From "Creed," by Dom Helder Cámara

I want to believe that the whole world

Is my home, the field I sow,

And that all reap what all have sown.

I will not believe that I can combat oppression out there

If I tolerate injustice here.

I want to believe that what is right

Is the same here and there

And that I will not be free

While even one human being is excluded.

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Lord's Prayer, for the Planet

Many people I admire--Barbara Kingsolver, Charles Eisenstein, most of the world's farmers and the rural poor, the Carteret Islanders--believe humanity will be extinct within 50 years. We can no longer dispute the reality of climate change, though the question of when its severity will topple, or perhaps merely transform, the society inhabited by the world's most well-off people, remains unanswered.

On September 23, 2014 in New York City, UN Secretary General Ban-ki Moon has called an emergency climate summit, a declaratory, final effort to gather the world's leaders around the crisis of climate change before science officially declares we began too late. According to the summit's organizers, we have a year and a half left to reverse current disastrous trends. After that, Barbara Kingsolver might be right.

In solidarity with this summit, the people of NYC and have called a People's Climate March. Parallel marches are happening all over the country (find yours here).

I am attending this event not only to re-examine the baggage I carry that I am, we are, powerless and despairing, but also to feel the sheer unitive power emerging from a gathering of people who are as terrified, electrified, and numb as I am.

I realize more heavily--and hopefully, for a more beautiful, unified world--every day that our children's generation will not inhabit the post-Industrial Revolution world that I have learned to populate. Perhaps the climax will occur sooner than that.

Even spirituality will change.

Prompted by the march, by the countless times I have uttered these words without any sort of reverence, skeptical about its application to our time, I offer a re-imagined version of the sacred mantra of the Catholic faith tradition, the Our Father, proclaimed by Jesus to be the perfect prayer, perfect beyond time and crisis.

Our Father, and Mother, and great Creator, the plural-feminine Elohim, who birthed the blackholes and blackberries alike, who art in heaven but viscerally, illimitably present, sovereign, within and throughout Earth, hallowed, like a Druid oak grove, the Ganges, the Blue Ridge Mountains, be thy name.

Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, by your sand-speck sons and daughters, through whom your reign may burst or shrivel, on Earth, the only Real we know, as it is in Heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread, tilled, sown, tended, kneaded, baked, by many hands, whose sweat, without speaking, enters our souls,

And forgive us our trespasses, our luxuries and apathies and ignorance, once invisible, now menacing

As we forgive those who trespass against us, for only through our unshakeable bonds, named and cherished and healed, can we re-learn the sacred, can we learn to breathe again.

And lead us not into temptation, but from evil, from the crumbling continuance of what science prophesies, deliver us, your People, into a cool fertile glow of resurrection.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

A Tea Time in his Shoes

This is a story about a date.

It begins like this. I drive my car to the store to buy shoes.

I usually bike everywhere, which I think myself dogged and subversive for doing, though I admit that if I lived anywhere but the bike capital of the West coast, I wouldn't care as much about tenacity.
But shoes come in a box, which is difficult to carry on a bike. So I drive my car to sports stores for running shoes, thrift stores for dress shoes, the hippie dance academy on Broadway for tailored silk salsa slippers (which I did not, in the end, buy).

I also drive my car to the post office to send packages to my friends around the country and world for their birthdays or whenever I see their love-me faces peering from the face of the perfect gift--Minnesota, Managua, Micronesia have been recent destinations.

And I drive my car to the bank when I'm too tired for bikes on Saturday mornings. I deposit money into an interest-earning account. If I live long enough and keep working hard enough, maybe I'll retire early and own a cottage on a lake near a mountain. Maybe then I'll be happy, says the footpath of my ingrained societal psyche.

My parents bought me a car when I was a sophomore in college. To me it seemed reasonable. My thought process went something like this. I am their daughter, I attend an urban university reasonably isolated from public transit, and I am an early-twenty-something from an affluent background. Also, I'm an only child, I've earned straight-As as long as I can remember, and I've been called by many a good girl, deserving of the best in the world. I glittered like well-polished, well-hidden gold, once.
The best in the world, at the time, in an easily swallowable, hardly conscious way, was a car.

A long white Mazda Protege that my surfboard would fit in. A $500 teal fiberglass longboard. It's in a shed now.

I recently biked to a cafe to meet a young man whom I met while salsa dancing. We watched an Argentina-Iran World Cup game together. He's from Mexico. On the dance floor, he noticed my red hair, and I noticed his smile, and shoes.

I don't usually notice men's shoes, but his were screaming. Slick, black, of one fabric with his hair, shirt, slacks and eyes. Conspicuous and intentional.

Every time I see him, he's wearing a different pair of shoes. All of them look new, and he always talks about how happy they make him. Some of his sneakers even looked polished. When I mentioned that I wished Messi hadn't cut his hair, he mentioned he didn't like Messi's shoes.

As I sipped a Tao of Tea vanilla chamomile fusion in a porcelain mug, wearing the same pair of thick-strapped practical sandals I wear everywhere all the time, I finally chortled, "What is it about you and shoes?"

Behind every question, you can find the pearly gates and an atom bomb.

As a young boy he grew up in a pueblo five miles from the nearest secondary school. When he was an elementary student in this tiny pueblo, he'd attend class without shoes. His parents told him that they could not support him financially if he continued to seek an education. The only thing they could give him was one pair of shoes per year.

So he walked five miles to school barefoot, and wore his shoes solely (HA) during class. As a seventh grader, his parents bought him a second pair of shoes. He wore his old shoes to walk the five miles, then put the new shoes on during class.

He was never smart, he said, merely a hard-worker. His teachers noticed (which is a rarity), and told him he had a chance to go to high school.

"We cannot help you much, but we'll give you what we can," said everyone who loved him. It was enough to get him to "Deh-Efeh," or Distrito Federal, the capital of Mexico, where, as a thirteen-year-old, he began washing windshields to pay for school. There wasn't enough money for a home, so for the first six months, he slept on the street. He told me with a giggle that in those months of his life, he'd only find a shower every three or four days.

I am a woman who doesn't sweat much and lives in a rain zone. I shower that much only if I'm exceptionally dirty.

The rest of his story I don't have yet. I know somehow he earned a scholarship to study English in the United States, and has been here at least eight years. He has fallen for punk music and can afford a storage closet, where he keeps a guitar and memorabilia from Mexico. He works sixty hours a week as a bartender at a Mexican restaurant and a taco restaurant in one of the wealthiest neighborhood of Portland, where they hired him for his smile. He's taking accounting classes at the local college in the mornings.

Once, he was arrested, detained for being undocumented, and threatened with torture if he didn't sign his deportation order. He was released when he refused to sign, saying such a threat violated his human rights.

In his spare time, he pursues women, plays video games and soccer, and dances (his words). He says he doesn't have enough money to visit family in Mexico, or to go on vacation, or take women on the sorts of dates he'd like to, but he finds money for shoes.

Now, within reason, he can have all the shoes he wants. And he stores them in a (used) dark green convertible, which he bought and touched-up himself.

And he can also afford to sit with me at a cafe, watching the World Cup, heating my privilege and fate-of-birth to boiling point with every discrepancy between his story and mine.

My parents bought me a surfboard.
His parents couldn't buy him shoes.
My parents bought me a car.
He obtained for himself a rag wet with spit and a few dented multicolored juggling balls to entertain passing drivers for a few pesos.

And now he buys tea for me. Behind every tea, you can find the pearly gates and an atom bomb.

I still believe the human race is asphyxiating itself with habits like watching global sports on flat screen TVs, video games, shoe-buying. I still praise my bike over all other material possessions.

I would never trade his life for mine, but I believe his footprints sink deeper into soft heaven.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Why the Wild

"To the humble, whose invisible choices are healing the world."
-Dedication at the beginning of The Better World Our Hearts Know is Possible, by Charles Eisenstein

Photo Credit: Jimmy Nelson,

Why the Wild
Daily, I exist in many buildings,
On computers, with the homeless,
Infantile inventions on the cosmic scale
And I go between places
On cracking roads
With cracking resolve.

Sometimes futility
Heartbreak, greed, addiction
Which drown dignity like quicksand
Bombard my blood
And I am infected into conveyance, into a cave
Where alive is assumed.

But the Spark in me
Which, though slighted, always speaks,
Says have you forgotten Why?
There may be no answer
But I know where I must go to ask.

In memory and imagination
And on the most sacred days
I seek what grows.
I abandon steel shadow for sun shine,
Electric for ethereal.

I take steps with the Moved-On,
Who upon leaving learned

I go places where giants danced,
on Pachamama’s goosebumps.
I ingest the remote revolving of mountain-valley tapestries
Where Her breath sends all cells dancing
Into an embrace, a resurrection,
Until I-Me cease to breathe
And become crying, coexisting, and remembering Why the Wild.

I go to trace that a seed grows
A universe expands
A life endures.
Thus we plant purpose, defy death.

I go to detect the butterfly wing drum
Which I feel like an earthquake in my chest
And together
We topple empires.

I go to reconsider the cosmic constituency,
Weaving webs of you, me, and worms:
Stardust, we’re all made of stardust,
And all those times the tears puttied my face
I was only summoning the supernova remnant in my soul.

Don’t fear the sublime;
the waiting extinction, the cliff drop.
Fear the crippling unCreated ordinary,
The thin extrinsic intonation,

Sing instead the immanent song
Less. Feel. Be. Now.
And if you have forgotten how or what to sing,
Find one tree.

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Porch Next Door

I often say that I am confused by life, and by that I don't mean stymied, as by GRE vocabulary. I mean that I "go after my life with a a broad-axe," which is what Annie Dillard says writers must do to themselves.

By tender-hearted people in aloof moments, I am asked why I do that, because doesn't it hurt?, and I wish I could explain in words, but answering that would be like defining love, or questioning a tower about gravity as it falls.

Then something happens viscerally and I know exactly how to answer.

Last night I came back from a Saturday and Sunday of camping, biking, and barbecues, after a Friday of passing out food and hygiene products to the chronically homeless, ended with a night of salsa dancing. I was tired, swollen with the pendulum of things. My eyes were red and my mind damp.

It was 10:30pm when I pulled in front of our corner house and heard our early-20-something neighbors on the porch. I've noticed them often. I'm a little older, but I find them attractive, in a distant way. They smoke and drink an array throughout the day. After work and school, they play drums and guitar late into the night, then finish their waking hours with thin women, Nintendo Wii, and revelry on the porch. They laugh a lot, and talk philosophy. I don't much like their smell. I do like their spirit.

They're at it again, and power to them, I thought, and began emptying camping gear from my car. The temptation of bed, of turning everything off, doubled the weight of the task. Then I heard the rumbling of a shopping cart turn onto our avenue. We live on the corner of a busy street on the edge of northern Portland, a highly gentrified zone where vegan cafes and social services agencies are equally myriad. We live two blocks from The Salvation Army.

Black face, black hat, black coat, black night. Cart full of blankets and plastic. She hummed as she passed my house, and I caught myself wondering if she were high or mentally ill. "Hello," I said. The word came out bubbly, earnestly. "Hello," she replied, with equal legitimacy.

She kept walking, so I kept living. She turned her cart up the cement walkway of the house next door. Avoiding blatant gawking, I saw her rummage through the bins below the white party porch, searching for bottles to turn in for refunds at Fred Meyer.

Above her, they were as gloriously high as she might have been. No one acknowledged her.

The rummaging through their glass beer bottles lasted two minutes, I counted, accompanied by persistent humming by a black woman in a black hat and black coat, below a white porch of white people in white light. The confluence was plangent enough in my head and in the air to wake the baby two houses down. But the philosophical murmurings on the porch next door never ended. The thin women and young man with a brew never turned around to see her. He finished his beer and put the empty bottle on the porch, awaiting the moment when he could chuck it over the bannister into the bin below, without hitting a woman in the nose.

They never turned around to see her.

Our culture is vague perplexing, our language perhaps more so. What is meant by "see"? Had they defied all societal boundaries by making their way down the porch steps, complimenting her on her glorious humming, offering her the last of their expensive beer bottles with a humble apology, along with a joint to numb her reality alongside theirs, a plate of food, a shower, and then progressing with their God-given prerogatives, would that count, as seeing? Or perhaps seeing means "going after your life with a broad-axe," and once seeing her, they'd never be able to play Wii (the same way?) again.

The woman didn't much seem to notice their neglect. I did. "Hey, do you see what's going on? Can you do something about this?" Said the voice in my conscience, to their souls, silently. But I stayed quiet. I carried my guitar and tent into my basement room, and I began to write this. I hope it counts.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Global Solidarity Checklist Part II: A Treatise on the Disastrously Unnecessary

Allow me to acknowledge we all have different comfort levels and definitions of "necessity," and that by arguing that the following items which are commonplace in our society are largely pointless, I am not trying to imply that you are me (how unfortunate for you) and have the same psychological and physical thresholds.

Rather, I am trying to start a conversation, beginning with what I know that I don't need, and why, and hoping you'll consider your own list. Also I'm trying to make you think, and laugh.

Without further ado, in honor of Earth Day, and in increasingly improbable order, here's a list of gizmos I have learned to live without, and what I use to replace them.

Tissue (Kleenex®): They're scratchy, too thin (don't your fingers get goopy when you use them?), and despite best efforts to used recycled components, ecologically unstable. Alternative: handkerchief.

Plastic grocery bags: Have you heard about Trash Island? Twice the size of Texas? Portland's doing just fine without these mindless conveniences. Alternative: canvas bags, and instead of supermarkets, farmers' markets!

Soda: I love this image of a struggling campaign in India. Our sisters and brothers in the developing world, and our children with increasing rates of diabetes and ADHD, know the truth better than we do--that we can learn to go without this luxury. In the meantime, know that an eighth grade classmate of mine left a baby tooth of hers in a glass of Coca-Cola for two weeks. By the end of the two weeks, PRESTO! No baby tooth. The tooth fairy must have gone corn-syrup diving. Alternative: for sugar and caffeine purposes, fresh fruit juice and fair trade coffee. Mixed together, of course.

Hair Dryers: The one thing I am vain about is my hair (and maybe the size and origin of my earrings). Beyond the obvious environmental laughability, these contraptions are amusing because they're more accurately called hair fryers. Alternative: sleep in.

Diamond Rings: I used to dream that the right man would semi-prostrate himself before me and present me with a rainbow rock. Then I watched Leonardo DiCaprio and Djimon Hounsou and did my own digging and discovered that most diamonds (and precious minerals in general) are mined by child slaves amid toxic fumes. Not to fear! Some of my recently-married friends have made both my day and serious fashion statements by foregoing the bloody bling. Alternative: a diamondless wedding (yep, I'm a cheap long-term date), or fairly-sourced diamonds and minerals.

Bottled Water: Do your own research (you could start here), but I've found that not only is it quite disastrous to the planet (and thus disastrous to our survival in the long-run), it's not better for personal health. Alternative: perpetual thirst. Just kidding, reusable bottle.

Gymnasiums: Machines were invented to reduce personal energy expenditures. And now we're plugging machines in to facilitate this process? Alternatives: bikes, jogs, dancing, and new gyms where workouts power the building. 

Televisions: Phones and computers, however ecologically and socially questionable, I can understand. But when did we fall asleep to pumping conflict minerals and fossil fuels into our nation's preferred at-rest activity? My alternatives: books, music, dance, the outdoors, and if you must, the internet. What are your alternatives?

Showers: During Lent, I confined myself to Alternative: baths and bucket-showers. Not only did they slow me down and calm me, they were remarkably easily to integrate into my daily routine. And in a world where a 2-minute daily shower is more than the average human being has access to in a month (more info here), such a compromise seems more than fair.

Clothes Dryers: Those of us who live in places that are warm, dry or windy during any part of the year have even less of an excuse. Alternative: Buy a wooden drying rack. Money and planet saved simultaneously. Just make sure the neighbors don't see your mom's bloomers parading on the breeze, or she'll smack you (you live and learn).

Flushing Toilets: Really? All this press about water shortages and we're using clean drinking water to send our feces on a lazy river ride? Alternative: revenge on your neighborhood enemies' front lawns, or here's a better one.

Other cool things to check out:
A cheaper, healthier, more sustainable alternative to pads and tampons (sorry, fellas, the next one will be less invasive to you)
The King of Sustainability in Hollywood
Why I Own A Dumb Phone: 7 Frightening Statistics about Cell Phones

I'm doubting this list will inspire you to yank out your porcelain throne and dig a hole under it. But perhaps you could turn off the computer for a bit and take a walk in the breeze. Now that I've spent an undisclosed number of hours staring at this screen, I think I'll do just that. Enjoy your Earth today. It's thanks to Her you're alive.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Chang in the City of Angels

I met Chang at the Hippie Kitchen in LA, when I was complaining. I was cutting onions after watering a littered garden for an hour. Distracted by my soiled pants, I had noticed but not engaged this peaceful-faced man with round glasses and a humble, healthy build. Tears invoked by the pungent air and my yawning trickled onto the bustling chopping board in front of me. Extra-salty salad. “Damn eyes. Impossible to work at full capacity when you’re tired and chopping onions,” I remarked to the company. Giggles of agreement.
“Heather, this is Chang. He’s new and volunteering this morning. Can you show him around?”
“Hey, Chang, you from around here?”
“I was from Seoul. Now I am from the Row.”
Like single mothers with five children who work two jobs, and war veterans who work for peace, volunteers at the soup kitchen who live on Skid Row bruise hearts because they defy impossibility, because their lucidity and energy within a circle of well-rested, reluctantly uncomfortable servers transcends the chaos of their circumstances.

Chang studied theology at a premiere Christian university in South Korea. A man of intellectual and fiercely genuine compassion, he fulfilled a dream to leave his home for Los Angeles, the City of Angels, with the intention of living not for the homeless, but with them.

He planted his pack in the Row, amid concrete slabs staked out with hastily scribbled cardboard signs, next to plastic bags that had become tents: “Jaynie’s Turf.” “Not Abandoned—Do Not Remove Belongings.” “Residence of Dutch and Tara Brown.” Chang dragged through his first night serenaded by drug sales and the uninhibited cackle-screams of destitute sleeplessness.

Though it can’t be said he woke up, because he never went to sleep, he marked the beginning of the next day by walking a few blocks to the first tendrils of LA gentrification. Third Street, where new and relentless $2,000 lofts and boulangeries wince at crumbling social services on sewage-stained sidewalks, fogs the senses. Chang, having just eaten his fill at the Hippie Kitchen, sat down on the concrete far enough from an up-and-coming cafe not to bother the customers, and began to observe.  He observed hungry black men with permanently angled faces shaking their cups asking for change, while young white and Asian folks gazed elsewhere as they passed. In their hands, five, ten, sixteen ice-blended drinks, he counted. Sixteen. Each worth $5-6. That feeds how many families at home? Don’t they know someone sees them? They say they don’t give money because he might buy drugs. But I’d rather a poor man buy drugs to appease his terrors than a rich man buy a coffee to pass the time.

Chang didn’t stay in LA very long. He was headed back to Korea for the birth of a nephew. On his final night, he came to mass and potluck at the Catholic Worker. During a period of open praying for the world, I heard him mumble through tears.

“When I first came to the City of Angels, I saw only pain. But here at this house, I have found angels.”