Monday, December 27, 2010

Hope and Mushrooms

Re-starting this blog set aside on December 3, 2008 is a bit intimidating. I don’t regret the two year pause to write a memoir, but using a blog to be “heard” in public on issues of importance is dubious. In 2008, with millions of blogs flying around in cyber space, I likened blogging to putting a note in a bottle and casting it out into the sea.

In spite of the odds, sometimes people found my messages floating on the electronic tides and responded with insights that made me wonder why they weren’t writing my blog. Such is the miracle of communication possibilities via the Internet. But, two years later, even though I don’t text or twitter and am still a novice with Facebook, I know that the communications landscape has continued its seismic shifts, shaking the foundations of the print and electronic media, changing not only the means but perhaps also the substance of what is communicated.

So here I am once again shoving my little boat out onto the Cyber Sea. I’ll take my chances with messages in bottles (those tiny electronic packets passing through endless nodes) and wait for those on other shores to find and read. Then, when one responds through the maze, or passes it on to a friend, the miracle of dialogue begins.

And what are the messages I want to bottle? I plan to write about what Kentucky poet, farmer, and philosopher Wendell Berry said is the only way to escape the past; and that is “by adding something better to it.”

We will be looking at government and corporate policies and practices to find ways the present may be made better, but seeking not in those places alone. Wendell Berry was thinking local before “thinking local” was cool. Over thirty years ago, he wrote The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture (New York: Avon Books, 1977), an incisive assessment of modern agriculture and its relationship to American culture--our health, economy, personal relationships, morals, and spiritual values.

At the time, I was working in New York City at the National Council of Churches coordinating member responses to the world food crisis. I was thinking big, and how only large scale initiatives on the national and international level had any hope of mitigating the crisis. Reading Berry undermined my easy assumptions about how social and economic changes take place. He was suspicious of “solutions” conceived in Washington, New York, or Brussels by the non-poor. He suggested that we look at what later would be called the micro-level. Begin implementing responsible agricultural and social practices where you are able (in your family, your household) in full confidence that others beyond your sight and knowledge are doing so as well. Sound practices grow like mushrooms, sprouting and spreading in ways you never would have expected.

At first read, I thought Berry’s image a cop-out from working for change at the macro level. I discovered he wasn’t talking about an “each one teach one” approach to social change. Far from it! He was making an observation about the spontaneous way change often occurs and reminding us that without taking action in our households and local communities, our words are just that, words! In this blog, we won’t despise either macro or micro efforts, but examine both for how they better the present.

I want this to be a blog of hope. The “hope” of which I speak has little to do with optimism that things will inevitably get better. Hope that requires so little of the holder seems not to be hope at all. We are all blind in some respects, and the fourth century the Bishop of Hippo in North Africa was no exception. But unlike most of us, Augustine’s mind was a treasure trove of incredible insights. One of those insights was about the nature of hope:

Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are Anger and Courage: anger so that what must not be, may not be; and courage, so that what must be, will be.

Our nation has been engaged in two wars for almost ten years; our economic policies seem to favor the rich at the expense of everybody else, future generations, and the environment. In the face of the most serious environmental threat our planet has ever faced, we appear paralyzed; science itself often discredited because it is the bearer of the bad tidings and doesn’t fit with some of our religious beliefs. The list could go on.

I want this blog to be about people unwilling to accept the way things are and who possess the courage to work at adding something better to the present. There are many, and like mushrooms, you find them in strange places. Finding them is worth the effort because they are the ones who have hope!
- Milo

1 comment:

Richard said...

Milo: It is wonderful to have you back on line. I look forward to your commentary. anna, Ariel and I share many of your concerns and themes. Anna has just established a sustainability curriculum at her college, and Ariel is finishing up a major in economics and minor in environmental studies. She is trying to connect economics with issues of sustainability in order to make them work profitably and economically.