“Guarded” was the term used by early Quakers to express avoiding too much of an integration with the larger society they lived in. The term was usually applied to education. Quakers created their own schools to teach Quaker beliefs and values at the time their children were growing socially, spiritually and intellectually.
The Amish are a modern day example of communities remaining separate (“guarded”) from our American society.
Likewise, American Quakers who migrated to Costa Rica in the early 1950’s did so because they couldn’t remain in a country that was becoming increasingly militaristic. To this day Costa Rica does not have a standing army.
I wish American Quaker communities had maintained a similar separation. Although there are exceptions, I fear too many Friends have been unduly influenced by our wider society in many different ways.
Rather than enumerate all of them, my intention here is to talk about one in particular, environmental practices. Admittedly we have been discovering more and more about our environment and factors affecting the climate. But I would contend that any adult living in America in the early 1970’s could literally see the effects of fossil fuel combustion from automobiles. Clouds of noxious smog enveloped our cities. Your eyes would water, and you would cough as you inhaled the fumes. None of that could be good.
Catalytic converters came into use in 1975. Although they did remove the particles that caused the visible smog, the greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, continued to be ejected into the air. I wish that hadn’t occurred because it allowed people to ignore the problems of greenhouse gas emissions, a problem that has been the primary cause of the increasing environmental devastation today.
Our environmental crisis has been caused by viewing natural resources as raw materials to build products and by squandering fossil fuel supplies. Some believe natural resources belong to whoever owns the land or material. The owner usually doesn’t worry about how sustainable the use of the resource is, or the environmental damage from the manufacture or use of the products made from these resources. Our economy is based upon fossil fuel energy.
Those views, which abuse Mother Earth, have led to the environmental chaos we are rapidly moving more deeply into today.
I wish Quakers had not been drawn into the fossil fuel economy. I wish we had been “guarded” about our own environmental integrity. You only need to hear the stories of your parents about the days when they had no electricity, telephones, no central heating or air conditioning, to be reminded that it is possible to live and thrive under conditions that seem primitive today.
My intention is not to blame anyone for the past, but rather to urge Friends and others to consider how we have been seduced by our fossil fuel economy and all the conveniences we enjoy from it. To urge you to step back, and reconsider your environmental practices now as if you would return to a “guarded” way of thinking and living. To not only think about that, but to actually change your lifestyle to stop using fossil fuels now.
The fact is we are on a rapid pathway to the extinction of life on this earth. And the next generations will have to try to live and adapt to an increasingly hostile environment. For example, by the year 2050 half of the people on the planet will not have access to clean water. We don’t want to do this to our children.
There is another people who have maintained a “guarded” lifestyle, indigenous people. Native practices are based upon spiritual connections with Mother Earth, and among themselves. Belief in not using resources faster than they can be replenished.
As environmentalist Gus Speth says, “I used to think that top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that thirty years of good science could address these problems. I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation.”
My hope is that Quakers can reconsider our lifestyles and environmental practices, and we can be among the leaders of a “cultural and spiritual transformation”. Fossil fuel use has to stop immediately if future generations are to have any chance of surviving.
I further hope Friends honor the leadership of native people in protecting Mother Earth. It was incredible to see all of the native Nations that came together at Standing Rock, and to witness their prayerful, spiritual work to protect the water. To witness their steadfast commitment to nonviolence, especially in the face of so much state sponsored violence.
I was profoundly affected by being among Native Americans as we worked to bring attention to the dangers of the Dakota Access pipeline in Indianapolis. Since then I have sought opportunities to be with and learn from Native Americans. Most recently I was able to do so by participating in the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March. A group of native and non-native people walked along the path of the Dakota Access pipeline, ninety four miles, from Des Moines to Fort Dodge, Iowa. The group was small enough (about forty native and non-native people) that we all got to know each other. I hadn’t considered ahead of time how much time we would have to share our stories as we walked together for hours a day, for eight days. As well as to eat and sleep together, and participate in evening discussions. As Manape LaMere said during the March, the reason we are marching together is so we can work together in the future. To do that, we need to begin to trust each other. To trust each other we need to understand each other. From all I’ve seen and heard, I believe we did begin to build that understanding and trust.
There is no time left. We have to make radical changes, to stop using fossil fuels altogether today if the human species is going to have any chance of avoiding extinction. The only way this will happen is if there is a spiritual transformation. Quakers know how to live spirit led lives. So do indigenous people. I urge all Quakers to help each other see how we can disengage from our fossil fuel economy. To add our spiritual resources to those of indigenous people to bring about the spiritual transformation that has to happen right now if we are to survive.
I’ve written about a practical model for how to do this here.
We have a binary choice to make this day. To continue with our current use of fossil fuels will result in the death of the planet.
[Those who don’t know me may wonder what I have done besides the experiences above. Whether I practice what I preach. About forty years ago I was given a spiritual vision showing me I could no longer have a personal automobile. I followed that leading. There is much more I have to do, but I’ve been trying to follow a spiritual path, with environmental integrity, all my life.]