Renewal of life

Posted April 3rd, 2010 in Blog, Featured 1 Comment »

Fostering Ecological Hope
Today from Margaret Swedish:

I wrote a few days ago that I would comment again before the end of the week about Obama’s decision to allow offshore drilling.  But I don’t want to.  It is a holy week for many, Passover, Easter, spring renewals of all sorts.  I think we’re all in a different mood right now.

Hunger on the rise - FAO Media Centre

Liberation, resurrection – the stories that shaped so many of our lives. What has become of these stories? Religion gets played out these days in sex scandals, defense of clerical power, in violence, hatred, terrorism, war, and, forever, injustice – what those with power and wealth are able to do with those who have no power and wealth, or in spite of them, or who cares about them. I mean, politics and wealth really feed these things, but religion is often called upon as justification, and we know what religious zealotry can do once it gets going, or gets fed a steady dose of fuel.

I grew up Christian and Catholic and when I was young fully embraced the reforms of the Second Vatican Council and the very progressive Catholic Social Teaching (many joke that it’s the RC’s best kept secret). The world I worked in was decidedly ecumenical and then interfaith, and then you started wondering about all these stories and frameworks of meaning and how each of them represents some community’s struggle with the purpose and meaning of the human in this world. Each one opened up an insight…

Or closed a door shut, built a wall of orthodoxy, separation, mine-is-truer-than-yours, yours may be worthy of respect, but mine has the really real revealed truth.  Depended on one’s orientation to life, I suppose.

Liberation story – the story of a people’s struggle from oppression. But as I wrote in my book (see the sidebar), even then, when folks got to the Promised Land, another people were there and, well, this liberation story did not go well for them.

Kind of like what happened when this land now called the U.S. was ‘discovered.’ We see this religiosity surfacing again in the campaigns of rightist Christians to proclaim this God’s ‘promised land’ with a mission from god to make it Christian. So, yes, when Puritans and others came across the ocean to the Promised Land, other peoples were here, and this liberation story, this story of freedom and liberty, did not go well for them either.

Resurrection – laying down one’s life so that others may live, like Oscar Romero. This got telescoped into a story of the resurrection of individual bodies from the tomb after death, and became encapsulated in a spirituality of individual salvation, with priests as arbiters of the sacred for our individual lives.  Hey, it plays better than the Beatitudes and Woes (Luke 6:20-26), for example, or the Story of the Rich Young Man (Lk 18:18-23).

Haitian children - Photo: Maryknoll

Haitian children - Photo: Maryknoll

Always there have been movements to try to reclaim original insights, to restore the essential narratives, revealing over and over again how deeply the longing for liberation from slavery and oppression is written into the human spirit, how deeply compassion and selflessness is written into the human spirit, how ‘God’ or YHWH loathes our striving for wealth, our storing up things in barns, our having been oppressed then becoming the oppressor (read Amos lately? – yikes!), how the concentration of wealth and power versus the demands for justice and, yes, horror of horrors, distributive justice is something this God cares about deeply – I’m not making it up; this is in both those sacred stories!! It’s the Jubilee year, a defining narrative of the Hebrew scriptures. The kind of construct we have now, where a few folks have vast wealth while the majority of the world struggles to make ends meet or even to eat – this world is denounced not in subtle terms but over and over again about as clearly as can be, without equivocation.

Glenn Beck is on a campaign against social justice.  What?  It’s like war on terrorism. We have all these battles now against nouns, and the people tainted by them.

Tainted by a commitment to social justice.  Please, yes, I cop a plea: GUILTY!!! Guilty of the vast conspiracy of those who believe that the exigencies of justice in scripture ought to be taken seriously.

But as we move forward on this human journey, many of us find ourselves moving beyond this narrative – not against it, not leaving it all behind. But there is this sense of something wrong at the center – where we place the human in these stories, and where we insist on God’s centering the human in this story, He [sic] the outside actor making all this for us, then giving us the Earth to use as we please, to subdue and dominate (we’re doing a great job of both).

Spiral galaxy - Hubble Space Telescope - NASA

As we learn of the 13.7 billion year evolution of creation (billions yet to go), where we are in that story (somewhere in the middle, the human being barely a breath within it), the story of this planet, where we are in that story (somewhere in the middle, knowing it gave birth to us and later, at some point, will go on without us), we have come to a vastly expanded sense of the narrative of creation. Instead of being its reason for being, we find ourselves to be witnesses to it, awe-stricken witnesses, our minds being blown away by all we are learning about our universe.

We see it still unfolding, and not just for us, we not the center and purpose, but part of the journey, gifted in this process of becoming conscious beings, the universe becoming conscious of itself through us. Now we look around at the human story within the story of this planet, and we cannot believe what we have done to this gift – of life, this organic beauty from which we emerged and which we have savagely exploited for purposes that make no sense in this universe!!

Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Of course, we are dizzy and disoriented, and one first impulse could very well be to cling to old orthodoxies and world views harder than ever before. But more is going on – our ecological catastrophe. At the same time as we become aware of the universe story, we are becoming aware of the limits of the human not only by our smallness within the vast narrative of creation, but by coming to the limits of the Earth’s biocapacity. It cannot carry us like this much longer and we face some very hard decisions about how we are going to proceed.

Really, this business of the iPad is another example of our quick descent. Ingenuity, yes, but if you really think about what it means to keep coming up with the latest gadget, the toxins, the amount of water and fossil fuel energy that it takes to make thousands and then millions of these things and get them to our stores, the toxic waste as we throw the old away; if you think about how the economics of growth require that we keep doing this, and that this is the only way we know how to keep people consuming, and therefore consuming the habitat we need for life, you see what I mean – with all the excitement, a problem – like coming to the Promised Land and finding that one has to do something pretty terrible, suspend conscience and moral values, in order to inhabit it and then spread out – and grow.

Neighbors from last year - Photo: Margaret Swedish

Outside my little flat, the extremely unusual summer warmth of the past few days has caused daffodils to open, tree buds to fatten rapidly, blowing record levels of pollen into the air. The robins sing up the morning sunlight and put it to bed each night. The fox who live in my neighborhood are tending their little ones in their dens and we will soon see them scurrying about in the last light after dusk. Children’s voices rise with such joy from the nearby playground. It’s spring.  Time to cheer up; time to take in all that nature is doing to get the cycle going again after the long hibernations of winter. It is sensuous, beautiful – and threatened.

If liberation is still part of our story, then we must work for liberation from all injustice, including ecological injustice. If social justice is still part of our narrative, then we must renew the Earth so that all people who live on it can have decent, dignified lives on into the future – which will mean fewer of us, radical distributive justice, and ecological restoration.

The story of our freedom must find its place within a radical new humility of the human. We must stop trying to be god on this planet, manipulating it for our narrow ends and gains, and start the letting-go that can allow that restoration, that renewal of life, to unfold.


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One Response

  1. hombredelatierra

    Thanks for writing this article. It’s really great.

    It’s easy to get frustrated, or fed up or cynical. Knowing somebody else feels the same way helps a bit. I just hope YOU don’t get too frustrated, etc. (which is why I am writing this).

    If I had met Catholics who think like you, I would have remained in the Church instead of becoming a (self-proclaimed) “mad dog atheist” for many years..

    The New Ecumenicism – which respects / CELBRATES diversity – must come from a renewal of our “compact” with the earth. This is the only thing which can unite us in common struggle for the earth and its dispossessed. It is the only thing that can counter the centrifugal force of fundamentalist fanaticisms and reveal their hypocritical core: the prostitution of spiritual language, symbolism and narrative to the service of corrupt secular power. As a boy, I recall how a Bircher “elder” (John Birch Society) informed me that Christianity was a “creative myth”, not true but useful as a propaganda tool in the struggle against “socialism”, “humanism” and their “fellow travellers” (liberalism, social democracy, moderation, even democracy itself..).