These blog posts being published on the Internet, I never know who might read them. I appreciate you who do. Despite how it might sometimes sound in what I write, I am a fairly shy person, and usually uncomfortable doing new things. There have been a number of reasons I’ve been pushed to be less withdrawn and take risks.
I recently shared a little about my experience as a neonatal respiratory therapist. In an intensive care unit, being shy is not an option. Split second decisions and actions are routinely required. You often have to tell others what they need to do to help you help your baby. In a teaching hospital like the one I worked in you often had to challenge incorrect orders given by physicians who are learning neonatology.
From an early age I found that I learned most by making mistakes, first related to the idea of experimentation in science, and later with experimentation with photography. To this day I look for challenging conditions related to lighting, focus, contrast, dynamic range, color and/or speed of a photographic subject. I learn a lot trying to capture and edit such images. For example, I took over 1,000 photos of the 18 ft. sculpture “Open Eyes”, in different lighting and weather conditions.
But what has lead me to take the greatest risks, and to do so most frequently, have been the times I have been led by the Spirit to do something. Most often that is something new for me. Otherwise I wouldn’t need a spiritual message, would I?
An example is how I ended up living without a car. As I’ve written many times, a specific sequence of things occurred. Family camping trips made me fall in love with the mountains. Moving to Indianapolis prior to catalytic converters gave me a nightmarish image of the mountains hidden behind clouds of smog. That began to make me very uncomfortable about owning a car. Then when one of the few cars I owned was involved in an accident, I clearly received messages to not replace the car.
My first reaction was “are you kidding me?” Then I had to try to figure out, immediately, how to live without a car. I’d ridden on the city bus system occasionally, but now I needed to learn which bus to take to wherever I needed to go and what times they operated. I don’t think I had a bicycle at the time, and got one right away. I had always been an avid runner, so running became a major source of transportation. I would take the bus to work, for example, and then run home after. I was living seven miles from the hospital, so my running improved dramatically. Each time I moved, I looked for something closer to the hospital and, definitely, on a city bus route.
I became very selective about the food I would buy, since it would have to fit in my backpack. And things that wouldn’t spoil quickly. So a lot of rice, granola, etc. I also made sure I was living in a place that had a laundromat or where one was near.
I was led by the spirit for many of these decisions, and/or necessity for others. This is what my grandmother, Lorene Standing said, that the will of God is often revealed in a series of steps.
Other times when leading of the Spirit had a least some influence related to my decision to become a draft resister, to become a respiratory therapist, to live in an inner city neighborhood in Indianapolis, things I’ve written about already.
Other leadings related to becoming engaged with new communities and organizations. One of the first was joining the Friends Volunteer Service Mission in Indianapolis. There I was led to figure out ways to engage with neighborhood kids with things like a 4-H club and photography. I made life-long friends there.
My career at the children’s hospital was the focus for the next several decades.
In 2013 we were all becoming more aware of the dangers of oil pipelines and tar sands extraction. I was led to take the bus from Indianapolis to Des Moines to received excellent training from the Rainforest Action Network on how to design, train others for, and execute nonviolent direct actions. Returning to Indianapolis, I worked with 3 others who had received that training to organize a direct action that would be triggered if it looked like the Obama administration was going to approve the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline. We held six training sessions for about 60 people. That group became the core activist community for many things that occurred after that, including Indiana Moral Mondays and many actions related to the Dakota Access Pipeline.
I’ve also written a lot about being led to be involved with the Kheprw Institute (KI), a black youth mentoring community. There I received innumerable lessons in community building and racial justice. And made more life-long friends.
All those friends in those different communities were difficult to leave two years ago when I retired and moved to Iowa. But having learned those lessons in Indianapolis about community building, I was more sensitized to listening closely to the Spirit, which I was sure would continue to lead me to connect with people and organizations working to build communities in Iowa. Being connected already to Quakers in the Midwest was very helpful.
One thing I was clearly being led to do was find more ways to connect with and learn from indigenous people. I’d had some experiences with Native Americans in Indianapolis related to the Dakota Access Pipeline defunding and prayer meetings. What I had been led to believe was the need for our society to learn how to return to a right relationship with Mother Earth. Industrial societies, based upon fossil fuel energy, was killing the planet.
I’ve also written about the numerous ways I was led to get involved with environmental organizations and Native people in Iowa. When I heard a van full of water protectors was going to Minneapolis to ask US Bank to stop funding fossil fuel projects, I was strongly led to go, even though I didn’t know who else would be in the van. As it turned out, Ed Fallon, Kathy Byrnes and Donnielle Wanatee I had at least met before. Others I would see other times after the van trip.
That is an example of what I had intended to say about being led to take risks. I was a bit apprehensive about riding to Minneapolis with a van full of people I didn’t know, but I was clearly led to do that. And it proved to be an awesome experience and I made new friends.
I was also strongly led to join the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March last September. This would clearly be a way to finally begin to get to know some Native people. And the experience was much greater than I could have imagined.
One of the friends I made during the March is Christine Nobiss, who is very active in a number of things, including organizations she has helped create such as Indigenous Iowa and Seeding Sovereignty. She and I and several others went to Senator Chuck Grassley’s Des Moines office to talk with his staff about two bills related to Native people.
I know Christine and many Native people are very interested in building an indigenous led Green New Deal. I really want that to happen, too. My question has been how to find Native people who will be doing that. Recently Christine suggested I attend the National Networking Assembly that will be held in Boone, Iowa, the next four days. She is going to be leading a presentation at the Assembly about this, “A Green New Deal Focused on Decolonization”.
This returns to my being shy. Once again I’m feeling a bit apprehensive about attending the Assembly. But I feel I am being led to do so from the Spirit. Also, if I’m interested in a Native led Green New Deal, this is the first step of a Native leader asking me to follow. As James Allen says in his essay, Pontoon Archipelago or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Collapse. one of the main things we need to do is listen deeply. In the past I might have given Christine’s suggestion to attend the Assembly a fleeting thought, might have though “that’s a nice idea but not something I see myself doing”. We all really need to practice listening deeply.
One of the things he says we need to do as we move into collapse is:
We don’t know today what things will enable us to solve the problems of tomorrow. Our biggest problems are emergent and non-linear and most won’t be solved with linear thinking. Only emergent collective intelligence can produce non-linear solutions. This requires us to first cultivate our own ability to be present, perceive the world accurately, orient ourselves toward it, and find ways to give creatively. It also requires that we find new ways to assemble with people with diverse perspectives who are capable of coming into coherent relationships with each other for long enough to produce something worthwhile.Pontoon Archipelago or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Collapse.By James Allen, Medium, May 24, 2019
I don’t mean to scare you away from things that sound risky. Just the opposite. When you are feeling led to do something that is uncomfortable for you, that is a sign you should definitely do it. My experience has been the result of doing so is so much better than you could have anticipated.
That said, I would still welcome your prayers for this new adventure.