Friday, March 9, 2018

Preparing to become a "Warrior for the Human Spirit"

[On Thursday March 15, I head out to a retreat center in Crestone, Colorado, for the first part of an 8-month long training program called, Warriors for the Human Spirit. This marks a significant turning point in the work I've been doing for at least 14 years now on the ecological crises of our times - what it is, what's actually happening, what it means for us as life as we've known it unravels all around us. How will we live? Who will we be? What choices will we make as we walk through these times?

We begin and end with week-long retreats in Crestone, while in between we work by teleconference, in small groups, and in our daily disciplines. The point of this is not for personal benefit, although there will be plenty. The point is to gain skills to help us maneuver down the path of uncertainty, crisis, risk, letting go the familiar and embarking on the new adventure before us - like it or not.

This post is in anticipation of this journey. Donations to support the Center for New Creation as this writer takes up this commitment will be enormously appreciated.]

When I first started to write a new post a couple of weeks ago, still reeling from the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, this was the headline I had chosen: "We cannot make new creation while armed to the teeth." Certainly felt, sounded, about right. Still does. It is a profound truth, and one hardly knows where to begin to figure out how to grapple with that. I often think we need to accept that we can't do "new" creation here, not as a nation, at least not now, and that it will come from other places in our world. Collapse feels inevitable, something that has to play itself out in a culture truly coming apart at the seams.

Seems to me that our work of the moment then is to prepare the ground for something new to emerge out of the collapse, out of this mess of violence, complete government dysfunction, fear of change, and deepening tribalism. Our task is to begin the work of new creation at the most immediate local levels, as one plants a garden, one seed or plantling at a time, preparing the soil with the richest of nutrients. The big picture? I wouldn't even know where to begin.

An old order is dying. We have to prepare ourselves to help shape what comes next - because there are no guarantees that it will be better. That depends on what we do now.

But then, in the wake of the unimaginable tragedy in Florida, something else happened: in the rawness of their grief, trauma, and anger the voices of these students rose up with a clarity and eloquence that took our collective breath away. They spoke at rallies, marched in the streets, went off to the Florida legislature to demand change, traveled to the halls of Congress, met with the president and made him and other officials in that room extremely uncomfortable with the truth they told, their searing honesty, their direct and emotional challenges to the defenders of the gun culture and the NRA.They appeared on a nationally televised CNN Town Hall and confronted the politicians for their hypocrisy, their NRA funding, and their share of responsibility for the plague of mass shootings that is unique to this country.

March for Our Lives logo.jpg
MARCH 24, 2018
So then I sought a different headline, another entry to the story I wanted to write, a headline about the emergence of a generation perhaps prepared better, and more tragically, than any other since the turbulent social change movements of the '60s and early '70s. With an entirely different generational orientation, arriving here in a new cultural and historical moment, it seemed to me that maybe this could be the generation that would finally wrest this culture from the worn, decayed grip of the old Cold Warriors, the old patriarchy of the post-World War II industrial age, the old white warriors bent on keeping the great advances of the civil rights struggle from being fully realized. I was so moved by the Parkland FL teenagers. I wanted to highlight what this could mean under that theme of "new creation."

And then I thought about that other kind of pervasive social violence, the gun violence in some of our urban neighborhoods, the police violence that gave birth to groups like Black Lives Matter, the violence of poverty and segregation that has harmed the brains, health, hopes of so many young people in our cities. I thought of the many movements like BLM that are emerging now out of those places of oppression, the young angry poets and artists, the talented and creative community organizers, who are giving voice to this injustice and demanding that the structures of racist oppression finally be dismantled.

And then I started thinking about the Dreamers, the DACA immigrants, and their enormous fan base (more than 87% of the country wants them to be given a path to citizenship). Again, their clarity and eloquence in speaking of their lives, their hopes and dreams, gave me such hope for what they could contribute to building a new cultural reality in this country. And here we were retelling the story of this immigrant nation, and, sadly, also of its history of hostile reaction to it. That said, non-white people now make up over 40% of the population. If you want to understand white supremacist rage these days, break open that statistic.
We are changing. The whole nation is undergoing huge demographic shifts. Resistance, as they say, is futile. However, it is also fierce, rage-filled, demanding a return to something that no longer exists and never will again.
And then I thought of the young LGBTQ generation courageously claiming who they are in a culture that has often treated them with violence, harsh judgement, and rejection. Why did I think of them? Because I checked out the twitter feed of Emma Gonzalez, the 17 year old that ignited the nation with her speech after the school massacre. And among her tweets was one in which she proclaimed her identity as "a bisexual Cuban-American living in Florida." I think back to when I was 17 and almost cannot believe how far these kids have come in self-awareness and in openness to the bigger, wilder world out there. I envy them - not their suffering, their self-knowledge.

It was just one of those moments of realization, or reassurance, that what we see in the sad political culture that soaks up most of the nation's attention is not the only thing happening, or even the most important thing happening. A good part of a new generation is going to impact this nation hugely. They are different. They are not like the baby-boomers of the post-WWII generation. They are going to change things.

Of course, the jury is out about what that change will look like. The jury is out about whether they have the clarity, strength, and courage to make the radical break with the economic culture of the global economy that is necessary for their survival and the survival of their children in this century.

Then this, too - that a lot of work preceded them, generations of those who struggled for human rights and social justice, opening spaces in the culture for rights to be claimed, often at terrible costs. Change doesn't just appear: it is emergent. It has roots. And these young people are moving into these new spaces with real energy.

Others of my generation started ringing alarm bells about the planetary crises on the horizon many decades ago. We started learning more about this planet, its living systems and communities, that of which we are part, not master, subject to, not dominant over. We started to realize the pathology of an economic growth mentality that could destroy the very basis for our lives on this planet while extolling profit margins.

Here, too, young people know this more than we ever did at their age. They know the generations before them have made a real mess of things and they are the ones who will have to bear the costs.

I thought of all this, trying to find the entry into a post about this moment that would make any sense of it. This country is in deep trouble, and the trouble arises from its history. Mass shootings happen here for a reason. Trump happened for a reason. The takeover of our political system by corporate donors and billionaires happened for a reason.

So did the eloquence of the MSD High School kids. So did Emma Gonzalez. All of this is happening for a reason, part of the fabric that has been this nation since it was first founded in conquest and enslavement and the brutal subduing of Nature. There have always been savagery and greed. There have always been decent people and communities fighting back against those tendencies, against oppression and injustice.
An old order is dying. We have to prepare ourselves to help shape what comes next - because there are no guarantees that it will be better. That depends on what we do now.
This culture is in a state of upheaval and tumult, the collapse of an old Anglo-European culture built on an illusion of superiority over Nature and over "others." And this upheaval is happening because of its real history, not the one in my grade school history books. That real history has led us to exactly where we are today and to the way the transition is manifesting itself. We're going to be in it for a while. And we all need to gather ourselves together and ask how we want to live through this time - what we are prepared to relinquish, what we hope to create, what we feel called to witness.

And that's why I have decided to train to become a "Warrior for the Human Spirit," for the reasons so eloquently articulated by our fearless leader, Margaret Wheatley:
Warriors for the Human Spirit are awake human beings
who have chosen not to flee. They abide.
They serve as beacons of an ancient story that tells of
the goodness and generosity and creativity of humanity.
You can identify them by their cheerfulness.
You will know them by their compassion.
When asked how they do it they will tell you about
discipline, dedication and the necessity of community.
The choice I have made is not to flee, but to abide. I ask for your support in this. And I will definitely keep you posted.

~ Margaret Swedish


You can help support our participation in the Warriors for the Human Spirit training program by contributing to the Center for New Creation. Visit our website to read past posts in New Creation News and New Creation Stories. Sign up to receive posts by email and if you like what you read here, please share our site with others. DONATIONS are always welcome.


Monday, January 29, 2018

State of the Union - greasing the skids for collapse

Hard not to believe that most of what comes from the politics of the day is doing exactly that - greasing the slide for the accelerating pace of our cultural and ecological decline. Sometimes I get a kind of brain freeze trying to fit together alternative realities - like how well the economy is doing, how low unemployment is, how insane the bull market in stocks continues to be (creating lavish amounts of paper or digital-only wealth), how strong we are, how powerful, how bright the future...

...with the record rates of suicide, especially among middle aged men, the national crisis of opioid addiction and overdose deaths, the gun violence (several mass shootings already this year), the open white supremacist and antisemitic rhetoric, the rise in poverty rates, the numbers of low-wage workers supplementing their nutrition at food banks and soup kitchens, and on and on.

We are a nation seriously lying to itself.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Warriors training: learning how to live in 'THIS' world

It's the only one we have. And while we may have wished, and wish every day, for a different one, this is the world within which we live, the one humans have made. Every day we have to live in the only world that exists.

And most every day, as 2017 ended and 2018 began, I have been reflecting on how to do that - because we can't change this one, not at the big scale, not the one where smartphones are in the hands of more than 77% of the U.S. population and will deliver just about anything to your doorstep, with free shipping and lots and lots of paper and plastic packaging, not when millions are planning dozens of plane trips for business and vacation, not when automakers are filling an endless hunger for bigger and bigger personal vehicles, not when all the signs are that the human world is driving the ecological systems of the planet to the brink of unraveling.

Friday, December 22, 2017

About that "Light in the Darkness" part

It’s been a rough year, hasn’t it? For me, I guess it really put content into that notion of “The Great Unraveling,” a phrase that has emerged over the past couple of decades from numerous thinkers, writers, journalists, environmental biologists, and climate scientists to describe what is unquestionably the great underlying crisis of our time.

The world we have known for generations is unraveling – quickly. Whether it’s the living ecosystems of the planet, the political system and governing bodies of the United States, the post-Cold War global economic order, cultural and tribal belief systems that go back many centuries - nothing feels stable anymore.

And that’s because - nothing is stable anymore. And that marks a different scale of change than what one fraught election has wrought in this land. Something bigger is going on, something that I have found best described in the literature on the nature and inevitability of civilizational collapse [for example: The Fate of Empires and the Search for Survival, by Sir John Glubb. Excellent paper and a free pdf download]. We shouldn’t be shocked by that. Historical and anthropological research has shown that this has happened many times in human history, and that no civilization is exempt.
We just have the added complexity of this one occurring in the context of planetwide ecological collapse as well.

If all that sounds terrifying, that’s because it is.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Coping during the "Great Unraveling"

~ by Margaret Swedish

New wildfires are raging in Southern California, through hills and canyons, burning hundreds of structures in Ventura County and, in Los Angeles, forcing tens of thousands to flee, closing schools, creating chaos and gridlock on freeways and road systems. For the two largest fires, there is only 5% containment, fires continue to spread, and the Santa Ana winds are expected to blow fiercely through Saturday, 50-80 mph. Red flag warnings remain through at least Sunday. 

Temperatures in the L.A. area reached the 90s on Thanksgiving Day. The normal for Nov 23 is 70. The drought and record heat of recent months has dried up all the brush from the record spring rains and floods, creating tinder in densely populated areas.

Meanwhile, I took a late afternoon walk along Lake Michigan in Milwaukee on Monday. The temp was 64, normal is 36. And while temperatures have dropped to more reasonable December readings since then, we saw abnormally warm days in October and November, not to mention the unprecedented 90s+ heat wave in September.

Also on Monday, President Trump (still hard to put those two words together) tried by mere order to shrink the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah, opening them to the possibility of oil and gas drilling, cattle-grazing, and the rampaging of off-road vehicles, an injury beyond comprehension to Indian nations for whom these are sacred lands, full of artifacts and remnants left from the lives of their ancestors - not to mention the breathtaking beauty of this vast wilderness.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Giving thanks during the great unraveling

Is it possible? Is it possible to look at the times in which we live - and give thanks? Can we embrace gratitude even as all we know begins to collapse beneath and around us?

Sure we can - if we correct the lenses through which we see the unraveling.

Like fish in water, or animals breathing air, we move around in what is an all-encompassing "atmosphere" of western culture and economic life, not noticing the essence of our environment or exactly what it is on which we are completely dependent. Look around you right now. What part of your life in this moment, in whatever space of work or home or coffee shop or wherever is NOT connected to a market economy and the increasingly complex technology on which we have all become dependent for the most basic things in life?

What is always stunning for me when I ponder this reality is how quickly that dependence anchored itself in our lives and in our consciousness, how quickly we are losing some basic skills as we give them over to that technology. I have asked people about what would happen if the satellites went down and they lost their GPS - would they know how to get from here to there?
Or I have asked about whether they keep hard copy of their family members' and friends' addresses and phone numbers in case their smartphones go down. Would they know how to find them? And if the satellites go down, and therefore our ability to communicate via WiFi technology, do they have another way to get in touch with people, their loved ones, emergency responders, etc.?

How 'bout that cloud where you store all your documents, photos, music. It isn't really a cloud, you know. It's a server somewhere. What happens when that goes down?

The response I often get in these conversations is a nervous laugh, or a silent "uh oh," as they see the reality sink in.

How about the new robots? How about the robots and artificial intelligence (AI) predicted to replace more than half the human jobs by 2050? And that's not just drudgery or factory work. That's also Uber and truck drivers, and doctors and surgeons, and many Wall Street jobs.

But here is the thing: we are increasingly dependent for our survival and pleasures in life on the very systems of production and economic growth that are causing the unraveling. It's a form of capitalist suicide because what is unraveling is the very basis of the capitalist system. The only reason we don't feel it yet, at least for those of us of the consumer culture, is that we are in that last throe of riding high, the fastest pace of unsustainable growth occurring just before the collapse.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Resilience as a spiritual practice

We see and hear that word a lot these days - resilient communities, psychological and emotional resilience, spiritual resilience, resilience as an essential ingredient of sustainability (don't like the word "sustainability" because we are living so wildly outside it that the word is no longer meaningful).

It comes up for a reason. It recurs because of the stresses and challenges most of us face every day, starting with the moment we get out of bed in the morning. We're going to need a whole lot of it as we move through these turbulent times.

Nature is a community. Photo: M Swedish
Is nature resilient? Yes, to a point, and depending on whether you mean the old version of "nature," or the one we are moving into rapidly, which is not the old version and never will be again. Resilience has a different meaning when we write of the planet because its resilience is one of the reasons it has been able to evolve life through these billions of years, recovering over and over again from tremendous catastrophes. But sometimes that takes shaking off whole species in order for it to adjust, adapt to new circumstances, and then begin again. What will it do with the human species now?