Now, the more personal version
I grew up in a one-bedroom apartment over a movie theatre in a wealthy suburb of Philadelphia and then attended Duke University as a first generation college student (and later Yale for grad school). These experiences planted an early awareness of economic inequality, which was nurtured by two and a half years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Botswana. Living in southern Africa during apartheid, with friends who had fled that brutal regime, inspired my first involvement in activism when I came back to the US, as well as a lifelong concern about racism.
My concern for the natural world also has deep roots. Camping with the Girl Scouts and then my high school Outing Club, I fell in love with the woods, which is where I have always felt closest to the Divine. Initially I expressed my desire to protect the earth by carrying canvass shopping bags and trying to limit my consumption, but eventually I came to see these individual acts as spiritual practices–choices that helped me to live in integrity–not as viable ways of actually limiting environmental destruction, particularly climate change.
By my late forties, I despaired that any of my work to make the world a better place had made a difference. To make matters worse, my first two books and much of my teaching had been about how to listen for and follow a calling, and I did not feel like I was walking my own talk. My memoir Renewable: One Woman’s Search for Simplicity, Faithfulness, and Hope tells the story of how I navigated this period of inner-struggle and found a new midlife calling that integrated my passion for justice, earthcare, and spirituality, while teaching me a whole new, more effective way to work for positive change.
Since 2013, I have served as board chair of Earth Quaker Action Team (EQAT, pronounced “equate”), which uses nonviolent direct action to work for a just and sustainable economy. In 2015, we won our campaign to get PNC Bank to pull out of financing mountaintop removal coal mining, and after a few months of discernment, began a new campaign to push Pennsylvania’s largest utility to make a major shift to local solar in a way that creates jobs and economic opportunity in low income neighborhoods, which have been hurt the most from the fossil fuel economy.
Since the 2016 presidential election, I have been sharing what I have learned about effective and spiritually grounded activism through my online teaching. I have found that many people are feeling as I did five years ago–discouraged by the state of the world and unsure how to help–and I have found great joy sharing what I have learned.