Gift of the Persistently Possible

It’s hard to believe it has been more than a year since my friend, colleague, and sustainability guru Jim Farrell died.  In his honor and for others, I take this opportunity to post some words I shared at the on-campus memorial service.  We all continue to do great work, inspired by those who came before us and who lived and worked with us!

From 25 Sep 2013 – Memorial Service…

I’d like to make an offering, some brief thoughts about Jim, a teacher, mentor, colleague, friend, writer, author and lover of all nature, especially human-nature. This is not the human nature we typically think about when those words are uttered, but the connectivity between human cultures and the rest of Creation. Jim frequently reminded us that we are nature, we are gifts – to nature and to each other, and we are engaged in the continuing, evolving human-nature enterprise as stewards of God’s Creation.

I recall the first time the Sustainability Task Force read, in full draft form, the principles we had been talking about, principles that came to life in words Jim penned to paper. Here is an excerpt about energy. “Environmentally speaking, a college campus is a place for converting natural energy to human thoughtfulness. It’s a place where people employ natural resources to refine and transmit the intellectual and artistic resources we call culture. Like all other colleges and universities, St. Olaf College is an organic machine, where nature’s energy is shaped by nature’s human energy, and vice versa. We think of a campus as a place, a location, a space – and it is. But more importantly, it’s a relationship, where human designs intersect with nature’s designs in food and water, heat and electricity, cars and computers, lawns and gardens and natural lands. A campus is one way of making love to nature – or of making war on it. It’s a way of caring for the Creation. A campus is, like it or not, an ecological design.” All of us were astounded by the conversational character of the writing, the relationship centered core of the story, and the imagery it conjured. It provided the group and campus with fuel to keep doing good work, no matter the obstacles.

Friend and colleague, Jim Farrell.

Friend and colleague, Jim Farrell.

This pursuit of good work is framed by what I call ‘embracing the cycles’ or the ‘gift of the persistently possible,’ a gift Jim consistently doled out. Rather than lament about a particular situation or become mired in despair and anger, the Daniel Quinn novel Ishmael and the words story and opportunity soon would pop up in discussions with Jim. The narrator says, “They failed because you can’t just stop being in a story, you have to have another story to be in.” A given story might come to a close, yet another takes its place. The challenge is to rise up and recognize the new opportunity, the opportunity to use your gifts and talents to work with others who feel as passionately as you do to unfold the next story. This is jumping from the downcycle into the upcycle which can, at times, feel like you are actually in the spin cycle! Jim consistently encouraged all to step into their next story and to do so with gusto, whether it was students attempting to start an on-campus organic farm, a department trying to develop a revised curriculum, or a friend struggling to make sense of a life-changing event.

Just how does one step into the next story? In the liberal arts sense, we do it with thoughtfulness. Thoughtfulness embodied and expressed by people in the careful way they think and in how they care about other people and places. This kind of thinking and doing is hard work and certainly has its upcycles and downcycles. In parallel we do this as a spiritual journey or leap of faith. Our stories are deeply interconnected – making a tangled web of beauty reflective of God at work in the world. As the earth spins on its axis, meandering through space and time, may we have the courage to embrace our upcycles and downcycles to spin through life and see the gifts of the possible, in each other, in St. Olaf and in Creation. Thanks Jim, for encouraging all to see and practice a different kind of human-nature.

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