Saying, “Yes” Can Hurt a Little (and that’s ok).

I don’t know Who — or what — put the question, I don’t know when it was put. I don’t even remember answering. But at some moment I did answer Yes to Someone — or Something — and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, my life, in self-surrender, had a goal.

-Dag Hammarskjöld

Paradoxically, we achieve true wholeness only by embracing our fragility and sometimes, our brokenness. Wholeness is a natural radiance of Love, and Love demands that we allow the destruction of our old self for the sake of the new.

– Jalaja Bonheimm, Aphrodite‘s Daughters

Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.

– The Talmud

Back in 2007, when “Going Green” was going, I worked for a sustainability firm whose task was to educate and support the masses employed by multi-national corporations, to make changes that would bring personal sustainability into their lives.  Beginning with a daylong workshop, I would meet with phenomenal individuals, you know the ones: gifted and smart, parents or just-out-of-college, PhDs or GEDS, believers and atheists, conservatives and liberals.  Yep, those people!  You and me.  And I had eye-opening privilege of meeting with them across the country, however the majority of my time was spent in Texas.  And inTexas, things were extra interesting.

Early on, a client asked us to remove one of the “eco-facts,” we used in our training to help illustrate the demands our current lifestyle choices put on natural resources, in this case, water.  The eco-fact was about the number of gallons of water used to make a hamburger.  Wanna guess?

Six hundred.  600 gallons.  But wait!  Before you totally freak-out, before your righteous button gets tripped and you’re saying, “Duh!  That’s why I’m a vegetarian,” or you run to the Ranchers’ defense with, “What  sort of math were you using?  What about grass-fed beef?  Or what about switching to buffalo?”   I’d like to jump-in and share that I’m not here to defend the eco-fact one way or the other….at least not completely.  Respectfully acknowledging the complexities of making a living in Texas, and admitting to the enormity of defining eco-calculations, the eco-fact was removed.  And, in my thinking, a big uncomfortable, important opportunity was missed.

My current work no longer has me on the sustainability frontlines, and while I’m the first to admit to the creative work-arounds I employ to justify a non-sustainable indulgence or two, I will also say that the sustainability efforts exercised by most North Americans right now do not bode well for our future.  We continue to make really checked-out choices.  And why is that?  It’s not for lack of information.  Or even a lack of support; heck, here are resources and rebates, support groups and incentives of every sort encouraging us to make changes for – you name it – a physically healthier, financially solvent, addiction-freed, more balanced way of living.

Fancy Me Balanced!

But here’s the thing – and we all know this – choosing to make a change, really saying, “Yes,” can hurt.  It brings up all kinds of fear, guilt, shame, and grief – “I’m envisioning something better, but how do I let go of this thing that’s become sooooo familiar?”

Last week, mindlessly thumbing through a magazine, I stumbled on an info-graphic of…yes!  The amount of water in a hamburger, and worse, it also showed the amount of water used to make coffee, wine, cheese and chocolate!  Argh!  I was reading this magazine trying to take a break!  I was digging for some inspiration and now I was hit with this really uncomfortable reminder that perhaps my food choices could benefit from a mindful review.  It didn’t feel good.

But wait….that’s ok, isn’t it?

The miracle of this life is that everyday – Every.  Single.  Day.  – we encounter choices.  It’s easy to speed by them, right?  It’s the, “I’m-busy-or-that’s-too-scary-so-I’ll-do-it-later” stuper.  I don’t know about you, but I can get really seduced by my stuper.  And then, something happens.  It’s a moment when we’re feeling a little more open, or maybe we’re just sick to death of ourselves and this is where the, “Yes,” lives.

You see, I believe, every one of us actually has a desire to live an alive life, one that  contributes to something Larger than Me.  Saying, “Yes,” taps the courage, the curiosity, the determination to suspend our tendency toward the familiar or conformity or convenience, and something else happens!  So, the next time you’re assaulted (or assaulting yourself) with  some guilt-ridden, shame-provoking, or inconvenient reality, ask yourself how and where you  might say, “Yes.”  It’s okay if it hurts a little.  See what happens.

No pressure, but if you’re curious, the info-graphic is right here:


Fair Trade? It’s Personal…

Theologians talk about a prevenient grace that precedes grace itself and allows us to accept it. I think there must also be a prevenient courage that allows us to be brave – that is, to acknowledge that there is more beauty than our eyes can bear, that precious things have been put into our hands and to do nothing to honor them is to do great harm.  …This courage allows us… to make ourselves useful. It allows us to be generous, which is another way of saying exactly the same thing.

-Marilynne Robinson

To affirm that men and women are persons and as persons should be free, and yet to do nothing tangible to make this affirmation a reality, is a farce.

– Paulo Friere

If you can’t feed a hundred people, then just feed one.




In addition to being National Bike Month, Mother’s Day, Beltane and so many other things, May celebrated World Fair Trade Day (May 16th).  This blog’s been live since January of this year and strangely, I’ve managed to not mention Fair Trade…not once.


You’ve maybe noticed of late, the Fair Trade movement has been getting a lot of air time.  Certifying agencies are at odds with one another, struggling with the impact-and-scale quandary:

“If we go BIG, the standards will be diluted, we’ll surrender to the sub-standard norms accepted across a flattened, global economy,” versus, “If we DON’T go big, we will never attain the scale required for this movement to have world-changing impact.”


Round, round the dilemma goes…


What do I think?  I think our world is a big webby mess.  And like the myriad other ecological, sustainability-related questions routinely rolling over in my head and heart, I arrive at my answer, an active response: make it personal.  Sort of like theBuddhasaying, “Don’t take my word for it…,” I arrived at my commitment to support Fair Trade by exploring the concept as intimately as possible.  Here’s what I mean:


5:30amfinds me most mornings in the dark and in my pajamas (how’s that for intimate?).  Whether off to the Berkeley Y for a spin work-out, or mentally running through my agenda for the day, the first thing on my mind is coffee.  I happen to LOVE the stuff – “nectar of the gods,” I call it – and I look forward to it pretty much every morning of my life.  After a few sips, I feel a certain at-one-ment, a readiness to be with whatever presents itself in the hours ahead.  My morning coffee is more than a caffeinated beverage, it’s a ritual that falls in the category I call, “ordinary/extraordinary.”  It’s so mundane, it’s sacred; it’s so simple, it’s a miracle.  Knowing this and not wanting to be unappreciative, I traveled to Guatemala in 2011…to make it personal.

Flor, Raniero, Lauren - Lake Atitlan 1/2011

This is Raniero, and his niece, Flor.  Raniero coordinates a Fair Trade cooperative in Guatemala.  His cooperative supplies parts of Europe and most of Whole Foods (Allegro coffee) with fair trade coffee beans.  Upon landing in Guatemala City, Raniero and Flor drove me out to the shores of Lake Atitlan to meetMariaLuis.


Maria Luis, aside one of her many bags of coffee cherries


To find her, we scrambled up a steep, jungle-covered mountainside.  It was a Saturday  morning which meant Maria had the help of her sons, most of whom were adamant they would not grow up to be coffee farmers.


Maria Luis, aglow & storytelling


Maria Luis smiled as she told the story of her organic, fair trade coffee cherries (beans), start-to-finish.  She gestured up the slope, explaining the land was hers and that she oversees a women-owned collective.  In the months between the planting and harvest, she and the women cook and sell their meals for folks in town.  This year, the profits from their coffee crop would be pooled to create a covered infrastructure to better support their catering business.




Members of Maria Luis's collective, standing in their newly-constructed catering headquarters


If coffee cherries are picked incorrectly from the plant, the stem will fail to produce next year


Caressing the coffee cherries in her basket,MariaLuisgently laughed, “my husband left a long time ago….he said he couldn’t understand me.”


Listening, weeping

As I listened, I wept….I was so touched by her vision, by the prideshe held for her work, by the joy she exhibited in sharing her life with strangers.  A cherry slipped from her basket and I scrambled to pick it up.  Each one was suddenly worth a fortune!  These coffee cherries – no bigger than my fingernail – were fundingMariaLuis’s sons dreams of attending college…and how many of those cherries-become-roasted-beans do I groggily grind each morning for my perfect cup of deliciousness?  Never again could a bean fall to my floor and find its eternal fate beneath my refrigerator or stove: perish the thought!


So much story in this little cherry!



Thanks to the city council, local businesses and the great volunteers from the Fair Trade Berkeley steering committee, Berkeley became the 19th Fair Trade Town in the US, in July, 201o.  When I returned home from Guatemala, I thought ofMariaLuisand cringed a little each time I saw an abandoned, unfinished cup of coffee.  It had become personal.




And it happened all over again on May 16th , when a few of us had the chance to celebrate World Fair Trade Day with Lata ji, a Fair Trade activist, visiting the US for the first time, from her home in Barmer, India.  Thanks to the influence of Fair Trade in Lata’s village, a source of amazing textile work, girls are attending school, women are receiving vaccines and the town is funding irrigation systems to address years of drought.

Lata ji and FT Berkeley friends

Will the certification standard changes being made by some dilute the potential of Fair Trade as its felt by the producers and their villages?  Maybe…and I hope not.  Will the certification standard changes increase the reach of the fair trade movement to create a game-changing impact?  Maybe, I hope so, and only if more of us play.


In that ordinary/extraordinary way, may we intimately know and generously admit, “there is more beauty than our eyes can bear.”  Our response needn’t be to save it all, to feed hundreds.  Instead, we can honor what’s precious, and in our hands.  Make it personal.


FT Berkeley Declaration Celebration, July, 2010



Act Local: Meet your Neighbors!

[This post belongs in a series of 7 entries written to build community and receive donations to support the Climate Ride, a 320 mile cycling pilgrimage I made in October, 2011.  Several entries focus on and celebrate the particular efforts of each of the 4 NGOs I designated to receive funds I raised for the ride.]


I’m in the three week countdown until the Climate Ride!  My NGO of the week is Green America, an extraordinary national co-op offering its members free information & consultation, educational grass-roots tool-kits on topics ranging from socially responsible investing to getting off of junk mail, and lots of discounts for earth-friendly, sustainable products and services.  Formerly known as Co-op America, Green America has made BIG change possible, by empowering communities at the local level.  AND…It just so happens, Green America wants to help me in my fundraising this week, so if you’re tempted by the word FREE, please keep reading.


This week: Green America

Their mission: To harness economic power—the strength of consumers, investors, businesses, and the marketplace—to create a socially just and environmentally sustainable society.

Geek Treat:  Today, 23.5 million Americans live in food deserts, or communities where residents have little access to fresh, healthy food. Residents in food deserts commonly rely on convenience stores and fast food outlets, which mainly sell high-fat, low-nutrition food.  This summer,First Lady Michelle Obama announced the California FreshWorks Fund (CAFWF), a $200 million public-private loan fund that will provide financing for over 1500 grocery stores and other healthy food outlets in the state’s food deserts.  AND…Thanks to the Calvert Foundation, you can invest in this fund with as little as $20.


And now…Act Local: Meet Your Neighbors!


The community stagnates without the impulse of the individual.
The impulse dies away without the sympathy of the community.


This weekend, as each of us is remembering where we were 10 years ago, on the 11th of September, I’m thinking about neighbors, literally and figuratively.  The phrase, “think global, act local,” gets all its employment because it’s really true.  Change begins with one breath, one phone call, one neighborly, “hello,” offered on the street – or in my case – a dinner invitation from over the fence.  Do you know your neighbors by name?  Have you ever asked them for a lawn rake or a cup of sugar?


Dinner with my neighbors

Neighborhood Bike Ride


In my work as a sustainability consultant, we went to great lengths to explain that    “sustainability” isn’t just about “going green.”  Living and acting sustainably is connected to health, and economics and tending the unique culture of our communities, as well.  I became a member of Green America sometime after 9/11.  Reading their publications and participating in their simple, informative grassroots actions have empowered me to start a Low-Carbon Diet group in my neighborhood, switch to a community bank, join a local car-share, make Berkeley a Fair Trade Town, and even grow food that I can share with my neighbors (admittedly, my garden prowess has room for improvement!).


Making Fair Trade Neighbors

In a world where the problems can be so large and so plentiful, it brings me JOYto support my neighbors and their local business endeavors.  Together, we’re sharing our resources and finding true wealth.   As we remember September 11th and the change that rippled around the globe that day, may we find heart and take action….locally!   The next 10 people who donate $50 or more to my campaign will receive a FREE year-long membership.  I told you there was a FREE part!  How cool is that?


Neighborhood Dance Party!

Thank you all so much for your support!

What is the Power of Your Love?

[I delivered the following homily in the summer of 2007 at my Renewing Ceremony.  The ceremony was created as a ritual to both renew my 1999 Ordination vows as an Interfaith minister and profess myself an Eco-chaplain.  Similar to a minister whose Call is healthcare ministry or prison ministry, I had come, through uncomfortable discernment, that my calling is to care – very intentionally – for the Earth and all Her inhabitants.  With my seminary’s endorsement and the blessing of my spiritual communities, I stepped into this new “office” on June 23, 2007. The ceremony began with an invocation by Jane DeCuir, of the Cherokee Metis Nation…]


Jane's Invocation


In seminary I was taught that Interfaith ritual should begin first by honoring the land on which you are gathered and the people to whom it belongs.  Thank you, Jane, for your presence here today.

I’ve heard that when the Europeans began arriving in America, they confused the Native People by asking them to translate “God” and “nature.”  In many indigenous languages, of course, the two words are the same. It’s the newer languages that felt a need to distinguish the God we know in nature as different from the God we know, perhaps, in the train station.

Looking for God, seeking the Holy in a variety of settings, is the work of a chaplain. Just as the chapel is separate from the church or temple, a chaplain resolves to create sacred space in the complexity of hospitals, war zones, city streets, Wal-Mart… At first glance, these intense places may be perceived as separate and God-less. A chaplain’s call is to bring some light; to prophetically state, “Here, too. No matter how horrid, the Source of our Breath abides in this place, too.”

A year ago, I began to see that my work was changing. Caring for the Earth had become my deep love in ministry. I’ll admit I’ve been making it up as I go, but I’ve been calling the work “Eco-chaplaincy.” I say it with love and dread because, after all, what does it mean when our Earth is so ravaged that it too, like a prison or the Iraqi desert, needs a chaplain?  And what, exactly, does an Eco-chaplain do?

Offering Homily

One of my favorite movies of all times is Mary Poppins. I love how Mary Poppins finds magic in the mundane. I also love her fastidious tendencies. For a good long while now, I’ve wished badly I could snap my fingers and—just like the toys in Jane and Michael’s nursery—have the environment return itself to a lush, forested, healthy planet. InMaryPoppins’ world, it’s fine to use what’s around you and to play with vigor, so long as you put it back…each article in its right place.

I went through a dark, troubling period last Fall. In the world around me, nothing was being returned to its right place. I saw 1-person-per-car idling on the freeway, an endless supply of Styrofoam cups and plastic bags being used once and tossed. Then one day, walking down University Ave., I saw a “SALE” sign in the Goodwill store window!

What does it mean when a thrift store has so much stuff it requires storewide liquidation?!?  We are clearing the Earth’s forests to the tune of 69 acres per minute, so we can drive to the store and buy stuff, to give to Goodwill, so they can send it to the landfill, some of it contaminating our soil and water for a millennium or more.  What is going on???  The whole scene had me feeling desperate, judgmental and angry — a pretty undesirable litany for a minister.

Blessing of Earth Worms


I knew that blame was pointless and staying mad felt miserable, so I did what one is wont to do when feeling sad, afraid, and misunderstood: I turned toward what I love. I spent a lot of time alone, turning toward the rocks, the trees, the smells of nature. With some kind coaching and encouragement, I got strong enough to ride my bike into these hills so I could sweat and breathe Mother Earth’s theology. It’s Her theology, after all, that gives birth to all the others. The miracle of our 13 billion year story on this planet is what, for me, truly makes sense.  We are this soil, this water, one great breath, breathing together.


As I connected again with all that I am and what I so dearly love, I began to thaw. The anger melted to grief, and the words of Eco-philosopher, Joanna Macy comforted me: “The grief you carry for this world comes from your love for it. It is high time we tasted the power of your love.”

My work as an Eco-chaplain, I’m coming to see, lies in the very heart of this question: What is the power of your love? My guess and my hope is that there are more Eco-chaplains out there.

I’m not at all certain how this work will continue to evolve, but I would like to close by sharing my present intention for what I will do in this role:

What is the Power of YOUR Love?

  • As an Eco-chaplain, I want to remind us all of our True Nature.  We are inextricably connected and linked to everything in this universe.
  • From this awareness, I want to act and serve on behalf of all species, advocating eco-justice.  I want, likeMaryPoppins, to teach that the magic is in the mundane. I want to celebrate the abundance inherent in simplicity.
  • In the face of adversity or despair, of which I know there will be plenty, I want to practice not closing down, but rather, “allowing in.”  I’ve heard this practice described as “poor man’s equanimity.”  With the stakes so high and the enormity of the crisis so deadening, “poor man’s equanimity” frees us to move and act without the guarantee of success.  After all, I have no clue how this story ends. The Divine invitation for each of us is to bring our creativity, our compassion and our Whole Self to each moment … one at a time.
  • And finally, the biggest secret: I want to do this work with joy!  An Eco-chaplain’s work, though wrought with a sense of urgency, is wonderfully Joyful!  I believe this is so because in caring for our interconnection to all and with all, I can clearly recognize—at least for brief, ecstatic moments—that there is no end to our mutual belonging.

If we humans want to live sustainably on this Earth, we have our work cut out for us: BIG time. As an Eco-chaplain and fellow human, my vote is that we get busy. And I invite us, like Mary Poppins, to find the magic in the mundane—to draw deeply from the wellspring of joy and love.

The Divine is ready, willing, awaiting our next act.

What is the power of your love?