Discarding Straitjackets

My wife and I binged watched Heartstopper, a British coming of age romantic comedy. I was touched by the openness of the teens regarding their gender questioning, but startled by the hatred and fear that remains towards those not status quo.

In the fifty years that have passed since my own teen-age questioning things have changed. Youth who refuse the straitjacket of heterosexuality can more easily find support. Gender fluidity and non-binary concepts have replaced the need to take on stereotypical labels. Organizations like PFLAG have helped lessen the sting of abuse. Yet abuse remains

The morality police have made it their business to beg local school boards to prohibit any displays of gender questioning. How absolutely foolish this is on so many levels. 

I understand learning that gender is not binary and that gender fluidity has always existed in the human race must be hard for some who’ve been raised with blinders on. But to insist that your ignorance be law is a bit much. We are crawling out of the hole dug by puritanical thinking, and I’m sorry for your discomfort. But march on we will.

Perhaps your discomfort will be lessened if you learned about different cultures and their acceptance of the reality that gender is a spectrum. It would be kind of you to drop your shock and fear long enough to understand the pain caused by bigotry. 

Bigotry: noun

  1. obstinate or unreasonable attachment to a belief, opinion, or faction; in particular, prejudice against a person or people on the basis of their membership of a particular group.

I can assure you from my own personal experiences, that your momentary discomfort over things that are not your business are nothing compared to the struggle and pain of being gender fluid in this culture. And the statistics on suicide and suicide attempts by gender questioning youth confirm this.

And to youth daring to be: Don’t be robbed by ignorance. Dance on.

Books Unite Us…

In recognition of Banned Books Week, September 18 through 24, I took a deep dive into the list of Classics that are banned or challenged. Unsurprisingly I found some of my favorite authors: Faulkner, Hemingway, Morrison, Steinbeck, Alice Walker, and James Baldwin. Seeing Richard Wright’s Native Son on the list took me back to a high school English class and the horror I felt at the shocking truth it taught me about race. 

I’m forever grateful to the teachers who encouraged us to step out of our parochial view of the world. Through books they opened the door of our mutual humanity, in all of its complexities, glory, and ugliness.

I learned I had nothing to fear in words or ideas. I learned that the free will to choose is a powerful tool and that the ability to discern right from wrong is an inherited strength. In reading about diverse people, empathy grew. In understanding history from those who lived through wars and the Depression, I recognized the wisdom of not allowing ignorance to rule. 

Those who fear books and the ideas expressed within them cling to a worldview as skewed as the ones they fear. Those who would ban books are afraid to open minds and hearts to a broader humanity. They curtail understanding and are a curse to upcoming generations.

Fear is not what we need to propagate. Censorship is not a game to be played. Self-reflection is a worthy art and when we understand we are a fraction of the human kaleidoscope, life becomes a wondrous journey.

No one should have the right to clip the wings of freedom. In truth no one can. Ideas are born within the breath of every unique individual.

And that cannot be banned.

You can Support the Right to Read by signing the petition from the American Booksellers Association.

From ALA.org

What Informs You?

The people of Pakistan are suffering monsoon rains never before witnessed, thousands displaced and over a thousand dead as the toll mounts. Afghanis are suffering malnutrition and starvation while the United States and the World Bank restricts the flow of money to them. Nineteen years after the invasion of Iraq the culture remains fractured, the infrastructure tattered, leaving many in dire need. And while the game of annihilation continues in Ukraine, most of the “civilized world” can only insist on money for more bombs, more destruction and more death. 

If that’s too far away we can zoom in on Jackson, Mississippi where people are currently and in the unforeseeable future without water due to flooding and damaged systems. That would be drinking water, bathing water; you name it, no water for 150,000 people elders, babies and everyone in between. 

Is it too much to think about? Some, I know, only want to hear good things. Happy things. Or maybe you’re one of those who believe it’s all preordained. The world is getting its just deserts delivered by an angry god. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll be the lucky one.

The way I see it, we got ourselves into this mess and we need to be the ones to get ourselves out. As a member of humanity, I allow myself to grieve our losses and celebrate our victories – wherever they may be. And I will champion my hope that our better days are still ahead. 

I choose to recognize the drop of the divine we carry may ultimately triumph over the ignorance we exalt.

If we challenge the beliefs that keep us imprisoned, if our hearts would inform us instead of our fears, the hardships will come, but our outcomes could be so very, very different.

Keep the faith and fight.

Calling All Hearts

I like talking to people. They tell you in very few words what they believe and how they live. Believing is the easy part. Living with conviction is a bit more daunting. 

You can believe we’re one race, but continue to uphold systematic racism.

You can believe the environment is harmed by human behavior, but refuse to consider even the smallest steps to rectify it.

You can proclaim we’re all equal and never let the ERA pass.

You get my point.

What then helps a person jump from believing to knowing and from knowing to conviction of action? Believing is the weak link in the chain. Throw doubts at it and belief falters. Or feed it lies and it grows into a mechanism of societal destruction. Look no further than January 6, ‘21 to understand this point.

So the first leap, from belief to knowing is crucial. Facts change. They always have and always will. It’s the nature of the physical world to be in flux. Knowing fact is not the “Knowing” we need. 

There’s an internal knowing available to us if we take the time to seek it.

That knowing supports the recognition of humanity and leaves no doubt about the massacre of innocent people or the ignorance of war. It simply should not be. That knowing understands the interconnectedness of all life. And that knowing honors the Earth as our home. 

With this Knowing a person can be readied for a life lived in conviction. A life lived in fulfillment of purpose, in recognition that we’re not here by accident or chance and that we all have a part to play.

And what is that part you play? 

The discovery and enjoyment of the part you play is left to you and to your heart.

More Thinking, Less Bureaucracy

With the influx of city dwellers fleeing the urban jungle, and farm acreage being cut into bite sized pieces to accommodate, sewage and wastewater are in the spotlight. Whether a holding tank or a septic field, there’s often a lot more going down then simply number one or number two. Household cleaners, toxic chemicals and now PFAS – known as “forever chemicals” are turning up in our sludge. 

OK you say, but the truck sucks it up and takes it away. Ah, but there’s the rub. Where is it taken?  The EPA will tell you more than half of all sewage sludge is spread on farmlands. And studies are showing farmers and farm workers are paying the price, not to mention the animals and humans who are eating from those fields or drinking from contaminated wells.

Organic standards do not allow the use of sewage sludge to be used as fertilizer. That’s one remedy. We have become very good at mitigating problems at there end point, but we have a long way to go to stop the very egregious actions that are creating the mess in the first place. 

The state is becoming hyper vigilant in demanding every household be responsible to contain waste, while big polluters are given a pass. Simple composting and greywater systems which could offset waste are not permitted or are enforced in such a way that they still end up in the toxic stew scattered over farmlands. We’re not thinking this through.

Stop the production of PFAS, reduce the amount of chemicals being created and used, and allow common sense to return. We’re still living as though we have not heard that the earth is warming at an alarming rate, or that we could play a part in protecting it. 

Biosolid Map: The spreading of wastewater sludge (biosolids) on agricultural land, a common practice dating to the 1980s, is concentrated in the eastern U.S. where groundwater depth is relatively shallow, raising concerns about widespread PFAS contamination affecting drinking water. Source: EPA webinar, “PFAS in Biosolids,” Sept. 23, 2020.

Rescind the Doctrine

Hubris comes to mind as I read about the Pope’s apology tour of Canada. But this isn’t about the Pope who is gagged by power and the ignorance of ages.  It’s about the dominant culture that continues to ignore the gross and inhumane facts on how indigenous people were and are treated. It’s about the Doctrine of Discovery, how so very few of us know what it is or don’t care about how it still influences our thinking and behavior.

When the Si Pih Ko stood before the Pope and sang the “Our Village” song, dominant media raced to explain that she was singing the Canadian National anthem in Cree. You can see her sing, tears rolling down her cheeks, defiance and dignity emanating from her. And the media whitewashed it as “the Canadian anthem in Cree”. 

I call hubris: excessive pride that leads to downfall. 

The Doctrine of Discovery originated as edicts by the Catholic Church in the 15th century. They empowered Portugal and Spain to colonize West Africa and the Americas by all means necessary. It’s estimated that twelve million indigenous human beings died since 1492. Unmarked graves of children at residential schools tell the story of brutalization and erasure of native people by all means necessary.

At the stand at Standing Rock when Christian clergy approached the sacred fire and asked to burn the Doctrine of Discovery, they were told “No. Because it’s not over.” In that moment I witnessed the depth of pain and the ignorance of dominance collide.

No, it’s not over. It’s alive in the trauma of remembrance and in current Supreme Court decisions. It’s not over, until we purge the hubris, or succumb to the downfall. We must rescind the Doctrine of Discovery from our beings.

What Matters Most

I’ve heard it said that the peace movement is all but dead. Old activists still stand on street corners talking to the wind and wonder why and how people can walk on by and not see the obvious. I have deep respect for their tenacity and effort. Statisticians remind us the young may register but often do not vote. We all wrestle with laying blame as pundits pontificate about human apathy. I think we are all barking up the wrong tree.

While we insist on getting our points across and spend fruitless hours on facts that will be countered by more facts, we have forgotten the secret ingredient. Saint-Exupery said it best in The Little Prince, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye.” 

We’ve lost our ability to listen to our heart. Driven by all things external, we hope to hit upon some semblance of truth and all the while ignoring the precious gems we carry within us. This ignorance is wide spread.

But here is the greatest secret of all: for there to be peace we must feel peace. Peaceful people do not make war. Peaceful people are engaged in the internal struggle to remain clear in a very confused world. Peaceful people would rather spend time enjoying the fruit of their effort, love and contentment. They don’t waste time creating calamity.

As lies and treachery are being exposed regarding the insurrection on January 6th, and as our current leader meets with a known Saudi assassin and continues to pump millions into weaponry, one has to wonder how did we get here?

The answer is simple: we stopped listening to what matters most. 

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“They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”
–Isaiah the Prophet

photo: silkscreen print, Library of Congress, Public Domain

Becoming Human

Slipping through the cracks. That’s how it feels. We’re living in a time with a lot of cracks and people are trying to hold on and not fall through. If there ever were safety nets, they’re long gone. Children may now fear going to a parade. Police firing sixty bullets to unarmed Jayland Walker shows just how unhinged we have become.

We’re not bound for glory, we’re hell-bent on self-destruction as if all has been preordained and our ability to choose is irrelevant. But I’m a believer in choice. And I know it is still within us to choose something better, something greater than we’re currently living. 

Lists can be made of all that is horribly and tragically wrong, but there is no time. I could join the chorus of gun control and mental health advocates and while I support those efforts, we miss the point if that’s all we see. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me and even fewer may understand; yet I know this is the moment to discover our inner strength. This is the moment to step beyond hope and prayers and step into our knowing. It is possible.

It’s possible that we can choose respect and kindness in the face of ignorance and hatred. It’s possible we can overcome. We’re not the first and we’ll not be the last who have had to fight to preserve our human dignity. But fight we must.

Let this be an awakening of our spirit. Let it be our time for a change, time for the lovers, the healers, for the broken.  Time to be human again.

We need to see the ugliness that has always been here in us and around us. But we must also find the strength and the courage to witness our Beauty. 

While there are no silver bullets to change the world, there are practical steps that can be made. This is one that I have chosen for the past fifty years. Practicing Peace.

Loving Makes It Easy

The days keep growing longer. The birds, crickets and frogs break the silence with sweet sounds. The fireflies are back and their magic still enchants. Walking through the forest, the scents are a tonic, each plant offering its own special gift. The soil in the garden is a balm for feet and hands. Senses are heightened and gratitude comes easily. 

And I wonder why we ever took ourselves out of the garden.

If you look at your family history you’ll find it’s not been that long that our ancestors coexisted with the earth. It hasn’t been that long since they “made a way out of no way”. There is something so very basic in our relationship to the earth, so very integral. It’s in our blood. We are made of this earth and we return to this earth. It’s natural to appreciate it. It’s natural to learn from it and to celebrate it. What is unnatural is to do it harm. And this we have been doing for some time now.

From industry to industrial ag, from chemical herbicides to chemical fertilizers, this need to make our lives easier has made it a living hell. 

I’m always happy to hear of people trying to end the harm. Most recently a Canadian company, McCain Foods, asked their Wisconsin potato growers to adopt regenerative practices by 2030.  There are a growing number of voices both consumers and producers ready for change. 

And how hard will that change be to make? Loving makes the need for change come more easily. When we fall in love with the earth and all its wonders, when we appreciate the delicacies it offers and delight in our ability to co-create, we will change. Our health and the health of the planet depend on it. 

Here Comes the Sun

If you’re thinking of putting up a home solar array in 2022 you will qualify for the 26% federal solar tax credit. That credit will drop to 22% in 2023 and will conclude in 2024. 

For those tempted to take the solar plunge, learning about your energy use and your energy waste are perhaps the most important considerations. Reading your monthly statements, understanding your peak times of use, changing to LED bulbs and using energy efficient appliances will dramatically reduce your electric bill.

It’s an exercise in conscious living and it’s very satisfying to your pocketbook. 

Most rural people have forgotten the history of how electricity came to the countryside. It was the establishment of cooperatives that allowed the forgotten regions of this country to obtain electricity. 

Today most are cooperative members, but seldom understand our roles as co-owners. Happy for the lights to go on, we have entrusted the financial workings of the energy cooperatives to boards and stakeholders. As we move to renewable energy, this may be a moment to reconsider inaction and become involved. 

If you’re holding out hope that your energy provider will increase their use of solar and that it will decrease your costs, it’s time to think again. Out of state third party developers are taking advantage of this leap towards solar and are investing in local solar systems. What you aren’t being told is how much you will be paying for this “service” as our cooperatives sign on to contracts that in many cases will outlast our lifetimes. It’s estimated that Vernon County ratepayers export $76 million yearly in energy costs.

So on top of your conscientious reduction of energy waste, it’s time to let your coop board know that you would prefer to keep our dollars local. 

For a great presentation by Vernon County Energy District members Samantha Laskowski, Kaila Wilson and independent solar enthusiast, Rob Danilelson, click here.