CENTER FOR NEW CREATION
Project: Spirituality and Ecological Hope
2014 Program Report
Where we’ve been; where we’d like to go
November 30 marked the end of our fiscal year, and December the end of the calendar year. Odd, I know. But it seems a good moment to look back on the year – what we accomplished, the moment at which we have arrived as we close out 2014; and then a look ahead to next year – the work we see unfolding (with your help, and we don’t just mean donations).
Where we’ve been
In the past couple of years, our work has centered around four pulses:
- Speaking, presenting, workshopping the ecological crises in all its complexity for a wide variety of communities. We understand the deep connections between Earth and Spirit and we offer programs that help us together re-find and restore those connections. The crisis of our planet is a crisis of spirit; therefore, the work of “new creation” is a spiritual work (in the broadest sense of that term). We try to clear a path through the “cultural fog” of denialism and false hope so that we can SEE clearly the world as it is, the nature of the challenges before us, and the need to find another way to live – right now.
- Connecting as our means allow with realities on the ground and with different communities living in the midst of the cause-and-effect of the rapid pace of industrial development. For the past two years, we focused especially on the frenzied last stages of the fossil fuel era, from extraction to production, and from refining to transport, including tar sands, fracking, pipelines, exploding trains, and frac sand mining. We find ourselves surrounded and threatened by a monstrous network that has created interconnectivity across North America for these dirtiest of fuels, and the environmental toll is almost beyond comprehension. We believe people need to understand what is going on so that we can collectively, and urgently, begin to make other choices. The future of life on the planet is at stake here.
- Using our blog and Facebook page as means of sharing our concerns, priorities, and sources of inspiration to a wider world, connecting people with helpful resources, and sharing news of where “new creation” is happening in local communities all around the U.S.
- Collaborating in our local area with like-minded groups working to create communities of “new creation.”
2014 – What we accomplished
Despite our limited resources and the ongoing struggle to raise funds for work of this nature, we feel very good about the progress we made in all four of our work areas. Among our accomplishments in 2014:
- More than a dozen presentations before a wide variety of groups, including Catholic religious congregations, seminarians, justice and peace groups, grassroots activists, and student groups, from Amityville NY to Villa Maria PA to La Grange Park IL to Madison WI and sites within the Greater Milwaukee area, including a workshop at Milwaukee’s annual Sustainability Summit.
- Convening a monthly gathering, tenderly called “Centering for New Creation.” So simple. We sit together in quiet meditation for 40 minutes, and then we share from our hearts. Incredible wisdom, insights, and tenderness emerge from this quiet community. It is a reminder that our work is also a deeply contemplative one, and it helps deepen our friendships and solidarity.
- Collaborating each year with the Peace and International Issues Committee of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee to put together a lecture series on the Tuesdays of March that focus on themes related to ecology and social justice. They have been very successful, hard-hitting, and motivational.
- We continued our journey into the darkness of the fossil fuel industry by traveling to the other end of what begins in the Alberta tar sands industrial region, which we visited in 2013 [see: Athabasca River Pilgrimage]. I took a “toxic tour” of the environs around the BP oil refinery in Whiting IN, led by a colleague based in E. Chicago, and continued our intensive learning about the impacts of the oil production and refining process. We also continued our work to educate about the pipeline and oil train networks crisscrossing the Upper Midwest, the impacts of the frac sand mining boom in western counties of Wisconsin, and had our first personal encounter with a rural area sitting on the Utica Shale play in Western PA as the area was beginning to be fracked.
- And we attended some wonderful programs in places like The Well Spirituality Center in La Grange Park IL, the Urban Ecology Center in Milwaukee, and local programs on food justice, the proposed open pit iron ore mining in the North Woods, and so much more.
So we did a lot – with very little, and often out of pocket. Imagine what we could do if we had the resources to grow this little operation.
2015 – What comes next?
If you have been reading some of our recent updates, you know that we harbor this great hope of dissolving the Spirituality and Ecological Hope project into a revived Center for New Creation (CNC), the non-profit that is our fiscal sponsor. We don’t have the means to do that yet, but we hope we can move firmly in that direction in 2015.
What would a CNC look like? The point would not be to create another activist project, but rather a place of gathering, a “hub,” if you will, where multiple expressions or manifestations of the work of “new” creation can gather, interact, have conversation, learn from one another and get support from one another. Part of this idea comes from a longing to get past the fragmentation that marks a lot of the ecological movements, many small groups doing many good things, but in what way do those energies come together to feed on one another toward building a more cohesive new creation work?
What we would hope a CNC could do is develop a visible presence of a new culture with new values appropriate to the urgency of our ecological crisis, not because we have any answers (none of us really do), but in order to take up that mission of making the path by walking it.
Can we build this dream as partners, create a hub that would bring together some of the best inspiration combining spirituality, social and ecological justice, activism, and a fierce critique of cultures of oppression, including racism and segregation and other manifestations of exclusion, which are anti-ecological and therefore destructive of culture and creativity? So many people doing prophetic, cutting edge work. What would happen if some of that energy got into a room together on a regular basis, really challenged our comfort zones, called out the deepest and best within us, past the fear and into the realm of dreaming anew the kind of human beings these times require?
Something to think about, no? We hope you will want to think about it along with us.
As we ponder this dream, we also commit to work in the area of our four primary pulses:
- We will be back in Villa Maria to pursue some deeper collaboration around the theme of spirituality and ecology, in the shadows of the new fracking wells. We have a couple of workshops planned in February and April, and we hope to collaborate in an incipient project of touring college campuses in the Upper Midwest with several others sometime in Spring. We will send in a proposal for another workshop at the Sustainability Summit, and are following up on several other invitations for later in 2015.
- We will continue convening the Centering group, hoping to grow the community and establish our circle as a safe space in which to re-root ourselves and share from the heart.
- We are working right now on finalizing the plan for the Tuesdays in March lecture series. This year the committee is focusing on the theme, Confronting the Realities of Segregation. The reason for this is obvious. We have reached a watershed moment in this country when it comes to racism and segregation. No progress can be made on any of the urgent issues of our times if we remain this divided as a nation. We must heal these deep wounds if we are to find our way out of political and social impasse. We hope to elevate the intensity of this awareness through this series.
- We will continue fostering collaboration and solidarity with grassroots groups, those “places” where the real work of change is going on – from the bottom up, in communities where people are defending their land, air, and water, or are learning how to live differently, or are coming back home to Mother Earth to re-anchor the life of the spirit. These are significant signs of what Joanna Macy and others call “the Great Turning,” and they need support, visibility, solidarity, and community. We are all in this together now.
Building a New Creation Community
Well, none of this is much fun if any of us are trying to do it alone. One of the reasons I like the name of the non-profit so much is because it speaks to exactly what is needed right now – communities creating culture and ways of life anew, in the context of an old way of life that is collapsing around us, destroying Nature, making our future appear grim and sad. That’s what so many people share with us these days – the fear that this is our future, the future for our children and their children.
We don’t want to accept that quite yet. In the midst of the grim reality, some amazing new work is going on, and many young people are engaging deeply, prepared to surrender the version of the American Dream that is fed by hyper-consumerism, material ambitions, and fear. More and more, people are turning from the emptiness of individualism to a rediscovery of the meaning of community, not only with other humans, but with communities of sentient and non-sentient beings within which we are embedded. We know now that our human fate is bound to the fate of the living systems of the planet. That is not just a fact, it is a discovery with deep ethical and spiritual dimensions.
We want to take our part in building that community. This will take more funding. Right now we are dependent on donations and small sharing grants from religious communities, and on stipends and contributions from our programs. We need to broaden that base so that we can do the following things:
- Find the physical space for the hub to become real, the place of gathering, located in the Greater Milwaukee area (we hope);
- Build a new website as a virtual hub so we can share stories beyond our geographical area, a space for local communities to share their praxis and wisdom;
- Develop new program work and outreach, especially around the theme I like to call, the ecology of racism;
- Spend more time in communities impacted by the fossil fuel industry so we can learn, offer solidarity, and share their stories.
Needless to say, we hope you will want to join us on this journey. These dreams can only be realized in community. Otherwise, what’s the point?
So, friends, in closing, at this time of year when so much of our spiritual reflection is on the meaning of darkness and light, may we rest in the realization that it takes both to create our world, it takes darkness in order for us to see the light. And may that be a powerful metaphor for embracing these times with courage and heart.