Service, Sustainability and . . . Bags

I talk often about service. What happens when we realize there is no God and that others aren’t here for us to compete with but to share with? Not to take from but to give to? What happens we no longer perceive our selves as separate from the collective?

The community sewing room where bag-making workshops are held. That’s me folding the bags on a wooden frame – the next step is to grommet them.

Well, love, broadly speaking. And service – in the many forms it assumes – is another way of saying (a perhaps more helpful way at times because it’s less dramatic) “I love you.”

Service – like love – is responsive to present circumstances. Somebody who is well-fed but lacks transportation is not helped by a free meal, just as somebody who is hungry and has no money to buy food is not helped by a road trip.

(Yes, there are more complex systemic problems underlying hunger and poverty, but that doesn’t mean we should avoid responding to the particular instances we encounter. Indeed, it is often in relationship to those particular circumstances that more long-term and sustainable solutions are revealed)

We are consumers, inevitably. This is a feature of being human, not a bug. We are what we consume. Consumption becomes us. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be more thoughtful or creative or cautious or restrained in terms of what and how and when we consume.

One way to rethink our habits of consumption is to give attention to the possibilities of reuse and repurpose. What is left over? Is anything ever truly “useless?” Is there another end to which X can be put? Manufacturers tend to envision a narrowly tailored use for products and market them accordingly. When we’re done with that use, can we find another?

We use a lot of feed bags on our homestead – mostly for chickens but sometimes for horses. Folks around us do as well. Pigs, cows, sheep, goats, rabbits . . . animals gotta eat. The bags the feed comes are generally sturdy fifty pound bags. When they’re empty, they’ve accomplished the purpose the manufacturer foresaw.

But we are just getting started.

Some folks use these empty bags as leaf-filled foundation seams in winter. Others use them as a way of not buying plastic trash bags. Just load them with trash and take them to the dump / transfer station/ or whatever it’s called in your town. These are viable and effective applications of the reuse principal.

But there is another way, one that keeps those bags bagging for a long time to come. We turn the fee bags into shopping bags with handles for humans to use when go food shopping at the coop. Or are lugging books to and from the library. Or supplies to school. Or to a friend’s house for a party. Et cetera.

Bag-making workshops have been a staple of our community for a long time. I was actually a reporter for the local daily and covered some of the early meetings. Folks get together in the basement of the community center where there’s a communal sewing space, set up a de facto production line, and over the course of a few hours reconfigure feed bags to a more general and long-term use.

It’s fun and practical. What else can we ask for in life?

We remove the thin plastic liners, shake out remnants of grain (a big plus for the long songbird population), turn the bags inside out, fold them into rough squares, grommet the bottoms, add handles (reconfigured garden hose or something similar) and voila! Sturdy and cool-looking bags.

During the last workshop, we made two hundred bags in a little over two hours. I worked the grommet machine (somewhat ineptly).

Two hundred bags repurposed from old feed bags. Even though I was helping – where “helping” means needing a lot of help from more experienced bagmakers – we made all these in just over two hours.

The bags are donated to local entities – shelters, coops, libraries, second-hand clothing stores, and so forth. Some are given to friends. Last week in the cashier line I gave one to the woman ahead of me who’d forgotten her own bags.

In time, small steps equal a journey. And walking together – be it gardening, protesting, making bags – is a happy and fructive way to walk.


If you are interested in learning how to make bags from feed bags, starting workshops in your own community, or otherwise learning about bag-making, Bagshare is a good starting place.


  1. You say there’s no God. If this is true, then what is even the point of studying and practicing ACIM? Did you stop believing in the theology of ACIM?

    1. I think the theology of A Course in Miracles is clumsy but basically consistent with early century Christian thinking when it was most fruitfully seeded with Plato’s ideas. Christianity feels deepest then, both intellectually and in praxis. Helen, Bill and Ken were psychologists, not philosophers or theologians, and it shows. It is in the domain of psychology that ACIM is most consistent and effective. Its philosophy and theology are sincere and not unhelpful but folks shouldn’t be afraid to seek out more expert and insightful teachers.

      There is no God in the world in which the ego thinks there’s anything virtuous about recycling certain farm materials in the form of bags. That world and all its contents (including A Course in Miracles and Christianity) is a dream of distinctions and differences which do not actually exist apart from the mind that dreams them. Since God exists in that dream as a distinction, God, too, is an illusion.

      Of course the dream has an end. But to those of us within it, so deeply invested in misconceptions of will and identity, its end is our end. What lies beyond the dream necessarily lies beyond our power of imagination. We literally cannot imagine the end of self-identity and self-awareness because our imagining is literally a site of awareness and identity!

      So, in general, I hold with 8th century Celtic monk Eriugena: “Man, like God, can know with absolute certainty that he is, but cannot circumscribe his nature so as to be able to say what he is.”

      In other words (again from Eriugena), “the absolute transcendence of God excludes any possibility of identifying Him with any human concept . . . for no human word or thought is capable of comprehending what God is.”

      I think that’s pretty consistent with ACIM.

      What is the point of studying ACIM? There really isn’t one, at least not one that has any absolute value. Dreaming is dreaming, whether you’re raising organic tomatoes, studying Zoroastrianism or practicing astrology. I mean, if ACIM is helpful or interesting, then great, but don’t confuse it with The Answer. It’s still just dream stuff. It, too, is going to disappear.

      I think all of this is summed up neatly in Lesson 189:

      Empty your mind of everything it thinks is either true or false, or good or bad, of every thought it judges worthy, and all the ideas of which it is ashamed. Hold onto nothing. Do not bring with you one thought the past has taught, nor one belief you ever learned before from anything. Forget this world, forget this course, and come with wholly empty hands unto your God (W-pI.189.7:2-5).

      Thanks for a good question!


      1. Interesting answer.

        There is no “God” because “God” is a made up concept that couldn’t exist outside the state of dreams. God is just a false image in our heads born from our inability to conceive of anything beyond our ego-bound state. The word “God”, however, can serve as a pointer for a true reality that exists “outside” of the dream of human life, but this greater reality is not what we think it is, because our framework of thinking is illusory and can only conceive of more illusions.

        We are blind, lost, and therefore totally powerless. We can’t choose when to wake, or when to sleep. Our work is few compared to the Holy Spirit’s, so let Him do all the work…

        … But sometimes we can get a little tired of waiting for that magic wand of Truth to wake us up.

        Well, anyways, I have a question: In your opinion, is complete liberation even possible if the physical body still appears to be there? Do you think we have to wait for the body to “die” for us to be awakened to reality, or can we awaken at any moment?

        And if it is possible to awaken while one is still in the world, then why is it so rare to find people in this state? I see a lot of gurus out there nowadays, but none of them seem to be awakened in the sense the course talks about. In some cases their teachings can be very helpful to people, but they still appear to be limited human beings like you and me, and not teachers of teachers, or great masters, that can cure the sick and come back from the dead.

        At this point, seeing as no one can do what the Course, or even Buddhism or Hinduism promises, it can be wise to doubt the validity of teachings about “supremely enlightened and unlimited beings”. Jesus raising the dead, Buddha perfoming miracles, Krishna flying or whatever… it all seems like fairy tale material when seen from the perspective of normal people living in modern society.

        Have a nice day.

        1. “A true reality that exists outside of the dream” is also part of the dream 🙂

          And, in a dream, raising the dead is no different – neither harder nor easier, neither better nor worse – than baking a pie.

          Master teachers, false prophets, well-intentioned minor gurus and limited human beings are all the same thing.

          There is no “perspective of normal people living in modern society” any more than there’s a “perspective of enlightened people living in caves in India.” They’re the same perspective.

          I’m not suggesting one can’t study ACIM or make enlightenment the goal of their Zen practice or gulp ayahuasca in Costa Rica on vacation. Have at it.

          I’m saying that those things – and whatever things appear to flow from them – are just more of the dream / illusion / nothingness / etc.

          Feeling one with the cosmos is wonderful! Knowing in a deep way one’s kinship with all life is profoundly comforting. Understanding the metaphysical origins of the self calms and settles.

          But it’s all just more of the same old dream. And not in any way different than feeling alienated, confused and alone.

          It’s like “neti neti” until your tongue falls out. You have to neti neti “neti neti” and keep going.

          I have always appreciated this ACIM passage:

          The roads this world can offer seem to be quite large in number, but the time must come when everyone begins to see how like they are to one another. People have died on seeing this, because they saw no way except the pathways offered by the world. And learning they led nowhere, lost their hope (T-31.IV.3:3-5).

          Are you happy? Hopeless?

          1. Well, I feel more enlightened after reading your reply. Your perspective is definetely not sugar coated. Wise words.

            Quote: “A true reality that exists outside of the dream” is also part of the dream

            My answer: You say this because the statement I made implies duality, or is it because there is literally nothing “out there”(forget about “out there” implying there is something “inside” for a moment)?

            Quote: It’s like “neti neti” until your tongue falls out. You have to neti neti “neti neti” and keep going.

            My answer: “Neti Neti” everything. Ok, why not, but… What happens when we reach the end of this pratice? Do we get anything positive? Nothing at all? Or do we realize the practice is not leading anywhere and just give up, seeing as everything is only endless illusions packed over more illusions?

            Is spiritual practice just about preparing us to accept and be content with defeat, considering we can never become free of the dream?

            Quote: Are you happy? Hopeless?

            My answer: This is probably a rhetorical question, but I will answer it anyways. I have to admit I am hopeless. If there is such thing as awakening, then I’m sure I am not prepared for it. I said before that it is tiring to wait for the magic wand of Truth to wake me up, but in reality the problem is with me. It is me delaying the process.

            My mind is wild, I am immature, I have addictions… After I lie down to sleep I am plagued by nightmares. After I get up physical fatigue follows me. Am I undeserving of heaven because of these things? I don’t think so, but, I don’t think I am ready to experience, or even comprehend, what heaven is, in my current state.

            Sorry for bothering you with there questions, and have a nice day.

          2. I say the “true reality outside the dream” is also part of the dream because – at least from my perspective – it just is. Here in the dream is where it appears – as a concept, mainly, but from time to time as an experience too. It is here, in the dream.

            I’m saying that we can’t say what’s “out there” because “out there” is also the dream. Here it is – in your email to you and mine in reply. Dream. All dream. Nothing else. Not now and not ever.

            This is basically a westernized form of “neti, neti.” If you can see it, sense it, name it, conceive it, feel it, imagine it, speak of it then . . . it’s dream, illusion, nothing.

            So yes – neti neti until . . . well, until what? I think that’s a good question to ask. Does that practice end? Wouldn’t its end also be subject to neti neti?

            Is it all a trap? A vicious circle?

            This is where hopelessness appears. I validate unconditionally your intuition. This is the lonesome valley, the dark night, the desert and the devil. This is the crucifixion.

            And I say to you that if it’s hopelessness that you see gathering on the horizon before you then go meet it. Give up and meet it. Better to know there’s no God, no hope, no love, no way out than to keep lying to yourself. If hopelessness is the end, then why wait?

            But hopelessness is not the end.

            This form of hopelessness you perceive has another side. I give you my word. The lonesome valley ends, the dark night dissolves with dawn, there are oases in the desert, the devil is incompetent and the crucifixion is not separate from resurrection.

            A Course in Miracles is a specific kind of approach to this issue – this longing for enlightenment, inner peace, the ultimate answer, Heaven, Oneness, Unity with God. It is an invitation to give attention to the dream – its contents (the wild mind, the nightmares, the addictions, etc) – in a very deliberate and shared way that allows us to transition within the dream from suffering to happiness.

            Happiness is the end of hopelessness. It is in happiness – actual happiness here in the dream, especially when we realize that its nature is abstract and shared, that it is less a feeling and more a form of communication with our brothers and sisters – that we begin at last to see a way out of the dream.

            Therefore, you are not bothering me but offering me joy and peace, which I gratefully accept and, in my half-assed wordy way, offer back to you.


          3. Thanks for answering Sean, enlightening reply again. I feel clarified, so I have no more questions for now. Have a nice day.

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