On April 12, 2015, Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old African American, was taken into custody by the Baltimore Police Department for possession of a switchblade. While being transported, Gray fell into a coma and was taken to a trauma center with injuries to his spinal cord and larynx. Gray died on April 19, 2015.
— “Death of Freddie Gray,” Wikipedia

Since his death, beginning with an organized protest on April 25, Baltimore has erupted in violence. At least that’s what the media would have us believe. There has been little coverage of the peaceful protests–one of them 10,000 strong.

But it’s the violence that people are talking about. The violence that people are condemning with words that underscore the root of the problem.

It is easy to say that violence is never justified, but that assumes that there are always alternatives–the most common of which is that these people should be working within the system to change their circumstances. But that judgement contains a number of fallacies:

  • That these protesters have a voice
  • That they have the means to make a voice heard
  • That it is possible to have any impact on a system that they do not, in any real and meaningful way, belong to

It is easy to judge when we come from a place of privilege–white, male, straight, educated, employed, financially secure, safe in your neighborhood, community, and home, having access to resources like libraries, healthy food, health care, a roof over your head. Even if we are only privileged in a couple of ways, we are still a vast distance removed from what it means to live without it.

It is easy to believe that the victims have brought these deaths on themselves. After all, they were breaking the law. Or at the very least, ran when they saw police. But when an interaction with police is fraught with risk of death, running only makes sense.

There are times when peaceful protests are not enough, and those times are when people without power find their lives, homes, communities, freedom, and children threatened by the people in power, and when their attempts to address these threats by other means have failed.

The biggest misunderstanding that exists of nonviolence is that it means simply to “not be violent.” You can watch someone get beaten and killed right in front of you and not do anything to help, and you would be “not violent.” You can watch police get away with murder after murder and not take a stand, and you would be “not violent.” However, true nonviolence is about taking a stand against violence and trying to transform unjust situations. A riot, as inarticulate as it may be, is an attempt to transform unjust situations. It is the cry of a people who have been unheard for generations. And it’s time we listen.
— The problem with wanting “peace” in Baltimore, by Kazu Haga, Waging NonViolence

No, I don’t condone violence, but there is violence on both sides of this fight, and until we address both the physical and institutionalized violence that precipitated the riots, they will continue. And turning away, doing nothing, makes us complicit.

Paradigm Shift

Lately I have been thinking a lot about one question:

What if instead of prepping for the worst, we prepared for the best?

This idea of working toward best case scenarios can flip even the most optimistic standard prepping idea on its head. Suddenly, we are creating, not reacting; embracing, not avoiding; dreaming, not fearing. Suddenly we move from the powerlessness of living at the mercy of a dangerous world to the empowerment of creating a more hospitable one. Suddenly we evolve from talks of prevention, defense, survival, to building, healing, living–from fear, to hope, maybe even to joy.

I will admit, it’s not an easy shift to make. The world can be a dangerous place. And we do need to prepare for times when the gap between our dreams and reality is wider and deeper than we can imagine a bridge to cross. For some of us, that may be most of the time. Which is why it so important to think about ways to make our lives easier, simpler, better, more manageable, safer during quieter days.

For example, instead of acting from a place of fear that says, “I could get cancer and die,” we could, knowing full well that cancer exists and is a risk, consider a variety of other responses, like:

  • What could I do to become healthier and minimize that risk?
  • What might improve my chances of recovery if I did get sick?
  • What might help make the experience of being sick less complicated and more comfortable?

Or better yet:

How can I create my healthiest, happiest, most fulfilled life?

What if, instead of focusing on disaster, we focused, in a very practical way, on that? And then consider what it will take to get us there, what hurdles we may need to overcome, what things we can do to stay on track when obstacles cross our paths.

Because there will be hurdles, obstacles, unplanned derailments, that’s what prepping is all about, but they will only one small piece of a larger puzzle not the focus of our lives or plans.

What might your best case scenario look like? How might it feel?

Blooming Cholla
Blooming Cholla


Earth Day

Today’s Facebook feed is filled with admonitions, chastisements, calls-to-action–all ostensibly in support of Earth Day, an event designed to inspire our growing human population to take care of our planet so it can continue to take care of us. A noble cause, but one that, like so much else in a consumption-driven culture, feels like it has take a wrong turn somewhere. So instead of bullying you to sign petitions, cut your resource usage, buy logo-emblazoned “green” merchandise, I want to offer you an invitation:

Let’s each of us take five minutes (more if you have them), go  outside, and have a look around. Look for something from nature–even in the thickest, most urban city, there’s a good chance you can at least see the sky. Once you find it, let’s take a few slow breaths.

Inhale. Pause. Exhale. Pause.

Inhale. Pause. Exhale. Pause.

Inhale. Pause. Exhale. Pause.

Then, from that space of calm, imagine your most precious experience in nature. Perhaps it’s  a childhood trip to Yosemite, standing at the base of the falls, hair dampened by the mist. Maybe it’s sitting on a balcony watching the sun set in crimson, purple and gold. Maybe it’s a meteor shower, a full moon, mornings by the lake, the first time you saw a wild pitcher plant in a Minnesota marsh, the first downhill run through virgin show. Or maybe it’s a place–one you visit from time to time that always feels like home. Whatever it is, live in it for a moment. Feel what makes it so memorable, so valuable. Give it a name if you can.  Call it freedom, mountain, connection, water, discovery, red-tailed hawk, wonder, sky, dirt, joy… Once it’s named, write it down on a piece of paper, put it in your pocket, and carry it with you for the rest of the day–or longer. And if you get a chance, share it. In the comments, on Facebook, face to face. With  written words or paintbrush or photos or voice.

Our strongest moments and most meaningful actions come from this place of love, joy, reverence. Let these things be what guide us as we hold these memories, and let us be open to any quiet voice inviting us in our own way to care for and protect what we love.

Yosemite Valley, 2014
Yosemite Valley, 2014

A Path Through Fear

I have been thinking lately about a news story I read back in January.  A Utah couple were found dead in their home along with three of their four children–a murder-suicide precipitated by fear of the apocalypse.

Although their example is extreme, it highlights a crucial dilemma so prevalent in our world right now,  particularly for those of us involved in prepping or the study of the apocalypse:

How do we, as individuals and communities, think about and prepare for our uncertain futures, knowing the suffering, loss, and devastation they may hold, and yet still find a way to live in the present, to embrace and enjoy our lives without being crippled by fear?

Because, really, this isn’t just a question about the apocalypse. Our futures have always been uncertain, except for the simple fact that every one of them will end. And yet, many of us still manage to get out of bed in the morning. To have children. To plant seeds in the garden. To make plans. To fall in love.

There is something ingrained and essential to our nature as human beings that allows us to imagine that we will still be here when those seeds push up from beneath the dark earth. When they unfurl their first leaves. When they burst into blossom. When they finally scatter their own seeds.

That something is called faith–a word that comes from the root “to trust.”

We are not talking about a sunny disposition that makes us believe that things will be better tomorrow. An optimist says, “The war will be over; your wounds will be healed, the depression will go away; all will be better soon.” The optimist may be right, but unfortunately he or she may also be wrong. For none of us can control our circumstances.
— Henri Nouwen, Turn My Mourning into Dancing

Faith is not about thoughtlessly clinging to best possible results. Doing so can be dangerous. It can blind us to unseen threats, to actions we could take to improve our odds, to what the people around us are going through.

And so we must make a choice. To walk through life with our eyes closed, experiencing neither the beauty nor the pain, or to face our fears up front, to look them in the eyes, to call them by name.

Because here’s the thing: When we choose the second path, when we look into out own worst case scenarios, we reclaim our power. And when we take the next step and begin to address them–acknowledge them, talk about them, prepare for them–we may find ways to lessen or avoid them. As we begin to confront the things that scare us, they start to lose their hold. And as one-by-one the shadow each fear has cast over our lives begins to desolve, we will see it isn’t just our future we are liberating. It’s our present.

Knowing a thing, naming it, that gives us power–not power over or against, but power within.

Or better yet, be afraid. But also trust–in your strength, in your capacity for healing and compassion, and, yes, in your preparations, once you make them. We are, as a species, uncannily resilient. Let us embrace that legacy.