The theme for October’s QVS common programming was “Creation Care.” For the second Friday in the month, we had the opportunity to gather at Germantown Friends School, where some of our time together was devoted to exploring our relationship with Creation as a community.
Prior to Friday, everyone read two articles: Forget Shorter Showers by Derrick Jensen and The Pleasures of Eating by Wendall Berry. Each presented a perspective on the actions we can – and often are encouraged to – take and the effects these actions have upon ourselves and our world. We had queries to reflect upon for our discussion.
Forget Shorter Showers made us face the overall small impact our personal actions have in contrast to the harm the industrial economy is causing to the environment. Jensen criticized his perception of some environmentalists, who treat personal actions as political work for environmental change – and then don’t go beyond that to act in ways that would change the system which is inherently harmful to our world and ourselves. In our discussion, we explored our motives for engaging in environmentally friendly habits, and what we thought about Jensen’s idea of political action. We felt in agreement that it seems like there is a problem when many people are satisfied to make their own lifestyle “green” and not move beyond that into activism.
The Pleasures of Eating emphasized the spiritual importance of engaging with eating as an agricultural act. Berry’s concerns lie with the separation of the urban consumer from the origins of his food. Because food appears on the grocery store shelves prepackaged and preprocessed, there is a disconnect which keeps food and agriculture separate in an average shopper’s mind. Understanding and asking questions about how our food gets to us – and what we’re paying for beyond the food item itself – can lead to a spiritual well-being around eating, and a natural arc of food production that begins with the earth and ends with thoughtful enjoyment of a meal. The article led to a discussion about how we experience this disconnect in our own lives, and how we see it to have affected urban concepts of agriculture. We recognized the privilege that goes hand in hand with the opportunity to engage in the practices Berry advocates and explored how we handle this conflict in our own lives.
The articles didn’t stand in direct opposition, as it seemed they might when we chose them to discuss at the QVS day two weeks prior. Jensen kept us unsatisfied with merely what we could do within our house, and we recognized that to have an impact we would have to engage in actions which create systemic change, not just personal adaptations. Berry reminded us about the spiritual self-care that is important to maintain, and how awareness of our food’s agricultural history will keep us nourished and connected.
A few weeks ago Ross and I gave a presentation to about 170 middle school students at the Germantown Friends School before they embarked on their Middle School Day of Service, for which they worked at various places, from community gardens to food pantries. To energize them in this mission, Ross and I attempted to infuse them with commitment to community and appreciation for the uniqueness their community members. I tried to convey the importance of these ideas by telling the middle school students a few stories about some experiences I have had and what I’ve learned from them.
The first story I told was about an experience I had volunteering to help people move into a transitional housing facility when I was in middle school. During this I met a girl who was moving into the housing with her mother, who had recently gotten a job and was transitioning out of homelessness. Talking to this girl was really the first time I felt able to put a face to experiences of homelessness and poverty and began to see them as a part of the world I lived in, as opposed to some dark and mysterious separate reality. It made me realize how different one person’s life could be from my own, despite all our human commonalities, and how important it was to me to work together with people who were experiencing such challenges. That was my first story.
The next idea that I wanted to convey to the students was that people can see the same thing in totally different ways. I explained how this realization hit me when I was in high school and I got into an email conversation over email with a Chinese student about Tibet. At the time, I had only heard a little bit about protesting that had been happening in Tibet. The people who I had heard talking about it were saying that the people who were protesting were in the right, but what Alice argued passionately in her email was that the protesters were trying to tear China apart. This encounter made me realize that people can see things in a way totally different from the dominant perspective of which I am aware. Through this I learned that I have to keep digging and asking questions in order to understand various perceptions of a situation.
I also told the middle school students about two experiences I had volunteering at an organization called High Rocks, which provides educational enrichment programs for girls in a rural area of West Virginia. First I learned how much I could learn from people whom I thought I would be teaching. I realized this when we held a workshop to talk about how to improve schools and I realized that the middle school girls we were talking to had a lot of great ideas I wouldn’t ever have thought of for what kinds of help they wanted in their schools. This made me realize how important it is to be open to being taught by whomever I encounter.
I also I told a story about pouring concrete into holes to support the support beams of a building at High Rocks. I explained that while we were doing this I felt frustrated because it seemed like it had nothing to do with supporting the educational aspirations of girls. However when we all had dinner together, I realized that the beams made it possible for the kitchen to have a floor, which made it possible for us to have a kitchen to have dinner in, which was so important because it gave us all a space to be and talk and really get to know each other and learn from each other. So even things that seem a little irrelevant can really connect to a bigger picture.
Ross then talked about the importance of building communities based on love and commonalities, and then we sent the kids off for their day of service!