My foundational stories: 1980’s to 2000’s

This is a continuation of a series of posts about the evolution of my foundational stories, which are related to the intersection between my Quaker faith, protecting Mother Earth, and photography. The dates in the title are approximations of this time when many things seem to have reached a plateau.

I moved from one rented apartment to another, all in Indianapolis. The criteria were being on a city bus route and close enough to the children’s hospital that I could run to and/or from there because I preferred that to riding the bus. And within walking distance of a grocery store, and laundromat. None of the places had air conditioning. These things were what protecting Mother Earth looked like then.

I didn’t do much with photography during this time before digital photography.

There wasn’t a Quaker meeting in any of these neighborhoods. This being the times before Zoom, which meant I didn’t have much contact with Quakers. The exceptions being attending Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) each summer. And making monthly trips to Scattergood Friends School for the several years I was on the School Committee.

But there were two other things going on that occupied my time and efforts during those years. This was the time my godchildren were growing up. Roller-skating was the main source of fun and social interaction for kids in the neighborhood. We would go there nearly every Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday night. They were at an age when they couldn’t be left alone, so I spent a lot of time there myself. We also went to the Indianapolis Zoo almost every weekend.

The second major thing going on during these years was my career at Riley Hospital for Children. I recently wrote an extensive story about my experiences at Riley.

Quakerism played a pivotal role in leading me to work at Riley. It was my Quaker faith to oppose the military draft that led me to join VSM in Indianapolis. I previously wrote about my time at Friends Volunteer Service Mission (VSM), including being trained on the job in respiratory therapy at Methodist Hospital.

I left the hospital to work full time with the kids for my second year at the VSM project.

After that I got another job in respiratory therapy, this time at the Indiana University Medical Center (IUSM). I became aware of the role of respiratory therapists at Riley Hospital for Children, part of the IUSM, and transferred there.

I really enjoyed working with the babies in the NICU at Riley. Since they could not tell you how they felt, we had to become very adept at observing them, knowing what signs to look for, what they meant, and how to intervene to fix problems. We had to assess skin color and perfusion, and respiratory patterns. Listen to breath sounds. And interpret the readings from the various monitors and other equipment attached to the baby.

Me in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (publicly published photo)

I frequently cupped my hand around the baby’s head to communicate care.  We don’t take photos of patients without their parent’s permission. This photo was part of an article published about Riley Hospital. (That’s me in the photo.) 

Rich Schreiner, director of the NICU, and I edited the book, Practical Neonatal Respiratory Care. My brother, Randy, a graphic artist and drew these pictures of the Hope self-inflating bag for the book.

Working in a research hospital, I was involved in work we published in numerous articles about neonatal care, and then the research studies we performed in the Infant Pulmonary Function Lab. A bibliography of these publications follows:

Faith played a role several times in my continued path related to respiratory therapy and research. Faith led me to apply to work in the Infant Pulmonary Function Lab that was just being established at Riley. Not only did I not know much about research, but the new job, funded by grants, would require a fifty percent pay cut.

Faith gave me confidence that was sorely needed as I began to learn how to write computer software to read, display, and do calculations from the many signals being read by instruments involved in our research studies. These signals had to not only be collected at a rate of 200 samples per second for each channel, but also displayed in real time. Every data point and all the calculated results were also stored in databases we created.

One of the major contributions our Infant Pulmonary Function Lab made was the development of a system to measure the diffusion of gases in the lung. It took a concerted effort of all of us in the lab, for three years, to develop the DLCO (diffusion of carbon monoxide in the lung) test. Ours was then the only lab in the world that could make these measurements.

That allowed us, for example, to document the changes of a newly defined disease, pulmonary interstitial glycogenosis.

Appreciating and using the ideas of a classical physiological study and combining this with the results of modern molecular biology, they demonstrated how, at the crossroads of two completely different scientific fields, an added value is created that brings forward in understanding one of the most fascinating phenomena in respiratory medicine: lung growth and repair.

Obviously, “classical” and anatomical studies have been regularly used to confirm anatomical and pathological concepts, using lung function data to assess growth of the lungs and airways in healthy children, children with asthma, or preterm infants. However the study by CHANG, is far more advanced because it introduces new applications of novel infant lung function techniques and incorporates these with classic physiological concepts while combining them with advanced subtyping of progenitor cells.

Standing on shoulders, Peter J.F.M. Merkus, Paediatric Pneumonology, 2014

My foundational stories: 1970’s

My previous post was a description of the beginnings of my foundational stories, which related to the intersection between my Quaker faith, protecting Mother Earth, and photography. The intention of this series of articles is to show how these foundational stories changed over time.

The beginnings of the stories were about my struggles and eventual decision to resist the draft. Although I wasn’t prosecuted for that felony offense, there were other consequences. During the time it took for my family to adjust to my intention to resist the draft, I joined the Friends Volunteer Service Mission (VSM) in inner city Indianapolis in 1971. This was a Quaker part of my foundational story.


VSM was set up to provide alternative service work for conscientious objectors. The two-year program involved working at the type of job that qualifies for alternative service, most often in a hospital. And saving enough money from that job to support yourself to work full time in the community. Others, not doing alternative service, were also able to apply.

VSM was impactful in my life in two ways. The work I found was in respiratory therapy, then called “inhalation therapy”. I received on-the-job training to do this work during my first year at VSM. After my VSM experience, I obtained a degree in respiratory therapy and worked for about five years as a neonatal respiratory therapist. And for the rest of my career worked in an infant pulmonary function research lab.

VSM was also where I began to learn important (foundational) lessons about community organizing, Quaker faith in action. Others at VSM did what I thought of as traditional organizing, which included many meetings about setting up a neighborhood health clinic or trying to prevent the construction of an interstate highway through the local community.

I quickly found I didn’t like that type of community organizing. And felt a little guilty that I didn’t. But I eventually discovered what kind of community organizing I was led to do. During my first year at VSM I spent a lot of time with the kids in the neighborhood. The VSM house was next to Second Friends Church, which had a nice yard where we played games like capture the flag. One of our VSM projects involved setting up a basketball hoop in front of the garage of the church.

There were no programs for kids in the neighborhood and I really enjoyed working with them. When thinking about what to do during my second year at VSM, it became clear I should continue to work with the kids full time. We organized a 4-H club, went swimming, and rode bicycles to shopping centers, where we played “wall ball” on the walls at the back of the stores.

This would determine my approach to social justice work for the rest of my life. What was important was being in the communities where the work was to be done. And to focus on building friendships.


At VSM, there became another way photography became important in my life. I knew how to set up a basic darkroom and did that in the VSM house bathroom. Photography became one of the kids’ favorite things to do. We would ride around the city on bicycles with a couple of (film) cameras. Then develop the negatives and print the photos. I can still see the wonder in their faces as the image gradually appeared on the paper (in the red light of the darkroom).

Now, fifty years later, on two separate occasions, kids from that time found me on Facebook. They both talked about those darkroom experiences.

Protecting Mother Earth and photography

During this time in Indianapolis (early 1970’s) I didn’t have a car, simply because I couldn’t afford one. So, riding a bicycle everywhere, including to the hospital for work, was my routine.

But moving to Indianapolis had a major (foundational) impact on me, which influenced the rest of my life. I couldn’t believe how foul the air was. I saw clouds of fumes pouring out of the exhaust of every car. This was before the availability of catalytic converters, which cut out the visibility of the exhaust, but didn’t stop the greenhouse gas emissions. No one was talking about global warming and greenhouse gases then.

But I had a profound vision of clouds of pollution blocking the view of my beloved mountains. Specifically, obscuring Long’s Peak in this photo I took and developed around the time I moved to Indianapolis. That horrific vision stayed with me the rest of my life. As a consequence, I refused to have a personal automobile for the rest of my life. (Protecting Mother Earth).

Long’s Peak, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

These are more of the ways my foundational stories are about the intersection between my Quaker faith, protecting Mother Earth, and photography.

Our foundational stories: Beginning

Recently I heard a Quaker friend speak about returning to the beginning of a foundational story in our lives. And then think about how that story changed as we grew older. And how we view it today.

That was amazing because I had begun to do just that before she spoke. My foundational story is related to the intersection between my Quaker faith, protecting Mother Earth, and photography. This combination has remained a powerful, yet evolving, influence throughout my life.

I’m praying about my foundational story for several reasons. Thinking of how drastically our world has changed since the beginning of my story. And wondering how I might be most helpful or effective now. Because my Quaker faith, care for Mother Earth, and photography have always been about doing what I’m led to do to help all my relations.

I often think of this quote:

If we are to find a new kind of good life amid the catastrophes these myths have spawned, then we need to radically rethink the stories we tell ourselves. We need to dig deep into old stories and reveal their wisdom, as well as lovingly nurture the emergence of new stories into being.

Pontoon Archipelago or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Collapse. By James Allen, originally published by Medium, June 18, 2019

So, this is me radically rethinking the stories I tell myself (and you). We are being forced to nurture the emergence of new stories into being because of the catastrophes that are ever worsening because of environmental devastation.

As I explain in the following, there have been times when I’ve kept a record of what I was thinking and feeling, documenting my foundational stories. Of course, I didn’t have a way to share what I was writing in my journal at the beginning of my story. That is one difference in how my story has changed, now that there are so many ways to share writings on the Internet. This has stimulated me to write nearly daily blog posts for more than the past five years. I don’t know how many people read them. Although the main reason has always been for me to think through, pray about, what was going on at the time.

Now I have ways to share what I was learning about spirituality with others. Some of this might be helpful for the declining number of those involved in organized religion. This is the Quaker piece of my story.

I began a journal in 1969 when I was a senior at Scattergood Friends School. (see: journal). This is my first journal entry.

Sept 29, 1969

Journal, Sept 29, 1969

I sometimes included printed material in my journal. The following, It’s Your Choice, was written by Joan Baez, a folk singer and peace advocate. Which includes a photo of half of a young man’s face. I put a photo of myself at the time on the right-hand page of the journal entry for November 6, 1969. (Photography as part of my foundational story). Getting close to my eighteenth birthday, Nov. 21, 1969, when I would have to decide whether to register for the draft.

I would disagree with one thing she wrote. I believed it WAS God who was going to get us out of the bloody mess we were in, the Vietnam War.

Journal, Nov 6, 1969

It’s your choice
Ultimately you can listen to only one thing, not your President, not you many misguided leaders, save a few, not the Communists or the Socialists or the Republicans or the Democrats, but you must listen to your own heart, and do what is dictates. Because your heart is the only thing which can tell you what is right and what is wrong. After you have found out what you think is right and what is wrong, then you must know that you can say yes to what is right and no to what is wrong. And you young men, for instance, if you feel that to kill is wrong and to go to war is wrong, you have to say no to the draft. And if you young ladies think it is wrong to kill, and war is wrong, you can say yes to the young men who say no to the draft. Because it is not the leaders and the dictators, it is not God who is going to get us out of the bloody mess we are in. It is only you and only me.

Joan Baez

Mother Earth

Anyone who has farmed is intimately connected to our environment. The first ten years of my life we lived on dairy farms. I took the beauty for granted and remember much of the time was taken up with hard work. We had a large pond with a narrow strip of land through the middle, dividing it in half. There were many times I was so frustrated when I got the herd of cows moving around the pond, heading to the barn for milking, when half of them would turn back, going the wrong way down that narrow strip on the pond. And of course, when I went to get them, others would turn around, going along the side of the pond. One day it was so muddy I stepped out of my boots and that was the last straw. I went to the house in tears, without the cows.

In those days (1950’s) living on the farm usually meant living with very little money. But my parents were able to rent small campers that we loaded with food and went camping for two weeks. We usually went to National Parks. One of the first was Rocky Mountain National Park, which immediately became our favorite.


As a teenager I was blessed to be led to photography. I was a lifeguard at the YMCA in Marshalltown, Iowa, one summer. To show appreciation (we didn’t get paid) we were taken to the YMCA in Racine, Wisconsin, where we were taught to scuba dive in the swimming pool there.

On the way home, we stopped in downtown Chicago. I was amazed to find a camera so inexpensive; I could buy it with the small amount of cash I had with me. In those days cameras didn’t have automatic focus or built-in light meters. So, you used a standalone light meter to see what settings were needed for the shutter speed and aperture, and manual set those on the camera. The focus was also set manually. The camera looked like this picture on a tee shirt I have.

I don’t know why I was so drawn to photography. My mother and brother were artists. I couldn’t draw or paint well, though I didn’t spend much time practicing. This is my portrait of my best friend, Randy Porter.

Part of it was the science of photography. My career was to be computer programming and medical research. But the exacting process of film and paper development was often frustrating. For example, the temperature of all the chemicals and water bath could not vary more than one degree without causing problems in creating the negative of the film. I developed this photo of Long’s Peak in a darkroom.

Long’s Peak, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado Jeff Kisling

I wrote a lengthy story about photography in my life: Jeffrey Allen Kisling Photography

Quaker Faith

I was born into a Quaker family and community, Bear Creek Friends, near Earlham, Iowa. So, I grew up seeing how faith was an integral part of people’s lives.

Bear Creek Friends Meeting near Earlham, Iowa

Attending Scattergood Friends School, a co-ed Quaker boarding high school, continued my Quaker education. Not so much intellectually, but in the way we worked together, and made decisions in community. We rotated through a crew system, where we prepared meals, baked bread, cleaned, did laundry, raised pigs, and did other work on the farm.

Scattergood Friends School

It’s not at all that we were indoctrinated. In fact, what we value is how we are challenged to examine our beliefs and whether we are living those in our lives. We have a spiritual practice of reflecting on questions, or queries, about our lives at that moment.

Queries related to peace and nonviolence:

  • What are we doing to educate ourselves and others about the causes of conflict in our own lives, our families and our meetings? Do we provide refuge and assistance, including advocacy, for spouses, children, or elderly persons who are victims of violence or neglect?
  • Do we recognize that we can be perpetrators as well as victims of violence? How do we deal with this? How can we support one another so that healing may take place?
  • What are we doing to understand the causes of war and violence and to work toward peaceful settlement of differences locally, nationally, and internationally? How do we support institutions and organizations that promote peace?
  • Do we faithfully maintain our testimony against preparation for and participation in war?

The first time I was really challenged in my faith was while a senior at Scattergood. All eighteen-year-old boys were required to register with the Selective Service System (military draft). That was consequential because the draft at that time was inducting boys into the armed forces, where many were sent to the war in Vietnam.

Quakers could apply for conscientious objector status, which would allow you to spend two years working as a civilian, most often in hospitals. Many of us found doing so was still participating in the military and refused to cooperate with the draft. To refuse was a felony offense.

I was convinced becoming a conscientious objector was wrong for me. But I struggled with the idea of facing time in prison. There were over a dozen Quaker men who refused to cooperate in the 1950’s when there was a peacetime draft. And they were imprisoned. Muhammad Ali also refused to be drafted. That showed me there are people who act according to their beliefs, no matter the consequences. Without their example, I imagine I might not have resisted the draft myself. I did refuse to cooperate but was not prosecuted for that.

Quakers don’t believe in proselytizing, instead believing the way they lived their lives might be an example for others. Like those who resisted the draft mentioned above.


My faith led me to try to share my spiritual experiences and show my love for the beauty of Mother Earth through photography. These three things, together, concern for Mother Earth, photography, and faith, came into play in many ways, and at various times during my life. I love this quotation, which pulls these things together.

(Barry) Lopez could not have known the effect he was having on one impressionable member of the audience. Yet I believe he established a connection with me that evening—a thin strand in the elaborate web that is community—by describing a path that was utterly new to me, and by suggesting that, as others had walked that path, it was safe for me to do so as well. This all happened in the space of a few seconds, as he mulled over the central question plaguing the men and women at the conference, namely: How could we convince lawmakers to pass laws to protect wilderness? Lopez argued that wilderness activists will never achieve the success they seek until they can go before a panel of legislators and testify that a certain river or butterfly or mountain or tree must be saved, not because of its economic importance, not because it has recreational or historical or scientific value, but because it is so beautiful.

His words struck a chord in me. I left the room a changed person, one who suddenly knew exactly what he wanted to do and how to do it. I had known that love is a powerful weapon, but until that moment I had not understood how to use it. What I learned on that long-ago evening, and what I have counted on ever since, is that to save a wilderness, or to be a writer or a cab driver or a homemaker—to live one’s life—one must reach deep into one’s heart and find what is there, then speak it plainly and without shame.

Reid, Robert Leonard. Because It Is So Beautiful: Unraveling the Mystique of the American West. Counterpoint. Kindle Edition.


It only takes one doom scroll through social media to see there is no shortage of injustice in the world. But there is also no shortage of people who have dedicated themselves to dismantle systems of violence and advance justice through activism.

With how deeply entrenched injustice is in our society, the work to dismantle injustice is a full-time job. Despite the hours put in, this job does not fit a capitalist and colonial view of labour.

HOW ACTIVISM LABOUR DEFIES CAPITALISM By Gabriela Calugay-Casuga,, August 9, 2022

I’m intrigued to have come across the idea of Community Supported Organizer (CSO) this morning.

I’m so often impressed by the dedication, sacrifice and skills of my friends involved in activism. I learn about some of the things they are involved in when I’m at our (Des Moines Mutual Aid) weekly food giveaway. This networking is one of the advantages of being involved in this community. The following summary describes some of what has been accomplished by Des Moines Mutual Aid over the past two years.

Ronnie James

One of the basic principles of Mutual Aid is to replace the capitalist economic system. The following shows no money is involved in our food distribution project. Of course, someone pays to make the food that is donated. But this is food that would otherwise not be used. In a local community it is possible to have the food produced without money when the farmers are supported in nonmonetary ways by the community.

But as we work to replace capitalism, we remain in that economic system for the time being.

In this context of social isolation and forced dependency on hostile systems, mutual aid— where we choose to help each other out, share things, and put time and resources into caring for the most vulnerable— is a radical act.

Dean Spade. Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During This Crisis (and the Next) (Kindle Locations 119-120). Verso.

Mutual Aid Will Help Communities Thrive

Part of the answer is community care and mutual aid, according to Jones. She said that many mutual aid networks popped up during the pandemic, but this type of support can continue outside of COVID-19 lockdowns. She said that every person has different capacities and needs. Finding the ways those capacities and needs fit together will create a support system that can continue to dismantle cycles of injustice.

Grove said that if every community does work to identify its needs, then folks in positions of privilege can come together to support those who do unpaid but necessary work.

“A lot of forest defenders lost their cars, lost their homes, lost everything because they saw that this is a fight worth fighting,” Grove said. “The next task was figuring out what the needs are of people that come off these frontlines. Sometimes it’s financial, like you just need to get a roof over your head.”

Jones said that mutual aid work also reveals that activism is not some exclusive thing that only a few people can engage in. Anyone can support the struggle for justice, Jones said.

“There’s this idea that there’s a class of people that ‘do activism,’” Jones said, “but that’s not a mass movement. A mass movement is when everybody has the skills and capacity, everybody is called upon to do what they can, everybody gives what they can, everybody is empowered and given the ability and resources to do that.”

HOW ACTIVISM LABOUR DEFIES CAPITALISM By Gabriela Calugay-Casuga,, August 9, 2022

CSO = A New Model for Supporting Autonomous Agents of Change

Backbone Campaign’s Community Supported Organizer (CSO) pilot program is a nascent but promising innovation in funding social change work. Backbone designed this model to work similarly to Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs). CSAs create a stable funding source for local farmers through a synergistic relationship with community members who pledge support.  In return, the CSA member receive a share of the harvest and a deeper connection to the farm and the food they eat. We believe that the CSO model presents a new way to support our most talented change agents, establish meaningful connection to the work being done, and a deep pride in the harvest.

Being a CSO provides a way for a self-directed change agent to be innovative and responsive to emergent opportunities. They are not constrained by an organizational bureaucracy directed from afar.  They are not locked into an inflexible plan or narrow mission.  A CSO is accountable only to a diverse community of sustaining donors from whom they crowd source recurring donations. This community benefits from a CSO’s increased skill and capacity gained through their immersion in the work and their access to training, skill shares, reflection, mentorship and tactical tools that Backbone Campaign provides.  We all enjoy the harvest of accelerated positive change and mounting victories.

We believe that the CSO concept can help further empower autonomous activists and organizers around the country to dedicate themselves more fully to the work they are doing in their communities. This will help lead us faster to the positive and just changes we strive to see happen in our world.

Backbone Campaign


I don’t know much about patreon, but have used it to support Matè Farrakhan Muhammad, co-founder of the Des Moines Black Liberation Movement.

TheBlackArtivist is the creative engine of Matè Farrakhan Muhammad, a Des Moines based activist and artist who co-founded the Des Moines Black Liberation Movement. TheBlackArtivist seeks to explore, educate, and radicalize us as human beings against the oppressive forces which seek to destroy our futures and steal our joy.

Vertical power

umair haque is the only author I read almost every day. He explores problems we face in more depth than other writers I’m aware of. Issues related to civilization, politics, economics, and our environment.

Still, I was surprised when a recent article focused on “vertical power“, and how that inevitably leads to authoritarianism. He defines “vertical power” as every stratum of society occupying its position on a hierarchy.

If you look closely at America, you will see a society of vertical power. One whose sole organizing force is vertical power. What do I mean by “vertical power”? I mean that every stratum of society occupies its position on a hierarchy, and each struggles to keep the next down, instead of lift any other up. Vertical power is power over, vertical power systems maximize power over — and so American life is now one great power struggle over the next person, everyone locked in mortal combat with everyone else.

Vertical power allows us only two rules in life. Punch the next person down, so they stay down. And obey the next person up, so they don’t hurt you.

Why America Collapsing Into Authoritarianism Was Inevitable by umair haque, Eudaimonia and Co, 8/7/2022

Those who know about Mutual Aid know it is based on escaping vertical hierarchies by building communities without such hierarchies. Communities described as having flat, horizontal, or no hierarchy.

Modern societies need a very different kind of power. Horizontal power. What is horizontal power? It is genuine self-governance and self-directedness. It is power to, power in, not power over. The power to realize one’s self, to fulfill one’s possibilities.

The problem is that America does not do horizontal power. It does not understand it, have any affinity for it, or believe that it can exist, really. It never has. It is deeply uncomfortable with the idea of horizontal power — precisely because it is so attached to its history of vertical power. Why don’t white people want black people to rise? Why don’t people in cities care about people in rural areas — and vice versa? Why don’t people lift each other up? America is obsessed with vertical power.

Why America Collapsing Into Authoritarianism Was Inevitable by umair haque, Eudaimonia and Co, 8/7/2022

As he says, this country is deeply uncomfortable with the idea of horizontal power. But Mutual Aid communities offer the opportunity to experience horizontal power. I have found participating in a Mutual Aid community fulfills a great yearning to do meaningful work with like-minded people. To build Beloved communities together.

When I first heard about Mutual Aid, I thought I would go to a local Mutual Aid project, the free food giveaway, just to see how that worked. Instead, I found the home I’d been looking for, and have returned nearly every Saturday morning since for the past two years.

Des Moines Mutual Aid
Des Moines Mutual Aid
Des Moines Mutual Aid
Ronnie James on Mutual Aid

Trying to face environmental meltdown

I’m still working on my foundational story. It is taking much longer than expected. I’ve been following a recent suggestion to examine my foundational story at its beginning, how it has evolved along the way, and what it is now.

Much of my foundational story is about care for Mother Earth. I lived my entire adult life without owning a car, being able to do so in part because of the barely adequate city bus system in Indianapolis. I don’t keep bringing this up for self-promotion. Rather, to point out everyone living in the early 1970’s could see the damage being done by the clouds of noxious fumes coming out of tailpipes. Since then, catalytic converters hid the visible damage, but the greenhouse gases continue to spew out.

We each made a choice.

  • either stop the pollution
  • or deem fouling the air with automobile exhaust an acceptable choice for our convenience

If we had decided to tackle the pollution and greenhouse gases then, we would not be in this environmental catastrophe now.

No one knows what the future holds, but it is no longer possible to hide the consequences of greenhouse gas emissions. High temperature records are broken daily. We see shrinking lakes and rivers, violent storms, flooding, and forest fires.

I’ve studied and prayed about this my whole life. I’m broken down by the continuous stress of knowing. At times I’ve felt like giving up. Wanting to stop thinking about all of this.

I don’t have a plan for what to do when water stops flowing from the faucet. When the grocery stores no longer have food. When no one picks up the trash. When there is no gas for cars and trucks. When hospitals close. When houses are destroyed by fires, winds, or floods. When there is no Internet. No electricity.

But I do have two tools to help me make a plan. For some hope.

  • My Quaker faith and faith community
  • And my Mutual Aid accomplices, who are not just making plans but implementing solutions now

People often mistake hope for a feeling, but it’s not. It’s a mental discipline, an attentional practice that you can learn. Like any such discipline, it’s work that takes time, which you fail at, succeed, improve, fail at again, and build over years inside yourself.

Hope isn’t just looking at the positive things in this world, or expecting the best. That’s a fragile kind of cheerfulness, something that breaks under the weight of a normal human life. To practice hope is to face hard truths, harder truths than you can face without the practice of hope. You can’t navigate dark places without a light, and hope is that light for humanity’s dark places. Hope lets you study environmental destruction, war, genocide, exploitative relations between peoples. It lets you look into the darkest parts of human history, and even the callous entropy of a universe hell bent on heat death no matter what we do. When you are disciplined in hope, you can face these things because you have learned to put them in context, you have learned to swallow joy and grief together, and wait for peace.


Our country is primed for an overthrow of power within rapidly shifting currents. The land has seen devastation over the winter’s long night, but now sings songs of rebirth inside the blossoms of the cherry tree. At least in this hemisphere. The people…well, we’re all a little worn out thanks to a heavy hitting astrological and planetary realignment. Does anyone else feel like they’ve hardly had a moment to process and catch a breath before Mercury went Gatorade? Again? We’re being tested. Within each survivor is a warrior. Can we captain this ship through unknown waters? Are we braver than our fears? Will we earn a seat at the table, our place as a future ancestor? Oh, hell yes.

Nahko Bear

When I realized this, I felt even more hopeless, but, thankfully, my Quakerism led me to another definition, which is also in the dictionary. In addition to defining hope in terms of desire, expectation, and fulfillment, most dictionaries provide a secondary, archaic definition based on faith. This older and much less common meaning is about trusting life, without the expectation of attaining particular outcomes any time soon. This type of hope has a quiet but unshakeable faith in whatever happens and in the human capacity to respond to it constructively. It is a positive, but not necessarily optimistic, attitude to life that does not depend on external conditions or circumstances.

I call this “intrinsic hope” because it comes from deep inside us. Václav Havel, former president of Czechoslovakia, said in Disturbing the Peace that hope “is a dimension of the soul, and it’s not essentially dependent on some particular observation of the world or estimate of the situation. . . . It is an orientation of the spirit, and orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons.” To me, intrinsic hope is also that of God in everyone; the inner light; the quiet, still voice; and the experience of the Great Mystery.

A Quaker Perspective on Hope By Kate Davies, Friends Journal, September 1, 2018

Mutual Aid and Ways of War

The reason I haven’t published anything for a while is because I’ve been working on a presentation about Mutual Aid that I plan to give when my Quaker yearly meeting, Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) meets this week. It’s been helpful for me to organize my thoughts about Mutual Aid, something that’s become the center of my peace and justice work for over two years. I’m glad to have this opportunity to share this work.

I don’t plan to talk about everything on this list of all that is going wrong now. But it is alarming to see how many of these have escalated recently.

  • Collapse of capitalism
  • Severe drought, floods, heat result in massively diminished food production and famine
  • White supremacy
  • Spiritual poverty
  • Fascism/authoritarianism
  • Broken political system
  • Media as propaganda
  • Domestic terrorism. Armed militias.
  • Militarized police
  • Global militarism
  • Movements of millions of climate refugees
  • Punishment-oriented judicial system
  • Prisons
  • Education discourages critical thinking
  • Continued commodifying all natural resources
  • Continued fossil fuel extraction and burning
  • Factory farming
  • Broken healthcare

Instead, I plan to use this slide about how we can no longer depend on so many systems now. We’re being forced to find alternatives, and Mutual Aid can be the solution. I hope the presentation will result in more Quakers and others getting involved in Mutual Aid work.

One of the things I’ve been praying about is this statement by my good friend and Mutual Aid comrade, Ronnie James.

Coming of age in the last 1960’s, during the Vietnam War, I saw and was part of the massive antiwar movement in this country. For the past several decades I’ve wondered what happened to the antiwar movement

Then we began to see war coming to the streets of our cities.

  • In 2014, we saw militarized police and tanks in the streets of Furguson, Missouri, following the killing of Michael Brown. Friends of mine from Indianapolis went there during the prolonged unrest. A Quaker friend went.
  • In 2016 the violent attacks of militarized police against the peoples peacefully gathered at Standing Rock were broadcast across the world.
  • At the beginning of 2020, I saw the violent invasion of Wet’suwet’en lands by the militarized Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). And learned similar invasions occurred in previous years.
  • Also in January 2020, “Des Moines Mutual Aid participated in a march protesting the potential for war or increased hostilities with Iran that followed the fallout of the assassination of Qassem Soleimani by drone strike in Baghdad.”
  • Then the world watched in horror as Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd by pressing on his neck for nine and a half minutes on May 25, 2020. Prolonged nationwide protests occurred in many cities, including Des Moines. Des Moines Mutual Aid established a bail fund that kept every protestor out of jail.
  • Now, militarized police responses have occurred at every protest against so many, ongoing police murders.
  • The war is now on the streets of this country, in the communities of the oppressed.
  • Now I think of FCNL’s “War is Not the Answer” signs being about these domestic wars.

I agree with Ronnie, “the more we take care of each other, the less they can fracture a community with their ways of war.” Mutual Aid is how we can take care of each other.

Mutual Aid is how we can work for peace and justice now.

War is Not the Answer

These words were taken from Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech, Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence, delivered April 4, 1967 at the Riverside Church in New York.

The message – War is Not the Answer – and the signs went viral. FCNL and Friends saw the potency and popularity of the message grew and spread, and the rest is history. With the increasing prospect for an endless war with Iran, War is Not the Answer, has become more relevant.

Friends and other people of faith act when they see broken systems. As we stand on the precipice of another war, Friends are mobilizing across the country to demand Congress halt the spiral into all-out war.

FCNL has distributed more than 2,000,000 “War is Not the Answer” bumper stickers and yard signs since 2002. Demands for the sign are increasing so we are making it available free online for you to download and print. If you’d like to purchase a lawn sign or bumper sticker, you can do so here.

Sherry Hutchison


I’m finding it difficult to put into words what I think and feel now.

I say this not as “I told you so”, but to put environmental devastation into some context related to time. Fifty years ago, this farm boy moved to Indianapolis, and was horrified by the thick, noxious clouds of smog pouring out of thousands of cars. And was led to a spiritual vision of a life without owning a car. Though I still needed them, or city buses, occasionally for transportation. But I planned where I lived so I had a walkable environment. Grocery store, laundry and work within walking distance.

Of course, I am not the only one to do so, but vast numbers of people chose the path of the automobile. The path of least resistance, or most convenience.

Indigenous peoples have lived with a fraction of my carbon footprint for thousands of years. That was one of the reasons I wanted to develop relationships with Indigenous peoples. And am blessed that happened.

So, for fifty years I’ve tried all different ways to warn of what we were doing to Mother Earth. As far as I know, I didn’t convince anyone to give up their car. In 2015 I wrote about cars as weapons of mass destruction. Seven years ago, I wrote “now is the time.” The common refrain from all of us warning of what was coming. Every year we would say now is the time.

It is now painfully obvious that we must stop burning fossil fuel now if we are to avoid the extinction of the human race.  We are out of time.  We have to stop using personal transportation now.  We have to lead the movement to embrace mass transit now.  Cars are the seeds of war.  I ask you to join me in rejecting personal automobiles.  I’m not really comfortable being this assertive now, but I regret not being assertive enough thirty years ago.  Now is the time.

Cars as weapons of mass destruction, Jeff Kisling, 9/13/2015

It was easy for people to ignore what we were doing to Mother Earth because so much of the damage was invisible or occurring slowly. Catalytic converters covered up auto emissions. Carbon dioxide and methane are invisible gases. Air temperatures were increasing gradually and helped by the oceans absorbing so much of the heat.

But the signs began to be visible. Polar bears on tiny pieces of ice. Mountain snows disappearing. Islands being covered by rising waters. Water levels of lakes and rivers falling dramatically. Forests burning, frequent, wild storms.

But this summer we can no longer hide from the earth on fire.

Those of us who paid attention had an idea of what to expect from rising greenhouse gas emissions. The devastation unfolded as we anticipated.

But we are in new territory now. I think we have all been caught by surprise at the pervasive and prolonged record-breaking air temperatures. These will likely trigger tipping points, like unthawing methane deposits in the oceans, which would cause a rapid escalation of air temperatures.

Who knows what will happen now? People assume the heat will relent. But will it?

 It took me almost a year to figure out, first, what ailed me and then to develop a remedy for it. I was, it turned out, like the miners’ canary, among the early victims of an emerging virus, the one that causes eco-despair. Unlike the canary I was still walking and talking, though my spirit had a hard time getting out of bed. The first symptom was a growing awareness that our way of life had put us on a high-speed train headed for a nasty ecological crash. Then came the question that felled me: was there any reason to hope that we would be able to change course in time to avoid it, or at least to slow the train enough to minimize the damage?

I feared the answer was no. The train was propelled by a hyper-consumption lifestyle that we equated with progress and success for us as both individuals and as a species. We were addicted to it. I didn’t think enough people could be convinced to quit or quit aspiring to it. In developed countries it would mean giving up too many conveniences that we considered our birthright. Like cars and air conditioning and ever-increasing supplies of electricity and running water, both cold and hot. In the developing ones it would mean letting go of the dream of attaining that lifestyle.

A case of eco-despair by A.J. Chopra

What can I do?

I recently came across the idea of learned helplessness, and wrote about it in Reject Learned Helplessness. Be at the IUB tomorrow.

As expected, I would estimate forty people did show up at the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) to express their opposition to the construction of carbon pipelines in Iowa. Which is about what those of us working for change have come to expect. But that’s a ridiculously small number when the entire state of Iowa will suffer the consequences if those pipelines are built.

Iowa Utilities Board

According to the American Psychological Association, learned helplessness occurs when someone repeatedly faces uncontrollable, stressful situations, then does not exercise control when it becomes available.

They have “learned” that they are helpless in that situation and no longer try to change it, even when change is possible.

What is learned helplessness? by Jayne Leonard, Medical News Today, May 31, 2019

Learned helplessness has helped me understand, a little, why so many people seem to have given up on working for change. Any change, anywhere. It is an understatement to say we face “uncontrollable, stressful situations” today. Situations that have significantly worsened in just the past few months. To name just a few:

  • a collapsing economy
  • significantly rising gas prices
    • impacting the personal budget of everyone
    • affecting the prices of all good
  • global, dangerously high air temperatures
  • widespread drought and significantly diminished rivers and lakes
  • pandemics
  • famine
  • war
  • domestic terrorism
  • abusive policing
  • paralyzed legislatures
  • rogue Supreme Court

This blog post has gone in an unanticipated direction, but that’s often the case. I had intended to discuss the many positive effects of Mutual Aid. It looks like that is going to be delayed. Because it won’t do much good to talk about the positive changes Mutual Aid can bring about, if people are really stuck in learned helplessness. If they will not change.

“everywhere people ask, “what can we do?” The question, what can we do, is the second question.

The first question is “what can we be?” Because what you can do is a consequence of who you are. Once you know what you can be, you know what you can do”

Arkan Lushwala

In May 2018, I was blessed to hear Arkan Lushwala speak about “Indigenous Ways of Restoring the World” during a call sponsored by the Pachamama Alliance.  “Arkan Lushwala is a rare indigenous bridge of the global north and south, carrying spiritual traditions from the Andes in his native Peru as well as being adopted and initiated by the Lakota people of North America.”

The answer to “what can I do?”

Speaking about what is happening on Earth right now,
many of the conditions of life that we used to take for granted,
now are really out of balance.
Hopefully we still have time to get back into balance
so life may continue.
I travel around the world and meet people and talk to people
from all different cultures.
And everywhere people ask, “what can we do?”
The question, what can we do, is the second question.
The first question is “what can we be?”
Because what you can do is a consequence of who you are.
Once you know what you can be, you know what you can do,
and we cannot afford wasting time;
we have little time.
We need to be precise now.
When someone sincerely asks, “what can I do?”
my humble answer,
the only answer that I find in my heart to be sincere is,
“First find out what you can be.”
Action is extremely necessary at this time.
This is not a time just to talk about it.
The most spiritual thing now is action.
To do something about what’s happening.
To go help where help is needed.
To stand up when we need to stand up,
and protect what is being damaged.
And still, this action needs to be born
from a place in ourselves
that has real talent,
real intelligence, real power,
real connection to the heart of the Earth,
to universal wisdom,
so our actions are not a waste of time.
So our actions are precise,
our actions are in harmony with the movement,
the sacred movement,
of that force that wants to renew life here on Earth
and make it better for the following generations.

Arkan Lushwala

The most spiritual thing now is action.
This action needs to be born from a place in ourselves.

Arkan Lushwala

Paradox of Mutual Aid

In response to a recent article I wrote, Ideological commitment to destroying life on Earth, there was an objection, that simply changing to another political system will not result in the changes we need.

I had quoted George Monbiot. “Until we change our political systems, making it impossible for the rich to buy the decisions they want, we will lose not only individual cases. We will lose everything.”

I agree with the objection about political systems. The changes needed now go far beyond political systems. What is needed is a complete change in the structure of how we live with each other and all our relations. A change in how we prioritize among the urgent needs, and how we come together to address them.

Today, in industrialized countries, all of our systems have become vertical hierarchies. Supervisors, teachers, politics, medicine, military, priests, and police. These hierarchies came about because of population growth and industrialization, which made our society more complex.

The primary reason for this switch to vertical hierarches was for control. The hierarchy for governance, for example, begins with the president, vice president, etc. Then Federal agencies, state governors, state agencies, mayors and city councils. These systems attempt to control us with laws, enforced by courts and police.

In a broader sense, the whole framework of capitalism and colonialism requires, and has viciously enforced vertical systems for control.

How does Mutual Aid replace these hierarchies? It does so by bringing governance and care back to local communities. At an earlier time, there might have been a debate about whether to do this. But since our current political chaos has paralyzed city, state, and federal governance, we will increasingly see the collapse of those systems. Hence another significant reason to build Mutual Aid communities now.

Mutual Aid is about a fundamentally different system of living in community. Mutual Aid is about living in a system of horizontal, flat, or no hierarchy. In horizontal group structures. A system that works in local neighborhoods and communities.

Trying to explain Mutual Aid is paradoxical, because that is the way peoples all over the world lived prior to industrialization. The way those in non-industrial places continue to live. The way our ancestors once lived.

People in our current, vertical hierarchies, don’t understand why we have to return to those ways. And why, if we decided to do so, it wouldn’t be easy to return to living without vertical hierarchies.

The problem is we bring our learned practices of hierarchy with us. We have forgotten how to live in a community without hierarchies. People become very uncomfortable when they realize they have forgotten how to act when order is not imposed by those above them in a vertical hierarchy.

“Mutual Aid is essential to our survival” by Dean Spake, Truthout, October, 28,2020

Because we bring our learned practices of hierarchy with us, a learning process is required to return to horizontal group structures.

As I was researching this, I came across this description of a book that I look forward to reading. Which describes my own experiences as a middle-class settler activist. It has taken me several years to learn how to be in a Mutual Aid community, and I’m still learning. Giving away food and providing for the houseless are public political actions. As have been public political actions for reproductive justice, against carbon pipelines, removing racist monuments and celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day. All of these actions occurred out in the community, on the streets. We have to be there to be transformed. There is no alternative to doing this together, in public.

And I’ve prayed a lot, with critical self-reflection, about all these things. And continue to pray.

Decolonizing Solidarity: Dilemmas and Directions for Supporters of Indigenous Struggles by Clare Land

Land argues that the predominant impulses which drive middle-class settler activists to support Indigenous people cannot lead to successful alliances and meaningful social change unless they are significantly transformed through a process of both public political action and critical self-reflection.

description from goodreads

This is a link to one PowerPoint presentation I have created about Mutual Aid.