New Creation: It’s happening everywhere, and we want to tell that story – Part One

Posted September 19th, 2014 in Blog, Featured Comments Off on New Creation: It’s happening everywhere, and we want to tell that story – Part One

For years now we have begun our posts with the tag line:

Fostering Ecological Hope – Reflections on Culture and Meaning

That line expresses what we intended for this project – to talk about our ecological reality within the framework of “meaning,” which we also sometimes refer to as “spirituality” – the beliefs, cosmologies, narratives, and mythologies that anchor us in the world, what forms our values and ways of life, those virtues or priorities that are rooted in what we believe about our purpose or role within creation.

alberta tar sandsWe believe the state of the world reflects those values and beliefs – and that this ought to sober us and invite us into some deep internal work.

Probing this with any honesty inevitably leads us to some pretty profound difficulties: old cosmologies, religiosities, ideologies that brought about many of our most destructive relationships with Nature and that just don’t work anymore because they no longer describe our world or our experiences living in it. At the same time, there are the new spiritualities emerging out of crisis and deep cultural change, those that tell the true story of our times and provide insight and an authentic lens through which to view the world in this moment, which is a very different moment from those that gave birth to the old cosmologies and religions.

And there are also the new scientific discoveries that are teaching us about our true place within the cosmological whole, a stunning reorientation of our place in space and time and our relatively minor role in the evolution of the universe. Shakes up a lot of what we used to believe about the centrality of the human and the gods formed out of that greatly restricted old sense of ourselves.

Eagle Nebula - Hubble photo

Eagle Nebula – Hubble photo

We put that word “hope” in the project’s name because so many people wanted us to, though in reality that word has become more and more of a conundrum for me.

I don’t know what hope really is, and the more people ask me to talk about it, or tell me to be sure I give it to people when I offer presentations or workshops, the less I want to use the word at all. Sometimes it feels like, “don’t worry, friends; yes things are dire and completely falling apart, but everything will be okay.” Which is not true, and I don’t like to dupe people with false hope.

I grew up in a religiosity of Roman Catholicism that tended to place hope in an afterlife –  after a lifetime of woe and sin, and then redemption through the bloody torture and execution of God’s only Son. I’m not too crazy about that version either. In later years, I was shaped by a spirituality that saw hope in political revolution, but that didn’t turn out too well either. I mean, it was a tremendous witness, but if hope was in bringing about a political project of justice and peace, well, you know…

I think hope should be eliminated as a noun altogether, something to possess, a point at which one arrives. The only hope I know is a verb and it means how we live our lives. The only hope in the face of ecological crisis is in whether or not we are responding to it – and being changed by it – at the scale commensurate with the crisis itself, its urgent nature, its profundity.

TRAVELI can’t give anyone hope. Hope is an action taken up by those who believe that action matters, that transformation matters, that change can be real – but only if we actually change. Hope is a verb, a project, a struggle. If people are engaged in the project of making the change necessary to heal the planet, to create societies that respect the dignity of all sentient and non-sentient beings, then hope exists. It’s not a thing for me or anyone to pass on to someone else. We either do hope, or we surrender hope. We witness it with our lives, or not.

Especially in urgent times like these…

But, while “The Great Unraveling” proceeds at an ever quicker pace, something else is also going on – and also at an accelerating pace:

little light blue logo - very tinythe work of New Creation


When we began this project several years ago, an incipient grassroots movement was beginning to burble up from below, a growing awareness of the extent of the ecological crisis now unfolding. But in these years, what was a burbling has become a burgeoning, an emergence, a wave – actually wave after wave – of local communities finding themselves in the crosshairs of the biggest, most destructive, fastest-growing era of oil, gas, and coal drilling and production in the history of humanity. It has come from the faster-than-expected pace of climate chaos and disasters, of realization of the great extinction event underway on the planet, the extent of contamination of everything we need for life, including our very bodies, by chemicals from all sorts of industries, of the growing amount of lethal or disabling disease being caused by this contamination.

It all came on us pretty fast – what many of us saw in the future back in the 70s and 80s when few people wanted to hear about it at all. While many could see it coming and tried to warn us, it was more pleasant to go on about our daily lives as if these things would never come true, until that delay turned out to be a temporary psychological dam that merely held things at bay for a while, but also built up pressure until it collapsed and reality came bursting through the breaches.

14th Street in Manhattan near the ConEd power plant that blew up plunging the lower end of the island into darkness

Hurricane Sandy: 14th Street in Manhattan near the ConEd power plant that blew up plunging the lower end of the island into darkness

And now here we are – a species finally waking up to the danger it brought upon itself – too late to stave off a lot of damage and disaster already done, but still in time to salvage new and creative ways of living that could keep humans on the planet a while longer. But this means – and it is hard! – that we dismantle as quickly as possible the drivers in culture and economies that brought us to this decisive moment, while at the same time making the new creation that can bring about new human communities living in concert with the bioregions where they live. It means doing something never done before – intentionally bring down a civilization that is no longer sustainable – while at the same time building the resilience – inner and outer – that we will need to get through this transition to the next thing – whatever that turns out to be.

It won’t be capitalism, and it won’t be individual consumerism, and it won’t depend on extraction and burning of fossil fuels – if we are to get there at all.

And so what we intend to do this fall is dissolve the SEH project into the re-emergence of a wonderful old organization with a rich history, which name just happens to work incredibly well for the times in which we live – the Center for New Creation.

You notice there is no “a” in there. From the beginning in 1979, the CNC intended to be active, to be a verb, if you will. Creation is not a thing. It is active, ongoing, kind of like hope, if it is to be real. It saw itself as a center that would gather community around the challenges of the times and help empower new creation by virtue of innovative, radical, prophetic change. It’s founding mission statement was to the point:

To educate and foster dialogue about critical social justice issues, encouraging careful social analysis to identify root causes of injustice and violence, and strategic, community-based actions in response. The CNC supports creative and just alternatives to the status quo and emphasizes the importance of solidarity and common effort across national and economic boundaries in the work for a better world.

You can see how this project fit easily under that umbrella. There are a couple of phrases that perhaps can be updated, but the essence remains apt – go to the core of issues, not to the band-aids that can stanch the bleeding here and there, but to what creates the wounds of injustice and violence in the first place and address those in “solidarity and common effort” in the work of societal change.

Here is the original mission statement for the Spirituality and Ecological Hope project:

Humanity faces perhaps its greatest challenge in history. A confluence of trends is about to reshape our world, challenging a way of life that is no longer sustainable. What are these trends?

*        global warming and climate change
*        consuming beyond the capacity of the earth to renew the resources we need for life
*        the looming energy crunch as we approach peak oil
*        war and terror that have opened painful breaches among the human community

Through workshops, presentations, retreats, and our website, we will inform the faith community about the crisis, foster community action, and encourage articulation of a vibrant, lived spirituality of ecological hope.

It was a good fit from the beginning.

In our next post – the one that will follow the big events in NYC Sunday and Monday – we will describe concretely what our intentions are now, how we will refocus our work towards the building, the creation, of new ecological cultures, the broad array of communities that are giving birth to the new ways of life, often from the dire threats that have descended upon their “places” because of the drilling and mining frenzy underway now, or because of severe climate change impFAMILYacts, or because they find themselves politically powerless to address these threats in a political culture taken over by corporate money.

Credit: Maine Insights

Credit: Maine Insights

Like the life that emerges through the cracks in asphalt and cement, these emergences do more than reveal the resilience of life – over time, they actually break down the cement altogether. And that’s what we believe is finally happening.

And that is hope as a verb…

Eventually we want to become a “space” where more and more people can come to find the verb, find inspiration, and draw strength for the “Great Work”* before us by realizing we are decidedly not alone. We are in the company of all those making “new creation” from the bottom up, through the cracks of a civilization on the way to collapse – a collapse that can be the grAnti-Fracking Protesteatest disaster ever encountered by humans, or the moment of our most profound transformation into a world far better than this one.

Photo by the Mom

Photo by the Mom

We need your support in order to do this. We are a very small operation – which means every donation of whatever size has real significance. We hope (there’s that verb again) you will join us in this journey.

~  Margaret Swedish, SEH project founder, CNC Board of Directors


Coming next week: Part Two – What It Means to ‘Tell the Story” and why that matters.

* Refers to Thomas Berry’s book, “The Great Work: Our Way Into the Future,” Bell Tower NY, 1999

“The Great Work before us [is] the task of moving modern industrial civilization from its present devastating influence on the Earth to a more benign mode of presence…”


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