One Woman's Search for Simplicity, Faithfulness, and Hope

by Eileen Flanagan

She Writes Press, 2015. ISBN 978-1-631-52968-9.
Reviewed by Barbara Heming
Posted on 06/25/2015

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: History/Current Events; Nonfiction: Faith/Spirituality/Inspiration

How does a fifty-year-old mother of two come to find herself handcuffed to the White House fence on a bitterly cold February day? In her memoir, Renewable: One Woman's Search for Simplicity, Faithfulness, and Hope, Eileen Flanagan traces her path to that moment.

The previous winter she awoke one night at 3:00 a.m. and realized with a shock that her life wasn't what she expected. She says:

I thought of myself as a Peace Corps volunteer who had loved living in a mud hut, and now I had more bathrooms than I could keep clean. I thought of myself as a person who used canvas shopping bags twenty years before it was mainstream, but now with two cars and two electronics-addicted teenagers, I'd developed a low-level despair about my ability to protect the planet they would inherit. I'd been reading about how global warming was withering maize crops in Botswana, the south African country where I had taught decades earlier—the place that had originally taught me about social responsibility. Our new house was so big, no one heard me when I cried.

This despair leads Flanagan to reflect on her past experiences and expectations about how her life would unfold, to explore the contradictions with her present life, and ultimately to take action.

With unflinching honesty Flanagan shares the impact of her years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa and her search upon her return to the United States for a simple lifestyle congruent with her values. She discovers in the Quaker tradition a marriage of spirituality and activism on which she can forge a life.

Her midlife/midnight awareness of the drift her life has taken leads Flanagan to make personal changes and to participate in Earth Quaker Action Team (EQAT), an effort to effect positive action to reduce carbon emissions. A return trip to Botswana underscores the devastating effects of climate change during the intervening twenty-six years and further inspires her commitment to action. When EQAT is invited to send a representative to participate in an act of civil disobedience at the White House, Flanagan agrees to go. So on February 13, 2013, she along with forty-nine others, many high-profile names, handcuff themselves to the White House fence and are arrested in an action to call on President Obama to act on climate change.

In her memoir, Flanagan writes clearly about her experiences, values, and struggles to live accordingly, yet she is neither arrogant nor preachy about her commitment to protect the planet. Nor is she simplistic about the difficulties we confront. She shares her process of discernment and her decisions and trusts the reader to do the same. This is a hopeful book, and one I highly recommend. In the moment in history when climate change is being framed as a moral question, not merely political or economic one, Flanagan offers an example of one woman's search for a way to live out that call in 21st-century American society.

Read an excerpt from this book.

A graduate of both Duke and Yale, Eileen Flanagan writes for a wide range of national publications and speaks at conferences, colleges, and religious gatherings. Her previous book, The Wisdom to Know the Difference: When to Make a Change—and When to Let Go, was endorsed by the Dalai Lama and won the Silver Nautilus Book Award. A leader of Earth Quaker Action Team, she lives in Philadelphia with her husband and two children. Learn more about her work on her website.

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