Friday, December 23, 2005

A song for another blogger

Eleutheros, at How Many Miles from Babylon, writes excellent meaty original articles about the empty illusions of modern, affluent society. He has escaped from the Babylonian hall of mirrors (I'm thinking right now of the glass-and-steel canyons of downtown Regina) to a real place where he grows real food, builds real things, and writes real wisdom.

I started to comment on the third post of his Ptocheiopsis series, but I got carried away and decided to bring my lengthy response back here.

From his post:
We moderns fill our days shuffling piles of papers from one side of a desk to the other, transfering electronic documents, inspecting this, coordinating that, certifying and validating this other thing, and in general do nothing more than toss about bags of air to each other.
He goes on to explain that
We do not live by our own work. Our livelihood, the beans on our tables, the shingles over our heads, the clothes on our backs, and the logs (as it were) on our fires all come from three sources:

1) Raping the environment
2) Oppressing the world's poor
3) Accepting poor quality in everything for the false appearance of abundance.

At any rate, it isn't by the sweat of our faces.
I couldn't help thinking of my main source of income, "inspecting things."

Here's a song I wrote a few years back, as I tried to convey to baffled onlookers why I hated my job in environmental consulting:

For the Environment
© 1999 by Laura Herman

Sung to a jolly tune, with a twinkle in the eye, at a frenetic pace.

Oh, I want to work for the environment.
I go to university,
biology and chemistry;
I'm dumping chemicals down the drain
in order to prepare my brain
for solving all the planet's problems,
soon as I can get a job and
do the work I want for the environment.

For the environment;
for the environment.
Oh, can't you see it's all for the environment?
It'll never be a chore,
and I'm always doing more,
more, more, more, more for the environment.

Oh, I drive a truck for the environment.
I spew out greenhouse gases
on my way to key out grasses
that will soon be getting killed
beneath the road they have to build
to reach the well to pump the crude
from which the gasoline is brewed
to fill my tank so I can drive my truck for the environment.


Oh, I write reports for the environment.
We need reports to help decide
if paper use is justified
and what the paper source should be,
a fibre crop, or forest tree,
and whether we should plow more land
or cut another forest stand
for paper for reports I write for the environment.

(Chorus, faster and faster, to a dramatic drawn out MO-O-ORE...for the environment!)

I was raised by back-to-the-landers: an engineering prof and a stay-at-home mom (not unusual at that time) who happened to have a graduate degree in biology. What was unusual about Mom was that she was raised in Toronto, but she became the farmer, feeding the cattle through the winter and calving them out in early spring while Dad continued to teach at the university two hours' drive away, coming home only on weekends and through the summers, when he worked on building the solar-heated house, and took over the lead farmer role in putting up the hay.

I grew up knowing where my food came from. I went off to save the planet more actively, and eventually realized that it wasn't the planet that needed saving, it was us, needing saving from ourselves. I couldn't fix the system by being part of it. But Mom and Dad's approach didn't seem to work either; their quiet retreat to the land doesn't appear to have made much difference in the way anyone else lives (even their own children; my brother is an urban laborer, my sister an industrial production coordinator with a townhouse and an SUV). And I am stumbling along, trying to be a part of society enough that somebody will care what I think, or enough that my husband doesn't have a breakdown or leave me. He hated living in a little house trailer with a carry-out-the-bucket toilet; I loved it because I never had to worry about unclogging a sewer! (And yes, I carried it out. That was my chore.) Now we live in town, in an ordinary little older house with one flush toilet, and I am still doing some environmental consulting (because I'm good at it, so they keep calling me, and money keeps the peace around here - "money answereth all things," Ecclesiastes 10:19, for you folks who think there are no contradictions in the Bible). I've mentioned before about a dream I had, which got me thinking that feeding people spiritually might help move society away from its insatiable hunger for more, more, more stuff that doesn't feed anyone. Now, after a couple of years of occasional lay preaching, I'm working with a committee of the local church and presbytery to "discern" whether I should be a minister of some sort.

But Eleutheros makes me nervous. I don't want to be a "professional hand-wringer." Can I work even harder, make my tiny token garden into something meaningful and at the same time study through a distance-education program that trains ministers for ordination while they work in part-time ministry in their home community? Can I aspire to be like Paul the tentmaker, within a church where some of the clergy recently wanted to unionize?


Update - to be fair to my sister, it's a very nice townhouse. I enjoy its peaceful comforts every time I need a place to sleep in the city. And it's a very fuel-efficient SUV, one of the best, and I understand it's quite necessary for hauling her Paraguayan harp to functions all up and down our crumbling Saskatchewan roads. Which reminds me, I promised her some web design work to let the world know about her lovely harp music. Anyway, I hope I haven't offended. I'm hoping she and the harp will be here for the Christmas Eve service!


Madcap said...

It's rather ironic, after reading through your song, that it's the Canadian Auto Workers union that's seeking to organize the United Church clergy. I heard that story on the CBC quite a while ago, but nothing since.

I think one of Eleutheros' main points is that we can't affect anyone else's choices by anything except example. (He can correct me if I'm completely off on that one.) Whether or not anyone chooses to detach from the mainstream society to undertake something far more sustainable is mostly influenced by their own realization of the need to do so, and the desire. We can preach the message, but ultimately we can only practice what we preach ourselves.

If church preachers were entirely volunteer, the issue of whether or not to unionize would vanish. If someone is hassling you, you can just walk away, unplug the phone, and no board can call you to task for it. That's probably not going to come to pass, but it sure is an appealing thought. Might take it up myself! ;-).

Merry Christmas to you and yours, Laura!

Anonymous said...

Laura, if I've made you nervous, you're welcome. Some people pay extra for that ... but not here away from Babylon, it's free like I am.

Madcap, being an example is in there, but it is at the bottom of this list of how we affect the situation:

1. A direct change. Don't use their stuff, buy into their hype, dance to their tune. Or stated more positively: use your own stuff, buy into your own hype, dance to your own tune.

2. Don't add to the problem by pretending to make a change when indeed there is none. Don't stir the Babylonian pudding with empty protests, coordinating, intervening, chanting, praying, and by all means don't take Caesar's coin for doing it.

3. Set an example. Or be a horrible warning as the case may be.

In reality, as seen from here at the far flung rim of society, ANY diminishing of Babylon is that much real effect as opposed to number two of my list which is NOT any diminishing of Babylon and very often augments it ... at least augments it more than diminshes it.

Want to hear a sermon? Come by some time, it's free. Counseling? Vision? Gardening advice? Cooking lessons? All free. That way I need no one's approval, no one's certification, no one's leave. They say, they do, that such things are only worth what you pay for them. So I try to set the price very high .... pain, self-doubt, disillusionment ..... but at the very least the price ought to be that ..... it makes you nervous.

But there's no discerning. If there's something that wants preaching, there's no din over which you cannot shout, there's no muting you or stopping you. There's no way it will not burn a hole in you to get out. Nobody much remembers sermons from pulpits, but sermons delivered while leaning on a hoe or the handle of the plowshare, now those are remembered.

CG said...

Wow, what a song! I know several people working for "the environment" that I'd love to send it to -- if they hadn't banned me from sending them anything already!

You may end up inspiring a post on my blog!

arcolaura said...

Who would have thought that something so ephemeral and virtual as blogging would be so grounding?

sheila jo said...

Wow, what a post, Laura! You shared so many different thoughts I hardly know where to begin my comment. I love your environmental song and admire your desire to make a difference in the world.

But I'm somewhat more intrigued by a couple of your other commments. I have a question in reference to your desire to minister part-time in your community as a member of the ordained clergy (and I don't mean this to be offensive; we've all grown up with different paradigms concerning things religious, and perhaps you've never considered this side of the coin). Why does a person need to be ordained to minister to his/her community? Is it a matter of pay, or simply wanting some sense of security in being affiliated with a church? Why can't we serve those around us without being obligated to preach the "party line" of a particular denomination, and one which, in your case, sounds rather militant? I can tell you are struggling with this issue, and just wanted to present this as a viable option, one which might offer you much more liberty, along with personal fulfillment at the same time. If our faith is in GOD, He can move mountains for us and through us, and we are His Church where ever we go.

Also, I had to chuckle to myself at your need to disclose your current living conditions, as though "little," "old," and a single toilet somehow eases your conscience. I've been through this, too, my friend. I need to write a post about it. I've always been embarrassed at the thought of any show of excess on my part, until a friend showed me that sometimes God desires to bless us with material blessings so that we, in turn, can bless others. And He's certainaly not going to bless us if we are unwilling to receive it! (I would still feel very uncomfortable driving a red sports car, or living in an ostentatious home, though. Maybe moderation here, too, is the key.) By the way, two toilets are OKAY, at least in MY book.

Jim said...


What a great song!

And I love Eleutheros too, he makes me nervous as he makes me smile, and I love Madcapmum, and Contrary Goddess and I love you too!

I hope we all continue to find our way in the new year, and all the years to come for us.

There are some uncommonly good and thoughtful people in this little blog community of ours.

Thank you for being one of them!

Dan Trabue said...

Great song!