“Imagine that a leaf and a twig were having a conversation about life and mortality. Do you think the twig would be so foolish as to correct the leaf’s belief that life and death are analogous to evolution and the ‘still-state’? Yet, for the leaf, separated from the twig and tree, life is but a season. The tree’s season of development, of evolution, of life, spans many growing seasons, as a tree. And many more, as part of the nutrient/boundary field of potential life, and potential moments of life.” (Sr. Kathleen)
This story starts with an eight-year old boy who knew there was something different about him. He worried that it might be different in a way like boys are different than girls, but this difference had no name. An alone kind of different. Possibly a “special” kind of different, or a “differently-abled” kind of difference, but maybe just a bad kind of different.
He worried about it a lot. But, mostly he put it away and just went on as-if he were different from other people like his brother was different from his two sisters, and his younger sister was different from his older sister, and all four of the kids were different than his Mom and Dad, who were kinda the same, in a creepy sort of “we are the adults” kinda way.
His sister Kerry was also his best friend. They even looked like twins, lotsa people said so. Maybe it would be better if his best friend were his cousin Steve, cause he was a boy, after all, and Steve was born just a month after him. He liked Steve, but he usually had more fun with Kerry, even though she was two years younger. He liked making her happy, protecting her, helping her play with her dolls, being “Dad” while she played “Mom.” They were better together, on those sun-drenched summer afternoons, on a wool plaid blanket covering the prickly grass, than they were apart, usually. Sometimes he would forget to be kind, but Kerry blossomed with trust, and only seldom needed help from Mom to be able to forgive his lapses. After all, he was just a boy, and she instinctively knew that boys are sometimes difficult, and different.
One day the boy was riding through their south field on the back of the tractor while his dad drove back toward the barn. He saw an owl whose wing had tangled in the barbed-wire fence. His dad didn’t seem interested, but he was riveted.
Later that day he had time to walk back to the fence, carrying a large medium-sized cardboard box he found in with the gardening supplies. He really didn’t expect the owl to still be there, but it also seemed like the owl was there to meet him. Still quite distant, coming over the rise in the field, he could see that the owl’s wing remained hanging from the barbed-wire, but the rest of the owl was lying on his back in the fence row.
He was approaching gently when the owl’s enormous eyes popped open.
“What took you so long?”
“My dad didn’t think I could help you.”
“Well, he was right about that, but I have a message for you. Put me in that box you brought but please make a bed of grass in the bottom first. Did you bring any water? I am dying of thirst here.”
“No, I didn’t think of it.”
“Did you bring anything you can put water in?”
“Just my hands. I can carry a little in my hand, from the creek.”
The boy did that, making several trips. While most of the water ran off the owl’s chest, he did open wide and seemed to be swallowing OK.
Not being able to hear the owl’s voice anymore, the boy figured the owl had fallen asleep, so he carried the now surprisingly heavy box, in stages, back to the tool shed. Then he went to the kitchen to see if he could come up with a few scraps of meat, or catch some flies, because surely the owl must be hungry too.
But, the owl continued to sleep until the next day when the boy carried the heavy box out of the dark tool shed and into the shaded outdoors, when those amazing eyes popped open again.
“Did you find any hamburger?”
“No, just a few dead flies.”
“No thanks, really. Never mind, just more water please.”
The owl did take more water, but, to the boy’s great dismay, he could see that swallowing was much more difficult this morning, slower, kinda scary for the owl to get it down and continue breathing.
“Enough for now. I want you to bring a shovel, take me to the highest point in the cowlane, and dig a hole large enough for this bed of grass, me, and my wing.”
The boy was heavy with grief. Meeting the owl had created a bubble around him that not even his sister Kerry could share. He had wanted to tell her about the owl, and he had shown her the owl, but she was astoundingly disinterested; no more than briefly curious about seeing the magnificent Great Horned Owl.
“Boy owls must be stupid to fly into a fence. You never see girl owls behaving like that.”
Wow, six years old, and already a militant feminist, thought the boy.
Anyway, he decided against telling her that he could hear the owl’s voice in his head because he was quite sure she couldn’t, even when the owl was awake, and he worried that hearing this voice might have something to do with how he was different. Maybe that was why the owl had a message for him. He felt less alone, and afraid, with that hope. But now, one day later, he knew he was going to have to say good-bye to his owl. This owl was not meant to be a pet. He was a messenger, and soon he would be alone again, with his message. This already made the boy very sad.
Even worse, it was unthinkable that he had failed to give this noble creature life. The planet should be weeping with him, but the sun continued to shine, and the spring blossoms continued to beam their pinks and yellows. The grass continued to grow lusciously green.
As the boy was finishing his horrible digging, the owl opened his eyes and caught him sobbing. Now he was embarrassed, and sad, and confused.
“Don’t be sad, you did your best. That’s all I was hoping for. Yes, I am about to leave you with your message, but for me that is ‘mission accomplished.’ In all the important, however invisible, ways, many more like you will always be with you. You will feel alone, but you will not be alone. You will think you know how and why you are different, and you will be right, eventually, but not until you are quite old, like me. It will take the accumulation of considerable wisdom to understand your message, and your purpose. Unfortunately, your species has become ensnared in accumulating knowledge, while slighting the overwhelming significance of wisdom. But, that brings me to your message, a prophecy, actually.”
There will come a time when all life on Earth is in danger. At that time great powers have arisen, civilized powers. And although they waste their wealth in annihilating one another, these powerful nations have much in common. Among these common things are weapons of unfathomable destructive power, and scars caused by separating a productive life from a worthy life, separating the value of a human life from the value of a worthy life, separating the value of caring for human life from the esteem of a noble and wise life. It is just at this point in our history when the future of all beings seems to hang by the frailest of threads, that you will find the Man/Sha Warriors.
You are a Man/Sha but you cannot go to where we live because we do not have a place. Your Man/Sha Tribe exists in the hearts and minds of all peace warriors. You can’t tell whether someone is a Man/Sha warrior just by looking at her or him, because these warriors wear no uniforms or insignia. They have no banners to identify whose side they’re on, no barricades on which to climb to threaten enemies or behind which to rest and regroup. They have no home turf. The Man/Sha have only the terrain of the civilized powers to move across and act on.
Your time will come when great courage is required of the peace warriors—moral and physical courage. You will go right into the heart of the civilized powers to dismantle their weapons, and confront their scars. You will go into the pits and citadels where their weapons and scars are made. Together, you are going into the corridors of power where the decisions are made. In this way you will work to dismantle weapons and heal the scars of civilization.
Know that their damage can be dismantled because they are mind-made. As they have been made by the human mind, they can be unmade by the human mind. These dangers you face are not brought on by some unchangeable preordained fate. Rather, these dangers arise out of separations, disvalue for caregiving, lack of cooperative relationship and habits, out of outgrown competing priorities.
The Great Horned Owl closed his eyes. The boy, ever so much gently as possible, eased the owl onto the now not-so-fresh bed of grass and straw, weeping openly now at his loss. The confirmation that he was some kind of unlikely orphan in a hostile land was far more upsetting than any consolation from the news that he was only visibly—and perhaps audibly?—alone. Without any opening of the vast owl eyes, the boy sensed, more than heard, You must train in the use of two implements. One is compassion—yang energy. The other is insight into the radical interdependence of all phenomena—yin bilateral exformation.
You need both. You need the compassion of yang because it provides the fuel to move you out to where you need to be and to do what you need to do. It means not being afraid of the suffering of your world, and when you are not afraid of the world’s pain, then nothing can stop you.
But, by itself, yang is so hot it will burn you out. So you need yin nurturing energy, insight into radical interconnectivity of all that is. When you can see this synergy, then you know that this is not a battle between the good guys and the bad girls. You know that the line between good and evil runs through the landscape of every heart. And you know that we are so interwoven in the web of life that even our smallest acts have repercussions that ripple through the whole web, beyond our capacity to cooperatively/competitively see. Yin, separated from yang, can be too cold, too abstract, too presumptuous of empty, too intuitive, too scary, actually. So you also need the heat of yang’s compassion.
[Italics adapted from Active Hope, The Shambhala Warrior Prophecy, pp. 101-103, as told to Joanna Macy (text authored with Chris Johnstone) by Dugu Choegyal Rinpoche, Tashi Jong, India. 2012, New World Library, Novato, CA]
With the word “compassion” the Great Horned Spirit exhaled his last into the boy’s new breath, an exchange he would never forget and often recall as warm and compelling, where he otherwise would have expected stale, dry decay. As he covered his short-lived ally with the dark soil, enriched by eight decades of cow poop, his sobs slowed. Gradually his frantic prayers to a god that he had been told does not let animals into Heaven were overcome by the almost silent wisdom of knowing that, in Man/Sha, humans are included with all the other animals to create their heaven nature-spirits together.
That’s about it, really, until I was in my last year of Seminary, twenty years later. A generation later. A young adult me, hunting and gathering my niche.
I don’t remember much about high school other than I took as little science and math as possible and still thought there was too much of both required to go to my college of choice. Everyone agreed with me too, except three of my classmates; our Valedictorian, the Salutatorian, and the girl who came in third by a mere .01 GPA more than mine in the very last grading period of our senior year. She saw it coming and offered to deliberately answer some questions incorrectly on one of her Final Exams if I wanted her to.
I was impressed with that offer and we tried to be boy/girl friends for a few months. That was when I realized, to my further embarrassment, that I was not only not necessarily as bright as some earlier tests would have suggested, but I was also gay, not bisexual as I had hoped. Then again, if it wasn’t my intelligence that indicated I was a Man/Sha, maybe it was being gay. So for awhile, all through the first three years of Seminary, I thought that straight people could not be Man/Sha, and vice versa. Until I met my Honors Thesis Advisor, Dr. R. Norton, who seemed to be happily married, to a woman.
I figured that I should learn as much as I could about Yin and Yang Energy Theory, given that my personal weirdness had something to do with being Man/Sha, so I majored in Divinity, and minored in PolyPathic Systems Analysis.
In Synergetics I learned that the Universe is made of tetrahedra, spatially, and octaves, temporally, and something about pi=3, which was the distance between bilaterally interdependent 0 and full-diastatic prime 4 spacetime dimensions, and that’s all you really needed to know to be able to measure values from math all the way around through physics and then back nearly full circle to spirituality. The Corollary: all geometric values are T when the math paradigm emerges logically from the predominate and equilibrious nature-spiritual nondual ZeroSum WinWin paradigm.
In Global History we read all about The Great Turning, ad nauseum. There was also this sort of interesting bit about how Yin DoubleBound Energy and Yang BiCameral Information culturally evolve toward equilibrium, and appear historically, in hind sight, as revolutionary trend pivots.
- Yin Energy prevails culturally through pre-history.
- Yang Energy emerges toward Y/Y equilibrium as the right and left brain hemispheres evolve into balance, through the Renaissance in the Western Hemisphere.
- Yang Energy culturally prevails during the Industrial Revolution.
- Yin Energy emerges toward Y/Y equilibrium as Transactional NonViolent Communicators evolve into balance with Transformational EcoPolitical Communicators, Globally.
Professor Kuhn summarized the entire tedious Turning Theory with “All traditions and paradigms are evolutionary projects toward synergy.” The next day, for our Final Exam, he wrote that statement on the whiteboard and actually expected us to write a one-hour essay on why that statement was True or False, or some of both, citing evidence from what we had studied in class and our own experience.
I found both Professor Kuhn and his interminable essays somewhat excessive.
In the dreaded, and drearily classic, TeleoLogic of Culture class we actually had to memorize a poem by R. Buckminster Fuller.
Our God, who art in we even,
even we who know most intimately
of our own weaknesses, failures, faults, and outright sins
our selfishness, fear and cupidity,
of our moments of jealousy, rage and hate
secret cover-ups, lies and self-deceits
God even of we
Our God — our intuitively-apprehended comprehensive-admonisher–
Omni-experienced is your identity,
the everywhere and everywhen evolving omnireality
is your presence
and as the reality differs–uniquely–from moment to moment
in respect to each individual
so do you speak to each
in exquisitely relevant, instructive terms
regarding that which the individual
can most effectively do
not in behalf of self
but in behalf of all humanity
and Thus in support of the intellectual functioning of humans
thereby in local universe support
of the eternal integrity of omniregenerative universe
which is God.
As omniexperience, you have given us
of your complete knowledge
your complete comprehension
your complete concern
your complete wisdom
your complete responsibility
your complete co-ordination
your complete competence to cope
with any and all problems
and of your utter reliability
always so to do
Yours, dear God, is all the glory.
[1976 “Being With Bucky,” New Dimensions Tapes, side 15]
Religious History Cliffnotes:
Universe = 1
Jesus of Nazareth: [Special Case Only] 2=(3) + U
Special Case Definition: When 3=1 and U=1, then “Love”=Relationship=2
The primordial relationship of love, applied to logical reasoning, requires at least the imagination of a primordial relationship = “2”
Muhammad: Under the Mathematical Assumption of Truth for Buddha:
0=Progenitive Unity, Yin
1=(+/-) Spiritual Equilibrium Energy—Reason/Analogy—Sharia Law
2=(1) Universal BiNomial DiPolar Relationship
Thus, 0=1=2=3 and, for human Special Case measurement logic, 0+1+2=3 Dimensions + 1 Moment = 4.
Thus, Special Case for human measurement in time: 0=1=2=3=4. That is, 0 is the Universal Boson Vertex for any humanly imaginable fractal/moment.
You may recall that I fell just under the high school top 1.5% of my class that had any appreciation for math, so I memorized the CliffNotes, aced the final, and that was that. It honestly never occurred to me to even have the slightest curiosity about what on Earth that was all about. Later, I would find this same material more interesting, but still largely inscrutable. Then again, both Eastern and Western Man/Shas universally agree, the metrics of Nature/Spirit Universe are mysterious.
My two favorite classes were Professor R. Steiner’s Global Therapy class (what is it with these old, relentlessly white, men and their ubiquitous, and mysterious, initial “R” in their names?—we used to speculate that the “R” always represented the same word and what that word might be—I think the most popular guess when I was at Seminary was “Revolutionary,” but, given the overall weirdness of these Professors, another popular thought was “Recluse”) and Evolutionary Economic Justice Theory.
Steiner’s one, and, sadly, only, point was that maintaining global health is premised on equilibrium between confluence and stress. Then he proceeded to say that same thing in about a zillion different ways. “The optimized therapeutic environment balances Yang Energy with Yin Energy.” However, the reason it turned out to be one of my two favorite classes is because he gave us a take-home essay Final that gave me the opportunity to learn something that I already knew, but had never thought about before:
“If it is true that the optimal therapeutic environment balances Yang and Yin Energies, then why is it that the optimal transformational environment always values Yang Energy/Yin Energy? Why is Yang always the numerator, and why is Yin always the denominator?”
I won’t bore you with the whole essay, but I started my response using a metaphor about wild v. domesticated yeast. I still think of this metaphor when I try to understand what my Mute Yin son and my Yang-Obsessed daughter are trying to communicate:
Wild yeast (Yin Energy) does not harm domestic yeast (Yang Energy) except with regard to its domesticating purposes. Speaking teleologically, domestic yeast is no less alive or fully functional as a healthy, living organism just because it can only fulfill its nutritional purpose. On the other hand, wild yeast is so much more powerful that it is used to kill toe fungus. It is a benign power if we more narrowly focus within the yeast species, leaving aside our human species ideas about our self-interests. So to, the right hemisphere intuitive intelligence is not a too-wild threat to left-brained linguistic/analytical intelligence. Rather, in transformational-creative balance, they are a High-Functioning yang-over-yin near-equilibrium.
It was in my fourth year of Seminary that I met Dr. R. Norton, who later received both a Pulitzer and Nobel Systems Design Prize for his contribution to the “Laws of Interaction.” I had chosen Evolutionary Justice Theory for my Honors Thesis class work. Norton’s classroom style was disconcerting to those who preferred lecture format. He was, and remains, an interactive kind of guy. At the same time, he terrified most of us. You never knew what he would say next, who he would call on next, what he would ask next, or why, or where the whole thing was going to end. We knew the final exam would be on May 8, but how we were going to get there and what would happen in between remained a mystery to be solved throughout the entire semester.
“R,” as he preferred to be called (and never “Doctor”) was new to the Seminary that year and ultimately would be denied tenure because he never wrote anything down, much less published anything—until much later—so he never had any evidence that he was actually doing any research, pertaining to Justice, or anything else for that matter. Most of his students thought that he was modeling/researching a model of Justice as anarchy.
A largish, stocky, bushy flaming red-haired 100% Testosterone guy who probably wasn’t even 30 at the time, he most certainly did not fit in at the Justice Department. That is a hyperbolic understatement. In my eyes, he was a magnificent lion among sparrows, myself included in the sparrow population. As far as I can recall, he was my first encounter with a Man/Sha Elder, and perhaps my only encounter with an Elder who was so young in years. Not that much older than I was, no more than a decade, probably somewhat less.
He introduced his tiny, and very pregnant, wife to me early on in the first semester, when we chanced to meet in the hallway. I remember being confused because up until that moment I was sure I had met another Man/Sha, and, other than my sister and the guy I was dating at the time, this was an extremely rare “radar” perception of another human. It took me until the end of that class to figure out that they were a Man/Sha couple, so Man/Shas evolved in at least gay and bisexual forms. At that point I threw out the whole gender-attraction=gender-identity theory of Man/Sha identity. Maybe it had to do with sexuality in human form, but most of the Man/Shas I had met weren’t even human, they were extremely heterosexual dogs, one or two cats, and then there was that memory of the Elder message owl.
“R” was less popularly understood as a shaman. He had us read about shaman teachers. He paced around the classroom, old-fashioned white chalk stick gripped in his massive left hand, occasionally attacking the anachronistic blackboards left in place by the Seminary’s Historical Building Commission, pivoting at radical right- and left-angles to dart down a pathway between two rows of cowering sparrows, terrified of being devoured by his piercing blue eyes, and/or his standard response to anything any student said in the classroom: “Ha!” Was that a good Ha!, or a bad Ha? We were never sure.
Of his various scrawlings on the blackboard, I recall nothing. At the end of the year, reading back through my notes, they made no sense to me. I didn’t bother to save that mess. The only artifact I have is the only handout he ever gave us, on May 8th: his now-famous 3 Scars History of Human-on-Human Injustice
There are three human-species level “scars” resulting from the de-valuation of women, intrinsic to the development of science as deductive specialization, industrialization, imperialism, and capitalism:
Scar 1: The de-valuation and displacement of aboriginal communities, discounted as un-civilized. The cultural normalization of “empire-building” was at the cost of active disdain for women-led internal civic cultures in organically balanced communities.
Scar 2: Slavery was, and remains, the male-dominated ownership of de-valued aboriginal and organically-based human communities, later reduced to individual victims, usually women, disrupted by force and used as cash crops for commerce.
Scar 3: The emergence of post-industrialized “child welfare” systems de-valued the relationship between our species’ nurturers and their children. The taken-by-force disruption of families is a recent artifact of so-called “civilized” societies and an act so blind to the intrinsic value of the caregiver/child relationship that it is unknown within healthy tribal communities.
These three “Species Scars” are driving forces to what David Korten and others call “The Great Turning.”
For everyone else in the dwindled class of 16 students remaining, this came right out of the ether. It had absolutely nothing to do with anything he had talked about, we had talked about, or that we had read as assigned for the class. The reading list had been composed of Professor Kuhn’s “Structure of Scientific Revolutions,” and Professor R Buckminster Fuller’s “Synergetics” and “Synergetics 2”. With a combined total of 1,500 pages of incomprehensible mayhem, we figured R was just messing with us about reading Fuller. I may have slogged my way through the first fifty pages, 32 of which were the “Introduction.” In hindsight, if I had managed to hang in there for a few more pages I would have come to his Figure 203.09 (p. 25—for the “Introduction” of everything about Everything, Fuller used Roman numerals), and my first sighting of what later became called the Universal Boson Vector Design).
As far as I know, this is the seminal “3 Scars of Injustice” document, and, as you have probably surmised by now, it set the stage for our one and only Final Exam question: “Imagine yourself as a self-medicating, hopeless, despised, imprisoned primary caregiver. All your high-risk, multiply-challenged kids are beyond your reach in a traditional “child welfare” system, receiving care from modestly-paid foster parents that you have never met. What Evolutionary Justice Theory is your most transformative, inspiring, and logical choice?”
Before I had time to think about anything at all, really, I wrote,
There is only the integrity of each moment’s timeless bilateral potential.
There is nothing required of me individually, or of us as a species sharing this planet, more important than learning how to optimize the future with my children, and all our children. To heal dysfunction; build the most confluent robust system we can imagine together. A system that includes every individual’s hope is a holistically just system. We most effectively transform ourselves, our kids, born and unborn, our shared future as a planet, by never settling for anything less.
I handed that response to R, who took it skeptically and read it, then re-read it with the very first flat-out, drop-dead, gorgeous smile that I had ever seen on him, followed by the ubiquitous “Ha!,” and a huge, flamboyantly red “A+” slashed across the entire page. I didn’t stick around to see how the other fifteen fared.
I worked toward my Master of Divinity degree without any thought to what I would do with it. The sociology professor I was still dating was about to move to San Francisco, but first introduced me to a colleague of his who invited me to join her Synergetic Systems Design program as a spiritual advocate. While I didn’t think I was called to be a “spiritual advocate,” whatever that may be, I also didn’t think I was called to become a Man/Sha leader. Honestly, I just didn’t know what to think, about anything.
Fortunately for me, and for you, the Director of the Synergetic Systems Design (SSD) agency, Sr. Catherine Robins, Ph. D. (to this day I call her “Catherine the Greater” when I foolishly think she can’t hear me) is the second Man/Sha Elder that I was able to recognize as such.
I can’t honestly say that I ever did see a formal, written job description for a “Spiritual Advocate” in my entire 32 years with SSD. I do recall walking into her spacious, loft-sized, brick-walled office, perching on the end of a rather uncomfortable black leather chair, and listening with rapt attention as she, behind her ocean-liner sized, distressed and disheveled, desk, calmly responded to every question I intended to ask before I had a chance to ask it. That was the first day, on a blazing hot July 5th mid-morning, when the rest of the city still lay on quiet beds and porch swings, recovering from the previous night’s bacchanal fire-works.
About noon she took a call from a distressed Social Worker. A transgender girl needed emergency shelter because her grandmother called the Department of Children and Families to let them know her “perverted grandson” was out on the sidewalk, accompanied solely by an overstuffed backpack, headphones and leaky eyes, waiting for “child welfare” to come and pick her up. Her offense, from grandma’s point of view, was flagrantly and repeatedly offending God, in some way that was supposed to be transparent, but not further specified by the anxious Worker on-call. “Please fix this.”
Sr. Catherine didn’t seem to think that would be a problem, now that they had a full-time “Spiritual Advocate” on staff. That was how I began to understand my job description.
“So what is it, exactly, that you want me to do for this girl?”
“Nothing, except maybe ask Grandma if she could come back in the house with you while you talk together. Grandma’s the one with the more obvious spiritual crisis. Give her a call, tell her you want to talk, ask her to include her pastor if she wants.”
“Here’s a Bible. She probably prefers King James, but I have an Oxford here. Inside the front cover are the only four clues we have in the Gospels about Jesus of Nazareth as a caregiver for children. In Matthew 17 he goes out of his way to heal an unknown girl at serious risk of dying. The other three, in Matthew, Mark, and Luke all refer to the same event. The one in Luke includes everything in Mark and Matthew, and a little more. So, go with that one.
Ask Grandma to read what Jesus teaches about taking care of kids and then explain to her grandchild why she thinks that sending her away is the same thing as accepting and affirming her, in the same way that Grandma expects to be accepted and affirmed by Jesus.
If her pastor is there, ask the Rev to show you where Jesus gives anyone the authority or responsibility of judging anyone else. If that goes OK, then ask the Rev to show Grandma all the places where Jesus gives everyone the authority and responsibility of loving everyone else.
I doubt you’ll get a lot of questions.
About a half hour later I pulled up in front of a slim androgenous, pink-spike-haired, damply waifish 14-year-old, sometimes known as Amy, sitting toes in, head down on the bottom front step of a modest, well-kept dutch colonial. I asked her to come with me. Grandma came to the door, no sign of anyone else around. At least not yet. She told me I could come in but the child would have to wait outside. I told her that I needed to speak with both of them so either Amy comes in or she comes out onto the porch. She wanted to know what would happen if she refused to cooperate. I told her I would call the police and have her arrested for abandoning, and risk of injury to, a minor. Grandma let us both in.
I asked her to open the oversized Bible to Luke 9: 46, explaining that the only direct teaching from Jesus about adult responsibilities to kids appears in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Setting the stage, I explained that the Disciples were having this debate about which of them was Alpha-dog:
And an argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest. But when Jesus perceived the thought of their hearts, he took a child and put him by his side, and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me, for he who is least among you all is the one who is great.”
“So,” I said to Amy, “of the three of us who is apparently the most important in the eyes of Jesus?”
Not waiting for an answer, I asked Grandma to try to explain to Amy and me why it was so hard for her to accept and affirm her grandchild for who she was, rather than turning her away for who she was not, especially given Grandma’s interest in Jesus and Scripture and Christianity and all.
“Because Andy is not an Amy. He disrespects how God made him.”
“Amy, if you were forced to choose who most disrespects how God made you, would you choose Grandma or yourself?”
Amy, without hesitation, said “Nana.”
To Grandma, “Who do you honestly think most disrespects how God made Andy? If you can’t find it within yourself to love Amy more than you miss Andy, maybe it would help to remember that Jesus teaches how important it is for adults to be less full of ourselves, and to receive, accept, welcome, embrace, love our kids. It’s not only what Jesus did, it’s not only what Jesus told his disciples to do, it’s also your big chance to learn about unconditional love. Like Jesus said, to get it you need to give it.”
Unexpectedly from quiet Amy, “If you can’t walk the walk, then it’s all just talk, Nana.”
To my surprise, Grandma appears to be smirking at me. After a short awkward moment she blurts out, “Shalom.”
I turn to Amy, now smiling herself, and in leisurely measure, “Yeah, about that, I guess you didn’t know Nana is Jewish.”
I asked Amy if she wanted to stay or go to a Safe House, possibly in New Haven or Danbury. She wanted to stay local. Grandma wanted some time to translate my mess. Catherine the Greater, by phone, explained that she was sending in a Parent Aide who would be residing with them for at least 24 hours as a resource to her and Amy.
How long she would actually live there and then visit on a daily basis was open-ended and only partially influenced by Amy’s and Grandma’s preferences. The statistical risks for abuse and neglect were at least moderate, so the Aide herself was trained in assessment, and would recommend the best level of support every day for at least a week. Usually DCF would go with whatever that was. And, usually at least one of the family members want the Aide to stay longer than the Aide would recommend, if only because their skill sets include housekeeping, as needed. Aides also have access to resources to meet all basic needs and all developmental needs for anyone 21 or under in the household. They are usually easy to talk to, and all have been trained in social communication skills; especially listening, apparently.
Catherine ended what was turning into something of a rant, even for the loquacious C the Greater. “The State of CT expects you to protect your child’s civil and human rights and has rather low tolerance for sexual harassment regardless of family relations, gender, sexual preference, identity, and/or ideology. Finally, apparently Yahweh is fairly clear that we are each of us to leave the judging of others, and perhaps even of ourselves, to God, Yahweh, Allah, The Grand Wizard, or whoever else you choose to believe in.”
Not only did I never forget that closing remark, I have used it countless time over the past thirty years.
The assigned Parent Aide, Carrie, was an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), and part-time school bus driver in West Hartford. About ten years later I ran into her again, driving my youngest son (now known as Dr. D. H. Raven, but that’s another story for another day) to school. Over the weeks, and months, as DH’s wheelchair lift slowly ascended in the morning, and descended again in the afternoon, I learned that Carrie had come into Parent Aide Crisis Training after a few years of increasingly active involvement in a Man/Sha Design project run by a nun at a nearby parish. That was a shocker! “Did you say “Man/Sha?”
Yes, she said “Man/Sha” and then went on about her Team having successfully advocated with a woman whose daughter had been abused while in the foster care system. Somewhat indirectly, in fact, the Parent Aide Crisis Program had grown out of that advocacy project, so Carrie was one of the more experienced Aides at the ripe old age of 21.
Who was this nun?
Carrie was an EMT instead of a police officer, her preference, because of a juvie history. Although now married to a woman at least twice her age, Carrie, at age 16, was arrested for not calling DCF when she discovered her boyfriend was turning tricks with the baby in the room. She didn’t feel like she had a lot of choice. Either she looked the other way, or she couldn’t afford to feed the baby, much less herself. But, the self-medication she could afford, crack, did not exactly influence the judge in her favor.
Now I’m trying to figure out how she got a job as a school bus driver, but I wasn’t about to complain. One of the smartest, and wisest, 21 year olds I ever met.
She was great with Amy. Got her involved with a School Ally Project Team in the next neighborhood. They took care of her, shared stories, eventually painted a mural of themselves painting a mural on the side of a grocery store in Hartford. Very colorful, but a little scary. They had these mural design apps that let them design as a Team. I remember everybody on the team designed what their character in the mural would look like. Some of them looked like themselves, some had on masks that made them look like somebody else, some had masks that made them look like caricatures of themselves. It wasn’t something I could ride by casually during the daylight. Always drew me in to the mural of the mural of the mural……
“So here’s the thing, honey, while it’s not for everybody, being born again is actually a requirement to become a Man/Sha Elder. But, born again in a Seasonal kind of way, more like a tree than a baptism. Here, look at this, I think you’ll see the idea.”
A nondescript basic-copy-paper word-processed; certainly not more than 30 years old, but creased into quarters, and vaguely concave, frayed at the edges, revealed a short legend, more like a parable maybe; dense, very dense…
“Imagine that a leaf and a twig were having a conversation about life and mortality. Do you think the twig would be so foolish as to correct the leaf’s belief that life and death are analogous to evolution and the “still-state”? Yet, for the leaf, separated from the twig and tree, life is but a season. The tree’s season of development, of evolution, of life, spans many growing seasons, as a tree. And many more, as part of the nutrient/boundary field of potential life, and uncertain moments within time’s great and small transitions.”
I had tracked down the nun, who turns out not to be a nun, operating the Man/Sha Neighborhood Transformation Project out of this dark, damp, and yet dust-covered Catholic Church basement, in New Haven, of all places. She said she had been expecting me, more with her eyes than what she said. But Kathleen Brennan was no nun. She was a Quaker. I had known, and loved, her in Seminary. But, she had died very quickly, and tragically young, before my mind could grasp that it might be possible that I could actually lose her sooner, rather than later. Breast cancer.
Kathleen was immense! I don’t mean corpulent, although she always wished she had been born into “slimmer genes.” Kathleen was truly “Legend in her Own Time,” Transcendent, Communion of Saints while Alive, omnipotent. I know it sounds totally disgusting, but, honestly, I would have drunk her pee if she had ever told me it would do me any good. Immense!
She always said her story began in a way that is strikingly similar to the scenario Dr. R Norton had used to begin his final. Kathleen had a high school sweetheart, but he was not a right guy for her as a pregnant Mom-to-be. This proved to be too much for her Irish Catholic parents, perhaps in part, but unclear, because this baby looked more like Oprah than Kathleen. So, Kathleen found a roommate willing to give her a large closet-sized room for her and the baby, in exchange for half of what she made working nearly full-time at WalMart, while she finished high school with her classmates in Hartford. She missed one day of school her senior year, when she gave birth to her daughter on a Friday about noon.
Her biggest problem was that she never had enough time with baby Katey. A few hours on Wednesdays after school, when she also needed to catch up on homework, and a few hours on Saturday and Sunday evening, when she also needed to catch up on homework, or buy groceries. Her roommate was an exotic dancer gay boy, very smart, but when he graduated a couple years ahead of her he had no ambitions other than taking this standing offer to work at a strip club, pending his 18th birthday. Weirdly enough, he was good at it and actually liked the job, having become something of a very minor local celebrity because he was extremely out about EVERYTHING (the word “closet” was not in his dictionary, as was apparent from the occasional brief look through his more expansive, but abundance-stressed, bedroom door) and radically political.
‘‘’0-Liver, with a zero.’ That was what he said when asked his name. We used to have these intensely sophisticated conversations, sort of like an Andy Warhol salon, on an unusually good day, but we knew nearly nothing about each others’ lives.”
“When Katey grew legs that could walk, my parents, retired, not so happily, didn’t want to take care of her every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday evening. I couldn’t afford any more day care, so when Oliver offered to watch her on Mondays and Tuesdays, no charge, cause those evenings were just down time anyway, and Oliver seemed to like her, I couldn’t think of any better options.”
But, it turns out that among Oliver’s repertoire of skills was the occasional turning of tricks in that overstuffed bedroom. Typically not on a Monday or Tuesday; but not every Tuesday was typical.
On the last Tuesday that Kathleen saw Katey for a good long time, at the day care center in her high school, during a hurried lunch, Oliver accepted an indecent offer, which admittedly included cash, but he would have done it for free, from a very hot guy who happened to be a friend of Oliver’s dad (who thought prison would be a better place for his son than hell, but he was OK if it was both so long as he had done everything he could to “shut down that little whore”) and an undercover police officer.
It seems that Dad, also a police officer in town, had missed at least one promotion due to his son’s notoriety, and Dad knew that Oliver had a sex-for-pay history, and Dad had learned that the same way everybody else in town had learned it, through an interview in the local paper. That was also how Dad had learned about the probability of finding at least a personal-use amount of marijuana in the apartment, back in those ancient times before marijuana was licensed for use by those who were HIV+., as was his son, which he also learned about in that same newspaper. But, unlike the general public, Dad was fairly sure there was a toddler in that apartment on Monday and Tuesday evenings. If he could get his son arrested for not only prostitution and drug possession, but also risk of injury to a minor, there was a much better chance of getting him incarcerated without a prior arrest history. Then too there were a handful of loitering and public nuisance charges.
Dad’s first name was not Oliver, but his last name was Olivier.
Katey ended up getting two years in foster care for Oliver’s offense while Kathleen got probation, loss of job, loss of any parental support of any kind, chronic homelessness, and a propensity for both depression and self-medication—most anything that was free would suit her budget, if not her body.
Katey’s foster parents turned out to be a rather too earnest young couple, intent on bringing back the family farm, and the 1950s in general, if possible. Seriously religious, with emphasis on the “serious.” Katey turned out to be something of a free spirit under all that outrageously boisterous African-American hair, and the Department of Children and Family’s edict that we do not strike foster kids for any reason at any time did, after all, not really present a moral dilemma when the Holy Bible itself clearly said “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” Never mind that when their DCF trainer asked them to show her where it says that in the Bible, they couldn’t actually find it in the on-line Bible concordances. So, Katey had the occasional slap upside the head, and perhaps more than her fair share of verbal abuse, but never a bruise or mark. The closest thing to torture were the interminable Sundays at church, with the occasional slap upside the head, a rapidly-executed proficiency of her Sunday School Teacher that far exceeded her proficiency with rapidly concluding any boring thing she said.
Meanwhile Kathleen’s story begins in a homeless shelter for women about 30 miles away. As she tells it, her story begins when she realizes that she is living in a shelter with seven other women, some with kids in tow, some not, but they all shared the same story. They all had lost their kids by force at least once, and they had all lost their homes about the same time. Some were moms re-united with kids, but without the resources to live independently, some were reduced to the bi-weekly, at best, supervised visit with their kids. And those kids would never be released to their moms’ custody as long as they were living in a shelter.
It took Kathleen 15 months after she graduated from high school to get her Nurse’s Assistant Certification while working for minimum wage at a nursing home, and then getting her Home Health Care Aide Certification, before she could scrape together a budget plan that would pass muster with the Judge, and get on the waiting list for a subsidized apartment so she could be re-united with Katey, assuming her urines were clean—which they always were from then on.
The immenseness of Kathleen emerges from nowhere during that 15 months. One Saturday morning, the women were vigorously assaulting the shelter’s “Property Closet” with Kathleen in the lead. The Property Closet is where all the women who had ever stayed there over the decades stored any excess baggage they couldn’t fit in two drawers or under half of a twin bottom-bunk bed. Once a guest left, she had to come back for anything left in the Property Closet within 30 days, in theory. In reality, she needed to come back before it got so hopelessly crammed that the current residents were allowed to go in and help themselves to what took on the dimensions of a treasure hunt. By the end of the day there was a pile of trash, but only stuff that none of the eight residents wanted. Everything else was re-bagged, largely as the property of a new owner, some of which would eventually move out with a current resident, to help establish a new home.
Later that same steamy Saturday in mid-June, Kathleen would be joining her classmates to graduate, and start her in-service training at the nursing home the next day. She was on her way, which seemed auspicious as she turned the ancient lock on the Property Closet door. On shelves along the left side of the windowless cavern, with one trembly and dusty bulb hanging over the center, were the bags of current residents and a couple more that had not yet hit their 30-day limit. These were not for plunder, yet. The remainder of the room was crammed with luggage, garbage bags, old sound systems, TVs, the occasional ironing board, unaccompanied (but carefully tagged) hair dryers, cosmetic bags, table lamps, and a wheelchair with a milk carton wired onto the back.
Kathleen was attracted to the wheelchair, inexplicably, and noted one battered manila folder in the makeshift shopping carton. Lifting it out, in large red lettering, she read, “K. Please read enclosed and save for the Transliterator.” So she did, and then she went to her Commencement feeling that life was about to commence.
The first of four documents was the only one that immediately resonated for her, so that was the one she pulled from the envelope for my perusal, rather than something more predictable like, for instance, explaining to me why she wasn’t dead, apparently.
Kathleen had some kind of epiphany when she read about the leaf and the tree. She identified with the leaf, and she did believe that life is an evolutionary process, or a dying process, and wanted to hope that the dying process might lead to a further evolution, of some kind. So that was what she meant about needing to be “born again.” But, her passion came out of the conviction that she was not the only leaf that was turning prematurely gray from grief. And, if all the women at the shelter and most of the women and men in the Certified Nurses Aid on-the-job slave-labor training program at the nursing home had similar stories of loss and disappointment and, too often, despair winning out over any real hope for the long-term, for more than survival as a family, then she was living in a branch of her tree that was growing very neglected indeed.
And perhaps even abused. She, and a few of her friends got to talking about the similarities in their stories. While someone passing by their “Mothers 8 Mob” might have been struck by their racial and age diversity, and probably their sexual preference, and maybe even gender identity, they began to gain strength from their shared belief that the child and family welfare tree was remarkably hinky when confronted by limbs doing poorly.
They got their hands on a copy of R Martin’s “3-Scars History” and then they went political. Rather than getting all stuck on being the victim of an abusive and judgmental system, they decided to put their money on economic self-interest. So they found a Request for Proposals from the Children’s Bureau, #936.52 and asked the shelter and the nursing home to send it in as a partnership. Neither Director, after reading what they had written was the least bit concerned that any grant would actually be forth-coming to do any such thing, so they easily agreed to submit it. What they didn’t know was that the Mothers 8 slipped in a cover letter:
TO: Children’s Bureau Director
FROM: Mothers 8 Mob, Hartford, CT
We are eight moms, average age 31, with eight kids, age range 1 to 18. All eight were forcibly removed from our arms, and continue to be each time we visit. We want to talk to you about four of them. But first, between the eight of us, we have 96 years of parenting experience, and only 24 of those years have been with the decided advantage of actually living with our kids, having an authoritative voice about what we think is in their best interests, and not one of those years with the financial support that has been offered to our kids’ foster parents, Parent Aides, therapists, Classroom Aides, Home Health Care Aides, Behaviorists, Respite Care Providers, Job Coaches, and In-Home Nurses. Estimating what all that adds up to, it comes to an average of $85,000/year, per child, not including the cost for their regular pediatricians, specialists, copious quantities of psychotropic medications, emergency visits, hospitalizations, and juvenile justice interventions, of which there have been far too many.
One of our daughters, O., is an 11-year-old, with mixed-race, Fetal Alcohol features, currently taking more psychotropics than Mom believes is good for her, but the girl’s psychiatrist and the girl’s school psychologist, and school Social Worker disagree with her. O is dually-diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Cerebral Palsy. Her academic functional skills are at the first grade level, on average, where they have remained since she was seven or eight, when she was taken by DCF because Mom was homeless and reluctantly agreed that she had no means of supporting a child with obvious unmet medical needs.
O is highly stressed at school and home, a slow disintegrating trend since she lived with Mom, when she was not taking any meds, was highly stressed at school, and more moderately stressed when she was home, with no known food anxieties other than a tendency to hoard, no GI issues, no anomalous sleeping patterns. All that has changed, has gone in the wrong direction, for O.
Mom is nearly 40 with High-Functioning Autistic Spectrum Disorder. In response to her daughter’s special needs, she “voluntarily” signed away her parental rights with a commitment from the Placement Planner that she would not be placed in a home with other kids or pets, and she would be placed in a Professional Parent program, with a primary care provider with Medically Complex Certification. That did not happen.
D. is an African-American 18-year-old, with Attention Deficit Disorder, required to take 72 mg’s of stimulants every morning, at 200 pounds, who just “graduated” from high school with a 3rd grade reading and math level. He is part of the Great Majority of African-American males with only a high school diploma, chronically unemployed and sporadically short-term under-employed. To date he has been unable to keep two jobs due to his IDEA-based self-empowerment and social justice agenda. In other words, yes, he got the message from the feds that self-advocacy is his most important tool to successfully transition from school to workplace; but no, employers who are raking in federal and state workforce development grants to subsidize their businesses did not get that message.
When he points out to his supervisor that the supervisor has not made appropriate adjustments for the disability population he is recruiting through the local Workforce Development Board, or the Rehabilitation Bureau, and, further, that this might be an actionable offense under the Disabilities Act, then he tends to be reminded that there are literally hundreds of others behind him, and would he mind very much voluntarily disappearing. So much for human rights, much less for the beleaguered Disabilities Act. It sounds, looks, smells like discrimination as well as exploitation, in that approximately half of his training/internship hours to date have paid absolutely nothing, and the other half comes out to something like $3.25/hour.
S. is a 16-year-old bisexual High-Functioning Asberger’s Gamer. Although afraid to go to school, and to be out of the closet, he is also afraid of being victimized in his foster home, as has already occurred more than once. It doesn’t really matter where he is; he doesn’t feel safe anywhere; has never really attached deeply to anyone. That said, he is something of a Momma’s boy but does not trust her to have his best interests in mind. He frequently reminds her that it is her selfishness and lack of intelligence that have put him at-risk. S. is haunted by the sadness and misery of the world, and sees no hope. He is at high-risk for self harm, paralyzed by despairing uncertainty, without hope that any decision will be adequate to his vocation. Ripped from the arms of his Safe Harbor, it is difficult for him to see that he is not as alone as he thinks, and that his vocation is important, and unique to him, but also a part of a vocation that is shared by his global peers. His job is to find ways to connect with them, and to help them connect with each other.
R., like all eight of our kids, is “Other” in the race column, at 15 he has no identified linguistic or signing capacity. He is paraplegic, has seizure disorders, primary diagnosis is Cerebral Palsy, complicated by cognitive blindness. R is unlikely to perceive other humans in the way most of us do. Yet his willingness to participate in physical therapies remains significantly lower with any care-giver other than his own bio-mom.
The enclosed proposal was inspired by what our kids and the child welfare system have taught us. It is written in response to your LOA #936.52. Identified in this proposal, as project partners, are our homeless shelter (TC) and one of our healthcare employers (SCF).
We believe this “seeding” project would provide optimized short- and long-term social investment values by re-directing the child welfare system toward the combined strength of family and kinship support networks for our hurt kids.
Kathleen Smyth, with and for the temporarily sheltered Mothers-8 Mob
“Imagine that a leaf and a twig were having a conversation about life and mortality. Do you think the twig would be so foolish as to correct the leaf’s belief that life and death are analogous to evolution and the “still-state”? Yet, for the leaf, separated from the twig and tree, life is but a season. The tree’s season of development, of evolution, of life, spans many growing seasons, as a tree. And many more, as part of the nutrient/boundary field of potential life, and potential moments of life.” (Man/Sha Legends)
The proposed alternative child/family well-being system, designed to restore health to hurt kids, evolves from a Whole Systems/Permaculture analysis, that may most easily be summarized with an analogy. In our analogy, youth in Connecticut are this season’s leaves on a shared tree, and the proposed child well-being alternative system is the entire twig-to-root tree system to which they are connected. Our objective, targeted strategically to the most at-risk, most hurt, is to restore health to faltering kids by bringing them the richest nutrient support system possible, customized to the specific self-assessed needs of each individual, and each child’s family/kinship network.
This hypothetical alternative delivery system is developed theoretically in this proposal, based on what TC and the SCF have learned from their system-involved and not system-involved kids; High-Functioning integrated (enjoy well-being), challenged (well-being is a struggle), and guarded (well-being is a hope).
During the first 9-months of this proposed 5-year alternative system development, TC and the SCF, with a wide range of other education, workforce, and health agencies serving kids, will fully resource a youth-led Well-Being System Development Project. Fully resourcing a Design Team will include sharing this proposal, inviting participants to engage with the proposed model, and its underlying systems analysis. The 9-month Design Team Report will be written using an “interactive research” process (see www.wtgrantfoundation.org and “A New Role for CT Youth: Leaders of Social Change” at www.perrinfamilyfoundation.org), in keeping with optimized systems design, informed by evidence-based models, and will meet federal objectives for Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) well-being permaculture standards.
Objectives/Need for Assistance
At the heart of the “Adoption Opportunities” authorizing legislation lies a deeply and broadly held concern of the American people that long-term well-being outcomes for system-involved youth (child welfare system, “CWS”, and juvenile justice, “JJS”) lag significantly behind those same outcomes for youth who have no CWS or JJS histories, whether adopted or aging-out within the CWS. This is substantively reiterated in the Children’s Bureau RFP. Economic analysis of outcomes-to-date, intended by the authorizing legislation, suggest that a national trend toward more investment in preserving at-risk children in stable home environments, “prevention” services, even at some expense to more traditional resources for “protecting” children from high-risk environments, does show initial promise both for improving well-being outcomes and for longer-term cost containment. At the same time, overall availability of funds for this authorizing legislation, and all child/family well-being federal legislation, is under increasing pressures caused by larger at-risk populations, economic downturns, unemployment, and socio-economic inequities/inefficiencies.
The State of Connecticut’s ongoing system improvement initiatives are best summarized with the Department of Children and Family’s (DCF) recently revised mission statement: “Working together with families and communities for children who are healthy, safe, smart and strong. All children and youth served by the Department will grow up healthy, safe and learning, and will experience success in and out of school. The Department will advance the special talents of the children it serves and offer opportunities for them to give back to the community.” The new theme from the Commissioner Office, increasingly reiterated by the CT State Legislature, is a replacement of a “welfare” culture with a “well-being” culture of learning.
Six Cross-Cutting Themes:
- A family-centered approach to all service delivery, reflected in development and implementation of a Strengthening Families Practice Model and the Differential Response System;
- Trauma-informed practice as related to children and families but also to the workforce that serves them;
- Application of the neuroscience of child and adolescent development to agency policy, practice and programs;
- Development of stronger community partnerships;
- Improvements in leadership, management, supervision and accountability; and
- Establishment of a Department culture as a learning organization.
(Commissioner Katz, DCF, Legislative Briefing, January 24, 2013)
DCF’s current thematic investment in further developing as a “learning culture” is embedded in a political consensus that we want our service delivery systems to be fully accountable to the public, operating as public benefit corporations (“B-corporations”). Because these are publicly-owned systems, we expect public accountability regarding public benefits that we all agree are in fact benefits, certainly inclusive of those receiving services. To that end, we increasingly recognize that child and family well-being are best supported by sharing and working together creatively to fully develop, evolve, and reweave what has unraveled; learning how to do that as cost-effectively as possible.
Our emergent economic hypothesis for public-sector system efficiencies is that our delivery systems work better when they are recognized as inter-connected; rather than as radically separate systems. “Systems” mentioned on the very first page of the Commissioner’s Briefing include Differential Response, mental health, neural/cognitive, public administration, learning/education, children, families, social, and economic. It is only one logical step of generalization to more broadly hypothesize that population well-being, and then global well-being, is best supported by investing in healthy relationships between individuals, families, peer groups, public associations and departments, nations, and species; while disinvesting in the “business-as-usual” aspiration to grow competitive-based financial exchanges and non-cooperative services that do not meet CQI aspirations, and do not achieve our best long-term well-being outcomes.
In keeping with the primary population target of this LOA, our service population definition is Connecticut children with identified well-being risks.
According to the DCF Commissioner’s January 2013 Legislative Briefing Report:
- DCF serves approximately 35,000 children and 15,000 families across its programs and mandated areas of service in the course of a year.
- Approximately 14,000 cases are open on a given day.
- Approximately 4,000 children are in some type of placement.
- Approximately, 650 children receive voluntary services and are not committed to the Department. About 550 of these children are receiving services at home.
- Adoptions were finalized for 435 children, and subsidized guardianships transferred for 264 children during SFY2012 (about 2% of total children served each year).
Our largest challenge is poverty, including related issues such as power and communication marginalization, neglect, family unemployment, and increased health and development risks:
- The child poverty rate rose from 11 percent in 2007 to nearly 13 percent in 2010.
- More than 128,000 Connecticut children live in food-insecure households.
- Twenty-eight percent of Connecticut children have parents with no full-time, year-round employment.
- Joblessness for 16- to 24-year-old black males has reached “Great Depression proportions.”
[Connecticut Commission on Children, 2011 Results-Based Accountability (RBA) Report & Annual Report]
A recently published study argues a strong positive correlation between the Great Recession of recent years and increasing rates of child abuse and neglect.
“After declining for many years in the United States, the searches that seem to have come from abuse victims themselves rose as soon as the Great Recession began. On weeks that unemployment claims rose, these searches rose as well.
Searches that appear to have originated with people who suspect abuse also provide evidence that the increase is caused by the economic downturn. Controlling for pre-recession rates and national trends, states that had comparatively suffered the most had increased search rates for child abuse and neglect. Each percentage point increase in the unemployment rate was associated with a 3 percent increase in the search rate for “child abuse” or “child neglect.” (Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, Ph.D., New York Times, Opinion, “How Googling Unmasks Child Abuse”)
Poverty and marginalization are highly correlated, creating a well-being services delivery system that is disproportionately accessible to non-poor Caucasian and Asian-American children:
Compared with the White population in Connecticut, Blacks or African Americans were almost 3.6 times, American Indians or Alaska Natives about 3.3 times, Hispanics or Latinos about 4.7 times, and persons reporting “Some Other Race” about 5.4 times more likely to be living in poverty in 1999.
The infant mortality rate (IMR) is a key measure of population health status. Between 2001–2005, the Connecticut IMR was 5.9 deaths per 1,000 live births. During this time, the IMR for White infants was 3.9, while for Black or African American infants, the IMR was 13.0, and for Hispanics, it was 6.5 per 1,000 live births.
Hispanic women and Black women had the highest percentages of those with late or no prenatal care in the first trimester of pregnancy, at 23.6% and 21.8% of women, respectively. Black women had the highest percentage of low birth weight infants, at 12.9%, compared with 6.7% for White infants, 8.2% Asian/Pacific Islanders, and 8.5% for Hispanics.
During fiscal years 2000–2006, the number of preventable hospitalizations in Connecticut grew by nearly 4%. Racial and ethnic minority populations accounted for 100% of the growth in preventable hospitalizations between FYs 2000 and 2006, while preventable hospitalizations among Whites decreased 3% over this same time period. Hispanics and Blacks represented 44% and 31%, respectively, of the increase in preventable hospitalizations between FY2000 and FY2006.
(THE 2009 CONNECTICUT HEALTH DISPARITIES REPORT, Connecticut Department of Public Health)
There is considerable evidence that disrupting the primary caregiver relationship with a child, from birth through age 18, increases stress and results in challenges to well-being and healthy vocational choices. This is poignantly so when that relationship is severed forcibly by the CWS. The level of harm has repeatedly been identified through post traumatic stress disorder assessments, and the neural patterns of infants. The “protection-over-prevention” orientation to delivering well-being services has proven to be toxic, as well as expensive.
TC and the SCF are proposing a youth-led plan to spread a “Well-Being System (WBS) Development Project” to all young people with communication and trauma related needs. Starting with 80 system-involved, moderate- to high-risk of maltreatment, communication challenged and guarded, ADHD, and Autistic Spectrum sub-populations, and doubling that number each year for the subsequent four years, the WBS Development Project will include approximately 2,500 youth, ages 8 to 25. Whole Systems Permaculture Design incorporates optimization values for replication and infrastructure capacity across state and national boundaries. Seeding is local; replication potential is global.
Creating a more effective and equally accessible delivery system is not only a priority for the CWS, but also for beleaguered schools, health, and employment services. Among the more prominent investors in systems change for pediatric mental health is the Connecticut Health Foundation. Their Children’s Mental Health Initiative goal is to “support the infrastructure and capacity of local community collaboratives to ensure that services for children with severe mental health conditions are family-centered, community-based and culturally competent, and provide quality, evidence-based treatment.”
Three consistent objectives guided the initiative:
Improve the infrastructure (structure and processes) of community collaboratives to enable them to be system-change agents.
Improve local delivery of services for children with behavioral health problems by making them more family-friendly and culturally competent, and by using evidence-based services.
Increase parents’ participation in their children’s treatment planning and delivery processes.
To what extent did foundation-funded collaboratives engage in system building by implementing actions aimed at improving local delivery of services and increasing parents’ participation in their children’s treatment processes?
More foundation-funded collaboratives engaged in system building and expanded their repertoire of system-building actions during the initiative. A majority of foundation-funded collaboratives, however, struggled to engage in system-building actions. For example, few collaboratives engaged in systematic strategic planning to guide their system-building effort, and many actions were modest in scope and with limited results. Lastly, most actions implemented by foundation-funded collaboratives to increase parents’ participation in their children’s treatment processes focused on improving parents’ knowledge and skills, while a minority focused on making the service environments more family-friendly.
(CT Health Foundation, “Children’s Mental Health Initiative” Report, 2008)
Somewhat redundantly, the Perrin Family Foundation’s Report, (2012) “A New Role for CT Youth: Leaders of Social Change” begins The Next Steps section with:
First, youth development agencies—and those that fund them—can prioritize engagement of youth voices and foster youth-adult partnerships, create meaningful opportunities for shared decision making, and incorporate sociopolitical competency as a core youth development outcome. These shifts will enhance young people’s overall development by empowering young people to understand their own life experiences in the broader social and political context in which they exist. This exposure is particularly important during adolescence, as youth develop their identities and begin to formulate answers to tough questions: Who am I? What do I care about? What is fair? Which community or communities do I belong to? How do I view the world and why do others see it differently? What do I want to change? What role can I play? Creating opportunities for youth to question the status quo, to think critically, and to become confident in decision-making roles helps pave the way for youth to become informed and engaged community members. (p. 30)
The proposed WBS Design intends to fully exploit the Transition Generation’s strong desire for authentic, honest, and just community-investment experiences, and the new “Collaborative Economy” rooted in people doing things for themselves together, in communications-resourced, diversely populated, intentional kinship groups. We fully anticipate that this Generation will bring new meaning to the term “system-involved kids.” Their self-help system will identify unprecedented potential for replication, sharing information and services via Internet networks. Their work on a permaculture system, rooted in mutual respect and understanding, will enable transformational, yet individual and community-based, peer-to-peer dynamics. Their shared system design objective is to achieve long-term, sustainable well-being outcomes of global significance to marginalized and hurt kids and families.
The current population under 18 may be the first generation whose kids are born with survival risks including thirst and starvation. (www.epa.gov/climatechange, http://www.nasa.gov/worldbook). This century will use the last of the fossil-fuel deposits, and our kids will continue transitioning to an information-based economy. The social structures, including family and child welfare systems, most practitioners and program developers assumed as permanent will each dramatically evolve.
The WBS Design Project intends a transition to a culture of listening and caring with this Transition Generation. The first nine months ask questions, listening carefully for what we agree we will need for our future well-being, how we agree practitioners might help resource our self-help goals. What exactly does our inclusive, sustainable well-being community look like? How do we imagine our futures, and why? How do we think we can learn to learn together, given global technological and communication resources, and increasing neural-diversity? How can our WBS Design help us give voice, and all forms of expression, to the wisdom we share?
This Generation will see a transition from an energy-based economy, to an information-based species. From an evolutionary history perspective, this may be a level of transition that we have not seen since the domestic use of fire. Or, it may be something more mundane, a level of transition not seen since the Industrial Revolution. With 20% of our kids now having mental health issues, with a trend that projects as few as 60% of our kids graduating from high school, with the doubling of High-Functioning Autistic Spectrum and Attention Deficit in recent years, we need to listen, and then implement together.
We believe that, so long as we work in a learning partnership with this Transitional Generation, adopted or not, socially guarded or not, behaviorally challenged or not, highly stressed or at-risk of identity loss and hopelessness, GLBTQI or any of the other polyphonic labels of diversity and segregation, or not, we will find bountiful and sustainable resources to do everything we need to do, to be everywhere we need to be, to be that well-being community for every child, and every child’s child.
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” R. Buckminster Fuller
Our permaculture model of systems change includes a forest of interrelationships. However, the basic proposed logic structure of relationships has four parts:
1. Nutrient soil: Evidence-based precedents within the existing CWS.
2. Seed-to-Tree Developing Delivery System: Well-Being System Design/Development Project.
3. Leaves/Ornamentals: At-Risk Transition Generation: Highest Risk Harbingers of needed change—kids with communication and relational anomalies.
4. Air/Atmosphere Ecosystem: “Real” and “Virtual” Time communication systems.
Goal: To design and develop a self-resourcing and self-perpetuating, nutrient-rich, inclusive Well-Being System powerful enough to efficaciously recommend that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services be re-named as The Department of Well-Being Services.
“Kathleen, I’ve dreamed of being with you again, but didn’t think it possible, due to your untimely death and all. You look radiantly happy. The white hair suits you. So I’m thinking this has something to do with your “born again” position, but that’s all I’m coming up with. And you switched from the Quakers to the Catholics? Really? Who does that?”
“No, no. The kids call me “Sister” because they assume I am a nun, but I’m still a Quaker, or a Polypath; but mainly associate with the Man/Sha Tribe; kindofa cross between Unitarians and Zen Buddhists and Taoists and Nature Aboriginals.”
“And as for being Kathleen reborn, that’s only partially accurate I think. The Kathleen you and I love is my younger sister. You may remember her mentioning an older sister, special ed teacher, Director of Religious Education, Katey. Kathleen named her daughter after me. In fact Katey lives with me now, or she has a room, still, and occasionally uses it when she’s not at MIT; math major. Something about spatial/temporal algorithms for robotics therapy.”
“It doesn’t seem like Katey could be old enough for MIT.”
“It’s her first year, and she went in home-schooled in math and robotics, at 17. Produced some outrageously high SAT scores at 16, but they wanted her to take some of their on-line classes until her 17th birthday. So she started right after her birthday, in January, and decided to stay for a summer internship with a local robotics company; developing therapeutic software for Oppositional Communicators.”
It seemed to me that I had met far more than my fair share of “Oppositional Communicators,” but, not knowing how she meant that term, I was about to ask when she said she didn’t have long, and she had a rather lot to pass on to me.
The Man/Sha Elders Council has left this packet for you, for the past, toward the future. You are to seed its ingredients locally, for global replication.
This is your Man/Sha Transliteration Vocation Design Plan. It is somewhat ageless and includes Figure 209.03, from R. Fuller’s “Synergetics,” a Creative Systems Design Values Chart, and a CSD Universal Vector Temporal Relationship Map.
You will be called to Man/Sha Youth Ministry before the oldest of the TransGeneration turn 18. If you listen to them with the ears of an Elder, they will teach you how to connect the Map to the Chart. This is their shared chapter in the Man/Sha Legends; it will map onto the existing Legends. Our Tribal future, more specifically, the globally networked Transliteration Generation, is in their Reweaving hearts and minds.
Katey-Katherine (“K²”), like Catherine the Greater, and Carrie, spoke very precisely. It would have been coldly bionic if not tempered by their serene demeanor. They were at peace with what they knew, and understood that, in the big picture, everything would come out for the best. Very high up in the “Nurturer” scale. But really intense when they got into this whole “I have a message from” business, perhaps just to let you know that you should pay attention. I found myself taking notes, capturing words and patterns. Much later the Transition Generation taught me how to use these notes for Permaculture Systems Design (PSD), the forerunner of Cooperative Nutritional Design (CND).
K² went on somewhat more conversationally about why the Elders wanted to know if I was interested in being a parent; which I was. Given my interest, K² recommended I begin adopting when I felt ready, but before further advancing into “decrepitude.”
Anticipating my “why,” she said that I should learn to become an effective parent to the Transition Generation (“0-Geners”) before attempting to minister to other people’s needs.
Anticipating my “why,” K² gave me one of her best belly-laughs ever, “No, not because you need to be the ‘pastor’ of ‘sheep,’ but because you will learn that an effective parent for kids with special challenges (and what kid doesn’t have those!) requires learning to be a nurturing administrator for trans-geneformational relationships. That’s what good youth ministers have to be good at.”
Continuing to be confused by these Elder messages from an uncertain, but apparently prophetic, future, the best I could come up with was “Trans-geneformational?”
“Read Lewis Carroll’s chapter on Humpty Dumpty. He will teach you something about language, communication, logic, and exegesis.” And with that, she turned her attention to a rather insistent rather squeaky squirrel of a girl who looked like she needed to use the bathroom but repeatedly demanded food, or maybe it was just attention, another form of light.
That was the last Man/Sha message I ever received, as such. During the intervening decades I adopted Sir Loyal Heart who developed an affinity for cob and straw bale construction, and became the primary guardian for Dr. D Raven, his youngest brother. “D” is one of the Universal Channels of non-linguistic human spirituality. The twins, Yang and Yin, came along between Loyal and D. These guys became a Cyber-Wizard Team, and were instrumental in completing the global cooperative network preparations for their kids, the Transposition Generation. Sr. Fetal Squirrel came along last, something of a spontaneous surprise as compared to her brothers. Looking back on it now, I can see that our family needed an obsessive-yang spirit to bring equilibrium to D’s pervasive-yin. It was their equilibrium that catapulted my learning curve toward the Transition Generation Home/School ministry.
My gradual unfolding toward a specific call to join the growing Home/School ministry culminated at the top of Cider Hill one gusty and rainy Saturday morning in August. I was rather frantically riding my bike up a deserted dirt private road, overgrown on both sides with a trace of original New England forest, on what used to be a large summer farm estate. The largely abandoned farm road had become a destination of sorts, about the right distance from our house to feel like I was getting a good workout and getting away for some brief moments of solitude. The Cider Hill drive shot up rather steeply about a third of the way down the dead end road. By the time I had biked that far, I had, until now, insufficient curiosity to take on the 1st-gear challenge. And, too, it was marked “Private Road,” although I had never seen anyone entering or leaving.
Two days before, talking to Rev. H, an old soul-mate, he had told me that there was, still standing, an old summer house, and two or three guest houses. On this particular August Saturday I had ventured into the rain more fiercely than peacefully, more escaping than moving toward any destination, resisting what I greatly feared was the final vocational calling predicted so long ago by my friend the Owl. Over the past few weeks I had sensed that something, again, was “different” about me, or about us, or about everything, really. My dreams and my days were fusing.
Katey and Catherine the Greater and I were informally, and disjointedly, trying to talk to each other about a new type of local Home School ministry that would be globally networked. I was attracted to the idea spiritually and intellectually, but emotionally I longed for a deep and lasting solitude. The day before, a Friday, Katey had, gently, reminded me that her UU community was preparing to call a full-time minister; maybe it was time. Loyal had just graduated from high school. I had just passed 40. My heart froze. I must have looked like a deer caught in the headlights because she just gently rubbed my back as I turned to leave.
It made sense, from what little I knew of her community, and their accessibility to the local Seminary. In my head I could see why I was being called to become a Candidate, but my longing for privacy and solitude pulled me into a grain of irritated attention.
As I downshifted into the lowest gear of Loyal’s old mountain bike, time slowed down. I passed through a membrane of memory about a Shaker legend that they would be reborn when a long-lost sapphire pearl stone would be re-discovered at the top of a sacred hill. At the top of Cider Hill, as the grade eased, I too eased into the wonder-filled discovery of 3 log cabins, and a log-built, rustic summer house, with leaky, moldy roofs swept by the gentle brush of tree limbs. This was exactly what we needed as a base for our first straw bale and cob natural construction school, and residences for our first generation of the Permaculture Home/School Aides.
Without forethought, without realizing that I was gently braking back down Cider Hill, I began to transpose my longing for solitude into a longing for intimately intellectual community; what Tom Atlee, et. al. call “Co-Intelligence,” maybe, but what Atlee and Rumi and Katey and Catherine experience as Trans-Intelligence–the profound difference between loving to learn together, and learning to love to learn together. This School, and this place, would be a place for learning to love to learn, and that was precisely the sapphire/pearl I had come there to find. By the time I arrived, as if by magic, back at my own drive, all the separate pieces of the design Katey and Catherine and I had been puzzling emerged into one coherent moment; and I found peace with my vocational piece.
Katey, Catherine and I, and many more family, friends, allies, colleagues, began the first pilot classes within a year after that, wrapped into a detailed interactive research structure, meeting federal CQI standards for well-being systems change. Revenue was never a problem. No one was ever denied access for lack of money; although the majority of kids that we would have liked to include in that first couple of years were denied because of our strict family-inclusion requirement. Only later were we able to relax that structure, as we developed a richer network of Transition Generation leaders.
Meanwhile, we found a couple of Man/Sha natural builders willing to re-establish a Shaker-style craft apprentice system. They refurbished the Cider Hill buildings, and six clustered farm-hand cottages about a quarter mile away, at the end of the farm road. using a combination of straw, cob, plaster, built-in stoves, and solar-panel roofs. Those were two of the earliest 0-footprint rehab projects in Connecticut. While the first Permaculture Aides, typically diagnosed with High-Functioning Autism and Schizophrenia, moved into Cider Hill, the Farm Cottage Cooperative Community filled up with at-risk families, referred by various State Social Workers. The kids, and many of their young-adult parents, grew up in the Home/School classrooms on the other side of the road. They, in turn, became multi-generational Aides and Transition leaders for Permaculture Teams, locally, then regionally. Carrie facilitated the first Farm Cottage Permaculture Project Team.
Amy seemed to be everywhere. With the Mural Design Teams she first painted the exterior of our UU building, then proceeded to creatively assault most any cement block and stucco exterior surface in Hartford through Simsbury. That led to her becoming a skilled Natural Construction Apprentice, then Teacher. Then she became interested in the Permaculture Landscape Design Trade, so she could integrate her beautifully painted cob architecture with edible permaculture-designed plantings. Eventually she taught Transpositional Permaculture for the Seminary’s global network classes. It was difficult to remember she was the weepy “Andy/Amy”, persuaded this world had no place for her, waiting for a ride to nowhere on a hot July driveway so very long ago.
 Permaculture is whole systems design that develops long-term sustainable sub-systems (e.g. schools) informed by dense, diverse, inclusive, and nurturing ecosystems. As Rob Hopkins, in “The Transition Companion: Making your community more resilient in uncertain times” observes, “Permaculture is a design ‘glue’ to stick together all the elements for a sustainable and resilient culture. The elements such a culture will depend on include local food production, energy generation,…meaningful employment, and so on. Permaculture helps assemble those things in the best way possible. It has been described as ‘the art of maximizing beneficial relationships’.” (p. 98)
- The Man/Sha Legends (interactive work in progress) (gdill52.com)