A Nun on the Bus – Book Review

A Nun on the Bus Book CoverA Nun on the Bus: How All of Us Can Create Hope, Change, and Community by Sister Simone Campbell is a book for “We the People,” meaning everyone.

After watching twelve hours of video from the 2015 Bioneers conference, a talk by Sister Simone Campbell stayed with me.

I had expected her stories to be heartbreaking and they were. I thought she would probably have a compelling message about building community to solve problems and she did. What I did not expect was that she would be funny and she was.

I wished I could have been at the conference in person so I could have met Sister Simone and talked with her. Since that did not happen, I was excited to discover that she had written A Nun on the Bus and I selected it as my book to read in honor of Women’s History Month this year.

Book Review

A Nun on the Bus is an interesting and sometimes surprising book to read.

Readers will follow Sister Simone as she recounts her life story from her Catholic upbringing in Long Beach, CA to becoming a social justice lobbyist in Washington, D.C. She tells her narrative through the lens of her faith. Along the twists and turns of the journey, readers will gain insight into several major U.S. political issues.

National Health-Care Reform

Find out how Sister Simone and other Catholic sisters influenced the national dialogue around health care reform and contributed to the U.S. Congress passing the Affordable Care Act.

The Federal Budget

Learn about how cuts to social programs in the proposed 2012 federal budget led to the “Nuns on the Bus” tour, which garnered national media attention putting the spotlight on the plight of the working poor and the people who help them.

Immigration Reform

Read about how Sister Simone and other nuns set off on the bus again, this time to bring attention to the difficulties faced by undocumented immigrants (especially children) and to share ideas for comprehensive immigration reform.

Civil Obligations

In the final pages of the book, Sister Simone calls us to action.

“Civil obligations call each of us to participate out of concern and commitment for the whole. Civil obligations call us to vote, to inform ourselves about the issues of the day, to engage in serious conversations about our nation’s future and learn to listen to various perspectives. To live our civil obligations means that everyone needs to be involved and that there needs to be room for everyone to exercise this involvement. This is the other side of civil rights. We all need our civil rights so that we can all exercise our civil obligations.”

The Bottom Line

Sister Simone Campbell is a Catholic nun, a member of the Sisters of Social Service community, a lawyer, an activist, and the executive director of NETWORK, a nonprofit Catholic social justice lobby in Washington, D.C.

She has spent her life in the service of others and has been an outspoken advocate for economically disadvantaged people across the country.

I enjoyed reading A Nun on the Bus. It is a wonderful true-life story filled with joy and pain and humor. While reading the book, I occasionally ran across references or words that I did not understand. For instance, I did not know anything about Vatican II until I googled it and I had to look up the word encyclical in my Webster’s dictionary.

Throughout A Nun on the Bus, Sister Simone emphasizes the importance of including everyone in the conversation and building community for the 100%, not just the 99%. She is about inclusion and working on problems together.

“No one is left behind. That sums it up for me.” —Sister Simone Campbell

This is a good philosophy for confronting social justice issues as well as global warming. After all, we are all living on the same planet.

I recommend A Nun on the Bus because it is a good story and we could probably learn a thing or two from Sister Simone about political action strategy.

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Tools for Grassroots Activists – Book Review

Tools for Grassroots Activists Book CoverActivists are businesspeople. Or they should be. That thought kept recurring while I was reading Patagonia’s Tools for Grassroots Activists: Best Practices for Success in the Environmental Movement.

Perhaps if a greater number of people understood the business side of activism, we could accomplish more towards ensuring Earth remains habitable for us and other living creatures.

Published by outdoor clothing and gear company, Patagonia and edited by Nora Gallagher and Lisa Myers, Tools for Grassroots Activists brings the best of Patagonia’s Tools Conference activist training program to the public.

I have read other Patagonia books like Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman and The Responsible Company so I was expecting a thoughtful well-written and interesting book. It delivered.

The Business of Activism

In the introduction to Tools for Grassroots Activists, Patagonia founder, Yvon Chouinard tells the story of how the first Tools Conference came about in 1994. It was a way of bringing activists together with experts in fields such as campaign strategy, marketing, fundraising, lobbying, and working with business.

“While I am often embarrassed to admit to being a businessman—I’ve been known to call them sleazeballs—I realize that many activists could learn some of the skills businesspeople possess.”

—Yvon Chouinard

The book intertwines short essays written by keynote speakers from past Tools Conferences with case studies demonstrating activists putting the tools to use and achieving their goals. My copy has many colored Post-it™ flags marking ideas and passages I feel are particularly important to my environmental not-for-profit work and me. Here are a few things I found interesting:


Kristen Grimm begins her piece with a hilarious tale about what can happen when you lose sight of what you are trying to achieve. She acknowledges that good communication is difficult and gives readers some concrete suggestions.

While reading Grimm’s essay, I found myself thinking of times when the organization I belong to has jumped ahead to identify tasks before clearly defining the goal. I think I will start taking the book with me to meetings to remind me and the rest of the group to stay focused on strategy first and then tactics.

Changing the Climate of Public Opinion

Lois Gibbs shares the story of how a small group of people living on top of a toxic waste dump changed the climate of public opinion resulting in the United States government relocating hundreds of families. You may know the neighborhood is Love Canal in Niagara Falls, New York.

This story resonates with me because it demonstrates how everyday people can not only change public opinion but also overcome governmental inertia and compel agencies to act.

Working with Business

John Sterling points out that many of us work in the businesses that sell the goods and services we all rely on in our daily lives, and that businesses need to make money to stay in business. He offers practical advice on how environmental activists can effectively engage businesses.

As a project manager, I understand the importance of getting all stakeholders to the table and working together ensuring the project stays on track and within budget. It seems to me that businesses are essential stakeholders in the environmental movement, but sometimes (maybe often) activists view them as enemies and treat them as such. I realize it is difficult to view a company that is dumping toxic effluent into a stream as a partner, but they are a stakeholder in the environment, too; it behooves us to engage them.

The Bottom Line

Patagonia is a global enterprise selling outdoor clothing, equipment, books, and food provisions. Patagonia’s mission statement is, “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” Putting on the biennial Tools Conference and sharing knowledge in Tools for Grassroots Activists is part of how Patagonia is fulfilling its mission.

While the essays and case studies in Tools for Grassroots Activists have an environmental theme, the ideas, advice, and tools are applicable to any type of activism from advocating for an after-school art program to saving a historical building from the wrecking ball. Businesses could learn a thing or two about topics ranging from strategic planning to employee retention.

You may be thinking to yourself, “I’m not an activist so why would I want to read this book?” Interestingly, many of the stories are by people who were not activists either. If you care about something—a person, a place, a cause—then read this book. Somewhere in its 254 pages, you will likely find an idea, a tool, or a story that inspires you.

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Love God, Heal Earth – Book Review

Love God Heal Earth Book CoverWhether you are a person of faith or not, Rev. Sally Bingham’s book Love God, Heal Earth is both interesting and thought-provoking.

I first learned of Sally Bingham through the Interfaith Light & Power Campaign, a faith-based initiative addressing global warming that she co-founded. I have been curious to learn more about her so selected Love God, Heal Earth as my second book to read this March in honor of Women’s History Month.

Book Review

Love God, Heal Earth: 21 Leading Religious Voices Speak Out on Our Sacred Duty to Protect the Environment is the full title of the book that contains essays written by religious leaders from a variety of faiths with an introduction and afterword by Rev. Sally Bingham.

A line from the introduction describes what the book is about.

“It is a snapshot of a moment in human history – Earth history – when the future hung in the balance and communities of faith came together out of love for Creation.”

Readers will find essays by Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhist religious leaders who incorporate environmental stewardship into their respective ministries and daily lives. A few examples are included below.

  • Rev. Fred Small participates in political activism and endeavors to engage people of faith in caring for Creation by framing supposed environmental issues as issues of justice and compassion.
  • Rev. Pat Watkins seeks to connect faith and the environment through Biblical scriptures.
  • Rev. Dr. Clare Butterfield leads the Faith in Place organization, which helps congregations make earth stewardship part of their religious life.
  • Laurel Kearns directs the Green Seminary Initiative that equips religious leaders with tools to help them lead their congregations to a more sustainable and just society that values a healthy planet.
  • Mary Evelyn Tucker studies and teaches in a university setting bringing together the fields of religion and ecology.

The following excerpt from the afterword succinctly wraps up the mission of everyone on Earth.

“Who are we, as human beings, if not caretakers of creation? Stewardship of the planet and our care for each other is our greatest moral duty.”

The Bottom Line

Rev. Canon Sally Bingham is an Episcopal priest and serves on the board of several environmental organizations and the Diocese of California Commission for the Environment. She is the founder and executive director of The Regeneration Project, whose mission is to deepen the connection between faith and ecology. Its main project is the Interfaith Power & Light Campaign, which helps congregations address global warming through energy conservation, energy efficiency, and renewable energy.

Although I did not learn as much about Sally Bingham as I would have liked, I was fascinated by the essays in Love God, Heal Earth. The authors approach the intersection between faith and ecology through the lenses of their own diverse backgrounds and religious beliefs, yet they are all on the same journey encouraging faith-based communities to care for Creation.

Love God, Heal Earth is about hope. Everyone should read it.

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