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Acting in Love during Times of Fire

My stomach dropped down to my knees. Holy cow! I shivered on the tracks as the train curled around the bend. It was 9 pm, Dec 16th, dark and cold. I was in the presence of something awesome like the shepherds on Christmas night who heard the angels shout, “Fear not.” Two dozen warm bodies had camped by the train tracks north of Worcester MA to stop a freight train carrying 10,000 tons of coal. We had been asking the Granite Co to shut down the Bow, NH Power Plant, a huge coal burning factory with no shut-down date.

I looked over at Friend Jay* with his thick beard warning people that the RR emergency line had not promised the engine would stop. I watched Friend Carole’s eyes become wide over her thick quilted jacket. Oh drat! I knew that I had signed up for a dramatic action. I could use a sign like a meteorite in the East. I knew that Spirit was in control, not me. Words flitted through me, “Let go of your own willing, your own desiring to do or be anything….”. Our fierce, tender group held up a slender hand to stop the beast of a train.

But the train with its blinding headlight did not stop. It was 200 yards away and I grabbed Carole’s arm. It was 100 yards away and I asked for a miracle. It was 50 yards away and I heard Spirit’s message that no one should die this holy night. I stepped down off the tracks.

With its loud whistle, the train blew past our group. The train took forever to pass us, one carload of coal after another rolled up north. How disgusting to be reminded of the cost of life from this coal; the stripping of coal from the Appalachians; the useless money spent to transport the coal; and the needless burning of the coal. This monstrosity is worse than the Tower of Babel. The burning of Australia’s coast popped into mind. Another carload lumbered past me. I thought of the Israelites wandering in the dessert, I thought of the three-year famine threatened because of Israel’s pride, and how the angel of the Lord destroyed all the coasts of Israel. (in 1Chron 21:12) Suddenly, I was not afraid. I was angry. I was baffled why 80 cars of coal; a proven toxic killer would pass by us blaring its horn.

Carole writes, “The train protocol [states] that any call to the emergency number [warning] of an impending obstruction on the tracks would cause the train to stop. We called and the train did not stop. The engineer, who could clearly see the 25 of us and did not slow down, was prepared to kill us.”

I am not expecting to die, but I’m more determined than ever to stop the madness of fossil fuels. I will be respectful- I will obey the speed limit- and I will take action. Angelic action is my antidote for despair. Carole agreed with me, adding, “Believe me, it had never been my plan to play chicken with a train!”

Fast forward to 2020. (We made it to a New Year!) Both Carole and I were arrested and we’ll return to court in February. The point isn’t to pester the police, nor the courts. Quakers are not protesters; we are witnessing to the living Spirit. We expect justice.

Our bodies on the tracks say unequivocally, stop the coal burning. I say no to the evil of fossil fuels to make way for the new Path in the Desert, to acclaim the Kin-dom of God.

Climate change is a spiritual movement because the poor and vulnerable are at most risk. Saying “NO WAY” to coal companies shows a calling to love others as God loves us. Climate change exacerbates political instability and worsens the refugee crises. Climate disasters will strike hard against the very people the gospels tell us to care for and to love– the hungry, the sick, the young.

Quakers in the #nocoalnogas movement are building a robust community to transform the way we walk on the Earth. We are building love and power to sustain hope in the face of a fearsome extinction. This action is ongoing—look for opportunities to build God’s beloved community this winter.

Angels implore us over and over, ‘Do Not Despair.’ Work in love and welcome the climate transformation.

*Jay O’Hara (Falmouth MM) Carole Rein (N Shore MM) Minga, (Cambridge MM) are 3 Friends active in the ministry of stop the coal trains part of the larger climate disobedience.  

January 2020