Report on Global Change Consultation at Atlantic Friends Gathering of Canadian YM, Fredricton NS

The six queries

1. How has global change affected our communities and ourselves?

2. What actions have we taken in response to global change as experienced in our area, to express our responsibilities towards all creation? In what ways have my own activities or those of my community contributed to positive or adverse local and global change?

3. How do changes around us affect our relationship with God? How does my relationship with God affect my responses to the changes around us? What role does faith have in my life and in the life of my community? In what ways do I and my Friends church or meeting community bear witness to our Testimonies in our daily lives?

4. What stories and experiences from past times of catastrophic happenings such as major droughts – perhaps from Scripture, perhaps the record of regional or local events – might inspire us to respond to the changes the world is facing today?

5. How can we bear witness to the abundance God offers us and testify to the world about ways in which justice, compassion, and peace may address significant disruption, stress, and tension?

6. How can we support one another in rekindling our love and respect for God‟s Creation in such a way that we are messengers of the transforming power of love and hope?

Summary of testimony during the first round Saturday May 22

* Wolfville was the first town in NS to adopt fair trade. My young daughters woke me up to these issues, by asking questions about the environment, back in the 1970s. Now the town has a cinema co-op, a Just Us cafe, local live theatre and music, and community sustainability meetings, supported by lots of unpaid volunteers. We held a vision consultation that wanted to attract young people — but the plan was blocked by property owners who wanted things to “stay the same”.

* Buffalo, when I was a teenager, it was thought dangerous because of the black population. Downtown was “risky” but full of small eating places. Now downtown is an empty hole surrounded by big box stores in the suburbs.

* That was Fredericton 20 years ago. Now downtown is revitalized, with lots of small stores, art, music, theatre and meeting places.

* I’ve noticed changes in the technology of music. And in daily life our acoustics have changed, there is a lot of noise pollution. Computers have replaced direct person-to-person contact, with email, music recordings. Quality has been lost both in communication and musical sound.

* My four kids awoke me to environmental responsibility in the 1950s. Now there is a solar house in Houlton ME, we have our own wood (-lots?), limit population and live sustainably. We need to learn from their wisdom, or get out of the way of indigenous people.

* Empowering women, and natives about their own lives, is a priority. Portland ME had a blighted downtown, now it has multi-ethnic festivals. In the 1990s we became a city that welcomed refugees. Now 50 languages are spoken. Fishing, the old economy, has dwindled to an 80-day season.Now we have an arts economy, with live theatre, jazz and other music, art walks in 100+ galleries. With only 68,000 population! Diversity of races and cultures has had a positive effect in schools. I conclude: we don’t have to do it “the way we have always done it”. Forget the melting pot. You don’t have to give up your culture to be an American. Take a viewpoint and stand up for it. Friends Meeting is growing because of these changes. There are now 90 children in Friends elementary school. Some children of Evangelicals are being tutored by a same sex couple. We have very liberal and very conservative people in the same meeting. We have come up against the problems newcomers face: finding and keeping jobs, food stamps, welfare problems — people in Meeting now say this kind of treatment of the poor is not just. This cross-fertilization is part of a global change.

* In Woodstock NB attitudes on the economy and environment are changing. People alter the way they live and activities they support. Changes happen when people work on issues they think are important, such as… transition towns, peak oil, water, farmers’ costs rising so they can’t afford to farm, affecting 91%. Canadian tractors need expensive fuel.

* Technology: windmills on buildings, we went to MIT only to find that the big research funds don’t go to a green economy but to aircraft, weapons of death.

* I was born in Portugal, I remember ox-carts and Roman bridges still in use. Things changed fast in my generation. Why did it take so long to develop fuel-efficient cars? Then my father worked for the Colonial Office in W Africa. I remember pith helmets and mosquito nets. We three kids stayed with grandparents. Then Dad transferred to New York City, I met my wife and move to Mt Allison University in Sackville NB. All our boys are in music: one in classical & avant-garde, one in rock, and one in country. Our eldest lives with his family in Fredericton, very involved in the John Howard Society which… My last composition involves electronic music for a Chopin festival — two moods, one protesting foreign invasion, another meditating in a cathedral: the two sides of Polish life.

* The internet: Computers have utterly changed our workplace. We’re rushed, less time for face-to-face discussion, and reflection. Too much info (much of it unseasoned), too little time. But at best it allows new ways of learning.

* It’s easy to see the bad. I’ve sen diminishment of the quality of life, dictated from the top rather than being grown from the bottom — all my life. Now there’s a welling up of creativity from ordinary people. But there is as much endarkenment as enlightenment. The Quaker question, “Is it good” replaced by “Will it work?”. We’re in a dark age. But maybe as Joanna Macy says, there will be a Great Turning.

* We are bombarded by advertising, consumerism. Mike Nickerson asks, “If the persuasive voice of advertising fell silent, what would people want?” Maybe the young will speak up and rebel.

* I can’t figure it out. In my school days we got resources from books. MY son complains, “Ma, why must I look it up in World Book when I can just click Wikipedia?” I wouldn’t trust it. Books are expensive. We eliminate expenses online. I don’t know if the real costs have been compared.

* When computers are recycled, there are lots of toxics.

* A saying in construction: “almost perfect” means the work is good enough. God does not expect absolute perfection from us. We would never accomplish anything.

* QEWnet and QEAN show us Quaker action nationally and internationally.

* Maybe I’ll call my Senator to support the CLEAR bill supported by FCNL.

* Seeking truth was what drew me to Quakerism. We can’t know everything. Power-with, individuals’ imperfect knowing shared across the community, gives me strength. There is intelligence in the natural world’s way of being. Change is not always negative. It can be challenging to work in community.

* Maybe we could offer a course in moral economy at St Thomas University.

* There will be good and bad, unequal impacts on disadvantaged people as we (must) change the economy to degrowth (=quality of life instead of quantity of life?) to stop climate change.

* How can I apply this in education? Develop competencies. I feel a lot of responsibility. A lot of people are not even aware there is an issue. This gathering has raised this awareness in me.

* Friendship. I feel inadequate about politics and economics. I’ll have to read FCNL letters, the Lehrer Report, the Economist, make my lazy mind work. [Note – start with other Friends’ recommended reading in QEWnet Forum]

* I want my Canada back! Valuable thoughts from Imelda Perley’s presentation.

* Some of these comments are pearls. Imelda spoke about growing into the gift of a medicine bundle, into the responsibilities of being an elder. Questions about our private property, our habits — ride the bus instead of a car.

* A clear sense of what Quakers have always known. Looking for that of God in everyone. We need those skills more than ever.

* There’s a real connection between traditional and modern Quakers e.g. Bolivian Friends.

* Learning about the world we want to work towards, the realities.

* Enclosing the spark of competition within an engine of cooperation. We have communities of wisdom within us.

* How people really feel. Look into each other’s hearts. As Ursula Franklin says, one of the good things about being a Quaker is — you’re not in charge [in the universe], you only work here

Second round

* No work for our children in Nova Scotia; have to go to Ontario or Alberta.

*Year-round supply of ‘fresh’ fruit and vegetables considered normal in the supermarket.

No bobolinks, no kingbirds, no upland plovers (in just the past few years).

* I was, for example, recycling glass back in Montreal in 70’s: took it to Lachine to Dominion Glass once every few months. Two of my 3 children are fierce recyclers, in Toronto and Montreal. I also baked bread and made clothes; children now in their 40’s learned these things do not need to come from stores or boutiques. I belong to Ecology Action Centre now thru PAC: small but committed. Don’t go to its events often (Halifax), and trying to limit my trips to Metro and to Wolfville to one each/week (hard). Have supported QEAN strongly at CYM, in role as Clerk of P.C. However, I do fly several times a year: to UK, to West, to Toronto. Those of us over 50 are badly implicated in the consumer culture we have; those up to about 50 mostly don’t know anything else at all unless they have travelled to Third World countries.

* I am sad and distressed quite a lot of the time, at the awful things happening to four-leggeds, to fish and insects, and even to people. It’s hard to believe that people will be able to change in time. There’s a big sense of guilt for my grandchildren’s possibly impoverished and imperilled lives. It’s hard to have faith or hope. I’m not sure as Quakers we are bearing witness properly: we let our paid staff (CFSC) do a lot of it while we get on with our lives.

* This year, Saskatchewan farmers are going to be lucky if they get 30% of their fields down to wheat, because of the rain all winter and spring. This is the world’s breadbasket: I think (facts are not often available easily) the world is down to less than a year’s worth of food grains stockpiled. Remember a few years ago when all the grain elevators were stuffed? Then there were a few famines in Africa, and it was all distributed. What about the next famine?

* The horrors of the Gulf oil leak should certainly help, but will those in power be strong enough to do enough about it? I don’t know that there are any myths left common enough to have power. James Cameron (in the film Avatar) is trying to build one, as have other writers and film makers. I fear the general public has moved beyond denial into depression and helplessness.

* As Quakers, I think we have to drop our old resistance to letting others know about our techniques and processes, and we have to become a lot more one-pointed and focussed as a group. Also, on a personal level, I have started talking a lot more in my community about what Quakers do and how. I am doing a few small weird things like taking my reuseable mug to bridge on Monday night, and saying why. I actually think we should look much more assertively at ways of using the funds we have been left to do much more publicly. This is very hard to address. We are all so powerfully individual. I would like to know how others would LIKE to be supported! For myself, I would like to be encouraged to speak out.

* As many Friends have reminded us, the enormity of the environmental challenges we face have multifaceted practical implications for the Religious Society of Friends. In our testimonies and our way of doing business we have much to offer the rest of the world. The transition to a more localized form of society won’t be a smooth one, owing to the complexity of the problem, which is tied to the manifold connections and ramifications of the present economic system (Ellie Perkins illustrated this complexity well with her discourse about the webs of relationships in many countries sustained in part by her purchase of peppers at the local greengrocer’s).

For the difficult times ahead, I am led to believe that we as Friends must re-focus on living our testimonies of peace, simplicity, and equality because witnessing to these qualities, practicing discernment around them, and pointing out the instances when they are present or absent, are among the particular gifts we offer to others both inside and outside the RSOF. Why peace and simplicity? Be patterns and examples.

The special strength of this discernment is that we seek truth as revealed in a balanced way by rationality and science, and equally by the stirrings of the heart through the Light of Christ. This holistic, fully human approach will keep us from cultivating false hope and pursuit of ‘tidy solutions’. It worries me that the earth care gains we seek, even when we gain them, will be countered by tendencies and events that will amount to yet more defeats, like bricks in a wallstacking ever higher. In the face of such defeats, it will take real spiritual strength and wisdom to survive as people of faith; as people who are hopeful.We need to be mindful of the “ocean of darkness” that George Fox struggled with, and learn the stories of how Friends and others in the difficult times of the 20th century rediscoveredthe “ocean of light” thatilluminatedand overcame the darkness. Whatever we do, we need to affirm our sense of gratitude for our lives and celebrate the joy of living. We need to recognize the pain we can inflict on ourselves through a single minded pursuit of causes and issues and giving free reign to our sense of loss.

The strength of the Quaker way of doing business is something we need to grow in our meetings and bring to our involvements outside of the RSOF. Among others in society, Friends need to avoid speaking in the competitive language of oppression that is all around us, but instead, to speak of and demonstrate the strength that may be seen in cooperative action in so many realms, including business and credit unions, as some Atlantic Friends and many other Atlantic Canadians have done in an exemplary way over many years.

In the more distant past, but still within reach of the oral histories of Atlantic Canadians, are the stories about life in the 19th century–a time easily romanticized, but equally: a period when people lived in place-centred partnership with the sun, the soil, with plants, and domestic animals, and with other people in commercial, family, and civic relationships, including the particular curses and blessings these relationships bestowed at the time. Accounts of this life are preserved in writings, and the technologies from those times are brought back to living use at historical settlements such as King’s Landing, where they help us to reconstruct the past and perhaps to imagine how these ways of being may be overlaid on our future lives, helping to foster sustainability. Seeing these historical relationships reenacted, thinking and reading about them, and connecting our future and past in this way may help us to see the future more hopefully and counter the dispiriting discourses that we hear so commonly. As Keith Helmuth reminded us in his SPG lecture, the soil is still productive, plants and animals still grow and thrive, so perhaps the problem of the economy lies elsewhere.

I have been for some time testing the notion that Friends are most persuasive to others when we cultivate beauty in our surroundings, and love in our relationships. While the need for more love is somewhat self-evident in this violent world, think for a moment how different our society would be if we insisted on establishing beauty as a fact of our lives possessing no less reality than other abstract concepts we take for granted, such as the Canadian Dollar, the TSX Composite Index, and property ownership! I believe Friends cultivate a heightened sense of the qualities of beauty and love through our way of worship and discernment, and that this sense is something we can share. It doesn’t take learning or university degrees to do this; it’s just speaking to our Truth and our experience of the Light. We can witness, each one of us, to this Truth by insisting on the cultivation of beauty in all endeavours, private and public.In my experience as one who came to Friends later in life, I can testify that Quakers who witness to the need for cultivation of love and beauty in their relationships do this very effectively and movingly, and are an inspiration to others. In contrast, we miss the mark when we engage in debates and contention and haggle with experts over scientific debating points.