We have exciting opportunity here in Ojai to participate with a group eating locally for one year. Of course, this could happen anywhere but Kristofer and Joanne Young have challenged our community by seeking 100 (or more) volunteers willing to do this together. The group is just getting off the ground and has met once with about 50 interested people – people from Santa Barbara, Carpinteria, Saticoy, Ventura, Santa Paula, and Ojai. Though I am not 100% certain this will happen for our family, we are giving it some serious thought. The idea came from Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle where her family documents eating locally for one year. The idea is to eat food within 100 miles of our home for one year.
A couple of years ago I wrote a bio that said I was a “practicing Buddhist and a potential Christian.” Partially, I made it up to be funny. With that said, I have a great deal of respect of my Christian roots and honor the Christian faith. Most of my values, thinking patterns, social action, pacifism are rooted in my Mennonite background and there is no way I would be the person I am today without this. As an adult, I have ceased attending all church because I have not really found a church to practice in – part of the reason I may have drifted towards a Buddhist community – though I continue to look and explore Christian community.
Two different colleagues relayed stories where the words wetback and beaner were used recently. I didn’t expect to hear these two words in 2008. Even the folks who demonstrated in Ojai last week did not admit to being racist (though I suspect differently). And despite the fact that we have a black man running for the President of the United States, it is obvious that racism is alive and well in America, and in our neighborhood. Both these words were used inside crowded businesses and the derogatory terms were heard by those it was directed toward. In both cases, the recipients were highly educated and active participants in our society and economy. What is happening here? During the mid-1970’s, when I attended elementary school in Fresno, I did hear these terms. But in Trader Joe’s? Inside a Mexican food restaurant?
We have been experiencing some warm weather the last few days and the flowers are all blooming. The mountains look great. The sky is blue. And a full moon has greeted us at night. Today was in the upper 80s and we hung out around the pool with family for an Easter lunch. Jasper and Mazzy had a blast searching for eggs and then taking a swim in the pool. Of course, the sugar rush was a bit much.
Ironically, tonight is our last night at the Ojai Valley Family Shelter because it closes for the warmer season. Jasper and I have spent the past two seasons staying in a church kitchen with 15-20 homeless. Our night is Sunday and we usually arrive around 6:30pm, eat some dinner, put out the mats, and then serve breakfast around 6:00am.
One person, James, is in 5th grade in a local elementary school and Jasper has enjoyed playing with him. On our last visit Jasper realized that James doesn’t have a home to go to like him. That he doesn’t have a room with toys and his own bed. James’ mom has a few other children, but she only comes to the shelter with two of them. Most people are pretty regular and I have gotten to know names and experiences over the past two seasons. Some are in transition, others have mental health issues, many have day jobs but simply can’t afford to cover rent (much less first and last month). My hope was gain a better understanding of this community and generate more compassion in the world. They are good people with real stories. Bill, for example, sleeps with an oxygen machine and yet he continues to smoke. His friend/partner, Joyce, takes him to the hospital, cares for him, and wishes he’d quit smoking.
We are very fortunate, and that in itself, creates separation. How to remain real and to remain compassionate knowing that I have a home, a job, a savings account. There is so much poverty, so much suffering, so much injustice. It brings me back to the 5th Mindfulness Training where it says, “I am committed to living simply and sharing my time, energy and material resources with those in real need.” Are we doing this? What more can we do?
Joy, friendships, and love all exist, even here in the shelter.