Talking Peace

Maybe it is in the hum of the bees as they dance in the orchard, maybe it is in the song of the many and varied birds that live here. Maybe it is the size of the moon, or the delicious advent of spring; the feeling of peace is palpable.

Was it hastened by talking to my friend, David Kopitzke on his choice to be a conscientious objector of the Vietnam War and realizing the courage it took to take such a stance? Or maybe it was the way he responded to my question at the end of our interview, “Do you have any regrets?” He brought tears to my eyes when he said, “Yes. I regret that I did not talk to more people about my decision… to help them understand.” And I realized in that moment that we all can live in regret for not talking about the possibility of peace and the ethical and moral ground we stand on… and yet, here he was still talking, still sharing, still operating out of kindness and bravery. And there I was intrigued, inspired and full of respect.

This gift of shared conversation continued as I spoke with the owner our favorite local grocery, Whitaker’s Farm Fresh Market. While I am quite sure we hold beliefs that are seemingly incompatible, we share a passion for peace. As time allows, we squeeze precious moments of kindred spirit between his customers and my list of “to do’s”. I learned today that his parents were married during the Vietnam War and took the position of CO (conscientious objector) as sanctioned by their Christian faith. His eyes were shining, as I am sure were mine as we touched upon the depth of our shared conviction – the need for peace.

In listening to him, I understood what I have thought about for a long time. The voice for and of peace must be heard, at least as often as the voice that proclaims the need for war. There is no need to be shy or to feel regret for what has not been said. Perhaps it has not been the right time, but much has changed and the time to acknowledge and champion peace is upon us.

So go ahead, proclaim your need and your heart’s longing. Each of us uniquely aware, each of us uniquely qualified to speak to the longing of our hearts and to the understandings we hold as living breathing individuals. There is no shame upon the hearts and minds of those who cannot bear arms against their fellow humans. There is no Great Law that has been decreed that war is the only solution. If our warring selves can take the time to recruit and explain away the need to kill, then we should have equal right to stand up for peace and honor the moral ground of those among us not willing to kill.

The only thing stopping us is doubt. Find your peace my friends, and fight like hell. Fight with clarity, fight with kindness and we may find, in fact, this is the greatest action of all – to touch and to cultivate peace.

I am telling you what I hear in the songs of the birds and feel in the gentleness of the warming sun…we got this.

*****

You can listen to my interview with David Kopitzke Thursday, May 18 at 9:00 am CST on WDRT, on the radio or on the web.

For more on becoming a conscientious objector, you can visit Center on Conscience and War. or call  TOLL FREE: 1-800-379-2679.

And here are the magnificent words of Julia Ward Howe in her proclamation of peace.

 

Clay Bowls and Choices

Note: I was invited to a gathering called The Power of Listening Through Food and Ceramics. The friend who invited me created the event and was inspired to make the bowls and to feed people while offering heartfelt communication through music, words, etc. Unable to attend, this is my offering to his kind thoughtfulness. Thank you, Jeremi.

 Today you have been given a gift, but it is only a gift if you recognize it as such. You have been given a bowl, nourishing food and an offer to feel what is in the depths of your being… And I would suggest to you that this is a gift that is given every day… And while this bowl is special and a gift and you might say it is the reason we are here, the question we must ask ourselves is this, “What will we put into our bowl?”

This is the question we ask and try to have answered every day, sometimes consciously, sometimes not so.

For a moment, let us accept that we are the bowl. The often-cited biblical quote, “Remember man that you are dust and unto dust you shall return” is a fact and a reminder of part of our origin, but only part. We are this lump of clay molded into a receptacle. We are, if you will, the beggar’s bowl. And every day, every moment we are asking something to come into the bowl, to come into us. We want love, we want approval, we want compensation, we want recognition, we want happiness… We want what is available to us, and sometimes that which is not…

Choices. We have been given also the ability to choose. What will we put into this bowl that has been given? Choose consciously and remember you can empty what is in the bowl if you do not want it there…

And that is the distinction between needs and wants. Our bowl is meant to hold our needs. What are the things that are our needs? Food, water, air and I will ask you to consider one more thing that we all need and we all hope for – the need to feel peace.

This is where listening comes in. We have been told of and understand our humanity and our need to be humble. We are of the earth, we have needs and we are finite. But there is something else dancing within us that is not bound to the earth. Inside of us, if we listen, is peace.

Let’s turn for a moment to the making of the bowl on the potter’s wheel. This is an anecdote that I heard a long time ago and it continues to teach me. The potter’s wheel spins round and round and as the lump of clay sits in the middle, two very distinct actions take place. The potter’s one hand is inside the clay stabilizing and guiding it. While the other hand is applying pressure to the outside, bending it, shaping it, sometimes slapping it into shape.

It is wise to know the potter’s hands. It is good to know and to trust that hand that holds from within. And it is possible to do so. It begins with listening…

There are undeniable truths, which can be felt but not easily spoken. In the end, I want to feel peace. I want my bowl to be filled and overflowing, and if in that others can be fed, I am grateful.

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I first heard the anecdote of the potter’s wheel from Prem Rawat. At a very young age I began to listen to my heart and my heart directed me to his words of peace and that has made the difference for me.

Thanks again to my friend for his invitation to consider the importance of listening in our lives.

The photo is one of the beautiful bowls Jeremi Zuba made for the event and it is his photo.

American Heroes

America is big on heroes. From what I can tell there is a resurgence of heroes among us, yet we are not being told their story.

Across this beautiful land of abundance, a war is being waged and very few of us are aware of it. It is a war that is pitting the extreme extraction of resources against the land, the water and the people.

You could say I have become enamored with this rise of humanity that seems to be erupting. I feel a need to tell their stories, to participate as I can and most importantly to encourage everyone who understands this need to step up in this defining moment and take a stand. What are you stepping into? A leaderless awakening of people who are accepting the mandates of being alive: We are on people with one earth and it is our right, duty and privilege to stand together for one another and all of the living yet to come. There is something happening that no amount of arrests, tear gas and rubber bullets will stop. We are finding one another and we are finding our way.

From my extended stay and recent visits to the still existing camps of North Dakota standing for clean water in spite of horrific circumstance and to my most recent (albeit short) visit to Lancaster, Pennsylvania to witness the three year vigil of community members preparing for nonviolent civil disobedience in the face of sprawling pipelines moving fracked gas, I have come to appreciate, admire and learn from these unsung heroes.

It would be wise to ask why mainstream media is willing to accept the story line of corporate oil, fracked gas and cracker plants, but we should not wait until the media catches up with the truth in order to act. We can be honoring these people and their actions and supporting them with dollars, phone calls to legislators and most importantly, following their lead on creating community, reducing consumption and learning to live in ways that do not require extreme extraction and destruction.

You see, I grew up across the street from an industrial park, allowed to spill toxins into the air and corrupting the water supplies. And I have seen first hand the cost in health to the people in that area. I have also experienced the corruption of elected officials, who are willing to allow pollution in order to hold the carrot of “jobs” and “progress” over people. My recent visit back to the place of my birth tells me, nothing has changed and more “progress” is on the way, now in the form of a “cracker plant”. Studies are concluding that the air quality will be severely diminished, and that the reality is that Americans are using less energy (due to improved technologies and quite simply a need to reduce costs), but still the polluters charge on. Add to this the recent improvements of solar and wind renewables – and one has to ask, “Why are we still willing to piss on the ground and water we live on?” More importantly, “Why are we not trying to leave this world a better place to those who will come after us?”

I am perplexed by the priorities we often choose – or the lack thereof. I realize too many of us are heaped in debt that keeps us too busy to contribute to meaningful dialogue regarding the environment – but I am not certain this is a worthy argument. We do seem to make time for entertainment and other luxuries. This is a bit reminiscent of the orchestra playing while the Titanic sunk…”Nearer My God to Thee”.

And the complete irony of my present moment is that I now live in a pristine area of Southwestern Wisconsin, and within the 150-mile radius of sand mining, which has proven to be the distance silica (read carcinogenic) sand particles can find their way into the lungs of innocent and reluctant victims of this “progress”. Couple that with the fact that the sand being dug is destroying beautiful farming landscapes and being shipped to where? The fracking sites in Pennsylvania and other states. You can see that I am witnessing this brutal assault on land, water and people from both ends of the spectrum. And I do not like what I see.

So imbedded in this blog, besides my imploring people to take an active stance to save the environment, are links to help you navigate the storylines too often omitted or buried. Please take time to read and understand. It is my hope that more people will rise up to protect the land, water and air upon which they depend. That we will come to realize this path of destruction and eradicating the lifestyles of indigenous people world over, and here in North America deserves our attention and our clarity.

And perhaps it is time for a bigger awareness. There is no “us and them”. What has been done to “them” is continuing and is also being done to “us” – just ask the Appalachian people who have witnessed mountain top removal. Just ask the folks from Midland Pa and other Beaver County residents who have been burdened by Shippingport nuclear and will now be faced with the calamity of a cracker plant. Just ask the over 800 people arrested on trumped up charges in North Dakota because they dared to say, “No”.

We all must say “No”. Take a moment to read about the three year stand of the people of Conestoga, Pennsylvania – and how Amish and Mennonites, Native Americans and good ole Whites are coming together in community to stop the Marcellus shale-turned-gas pipelines. Or the Nebraska farmers refusing to sell their land for the Keystone XL pipeline – which will be transporting Canadian tar sands oil through America’s heartland and aquifers to be sold to foreign countries without benefit to our people, but benefitting only international corporations (while being defended by the United States government and militarized police).

It is in our hands. People all over this country are demonstrating this with victories large and small. As Martin Luther King understood, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.

Choose your path wisely. Your children’s children will thank you. The Earth will hold you dearly in its memory, but most importantly, you will be able to sleep at night knowing you were among the Ones who said, “Not on my watch.”

Find an environmental issue near you – trust me they are not too hard to find – discover community, find your joie de vivre and give it the best you can. Even one phone call a day to a friend or legislator to share what you are learning is valuable and helpful. Speaking from experience, you will not be disappointed. There are American heroes standing up every day. Be one of them.

*******

This short video by my friend Kahstosera’a Paulette Moore captures the meeting of two world-views on a singular day, Oct 10, 2016 in unceded Sioux territory, Morton County ND, and the continued repercussions of that day. Centuries of extreme extraction and an unwillingness to view the earth as sacred meet up with indigenous people recognizing, “It is our moment”, and reclaiming the sacred. The juxtaposition of this human collision of values demands our attention. While the question, “What are they afraid of?” is one that we all must answer.

 

Cover photo: from Lancaster Against Pipelines 

Turn Around

I have returned from my latest visit to North Dakota where I was witness to the full array of humanity.

From a court system now forced to process over 800 cases of predominantly bogus arrests and trumped up charges; to a police force abused by its own government and asked to harm its fellow citizenry in order to protect the greed of a dying oil industry; to a local media determined to maintain a false narrative of Natives as violent and dangerous; to a predominantly white body politic willing to sacrifice their own humanity out of fear and ignorance – juxtaposed to the warm welcome and hospitality of Water Protectors still camping and standing for the water; of people returning to support, document and celebrate the efforts of all of the Water Protectors; to those just arriving to continue their own personal learning and to find their own strength and clarity to add their voice to the struggle; and to the non Natives that are beginning to find their voice in support of Native rights, treaty rights and protection of the water…juxtaposition is a great teacher.

From what I can tell the momentum towards victory is on the side of humanity. The Stand at Standing Rock is not over. Out of the rubble and as the smoke clears it is plain to see humanity on the rise.

There are beautiful efforts by organizations such as Honor the Earth, North Dakota Human Rights Coalition, and Sacred Pipe Resource Center reaching out to the people of Mandan and Bismarck to help bridge the gap of misunderstanding among people. I was grateful to be at this gathering and I encourage you to take a listen.

There is a core group of people holding on in camps sprinkled around the area. They are not giving up on stopping the flow of oil and they are bringing their full attention towards learning to live in sustainable ways – which includes creating new ways of governance. They are insisting all voices be heard and consensus must become the norm not the exception. They are allowing ways for human interaction with one another and the Earth that our dominant culture has not allowed. For me being among these people was like being home. Living respectfully on the earth, not hiding from it or trying to alter it is some artificial way. They are place-based people and they are inviting the land to teach and guide them.

A final stop as we were departing Bismarck taught me again about the resilience of truth and the importance of human interaction. We met a man who asked why we were visiting North Dakota. Wary of white anger towards Water Protectors, we hedged and then one of us asked, “What do you think about the pipelines?” He then launched on a soliloquy that we were not expecting. “They should not have gone through the water. They had a chance to go north of Bismarck, but they chose to go through the water. Why not over the water, if that is the course they had to choose? It’s not a matter of “if”; it is “when” the pipes will rupture. This has gone on too long, this abuse of Native people has gone on too long”…at that point I reached out to shake his hand. I know what it is like to take a position that is counter to my peers.

And then he said he had driven by Oceti Sakowin Camp and commented on the ongoing destruction and the over use of concertina razor wire. He asked it we knew about the camp he had driven by. We told him we had visited that camp and that if he wanted to he should visit, that the people would be very grateful to receive him, would treat him with respect and would be happy to have his support.

Planting seeds. We are not islands. We need one another. What is right, needs to be fostered. What is wrong, needs to be changed. North Dakota listen to your son, listen to those among you who recognize the travesty that you have allowed. Listen, for once, to the Native voice and make peace with your land and your people. Take time to correct your mistakes. Continue to dismiss the arrest charges  on the many many arrests where there is no substantial evidence. BJ Nastacio should be an honored hero for disarming a man with a rifle, not facing trial. And it is time to recognize the difference between ceremony and “riot”. You may have fooled the world with distorted media, but to those of us who were there to witness, you remain in contempt of humanity and in disrespect of the earth and water.

There is much support still needed for the Water Protectors here. There are many ways to help and much more to learn from them. And yet as they reminded us, carry on the fight wherever you live and do it in whatever way you can.

This is the brilliance of our time, we can communicate with one another, we can learn from one another but ultimately it is our personal walk that we must attend to. We must turn around the beliefs of conquest over resources and people; we must turn around a walk of destruction on the Earth to a Walk of Beauty. We must do it first in our own lives, change what we can and do it now without hesitation. Do it proudly and share with others so no one feels alone. Celebrate the victories of people all over the world who are standing up and saying, “No more, not in my life, not on my watch.”

Recognize that you are a part of a great turn around. A great turn within. There is strength inside of us and around us to return this earth garden. And when people tell you it is not possible, do not blindly accept their words. Challenge them by living differently. Show them compassionately that a new / old way is possible and good.

What have I received from this visit to Standing Rock? We are finding our way, we will not be stopped, and this moment called now is our greatest strength. I am proud to be a Water Protector. I am grateful for this turn around. It is time.

I look forward to adding to this post the interviews, video,  photos and remarks of my comrades on this trip Rebecca Kemble, Paulette Moore and Esty Dinur. The richness that we shared is still resonating and I continue to learn. With tremendous thanks!2017-03-29

Mystery

That was the name I gave her when she was born. Her freckled face and extra shy disposition gave her that name and she has lived up to it.

If people tell you that all animals are the same, they are horribly mistaken. One of the greatest travesties of our large animal feed lots is that the human providers can no longer be human. There is seldom time for the respect or the patience required to see how unique each animal actually is – and there is no time to discover our own awe and delight in the heart of it.

But I have made sure to give myself that kind of time and I have been taught so very much by my four-legged friends because of it. I shear my sheep with scissors. I give them a bit of corn – the only time they get corn – and I invite them to give me their wool. We call it the ‘corn for wool project’. I have been doing it for a few years now and the older girls and the less timid come running for their treat. You can tell right off who is willing and eager by the way their locks are cut. Some have a shabby chic look because they have figured out that the longer the hair cutting takes the more days with corn…Still others have not yet warmed up to the idea and I am trying to earn their trust in many ways.

This winter I have noticed that my friend Mystery has taken to be the last coming for hay. She does not charge up like so many of the others and she has gradually hung back waiting for me to bring hay to her. Sometimes if I am in a bit of a hurry, I have to check my self as I see her hanging back, seemingly too timid to get into the tussle over hay with the others. I talk to her and remind her she must eat and that sometimes it is necessary to stand up for yourself and not back down – sheep can be very bossy, you know. She watches me warily but with a certainty that I will not forget her, knowing she will get a heaping helping of love with that hay. She tugs at my heart in her shyness and her unwillingness to fight and we have come to expect this dance now, she and I. I have wanted to tell you about her for some time, but I wasn’t sure the words would capture her as well as a picture would, so I was very happy when she struck this pose for me today.

Life has its precious moments, most likely all of them, if we have the eyes to see. Take time for the mystery. The sheer delight of it outweighs the greatest hardships.

Soon it will be time to begin cutting the sheeps’ wool. Each one will show me their uniqueness. Each will demand, play coy, challenge me and one or two may even give me a head butt; each one will teach me. And maybe, just maybe, I have earned the trust of one as shy as Mystery. Who knows?

Take time for mystery; she will teach you.mis tery

welcome resistance

When the Resistance expands to more than hating one man and one ideology, count me in.

Lots of people are talking about resistance these days, I say, “Welcome”.

I’ve been resisting all my life. At a very young age I resisted derision after realizing the words written in the sandbox that said, “Dena is a homo” were true. Understanding acceptance of that truth would alienate me from family and friends, I resisted living a lie and remained true to my life’s path. I resisted the lure of completing college and becoming an attorney, and accepted a deeper passion that pulled me toward self-discovery and peace.

Later in life, I resisted western medicine and could have been arrested as a felon for practicing acupuncture (even though National Board recognized) because the powerful American Medical Association chose to see the ancient practice as “surgery” to maintain their grip on American healthcare. And when I saw the artful practice sifted through the legal and political system to suite the AMA, I resisted assimilation into a health system focused on curing, not preventing disease and chose instead to learn about health and healing from indigenous people.

I resist a life of “comfort” for life on a sustainable farm. I resist the “rugged individualism” for a life of community. I resisted tearing down mountains for my electricity and instead, put up solar panels. And I am currently resisting the extraction and transport of fossil fuels and finding creative natural ways to power my world.

I resist America’s wars, including the trumped up war on drugs that has move us quickly to the school to prison pipeline. I have lived without television for more than fifteen years now, resisting the spoon-feed propaganda from all sides. I resist the two party systems, allowing me the freedom to think and choose…and most recently I have stood with people for the protection of water, resisting the oil conglomerates intent on earth-destruction.

For me resistance has not been about being against, as about being for. So as I watch friends jumping on the resistance bandwagon, I am curious. What are you for?

Welcome to the resistance. I am not the first, nor the last to say these things, there are many more in this trail of humanity who have said “No” to ignorance. It is a bold and fulfilling step towards being fully alive. It doesn’t come in a package. It isn’t necessary to be part of a crowd. We are not sheep. I have sheep. Sheep are wonderful beings that I truly enjoy. But I do not want to be a sheep. The gift of living as a human being is the most rewarding; the gift of thinking is an absolute necessity; the gift of choice is impeccable. Resist ignorance. Resist compliance. Resist becoming redundant. You are unique. Celebrate it.

Welcome to the resistance.

My First Home

“Where the hills of Pennsylvania stand like sentinels round, nestled fondly in the valley lies my high school town”… Rochester’s Alma Mater.

I grew up with some of the finest people, loyal people, hard working people, passionate people. Generations of immigrants, arriving on the shores of America and winding up in a little bit of paradise in western Pa. Many encouraged to come to work in the coal strip mines and new steel producing plants lining the three beautiful rivers there.

They started their gardens, some brought their skills of glass blowing and glass artistry fostering more industry, while maintaining their artisan dignity. The ends of World War I and  II brought the arrival of development and commercialization of wartime industries – and this included highly toxic substances used in nearly all manufacturing and food industries. This new turn eventually upended the smaller glass plants and other small industry driving young people looking for the almighty “job” into toxic wastelands for work.

Chunks of paradise began eroding. One of my off hand comments, “I should glow in the dark for all that I was exposed to in my first seventeen years”, was jokingly said to make light of the reality that was not only my life, but too many of the descendants of the good people of “The Valley”. Wealthier enclaves were able to keep the environmental destruction at arms length. But I am doubting that will continue.

Steel mills long gone, many have struggled to find work with a living wage. The Beaver Valley Nuclear Generating Station still operates, and many residents are rejoicing over the cracker plant soon to become operational, ignoring environmental outcries. Fracking, destroying water supplies and causing earth rumblings is also increasing in the area…

So I have to ask my People, when is enough, enough? How much destruction will we allow in paradise?  Have we not witnessed enough times being sold out by industry and left to flounder ? What is being promised to make us believe we will not be duped again? I urge my family, my friends to remember our roots, as I do. Call back dignity; it is waiting for you. Our ancestors stood up for better lives; it is our turn. Our People came here to improve the lives of their children and children’s children. How can we continue to destroy their future over transitory “jobs”?

The Earth is worth more than this. We are worth more than this. Wake up. Stand up.

Trust in better ways and find them.