Author: CEE Staff

Successful ‘On Food and Faith’ conference concludes

Originally published by Danny Russell, communications director at MTSO on June 5th, 2019

More than 100 religious leaders, scholars, scientists, farmers and activists gathered on the MTSO campus May 30-June 1 for “On Food and Faith: Ministry in the Time of Climate Change.” The conference was presented by MTSO, the Center for Earth EthicsThe Climate Reality Project and the Ohio State University Initiative for Food and AgriCultural Transformation (InFACT).

Karenna Gore and Tim Van Meter

“This is the first time that we have done this outside of Union Seminary,” said Center for Earth Ethics Director Karenna Gore at the opening plenary session. “We felt an incredible opportunity to come here and be at a place that is actually growing and harvesting food as part of the seminary.”

See the full event schedule.

Former Vice President Al Gore, founder and chairman of The Climate Reality Project, participated in all three days of the conference, delivering a multimedia climate presentation during the Day 2 plenary session.

Al Gore

In introducing Al Gore, MTSO President Jay Rundell highlighted his achievements and honors, including the Nobel Peace Prize, an Oscar and a Grammy Award. “What we sense here with you in our midst,” he told Gore, “is a certain synergy between the kinds of things you’ve committed yourself to and the kinds of things we’re about on an everyday basis.”

Early in his 90-minute talk, Gore spoke dramatically of the consequences of climate change, declaring, “We are in the process of visiting destruction upon God’s creation.” Still, he said, there is much good news, including dramatic strides in renewable energy: “It’s now cheaper in most parts of the world to get energy from solar and wind than to burn fossil fuels.”

“If anyone doubts for one moment that we as human beings have the will to change, just remember that the will to change itself is a renewable resource,” Gore concluded.

Also speaking on Day 2 was Ohio State Distinguished University Professor of Soil Science Rattan Lal, recipient of the 2019 Japan Prize, one of the most prestigious honors in science and technology.

Participants toured MTSO’s Seminary Hill Farm

“A part of the biomass produced by soil must be returned to it,” Lal told conference participants. “Taking away everything without returning any biomass is a robbery of the soil and a banditry.”

The conference also included 18 breakout sessions – ranging from “Islam, Ramadan and Hunger” to “Standing with Farm Workers.”

The session “Grief, Climate Change and Prophetic Hope” was moderated by Tim Van Meter, associate professor in MTSO’s Alford Chair of Christian Education and Youth Ministry. Van Meter, who also serves as MTSO’s coordinator of ecological initiatives, has worked with Karenna Gore on a number of projects, and their working relationship paved the way for MTSO to host “On Food and Faith.”

Jay Rundell leads the closing ceremony

Before conference participants toured MTSO’s Seminary Hill Farm on Day 1, Van Meter said, “I hope as you wander around with us, you’ll understand we have an incredible farm staff. And we have an incredible food staff. These are people we’re deeply, deeply grateful for.”

In brief remarks reflecting on the founding of the five-year-old farm, Rundell said, “Over time in our curriculum, we had a number of things happening that planted the seed, so to speak, for this work. Almost all religious traditions have some understanding of food in the center of who they are. We’re fairly deeply rooted in a number of Christian traditions here. We have sacramentalized food. We recognized that and found this was not so much doing something new but revitalizing our traditions.”

During Day 3’s final plenary session, a number of leaders and participants shared their reflections with the group. “If we can get people of faith to believe that the language we use is not geopolitical – it is spiritual language – then we can get this work done,” said MTSO Dean Valerie Bridgeman.

And 15-year-old Hadessa Henry of Indiana, who attended with her grandmother, Aster Bekele, founder of Felege Hiwot Center, inspired sustained applause with a plea: “Maybe next time we have this, we could invite more kids. We’re going to be here for a long time.”

Video and media coverage

See Karenna Gore explain why MTSO is the perfect place to talk about food and ministry and watch Al Gore discuss the opportunity to hold the conference on the MTSO campus on the MTSO website.

The Columbus Dispatch covered the conference with a newspaper story and this video:

View a Facebook photo album from the conference.

Methodist Theological School in Ohio provides theological education and leadership in pursuit of a just, sustainable and generative world. In addition to the Master of Divinity degree, the school offers master’s degrees in counseling, social justice, theological studies and practical theology, along with a Doctor of Ministry degree.

CONTACT:

Danny Russell, communications director
[email protected], 740-362-3322

CEE Travels to Virginia to Say No to Pipelines

Most content originally published by ARTivism Virginia and Virginians for Justice!

On May, 17, 2019 Virginians and allies from the region walked with Union Hill to demand environmental justice and a stop to the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley fracked gas pipelines. They were joined by William Barber III and Karenna Gore of the Center for Earth Ethics. Returning to the route across the Robert E. Lee Bridge into Richmond traveled by civil rights advocates 51 years ago during Martin Luther King, Jr.’s historic Poor People’s Campaign march to Washington D.C., hundreds called for an end to environmental racism and new fossil fuel infrastructure that threatens our ability to protect our homes, our water, and our children’s future.

“We’re not here by accident. Every single one of us is here for a reason. We are all gathered together for a reason. We hold these truths to be self-evident. We will treat each other with equal dignity and justice. We will make democratic self-government work. And we will live responsibly on this planet – it’s a sacred place.” – CEE Director Karenna Gore.

 

“This struggle is going to have global significance…

1968, Dr. King, in true prophetic form declared that we have in our lifetime an opportunity to avoid a natural disaster of grand design and to create a new spirit of economic and social harmony.  An opportunity to write a luminous moral chapter in American history – if we only choose.” – William Barber III

 

 

Jessica Sims of Sierra Club Virginia Chapter led the collaboration of dozens of Virginia environmental and grassroots organizations, including the Virginia Poor People’s Campaign. Musical support was provided by the SUN SiNG Collective of ARTivism Virginia.

Hand in hand, ART and ACTIVISM stoke our imaginations and remind us of our creative, beautiful, renewing, and resilient capacity for change. 

 

Featured here is singer, BJ Brown and speakers Queen Shabazz, Genesis Chapman, Karenna Gore, William Barber II, and Marie Gillespie. Other speakers for this event included: Beth Roach, Pastor Paul Wilson, Evelyn Dent, Lakshmi Fjord, Richard Walker, Andrew Tyler, Swami Dayananda, John Laury, Andrea Miller, Travis Williams and Chad Oba. Other ARTivists included All the Saints Theater, Lilly Bechtel, Tom Burkett, Tom Elliott, Kay Ferguson, Gabe Gavin, DeRon Lark, Jameson Price, Mara Eve Robbins, Graham Smith-White, Laney Sullivan, Siva Stephen Fiske and Joshua Vana.

Many Thanks to ARTivism Virginia – for capturing Walk with Me:

Also:  Video From May 17th March from Chesapeake Climate Action Network

In the News: Faith Leaders March in Protest of the ACP, ABC News 8

Yes Virginia, We Can Stop Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast Pipelines.  Here’s how.

***

“To the River” No Pipeline Anthem written by Joshua Vana, arranged, performed by the SUN SiNG collective . “To the River” was recorded and filmed along the MVP & ACP fracked gas pipeline routes in areas of devastation using the Sun Bus and videographer, Sarah Hazlegrove.

***

Herring, Stand with Appalachia: No Mountain Valley Pipeline

May 18th, activists and Artivists also gathered in Leesburg, VA, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring’s hometown, to ask Herring to stay on the side of the people and clean water.

“We request that Mark Herring
1) halt work on Mountain Valley Pipeline,
2) pursue his lawsuit against MVP to its fullest and refuse to settle the case for petty fines,
3) and affirm the state’s authority to revoke the 401 water quality certification that it granted.”

Speakers included Del. Sam Rasoul, Del. Chris Hurst, Del. Elizabeth Guzman and Professor Emily Hammond, George Washington Law.
The event included music by Rachel Eddy and the SUN SiNG Collective, including  Joshua Vana, Bj Brown, and Graham Smith-White.  And also featured CEE’s Karenna Gore, and Rev. Yearwood of the Hip Hop Caucus.

Video From May 18th, 2019 – Herring, Stand with Appalachia: No Mountain Valley Pipeline

In the News: Pipeline Protest Comes to Herring’s Hometown

#NoMorePipelines #NoMVP #NoACP#WeAreAllUnionHill

The Second Best Time to Plant a Tree

Guest Post by Rev. Ana Levy-Lyons

A hairy, naked male and a hairy, naked female crouch over the body of an antelope they’ve just killed. They’re looking up with fear and fight in their faces as a huge bird of prey swoops down to try to steal their kill. A jackal lurks in the background too, biding its time. It’s a frozen moment from a hundred thousand years ago, a flash in the life of a Neanderthal couple, reconstructed by scientists for a diorama at the Museum of Natural History. I saw this couple over Thanksgiving weekend when my family and I wandered into the Anne and Bernard Spitzer Hall of Human Origins. If you’ve ever been there, you know it’s strange and amazing.

This diorama especially grabbed me. I felt moved by it. My kids were fascinated. Something about it is so real and poignant. It must have been so much work to bring down that antelope. The couple is alone in the open landscape, vulnerable to all the fierceness of nature. I wondered if they ever got to just chill in their cave. Did they ever sing? Did they play? Did they love each other? Their Neanderthal bodies are wiry and strong, thin and scrappy from a lifetime of fighting for survival. They didn’t survive, of course, not that couple nor their entire species. The early hominids all went extinct, just like the dinosaurs before them. Unique expressions of the divine, like a single firework, exploding for a short time, showering light, and then gone.

How did they go extinct? Scientists say it was a mix of factors, possibly including violence from homo sapiens (that’s us) and definitely the pressures of climate change. Yes, they had climate change back then too – the deniers are right about that – the climate has always been changing. But it happened at a much slower pace – at least ten times slower than ours today. Even so, the pace of change was too fast – the landscapes and plants and animals morphed and the Neanderthals were unable to adapt.

Homo sapiens were able to adapt. Homo sapien means “wise man,” smart human, and our adaptability is a hallmark of our species. As long as we had a good thousand years before things were really different, we were able to make the changes that we needed to make in where we lived, what we ate, and what tools we used in time. We were able to figure it out. And the unique, unrepeatable spirit of life continued to flow through us.

This time around, we don’t have a thousand years to figure it out. We don’t even have a hundred years. According to the UN report that just came out about climate change, we have twelve years. That’s what they said. Twelve years. We have twelve years to radically transform our economy, especially the amount of energy that we use and how we generate it. From coal, oil, and gas to solar and wind. Energy from hell to energy from heaven. Twelve years. Now this is not adapting to climate change – that’s a whole other set of things we need to do. This is about preventing the climate from changing so dramatically and so quickly, that we are unable to adapt. My fellow homo sapiens, smart humans, we have twelve years.

And if we don’t? Best case scenario, the UN report warns of catastrophic flooding, droughts, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people. Worst case, some scientists believe we are heading toward the sixth mass extinction. We can hear the drumbeat clearly now – the fires in California getting worse every year, the hurricanes growing more violent, droughts around the world, deserts expanding, thousands being forced from their farmlands and becoming refugees. It’s happening in real time.

Hearing about this more and more these days, the drumbeat getting louder, I’ll tell you where I’m at personally. I feel scared for my children. They’re just eight years old now, Miriam and Micah. I’m scared for them of what kind of shifting, collapsing world they are going to have to make their way in. Even with all of their advantages as white, well-educated, relatively wealthy Americans, are they going to have to struggle to survive? And they both want children of their own. I was telling them recently about a celibate monk I had met and Micah had a strong negative reaction, saying how sad it would be to not have ancestors (by which he meant, descendants). And I wish I could gush about how great it will be for them to have children and for me to have grandchildren. Except I’m not sure how great it will be for those grandchildren.

——

I’m sad that they will never get to experience the untouched beauty of wilderness. Because what we’ve done touches everything, everywhere. I’m heartbroken for all that we’ve already lost, for the wilderness itself and the polar bears and countless other animals whose stars will burn out before their time.

I also feel an immense sense of personal responsibility. I am in a position of leadership where I have this soapbox to stand on and if I am not doing absolutely everything in my power to inspire and nurture and activate all of you, my congregation, to confront the greatest threat humanity has ever faced, then what the hell am I doing here? What even gives me the right to stand up here before you all? These questions keep me up at night.

And then… I get distracted from the greatest threat that humanity has ever faced by the mundane necessities of life. My sense of responsibility to defend my kids’ future gets hijacked by my kids’ need for help with their math homework. My sense of responsibility to plant a seedbed of revolutionary change here gets hijacked by the need to let everyone know that Facebook is doing a matching grant fundraiser on Giving Tuesday and we all should contribute on that day in time to get the matching grant.

And every single person I know is just like me in this respect. We all get absorbed in the work of life, and the joys of life, and the struggles of life, mostly doing things which, when you take them one at a time, are each valid and important, even noble. Some of us have trouble enough just making it through the day. Some of us are just trying to survive in an economy with virtually no safety net. Or an illness takes all our time and energy to manage. Or a family conflict. Or someone hacked our email or our bank account and we’re spending hours on the phone trying to sort it out. Someone breaks our heart and we’re spending a year feeling like we want to die. Or we fall in love and we’re just too damn happy to worry about anything.

Our political life follows the same pattern. Political debate centers on the vivid human suffering of our time. Our government teargassing children at the border, to take just one of thousands of nauseating examples. Politicians rarely – really almost never – talk about the existential elephant in the room. Partly because this is not what we’re talking about, for all the reasons I just listed. Partly it’s because fossil fuel companies and chemical manufacturers and big ag are paying a lot of money to make sure that we don’t talk about it. And to make sure that deregulation continues, that the science gets muddied, and that green referendums fail; to make sure that at this week’s G20 summit in Argentina our delegation is over there promoting fossil fuels. And for good measure, they work to suppress the votes of poor people and people of color who are most affected by environmental collapse because they might actually vote to change things.

—–

So is this how it’s going to go down? Good people are too busy and bad people are too smart? Homo sapiens, smart humans, is this really how it’s going to go down? You can imagine the diorama at the Museum of Natural History a hundred thousand years from now. (Yes, I’m aware that there probably won’t be Museums of Natural History with dioramas a hundred thousand years from now, but just indulge me for a minute.) The diorama depicts a homo sapien family in an industrialized nation at meal time. A female is lifting a package of food out of a microwave. A male is staring into a cellphone. A baby is drooling onto the plastic tray of a high chair, clutching something that looks like a beanie baby in one hand and a juice box in the other. A toddler is watching something on a tablet of some kind, laughing.

Next to the diorama, the information panel reads as follows: “Homo sapiens roamed the earth for a brief 200,000-year span. Their extinction was precipitated primarily by rapid climate change. Unlike the climatic shifts of previous eras, this climate change was largely caused by these apex predators themselves, specifically by the burning of the fossilized remains of all the creatures that had gone extinct before them.” (That’s what fossil fuels are, by the way – you cannot make this stuff up.) “It is unclear whether this burning was a religious ritual or had some other purpose. Archeological evidence suggests that homo sapiens had discovered solar energy long before their extinction. But their primitive form of social organization and rudimentary ability to share resources may have prevented them from addressing the global threat in time.”

Our primitive form of social organization – basically the powerful practicing dominionism over the earth and over those less powerful. Some of us say it’s all too big and we’re too late – we should have fixed this thirty years ago. And yes, in an ideal world, thirty years ago we would have switched to renewable energy, drastically reduced our consumption and waste, adopted plant-based diets, shared our wealth to alleviate the desperation of poor nations, and planted about ten million trees. We’d be having a very different conversation right now. But the conversation we are going to have in thirty years – or in twelve years – will depend entirely on what we do today. And I mean today. This week, this holiday season. They say the best time to plant a tree is thirty years ago. The second best time is now.

Never before in the history of planet earth has a species been able to foresee its own extinction. Never before has a species been able to prevent it. But we can. How do I know? Because there is something in us that rebels, in every cell, with every breath. Because when I open the eyes of my spirit really wide and I think that when you open yours really wide, we can see that our star, our fireworks is not ready to burn out yet. God, the pulsing life force of the universe, is not done moving through us. In fact, if anything, it’s pulsing stronger than ever now.

You can feel it in the air. The forces of change are stirring. We are understanding that all of our struggles are one. Many of us and many people we know have become activists for the first time in our lives as we recognize that we have to take power into our own hands. There are at least one million organizations working toward sustainability and social justice. Several of the newly-elected members of congress are representing communities that had little voice before and they are pushing for The New Green Deal. With the markings of evil so clearly scrawled right in front of us on national television every day, with the assaults on this earth and its people now unmistakable for anything else, we are rising up.

We have twelve years left and we have a moment before us to be seized. Right now, we need political action. We need to boycott corporations whose greed is killing us. Every week, we can make a phone call, write a letter, speak out at a town hall – we can do something to fight back. A new climate organization has started in Great Britain called Extinction Rebellion and there’s a chapter forming here in New York City. It’s about taking bold, direct action in defense of our future. I plan to be part of it and I invite you to join me. Blocking pipelines, getting arrested, physically obstructing the desecration of our ecosystems because asking nicely is just not working.

We need the extinction rebellion. But we need something else, too. It’s not enough to just resist evil. It’s not enough to just scream, “stop!” We need a revolution. We need a vision of a re-sanctified earth. We need a dream of who we can be as a species. I don’t believe that the great Cosmic Wisdom meant for us to stay stuck as homo sapiens. Homo sapiens have been smart humans with great technology, but primitive forms of social organization that divide and rank people based on race and gender and hoard resources. We can be better than that. We are meant to evolve into something else. That something else is of the heart and of the spirit; of deep compassion and broad vision: Homo amandi. Loving person.

Homo amandi creates life sustaining societies committed to restoring balance to the earth. Let’s do it right now. Let’s make the heart decision to evolve into homo amandi. Let’s compress the next thousand years of evolution into the next twelve. It will be the evolution revolution. And the best thing about it, is that every single one of us can participate in this revolution every day. We participate through our choices, through what we say in casual conversation, what we buy, what we click on, what we discard, and through who we are. Each action may seem trivial on its own, but we have to think big, think collectively, and ask, “what is it a part of? What is happening through me? Is it the sixth mass extinction? Or is it the evolution of homo amandi?”

We need the extinction rebellion and the evolution revolution both. We need to be saying “no” with all our might to the powers that are doing violence to the earth. And we need to be saying “yes” to a new way of living together in peace. I want it for my children and I know you will want it for yours and for all those you love. I want to be a blessing to the earth, not a curse; and I know you do too. My fellow homo amandi, join me in seizing the day, this day – the second best time ever – to plant a tree and become something new.

Watching the Flame Dance in the Time of Our Ancestors

By Shep Glennon, CEE Field Ed

As Autumnal Equinox has occurred, as it does around Sept. 21st, we are now in the Western gate. This is the portal to the realm of the ancestors, of the dead, where the Sun goes to die before being reborn every morning. In September, October, and November, there is not only Dios de Los Muertos, All Souls Day, and Allhallowtide (an English tradition that came from the Celtic Samhain and became Halloween), but also fifteen days of ancestors’ visiting in Cambodia’s Pchum Ben and Thailand’s Sat Thai’s festivals. These rituals involve ancestor veneration and an opening to the underworld so that spirits can pass back and forth. In ancient Rome, a stone entrance to the underworld was ceremonially opened for the blessed dead. (Other indigenous peoples have summer as the mark of their festivals for the ancestors and cross-overs between the underworld and our world, appropriate as this season corresponds with the direction Cardinal South, pointing down to the underworld).

Our European ancestors saw the effects of the opening of the Western gate in the death all around them. And this was not just in nature’s dying season, but in the return of the dead. Celtic rituals honor ancestors who revisit their homes seeking hospitality, rituals which eventually became Halloween (before Halloween was made more generic due to Christian and corporate co-opting). Norse rituals proclaim the beginning of winter with the Wild Hunt of ghosts or underworld beings across the sky led, some say, by Odin.

In other words, this is the season of the dead.

Rejoice, because this season is the gate of Communion. Sept 21st – Dec 21st is the time of rootedness, of context, of our ancestral bonds linking us all together to the Tree of Life. Its element is Water. Its tarot suit is Cups. Its human energies are Love/Compassion and Communion. Water, like empathy, binds all of life. I have learned to leave a cup of water out for ancestors. Wait– not tap water! I was taught to honor the dead as if they were living guests, with the choicest selections. So if we offer, we offer water which *we ourselves* would drink. We need to make it something they would be proud to partake in. What did our ancestors find beautiful and inviting? We can decorate with flowers, with harvest produce, with libations, turning our table into an altar. We can attract with fun. By the end of a week, the water will have noticeably evaporated, symbolizing our ancestor’s acceptance of and partaking in the offering. We can say our ancestor’s names for each of the seven days.

We burn a white candle for them.

…Watch the flame dance.

This is our ancestors’ entertainment, this dance.

Stare at it and hum, and see vitality, passed on from the pregnant potential of the void to big bang to our ancestors the stars (humm),

who passed it on to our ancestors of planets of gas and rock, our ancestors the mountains and minerals (including craters, cliffs, canyons and other landforms) (humm),

who passed it on to our ancestors the bodies of water (humm), who passed it on to our ancestors the plants and animals (humm),

and then to our human race ancestors (humm),

to our communities (humm), to you and me.

We are the keepers of the eternal flame, hoping to move in new possibilities. But as this relay shows, we always move in a context, in a web of relationality. Our ancestors used to extinguish their hearth fires before certain festivals. Then the fires of all the homes in the village would be re-lit from the bonfire of a major ceremony the whole town attended, linking each person to each other.

We cannot access the Spirit directly, cannot sit alone and meditate outside of the constructs and constraints of the physical, linguistic, and cultural symbolic representation, and into direct access to the Most High. There is an analogous narrative in the Abrahamic canons about not being able to look at G-d directly and live. While we are alive, we simply cannot escape from our contexts and into pure objectivity. During near-death experiences, those breaking through to the Other Side have similar experiences of a light they move towards, but they experience variations through different symbols that align with their unique religious-cultural traditions. We can only commune with the Creative Life Force through the bodies and language that our ancestors gave us. For better or for worse.

Through things such as gut bacteria, epigenetics and archetypes of the collective unconscious, we inherit the strengths, coping strategies, mental illnesses, traumas, fears, repressions, expressions, attitudes and behaviors of our ancestors, often not knowing their origin. Even if and when we take things to levels they could not imagine, we do so on their shoulders– there is nothing totally novel, everything is founded on trajectories that can be traced. We can trace these lineages, if not by our blood ancestors, by our spiritual ones, our elders, those like-minded culture-influencers and human-nature articulators whose examples made things fall into place for us, or gave us permission to explore ourselves. That’s a way our ancestors show up, too.

It is considered bad luck to mix in living ancestors with dead ones in the same list, according to one priest in my Afro-Cuban lineage of Santeria. So it may be wise to create a separate list, but honor our living spiritual ancestral elders who continue to be an example for us. To that end, I honor Tom Waits, Kathleen O’Connor, Shelly Rambo, Karla McLaren, Allie Brosh, Catherine Keller, Brené Brown, William Chittick, and Audre Lorde.

And to my deceased spiritual ancestors whose examples impact me to this day: James Baldwin, Ronald Takaki, Ibn Arabi, Prophet Muhammad, Jesus; I speak your names.

And there are those whom I reluctantly honor, like the framers of the Constitution, knowing that while they carry irredeemable problems, I have the ability to criticize them because of their help in making it so I can criticize the church and state without either crucifying me. And the Unitarians, Transcendentalists, Joseph Campbell, the hippies, and the New Age self-help pop psychology movement, and the Protestantism that set their groundwork, for despite their problematic pieces, they lay the foundation for me to give voice to trust my own intuition about God and universalism, to put my spirituality prior to organized religion, to not identify with my identity- a lesson that helped me have less of an ego and be more receptive to criticisms of when I am being racist, sexist, and otherwise problematic. Our ancestors are our ancestors, we have to acknowledge the good they gave us, and do daily work to heal from the bad.

Which of your ancestors are those whom you reluctantly honor, and why? Ask them to your candle to reckon with these family members and culture-influencers.

Who are your ancestors and elders you more deeply honor, ancestors both blood and spiritual? Invite them to your flame. Give them thanks. Ask them for guidance. They have much to offer you! Think about how if you died right now, you’d have so much more you wanted to share with the world about your insights. Our deceased ancestors, blood and spiritual, are hoping to enlighten us with their lessons and ureaka!-moments. Don’t be afraid to ask them for help for things you tried but couldn’t do on your own.

***
Featured photo: Mundus Cereris was a gate to the underworld used in ancient Roman ceremonies uncovered three times a year in late August, October, and early November. The first-fruits of the harvest would be offered for the blessed dead, as this was a time when they were seen to commune with the living. Most cities would have their own microcosm of this, a pit or ditch where first-fruits would be buried.

September Musings

By Shep Glennon

September, you need a makeover. You need a name change, first of all. Your name literally means 7, yet when we write the date on government documents, we have to mislabel you as month number 9. All because some Christians thought it would be cute to make the coldest, bleakest time of year – January – be the New Year, instead of gorgeous spring. Celebrating New Years in Spring is more like a pagan practice, and a nearly universal one at that, and it also makes sense because everything is new again.

September, we’re just going to have to de-number you, that’s all. No more nines, not even sevens. We’re going to start off this makeover by untying you from Christian mishandling and the boring blandness of reducing your complex beauty and wholeness to a number, as if you were some warden’s prisoner, or some bureaucrat’s statistic. 

And I mean, look at you now, September. Aside from an amazing Earth, Wind and Fire Song that even a Gap advertisement couldn’t destroy, we humans let your name become meaningless, devoid of connection. Your name is the vulgar absurdity of being somehow seven and nine, like naming our first daughter “One and Only” before proceeding to procreate siblings for her like a factory assembly line. Come, let’s get your name a makeover…Google! Wiki me September!

 

“September was called “harvest month” in Charlemagne‘s calendar
September is called Herbstmonat, harvest month, in Switzerland.[3] The Anglo-Saxons called the month Gerstmonath, barley month, that crop being then usually harvested, and for the Native Americans, it was full corn moon month.
Both Native North Americans and indigenous Europeans referred to the moon this month as Harvest Moon. Likewise, for the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Moon Festival, is a harvest festival also celebrated in Vietnam, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.”
Below the equator, even though it is the equivalent of March, it’s also harvest season. Grains are ready to be harvested and eaten; September is thus the “grains of sorghum,” titled Hlakubelé (Sotho). In another South African language (Xhosa), it is called “month of first fruits” (EyoKwindla).

 

Anything that has the word “herbs” in it is naturally attractive to me, so I put “Herbst” in Google translate, and it’s actually synonymous for “autumn” in German, and synonyms for “Herbst” include Spätjahr, Rückgang, Sturz, Baisse, Absturz.  I like those, especially Ruckgang (to recede) and Sturz (to fall).  But what does “herbst” (pronounced like Pabst but with a silent P) mean exactly? Well, herb in German means: tart, dry, bitter, harsh, austere, severe,

Dour… cruel… and rude.

So, it might be rude to some to interrupt summer and vacation, but I personally find February and March to be more so in its bitter coldness, so I am going to go with “tart” as a synonym for September. Tart in German is sauer (pronounced zow-wah), from which we get sauerkraut. Why choose tart? Because it’s good, despite being a bit sour or angry around the edges, maybe like an uncle we know?

The air itself smells tart. Breathe it in and reflect on what it means for you. The tart, sour apples are falling from the trees; it’s now apple season. Walnuts fall to the ground and rot along with the leaves. We are the harvest, we’ve got to reap and pluck things in our lives before they rot on the vine. We’ve got to live our best life before we stagnate.

But because we’re so good at waiting to the last minute, we might mess up and miss it. Not to worry. We’re going to take that mess and let it rot and ferment a bit, because that’s how you make sauerkraut, that’s how you make apple cider. Things will die, that’s a fact.  Yet it is the dead that also ferments, being rotted and crushed and having a kick to it, which when imbibed are known as “spirits.”  Alcohol. Our cheeks might get lifted up, our mood may elevate. Easter, with its rotten grapes-turned-wine, maybe should be held in fall?  But with chalices full of hard apple cider of a Dionysian Jesus,

a Jesus with surrounded by our uncle’s shady biker friends,

Enlivening on any occasion, yet rough-around-the-edges

like sauerkraut

because,

Septembre,

You give a hard edge to things, reminding us none of us are perfect.  We humans poke each other in the eye all the time, mostly without meaning to, but just out of the sheer fact of being different, and coming at things from different angles. That’s good for our growth. Like apple cider vinegar, it’s helpful. But if you don’t cut it with water, it burns. So we learn to balance time with edgy friends and relatives whose wisdom sometimes comes in moments of discomfort or in waves of discontent, with the comfort of friendships where good vibes come easy. We’ll water down our days of sour with the sweetness of pleasure, and carefree joy, too.

So while everything is dying all around us, thanks to you September – sorry, Sauer – and thanks to our hot mess-ness, we are reminded to engage in self-care.  

We are reminded that:  Anything good will not come easy.  We cannot force anything, we can only cultivate the seeds which the Most High has planted. And thank you so much for planting these seeds. Thank you Sauer, for making space for us to cultivate these relationships, and to enjoy their fruits. Sometimes we get lucky, and find relationships where we don’t have to try so hard, where things just happen naturally. May we reap our carefully cultivated relationships. Hopefully what we sow into them, the hopes and our good intentions to bring joy and prosperity into this world, get to see the light of day.

May that be our harvest.

Ameen.

***

 

The Center for Earth Ethics welcomes Shep Glennon, as our new Field Ed student for 2018-2019.

 

Climate Change, Colonialism and Christianity: An interview with Cardinal John Ribat and Karenna Gore

By Nexus Media, with Cardinal John Ribat and Karenna Gore

Under the leadership of Pope Francis, the Catholic Church has become a powerful voice for action on climate change, while Catholic leaders from vulnerable countries have emerged as some of the issue’s greatest evangelists. Recently, Cardinal John Ribat of Papua New Guinea, visited the United States to meet with members of Congress about the carbon crisis. During his stay, Cardinal Ribat spoke with Nexus Media about climate change and Christianity. He was joined by Karenna Gore, director of the Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary and daughter of former vice president Al Gore. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


There are many Christians in the United States who believe that only God can change the weather, and for this reason, they reject the idea that humans can cause climate change. What do you say to people who hold that point of view?

Cardinal John Ribat: In the creation story, God gave the world to us — to till it and also to care for it — and if there are things that need to be corrected, then we do our best. We try our best to really be part of that.

Pope Francis came up with an encyclical to really make the world aware. And when he addressed this to people, he did not address this only to just Catholics. No. He addressed this to the whole of humanity, and this is because this world is created for all of us. We are living on this one planet. For that reason, we are responsible.

There has been some research looking at the pope’s encyclical that found that, in some ways, it backfired with conservative Catholics in the United States. It seems like partisanship and ideology are driving a lot of the discussion around climate change. How should faith leaders deal with that?

Karenna Gore: There are always problematic aspects of the marrying of religious and political agendas. In this case, I think that a lot of that is cultural. I think that it’s a matter of being open-minded and open-hearted on all of our parts to understand where people are coming from, but then to unmask where there has been misuse and perversion of the scripture.

To go a little bit deeper, I think we can talk about how stewardship has been interpreted. To be good stewards of the Earth, from the Book of Genesis, is often held up by conservationists within the Christian tradition as a central belief through which we can see that we are called to protect creation, to recognize our oneness with it, to recognize the sacred within the natural world.

It is also frequently cited by [EPA Administrator] Scott Pruitt, by Donald Trump. It’s been co-opted to mean a license to pillage. And that is not unrelated to what the colonial agenda was. So, I think it goes right back to when the Christian belief system was co-opted by the forces of empire and colonization.

There is a lot of that within the Christian community now. When you see the use of stewardship as a concept meaning that we should continue to dig and burn the fossil fuels within the Earth, it is nothing more than an illusion, and it is not real. There is a human instinct in many cultures to see a separation and a superiority of humanity, and that is a fallacy.

We really believe the solution to climate change lives in a deep exploration of its root causes, which include a theological error of the idea that humanity and nature are separate. We can see very clearly from science that we are connected — the air we breathe, the water we drink, the living beings that are part of our food chain are deeply connected.

You mentioned the historic relationship between colonization and the Church. Can you explain that?

Karenna Gore: When we talk about interfaith dialogue and religions, the traditional way of doing often includes only Abrahamic religions — Islam, Judaism and Christianity — and certainly that’s a very robust interfaith dialogue, but then when you add the non-Abrahamic traditions of Hinduism and the Indic traditions, and Buddhism and the East Asian traditions, you often have a very different conversation about whether nature itself is a subject.

Indigenous traditions often hadn’t been included in the category of religion or faith or interfaith dialogue, and the reasons for that are complex, and they’re deserving of a larger discussion. But it’s largely a result of colonization and the view that the papal bulls of the fifteenth century took that indigenous people were part of the flora and fauna of a land, and they were meant to be conquered and subdued in the name of the church.

It seems that many former European colonies, including Papua New Guinea, are especially vulnerable to climate change. Cardinal Ribat, why is climate change an urgent issue for your country?

Cardinal John Ribat: The United Nations has defined refugees as people leaving their homes because of danger. People are leaving [Papua New Guinea] not because of danger, but because the island is disappearing. Their home will no longer be there, and that is the difficulty.

We do not come from a continent, and that makes it difficult for us to live comfortably, because we know that, on the island, the sea around us is rising. People dig a well to get their water, but the well is no longer drinking water. It is already salty because of the constant rise of sea level.

Knowing that the United States is pulling out from the Paris Climate Agreement, to us, is really kind of a concern. It is really an issue for all of us, for all nations. It is not an issue only for some. It is for the whole world to come together and see how can we better address this issue of global warming.

This is a call to us now, when we are witnessing a lot of events happening around the world that should make us think, “What have we done?” or “What can we do here?” Of course, God’s help is there all the time for us, and He’s the one who gave us this Earth to live, to till and to care for.

For me, seeing the situation we are in, and just to keep quiet — for me, this is not the way I should live my life.

For More from Cardinal Ribat, Op-Ed: A Christian Obligation to Confront Climate Change in the Washington Examiner


This interview was conducted by Jeremy Deaton, who writes for Nexus Media, a syndicated newswire covering climate, energy, politics, art and culture.

Field Ed Reflections: CEE’s Beyond G.D.P.

Beyond GDP: Lessons from Indigenous Cultures and Faith Traditions, SU 190 – KA1
Presented by The Center for Earth Ethics & Karenna Gore
Friday, February 2, 1:00 – 6:00 pm; Saturday, February 3, 9:00 am – 5:00 pm

Course Description: This class will focus on the flaws of current economic measurements such as Gross Domestic Product and the ways in which Indigenous cultures — along with voices from faith communities— are contributing to alternative ways of measuring the success and well-being of a society. Topics to be covered include the UN Sustainable Development Agenda, the impact of colonization on the bio-cultural heritage of Indigenous peoples, the conflict at Standing Rock, the Pope’s encyclical Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home, and the role of religion in development policy.

***

Reflection:

I don’t believe that there is a single person on this planet who isn’t aware of the climate system’s change. I fully include so called climate deniers in this as well because even they have to go outside and wonder why they can leave their homes, on many a winter day, in nothing more that a light jacket. Most are aware that something is just not right, that the coming days will bring forth even more uncertainty in weather patterns. For a majority of the world, however, this uncertainty is something they are already living with every day-this is the reality of the most vulnerable in our society: the poor For it is the capitalist project which has brought us to this crisis, and it is through its exploitative and violent nature human suffering has increased alongside Mother Earth’s ecological degradation.

The course went by the name, Beyond GDP: Lessons from Indigenous Cultures and Faith Traditions. Prior to attending the class, participants were sent a short reading list which included excerpts from “Laudato Si”, an article from the acclaimed scholar and activist Vandana Shiva, and a beautiful collection of articles and testimonials written from the perspective of Indigenous people advocating for their rights, as well as sharing the great Original Wisdom which still guides them today.

With around 30 participants, the class was a great mixture of students, religious leaders, professors, activists, farmers and herbalists, and lawyers. We were also blessed and honored by the presence of members from the Ramapough Lenape Nation- Chief Dwaine Perry and Owl Smith. Upon opening the class with a ritual presenting the four elements, C.E.E. Director, Karenna Gore, invited us all to introduce ourselves and ask that we share our names, a product which we depend on most, as well as, something within greater creation which we feel most connected to. It was incredibly powerful to witness the palpable feelings of joy and wonder we all associated with our non-human family.

Bipasha Chatterjee: Environmental Economist, Hunter College; Board of Directors, Energy Vision

Just as powerful, were the presentations. Karenna started the discussion by bringing forth the idea that capitalism and our globalized obsession with the gross national product index is greatly failing us all. The next presenter was economist and professor Bipasha Chatterjee who was able to pass on to us a great deal of information about how our global economic system works. For me, however, the most inspiring part of her presentation had to do with introducing us to the many alternatives uses of measuring value. My favorite definitely had to be the Gross Happiness Index used in Bhutan. Dr. Chatterjee explained that with this new system, Bhutan may be one of the poorer nations of the world monetarily, but it was also the happiest country in the world.

Ken Kitatani: Executive Director, Forum 21 Institute

Ken Kitatani gave the following presentation, in which he introduced the UN Sustainable Development Goals emphasizing how the global community is coming together to create a better future.  We were asked to take into consideration the people who might feel excluded by such an agenda-particularly indigenous communities who have no interest in developing within the capitalistic confines which very much inform the SDGs.

Dr. Geraldine Patrick Encina offered the final presentation of the day, bringing to the forefront Indigenous People of the Americas and the wisdom of original peoples, highlighting their cosmology, traditional way of life, and deeply rooted connection with all of creation. It was moving to hear her reflecting on the to groups of people she is connected to, the Mapuche of Chile, and the Otomi of Mexico. It was wonderful to hear about these tribes both maintaining their traditions, as well as, the challenge they have had in having to reclaim and relearn customs and practices which had been lost upon the “first contact”.

On day two, Roberto “Mukaro” Borrero was the first to present, and spoke about Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. Being a member of the Taino Tribal Nation, Dr. Borrero brought forth the perspective of Indigenous people who continue to resist settler colonialism, and its predatory ways. One highlight of this presentation, I believe, was the time taken to talk about the Standing Rock Sioux Nation and the struggles they endured against the Dakota Access Pipeline. That moment, Dr. Borrero argued, could serve as the perfect reason Indigenous people are so in need of their rights. What happened at Standing Rock was not only about a building a pipeline, it was about protecting the water and land which, to the Standing Rock Sioux, was sacred and worth protecting at all costs. To add, Standing Rock was a moment in which, twenty-first century Americans had to grapple with the reality of what it means to disregard and dehumanize Indigenous Peoples. Granting rights to indigenous people is not only a matter of symbolism, it is necessary in order to save lives.

Roberto Múkaro Borrero, Taíno artist, historian, musician, writer, and storyteller, sits with Catherine Coleman Flowers, CEE Director of Environmental Justice & Civic Engagement

Next, Catherine Flowers gave a presentation on what was happening in her community in Lowndes County, Alabama. She talked about the terrible sewage conditions so many residents are dealing with in addition to other ecological crises affecting the health of residents there. Into this conversation, Catherine also challenged the participants to think about what other factors, beyond capitalism, might have caused this reality for the people of Lowndes County. Racism was also an incredibly powerful force in this oppression which allowed politicians and public servants to ignore the demands for help by the people of Lowndes County, and other similar communities dealing with public health crises. The G.D.P. index does not help these people, and worse, it requires, and only benefits from, their continued suffering.

The last presentation was given by Adam and Shaily Gupta Barnes. Sharing reflections about their time in the Peace Corps, the two talked about the rural farming community they worked with in Niger, West Africa, and the sustainable farming being practiced despite such vicinity to the desert. Additionally, the two presented on the work they are engaged with in the Poor People’s Campaign. Led by Rev. Dr. William Barber II, the movement was highlighted as a moral revival for America. An opportunity to this nation to reflect upon ourselves, especially after the 2016 election, and commit ourselves to a way of being less focused on greed and power, and more focused on the Revolutionary Love Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was so passionate about.

It was a jam packed two days, with so much to take away and reflect upon. For myself, the biggest take away was the realization that we must divorce ourselves from capitalism as well as the greed and over consumption that comes with it. We must be willing to recognize the rights of Indigenous people, and more importantly, we must be willing to learn their earth centered practices we have forgotten as we have attempted to perfect civilization. With scientists constantly reminding us of how dire everything is, I am very appreciative of this class for making me be self reflective on the ways in which I am complacent within this system. The urgency is very real, and I am so very grateful for the space this class opened up for us to become aware of solutions which have already been working on a small scale, and must be adopted – for the fate of all of creation.

By Katilau Mbindyo, Field Ed for CEE

 

 

Water Crisis in Kenya: a Spiritual Disconnect in Late Era Capitalism

By Katilau Mbindyo

In my Kamba tradition, it is said that when it rains, God is spitting onto the earth, in order to help the trees, vegetables, and grass grow for the animals to graze. This is why elders in the Kamba tribe spit on young people when giving blessings. For the most part, Ukambani, made up of three regions, Machakos, Makueni, and Kitui, is a dry region. As the Kambas were traditionally and historically traders, the nomadic lifestyle allowed many to survive on the land, as they were able to travel all the way to the coast on the East, as well as the great lake of East Africa on the West.

 

Unfortunately, when colonialism began in Kenya, many Kambas, as well as people from other tribes, were no longer able to practice their traditional form of trade, and so relying upon their ancestral land for year long sustenance became a practice that many had to adapt to. There is no large river in Ukambani, but there are streams which flow from the West, Eastward. For many, these streams are the main source of water which is relied upon, unless the rains are not in bounty. For the wealthy, who can afford to dig down into their land for water, the use of boar-holes is not always beneficial as the water in Ukambani is very salty. The option which has served much of Ukambani, both rich and poor, is the use of gigantic tanks which are connected to the rain gutters of homes and collects rain water. During the rainy season, from September to November, the tanks are able to be filled to capacity, and then support entire families for an entire year, just as long as God spits down sporadic blessings throughout the rest of the year. 

 

Many years ago, maybe five, there was a terrible drought in Kenya. My uncle Tony, who takes care of the Kasinga family farm in Makueni wasn’t able to grow a single thing, and to this day, is still working to rebuild the farm to its former functionality. Drought, however inconvenient, is something all Kenyans are used to and understand — despite the great fissure of land knowledge which has occurred with the past 100 year of European influence in Africa. We have been very lucky this year: coming back to Nairobi, one only needs to see the leaves in the trees and the deep brown of the soil to know that there were great rains. And here in Kenya, just yesterday, in the beginning of January, what all of us in Kenya understand to be the driest season, it rained. For generations, the tribes of central Kenya have always known that it never rains in January. Some -particularly those who are connected to indigenous ways- understand that this anomalous weather is because of a global climate crisis. However, most (especially those who practice Christianity) see this unseasonal rain episode as a blessing. Who’s going to be ungrateful of rain?, they claim.
A sacred pond to the indigenous Kikuyu peoples, whose waters feed the streams of Eastern Kenya. Photo by author.

 

When one reflects on what is going on in our neighbor country of Somalia, it would be simple to say that Kenyans do not have much of a water issue. For the most part, that would be true. Our water problem however, has to do with the same cause of problem for Ramapough Lenape in Mahwah, and the Standing Rock Sioux: late era capitalism. Despite shortages which can last up to a week, and the need to buy drinking water–or at least to heavily filter and boil all water–water in Kenya is quickly being seen as a commodity rather than a necessity. Even beyond the dozens of treated water bottle companies, who are also adding to the issue of plastic pollution, it seems as though corporations, and private investors international and domestic, are incredibly interested in the water grab, which we all know only leaves people more vulnerable than secure. 

 

Thinking up solutions to this problem, it would be easy for me to think that the solution for Kenyans would be to educate them on the importance of our interconnectedness in nature, but it’s not that simple, and maybe not the most appropriate of approaches. For over 400 years, Africans have been understood as primitive beings, more closely related in genetics to wild animals than the dignified European living in the city. It is for this reason that we are called monkeys and baboons, and asked offensive questions about whether we live in the jungle, wear shoes, or have lions as pets. When Pier Paolo Pasolini, in the 1960s wanted to make a film out of the myths of Orestes, he sought out what he thought would be the last untouched place on earth to be his setting-Africa. In fact, many Africans throughout the continent were offended by the director’s ignorance and perpetuation of a violent narrative which Europeans have used for nearly half a millennium to subjugate and enslave Africans. I believe that it is this mindset that is in need of changing.

 

For the sake of surviving in these times when money is God, King and ruler, education–not nature and her wisdom–is considered to be the saving grace of most Kenyans. It is prayers to Jesus rather than stewardship of the Earth which ensure long term sustainability of a family’s prosperity. Though it’s easy to blame the Europeans for many of the problems going on in Africa–to the point that the discussion becomes unproductive–I have no trouble placing blame on the Europeans for our water–and all around nature–crisis. Living under western hegemony, Africans must be as Un-African as possible in order to have the skills necessary to live under late capitalism. As the agrarian lifestyle of communities was done away with when British colonists stole hectares of indigenous land, the agrarian lifestyle isn’t even a reality for many. The water crisis Kenyans are dealing with now, with European theology as agent, has less to do with shortages, and more to do with privatization and spiritual disconnect.

 


Katilau Mbindyo is a second year M. Div. Student at Union Theological Student who is doing her Field Education at the Center for Earth Ethics.