Called to be Better: In Light of the Attacks on Paris

Heart Candle Flame DSC01573

How tragically ironic, as we approach the season of Christmas, (which celebrates a Middle Eastern refugee family seeking shelter), that so many in the Christian world are now, in response to the attacks in Paris, calling for shutting their boundaries to refugees from Syria. Haven’t people heard that these refugees are fleeing from the same terrorists who killed in Paris? I understand that people are afraid. That is the purpose and consequence of terrorist acts. But to extend that fear to all refugees, to all Muslims, to all Syrians is one of the worst forms of human cowardice.

We are called to be better than that. I am not saying it is easy. But I was inspired when I heard about Antoine Leiris, whose wife was shot in Paris. He posted this message to those responsible:

On Friday night you stole away the life of an exceptional being, the love of my life, the mother of my son, but you will not have my hatred. I do not know who you are and I don’t want to know, you are dead souls. If the God for whom you kill so blindly made us in His image, each bullet in my wife’s body would have been a wound in His heart.

Therefore I will not give you the gift of hating you. You have obviously sought it but responding to hatred with anger would be to give in to the same ignorance that that has made you what you are. You want me to be afraid, to cast a mistrustful eye on my fellow citizens, to sacrifice my freedom for security. Lost. Same player, same game.

We are only two, my son and I, but we are more powerful than all the world’s armies. In any case, I have no more time to waste on you, I need to get back to Melvil who is waking up from his afternoon nap. He’s just 17 months old; he’ll eat his snack like every day, and then we’re going to play like we do every day; and every day of his life this little boy will insult you with his happiness and freedom. Because you don’t have his hatred either.”

His is a beautiful example of what heroism looks like. Most of us are not being asked to be that heroic right now.  But are we perhaps being called to take a few small step of heroism ourselves?  A few small acts that ask only a small amount of bravery come to my mind. We could contact our governors and our Congressional delegations to let them know we don’t agree with those who want to refuse refugees. We could contact the President and encourage him to hold strong, and in fact to increase the numbers of people we welcome from Syria.  

On a more involved level, we might take it upon ourselves to learn more about the roots of the Middle East conflicts, and how U.S. foreign policy is linked to all of this. Some articles that I have found helpful include several interviews on Democracy Now that can be found on their website: And perhaps, we could be active in welcoming those refugees who do arrive, helping them to get settled in a new and unfamiliar place.  Let us open our minds and hearts to the deeper realities of our world, and become our best selves—let us move beyond fear and hatred into compassion and hospitality toward those who are suffering.

The Adventure Continues

Back Door & Window DSC02518Despite the setbacks we’ve experienced, we are still feeling good about this small house with the lovely yard we’ve found in Portland. Today we did something fun–we talked to a carpenter about some renovations we want to do.  We need to convert a one-car garage into a two-car garage–and it turns out it’s fairly easy.  The garage is wide enough, we just need to add a wider door.  We want to put in a French Door from the kitchen to the backyard, in place of the door and window in the picture.  With such a great backyard, we want to have a better connection between the interior and the exterior.  Plus, a French Door will make the entrance wide enough for wheelchair access when we need it.

We also talked about widening the bathroom door for the same access reasons, and putting in French Doors to the office across from the bathroom–to create a wider turning radius in the hallway, and make that room accessible in case of future needs. It will also bring in more light into the hallway.  One more project is to add a window in the back bedroom to bring in more light and connection to the yard. The carpenter said all of these were very straightforward projects, and he’ll send an estimate in a couple days.

After the last weeks, we had to step back and re-decide if we could love the property, even with the Water District taking up part of it.  We learned that the water main is of a kind that may never need replacement or maintenance–the old cast iron pipes before World War II were better made than those following. And the undeveloped land off the back is owned by several abutting neighbors, which makes it less likely to be the site of a big future development. Now we have another land survey issue that we’ve asked the sellers to work out.  So many complications. But all in all, we feel so lucky to have found a good home with a big yard in the city, and so we’ve decided to go forward, and hope that all the complications can be sorted out. Send us good luck and prayers!



Some hard realities are emerging in our pursuit of the house with the beautiful back yard. It has been a whirlwind of activity for acting on due diligence for the purchase and sale. We’ve had a home inspection, and a solar evaluation. We’ve discovered a few moderate-sized challenges–we’ll have to replace the roof before we can install solar panels.  We’ll have to prune a large tree whose branches hang over the roof.

But perhaps the worst came yesterday, when our realtor called to say that in looking closer at the deed and the page on which it was registered, it appeared that not all the land that seemed to belong to this property actually belongs to it.  There is a Portland Water District parcel that runs next to the land, and it takes up part of the space that was being occupied by the current owners.

We feel angry and betrayed that the sellers never disclosed this information.  In the listing photos and in the placement of some children’s playground equipment, we were led to believe that this property went up to the neighbor’s fence.  But in reality the larger part of the side yard belongs to the PWD.  I remembered that there had been the remnants of a little fence from the front corner of the house over to the neighbor’s fence that had been removed except for the posts.  We are guessing that the realtor suggested they take down the fence because it wasn’t legal, but who knows?

We went to the property today to do some of our own measurements, to see where the boundaries really are, and to try to decide if, with this new information, we still want to choose this property.  We really don’t like the underhanded aspects of real estate–the attempts get the best deal you can, even if you play dirty.  Our own values say, be honest, let it be fair to all involved. We are so glad our realtor shares those values, and also that he is so conscientious and went the extra mile to discover these discrepancies.

Red boundary flag, photo by Margy Dowzer

Our red boundary flag

When we did the rough measurements we discovered that the actual front boundary of the property stops about even with the side of the house, and then slants back to the left, away from the house, directly through the play equipment. The big tree, and the neighbors fence too, by the way, are all on PWD land.  We spent a long time in the yard, trying to sort out our feelings about it all.  We still need some more information from the water district. It seems that all the neighborhood properties are currently encroaching on their land.  There is a 20-inch, 101-year-old water main that runs on their land, fortunately toward the other side of it. But will they be tearing it all up to replace or repair in the next twenty or thirty years?

What we’ve learned in this process is that the privacy of this back yard is vulnerable. Along with this water district land, there is a paper road that is undeveloped at the back of the land, that may never be developed, or will it?  On the plus side, all of it expands the sense of space that one feels there.  But on the other hand, will there be future changes over which we have no control? We’ll try to get more information on Monday. We have until Tuesday to withdraw.  But for now, we are still feeling a connection to the land, even tender toward its neglected needs.  In the undeveloped areas off the back edges, there are invasive vines and bittersweet.  One of the values of permaculture is to bring healing to the land. We feel good about that. Please send us prayers for clarity, and the revealing of important truths.

All this is PWD owned land.

All this is PWD owned land.  Photos by Margy Dowzer.

The Beautiful Backyard!

Our new backyard

Our new backyard (Listing Photo)

We are under contract! We looked at a house on Halloween, made an offer the next day, and last night signed the Purchase and Sale agreement with the sellers. It has a beautiful backyard!  It is in Portland, just a 13 minute walk to the Evergreen Cemetery Trail, a 17 minute walk to a bus line, and a 51 minute walk to the house of one of our friends! (I love the “walk and bus” feature of Google Maps) And did I mention it has a great backyard? It is .43 acres, and resonates so deeply with our desire to be in the city, but also connected to nature. I am already imagining what a great permaculture design we will create for this land.

As we have looked at houses during the last three months, we’ve come to better realize what was most important to us in our search for greener housing, and what we could let go. We realized that location and connection to nature were vital.  This place feels just wonderful in that regard.

The house itself is a very simple and well maintained ranch style. It is on the small end of the range we’ve considered–just 1025 square feet of one level living.  We hesitated a bit on that–could we really downsize enough to live in half the square feet of our current house?  But isn’t that just what we are trying to do in this journey?  Reverse course from the bigger-is-better mentality?  (And luckily, it also has a partly finished basement that will offer extra space as we make this transition, and offer room for guests and projects, and probably lots of boxes.)

As I look back at our list of hoped-for features, there is no laundry on the first floor (that is in the basement) and no mud-room.  We also need to convert the garage door from a one-car to a two-car–the garage is wide enough, but has been used as one bay and storage. We hope to add a couple more windows toward the back yard to let in more light and create a better interior connection to the beautiful back yard. But everything else lines up. It has a fairly south facing roof for solar, seems like an easy layout to add air-source heat pumps, and has a wood stove insert in a fireplace.  It has wood or tile floors throughout, and a feeling of peace and beauty. You sense that it has been crafted with care.

I am feeling a deep sense of joy this morning.  I want to say one more thing about this part of the journey, though, something that I learned yesterday, when I was caught in the exhausting anxiety of the offer/counter-offer real estate process.  I often feel guilty about feeling anxiety–like I should be more peaceful and trusting if I am flowing in the River of Life. But lately I have been reading about how being present to the moment is being present to all that emerges.

So I took some quiet time to be open to the anxiety as well, to pay attention to it. When I did that, there was a deep intuitive feeling that told me–act now! Margy and I talked, and we told our realtor we wanted to accept their counter-offer, even though we still agreed it was a bit over-priced. My intuition seemed to be saying, there will be other parties interested in this house, and you must act now for it to come to you. So I trusted my anxiety this time, and here we are–ready to continue on the next chapter of our search for greener housing!

Am I in the River?

If my search for greener housing is a worthy intention, then there is no particular outcome that must happen right now.  The energy carries its magic and I will learn from whatever I experience on this path, and it will lead me in the direction of that intention.

Similarly, if my work on the book, Finding Our Way Home, is, at root, a journey into Earth Community, then there is no necessary outcome.  Whether it is published or not, whether it is read or not, on some level it doesn’t matter at all. The intention creates its own magic and the journey will unfold in its own way and time in the direction of Earth Community.

Last week I was reading architect Sarah Susanka’s book, The Not So Big Life, and found these words:

“Every moment brings forth an untold number of alternative possibilities each of which has the potential to give birth to a multitude of life experiences. There is no one way in which things need to unfold… How perfectly the universe provides when we don’t intervene by trying to manage and control the process.”

At that time, we were waiting for news about cost estimates for renovations and building work that would need to happen on a house we’ve been exploring for the last four weeks. Her words helped to calm my heart, and then give me some equanimity when we learned that the work would be more than we could afford.  We had to let go of that particular set of outcomes.  Not without some sadness. It was one of the homes that made our hearts sing. But I remembered that there is no one way that things need to unfold.

There are many moments on both of these journeys when I feel stuck or impatient, worried or disappointed, aching for things to turn out in a particular fashion.  But today, I asked myself the question–Do I trust these intentions?  Do I trust the flow of the River of Life?  I remember the old adage–Don’t try to push the river. Let it carry you. I asked myself, Am I in the River?

And yes, I trust these intentions.  Yes, I trust in the flow of the River of Life. And yes, I know, deep in my being, that I am in the River.

Swan in the River

The Time of Stones

The seasons have turned abruptly, with our mild autumn days letting go into the first freeze of the year. Sunday was that turning, the frost softened by a bright, bright sun in a blue, blue sky, all the trees blazing with color. A few days before, I had lifted out four special stones that had marked the directions of our fire circle. If we move away in winter, they would be buried under snow and ice, and I wanted to take them with us in our search for greener housing.

One stone is from Nitassinan, from a visit many years ago to Lac St. Jean, a link to my ancestors from the north. Two of the stones are from the Seneca Women’s Peace Camp, a link to those life-transforming months camping on the land. The fourth stone is a rose quartz given to me by a friend long ago.

I think of these stones as I wait for news about the cost of house renovations, and I wait for news from a publisher about my book manuscript. Stones must have such a different view of time than I do. Each morning, I feel a little breathless, wondering if this will be the day something opens up. But a stone must see my whole lifetime as merely a comma in their thousand year journey.

I wonder what they make of my affection, and the travels I carry them on? The time they’ve spent in drawers or boxes? I think they liked being part of the fire circle, half buried in the earth, holding a position of sacredness. To unearth them now is also unearthing my own heart from this beloved place, ready for change, ready for turning, waiting for the way to become clear.

Stones remind me that there is no rush, that our human sense of time is in many ways an illusion. Take the long view. Go where you are carried. Remember everything. Cultivate stillness.Stone Circle

Step by Step

I am writing this morning with a small black cat purring on my lap.  Yesterday was the new moon, and on each new moon I read my journal from the past 28 or 29 days back to the last new moon. I notice how busy I have been, leading worship again, and with the life of my congregation in full force.

This past Sunday, I preached about Sandra Bland, #BlackLivesMatter, and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book, Between the World and Me.  The title of the sermon was “Changing Lanes Without Signaling.” (Text of my sermons can be found on our church website a few days after the services.) I love that my congregation welcomes these tough issues and appreciates that I bring them sermons exploring the painful realities of our world. I feel truly lucky to be serving as their minister.

There have been a few more houses we’ve looked at in our search for greener housing, but nothing that resonated, until recently we began exploring a different kind of option. Our realtor knew someone who was planning to sell their house, but it was not yet on the market. He thought of us because the owner had done many green upgrades, including solar panels, and a permaculture garden. We’ve had a chance to look at the house and yard, and like it a lot. But it will need many other kinds of renovations, including an addition of a bedroom, in order to work for all of our needs.

So we are exploring the world of renovation-land. Asking ourselves, could we live in the midst of noise and workers and a good bit of chaos for several months? And more seriously, could we get all the needed permits, and afford the work that would be done? Right now we are waiting on some estimates from a green-savvy general contractor we are getting to know. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, Margy has been doing some small jobs on our own house: this week she is repairing some loose bricks on a corner of our entry steps, trying to get it finished before the weather turns too cold. I love my butch partner! I love how we are caring for each other, and staying tuned in to each other during this challenging journey. It draws us even closer together.

Photo by Margy Dowzer

Photo by Margy Dowzer