Friday, December 11, 2009

MLK Garden Gnome?

It was really good to read some Martin Luther King this week. I had last read some stuff about King a year ago. David Hartsough, a Quaker peace activist who was active in the Civil Rights struggle as a white Freedom Rider, gave me a book by Dr. Vincent Harding, Martin Luther King: The Inconvenient Hero (2008). The main thesis of the book is about how history is trying to make King into a sweet black man with a “Dream” of little black children and little white children playing on a merry-go-round together. Harding insists that by the end of his life, King’s vision was much, much more radical than that.
(Note: Hartsough is still a serious peace activist, and when I passed the book on to Chris Moore-Backman, war tax resistor, he was inspired to expand his extensive study of Gandhi’s nonviolent philosophy to King and the civil rights movement more generally.)
Harding acknowledges that until the last few years of his life, King’s vision was largely focused on racial equality, with awareness of poverty as symptomatic, but not systematic. We know that King worked closely with, and greatly respected the perspective of his friend Bayard Rustin, whose perspective definitely tied together racial justice, economic justice, and pacifism. The Vietnam War was part of the catalyst for King’s more comprehensive critique, and eventually King had tied militarism, poverty, and racism all together, with a pretty indictment of consumerism as well.
Harding not only tracks King’s conceptual journey, however. Mostly, Harding is focused on the personal, emotional, and spiritual hammering that King took, which opened him to a more radical (root) analysis. Harding talks about King’s near-fatal stabbing, constant death threats, criticism from whites and blacks who supported civil rights while still advocating moderateness, disheartening efforts in the North, and even alludes to King’s smoking, drinking, and womanizing. In particular, however, Harding cites the 16th Street Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama by the Ku Klux Klan, which killed three little black girls as a turning point for King.
This made me think of how Cesar Chavez ratcheted down strike operations after a union member was killed. To be a leader of a non-violent movement, and to have innocents involved in the movement killed, partially because of the tension created by your witness, must be a very heavy burden for persons utterly dedicated to Love as the motive force in the universe. Gandhi did not take it lightly, either.
Harding insists that the post “I Have a Dream” Martin Luther King was a substantially different man than the previous one. And, he points out; history is determined to water MLK down to a sweet-faced Negro pleading for harmony, instead of a powerful intellect combined with an abiding spirituality and a deep social critique. I think that this is also true to some degree of Cesar Chavez, Dorothy Day, Mohandas K. Gandhi, and W.E.B. Du Bois. The Apple computer ads that featured the public domain images of Gandhi, John Lennon, Albert Einstein, and even Jane Goodall tend to trivialize how radical these people were in their critique of the modern, technologized, consumer society, its politics and economics.
I went out in the backyard this morning to sit in the sun and read my MLK book, A Testament of Hope. At one point, I glanced up to ponder a point that King was making, and my eye came randomly to rest on the two foot high statue of St. Francis that is sitting in the middle of my Dad’s vegetable garden (to scare the birds away?). I asked my Dad about the statue and I think that he said that someone from his Franciscan affinity group had given it to him when she moved from a house with a yard to an apartment. The “Franciscan Affinity Group” originally formed as a bunch of Catholics (lay, monks, nuns, and priests) who were protesting the nuclear arms race at the Nevada Test Site in the 1980’s. Over the years, its composition has changed to include a few non-Catholics, like my dad.
I went to one of their meetings when they were considering whether to stop calling themselves the Franciscan Affinity Group since they weren’t all Catholic, or even theists. This was a conversation that had been before. They went around the circle and responded gently to the question, until they came to my Dad. My Dad was raised Congregationalist and has been Quaker since his undergraduate years at Whittier. He’s not Catholic. He took a long pause and then said, “Well, St. Francis opposed the imbalance of wealth distribution in the world, he dedicated his life to God, he loved the Earth, he opposed war, he lived simply, and he spoke truth to the greatest power of his day. I feel that I am a Franciscan.”
Francis of Assisi was a radical. He is also a lawn ornament; a garden gnome with fake birds on his hands and real bird shit on his head. The world-changing life and witness of this man has been lost, watered down, sanitized, made innocuous and even silly. Rosa Parks was not just a tired seamstress who wouldn’t move to the back of the bus. She was trained as an activist at the Highlander Institute, and she was part of a strategic action to end Jim Crow.
For all of these saints—Dorothy Day, MLK, Cesar Chaves, St. Francis, Rosa Parks, Mohandas K. Gandhi, and quintessentially, Jesus of Nazareth, the beating radical heart of their faith and witness still lives, despite efforts to turn them into Pablum, and these sacred hearts light the way forward for us in the darkness.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


(If this post seems a bit odd, that's because I originally wrote it for a different forum.)

About this time in the year of 1969, Joe and Joanne Magruder started to make arrangements to adopt a child. They had a healthy, brilliant and beautiful daughter, and they wanted her to have a sibling. Because they were very socially conscious people, somewhat idealistic, staunch members of a faith community, and also partly because Joe was a social worker, they decided that they could provide a loving home to a kid who might otherwise be raised by the state of California. Since they had a girl, they were disposed to adopt a boy, but neither one of them had thought much at all about adopting a non-white child. That was the adoption case worker’s idea.
When she sprung it on them, they were immediately amenable. Their faith life and their commitment to social justice and racial equality had prepared them, despite their privileged white backgrounds, to be open to this idea. Interracial adoption had been unthinkable just a few years before, and was still plenty unthinkable for lots of Americans. Two years after my adoption, the historic statement by the National Association of Black Social Workers was published in 1972, which took a “vehement stand against the placement of black children in white homes for any reason.” ( Interracial adoptions again became very uncommon for a number of years, until more adoptions were handled by private agencies.
I was blissfully ignorant of all this, of course. I liked our collie dog, Missy, and I hadn’t learned to complain about the vegetarian diet yet. I loved to wear overalls (nothing has changed), and my big sister, Marie, taught me all kinds of useful stuff. In 1971 we got a little red haired addition to the family, Ann, (who married a Norwegian bachelor programmer two years ago), and we were five.
Over the years we learned to ride bicycles, and to cut swiss chard in the garden for stir fry. My dad experimented with computers (card sorters!) and solar water heating projects. My mom taught piano and allowed us to fast for a day with her in solidarity with Cesar Chavez and the migrant farm workers. We were SERVAS hosts ( and had frequent international house guests the whole time I was growing up. We loved to swim, and camp, and visit our grandparents, aunts, and uncles.
My maternal grandfather was an Iowa farm boy of Danish descent who was too dyslexic to have gotten very much education. He couldn’t really accept me as a member of his family, and I felt his ambivalence, but didn’t associate it with race. I found out years later that my maternal grandmother, who was an Iowa farm girl and a devout Christian had told him, “That child is your grandson. Jesus said to suffer the little children, and YOU WILL SUFFER!” So, that was that. We all got along splendidly. All of my aunts were pretty and professional. All of my uncles knew everything there was to know about all kinds of things from how to plumb a toilet to how to make a killing in real estate, train a dog, or sharpen a knife with a whetstone.
School was odd sometimes. In 1997, when I was 28 years old, I was interviewed by Parade Magazine for an article on transracial adoption. The reporter asked me if being transracially adopted had made things odd for me socially when I was in school. I responded that it was a little hard to say. I had by then found that being double jointed, having a lazy eye, being Quaker, being bi-racial, being a good speller, eating a vegetarian diet, playing the violin and not being good at sports were also contributing factors to my unique social status in the school. Not having a TV was the topper! Kids were curious about my being adopted, but I had always heard it spoken of positively, and so didn’t have any hang-ups about it. In fact, adoption was spoken of so positively in our faith community and the family that my older sister once demanded, “What’s wrong with ME? Why couldn’t I have been adopted?”
Now I am grateful for all of the challenges that I had growing up, because they made me who I am and I like who I am. Without any grand plan or political agenda, my adoption was part of the movement of this country towards greater equality, inclusiveness, and living up to Christ’s directive to love one another.

In 2001 a childhood friend of mine got in touch with me after several years of lapsed communication. I was deep into my Master’s thesis on ecospirituality. Could the church rise to the occasion and become ecologically conscious? I’m happy to say that we’ve come a long way, baby.
My friend, whom I had gone to Sunday school with, had grown up to be lesbian, she said. I supposed that congratulations were in order. She wanted to have children, she told me. I thought that she, like many others over my lifetime, wanted to ask me about my experience of being adopted. Instead, she asked me to be a sperm donor and auxiliary parent!
I thought about it and prayed over it for a while. She and her partner were very understanding and tolerant of my taking this time to process my thoughts and feelings. It wasn’t that I was worried about a lesbian couple raising kids, but I do think that procreation is a very serious and holy undertaking, and I’d had parents when I was born who weren’t up to it. I wanted to be sure that I was sure. I needed to offer the decision up to Spirit. The Bible was very helpful. What a lot of different family configurations there are in the Bible!
We met and ate together. We talked very clearly and intentionally about what our expectations were. I asked about their finances, and other things that you ordinarily wouldn’t ask friends about. They needed to know about my medical history. Had I used intravenous drugs or had unprotected sex? I gave blood to find out if I had the sickle cell gene. We were clear that we would tell the child the whole truth from the beginning, and that I would be involved in their lives. My father, who by now had moved into adoptions and child protective services as a social worker, was very supportive and interested. He had helpful suggestions and good questions. My sisters and mother have also been very supportive. Love makes a family.
And, seven years later, I have a daughter and a son. I have attended their births and been part of their growing up. Their biological mother and I are both mixed race, African-American and white, so the kids are too—only they are two generations more mixed—blended! Their other mom is Latina, and the kids are growing up bilingual, because Spanish is spoken in their house almost as much as English. (It was a sad day when my daughter figured out that I couldn’t follow her three year old Spanish.)
They are precocious, beautiful children, and not nearly as unusual at their schools as I was when I was their age. 40% of kids who attend Berkeley High School in California check more than one box on the “Ethnicity” section of their registration forms. I imagine that will only increase by the time my kids are high school age.
Their mamas can’t marry one another yet. Their marrying is as unthinkable to some people as a white man marrying a black woman was sixty years ago. While most ethnicities were evenly split on the recent Prop 8 vote in California, African-Americans voted against same sex marriage by 78%. Apparently many didn’t see it as a civil rights issue. Some of the great black churches that were the backbone of the Civil Rights Movement half a century ago spoke out against same sex marriage.
Indeed, it seems that nearly every religion in the country is troubled by questions pertaining to gender, sexuality, and how best to faithfully proceed, and how to hold the church together. The ordination of women and homosexuals is contentious for some. Same sex marriage is a challenge for others. Some look to the book of Leviticus for guidance, tradition, and history. (Let us hope that the penalty for ‘rounding the corners’ of our beards has changed…) Others look to the example that Jesus set by associating with those whom society had deemed untouchable, and his teaching that the Law is one of compassion lived in the heart rather than legalistic piety forbidding one from healing on the Sabbath, or touching a bleeding man thrown into a ditch by robbers. One senses that these issues having to do with gender and sexuality are really only the flashpoint, though. The underlying issue is one of how the church can be relevant in a post-modern, pluralist society. The only way forward is with compassion on all sides. Christ’s teaching and example will never be irrelevant. God is not changeable, though our understanding is.
Martin Luther King, Jr. often said, “The arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice.” King couldn’t publicly acknowledge the homosexuality of his friend and strong proponent of nonviolence in the movement, Bayard Rustin. ( Rustin himself said in 1987, “The barometer of where one is on human rights questions is no longer the black community, it's the gay community. Because it is the community which is most easily mistreated." (Note that he said “barometer”—he wasn’t trying to set up a comparison of grievances!)
I am grateful today that paradigms do shift. I am grateful for an arc of history that bends towards justice. I am confident that despite its foibles and failings God still loves this great nation and is always accompanying us as we stumble towards righteousness. I am grateful that my kids will have the example of a bi-racial man as president, and before too long, a woman. Mostly, I am just grateful for my kids.

Friday, September 05, 2008


There’s nothing good about it, but it is getting to be a fact around here. I’m a bachelor. In fact, since I’ll be forty years old in March, I am in serious statistical danger of being a lifelong bachelor. You can tell that I am a bachelor by this picture of my kitchen counter:

The only food thing in sight is my coffee cup, though I had my usual oatmeal with peanut butter and soy milch that morning. (Yum!) I spent the whole day working on physical tasks. One was to dismount and dismantle my clip/platform pedals in order to loosen the spindles a little bit—they are notchy. Another was to invent a band for my watch because while the old TAG Heuer, which I found lying on the ground in a pile of broken glass next to my boot in the Sepulveda/Wilshire intersection when I was a motorcycle courier in Los Angeles ten plus years ago, is still going strong, it’s band is problematic and costs $250 to replace! While swimming in a lake in PA this summer on the bike trip, I got out to put the watch in my saddlebag, realizing that if the band broke, the watch, which is stainless steel and not light, would sink to the murky bottom in seconds, never to be seen again. Sure enough, the next day the band broke. It’s just ridiculous that science says that clairvoyance is unscientific. I think that denying the existence of something that happens ALL THE TIME just because you can’t explain HOW it happens is unscientific and weanie-brained. So there!

I like the watch band because, as you can see from this picture of the back, I can have one half of the leather strap fail AND/or have one of the springbars that hold the strap to the watch fail, and not lose the watch entirely. I love redundant fail safes. Why? Because Murphy was an OPTIMIST. Murphy’s Law says, “Anything that can go wrong will.” However, in my experience, even things that CAN’T go wrong will. If McCain gets elected, you’ll see what I’m talking about. After all, in what reality could a majority of Americans be that dumb (AGAIN)? Or, in what reality could an election in the U.S.A. be hijacked by hanging chads and Diebold machines!?! Things that can’t go wrong, but have….
Another bachelor project was a bit more domestic. My stainless steel teapot, which I bought years ago at a thrift store, but which is definitely IKEA brand, did not survive being shipped to D.C. The plastic handle broke. So, I removed it, and made this handle out of a wire coat hanger.
The coat hanger handle is actually superior to the original in the following way: While the plastic handle got so hot that the teakettle had to be handled with a pot holder once it had whistled, the wire handle does not conduct as much heat, or radiates it better, and can be picked up with a bare hand. Very convenient when one is in a pre-caffienated state of mind! Also, the coat hanger was just hanging around, and a new stainless steel teakettle at my rip-off local hardware store was $47! As IF!

So, what about bachelorhood? I don’t think that it is the end of the world. I will need to incorporate it into my middle aged plan, is all. I have hithertofore always assumed that the woman who could be amused by finding the kitchen counter in the condition depicted above on a Saturday morning was going to pull up in front of me one of these days on her vintage Norton Manx motorcycle, take off her helmet, shake her hair down to her leather clad waist, and ask me if I needed a ride to the composting workshop. At this point, I haven’t even seen a Norton Manx on the road in several years, though I have been blessed in my life with the friendship, love, regard, companionship, collaboration, and partnership of some remarkable, beautiful, smart, compassionate, capable, ethical, magical women. Most of them are composters.

Project in the making: I started a worm bin without any worms. If you have a pound or two of Red Wrigglers (compost-specific worms—Don’t be sending me nightcrawlers now), put them in a sawdust pack in a cardboard box with holes punched in the sides all over with a hypodermic needle or nail or something, and send them to the National Council of Churches, Attn. Carl Magruder, 110 Maryland Ave. NE Ste. 108, Washington, D.C. 20003. Don’t put them in plastic. They need to breathe, and I need the worms! I’ve got several coffee cones and apple cores digesting in a bunch of shredded paper and some dirt from the yard. The Taj Mahal of Wormland is ready, and it just need tenants.

Other projects? New bungee for my Peugeot PX-50. You know how on Wallace and Gromit, Wallace may say, “It seems the bounce has gone from his bungee” to describe someone who is down in the dumps? Well, my old PX really had lost the bounce from its bungee:

I carefully uncrimped the ends that held the elastic and got a near-enough match from Frager’s Hardware. The roll of bungee material has sat on a shelf six inches off the floor for years, so all the outer layers were quite clogged with yuck. I carefully unwound about thirty feet of the stuff until I found the gleaming white stuff underneath. I then cut 24” right out of the middle of the roll, and rolled up the tailing thirty feet just as though I had not just done such an utterly despicable thing. I paid forty-nine cents a foot for my two feet and wandered home. I haven’t lost any sleep over it yet, either. Partly because my bike’s bungee has recovered it’s bounce:
The PX-50 is probably a ’69-‘74, based on my inexpert knowledge and research. Before ‘69 they had rounded, beautiful lugs, instead of the Aztec design my bike carries, and after ’74, they had Mafac center pull brakes, instead of the Mafac cantilevers mine sports. It is fun to think that my bicycle may be as old as I am. Real 650B wheels stock, all steel, generator lights work and everything. She’s got to weigh nearly 40 lbs. It’s a working man’s Singer or Herse, the old constructeur randoneuring bikes. The pomegranite orange is a head turner, and I enjoy passing folks on carbon fibre wonder bikes with their clipless pedals and aerodynamic helmets as I pedal along in my wingtips, broadfalls, suspenders, and goofy Bell Metro helmet. I hope I outgrow that!

I know that I am supposed to be dealing with some spiritual issue or earth ethics dilemma here, but I’m not. I’m just grappling with solitude. Mostly, I like it fine. On the other hand, I have lived in community for the last five years, and lived with my girlfriend the year before that. Living alone is—foreign.
So… Future Blog Teasers:

The D.C. Ecovilla.
My Work in D.C.—Big plans for Obama.
Does being ‘well-wheeled’ make you a second class citizen?
Plain and Simple.

O.K. That’s it for now. It will take me longer to post this with the pictures than it took me to write it. Luddites of the world Unite! Turn the crank! Pedal the Bike! Grow the Food! Rock the Cradle! Row the Boat! Kiss the Lips!

Friday, August 29, 2008

New Town

I am living in Washington, D.C. now. I work for the National Council of Churches Ecojustice Program a stone's throw from the Capitol. Most of my blogging now can be seen at: I do intend to keep this "Confessions of an EarthQuaker" blog up. Over the years of my inconsistent work here on this blog, I have had many conversations that furthered my understanding of ethical and spiritual issues. Bicycle riders, Quakers, other people of faith, old friends, and plain folks have contacted me here, challenged me, agreed with me, gone far past my understandings, and perhaps most importantly, joked with me.

I'm grateful, and I'll try to keep up with this discussion. I am doing a big experiment right now, called "Try to change the system from the top." Hmmm... Doesnt' sound like what Jesus said, does it?

Monday, December 31, 2007

Prius Piety

A couple of years ago at Pacific Yearly Meeting I stood up in the plenary session to ask if driving the Toyota Prius was all Quakers had to offer as a witness against oil wars. I was roundly criticized afterwards for disrespectin’ what was for some a significant lifestyle choice that grew out of deeply held beliefs. In other words, I was told that a Prius with an FCNL bumper sticker reading “WAR IS NOT THE ANSWER” actually is, seemingly, a significant proportion what Quakers have to offer as our witness against oil wars, along with writing letters to our representatives, and holding candlelight vigils.
Now, don’t get me wrong; I love the Toyota Prius. I love that they tested it for years in vehicle fleets in Japan before they brought it to the U.S., so that if there were a problem it wouldn’t sour the American public on alternative vehicle technology forever. (I always love it when people understand that Murphy’s Law, like gravity, is a fundamental premise of how the world works east of Eden, not a quaint aphorism.) I love that Toyota took a chance on making the car a little unique looking on the inside and the outside. I love that a bunch of Hollywood progressives who can afford cars many times more expensive are driving them. I love that they sold out the first year, and that most of them sold on the Left Coast (Natch!). I love that everyone thinks that the hybrid technology is a revolutionary new concept even though diesel locomotives have been made that way since there was diesel locomotives. I actually love that you can feel and hear the road a little when you are in one.
Some of my best friends drive Priuses. (Prii? Hippopotamuses is more fun than Hippopotami…) Hello, Elaine, Kirsten, Steve, Marilee, Shan, Hollister et al! I was in the parking lot at Santa Cruz Meeting a while ago and almost a half of the lot was Prii, or the Honda Civic hybrid. (The Prius is vastly superior to the Honda hybrid, by the way. Oh, not technologically, but the Prius LOOKS like a hybrid, while Honda looks like every other Civic on the road except for a small decal. So, you don’t get the instant credibility that you get with the Prius.)
HOWEVER, over in the corner of the parking lot was a bicycle rack, where a beat and battered Bridgestone XO-3 was locked up securely. With fenders, front and rear racks, lights, and a single pannier hung jauntily on the traffic side, the battered eggplant (yum!) paint lent it the effortless air of authenticity. I know a Philadelphia Friend who rides buses and bikes right through the winter there as part of her witness against The Machine. There is a sweet little Univega Viva Sport in Las Vegas that puts in more miles than the Prius it shares carport space with some weeks, often with a child’s Tag-Along half bicycle clamped on. My dad still cycles a lot, and Elizabeth rides her bike to seminary. Chris and Carin and little Issa are car free, and Steven won’t even ride in other people’s private automobiles. My sister rides to work when it’s not snowing in Vermont, and Violet’s bike has a jive basket. Melody and Coleman ride recycled bicycles to town on Saturdays to do their errands, and Jen commutes to work on her sleek road bike, coming home at 2 a.m. at any time of year!
My neighbor, elder and friend at Sierra Friends Center, Dorothy, is in the John Woolman vein; she thinks that bicycles may be too hifalutin’, and occasionally walks the 14 miles roundtrip to town. After years of living these seven miles from town, I finally measured the distance with my legs, using that oldest form of transport, walking. Afterwards, I related to that distance totally differently, whether cycling or riding in the biodiesel truck (since sold—I don’t own a car anymore!).
The Prius still burns petroleum. It still relies on our continued paving of the planet. It reinforces/represents the imbalance of wealth. It is very resource intensive, and contains many toxic materials that are difficult to recycle. It perpetuates the illusion that the modern pace of life is sustainable, desirable, inevitable. It kills the same amount of wildlife as any other car its size (and it is much heavier than it looks due to batteries). In casual systems parlance, it is a ‘tweak’ and not a paradigm shift. It perpetuates the status quo, rather than controverting it.
The bicycle, on the other hand, is an honest conveyance, using only the energy available to it now, not ancient carbon mined from the bowels of the earth. It encourages mindfulness, and strengthens the body. It slows us down to the speed of life. It is a social mode of transport, rather than an isolating one. Its emissions are the smell of sweat and the sound of ratcheting gears. When we have just distribution of world resources, bicycles will be affordable for everyone and for the biosphere. Bicycles are elegant, simple, beautiful.
I understand, of course, that not everyone can ride a bike. My friend Shirley loved to watch her boys, Shendo and Sebastian, riding, but she had cerebral palsy and a great big, expensive electric wheelchair to get her around. (Rest in Peace, Shirley, and thanks for all your love and lessons.) All who own cars can explain why life is not possible without them—“I have to get from here to there because it’s my job, or relationship, or whatever, and there’s really no other way to do it because the bus doesn’t go there, and it’s expensive, and someone yelled at me on the ferry once, and I get cold at the light rail station, and my kids have to go to ballet, etc.” Perhaps you really are stuck. Perhaps you haven’t looked deeply enough of what is being asked of you. Certainly we need a better transportation infrastructure if we are all going to be car free (which we are). Still, I am inspired by the early adopters. The bell curve may not have caught up to you yet, but there are some out there unpaving the way.
John Punshon’s remark is still irking me. He called me out in front of the FGC plenary a few years back (Normal, Illinois), and said; “I can see that you are a young man who hungers and thirsts after righteousness.” I think that the subtext of the remark had a “self” in it before the word “righteousness,” but I could just be getting defensive. I do hunger and thirst after righteousness, it’s true, but not because I expect to be judged by a wrathful and jealous deity when I die. I don’t have any coherent sense of an afterlife, let alone one with different options (Up vs. Down).*
Perhaps instead of the button-pushing word “Righteousness,” I should go with the more Quaker-sounding “Integrity.” That more perfectly expresses my sentiment anyway. I am one who hungers and thirsts after integrity. That sounds right. The challenge is that the society I live in seems to utterly preclude the possibility of living a virtuous life; one of integrity.

Meister Eckhart wrote: “there are plenty to follow our Lord half-way, but not the
Other half. They will give up possessions, friends, and honors, but it touches them too closely to disown themselves.”

I offended one dear Friend recently who has worked very hard in the area of social reform with various Quaker organizations for decades. I asserted that I don’t know many Friends who are willing to give up “possessions, friends, and honors,” let alone “disowning themselves.” She knows many who are harassed by airport security because of their political work. These are people who could earn more in the private sector than they do in the NGO’s they work for. These people have made real sacrifices to live their Truth. I was more or less called a “whippersnapper,” and certainly took to heart her observation that I haven’t exactly set the world on fire myself.
Still, I feel that the total surrender that Meister Eckhart speaks of is all too rare in the world today, and in the Society of Friends. Yet, I am increasingly convinced that it is essential to our finding the spiritual groundedness and joyful non-attachment that will be necessary to remake our world from the earth up.
The text where Jesus exhorts us to “forsake thy mother and father and go with me” is not so much about family relations as it is a way of illustrating that even this relationship, which we have always had, which society holds up, which we believe we are entitled to, and which we assume God wants us to maintain, must be offered up, if required of us, as a testament to our devotion and to free us to follow our leadings. We are enjoined to withhold nothing from God. How then, will we justify the inability to surrender our automobiles?
It is all right for some to have a facile, plastic, relationship to means and ends. I suppose that some of that is inevitable, and it is good to have it as part of the dialogue about modern ethics. Still, if there is a panel on different religion’s approach to war, I also hope that someone at the table will cut through all the nonsense about “Just War” and point out a clear pacifist principle. In the same way, in the pantheon of how different religions deal with sin, I am glad that Quakers have stood for the notion that sin is not inevitable, and not just because sin doesn’t really exist. (Sin here meaning, “the missing of the mark” rather than some indelible form of irredeemable evil.)
I am also not claiming personal righteousness—if I had that, I wouldn’t hunger and thirst after it, right? It is not an accident that this blog is called Confessions of an EarthQuaker. Sometimes all I have to offer in my ministry is my own confession of broken heartedness and culpability. In this day and age, living according to any coherent ethics of compassion is a fearsome challenge. How will we live in a way that does not exploit people, carry the seeds of war, or destroy the biosphere? For myself, I sleep in a room heated by wood backed up by propane, turn off my coal-powered alarm clock (it runs on electricity, of course, but the electricity comes from coal), pull on my industrial cotton broadfall pants, light the propane-powered stove to heat the water for my coffee which has traveled from Sumatra to be on my shelf, and then wander into the bathroom to contaminate 1.6 gallons of what previously was potable water. Before I am fully awake, I have participated in the exploitation of coffee farmers, the destruction of the biosphere through pollution of water and carbon emissions, and I have nurtured the seeds of war that makes my lifestyle, modest though it may be by U.S. standards, possible. (The big three of ecological footprint are housing, transport, and diet. My diet is as big a footprint as my transportation.)
Perhaps what I can say here is part of my learning at Pendle Hill. Perhaps I should talk about my feelings. We do that a lot around here. When I think about the state of the world, and the way in which our global north lifestyles contribute to its continued decline, I feel sad, sick, scared, and mad as hell. When I see people seeking alternatives, experimenting, sharing their discoveries, and living their truth, I feel inspired, joyful, hopeful and loving towards those brave souls. In short, bicycles make me happy. Perhaps that’s all I should have said in the first place.

*My theory of afterlife is called the Cosmic Compost Pile. Since we know that in physics and in natural systems there is no beginning and no end, only cycles and processes, it doesn’t make sense that any part of me would just cease to be when I die. I figure that the Spirit, like the body, is subjected to radical entropy, but that the resultant material is enriched, purified, and ready to be absorbed into whole new cycles of life. It is possible that some lives are like an apple core in the compost pile, which breaks down rapidly, and others are more like an avocado pit, their energy breaking down more slowly, but it all goes around again. Of course, I can’t prove it, and I have never been shown that this is true by a mystical experience. I just like it as a plausible, prosaic, and nonviolent notion of afterlife. In the true Quaker tradition, I actually think that our eschatology tells us that the Kin-dom is at hand, and we are living in Paradise now.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


Well, it’s been a quiet week in Lake Wobegone, but that doesn’t mean that plenty hasn’t been going on. When I first arrived at Pendle Hill, I slept a great deal and ate and went for long walks, and stared at the trees turning colors and let go of much that I had been holding on to. Now there are some very subtle processes starting to happen within me. I prefer great dramatic epiphanies, of course, but I am mindful of the fact that it is really just subtle little shifts of sunlight, warmth, moisture, nutrients, and microorganisms that create the great harvest that we sometimes get from the Woolman Orchard. Also, great big events and movements in my life have often been catastrophic in effect and affect. Subtle is good…
Still, I have to admit that the primary trend feels a lot like entropy, dis-integration, coming apart. Of course, this is merely an ego perception, not reality, but the ego does get quite strident sometimes. I have done Advent consciously and deliberately for the last four years with the Sunday Morning Book Group at Grass Valley Friends Meeting. This is the right time of year for letting go, as trees let go of leaves. It is the darkening time when life is waning. This can feel like death to the ego, but spiritually I know that death always leads to new life.
I have been doing a great deal of reading. Much is going in, and I have a sense of searching through it, looking for key elements that I need. I can’t force it, but I will wake up one of these mornings, and it will be with me. I have committed to the process, and continually remind myself that the product (if any!) will come from that.
I have also done some writing lately, but it seems to be serving the function of making room in my head so that I don’t have to hold these elements, but can let them go and return to a waiting state. None of the things I have written have been elegant or even particularly coherent, and this is difficult for the ego too—I’m supposed to be GOOD at writing!
In fact, one of the things that I have recently had to confront is a pervasive, crippling perfectionism. I met a woman, Colleen, who is a professional organizer. She stayed one night as a guest of Pendle Hill because she lives some distance away and had two days of work in the area. She and I got to talking at the breakfast table. It turns out that she has read this blog! She mentioned being a professional organizer—not labor, but offices and homes. I talked about my challenges around neatness and papers in particular. She thought for a while, and then offered that a certain kind of person is such a perfectionist that they don't want to engage in things that won't come out perfectly. I looked at my life through this lens for several days--work, relationships, living spaces, ministry, hobbies, and even my personal aesthetic. It has been very enlightening, but also has involved some mourning and letting go of anger. So, now I am struggling with the theme: "Perfection is Imperfection: Imperfection is Perfection." The point is to engage with things despite the certainty that perfection will not occur.
There are some forces at work in my own brain that encourage me to do, to make, to accomplish, to act. One is that the Pendle Hill end of term tradition of Festival Week is coming up, where students do presentations of what their work has been about this term. Can I do a presentation of playing the violin, taking a nap, and eating an orange? (Actually, that would probably be accepted with alacrity.) Another contributor to my sense that I need to get something done is that I am the Kenneth Carrol Scholarship recipient, and am supposed to do some sort of Biblical or Quakerly scholarship that is of value. The third is all the folks who have contributed to my being here financially or otherwise. It is good to have accountability, of course, but it is also important to look out for the tricks of the ego. Early Friends always reminded themselves to “stay low” and listen. I think that this is what I am attempting.
During this time of dissolution and non-productivity, I have been exercising regularly in an effort to control my blood pressure without medications. My B.P. is not in the happy range, I am sad to say, but I am stronger, faster, leaner and more flexible thanks to a somewhat haphazard discipline of running, cycling, weight training, and yoga.
I have attended numerous meetings of Quaker organizations, since I’m in the East. I attended the American Friends Service Committee’s board and corporation meetings, Quaker Earthcare Witness’ fall gathering, the Friends General Conference Traveling Ministers Program consultation for emerging ministers, and have agreed to serve on Pendle Hill’s Racial Justice Committee as the resident student representative. I am hoping to visit with the Friends Committee on Legislation this winter as well, since I have been very impressed with their work.
My spiritual reading is the New York Times. I read the front section, ideally for half an hour, but sometimes it is more or less. The idea is to read with cosmic consciousness. Sometimes I laugh, and sometimes I have to stop and pray. Sometimes I put the paper down and go for a walk under big trees in the rain. Sometimes my tears fall on the page, and my heart aches. As time goes on, however, I am learning to see the beauty more and more. I can’t explain it, but it’s there.
I am also working on a project for sustainable travel to Friends General Conference Gathering this summer. The EarthQuaker Road Trip seems like a perfect fit with FGC’s theme of “Courageously Faithful.” The idea is for Friends of all ages to take Amtrak to Philadelphia (bikes go free on the train!) and then to cycle to Johnstown on a Pennsylvania State bike route that includes some Rails to Trails. The trip will involve service work, play, worship, and visiting with Friends Meetings along the way. Eight days and 259 miles is a pretty mild bike tour, so consider cycling a bit this spring to get ready. Hopefully there will be a link on the FGC website soon. Emma Churchman, a fellow student here, and Kristina Keefe-Perry are primary co-conspirators.
My FGC workshop proposal was also accepted. Entitled EarthQuakers Unbound!, it will incorporate my learning from last year’s experience. After a year of intensive scholarship, it will be fun to bring new understanding to this group exploration of the Gospel of the Earth.
I have also started to keep a dream journal. For the last two decades I have been a person who claims not to remember their dreams, or not to dream at all. It turns out that I just wipe my mind clean as soon as I wake up. By instead waking up and lying still in the position I woke up in, I can remember my dreams, then turn on the light and write them down. Individual dreams so far haven’t seemed to yield much, but looking at the nearly two dozen that I have collected now does reveal some very consistent patterns. It’s fascinating, really. I’m now reading a book about it, so I can better interpret. Jeremy Taylor’s book, Dream Work: Techniques for Discovering the Creative Power in Dreams, in case you are curious.
So, entropy, surrender, letting go and simultaneously continuing to practice my disciplines of exercise, spiritual reading, spiritual writing, worship and prayer are the business of these days.
An embarrassment of riches, surely. The world continues to hurtle towards ecogeddon, and I am preparing myself for something. Should I form a Quaker Worker house? Go to seminary? Give up and just make piles of money and have a good time while the planet is still inhabitable? Hmmmm….
Time to pray.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

No Mas Muertes...

This might seem like an odd summer break activity to some, but I am spending some time in a desert camp with No More Deaths next week. You can check them out at

This, of course, requires a little bit of money, so I'm posting their boilerplate participant support letter below. If you feel so inclined, please make a donation with a "Carl Magruder" notation. I will do the sweating in the desert, and write about it here!

Weird way to prepare for FGC...

June 14, 2007
Dear Friend,

Each summer No More Deaths hosts hundreds of volunteers who come to the Arizona border region to help provide humanitarian assistance to migrants. Those volunteers take home with them a new understanding of the crisis along our borders and their place in that crisis. It is our hope that they will share their stories and experiences after returning home. This year, in an effort to further involve communities across the country, we are requesting our volunteers to ask their home communities for support prior to their arrival.
There are many ways that you can support a No More Deaths volunteer: prayers and regular correspondence are greatly encouraged. This is no vacation; many find their time along the border both physically and emotionally challenging. We also need financial support. Our summer projects are very expensive, so we ask our volunteers to raise a small portion of what it takes to support them – at least $100 per week or $300 per month that they are here. This money both supports our programs and offsets the cost of hosting volunteers. Enclosed is a brochure with more information on the mission of No More Deaths and our current projects. No donation is too small!
We hope that you will provide whatever sort of support that you are able for this volunteer before for their departure for the border. We also hope that you will be able to talk with them about their experiences upon their return.

Many Thanks,
No More Deaths

3809 East 3rd Street Tucson, AZ 85716
(520) 495-5583

Yea, Though I Walk Through the Valley of Death

Note/Disclaimer: I can’t claim that this entry has any profound spiritual, ecological, or Quaker content. I’m just trying to keep up with myself here. Some readers may be apalled to learn that this entry is primarily concerned with fossil fuel burning activites. Freak out!

I go to the desert to cleanse my soul. It may be some ancient affinity. (Past life theory explains a felt experience that many of us have, without being metaphysically convincing to me at all.) Whatever the reason, I find the desert soothing. There is something about being in a place where survival is not easy or a given. I also like to be in a place where the bones of the Earth’s crust are not too covered over with vegetation or even soil. I feel close to her then.
Things come scouring off of me out in the Mojave. I rolled the old Yamahootie Scootie down the Eastern Sierra, late in the day coming to camp in the municipal campground in Big Pine on Friday. Interactions at Sierra Friends Center zing around in my head as I hunt for possibilities, but I have traveled over and over these mental roads, and find no new turn offs or revelations for now.

It is too late in the day to try the desert road to Saline Hot Springs. I’m not on a dual sport motorcycle, I don’t have auxiliary lighting, and I’ve already rolled too many miles to try it. I did try the paved road out to the desert before turning back, but the little desert owls next to the road turned me around, one after another starting up and fluttering in the headlight. I don’t know which way they will go or which way to swerve, since swerving to avoid wildlife is a good way to crash. I run over a ground squirrel that can’t decide which way to go, and then one of the owls hits me in the shoulder. I decide to turn back for the municipal campground before something really bad happens. Too late for the squirrel.

The next day I cover 102 miles of desert dirt road. Initially, I’m heading to Saline Hot Spring. Twelve miles in, I’m in a low place where the road is winding through steep walls. In a left hand turn, a jeep suddenly rounds the bend ahead, traveling at high speed. I see it very clearly all in a moment: huge winch on the front bumper, two giant coolers strapped down on the roof rack, green paint covered with dust. What really gets my attention, however, is that the jeep is pulling a trailer, and though the jeep is all hooked up, heading down the middle of the one lane road, the trailer is totally broken loose, and jackknifing its way straight towards me. I am hard on both brakes, and squeeze up against the canyon wall where there are big rocks sitting in deep stand. The jeep also slows, and the wheels of the trailer hook up just before it creams me. The trailer leaps into line behind the jeep, and the rig blows past me, trailing a cloud of dust. I put the side stand down on a rock, and shut off the motor. Pacing it off, it is three paces from the front wheel of the Yamaha to the deep crescent shaped furrow dug by the trailer tires as it swung in behind the jeep. I don’t smoke any more, so I just take a long drink from my Camelback and pee on a little scrub plant. (I always pee on plants in the desert. I imagine that they really appreciate the moisture and nitrogen.) I notice that my hands shake more than usual, and that my heart beat is a little more irregular than usual. It is so quiet here when no motors run!

Thirty miles down this road, on the Seca II (XJ600), I glance in the rearview mirror reflexively. My little wood and canvas chair is waving at me. Why isn’t it stowed? Always willing to take a break on a grueling washboard road, I stop at the top of a rise (there’s no shade for miles), and check my load. My ancient tent and ground cloth have gone AWOL!
I backtrack. And backtrack. And backtrack. I can go a little faster, because I know where the deep sand is now. I don’t mind rolling my old street machine on these bad roads, because it is so familiar to me after owning the same bike for more than a decade. It’s not a special dual sport motorcycle made for any kind of terrain. “Specialization” is one of the traps of the consumer society. That’s why everyone has twenty pair of shoes—we need different shoes (we think) for different activities and occasions. We can’t just cycle in a t-shirt; we need a cycling jersey. It won’t do to just have one kind of kayak—we need specific types for different bodies of water.

My old friend Richard Graham (pronounced "Graim") convinced me that “all motorcycles are single track vehicles.” He comes from the era when a high pipe and knobby tires went on “scramblers” while the exact same motorbike with street tires and low exhausts was the highway model. (Possibly different handlebars and gearing too.) He motocrossed his FJ1200 Yamaha just to prove the point. My little Seca II is descended of that FJ1200, with half the displacement, a steel cradle frame, single disc brake, bias ply street tires that last forever, and a relatively upright riding position. It is considered an entry-level machine, but I’ve put upwards of 80,000 miles on this motor now, and it has kicked the hell out of every BMW I ever owned previously for simple appliance-like reliability. It's small enough to ride off road, to pick up when it falls over, and to keep me in check with the Highway Poltroons.

Nine miles back, I find my old North Face tent in the road. I reflect on how long I have had this tent (sixteen years, by my calculation!). I should probably seal the seams again, but it is in perfectly good shape after many trips, and all kinds of weather. I suppose a newer tent would have some cool features my old tent doesn’t have, but ignorance is bliss. Besides, there is the issue of familiarity (same root as family). I can set up this tent in the dark at the end of a 600-mile day on the motorbike or twenty miles backpacking in the dark in a stiff wind.

I’ve backtracked so far that I decide, “Hang Saline Hot Springs—it’s too hot for soaking anyway. I’ll check out Scotty’s Castle.” I’ve been to Death Valley many times, but never to Scotty’s Castle. I’m curious, and it seems like it’s on the way towards Las Vegas where I will stay with Friends. Then the pavement ends again…

The dirt road I’m on now is wide and fairly well groomed. It has some gnarly washboard. And it has some deep sand. Now, deep sand is the only thing that really scares me off road. From reading the Adventure Motorcycling Handbook, however, I have the impression that even a purpose-built dual-sport motorcycle, if carrying luggage, will have difficulty in deep sand. I have read many accounts of people motorcycling in these conditions where frequent spills are the order of the day. What is pernicious about the situation I’m in is that a) the road looks the same whether it is fairly firm, allowing 35-45 miles per hour, or if it is deep sand, necessitating much slower rates of speed. Higher speed smoothes out the washboard like magic. So, I bomb along blithely through the desert landscape, and then suddenly the motorcycle starts flopping about like a landed fish as the front wheel tries to tuck in the deep sand. Slowing down exacerbates the flopping exponentially, so the only thing to do is gas it. Cracking open the throttle when all signs indicate that a crash is immanent is counter-intuitive, to put it mildly, but it is the right thing to do. The ground firms up eventually…

b) is that Richard isn’t with me. Nor is Aaron, Abbott, Issa, Amy, Kristina, Nicola, Brian, Pete, Jeremy, Gabriel, or any other motorcycling buddy of mine, except Eddy Bear. Eddy Bear no longer has a corporal body, however, and so is of limited help, only occasionally giving advice, which mostly consists of yelling, “Give it some stick!” in his thick Cockney accent when I hit the deep sand and don’t want to roll on the gas. Point is, a wreck out here would be bad. If I was too hurt to ride, I could be here a long time. If the bike wouldn’t run, ditto. A very conservative riding style develops. And then I hit the end of the water in my Camelback.

It’s two in the afternoon, and I’ve been at this for hours. It has, I have to admit, ceased to be fun. I have another litre of water in my Nalgene, nicely warmed up, and pour that into the Camelback. I’m wearing my jacket to keep the sun off me and in case I wreck, but it is plenty hot out here, and I’m sweating in a decidedly porcine way. (Do you know that pigs actually have no sweat glands, just like dogs?) I look in on the gas in the tank, but can’t draw any real conclusion about how much fuel is in there. I'm glad that I bought 91 octane--in my old aircooled motorbike, it almost pays for itself in increased mileage. I haven’t gone so many miles since filling up (200 mile range), but I haven’t gotten out of second gear much either, so it’s hard to say when I might go on reserve tank, indicating less than a gallon of fuel left. (This isn’t as dire as it sounds when you get 50 m.p.g. in top gear at 55-65 m.p.h. Poor man's Prius.)

I need to pee, and consider that probably I ought to pee in the Nalgene, just in case, so that I could drink it later if something goes seriously wrong, or if I’m more lost than I think that I am. (Not all who wander are lost, remember, but I was starting to think that I might be. Gandalf didn’t use G.P.S…) Just then, about two hundred yards a way, a great black S.U.V. with tinted windows thunders past perpendicular to my track. Hidden by a trick of the terrain, I am back at the paved road! Civilization! Cold beer and cheap plastic crap can’t be far off. I’m saved.

The hundred and some miles to Vegas are relatively easy, except that the ultra-solid Yamahoo is spitting oil onto my new left boot. Tales of motorcyle repair in Tucson to follow.