Monday, September 2, 2013

Leavers and Takers

In our myth of the Pleistocene, the disappearance of large, wild mammals was the crisis that started us down the road; the indigenous cultural forms embracing an ethic of nature preservation, the "advanced" ones embarking upon a program of nature management and control. Both responses, healing and control, were responses to trauma. Both had as their goal the survival of the human community. Scientific studies offer some compelling evidence that we stand at the brink of another extinction as profound as the one that happened at the end of the Pleistocene. The fact that we have already survived one mammalian crash should give us hope that we can survive another, and hope is what we need if we are ever going to be able to look with mindful, sober vision at what is happening to us now.

Not surprisingly, as heirs to the culture of control, as Westerners trained since birth to think of ourselves as somehow apart from nature, most of our conversations revolve around the human impact on the natural world: about being "green," about "sustainable" growth and "sustainable" power grids. Committed to capitalism and technology, my rich friends buy solar ovens for peasants in the third world and solar panels for themselves. We pretend that there is such a thing as "fair trade," (when every horse trader knows that the point of a good trade is that it is not fair at all). Ever since the 1970's, we have replaced the idea of life with "lifestyle," making it possible to think that all we need to do is "tweek" our lifestyles. As if biology were simple fashion and nature were some kind of control panel. As if. As if. At the moment when it has never been more important to come together as a species, too many of us are standing in front of the mirror, tweeking our lifestyles and being afraid that financial success is the only thing that can save us, because if I am in control, at least I will come out OK.

All of this deftly ignores the simple law of nature. There is no such thing as "I" apart from the web of life. We can't go on consuming forever unless we produce waste that is compostable and will grow more. We can't go on burning up petroleum, burning up forests, burning up trash and imagine that with so much burning things won't heat up.

As many of you know, the work I do as school chaplain and director of service learning encompasses teaching children all about the religious mind from a dizzying variety of traditions and perspectives, and being a voice for community outreach. The more I have pondered theology and soup kitchens, cleaning Lake Merritt and Buddhist karma, the more I have become convinced that the closest thing to the Kingdom of God on earth is a healthy ecosystem. (This is my body.) In a healthy ecosystem, all the parts work with and for all the other parts, nothing is ever lost, for even the death of things nourishes others, and if there is always something left over, nothing goes to waste. Or to put it another way, in a healthy ecosystem, nothing is self-sufficient and everything is about relationship. It’s all about relationship. To be human is to be in conversation with all of life, and to be in conversation with all of life is to be in conversation with God.


People who have studied ecological relationships are coming increasingly to see that global warming and global poverty are deeply connected, that there can be no environmental justice without social justice. Scientific studies have shown that one of the most important ways to achieve both happiness and resilience is practice compassion for others. Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. …Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, "I will never leave you or forsake you." 


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