Friday, December 16, 2016

How our revolutionary history can shed light on this moment of crisis

We ignore history at our peril.

I spent several days last week in Manhattan visiting a sister who has lived there nearly 40 years or so. In the 25 years that I lived and worked in the DC area, Manhattan became part of our deep bond. We share a love of American history – the real history, not the glorified one we got from our childhood schooling. We traveled together many times – to revolutionary and Civil War battlefields, to historical sites dating back from Jamestown to Yorktown to the Appomattox Courthouse. We learned about the history of slavery and genocide in the east, and the moral and political failures of Founding Fathers, as well as their genius.

If we don’t know about these things, we are missing the context for how we have arrived at this remarkably dangerous moment in our nation.

Hamilton as Secretary of Treasury
Because of the success of the Broadway show, Hamilton, New York City has gone a bit nuts with revolutionary history and millions of people are coming to take it in. Long-neglected historical sites are being visited (like Hamilton’s house which neared disastrous deterioration before it was moved for a second time, this time to a site run by the National Park Service). Various cultural institutions are telling parts of the story through brilliantly curated exhibits, like that of the Battle of Brooklyn at the New York City Historical Society (where I learned a lot I didn’t know before about the beginning of the Revolutionary War) and at the central library where they had some original documents on display that took my breath away – like George Washington’s farewell speech to his officers written in his own hand, and next to it a draft with markings and edits by Alexander Hamilton.

Makes them real. Also makes real the cultural, economic, and political tensions and divides that have been part of this country since its founding days.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Reading the "Signs of the Times"

A Message from Margaret Swedish

The Center for New Creation has come to the end of its 2016 fiscal year in a time of cultural turmoil. The year ending has been a transitional one for the work I do under this umbrella – a decision to ground my work more deeply in the urban reality of my city of Milwaukee, to connect the ecology and spirituality focus with the deep-seated reality of racism and segregation (not unique to Milwaukee). I also continue as I have for years now to offer programs that help us root our human existence within the truth of Gaia, a deeply interconnected Web of Life within which we dwell and outside of which we do not exist at all – and that web is in big trouble as we know. The election didn’t help that any.

Copyright : Romolo Tavani
Like a lot of people, I’m worried. I am deeply, deeply worried about where we are in the tumult of the moment, the enormous shifts underway, about how unprepared we are for what’s coming, how hard a time we are having seeing the truth of our predicament. It seems to me a deeper sharing is required, a deeper look into reality than we are getting from the mainstream that sees only in terms of surface dynamics, important as those may be. 

I believe that what we are seeing in this election cycle is not the thing in itself, or a beginning of something new, but rather a reaction to or an expression of the changes already underway – for our planet, the global economy, the demographics of our increasingly crowded world – in other words, the shifting of the ground beneath our feet, or the collapse of foundations that have been crumbling for a long time.

The mistake would be to try to repair the foundations. They are collapsing for a reason. The world they have been holding up doesn’t exist anymore.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Seeking words to help us see

I work with words. One could say that a lot of what I do with my day is work with words.

I write. I write for this website. I write for a CNC Facebook page. I write as a writer – essays, poems, I’m trying to finish a book, my third, and I give talks, do PowerPoint presentations, go to meetings, speak in communities. And I read – voraciously.

Words are my work tools. It’s one of the ways I work for New Creation - on its behalf, in the hopes of it.

And so I found company and some consolation in these words on a Nov 9 Facebook post in the aftermath of the Trump victory from a writer whom I much admire, Terry Tempest Williams, because the tools had failed me and I was having a very hard time writing at all:
It is morning, and I am mourning.
And the river is before me.
I am a writer without words who is struggling to find them.

I stood with Lake Michigan before me, a glacial lake left here when the ice finally retreated after a long Ice Age. It represents for me all that has gone wrong with our human industrial age – it is polluted, invasive species have destroyed its original ecosystem, it is in demand and threatened by future demand as humans drain aquifers around the nation, toxic algae appears each year, and some beaches pose health risks from e.coli.

And the lake represents for me all that makes this work important to me, all that makes this special place worth saving – its beauty, the way the water changes color with the sky or the direction of the wind, from deep blues to slate gray, sometimes blending with the fog that roles in at certain times of the year disappearing the horizon, the days of calm when the mallard and merganser ducks, the coots, and the geese float lazily on the surface and the days when a gale blows in and it becomes a wild animal crashing on our shores.

Monday, November 7, 2016

On the night before the election

I've been trying to find some words to share on this night before the election and they keep failing me. So I will just type and see what comes...

What will be settled if one or the other, Trump or Clinton, wins? Nothing, really, if we are talking about emerging from the collapse of the political culture and the demise of the two-party system as representing engines of change in one direction or the other. What we can expect, no matter who wins, is a fairly ungovernable nation. It's been bad for years now, but I think it's about to get worse. If anyone thinks we go from this chaos, ugliness, and slime-slinging to cooperation, compromise, or dealing with the fundamental crises of the planet, well, the reality check will come soon, methinks.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Changing how we work for change

"Either you build from the bottom up or nothing changes." ~ Gar Alperovitz

The cultural contrasts could not be more profound - which is what tends to happen at the precipice, or at the decisive moment of transition. The tension rises. A keen sense of what those who benefit from the status quo are about to lose comes up against those left out, marginalized, or outright oppressed by that same status quo who have become empowered to shake off that oppression, to bear witness to a new world, a different world, a better one than this.

We are in a decisive moment like that. And, no, I don't mean the national election. That certainly matters. Conditions for bringing about change will be altered by the outcome, but the change necessary now, the kind needed to get this world on a better path than this destructive one, will not come from the voting booth.

Keep in mind that I am not saying don't vote. VOTE!! It is one way we keep some space in our political system open for the other work we need to do, the work that DOES bring about change...from the bottom up.

For me, those sharp, clear, cultural contrasts are best seen right now in what feels like the worst of us up against the best of us - the campaign for the White House and the struggle in North Dakota and Iowa to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. One is disgust-inducing, the other inspiring beyond words. One means we sink into more chaos or keep a firmer hold on the status quo of corporate power, and the other shows us the path toward healing our relationships with Mother Earth and our history.

As a friend of Rev. Billy Talen (that character brilliantly created by Talen and the Church of Stop Shopping) said about what he experienced in North Dakota with the Standing Rock Sioux, "It’s not like a protest. It’s a ceremony."

And I agree with Talen in this piece [Environmentalists: Make Your Stand Like Standing Rock] - the nature of how we make change needs to be changed. Mere protest won't do. And ego-led top-down organizing won't do. This must become a movement of bottom up sacred work, spiritual work, humble work, community-building work that creates a new culture to replace the one that is destroying the living communities of the planet....

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Developers v Protectors

This is indeed one of the decisive struggles of our time because they represent powerfully divergent views of how humans view Nature, Mother Earth, Gaia.

Is the Earth a vast dead mass of resources that, by way of our human brilliance and ingenuity, we have figured out how to exploit to advance our industrial/technological/consumer economic way of life, with all the comfort, convenience and species privilege that comes with it? Or is it a living organism within which all the systems that make life possible are interconnected, including the human who is not over and above Nature but embedded within it, within the web that holds life and makes life possible?

Friday, September 16, 2016

What is being birthed in North Dakota?

The Sacred Stone Camp in North Dakota, one of the two front lines of struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline (the other being in Iowa), continues to grow - both physically in place, and in terms of solidarity all around the world. It has captured the imagination of people who are facing a similar harsh reality - the threat to their land and waters, the threat to their families and their futures, the threat to climate, from the fossil fuel industry.

Photo: Sacred Stone Camp

One of the harsh realities of the Obama administration, despite a public commitment to address the threat of the atmosphere's rising carbon load, is the record expansion of the domestic oil and gas industry by way of drilling and fracking, greater than ever in our history. This is being done in the name of "energy independence," a strategy that Obama called "all of the above." Expand it all - solar, wind, sure, but the real ticket in this global economy was to get at our own oil and gas reserves. And that meant developing the technology to go after the hard-to-get stuff, the carbon stuck in shale rock or deep under the seas or all mixed up in the sands we call "tar" sands because what this is really is tar, not sand, and needs to be extracted and refined into a synthetic fuel.

And to get that stuff extracted and then moved to refineries and to market, the other thing needed was infrastructure - more and more infrastructure. More pipelines, bigger refineries, larger export platforms, super-tankers for ocean carriers, more rail cars, more frac sand mined from the rich sand hills of western Wisconsin.

One result is a real dirty mess wherever the expansion is underway, grave costs to the natural environment, irreparable damage - the boreal forests of Alberta, the poisoned water from the fracking process, the stripped sand hills, gone forever, the sites of hundreds and hundreds of pipeline spills.

Monday, September 5, 2016

The Meaning of New Creation

Some call it “The Great Unraveling.” What we know is that all around the planet, living systems are under stress and some are breaking down. What we know is that the atmosphere is warming rapidly, weather is becoming more chaotic and unpredictable as climate responds to the heat, ice sheets and glaciers are melting and sea levels are rising, flooding our shores and threatening island nations. What we know is that everywhere we seem to be facing crises of toxic contamination – in our water sources, in our soils, in the air we breathe. We also know that the rate of species extinctions is accelerating at a rate not seen in millions of years.

Something has gone very wrong with the way we humans live here.