Category Archives: Eco-stuff

Walking the Walk?

Please welcome guest bloggers from the Ferry Beach EcoAdventures workshop….

Based on observations by long time attendees and staff, it is clear that Ferry Beach Conference Center is an exclusive community and lacks diversity by race, age and wealth. While concrete numbers are not available for citation, a glance around confirms what the interviewees suggested: a majority of attendees are white and generally young children or middle aged or older. The cost of attending, in excess of $700 per person per week, is de facto evidence of the wealth of conferees. Members of the Eco-adventure workshop who have attended Ferry Beach conferences for years, cite lack of financial means as a deterrent to coming annually. This same group said that the lack of young adult programming was also a factor in keeping them away. In fact, the eco-adventure group that combines high-school students with adults (all of which have their own young children) has an eleven-year age gap. This exclusivity is clearly unintentional. Not only do the UU principles center around the inherent dignity and worth of all people, but also anecdotal evidence abounds of the openness and friendliness of the Ferry Beach community. So what can be done to remedy the situation?

One area in which UU’s and Ferry Beachers “walk the walk” is sexual diversity. Conferencees are open in their sexuality. The Gayla week provides scholarships up to 5,000 dollars for expanded attendance for those who may not be able to experience Ferry Beach on their own. Initiative should be taken from this conference to create a Ferry Beach scholarship fund to promote a more economically diverse community. Individual conferences should be open to creating and/or continuing their own funds. Taking the lead of attendees is the “In the Company of Women” week, who have successfully held annual craft auctions to create scholarships for their conference. These women mostly likely work on their crafts all year, a mentality which should be adopted by more Ferry Beachers in order to work toward a year long funding program.

Another way to combat exclusivity at Ferry Beach would be to reach out and advertise to more racially and economically diverse communities. Through publications in currently not targeted areas, we would hope to expand the diversity of Ferry Beach attendees. A Ferry Beach crew member identified the lack of diversity as possibly stemming from advertising only to ourselves, resulting in specific demographics. More research needs to be done to explore the interest of the groups targeted, in order to move from an unintentionally exclusive conference to an intentionally inclusive one.

“EcoAdventures” — Day four

Although I had a session plan in place, including time to work on the projects they started two days ago, the group got very interested in something else early on. So I threw out the session plan, and we followed that interest. The narrative account and the session plan for today are integrated below.

(If you haven’t been following this series, you can begin with Day One, and follow it forward.)

Continue reading

“EcoAdventures” — Day three

Today, I felt that the group really gelled. It was one of those days where everything just went smoothly, and we all (including me) deepened our understanding. This was in spite of the fact that I had to totally re-arrange my carefully planned session for the day, to make more time for the project we started yesterday.

I don’t have time to write a good narrative account right now, but I’m going to post the session plan anyway, just to get it up…. Continue reading

“EcoAdventures”: Day two

Our EcoAdventure group took some time to assemble, because several parents had to drop of their children at children’s programs. We had one new participant as well. So while we were waiting for everyone to assemble, we played another round of the Ecosystem Game, to help our newcomer learn other people’s names. (By now, I find myself calling people by their ecosystem name, e.g., OK, Katherine Kelp, are you willing to write all this down on the flip chart?)

Next, we put together very simple journals with paper and file folders and binder clips.

When everyone was present, we headed out to the same spot in a pine grove where we were yesterday. We did two sensory awareness activities. For the second activity, “Prickly Tickly,” the participants find two things, one that will be prickly and one that will be tickly, and then participants pair up to share their prickly thing and tickly thing with another participant. After everyone was done, I asked: Anyone want to show their prickly and tickly things? “This piece of bark was prickly on the outside, but it’s kind of smooth on the inside.” “I found this chunk of moss that was tickly. And it’s in the shape of a teardrop, which is kind of cool.” Any other insights? “They had pine needles as prickly things, but I had pine needles as tickly things.” “It depends on how you touched them to your hand.” “In our pair, we both had pine needles, but one of us said it was a tickly thing and the other said it was a prickly thing.”

Next it was time to choose favorite places, places where we will have time each day to sit in quiet and write or draw in journals (or just sit!). After about ten minutes, I called everyone back: How was it sitting alone? “I found that my mind wandered, I kept thinking about things I’m supposed to be doing.” It sounds like you think that’s bad? “I tried to not let my mind wander, and just focus on the outdoors.” Just so everyone knows, I don’t have an agenda for your alone time — it’s yours to do with what you will. But (turning back to the person who spoke), it sound like you have discovered your priority for alone time. Anyone else? “It was good!” “I realized how long it’s been since I had time alone.”

Anyone want to share something from their journal? “I drew a picture of some pine needles.” “I designed a dress for Emory, and drew a picture of it.” (Emory is the preschool-aged daughter of one of the participants.) One participant read a poem about being on the beach with a younger sister. Another participant read a haiku about learning how to drive.

Then it was time to start the big project (see below for a full description of the project). Because the group is so big, we split the group in two: one group was assigned to document and write about possible exclusivity in the Ferry Beach area (who gets to come here? what human groups are kept out?); another group was assigned to document and photo/video possible environmental disaster(s) in the Ferry Beach area. The two groups headed out to talk with people and look at the neighborhood, in pursuit of their two assignments.

We gathered back at our home base for a closing. It was clear that everyone needed more time to work on their respective projects, so we will continue the projects tomorrow morning.

For full session plan, see below… Continue reading

“EcoAdventures”: Day one

Ferry Beach Conference Center, Saco, Maine
Religious Education Conference

Once again, I’m at the annual religious education conference at Ferry Beach, the Universalist conference center in Saco, Maine. This year, I’m leading a 15-hour workshop called “EcoAdventures.” Group participants range in age from seniors in high school up to age forty or so. The workshop is on ecojustice.

Today was the first session. We spent the first half hour or so introducing ourselves and getting to know each other’s names. We played a variation of a well-known name game (sometimes called “The Grocery Store Game”), with a twist that ties it in to the local ecosystem (complete session plan is after the “Read more” link below). We also lined up by age, but we did it without speaking. I introduced my vision of the workshop, ending by saying: “If I had to sum all this up, I’d say this:– I think it’s time to really shake up Unitarian Universalism. Too many of our churches act as if it’s still the 1950’s. Too many of our churches are filled with white upper middle class Baby Boomers. It’s time for our churches to welcome all ages, and enter into the 21st century.”

Participants then had a chance to say their hopes and expectations, which ranged from “Have fun” to “I want to do something in ecojustice as a career and am looking for ideas.” Other hopes were to deepen knowledge of Unitarian Universalist faith, and to find activities and curriculum to bring back to a local congregation.

After the introductory bits, we went outdoors and found a tree. We lay at the base of a tree and looked up in the branches. What creatures might live up there? “Birds.” “Spiders.” “Squirrels.” “A mouse might run up the tree.” Do you see any creatures up there right now? “I see a spider’s web.” “I hear birds.” Then we turned over on our stomachs to look at the base of the tree. What creatures might live there? “I see a slug.” “There’s a hole here!” “Beetles.” “Ants.” “A weasel could live here.” Now imagine that you can see through the ground, and see all the roots of the tree. The roots go down almost as far as the branches go up. What creatures might live in among the roots? “Worms.” “Moles.” “Ants.”

We went back inside and drew a six-foot high picture of our tree. Abby drew a line half-way up the paper for the ground, and someone drew a blue line to show where the sky was. We drew the tree, and started drawing in all the creatures we had seen and imagined living on the tree. It was hard to get all 18 of us around the table, so we had to cycle in and out from drawing.

When the drawing was pretty well filled in, we hung it up, and all looked at it. We talked about how all the creatures associated with the tree are interconnected. We’ve drawn lots of creatures in this, but where are the human creatures? Lots of good conversation about this, and the final conclusion was that humans communities are interconnected with Nature, and with other human communities — in fact, it’s impossible to separate human creatures from Nature; there is no separation. “It’s arrogant to think that we humans are somehow separate from Nature.”

I summed up by saying that ecojustice is a concept, a tool, to build connections between human communities, and to help human creatures become aware with their connections with all living things.

Session plan follows. Continue reading

Common ground on antiracism work

As a Universalist, I believe that all persons are of equal value (I mean, if God is going to save everybody, no one’s disposable, right?); indeed, it seems likely that all sentient beings are of equal value; and I also believe that everything’s going to turn out all right in the end, especially if we all fight to transform the world and create paradise here on earth in our lifetimes. Where must such transformation take place? I found part of the answer in an essay by Ron Daniels in Race and Resistance: African Americans in the 21st Century:

There is a need for joint work [between various racial groups in the U.S.]. In fact, we cannot do this simply by seeing the Klan show up and throwing rocks are bricks at them and cursing at them profusely. That is simply not going to solve the problem. That’s sometimes our definition of antiracism work. We get out, the Klan shows up, all seven of them, 300 of us show up, throw rocks at them, call them bad names. We go home and we’ve done our work for the year. We need some real serious, joint work based on mutually acceptable agendas of issues. One of the areas I’m very keen on in environmental justice, fighting against environmental racism, environmental depredation, and uniting in the struggle for environmental justice. It is a common-ground issue that deals with things like housing and health and community development. All those issues are encapsulated in environmental justice.

This sounds like Universalist transformation to me: transformation so as to bring about paradise here on earth. Yes, I know it’s hopelessly idealistic, but that’s what religion is supposed to be (and besides, it’s more productive than throwing rocks).

Send off

For the past few days, I’ve had a cold that keeps getting worse. Now it’s down deep in my lungs, and so I decided that rather than risk bronchitis, I better hadn’t go to New Hampshire today.

You see, a whole bus-load of people from New Bedford are heading up to New Hampshire to team up with the Carbon Coalition/ New Hampshire Citizens for a Responsible Energy Policy. They’ll meet up at the Climate Action Center in Manchester this afternoon, and then head over to Saint Anselm College in Manchester to be present outside the site where the televised candidates’ debates will take place. (For the record, the Carbon Coalition is working with the League of Conservation Voters.) Two weeks ago, someone suggested that a bunch of New Bedfordites head up to join the Carbon Coalition. In just two short weeks, organizers Annie Hayes and John Magnan got more than thirty people to sign up.

Even though the two of us couldn’t go, Carol and I made sure we were present at the gathering place to give everyone else a big send-off. By 11:35, people started gathering. As you’d expect, there were a good number of students, from UMass Dartmouth, Bristol Community College, and out-of-town colleges. But the majority of those going were older people: businessmen and businesswomen, people who work in the non-profit world, retired people, and even a reporter for the New Bedford Standard-Times.

Someone from WBSM, one of our local radio stations, showed up to do interviews. From Carol, who used to be a reporter and is still a freelance writer, I have learned that media people appreciate it if you introduce them to good interviewees. So I introduced the pleasant fellow from WBSM to Annie Hayes, since she was one of the key organizers; and to some of the students I know (I saw him interviewing Elise and Dani and some others); and to John Bullard, a long-time environmental activist, whom I knew could give an articulate and cogent overview of why these people were going to New Hampshire.

The bus showed up right on time. Appropriately, the logo of the bus company was a waving American flag –what could be more American than keeping America beautiful for coming generations? –what could be more American than participating in the democratic process? The cargo compartment of the bus got loaded up with signs and chairs and blankets and banners. Everyone filed on and found a place to sit. A few late-comers hurried aboard.

The man from WBSM wondered if he could get a recording of everyone chanting, so since I have a big loud voice I got everyone’s attention and passed on his request. Someone on the bus started chanting something like “Clean air, green jobs!” (Being from New Bedford, with its high unemployment rate, we are all in support of jobs creation and we know that green technology has the potential of creating lots of jobs for cities like ours.) Then someone started chanting, “What does democracy look like? This is what democracy looks like!”

This indeed is what democracy looks like: a busload of ordinary citizens going to tell the politicians what issues are of greatest importance. We can only hope that the politicians listen to us ordinary citizens, and not to the lobbyists from the oil and automobile industries.

John Magnan, one of the organizers, was the last person on the bus. He politely thanked me for seeing them off. “Maybe you should give us a blessing before we go,” John said. “Oh wait, you’re a Unitarian Universalist minister, I guess you don’t do blessings.” We both laughed. For my part, I figure the only blessing they needed was having some people see them off and wish them well: if you can’t engage in direct political action yourself, the least you can do is support those who can.

If you’re one of the ones who went on the bus, leave a comment and tell us all how it went!

Just want to claw my eyes out….

In the church office today, Linda, the church secretary, mentioned that her allergies are bad.

“Mine too,” I said. “My eyes are itchy.”

“I know,” she said. “My eyes are really bad.”

“I just want to claw my eyes out,” I said. Which will sound disgusting, unless you too suffer from allergies in which case you’ll fully understand why I said that.

“Yup,” said Linda, “claw them out, put ’em in a glass of water, and rinse ’em off. That would be great. I’m using my eye drops all the time. I wonder what’s causing it, though. Usually when we get the first snow, that’s the end of allergies. But not this year.”

“Maybe mold?” I said. Mold is a huge problem in old buildings in New Bedford, because the climate is so damp. “Except that we live in a brand new building with no mold at all, and my eyes have been itching at home, too.”

“Well, I noticed a lot of the trees still have leaves on them,” said Linda.

“Leaf mold?” I said.

“I’ll bet that’s it,” she said.

“You know,” I said, “I thought I’ve had some kind of lingering cold for the past month, but I’ll bet it’s allergies. Itchy eyes, congestion,…”

“…Headaches, tired all the time, fuzzy thinking. Yup, sounds like allergies, doesn’t it?” Linda said. “We need a good cold snap to put an end to this.”

I’ve never had allergies in the winter before. This may be a small but unpleasant side effect of global climate change:– perhaps allergy sufferers will no longer be able to count on respite from allergies in the winter.