Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Here Comes Santa Claus - Guest Post

by Libby Comeaux

We survived Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the Christmas-shopper prompts blistering our screens since Halloween.  Prepare for a commercial version of skin cancer – superficial in appearance but portending serious intervention.

I remember my little-girl shock when my mother pulled me aside to break the news that there really is no Santa Claus. No guy like the one in the Coke commercial who came down the chimney while we slept, left presents for us and ate the cookies we set out for him. No Santa?

File:Jolly-old-saint-nick.gifWhat shocked me was that I never guessed it was okay for anyone to tell the truth about Santa Claus. Astutely childlike, I knew all along he was not real. I had internalized a cultural norm that we had to keep our mouths shut and go along with the snow job that was Santa Claus. And all this in a pious, God-fearing family.

There was a method in Mom’s revelation. Ours was a large and growing family. A childless couple down the street had made their garage available as our “Santa's Workshop.” Over the next five weeks, I got to sneak out after homework, skip my chores, and discretely “help Santa.”

I accepted the new responsibility with dignified reserve. Mr. Gorman patiently coached me in the art of repainting child-sized kitchen appliances for the girls and bicycles for the boys. I believe that was my first successful negotiation: a recycled bicycle for me too. And, not to brag, but I excelled in getting black paint inside the lines on top of a pink wooden stove to represent electric coils.

The meaning of Christmas - at Gurgaon mall in India!
This week as we recover from our Thanksgiving excesses by taking to the health club, I’m grateful for the non-federal actors who represented us at COP23 earlier this month. Volunteering in the absence of any official U.S. delegation committed to the Paris Climate Accord, they didn’t act deaf and dumb at press conferences when uncomfortable questions were raised. Recently there has been a lot of talk along the lines of, “If you see something, say something.” They were willing to say what they saw. Representing states, cities, businesses and other institutions taking responsibility for America’s Pledge, if they were a country, they would be the third largest economy in the world. 

Me too. I see something. For almost five days in late August, Hurricane Harvey crept over the Texas Gulf Coast hurling wind and water against the people, landmarks, and landscapes of my childhood. Harvey dumped 51.88 inches of rain on my parents’ grave. So damaged was the chemical plant down the road that it belched lethal poisons into the air for days. A concrete-and-asphalt metropolis that whines 24/7 as the largest hub of fossilized carbon processing capacity in the Western Hemisphere cannot absorb that deluge. Only a rain forest or primeval prairie would have a prayer. More hurricanes followed Harvey, catapulting an internal migration of American citizens from Puerto Rico to Orlando and other mainland cities, overwhelming social service agencies.

Houston meets Harvey - Katie Hayes Luke for NPR
The World Bank reported this year that food not grown because of worldwide droughts could have fed 80 million people, roughly the population of Germany – and that long-term drought is four times costlier for cities than floods are. Heat and drought led to wildfires consuming eight million acres in the US as of September 14 – notably in Oregon, Washington, and Montana – and then we had the catastrophic California fires. Katherine Hayhoe calls these extremes “climate weirdness.”

We in the U.S. are just starting to experience the undeniable effect of the climate chaos that industrial humanity has been causing – undeniable, thanks to scientists like Hayhoe and Kevin Trenberth going public. But other parts of the planet have a head start on our level of public awareness. Without enjoying the benefits of a fossilized-carbon economy, they have suffered its consequences.

Severe rainfall and flooding has plagued South Asia for decades, this year affecting 41 million people, killing 1200. And in Sierra Leone, 500 people died from a mudslide that displaced 20,000. Fully a third of Bangladesh was under water, affecting 8.5 million people and claiming the lives of 142. Flooding and landslides in Nepal killed over 140, and the Pakistani city of Karachi received five times its normal September rainfall in one day, killing at least 27 people. Up to thirty percent of extreme rainfall comes from human-caused climate change, as documented by The Atlantic on August 27.

Drought crippled Spain and Portugal, not to mention large swaths of Africa including Morocco, Kenya, Cape Town, and the entire Horn. A National Geographic article associated oil and gas development in Iraq with the demise of agriculture and the beginning of drought as early as 2010. In the years that followed, we have observed how easily devastated communities fall prey to terrorist organizers who promise the basic necessities of life.  

And when the rest of the world suffers, they rightly look to long-industrialized countries’ excessive emissions of greenhouse gasses. They observe how they suffer – and (relatively speaking) we don’t – from our lifestyle choices of the past 50-100 years. Not surprisingly over the past several years, U.S. officials responsible for our national security, up to and including Secretary of Defense James Mattis, have underscored the immediate risks to U.S. national security posed by climate change. How shall the U.S. government respond? By building more border walls and expanding the definition of the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses yearning to breathe free that we toss back, homeless, into the tempest? 

Here comes Santa Claus, can all his secret helpers please open their mouths? We can no longer pretend to our children. We must prepare them for new realities, unpredictable except for this extraordinary moral and civic challenge. Our children need clear information and explicit training, so they can face the greatest test humanity has ever faced – surviving our unfortunate legacy to them of climate chaos.

So hang your stockings and say your prayers, ‘cause Santa Claus comes tonight. 

Download – for free – your very own copy of America’s Pledge at www.americaspledgeonclimate.com

Libby Comeaux is a co-member of the Loretto Community with a legal background, whose retirement interests include revitalizing democracy for better-quality public decisions and ecological integrity.    

Friday, October 20, 2017

Ingredients necessary for the renewal of life

Resilience (because the road won't be easy)
Sharing (to replace lives steeped in a culture rooted in individualism)
Compassion (which also includes patience with one another as we learn)
Creativity (bringing out the best from each of us)
A Sense of Humor (you know why)

Most every example of a story involving new creation, meaning new ways of being, involve these five elements. Of course there are others, but these seem essential.

My garden plot in August
I think of Alice's Garden, the urban farm where I rent a garden plot, the farm I wrote about here a few months ago [Making New Creation On An Urban Farm]. The hundred or so people engaged in growing food there have a common responsibility to care for this space, which grows spirit and community, as well as food. We don't all know one another, and the levels of engagement certainly differ. We are African-American and Hmong and Hispanic and Chinese and White, and probably more. And we are a presence in a neighborhood that sees more than it's share of the impacts of poverty, segregation, racism, and trauma.

Venice Williams, the garden's executive director for more than two decades now, has a line of herbal products sold at outdoor markets from spring to fall. This is one of the ways she supports the farm. Some herbs end up in restaurants committed to locally grown foods. Most of us raise food for ourselves, our families, to share with friends and with the communities in which we participate. A few gardeners raise food for their restaurants, for local food banks, or to sell in summer markets.

Important garden guest
No plastic bottles or chemical inputs are allowed inside the garden. We are organic only and, after 27 years of this, the soil is dark and rich, full of worms and healthy microbes. Most gardeners plant flowers to attract the pollinators and, even this late into the season, the colors spread through the 2 acres are like eye candy every time I go there.

We are growing more than food.

Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania a group of sisters, Adorers of the Blood of Christ, a congregation I knew from my 24 years in Washington DC with the Religious Task Force on Central America, learned that their property in Lancaster County was about to be violated by a natural gas pipeline, called Atlantic Sunrise (a wee bit blasphemous, if you ask me). It's a project of Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line (Transco) and has been the focus of considerable local opposition. The plan is to build 183 miles of new pipeline from north to south across the state to connect with a network of other pipelines to transport gas to their customers.

Pic: Jamie Beth Schindler, Andrea Ferich; Sam Schindler shown
The sisters have articulated a powerful Land Ethic that is part of their congregational commitment to peace, justice, and the integrity of creation. In response to this threat, they chose not just action, but also witness - witness on behalf of the Earth and out of fidelity to their relationship with the land. With the help of the local coalition, Lancaster Against Pipelines, they built a chapel in a cornfield right in the path of the proposed pipeline. When the simple construction was completed, more than 300 people came out to their field for the dedication. In the days since, many have come to sit on the benches to pray and meditate. The sisters offer vespers on some evenings, and pictured here is a prayer service for Rosh Hashanah.

But the company had its friends in the state government and the nuns were soon threatened with an eminent domain order - a taking of their property. Faced with this challenge, they sued under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, arguing that placing the pipeline would be a violation of their belief in the sacredness of Creation. A Sept 30 statement on their website reads:
At issue in this case is the Adorers’ deeply held religious belief that the Earth is God’s creation. The Sisters believe that God calls humans to treasure land as a gift of beauty and sustenance that should not be used in an excessive or harmful way.
As a matter of deeply held religious convictions and beliefs, the Adorers cannot use their land, or allow others to use their land, to participate in or facilitate activities that would harm the Earth and its life. The Earth and its inhabitants, particularly the poor, are under serious threat due to climate change caused by the trapping of greenhouse gases from the use of fossil fuels.
They lost in their first test before U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, but have decided to appeal the ruling.

While they may ultimately lose in court, they are "winning" in terms of local community-building, in raising awareness about the sacredness of the land, in challenging the overwhelming power of the fossil fuel corporate culture, in what it means to be faithful to the living communities of sentient and non-sentient beings among whom we live.

I urge you to their website to read more about this impressive witness.

Meanwhile, in the northwest corner of Indiana, one of the most toxic areas in the country sits right on the shores of Lake Michigan. Sources of industrial contamination include the massive BP refinery in Whiting, being expanded for the increase in tar sands bitumen coming across the region via pipelines from Alberta, old steel and chemical factories, and lead and copper smelting companies. Communities of former workers who have seen their economic lives devastated by years of declining wages, disappearing jobs, and health issues that have resulted from all those toxins have banded together with community organizers to fight for some pretty basic rights, like living free of the poisons in the soil, water, and air.
Million-gallon oil spill near E. Chicago, leaking for years.

People get organized. Meetings and pot lucks are held (sharing food being essential to any effective community organizing). Speakers come. Advocacy campaigns, some quite vocal and fierce, are organized. Protests are planned and culture workers get busy creating banners and signs, writing poetry and making music. People begin to feel empowered. They begin to see clearly that the poverty and neglect that impact their lives are created from injustice and racism. Once that is seen, soon the reality of what needs to be changed comes into focus. Nothing like clarity of sight to ignite grassroots activism - and community.
For more info on the E. Chicago area:
It's about the interconnections between corporations and people, among humans and the natural environments in which they live, among corporations and public officials, too often wrapped in secretive veils of collusion and corruption. We begin to see how distorted and broken these connections are, and for whose benefit. This is the beginning of empowerment, because the road to real social change becomes clear.
It is at the place of those interconnections that the healing work needs to be done, where people begin to see what must be opposed, what connections must be broken, the ones that are doing so much harm to their families, to the places where they live. It's also where they can come to see the places where the repair work needs to begin, what connections need to be restored. It is how a new way of life can begin to be envisioned, not in a distant future, but in the very way the new work of community building is being carried out.
How can an economy be created to serve the health and well-being of our living communities? What does it look like? What needs to be changed (overthrown, done away with) in order for that new economy to come into being? How can government be put at the service of this work, instead of in league with those who have profited off the destruction of those living communities?

People come together. From the bottom up. People begin to get a grasp of our predicament and start getting organized, because the organized power of people is the real ignitor of social change. And to get beyond issue groups and movements that come and go, when community gets built around these things, we change more than the issues that might have first brought us together. We change ourselves. We change the local cultures. Something new begins to be born.

We learn how to live together. Anathema to a consumer culture built on destructive values of individualism and aggressive competition.

It's easy to see from just these few examples the importance of those five elements that we consider essential for real social change, for the necessary upending of an economic system that is shredding ecosystems all around the planet and ripping apart the threads of community that bind us together. We need those threads in order to survive. We need them if we are to live through the collapses coming so that, however those collapses occur, new ways of life will already exist, showing that, indeed, another world is possible. Look! We are already creating it!

In this world, now digitally linked together via the internet and so many global communications networks that make story-sharing, culture work (art, poetry, music, dance, and more) and inspirational examples of bottom-up organizing so available to us, we have possibilities for sharing models for social change as never before. These stories, and our intermingling with them, can ignite the creativity within each of us that this mono-culture of consumer capitalism has done everything in its power to destroy. We can look around the very places where we live with new vision, new energy, to see how we can work together within our own local communities and bioregions to do some serious healing of the damage that has been done to them, including to us. At that point, it becomes a whole lot easier to see what must be changed in order for that healing to come about.

We see what has done the harm. We see what holds the harm in place. We resolve together, in community, to undo and reverse that harm. We decide to take action. We decide to bear witness. We decide to live radically differently, to let go as much as possible our dependence on the systems that brought about the harm while we create the new systems, the new eco-communities, that will ultimately replace the old destructive ones.

Resilience, Sharing, Compassion, Creativity, a Sense of Humor - yes, all of these things and more. Leave your ego at the door.

Finally, we do not forget to have a whole lot of fun as we do this work, to celebrate on a regular basis, to create the new cultures in our songs and poems, our art work and our stories, in dance and ritual.

Because, ultimately, if this is to "succeed," to get us through this challenging time to that other world that is possible, we have to go about this with visible, tangible joy.

~ Margaret Swedish

Related: Regeneration: The Next Stage of Organic Food and Farming—and Civilization


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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Stories of new creation - how we go about transforming the world from the bottom up

Margaret Wheatley writes that we have arrived at a time when more and more of us have come to realize that we cannot "change the world." The crises we face, all that has gone horribly wrong in our world, the large picture we see every day full of war and poverty, the collapse of the political system, resurgence of racism and xenophobia, and ecological devastation - we cannot possibly take on that big picture and think we can alter its trajectory, not without collapsing in exhaustion and despair.

However, we CAN begin to kick the foundations out from under it, one brick at time, by choosing to live a different way. We can choose to break our ties of co-dependence with a western capitalist system built upon fierce individualism and self-interest, that has put us in the role of super-consumer, a role that is helping create profits and power for corporations while ravaging the Earth at the same time in order to feed that system.

We can decide to wrest free of it and work instead to create a world of resilient communities bonded by care for one another and the common good we all share, to create local economies based on creating wellness and happiness for the good of all.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

What it means to "defend the sacred"

It means defending what is sacred. And increasingly people of deep faith and spiritualities of all sorts are rediscovering that it is creation itself that is sacred - the entirety of the Web of Life on this planet from which we emerged, of which we are part, in which we participate...

...and which we have horribly abused.

More and more around this country we are finding stories of what it means to people to rediscover this sense of "place," this truth of what creation is, what holds it together, that it is by its very nature "community", a community of interrelating beings and dynamic energies evolving over billions of years from which emerged human beings with the capacity to gaze out into the world and find beauty in it.

I don't think we always realize what that is - the capacity to experience beauty. But it is one of the most important sensors we have to seeing our world and knowing, in the most intuitive aspects of consciousness, what makes us alive, and even more, what makes life worth living, or worthy of living.

Help keep the stories coming - to donate
And so what we want to do on this blog now is just bring stories of where this capacity is being best expressed in the defense of what is sacred. More and more I believe that it is this kind of commitment and action that can change the destructive dynamic of industrial capitalist economies, of seeing the Earth as a vast resource to be exploited for human pleasure and enrichment, for economic growth, for the sake of the GDP. Restoring these most fundamental relationships puts us in the front lines against the corporate exploiters. From these stories, we can find inspiration  and examples of how we organize to create a new and different culture that puts us back in sync with the living systems and healing powers of the Earth.

And so this story - the sisters who took to the cornfields of their land in Pennsylvania to defend it from a natural gas pipeline. As you will read in these articles, they were invited to this action by local activists, and now those local activists are in the field with them, meditating and praying, while the struggle goes to court where the pipeline company is determined to take their land via eminent domain - pitting the powers of the fossil fuel industry against the witness of these sisters.

Catholic nuns in Pa. build a chapel to block the path of a gas pipeline planned for their property 

Adorers of the Blood of Christ take pipeline protest to court 

Statement from the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, U.S. Region



Lancaster Stand

"No you can't do this, and we are the ones who are going to stop you ourselves." 

We invite you to take that charge to heart. Look around the places where you are and see what needs defending. Join with others already engaged in defending the sacred space where you live. And if such groups do not yet exist - start one.

Think Standing Rock and the struggle to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota [Mni Wiconi: The Stand at Standing Rock], and the gutsy, determined community activism in Iowa to try to stop the pipeline there [for example: 32 Arrested After 200 NODAPL Protesters Dismantle Security Fence in Bid to Disrupt Pipeline Drilling]. Think the Keystone XL pipeline, which has been resisted with tremendous creativity in Nebraska and beyond. Think of the DAPL resistance in Louisiana, or the Kentucky campaign to stop the Bluegrass Pipeline, inspired in large part by the refusal of the Loretto Community and the monks of neighboring Gethsemene Abbey to allow it to cross their thousands of acres of "Holy Land." Think Winona LaDuke and Honor the Earth building resistance to Enbridge Line 3 in Minnesota.

I could go on. In each of these cases, not only are the land and waters being defended and protected, but community is being created, and a movement is beginning to look unstoppable.

~ Margaret Swedish

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Making new creation on an urban farm

In the growing movement around community gardens in the heart of many of our cities, we find that something more than food is growing. What we find being planted are seeds of the new way of life we keep talking about, the seeds of new human communities and cultures that will not only survive the coming turmoil, but are likely to thrive.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Returning to our Mother Earth - so that we may continue living here

The film below is a story. It is a story about our relationship with our real Mother.

If you've had a good relationship with your personal Mother, if she has loved you unconditionally, nurtured you, supported your growing and maturing, nudging you out into the world - then you know how powerful that word is.

What Arkan Lushwala says in this film is not just metaphor, not merely romantic and poetic - it is quite literally true. It is materially true, as well as spiritually true. In every way we have come from our Mother. We are birthed from her in a whole series of interconnections across both space and time, and we will return to her, our living energy merged back into hers, when we die. As Thích Nhất Hạnh has said so eloquently: with this understanding, really, when did we begin and when do we end?

Friday, March 10, 2017

A garden story

This story is mine. It's about being a gardener, and how the meaning of that changed over the decades. It's about what I garden now, not just out of the rich soil of one garden plot, but also in the work I do in the context of this stunning collapse of the old political culture of the U.S. I've been a gardener for a long time, but it means something different now, coming as it does at the same time as our human destruction of planetary systems is starting to really impact everything and everyone. It's all happening so fast now and the gardening metaphor helps me see and understand it - and fear it less.

Collapse is coming for a reason. It is inevitable now. It needs to happen. It will not be pretty.

It seems to me that the essential gardening question we face in the context of collapse is this: what are we cultivating to replace it?