Hooray! First guest post by my friend Cary. You can read her blog here.
First up, my thanks to Shirley for the invitation to scribble some thoughts on my keyboard to share with you here. I am thankful for the space and possibility this site creates. This site was encouraged into being, in part, by ongoing conversations we’ve been having about how hard it can be to maintain hope and positive attitude when faced with injustice — wonderings about where to invest one’s energy; about how emotionally draining it is to feel like one is constantly being called to protest, push back and resist; how being in opposition can draw on one’s anger and fundamentalist inclinations; how we yearn for life-giving, hopeful space amidst need to the protest for change.
As I reflect on that, I see just how appropriate the name ‘Flowers For Rifles’ is: like that inspirational photograph of a brave young man at the top of the page, this space is intended to point us toward real stories that embody a radical alternative. Every day we are called to say “No!” to injustice of so many kinds – against war, against environmental destruction, against racism, against homophobia, transphobia, domestic violence, patriarchy, misogyny, Islamphobia, torture, exclusion, oppression…
For me, this site is not a “No!” Rather, this space acts as a reminder that there are people choosing something different, positive – where amidst the “No!”s we are called to shout, there’s a persistent, hopeful “Yes!” to be cried out too.
Many of the affirmations of hope and witness-to-alternatives shared here will seem more like whispers. They will be small stories, quieter voices, telling of things that go unseen by the world, that rarely have a hope of being a headline. That they do not make the headlines is why I look forward to having a space here where I can come to be reminded to both whisper and howl the eternal “Yes!” of life. And to be encouraged to live it.
This has been a strange, unsettling week for me – filled with feelings of intense dis-location and concern. My life right now is split between the Dublin where I live and the Nashville where my partner lives. Sunday began early here in Dublin with a family member was being rushed to hospital while over in my other home the day was beginning with a tornado siren and torrential rain that brought horrific flooding and devastation. In the face of both those events, here and there, of bodily sickness and a city in disaster, I’ve felt close to helpless. And as I’ve wondered how to help make things better, I’ve also wondered how to write of hope…
But, as the waters slowly recede and my step-mother’s health gradually returns, I find the hope-filled things I have been intending to write haven’t lost their inherent value… it is only my faith in them that was shown to be fragile and faltering. And so, I choose to write a “Yes!”
Typically, when things are running normally, my day starts like this: I wake, stumble out of bed, make some coffee, open up the blinds. Coffee in hand, I sit down at my writing desk, open up my laptop and scan the news. It’s can be a seriously bad habit. Not my worst, but certainly not my best. Why does it feel like a bad habit? Because before I’ve even given myself a chance to take in the world right outside my window I am immersed in the world ‘out there’. The world that is transmitted and mediated virtually, online, that comes to me by way of headlines and breaking news alerts. And we all know that if it makes a headline or a news ticker, it’s not likely to be good news. This week that has really been brought home to me. 4,000 miles away from where I sit, Nashville as a city has never felt more like home as it does now – now that I have feared for it. And all this bad news from around the globe sits cheek to jowl with adverts telling me how my life would be so much better if I were only to bleach this and nip/tuck that and then drive my way into satisfaction with a HD TV in the back of my new SUV and oh look at the shame I’d lose if I’d only followed the one secret diet rule that can be mine if I would only click here and pay $39.99. It’s exhausting.
Faced with a breakfast of bad news and the assault of commodified inadequacy is one reason why I like the possiblities of this website – it suggest a better way to start my day. Perhaps it might be an invitation to begin each day with a reminder of what can be celebrated, of gratitude. A chance to drink in some hope before turning to face the world. Or even, in darker moments, as an antidote to despair.
Maybe it might act as a challenge to seek out what my friend and brother David Dark calls, “an economy that runs counter to the prevailing economies [that are] playing on our felt needs with all manner of false covenant, promising a wholeness and satisfaction that’s ours for the taking by way of one more impulse buy. An economy that challenges our plausibility structures – those stories that we have that tell us what wholeness is.”
I’m seeking a message that brings the good news of that alternative economy – which is not about stocks and trades and commodities. This economy is a different way of understanding and holding this collective global household we share. David is talking there about the economy, or household of G-D depicted in Pslam 23 and that is found throughout the Bible. It speaks to a radical alternative in the way we make sense of the world. I’m not here to try and sell you a religious perspective but I think whatever one’s religious views (or not), when it comes to matters of ethics and justice, it doesn’t take much bad news to become well aware that we are in desperate need of an alternative understanding of wholeness to underpin our collective worldview. We need to be saved from ourselves – and I don’t mean by assent to religious doctrine. I mean with a commitment to justice and care for our world and the people in it. With youth and idealism I wanted to change the world ‘out there’ — the world transmitted in the bad news headlines. These days I wonder about the smaller, simpler but much more embodied acts that make change my immediate world first…
It seems like a good place to start such embodied change might be right outside my window. My life has been really enriched by Speaking of Faith on American Public Media and recently on their blog they’ve been calling for contributions about the soul-wisdom listeners have found through gardening. This response, Restoring Life’s Balance through Soil and Friends, really resonated with me. It’s about gardens and community and rediscovering wholeness.
Here in Dublin I currently have only a small deck outside my apartment on which to garden. This spring I have sown seeds in pots. I enjoy gardening but I’ve never tried growing entirely from seeds before. I did so a couple of weeks back with some measure of trepidation. What if nothing grew?
This time next year I hope I will be living across the ocean in Tennessee and co-tending a medium-sized urban garden, which is usually planted with vegetables. It’s a garden from which my partner has shared the crop with a neighborhood family in need. That garden and that family are a reminder that food poverty in our urban environments could be tackled at least in part if we all had the courage and the imagination to embody an alternative more wholesome economy. We could make a very real difference if we would use even the smallest patches of soil between the concrete to grow food; to let manicured lawns and wasteland give way for shared gardens. I want to be a part of that movement, of working with soil and seeds for more than just a nice garden to look at but one that brings tangible benefit to others. I look forward to the witness that might be in the neighbourhood, to encourage others to do the same.
As I am discovering on my deck, where the seedlings are sprouting up greener and stronger every day, despite my lack of experience, nature needs little help to provide what we need if we only let nature be and do its thing. All we need is a few seeds and just a little care. And even when floods overtake, once they recede, life will go on…
Jonny Cash sang in ‘Five Feet High and Rising’,
My mama always taught me that good things come from adversity if we put our faith in the Lord.
We couldn’t see much good in the flood waters when they were causing us to have to leave home,
But when the water went down, we found that it had washed a load of rich black bottom dirt across our land.
The following year we had the best cotton crop we’d ever had.
I read those lines as a testament to the force of life even amid tragic loss. It’s about having faith that life can – and will – win out in the end. As we pick up the pieces do we have courage to have hope? To bring hope to others suffering by bearing witness to their loss and mourning? To keep solidarity with them? To help them? To be life and strength to them? There’s no point telling someone facing adversity to have faith unless one is willing to embody life and hope for them — to be the good news with one’s actions. To have faith that out of the dirt will come life requires action.
Good news is embodied in the care of the medical staff caring for my step-mother. And as the flood recedes in Nashville and the destruction beneath the waters is made visible there are also signs of good news everywhere – people being community-in-action to one another. Just as every seedling emerging outside my window or in an urban strip of soil is a tiny piece of life shouting hope, so is every story from Nashville of someone helping a stranger in need.
Believing in life itself is not an act of simply imagining an alternative future, it is act of embodying that life for others here and now. It’s not merely dreaming of changing the world, or simply about shouting “No!” to injustice and the plausibility structures that assault us with false promises of wholeness. It’s about the radical affirmation that comes with being a breathing, living, acting, giving, campaigning, creating, growing, caring, fully embodied “Yes!” right were you are now.
So that’s my hope, somedays fragile and somedays strong — that we *can* be a new world order of wholeness. By working together. By sowing seeds, tending soil, and crucially, by sharing our crop. By lending a hand to the suffering stranger who is our neighbour. And amidst the bad news and as a balance to our protesting shouts of “No!”, may we help one another to be an embodied, good news “Yes!” It won’t change the entire world overnight. But it can help change someone’s world. May we help one another to be whole people we can be.
For some really inspirational urban gardening projects check out Edible Estates. For ways to help in the Nashville flood recovery check out the Nashvillest blog’s guide to donating and volunteering, or go straight to the American Red Cross here, and you check out the work being done for the homeless in Nashville’s Tent City by People Loving People here.