Sunday, December 31, 2017

Peering into 2018 from the vantage point of 2017

We hear about this all the time now, this notion of "story," how stories shape our world, our human need to create them, and how crucial it is to change our stories, as if this alone can transform the world. They can't, but they are important. The stories we tell ourselves, whether true or untrue, that shape "meaning" for us, tell us a lot about why things are the way they are, what we fear, loathe, believe, care about, how we SEE the world.

What happens when the stories we tell ourselves fail us?

This is not a small question. This is a really big one with lots of consequences. We live out of the stories we have told ourselves, or that have been told to us, the ones that shape meaning and beliefs, the ones that form an overarching framework for our lives, how we place ourselves in the world, our reasons for getting out of bed in the morning, for having and raising our children, for the ethics and the priorities by which we live.

What happens when those stories fail us?

I don't believe that stories come first, as so many writers and speakers insist these days. I think they emerge from how humans experience life. They are what humans create to make sense of their experience. Stories come second. The experience comes first - and you can't avoid "experience," raw and real and honest, if you want to create a story that can help us understand who and where and why we are (though the "why" will never be answered or resolved no matter how hard we try, or how much we make myth and story into dogma).

Genesis: Hubble Space Telescope
Thus, it is crucial that we get the "experience" part right. Humans used to live in the rawness of reality before we became economic beings and, even more distancing, technological beings. As the planet changes, as it shifts into overdrive, accelerating the pace of those changes because of how we humans have lived, it is sad, even tragic, to watch most people still clinging to the stories that have failed us. And I mean especially those narratives based in a linear view of progress or salvation, whether progress in terms of ever-advancing wealth and comfort, or salvation within a historical narrative centered on some final second coming that will resolve everything and "end" the world, however that is defined (and only for humans, despite the fact that humans will be long gone before the universe expands into some destiny we cannot know). As human knowledge of the vastness, the depth and breadth of the universe, has expanded, our world visions upon which many great myths and religions have been based (that small cosmos with Earth and humans at the center of God's plan for creation) are exploding. Despite this, to ward off the anxiety and fear that comes from a change in consciousness that is that fraught and consequential, many cling even more to them. This is perfectly understandable.

Once boreal forest. Alberta tar sands industrial site
But what happens when the stories fail us - not the little stories of this moment in the culture but the really big stories about the evolution of the cosmos, or about the ecological destruction of the Earth's living systems from which no God will come to save us? These two insights alone are blowing up much of what humans have believed in the world's major (and competing) belief systems for a few thousand years. And I don't just mean traditional religion either. I also mean things like faith in salvation by way of technology or ingenuity that will help us figure out how to save ourselves without having to surrender our way of life.

What do we do when the old stories fail us, fail to give us an accurate description or view of what's really going on in this world right now? I'm pretty sure the point is not to remove ourselves from the drama, to simply sit down and write a new story. Before we write the story we have to engage the truth of our situation, of our lived experience. We need to look reality square in the face, open the blinders wide, or, better, remove them altogether. We have to stop trying to remove the splinter when the beam that blinds us has blocked our view.

Do humans have the capacity for this? It requires entering into the terrifying existential unknown, to strip ourselves at least for a while of all the constructs we humans have made that led us to this moment when we are facing real ecological catastrophe, to do that so that we can look at them quietly, searingly, honestly, without prejudice, and try to figure out what went wrong.

And so, I try to peer into 2018 from the vantage point of 2017.

I mean, 2017 had a story, didn't it? From the point of view of our planetary crisis, that story was fairly dramatic, with big tragic scenes, plenty of destruction, human emotion, disruption of social life. If we were looking for signs of the times, well, yes, 2017.

Harvey, Irma, Maria - mega-hurricanes with enormous and widespread damage. And while the culture has mostly moved on, a lot of people are still suffering, especially our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico. Hurricanes, record rainstorms elsewhere, major flooding in this country and many others. For some people it was an exceedingly wet year.

In other places, it was another exceedingly dry year.

Thomas Fire - Source: KTLA
Firestorms: from Oregon down to northern California, the Bay Area, to Los Angeles, and to Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties - millions of acres burned, thousands of homes and other structures, forests and vineyards - destruction hard to wrap one's mind around. In this now rainy season for the L.A. area, December-February, it is still not raining. Without their seasonal rains, get ready for the next fire season, which firefighters will tell you in reality is pretty much all year round now.

Six feet of snow in Erie PA, several feet in other bull's eyes for Lake Effect Snow. Why these record snowfalls this year? Because the Great Lakes are warming. Here in Milwaukee on Dec. 4 it was 64, just before Christmas near 50. Then came the cold. Then came the bitter cold. Warm water means more evaporation means more humidity, and when the cold air arrives, that lake effect machine gets going, feeding off those warm waters. On my side of the lake, a dry dusting from time to time. On the other side? Snowmegeddon!

Extremes of weather. Climate change. Exactly as predicted. Here's another story. The melting of the Arctic Ocean waters is now considered to be irreversible. Get ready for even bigger changes, greater extremes, more dramatic weather events.

Video of Arctic sea ice loss - NOAA

There's a story for you from 2017! Here's one that accompanies it - our political institutions and government agencies are now in the hands of climate change deniers (or liars, more like it) and leaders of fossil fuel industries. This is the part of the narrative when everything looks pretty bleak.

So let's peer into 2018 from that vantage point. We have a political year in front of us, and this one may be the most tumultuous yet. Expect that very little of the heart of this story, the central drama, will get a lot of attention. I mean, if firestorms and mega-hurricanes destroying major urban areas don't do it, what will? What will make us see, finally, the real protagonist of this story - US, we humans, we consumer humans, we technological humans, so alienated from Nature now that we are unable to FEEL our predicament. We are too attached to technology, cultural noise, status, ambition, acquisition, and comfort that we appear to have lost our ability to know when we are in biological/ecological trouble.

The view from here into 2018 is not encouraging, except that...

So, here's another part of that story. That more people are engaging in what amounts really and truly to a struggle for survival. Whether that is fighting fracking and pipelines, defending our waters and land (including our public lands like National Parks and National Monuments), building resilience and solidarity within the human community, especially among the marginalized and discriminated-against, learning again how to raise our own food and prepare it deliciously, engaging rituals that put us back into relationship with Nature rather than into religiosities that create distance from it, going back to learning basic skills working with our hands, the work of cultural creatives - art, poetry, story-telling, music, and more, the ones who hint at the new future emerging from all this destruction and denial, the ones who tell us the truth, put up the inescapable mirrors -- these are also stories that are coming out of actual lived experience, out of despair, out of desperate hope against all the evidence, and then past both hope and despair to new visions for how to live, even while everything is falling apart.

We don't write or tell a story and then change. We live, and then we write stories about living. But those stories are only truthful, prophetic, visionary, profound, if how we live is in sync with the truth of our predicament. If we start with the fires and hurricanes, with the humans living through these events, if we pay attention to the "signs" instead of trying to provide false comfort with the stories we tell, then our stories can really help us.

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.

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.

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?

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

When the story of this time is written...

When the story of this time is written, how will humans account for it? What will be the highlights of the narrative? It's hard to see where this is going. It's hard to even see exactly how to proceed, though proceed we must, and with vision, with a sense of prophetic witness, with courage.

There have been thousands of stories since we last posted on this page. Like many of us, I feel the deep sense of overwhelm as wave after wave washes over our time, rearranging the landscape again and again and again...

Raging wildfires and record-breaking brutal heat in Chile and Australia, California's drought turned to raging torrents, floods, mudslides and one fine example of the neglect of infrastructure at the Oroville Dam.

Think of the stories embedded here - of people displaced, of people whose homes and towns are now ashes, lives upended. Thousands of stories of loss, of coping, of resilience and despair.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

What do people mean when they say "we need a new story?"

I've been thinking about this a lot, because it comes up all the time in spiritual or cultural circles around the "new universe story," or what some refer to as the "new cosmology" (actually, there is nothing "new" about it at all; it's a fairly old story, about 13.8 billion years; we're just discovering it now.).

Sometimes I get concerned that this can easily become "trendy," that it can result in people spending a lot of time talking about story rather than actually creating one, as if that is change-making in itself, when what is really needed are people out there at the roots of the culture upending one way of life based on an "old" story and making a new one by writing it with their lives, their radical actions, their willingness to create new ways of life by living into them.