skip over these responses. But ears that have been considering a change of name heard this notice.
Ever since returning from India I have looked on a cow as a better symbol than the worm for Growing Renewable Affordable Food G.R.A.F.. In India where some cows run free and many are important livestock for sustainable living, a cow goes more with the spirit of nonviolence than a worm. In India cow waste, manure, is the main product of the cow and used for anything from fertilizer, bio fuel, medicine, and toothpaste and to make vermi-compost, castings or ‘black gold’ as we call it. Milk is a secondary product.
In Gandhi’s writings he talks almost as much about the holy role of the cow in culture as he does of nonviolence. Also I intend to explore the role of cows, particularly cow manure, in urban gardening. In the USA the cow may not be a sacred symbol as it is in India, but no one worrying about computer viruses will be concerned about a nonviolent cow as some are with a nonviolent worm.
When my sister-in-law was killed in an automobile accident last month she was driving home from a Master’s Degree program in a Catholic college called “Servant Leadership”. Before her death I had never heard the title ‘servant leader’, but find it a good name for something that I think it essential to life — being of service to others.
When I was working as a youth minister I refused to call the adults who worked with youth ‘volunteers.’ Volunteers sounds like people that were doing something that they do not need to do. My belief is that we are called to be servants to each other. I called them youth ministers, the name that was given me in the Church. For I believed they were just doing something they were called to do in their baptism, being present for persons in need.
Today a number of friends called me for service, from driving someone to pick up medicine to helping restore a house that had a fire this morning. I said yes to every request, not because I am a nice guy or like to do volunteer work, but because I had to. We are all servants to each other, especially friends. It is something we do naturally as any seed, planted in good soil and nurtured, grows.
No Free Lunch - Sunday, January 25, 2009
The very cold continues outside and makes it hard to germinate new seeds in the sunroom inside. Also it slows the growth of the present plants. Next year I definitely need to investigate some type of solar heat for the sunroom to I can keep it warm in very cold periods without a terrible electric bill. The small heater I now employ is not meant for such long consistent cold periods.
Many of us enjoy warm houses to live in and do not worry about choosing between heat cost, food or phone service. Although utility companies cannot turn off your heat in winter, they can in the spring if you do not pay the bills. Also the electric bill seems to climb and climb. We have switched to energy saving bulbs and do not leave any more lights on than normal but the bill still climbs these dark cold winter nights.
With the growing unemployment it does seem, like our president says, things will get worse before they are better. I am blessed to not be looking for a job at this time and to have regular income from wife’s work and my past savings to go with social security.
We Are One! - Saturday, January 24, 2009
We Are One
When I was young I was fascinated by the oneness of all. I felt like a part of something large and whole. As I grew, was educated, my appreciation of diversity of creation increased. Now that I am getting old, I am returning to the unity of all.
Diversity is good as long as it is part of unity. When separate as a leaf from a tree it just fades away and dies. When people want power and want to dominate, be it an individual, corporation, state or country, the first thing they do is divide. A divided people, nation or group, cannot stand and survive the power of evil. Only by working together can we overcome and we are growing power.
Gandhi said all religions have some part of truth. He said religions are like leaves on a tree. Together they make a whole, separated from the tree they rot and die.
Today the powers that be, be they a country, business or university, seek to divide us so they can keep us from being strong and together. We are one. If only we could awake to that truth.
Today our new president, who promised change and to unite us, sent a drone over Pakistan to bomb and kill suspected enemies. Did the drone kill innocent persons or ‘bad guys.’? We may never know. But the unity of mankind was broken by this act of violence. Are we really one?
To be aware of the present is a great gift. Often our mind wonders to the past or future. We are somewhere but not present. One way to be present to the moment is to possess self-awareness.
When my friend Dianne came over today to trade pictures of our pilgrimage of peace she said she had a picture of me. At first I shrugged it off thinking it would be some picture making me look big and fat, which I am. However, when I saw it, it was a person wearing his shawl as a turban and of a person deep in thought or prayer. This is an image of me that I like. It did not show my stomach or much of my gray hair. Seeing oneself can be revealing. Unfortunately one of the pictures of my friend that I took and gave her, but did not publish, was of her with a silly face looking at one of our teachers along the way. It did not represent who she was or would like to be, as her picture of me did.
Salad on Pilgrimage
At yet another funeral event tonight a friend who is an administrator at Marquette University asked about the pilgrimage of peace. After I responded she asked a very thoughtful question: “Did you find that the experience affected your spiritual life?” I do not separate parts of my life but I did understand what she was saying. Already I am slipping away from my renewed commitment after the pilgrimage to take more time for reading, reflection and silence. I am doing some but not nearly enough so I can say, as Thomas Merton says in one of his canticles talking about solitude:
“I am the appointed hour,
The ‘now’ that cuts
Time like a blade.”
In other parts of my life that I am constantly trying to make whole, the journey to India has also affected me. Today for our monthly meeting of Dawn, Marna and myself of the DMZ community garden I found myself preparing food with an Indian base. We had balsamic lime rice with peas and Indian seasonings, a chorizo, red potato and onion dish flavored by Indian spices, some Indian candy and my specialty, home grown salad with my middle eastern dressing, spices, olive oil, balsamic vinegar and lemon juice. Also there was plain yogurt and pineapple. I am discovering more and more that the important thing in Indian cooking is the timing of putting in the spices.
Back to Basics - Wednesday, January 21, 2009
World Peace Gong
The more I process our pilgrimage to India, the more I get back to the basics. For me that implies a deep love of God and all creation in the spirit of the Nonviolent Cross and desire to live simply in a sustainable way. To put it more specifically it means growing renewable affordable food and respecting and treating with dignity all creation. Even more grounded it means enjoying a healthy lunch with my two partners, Marna and Dawn, in the DMZ community garden and cleaning the sunroom and planting some more salad seeds today in the GP Box.
Food, Service, Kindness are the basics of living and no matter how far we travel or high or low in life we go, we need to return to the basics.
During all the ceremonies on this historic Inauguration Day the phrase running through my mind was: “We are the ones we have been waiting for.” I first heard this phrase some years ago when I started to work with Mothers Against Gun Violence. At first it did not make sense to me and I questioned my friend, Marna, about it. She explained the mothers had got it from another group in Washington D.C. that was also fighting gun violence on the streets. The phrase slowly made sense to me. Instead of looking to others to solve our problems, we, individuals and communities, need to look at ourselves. Within us is the answer and response we are looking for.
I started to hear this phrase again during the presidential campaign. In the presidential campaign Obama, now President, started to use it to call attention to the fact that we all need to work together to effect significant change. He did not use it today during his inauguration talk but the message was clearly there: for effective change we must start with communities, our institutions and ourselves.
Last night at a small reception after my friend Father Purcell’s funeral mass of Christian burial a friend of mine who had been active in the election campaign of Obama asked me if we will ever see peace and the end of wars. We were sitting on a table in the church hall of Gesu Church on the Marquette University campus. I find myself saying, without thinking, that there will never be any peace as long as Marquette University is host to military training centers for war and violence. I caught myself and spoke softly as I saw one of our mutual friends, now the Director of Ignatian Identity at Marquette, approached the table. However, she talked with my wife and not with the two of us.
Robert Purcell S.J. 1919–2009 RIP
When I was fresh out of high school I joined the Society of Jesus, Jesuits. At the Jesuit College, a seminary in a rural area of Minnesota, I had for four years a speech teacher, Fr. Robert Purcell. I went there as a shy, quiet, introspected youth and after four years left as socially conscious, extrovert adult. Part of my being so quiet and introspected was a speech defect that I had when I entered the Jesuits. Fr. Purcell not only taught us all how to be public speakers but he worked with me individually on my speech defect. He even went to the point of taking a special course on summer at Northwestern University so he could return to Jesuit College and tutor me. So there I started to talk, and some would say I have never stopped.
Father Purcell also taught us the power of seeing deeply, of how to make a small observation and really see into it. We all kept “observation diaries”. I have my original one and have kept many in the years since. This ‘Diary of the Worm’, connecting organic growing and nonviolence in my daily life is a result of this lesson in seeing deeply into small things. Another teacher once told me that if we could see deeply enough into any one thing we could find God. Father Purcell was a teacher of deep seeing and finding God in all things.
Waiting - Sunday, January 18, 2009
Tonight I am waiting for my friends, fellow pilgrims to India, to arrive home from India. Their flight from New Delhi, the same flight I took over a week ago, was supposed to arrive at 5:15 this morning at O’Hare in Chicago. When they did not call this morning for a ride here from the bus station I called the airlines to find out that their plane was delayed for over 15 hours and they would be arriving at O’Hare around now, 10:30 PM. I was with them three weeks ago when we were delayed for 7 hours in New Delhi on the plane due to fog on our flight to Hyderabad, the beginning of our pilgrimage. Waiting in an airport or plane seems to be becoming a more commonplace experience these days.
I learned many years ago that learning how to wait is an important thing to learn. I have experienced that, outside of air travelers, the persons who wait the most are the poor. I can remember waiting in long lines with persons for basic community services, shelter, food and health care.
Waiting is particularly difficult in America when we have a keen sense of being on time. In India and many other countries when things usually do not start on time, waiting is just accepted as part of life. People read, relax, pray while they wait. Persons in other countries know that worrying about being on time or waiting really does not change much, but can increase anxiety and suffering. A gardener or farmer must learn how to wait gracefully, for the right time to plant, water and to harvest.
Taste of India - Saturday, January 17, 2009
One of the naturals for me in the Pilgrimage of Peace was a taste for the food of India. I love food that uses lots of spices. I discovered the key to cooking real Indian food is the timing of putting the spices in the food. Almost every meal I have made since returning has had Indian food as one of the main ingredients. Tonight I got adventuresome and made a Chicken Curry. I took the recipe from a tiny recipe book that came with the curry powder that I purchased yesterday at the Indian grocery store in town.
Each region in India has its own curry and style of seasoning. The hotter the region the hotter the food is. With the help of the store owner I picked a curry that was for the region in the middle of India where I had spent most of my time. However, no matter how hot or mild the food is, there is always lots of use of spice. I served the chicken curry with some Basmati rice, whole-wheat Roti bread, plain yogurt and a salad.
Like Indian food, life is full of timing. The right words and right actions at certain times can make all the difference in life. This timing takes discipline, something I lack at times.
Making A Quilt In India
On the way up north to meet my older son and his family half way for dinner, my wife and I were talking about how to make our lifestyle more sustainable. Fresh from India, my ideas were along the lines of using organic fertilizers, having a healthy diet of more vegetables and less meat, growing plants in our front yard, and living simply. My ideas were very specific, while I think she was looking for a broader discussion of lifestyle.
Since returning from India I find myself less interested in talking about ideas like ‘sustainability’, and more drawn to practical ideas of what to do. It is similar to the feeling I had when I got out of prison in 1970 for my participation in the Milwaukee 14. At that time I was no longer interested in protesting or demonstrating against the war in Vietnam. I just wanted to do something practical and useful to help kids stay out of jail. I did just that, starting, with two others, a school for high school boys and girls that were rejected by the public and private high school system at the time.
Martin Luther King
This morning when I went on to the Pilgrimage of Peace web page I was surprised to see that Tegan, our wikignome, had placed on that page the slide show of part 1 of my pictures from the Pilgrimage to India. She had helped make possible a dream of mine to tell a story without using many words. Now I am anxious to put Part 2 and maybe Part 3 of the pictures on flickr and on the page. By just using dates of the pictures, titles, and maybe a few comments I can now tell eloquently without many words the journey we were blessed to make to India.
Today was my Dad’s birthday. He passed away in 2000, the same year as my mom. Without these two I would not be alive to dream. Today is also Martin Luther King’s birthday. He had a ‘dream’ and made a lot of dreams come true. He was a real disciple of nonviolence and in India they are soon celebrating the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s visit to India to study the nonviolence of Gandhi. Two of our group of pilgrims, Pastor Joe and Joyce Ellwanger, had marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the south in the early days of the civil rights movement. We were all held up and honored in India but special honor was reserved for Joe and Joyce for their association with Dr. King.
Green Grows - Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Despite the extreme cold and the snow outside the green lettuce grows in the sunroom. It grows at night and during the day. It is cut and it grows back again. The lettuce made for a delicious salad to go with the Indian lentils I made tonight.
Part 1 of the Pictures from the Pilgrimage of Peace to India are done tonight. The colors of this land are in sharp contrast to the almost black and white images that are outside now.
Like the food, the environment in India is spiced with color. The greens grow despite the cold and snow.
Rebirth - Tuesday, January 13, 2009
A Child of India
Today I still feel the impact on my life of our pilgrimage of peace to India, but am starting to feel the lure of artificial food and ‘Idol’ TV moving me away from the heart of the Gandhi experience of sustainability and nonviolence. I mean this literally since today I had food when I was not hungry, and watched some of the ‘Idol’ TV show. I poked fun at my wife for her fascination with this reality show but spent some time watching it myself.
The rest of the day, driving a friend on some personal business, working on pictures from trips, talking with friends, reading some of Gandhi’s pamphlet on Indian Home Rule, was well spent, at least in my new vision of what life is about. However, the temptations to do violence to mind, body and soul will remain, so I might as well get used to it.
Tomorrow I will do some work in the sunroom where, despite the bitter cold outside, the salad greens keep growing. It is time to pick again and start some new seeds so the growth will continue. It is now 5 degrees outside but in the 50’s inside thanks to sun today, small radiator heater and five-pane windows.
As the Cow turns so must we
The Pilgrimage of Peace to India gladly is having a felt impact on my daily life. Although my body is not adjusted to the time difference, my spirit is seeking to savor more of this experience. It was a tremendous educational opportunity into the heart of India — Gandhi’s spirit of nonviolence and sustainability. However, like all real educational opportunities the true learning comes from doing. So now it is time to practice some of this knowledge in mind, body and spirit. Although my spirit was already drawn to this way of life, practiced by Gandhi as well as Jesus and many others, the discipline of applying it to daily living is difficult.
The sustainability part of this education is rich and will take me more education, time and practice to implement. I was delighted when I first discovered Growing Power and now that I am implementing some of these principles as I learn by doing, I am overwhelmed with a much deeper and longer tradition of sustainability, self-reliance and Growing Renewable Affordable Food G.R.A.F. Fortunately, my son and his family live up north across the road from a family Diary Farm, a wonderful source of wealth, the cow.
Yesterday we returned from a Pilgrimage of Peace to India. We were pilgrims in the footsteps of Gandhi. The pilgrimage was much more intense than I expected. India on first impression is a chaordic country, where amidst the chaos of the rural and city streets there is some order. India is a successful developing country yet one full of poverty. India is a country of large cities yet most persons live in the rural villages.
It will take some time and effort for me to process this experience. There are many images to sort through and experiences to digest. However, one thing I can now say: at the heart of India is the merger of sustainability and nonviolence. The person that most symbolized this holistic life style is Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi encouraged the nation to be self-reliant and to achieve change with nonviolent action. By walking in the footsteps of Gandhi with followers of his way of life we were able to get a true taste of India, from central India to the Ganges River in the foothills of the Himalayas.