[This post, and the one that will follow (part 1 & 2), are from a homily I delivered at the ChI Interfaith Community monthly interfaith service on July 20, 2013. It is dedicated to all those participating in the Summer Heat Richmond demonstration tomorrow, Aug. 3rd – http://joinsummerheat.org/bay/]
In preparing my thoughts for this talk, I asked a few friends what came to mind when they heard the word, “activism.” It was the response of one friend that particularly struck me. “When I hear the word, ‘activism?’” he repeated my question, “ I think of angry people.”
Check in with yourself for a moment. Do you or does some part of you agree?
Is activism now understood to be what those angry people do to take a stand on all those issues? And for a moment, let’s consider a small sampling of those issues…
- At present, 9 major wars (1000+ fatalities/yr) & 25 other conflicts (<1000 fatalities/yr);
- Of the 6,222 FBI reported hate crimes in 2011, 6,216 were single-bias incidents—46.9 percent were racially motivated, 20.8 percent resulted from sexual orientation bias,
- 19.8 percent were motivated by religious bias, 11.6 stemmed from ethnicity/national origin bias, and 0.9 percent were prompted by disability bias;
- One in six people live on less than $1 per day, and 50% of the world’s hospital beds are people suffering from waterborne diseases.
- Indigenous cultures are in decline all over the world;
- Social isolation is on the rise.
- Everyday, 137 species go extinct – 1000 times the normal rate, and if the scientific global climate models are accurate, we should expect an increase in the frequency, severity and impact (economic, social, environmental) of weather-related disasters.
Check-in with yourself, again. What’s happening inside you…RIGHT now? Is there anxiety? Feelings of Powerlessness? Outrage? Or maybe a simple desire to escape? And, under the present circumstances, who of us is wrong to run for cover and escape?
The enormity, the hugeness of what we are part of on Planet Home can be deadening, no question. And often, it’s in this space where we make the choice to be an Activist…or Not.
And here, is where we can see the problem: because humans tend toward dualistic thinking, we are either Activists (aka “angry”), or we’re passive, hoping and praying a creative genius to those who feel less overwhelmed and can, “go deal with it.”
I agreed to talk about Sacred Activism. So I asked my friend about this, too. He said, “’Sacred Activism?’ Now, you’re just messin’ with me. I don’t know what to think of that.”
Sacred Activism has been coined by a few authors and peace-making historians who suggest there’s another way. I know they’re right.
Today, there is a NEW activist who stands on the shoulders of activist ancestry. This activist has cultivated a few unique characteristics – sacred practices, we might say – to meet life fully engaged, moving beyond anger, beyond avoidance. The practices are interconnected and inform one another, but to describe more specifically how this New Activist is born and moves in the world, I’m going to describe three of them — one now and the other two, in Part Two:
Practice One: Begin with Love, Return to Love
Many individuals have stumbled on what becomes activism simply by doing what they love: Mother Theresa, nursing the poor, for example. Foster parents. Marine biologists.
We love to love what we love!
And there’s a funny thing about love…
our love is so strong and so tender that sometimes, it gets hidden behind WALLS of defense, TUNNELS of outrage, or WAVES of grief. It can be a long return to love. In the year before I professed myself an “eco-chaplain,” I had already served as the Executive Director for Green Sangha; I had built from nothing, an environmental action team at the hospital where I was a chaplain and still, in the world around me, nothing was being returned to its right place. I saw 1-person-per-car idling on the freeway, an endless supply of Styrofoam cups and plastic bags being used once and tossed. The Goodwill store, near my house was having a SALE! I felt mildly psychotic: We are clearing the Earth’s forests, so we can drive to the store to buy stuff, to give to Goodwill, so they can send it to the landfill. I was desperate, I was angry; blame was pointless and staying mad felt miserable, so I turned toward what I love — toward the rocks, the trees, the smells of nature. I began to ride my bike so I could climb the hills and sweat and breathe Mother Earth’s theology. Moving from this place – from my love – I was able to see my grief as a teacher. My grief and love became the impetus to work within corporate America – the previous target of my outrage and blame. Love dissolves boundaries and brings us into intimacy with what is, so that even when we encounter that which seems opposite to love, we may seek to love it, too.
So, take this week to explore what you love —
I mean really, really love. Notice if there’s something blocking you from it (self-created, or otherwise). What will it take to return? To love what you love? Next Week: Practices 2 and 3…
I’m liking your use of “sacred activism.” Though you’d said it to me before in conversation, I did not think of it as naming an redirection of our emotions about the “Horribles” into love. I like it a lot. I can look at what’s hurting and go to a place of love from which to act. Thanks.