Sacred Activism (Part Two)

[This post, is the second of two (Sacred Activism, Part One, posted 8/1/2013).  Together, they form a homily I delivered at the ChI Interfaith Community monthly interfaith service on July 20, 2013.]

 

We need to ask not whether it is realistic or practical or viable but whether it is imaginable.   We need to ask if our consciousness and imagination have been so assaulted and co-opted by the royal consciousness that we have been robbed of the courage or power to think an alternative thought…

– Walter Brueggemann

 

In Sacred Activism, Part One, I asked us to check-in with ourselves about the ideas we currently hold around the word, “activism.”  We scrolled through a short list of some of today’s local and global issues inviting change, justice or transformation.  Then, just before going numb, spitting fire or admitting hopelessness, I suggested that there is NEW activist at work in our world; an activist who, standing on the shoulders of activist ancestry, has cultivated 3 unique characteristics –  sacred practices, we might say – to meet life fully engaged, moving beyond anger, beyond avoidance.   We began with Practice One: Begin with Love, Return to Love.  And now, I would like to describe two more.

Practice Two: Regenerative Humility, Rippling Faith

Photo Credit: Unless otherwise stated, all images courtesy of Google Images

Photo Credit: Unless otherwise stated, all images courtesy of Google Images

 

Back in 2004, there were some Americans – myself among them – who really wanted a different president.  In Northern California, the tone of the election was wiry and frantic.  In a last-ditch effort, I volunteered at a phone bank, calling residents in swing states.  One night, I spoke woman in her 60s.  She lived in Ohio and I asked her if she would be voting in the election.  She said, “Oh, I sort of stopped doing that.”  “Really,” I pushed on, “When did you stop voting?”  “Well, the year I turned 21 was an election year and I was very excited to go to the polls.  The Daylight Savings Time measure was on the ballot and it didn’t pass the way I wanted it to, so I stopped.”  My jaw dropped.  There was nothing on my phone bank script that seemed a suitable response.   I took a deep breath, “That must have been disappointing for you.  Sometimes we don’t get the measures we vote for, but I do think it’s still really valuable to ask for what we want.  I really hope you’ll go to the polls next week.”

 

Because the starting point and returning point is always love, Regenerative Humility and Rippling Faith work in tandem for the New Activist.  This practice is about healing the whole by healing one’s self.  If that woman in Ohio had had some tools for being with her own disappointment, is it possible she wouldn’t have burnt-out so quickly?  In 2013, the very notion of Activism implies the Long-haul.

 

Recycling is endless

Recycling is endless

Humility keeps us curious and from becoming overly focused on the outcomes.  What do I mean by Regenerative Humility?  I’m describing something that is less interested in changing the world (outside in) and more aware of how the world is changing me (inside out).

Humility becomes regenerative, when it believes in real transformation, at a pace that can sustain the inevitable set-backs or disappointments along the way.

lunchcounter

To find this staying power, humility is in symbiotic relationship with Faith.  The New Activist has faith that just he or she is doing does his or her own work, others are doing their work also.  Rippling Faith is where these two meet.  It’s where our mutual efforts co-mingle and inspire one another, neither angry, nor avoidant.  Rippling Faith is Shamanic; it’s a deep knowing that what is above is also below; that we can move forward with receptivity, steadiness and compassion toward what is happening and what will be.

 

Practice Three: Prophetic Imagination

The last practice I want to highlight, for now, is Prophetic Imagination.  If this is a new term for you, please explore it.  The New Activist looks to Prophetic Imagination as a North Star, and also as an unwavering source of inspiration.  It is the North Star because, when we consider how we got here, at all, we have the holiest of all Imaginations to thank.  In the words of Thomas Berry,

“If the dynamics of the universe from the beginning shaped the course of the heavens, lighted the sun, and formed the earth….(with) seas and the atmosphere, if it awakened life in the primordial cell…and               finally brought us into being and guided us through the turbulent centuries, there is reason to believe that this same guiding process is precisely what has awakened in us our present understanding of ourselves and our relations to this stupendous process.”  

Who are the prophets?  They are the visionaries, the restless ones.  Prophets are the historians who tell our story using paint, poetry, dreams and dance.

The prophetic imagination puts treasure immediately at our fingertips.  And it is also our prophetic imagination that brings fresh eyes to see the issues that have been cleverly avoided or brushed aside as “a thing of the past.”

And so now my closing question, who is this New Activist? 

This activist is moving in you (yes, you…and you, too), and in every single one of us.

 

The Sacred Activist, is US.

We create the world we imagine and there is a time-sensitive invitation at stake for us all.  What story is our history t0 tell, with our poetry, our visions, our first-hand account of living life fully right now?  What do you love?  Where can curiosity provide renewed energy?

Lean into it; make art (click that!); tell a story; see what happens…

 

Bibliography and Photo Credits:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_ongoing_military_conflicts

http://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2012/december/annual-hate-crimes-report-released/annual-hate-crimes-report-released

Stanford SIQSS Studywww-cs-faculty.stanford.edu

http://www.climate-insurance.org/front_content.php?idcat=885

Images: Unless stated otherwise, all images courtesy Google Images

 

Sacred Activism (Part One)

[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?

 

Photo: Google Images

Photo Credit: Unless noted otherwise, all photos in this post are courtesy of Google Images

 

Photo: Google Images

 

Photo: Google Images

 

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…

Picture1

 

At present, 9 major wars (1000+ fatalities/yr) & 25 other conflicts (<1000 fatalities/yr);

 

 

 

 

 

 

www.justseeds.org

www.justseeds.org

 

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;

 

 

 

 

 

and 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?

It’s alright.

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 —

Ellie, one of Lauren's LOVES!

Ellie, one of Lauren’s LOVES!

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…

Visit Here: http://joinsummerheat.org/bay/

Visit Here: http://joinsummerheat.org/bay/

 

Deflecting the Arrow, Shooting our Feet

If it doesn’t help me love you, it can’t possibly be true.

–         Kurt Johnson

 

I have no patience for those who use our desperate situation as an excuse for inaction…  The use of this excuse to justify inaction reveals nothing more nor less than an incapacity to love. 

–         Derrick Jensen

 

Let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love.

–         Che Guevara

I’ve just returned from a trip for work — a trip that took me through several airports in my journey across the country and back.  What I love most about journeys like this is how immediately I’m called to attend to the “largeness” of our existence — walking through an airport, taking a cab through new-to-me city streets, observing the pacing and perceived busyness of people everywhere, engaging with life.  These things fill me with curiosity and remind me that there is so much I do not know (and long to know).  Furthermore, there is so much I take for granted in my highly-routinized life happening in the relatively (righteously?) small world of Berkeley.

 

There is something else that happens, too.  Suspended between here and there (no longer in Berkeley and not yet at my final destination) I find myself quite suddenly on the see-saw I’ll call, Intimacy-or-Anonymity.  You know the one?  The Intimacy-or-Anonymity see-saw, for me, can be an ecstatic experience.  Really!  At it’s height, the playground ride tips me into gleeful appreciation (love, freely offered) for every being whirling by in the transitory nature of neither here-nor-there.  For a period of time we are, all of us, pilgrims held captive in suspended time.  All at once, departing and arriving, our wholly-unique stories propel us from one location to another.  We are the molecules moving and forming all of existence.

Seesaw.  Photo credit:hvms6math.atom5.com

Seesaw. Photo credit: hvms6math.atom5.com

And then, the see-saw swings back.  It sets me down in my plane seat, forcing me to choose whether to make eye-contact with the one sitting next to me…or not.  Maybe this person will be genuinely interested in an experience I have to share, or maybe we’ll be from the same town, or maybe (…c’mon, say it!) we’ll fall madly in love, or maybe we’ll discover in less than two sentences that we have nothing in common and no matter how many ways I convey with words, body language or otherwise, I will fail completely in my efforts to end all contact.  Never-you-fear, introverts!  In the talk or no-talk on airplanes debate, I have zero skin in the game.

 

40,000 feet above Alaska, (2007)

40,000 feet above Alaska, (2007)

 

The Intimacy-or-Anonymity see-saw can be illustrated nicely way up at 30,000     feet.  But truthfully, my skin is in a tougher game; the one down here in the weeds, with the people we know, the people we love, and the people we know we could know better.

 

This week, as St.Valentine visits mailboxes, candle-lit dining tables, chocolate shops and flower stands, I’m thinking too

of the Climate Rally that will happen in Washington, DC on Sunday.  I’m thinking of a friend from Montana, who last week told me about the people in her town who are relocating to South Dakota because the Keystone XL Pipeline is creating the jobs they’ve needed for the past 3 years.  I’m thinking of the 5,000 new cars arriving on the streets of China….every day.  5000, every day.  AND…I’m thinking about the jet-fueled flights I took last week, where I was offered countless

Utah Airport, Recycling (2007)

Utah Airport, Recycling (2007)

cups of beverages in single-use plastic cups, to say nothing of the sheets and towels and newspapers and coffee-makers made available to me  and the hundreds of others occupying the hundreds upon hundreds of hotel rooms just like mine.  AND  —  I know this is hard, but please keep reading — I’m recalling how many of us stared blankly at the countless television screens lining the airport terminals, as stories from far and wide invited us to consider our position on guns, women, trees, democracy…and how after a few minutes, most eyes returned to a hand-held device, clutching perhaps to some sense of intimacy in this vast ocean of anonymity.

And here’s the slippery part…with this subtle shift of our eyes, do we not also choose anonymity, brushing those gun-women-tree-democracy matters off to some other people — the ones more intimately involved?  (deep breath….)

 

 

Jose Fuster's Mosaic Masterpiece (Havana, 2008)

Jose Fuster’s Mosaic Masterpiece (Havana, 2008)

 

It’s Valentine’s Day.  I have read and re-read the quotes above; like Zen koans they’ve been circling through my mind: “What IS my capacity to love?”  “Is what I’m doing/thinking/feeling right now helping me love you?  And if not, can I make a different choice?”  “What is a true and loving choice?”

 

The Intimacy-or-Anonymity dance is a fun game to observe up in the clouds.  And on the ground, it requires our engagement.  In our homes, schools and offices, spiritual communities and neighborhood coffee shops, we can choose to grow our love….or not.  Seduced by an apparent bargain, distracted by a momentary ego-gain, gripped by a project deadline, allured by the reprieve of not-in-my-backyard, it is sooooooo easy to get caught up in the short-sightedness of no intimacy.  Fearing the impact of eye-contact and real encounters, we deflect Cupid’s arrow….only to shoot ourselves in the foot.

Love made Easy (Lane & Bryn, 2008)

Love made Easy (Lane & Bryn, 2008)

 

Start where you are.  Begin with the ones you love the most. Move toward those you want to love more.

Blessing Bicycles: worship and tongue-tied reverence

 

When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the the future of the human race.

-H.G. Wells

When man invented the bicycle he reached the peak of his attainments.  Here was a machine of precision and balance for the convenience of man.  And (unlike subsequent inventions for man’s convenience) the more he used it, the fitter his body became.  Here, for once, was a product of man’s brain that was entirely beneficial to those who used it, and of no harm or irritation to others….

-ElizabethWest, Hovel in the Hills

Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.

– SusanB. Anthony 1896

 

A good friend took me to task after my March post, “Lauren!” he emailed instantly, “You forgot Bicycles!  ‘Bike,’ begins with ‘B’!”

 

Gadzooks, it does!  How could I blog about Boys, Births and Bees and fail to mention my true love, the B-i-k-e???  Worry not.  I was simply waiting for May, National Bike Month.  I figured a month devoted to the two-wheeled machine would help couch my enthusiasm.  The honest truth is:  I feel self-conscious about my love for the bike.  It’s just so….extreme.

 

I say “the” bike, because, while I love my bike(s), it is the act of biking itself combined with all that a bike might represent (freedom, whimsy, courage, speed, economic brilliance, strength, efficiency, community, fun) that renders me breathless and tongue-tied.  It’s not unusual, when trying to explain what goes on for me with a bike, to begin weeping and just shrug in surrender.  Once upon a time, I felt this way about singing.  And I think it IS this way with our yogas — the practices that unite us with Spirit, God, the Great Mystery.

 

Direct experiences, those so sacred they don’t readily lend themselves to description, are a blessing in today’s communication-laden world; and our “divine charge,” if you will, is to embrace them.  So, to celebrate National Bike Month, I partnered with other cities across the U.S. and called upon my friends at the East Bay Bicycle Coalition and the City of Berkeley to create Berkeley’s First-ever Blessing of Bicycles.

 

Blessing of Bicycles, 5/5/2012

I began my thoughts with the quotes above and the words of Martin Buber who wrote, “God made so many different kinds of people: why would God allow only one way to worship?”  Those gathered, instantly got it.  Looking around the circle of cyclists – racers bedecked in their sponsor-graffitied spandex, and fathers pedaling their Extracycles with toddlers in tow – heads were nodding in consensus.

 

Renee Rivera, ED of the East Bay Bike Coalition, reminded us that while we were gathering to bless our bikes that, in truth it is our bikes that bless us.  Are we, on our rides, awake to the blessings they offer?

 

Renee Rivera & Mayor Tom Bates

I was transported, in that moment, to a workshop I’d facilitated two weekends before where I’d invited participants to use magazine pictures to collage an image of God.  The workshop was nearly over, with ten minutes remaining, when in walks Jack. Jack, I’m guessing, was in was, his mid 60s and looked about 49.  He was vibrant, with twinkling eyes and an enormous smile.  “Is this the ‘Million Faces of God’ session?” he beamed.

 

“Yes, it is,” I welcomed him, “Perhaps you’d like to see if there are a few pictures on the table here that describe your image of God?  I don’t want to rush you, but the rest of us are about to share.”

 

Resting his bike helmet on the floor, Jack set about to find an image in the first magazine he saw.  And then, while others shared ornate collages with intricate, twisting descriptions of God imagery and theology, Jack asked if he could speak next.   With a soft, pleased delight he offered the back cover of Bicycling magazine; it was an ad from New Belgium Brewery, where a young woman is standing near her cruiser bike and a frothy stein of beer.  Technicolor trees and birds swirl about.

 

“This picture,” he said somewhat shyly, “is an image of God.”  And then gaining confidence, “I bike everyday and from my bike, I see people and things I wouldn’t see in a car traveling at speed.  I go more slowly on my bike – slow enough to smell, appreciate.  I can make eye contact and smile at the world going by.  And this beer…(he sighs)… Well, I don’t drink except at communion on Sunday, but this glass just reminds me of the Eucharist and ties it altogether.”

 

Thank you, Jack.  I really couldn’t say it any better.  The words I would use are different, and they might be reflected in some of the interfaith blessings you’ll capture if you watch the video link below.  The late Carl Sagan, in his own way, offered a bike blessing with these words, “If constellations had been names in the 20th century, I suppose we would see bicycles.”

 

Happy May!  If you haven’t done it for awhile, dust off your handlebars and go for a pedal – ride to the park, the market, visit a friend.  And if cycling doesn’t do it for you, then lean into the practice that rapts your attention – is it gardening or hiking?  Meditation, cooking, music-making or prayer?  Fall in love.  Do it now.

 

Bikes & Cyclists, duly blessed

You can watch highlights of Berkeley’s First-ever Blessing of Bicycles here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C6TH26PQUbs

Please NOTE: the video is 13 minutes long and I would recommend advancing to the following highlights: 1) minutes 1&2 –  curious individuals gathering, 2) minute 3 – Mayor Bates offering his whimsical blessing, 3) minutes 5:30-11:30 – clips of interfaith clergy extending blessings.

 

 

 

 

 


Performing Salah: Bowing to 2011

 

“People who have not been in Narnia sometimes think
that a thing cannot be good and terrible at the same time.”

-C.S. Lewis

“I want to tell you about love… Even the word, ‘love,’ is not adequate
to define the force that wove the fabric of space and time.”

-Drew Dellinger

 

“Asking good questions is half of learning”

-attributed to Muhammad

 

When 2011 began, I made some plans and I set an intention.  My plans included concrete things like moving out of the shed where I’d lived for 11 years (a great story, but different blog) and meeting a great man with whom to share my life.  My intention was to actualize these plans (and others) while trusting fully in the practice of grace. Grace?  For me it means trusting that I don’t have to, “make it all happen,” or be, “in control,” and that, quite possibly, by asking for help and being a bit vulnerable, Ease, Synchronicity and Confluence ably offer a better picture than the limited one I would’ve created on my own.

 

I think we all agree: 2011 has been busy.  Grace-filled victories reminded me throughout Spring and Summer that, even in the more stressful moments, I was learning to trust life in a new way.  It stretched me!  It felt good!  And then, I got my heart broken.  With no explanation, a story I was loving just stopped and like a science fiction movie, part of the universe opened-up and pulled me into an abyss of blackness.  I hadn’t felt grief this painful since…oh, right.  Since the last time was heart was broken.  Tearfully, stubbornly, I refused to let go of the grace….

 

A week later, during the closing ritual for the Islam module at the school where I work, I was invited to participate in the Muslim Call to Prayer – an embodied submission to Allah that happens 5 times a day.  It was in the act of dropping to the floor and submitting to, “the Other,” when it rushed in and shook me to the core: “I do not WANT to submit to something else!  Have we not been through this?” I bellowed to my inner cast of characters.  “So many years of grappling with, defining and RE-defining my relationship with the Who or What, ‘Out There,’ for whom I must prostrate and bow to!”

 

Tears of recognition.

 

Grace.  I am bowing to grace!
I am bowing to all that I cannot control
and I am bowing to that which I cannot radically accept: being rejected and being unable to ‘fix it.’  I am bowing to the no guarantees
and life’s uncertainties.

 

Myself.  I am bowing to myself and I am bowing to
my ego’s wish
that everyone else were more like me.  I am bowing to my tendency
to compare my path to others – particularly those
who never seem to need
to bow
to anything much
at all!!!
I am bowing to my fear that they may know something
that I should know
too.

 

I am bowing to the seduction of fame,
and a latent panic
that my life and work will not amount to anything
world-changing.

 

I am bowing to my alienation from the All.
I am bowing to Everything,
and I am bowing to No
thing.

 

I am bowing
and thrashing
and sobbing.

 

I am bowing to the Powers that always win
and I’m bowing to the
possibility
that we will discover another way; a different way;
a better way.

 

I am bowing to my ambition. I am bowing to a sometimes-wish I feel to,
“check-out” and to let others
carry the load – YOU be the do-gooders for awhile!!!!

 

I am bowing to my desire to know love and wholeness,
and I am bowing to the place in me
that may forever hunger and thirst simply so I might bow again and again and again.  I am bowing to my contradictions.  I am bowing.
I am bowing.

 

In a mother-to-be’s womb, the amniotic fluid is changed every 3 hours, or 5 times every 24 hour cycle.  This is one reason Muslims pray 5 times a day.  Each day, we are invited to tend our wombs: to grow the seed of the Divine within, to labor with the Divine as we give birth to and celebrate our True Nature. Gracedidn’t promise I would get to choose; grace promised to hold me in the process of all that is.

 

I bow to the answer not-yet-found, the direction not-yet-known, the hearts of others not-yet-ready.  I bow to the possibility of NEVER knowing.  What else can I do?  Thank you, 2011, for all that you have been.  I bow to you.

 

 

 

What is the Power of Your Love?

[I delivered the following homily in the summer of 2007 at my Renewing Ceremony.  The ceremony was created as a ritual to both renew my 1999 Ordination vows as an Interfaith minister and profess myself an Eco-chaplain.  Similar to a minister whose Call is healthcare ministry or prison ministry, I had come, through uncomfortable discernment, that my calling is to care – very intentionally – for the Earth and all Her inhabitants.  With my seminary’s endorsement and the blessing of my spiritual communities, I stepped into this new “office” on June 23, 2007. The ceremony began with an invocation by Jane DeCuir, of the Cherokee Metis Nation…]

 

Jane's Invocation

 

In seminary I was taught that Interfaith ritual should begin first by honoring the land on which you are gathered and the people to whom it belongs.  Thank you, Jane, for your presence here today.

I’ve heard that when the Europeans began arriving in America, they confused the Native People by asking them to translate “God” and “nature.”  In many indigenous languages, of course, the two words are the same. It’s the newer languages that felt a need to distinguish the God we know in nature as different from the God we know, perhaps, in the train station.

Looking for God, seeking the Holy in a variety of settings, is the work of a chaplain. Just as the chapel is separate from the church or temple, a chaplain resolves to create sacred space in the complexity of hospitals, war zones, city streets, Wal-Mart… At first glance, these intense places may be perceived as separate and God-less. A chaplain’s call is to bring some light; to prophetically state, “Here, too. No matter how horrid, the Source of our Breath abides in this place, too.”

A year ago, I began to see that my work was changing. Caring for the Earth had become my deep love in ministry. I’ll admit I’ve been making it up as I go, but I’ve been calling the work “Eco-chaplaincy.” I say it with love and dread because, after all, what does it mean when our Earth is so ravaged that it too, like a prison or the Iraqi desert, needs a chaplain?  And what, exactly, does an Eco-chaplain do?

Offering Homily

One of my favorite movies of all times is Mary Poppins. I love how Mary Poppins finds magic in the mundane. I also love her fastidious tendencies. For a good long while now, I’ve wished badly I could snap my fingers and—just like the toys in Jane and Michael’s nursery—have the environment return itself to a lush, forested, healthy planet. InMaryPoppins’ world, it’s fine to use what’s around you and to play with vigor, so long as you put it back…each article in its right place.

I went through a dark, troubling period last Fall. 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. Then one day, walking down University Ave., I saw a “SALE” sign in the Goodwill store window!

What does it mean when a thrift store has so much stuff it requires storewide liquidation?!?  We are clearing the Earth’s forests to the tune of 69 acres per minute, so we can drive to the store and buy stuff, to give to Goodwill, so they can send it to the landfill, some of it contaminating our soil and water for a millennium or more.  What is going on???  The whole scene had me feeling desperate, judgmental and angry — a pretty undesirable litany for a minister.

Blessing of Earth Worms

 

I knew that blame was pointless and staying mad felt miserable, so I did what one is wont to do when feeling sad, afraid, and misunderstood: I turned toward what I love. I spent a lot of time alone, turning toward the rocks, the trees, the smells of nature. With some kind coaching and encouragement, I got strong enough to ride my bike into these hills so I could sweat and breathe Mother Earth’s theology. It’s Her theology, after all, that gives birth to all the others. The miracle of our 13 billion year story on this planet is what, for me, truly makes sense.  We are this soil, this water, one great breath, breathing together.

 

As I connected again with all that I am and what I so dearly love, I began to thaw. The anger melted to grief, and the words of Eco-philosopher, Joanna Macy comforted me: “The grief you carry for this world comes from your love for it. It is high time we tasted the power of your love.”

My work as an Eco-chaplain, I’m coming to see, lies in the very heart of this question: What is the power of your love? My guess and my hope is that there are more Eco-chaplains out there.

I’m not at all certain how this work will continue to evolve, but I would like to close by sharing my present intention for what I will do in this role:

What is the Power of YOUR Love?

  • As an Eco-chaplain, I want to remind us all of our True Nature.  We are inextricably connected and linked to everything in this universe.
  • From this awareness, I want to act and serve on behalf of all species, advocating eco-justice.  I want, likeMaryPoppins, to teach that the magic is in the mundane. I want to celebrate the abundance inherent in simplicity.
  • In the face of adversity or despair, of which I know there will be plenty, I want to practice not closing down, but rather, “allowing in.”  I’ve heard this practice described as “poor man’s equanimity.”  With the stakes so high and the enormity of the crisis so deadening, “poor man’s equanimity” frees us to move and act without the guarantee of success.  After all, I have no clue how this story ends. The Divine invitation for each of us is to bring our creativity, our compassion and our Whole Self to each moment … one at a time.
  • And finally, the biggest secret: I want to do this work with joy!  An Eco-chaplain’s work, though wrought with a sense of urgency, is wonderfully Joyful!  I believe this is so because in caring for our interconnection to all and with all, I can clearly recognize—at least for brief, ecstatic moments—that there is no end to our mutual belonging.

If we humans want to live sustainably on this Earth, we have our work cut out for us: BIG time. As an Eco-chaplain and fellow human, my vote is that we get busy. And I invite us, like Mary Poppins, to find the magic in the mundane—to draw deeply from the wellspring of joy and love.

The Divine is ready, willing, awaiting our next act.

What is the power of your love?