Living a Tradition

By Heather Hackman

I had the incredible privilege of being able to travel to Bodh Gaya in late December and it was amazing. If you are not familiar with this place, it is the home of the Bodhi tree where the Buddha attained enlightenment. It was constructed by Emperor Asoka 2,250 years ago (the current temple is from the 5th -6th c. CE). It is said to be the most important, most reverent place in the world for Buddhists and the reasons for that were evident as soon as I walked in. The Mahabodhi Temple itself is not terribly remarkable as structures go – roughly 55 meters high, a basic stepped design, and a range of tiers surrounding it that have trees, grass and ample area for practitioners to gather. Overall, it seemed to me like so many parks, public squares or communal gathering spaces all over the world save for one thing – the intention and earnestness with which people were practicing their devotion to Buddhism and Buddhist philosophy. The vibe coming off of the countless monks and nuns practicing there made this temple utterly compelling, energetic, enlivening, and full of hope.

I do not identify as “a Buddhist”, because that has the air of Western “try this cool thing out”-ness to me and so I simply say that I have a deep love and reverence for Buddhist philosophy and find great personal and professional value in so many of its tenets. Despite my attempts at being reserved and cautious, I completely and unabashedly fell in love with the Mahabodhi Temple and the practitioners around it. I could feel myself long to be among them. In fact, I visited a total of four times in the very brief time we were in Bodh Gaya. I wanted to better understand this place, but more so I wanted to soak up what felt like its unbounded hope, possibility and peace. In trying to comprehend what the essence of this feeling was I realized that it emanated from the fact that I was among folks who had completely surrendered to their “faith” and were not “practicing” anything but instead were truly living their tradition with their full selves. Their bodies, their minds, their hearts and their daily activities were completely bent toward following the Eight-fold Noble Path, thereby making their contribution to peace in the world. Buddhism suggests there is an end to suffering but it requires facing the depths of fear (aversion), greed (attachment) and delusion (false perception). I’m sure you can see the parallels between these and other traditions where they are labeled differently, perhaps, but speak to the same core elements of what makes us suffer within ourselves and certainly what makes us create suffering for others.

This living the tradition is the basis of the Dalai Lama’s invocation for peace, his tireless work for the freedom of Tibet from the oppressive and violent rule by China, his support for LBGTQI equal rights, his deep and increasingly pronounced call for environmental justice, and his work within his own tradition around gender liberation and equity. Buddhism, when lived, gives him no other option than to commit his life energies toward the end of suffering, and more specifically the end of oppression. Buddhism suggests that in oppression not only those targeted are hurt but those who are doing the oppression are also fundamentally dehumanized and thus liberation for some liberates all. Paulo Freire, bell hooks, Winona LaDuke, Cornell West and Gloria Anzaldua also put forth that base notion that everyone caught in systems of oppression are diminished and dehumanized by the very existence of oppression. This is not a new idea, bumper stickers abound with the slogan “no one is free when others are oppressed”. But, there is a profound difference between the tokenizing and weakly offered way that dominant group members often say this versus the way that people who are truly living their tradition actually commit their whole selves to this.

And in fact, that is what social justice is going to take. In racial justice trainings I often offer up the very simple point that if racial oppression is happening “this much” (and I fully raise my left hand into the air), but White people are responding only “this much” (and I hold my right hand at shoulder level) then a simple bar graph analysis should help us see that if the solution is not proportionate to the problem, the problem will persist. And so, what does it then take for White folks to move their part of the bar graph up? I suggest that it is the move from “doing racial justice work” to “living racially just lives” and that is where “living one’s tradition” can (not always, of course, depending on the tradition) be of assistance.

Case in point – I have been working with a group of Unitarian Universalists over the last two years and I have to say that this is a pretty earnest group. Historically, White Liberalism has abounded at this overwhelmingly White church, and so there was no dearth of projects and activities they have been doing to address issues of Race and help communities of color fight Racism. Importantly, however, that is not at all the same as doing racial justice work (which rigorously looks at White Privilege and White Supremacy as much as it does Racism), nor is it a pathway to living a racially just life. But, this is right where living their UU tradition of love, love and more love comes into play – many of them have come to a place of realizing that if they do not do RJ work, they cannot fully experience their faith. Conversely, by leaning more deeply into their faith, they will find the support and motivation to dig more deeply into their own Whiteness and work to dismantle it. In short, they will move to being White people who are living their tradition because they are actively seeking to live in racially just ways.

Similarly, I have been doing work for almost a year now with a Catholic University and it is through their commitment to Catholic social teachings and the guidance of their commitment to the tenets of Christianity that they have been able, as a roughly 90% White campus, to lean more honestly into racial justice work and move away from the seduction and safety of tepid and easy “diversity” work. They, too, see this movement as a way to live their tradition and in turn have their tradition support their work.

I am not naïve enough to think that these assertions are not fraught because of the historical use of “faith” as the simultaneous tool of and cover for racial oppression on the part of White people (as well as almost every other form of oppression globally – the Burning Times in Europe, Christian hegemony and colonization, and the denial of rights to LBGTQI folks to name a few). The work of Paul Kivel on Christian hegemony and its role in systems of oppression is well worth exploring on this point. Alongside these hugely problematic uses of various systems of faith and religion we can see the ways that these belief systems have the capacity to provide strength and hope and guidance in the quest for human rights and peace among living beings on this planet. Thus, I am not talking about doctrine or scripture, nor am I talking about the distortions of any belief system to serve the needs of dominant power structures. Having said this, I have seen in my own life and in my work with communities of faith that there is great power in the reciprocal nature of one’s tradition reinforcing one’s commitment to living a racially (socially) just life, and then the realities of living that life breathing substance and grace into one’s tradition. In fact, I think it would be quite refreshing if those who identified as Christian and “anti-racist” worked a little harder to reclaim the territory some in their faith have colonized in the name of Racism (and other forms of oppression) over the years. Not being a Christian this is an outside opinion, but I cannot imagine Jesus would agree with any of the marginalizing, oppressive and violent talk espoused in the name of being a good Christian, nor would he have been cool with “liberal” Christians’ tolerance of such claims.

Put simply, I have had the privilege of working with more and more communities of faith over the last few years and I can see that these traditions are indeed powerful sources of change, hope, and ultimately peace when they are lived in accordance with values of justice, equity and the lauding of core human dignity over all else. This is what I was able to experience at the Mahabodhi Temple as my friend Michael and I took half an hour to “sit” alongside the monks and nuns who were so deeply engaged in their practice. The shared commitment to growing and changing, the shared struggle embedded in that process, and the wisdom and compassion at the heart of it all was so inspiring I was crying tears of gratitude on more than one occasion while there. I want to connect to that power and source of strength within myself more, and so being in the presence of such wise and committed practitioners gave me increased hope and energy to suit up and show up in an effort to live a racially just life.

Adjusting Our Climate Justice Lens

By Heather Hackman

Heather Hackman is the founder and president of Hackman Consulting Group. With a doctorate in Social Justice Education from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and 12 years of experience as a professor in Human Relations & Multicultural Education, Heather trains and consults nationally on issues of deep diversity, equity and social justice, and her most recent research and conference presentations have focused on climate change and its intersections with issues of race, class and gender.

Below is the text of a sermon that Heather offered on April 19, 2015 at the annual Earth Day Service at the First Universalist Church in Minneapolis, MN.

Thank you Justin and thank all of you. It’s good to be with you again. I’m humbled and honored to be here as part of this day, the 45th Earth Day, and participating in this conversation with you.

And what a difficult conversation it is…this is not a topic that will garner friends at parties, nor make dinner conversation light and easy, nor get you invited to speak (most) places. And yet, it is a conversation that is well overdue in far too many circles in this country and so I am grateful that you all are having it and that you will continue to do so.

And yes, the situation is… grim. I’m not getting all Hunger Games-y here, and this is not a post-apocalyptic, Mad-Max moment. However, it is worth noting the enormity of the statistical, empirical, and natural trends we are seeing. The numbers about heat and melt and sea level rise and CO2 are daunting. The strangeness of the weather in North America over the last decade has been disconcerting to say the least. And the state of affairs in our most populous state with a drought the likes of which has not been seen for 1200 years, with sea lion pups washing ashore in droves, with sea bird deaths in huge numbers, and with star fish suffering and dying – all of that is overwhelming. The planet is speaking, louder and louder every day and if we are truly listening, then we will have this conversation.

The typical U.S. response to the topic of climate change is to either stick one’s head in the sand or rush out and “do” something. I get that – particularly the desire to “do” something. And yet that is often a mistake if we have not thought as deeply as necessary and have not learned what we need to learn in order to make the right choices.

And so there’s a danger in “taking action” without the necessary information and perspective in hand. Now, in 15 minutes I’m not going to be able to convey any earth shattering information or give you a deep and complex analysis, but what I do want to do is just shift the lens on the conversation a little bit in hopes of illuminating a path forward in our climate work.

In line with this, I have found that before trying to figure out “what do I do”, it is useful to ask “how did we get here?” – because the path that has brought us here is one we must avoid from here on out. Let me say that again: the path that has brought us here is one we must avoid from here on out. And if we do not know how we got here, it is very likely that in our effort to rush out and “do something” we will inadvertently keep doing the very things that led to this moment. And so I am here to offer some thoughts on this question – “how did we get here?” in the service of better answering the question, “what do we do?”

And so how did we get here?

Some argue it’s just human nature and that we are just predisposed to greed, consumption and competition. And yet, the last few decades of neuroscience in the West, and millennia of tradition and wisdom in indigenous communities globally, have agreed that as mammals we “tend and befriend” and that the notion that we are inherently competitive and “survive only if we are the fittest” is a fiction. To be sure it is a useful fiction if you are engaging in colonization and systems of oppression and need everyone to go along with it; it’s a useful fiction if you are trying to convince the masses that extractivist economic systems and ways of being in the world are the only plausible ones; and it’s a useful fiction if you want the majority to believe that any other way of being in the world is economic, social and political suicide. If those are your goals, then casting humans as inherently greedy, competitive, and aggressive is the perfect story. Importantly, however, it’s just not true. Thanks to mirror neurons, the vagus nerve, limbic resonance and countless other aspects of our biology, it is evident that we as mammals are wired for empathy and meant to connect – to each other, to the planet, to all of life. It’s the gift of our biology.

And so how DID we get here?

Quite simply, we lost our way. Profoundly and deeply, we have lost our way.

And so here are four missteps which I think are key factors in us losing our way and leading us to this climate moment. I’m not saying these are the only factors, but they are very powerful ones and so I want to take a moment here to identify them before I talk about the path ahead.

Starting in the Age of Reason (or if you read Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael then 12,000 years ago, :)) we watched European thinkers begin to deeply codify the separation of mind from body, followed by the objectification and diminution of the body. So, misstep one – we disconnected from our bodies and thus from the Natural world. We began to see ourselves as fundamentally separate from our natural environment.

Misstep two (still in this general time frame) is the Western framing of Nature in the feminine form within a society steeped in gender oppression. Now please do not misunderstand – the problem is not viewing or relating to Nature in the feminine form. The problem is that when it is done in a society that is so violent against women, the inevitable result is extreme violence against Nature. How could it not? From this Western worldview Nature, like women, is an object to be conquered, mastered, and even violated without conscience. The recent panel at the Women’s Club featuring Winona LaDuke, Eve Ensler, Patina Park, and Louise Erdrich made this connection all too well when they talked about the extreme extraction happening in the Bakken oil fields and the astonishing uptick in violence against women and the trafficking of women in those very same oil fields. As the speakers so clearly put it – as goes the treatment of women and trans* folks, so goes the treatment of this planet. So misstep number two was seeing Nature as something to be dominated, objectified and controlled.

Misstep Three –When you conjoin the two previous points with Europe’s absolutely insatiable appetite for resources via colonization and imperialism and you have the additional element of endless, linear extraction of resources. Thus we saw Europe embark on the colonization of Africa, Asia and the “Americas” and take every possible resource there was in their quest for power and dominance. Today we call this process “globalization”, “neoliberalism”, “free trade” and the like. But when unmasked, as Naomi Klein indicates in her excellent work This Changes Everything, these are nothing more than the endless desire for economic power via the constant extraction of resources – no matter what the cost. The behavior of the fossil fuel industry fits this process to a “T”. They are some of the wealthiest corporations in the world and it is their mission to extract every last drop of oil and gas from this planet no matter what. And so misstep number three is the notion that we can engage in the linear, endless extraction of resources (in the name of economic power) with no concern for the consequences.

So, how do you get away with separating oneself from the natural world, treating Nature in such violent and domineering ways, and engaging in seemingly endless extraction in the name of progress? You explain it away via the vehicle of Race – in particular you create “White” and through it propagate the notion that White people are superior. As a result, what predominantly White societies of people do cannot possibly be questioned because “we” are the superior (racial) group on this planet – we created civilization, we created democracy, we are the great thinkers and inventors, we are moving all of the world ahead. Thus the creation of White four centuries ago and all of its concomitant notions of supremacy and entitlement, has served as the perfect justification for the behaviors that have led us here. And so, misstep number four was the creation of White and its use in explaining away each of the three previous missteps. As we have seen in the UN climate negotiations, the notion of White as superior has allowed those nations largely responsible for this climate crisis to neatly avoid any accountability for it.

Big points, right? I’m sure I’m making you feel even worse than you did before you sat down. But never fear – with an accurate and honest diagnosis there then becomes hope for an effective and truly healing solution. And so this is what got us here, now what do we do?

Step one: Reconnect with the natural world. There is so much information about this and so many ways to do this that I am not going to comment on it here. But, I do encourage you to lean into this reconnection, while realizing that this in itself is not enough. Right? And so though this connection is vital, we cannot pretend that more camping is going to do the trick.

Step two: Replace the worldview of these missteps with a socially just view of the world. And you all are well on your way to doing that by developing a Critical Race Lens through your RJ ministry.

Step three: Take new and different actions regarding climate issues by using this Critical Race Lens as the frame through which climate justice work is done. And this is very important – Climate Justice and Racial Justice do not sit side by side, nor do they “intersect”. Rather, CJ work must be done through a RJ lens if it is to be effective.

Here’s what I’m suggesting:

An example of what it means to be White in this country is rugged individualism. Let me use myself as an example. Because of rugged individualism, I as a White person am socialized to consume for my individual well-being and therefore often consume way too much. I am encouraged to live in a house that is more room than I need, but it’s my marker of success and safety so I won’t give it up. I have possessions that often sit idle but do not share because they are “mine”. I will buy a Prius to save gas, but don’t ask me to consider taking public transportation because I like my independence too much. And so on. In short, the scourge of rugged individualism wants me to organize my life in self-centered, isolated, disconnected, and non-communal ways that are simply not sustainable for 7.5 billion people. Even my activism and climate work is often done in isolation.

The hard work of climate change is not figuring out how to release the choke-hold of the carbon energy sector on my life, the hard work is to realize what got me in that relationship in the first place. What about me as a White person has led me down the path of disconnection from nature, or better yet not even notice that I am? What about Whiteness has led me to believe I “deserve” certain things because I have “earned” them, even if the possession of those things takes an incredible toll on the planet and its life (like flying to distant lands for a vacation)? Whiteness has me live the life of a rugged individual who confuses charity for justice and says I will share resources with others only after I already have “mine”. Whiteness wants me to believe, regardless of my current economic reality, that the accumulation of material goods is truly the pinnacle of success – that it is imperative that I SHOW others I have made it, that I have done it on my own, and that therefore I am “somebody”. In truth, Whiteness is a disassociated, disconnected state – how else could White families go to church in the morning and a lynching in the afternoon? How else can we continually turn away from racial injustice and our climate realities? What else would lead to Black people having to repeatedly tell White folks that Black lives matter? If I was in touch with my own humanity and living in connection with others, that message would never need to be said. But I am not. At the hands of Whiteness I am just a bubble off plumb with respect to my humanity. Whiteness is like a meme seeking to survive and it will do anything to get me to believe that my disconnected, my extractivist life is the only normal one.

Painful? Yes. Hopeless? No!

Enter racial justice. Not merely racial justice work, but instead the promise of a racially just life. Enter the deep knowing that I am interconnected – a knowing that always comes from solid and deep racial justice work. Enter the sense of groundedness that stems from RJ work and that reminds me how much I love this planet, how gorgeous it is, and how desperately I want it to thrive. Enter the reclamation of my humanity because of racial justice, which of course ushers in grief and sadness and regret. But, also brings hope. Not naïve hope, but a hope stemming from the deeper knowledge that people can change, that racial oppression is not an intractable situation, and that as a community of people gathered here, your RJ ministry and bringing that ministry into your hearts and lives just as surely as you breathe the air around you means that we have a chance. Nature knows this, because we are Nature… and our best selves and greatest capacity are not gone, we have simply lost our way. So RJ is a pathway back to ourselves, to an awakened human connection, and ultimately to a strong, effective and expeditious path to climate justice. I cannot hang on to all my “individual stuff” and all my “White consuming ways” and hope for a different climate future. But through the lens of RJ I as a White person stand a chance of being just different enough in the world such that true climate justice also has a chance.

And so in challenging what it means to be White (in challenging Race, Racism and Whiteness) we disrupt the core ideologies that got us here. More specifically, we dismantle the lens that makes this consumptive, extractivist reality “seem normal” and we replace it with one that can lead to just and sustainable mitigation and adaptation.

And so I’ll touch on it again – RJ is not a parallel issue to CJ, nor is it an intersectional one. Rather RJ is the lens through which CJ must be done. For if racial oppression is the lens that makes all of this climate crud seem okay, then RJ must be the new lens by which we work our way out of this mess. I’m not saying you have to be “done” with RJ work before you do CJ – I’m saying that you do your RJ work with diligence and constantly apply this lens to your CJ (and other) work in the church.

Now what about the other two “isms” you ask? Right? What about gender oppression and class oppression? The truth is that if you do exceptional RJ work, meaning if you lean in hard to White privilege, White supremacy and Racism, you will inevitably end up addressing class and gender. At their roots they are so profoundly intertwined that you cannot help but hit the other two if you dig deeply enough with RJ. And so, do not be deterred, nor distracted. If you stay this course of RJ you will find liberation on many, many fronts.

I know that was a lot and so let me close where I began – I am grateful to be in the company of so many people who are passionate about ending racial oppression, and who care so deeply about living racially just lives. And I know for sure that as you embrace the compass heading of RJ you will find a brilliant and effective path for your climate and environmental justice work. I was at a climate change conference in Iceland last June trying to convince a group of climate scientists of this very thing. And instead of hearing me, they almost unanimously said “we do not have time to solve social justice issues before we solve the climate problem”. And this broke my heart for a number of reasons, one because that’s not what I was saying – we do not have to finish one before the other…but more so because of the reality that we don’t have time NOT to do climate justice work through a social justice lens. We have such a small window of opportunity to make significant change regarding climate issues that we really need to get it right. And so I thank you for your courage, your love, and your commitment to doing CJ work through a RJ lens. It is the path out of this mess and I’m honored to be in this work with such noble, kind and courageous people. Thank you.

Naomi, India and My Home Town

By Heather Hackman

Heather Hackman is the founder and president of Hackman Consulting Group. With a doctorate in Social Justice Education from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and 12 years of experience as a professor in Human Relations & Multicultural Education, Heather trains and consults nationally on issues of deep diversity, equity and social justice, and her most recent research and conference presentations have focused on climate change and its intersections with issues of race, class and gender.

Author’s disclaimer: Since I have not posted in a while this is a long one, so hang in there. :)

I grew up in Las Vegas, Nevada. I was not born there, mind you, but I lived there from the age of 6-18 and so it obviously had a significant influence on me. I often share this at the beginning of trainings to help folks understand that I was not raised in a place where I would be naturally predisposed to social justice work. The tag line for the city does not say “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas…and we are totally committed to race, class and gender justice!” Nothing of the kind. In fact, it is quite the opposite – it is a city that is predicated on taking your money and having you smile while we do it, almost never really knowing what hit you. We alter the lighting in casinos, we make sure you never see the shift changes, and we hide all clocks so you have no sense of time passing. We have endless sources of food and drink so you are always sated. We make sure no real culture expresses itself but will fill the horizon with facsimiles of culture like Venice, Paris, Rome, Egypt and New York. And most of all, we make sure that there is nothing visible that would give pause to hedonism – no homeless, no hungry, no examples of racism, and when we show you women almost completely naked taking your drink order, we make sure they are always smiling so as to offer the impression that working in a thong and pasties for eight hours is enjoyable.

Las Vegas is often a reference for me in my training work when talking about my own gender awareness (I hated the depiction of women in that city), my lack of racial awareness (it was a place representing the most extreme results of colonization and exploitation and so there was simply no mainstream conversation about race at all, at least not one that was connected to racial justice), and my experience regarding class (make it seem like you have money at all costs because that is the only parlance this city understands). Though I had no substantive political consciousness, these gender, race and class dynamics often left me uneasy, confused or on the outside looking in.

But after reading Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate (2014), I can see one more reason why that town never felt like home to me – it is the penultimate example of extractivism over nature, of humanity’s desire for “more” falling in direct conflict with what is and should be possible in the middle of the desert. And that’s the key point – Las Vegas does not sit in the middle of a lush, green landscape with water readily available for its 61 golf courses. Nor does it reside in a temperate climate that does not require constant air conditioning. Nor is it located in an area where food is locally grown in plentiful amounts. No. It is in the middle of the desert. Dry, hot and what does grow there is not what we want in our “world’s biggest buffets”. But that has not stopped the developers from turning Vegas into the most impossible of spaces and forcing it to be green, forcing it to be cool, and flying, trucking and “training” in all manner of foods to assuage the palates of the entire world.

 

As you can imagine, there was very little of the city I liked as I was growing up, but I did have a fondness for its heat, its vast terrain and the challenge its isolation posed. On occasion we would head up to Mt. Charleston or drive out to Red Rock Canyon and each and every time I felt more alive and more grateful and more at home than I ever felt in the city itself. Maybe even as a young person there was something in me that knew that Vegas was ultimately a deeply flawed and likely failed proposition. Building such an edifice in a place where not a single aspect of it should ever be seems to be the ultimate testament to the hubris that has led us to this current climate moment – the mere notion that we can completely, indefinitely, and without any consequence bend nature to our will, no matter how obscene and unnatural it is. Only by connecting to the natural world via those excursions outside of Vegas, was I able to understand how problematic my home town was and is.

 

I know many people who “love Vegas” but not a one of them is engaged in the struggle for climate justice and the creation of a social, political and economic framework that is sustainable. Their love for Vegas might, on its surface, simply be a love for sun and fun. But, in truth the love that members of extraction societies hold for Vegas is likely because of the role it plays in being the ever-present reminder of our dominion over nature and that life can seemingly be abundant and enjoyable in the process. Vegas is an escape, like most vacation destinations, but it is a particular escape into the fantasy that humanity can consume at rates unthinkable (in a rational world) and somehow still be okay.

 

I rarely go back to Vegas, but was there last April for my brother’s wedding and while driving with my mother, I looked around at the mall expansion and the fact that the city has built and built and built right up to its very edges, and I said to her, “there is nothing that would ever have me come back to this place.” So smug, right? So self-righteous. So “above it all” in cool judgment and educated condemnation…except for the fact that you can take the Heather out of Vegas but not the Vegas out of Heather (at least not without some serious work). And so I have had to look at (thanks again to Naomi Klein’s book) the ways I carry the Vegas mentality with me – how I consume in absurdly racist, classist and ultimately imperialist ways. How I engage with the world as if it is made of infinite resources. How I create space and places and ways of being that simply have no business being where they are. And within this where I am truly just ignorant, and where I am willfully choosing not to see.

 

Let me be more specific – I was recently traveling in India for four weeks and the concrete, recurring question bumping up against my inner-Vegas was, “what on earth am I doing traveling for pleasure?” The carbon footprint we laid down as we went from Mumbai to Kathmandu to Varanasi to Bodh Gaya to New Delhi to Hampi to Fort Kochi to Thekkady to Alleppey and then back to Mumbai with me then returning home to Minneapolis was absurd. No other word for it. I was not there for work, I was not there for research, I was not there for any social justice reason at all, I was there because two friends live there and I wanted to see India and so going while they were there seemed like a good idea. Hello Vegas.

 

This past week TED posted a sweet, and if you listen closely, deeply poignant talk by Matthieu Ricard about altruism and climate change where he posited altruism (a path to climate justice) in opposition to selfishness (the path to climate disaster), and I had to face the fact that traveling the way we did (flying, driving, and hotels with such an extensive carbon footprint!) for pleasure is and was simply selfish. This bucks right up against the “but I’ve earned it” and the “I need to relax a bit and unwind, what’s selfish about that?” refrain so often uttered by middle-class U.S.-ers. It even can bump up against those who espouse the “deep growth and change of worldview that travel can bring” argument, and while this learning is often true and has almost always been true for me, it pales against the reality that we are very quickly passing critical planetary boundaries and we must steeply curb, swiftly change and substantially adapt if we are going to have a shot at a sustainable future.

 

And that means that travel for pleasure is likely on the chopping block for me. Notice how I hedged my bet there… “likely”. Even as I write this I cannot quite bring myself to fully commit. And yet, I hope that by being more public it will help me connect with others who are at similar places regarding truly unnecessary consumption, but caught in the throes of a neoliberal, globalized, colonial mindset. The class category I am identifying here is clear, right – U.S. middle, upper-middle and professional middle class folks who have disposable income but who are not the 1%. I see myself as a member of that group and in a nutshell we consume like mad.

 

And even though the bulge in CO2 emissions is shifting to the Global South, do not be fooled by that. Carbon emissions are recorded for the country they are emitted in, not the causality of those emissions. So, China, India and others in the Global South release much of their CO2 in the process of producing goods that we consume in the Global North. Thus, it is our consumption in the Global North that is still driving rising CO2 in a literal sense via what we purchase, consume and throw away. But, it is also driven by the illusion of power, prosperity and “happiness” that we have exported in connection with this level of consumption – the cultural imperialism of consumption. As I was driving the roads all over India I could not help but notice the mark of Western advertising promising happiness if only you eat this (vegetarian) Whopper, drink this Coke, or try this Jolly Rancher (these folks looked particularly happy, actually). This form of ideological colonization, by conflating happiness with consumption, will kill us all if we do not see through it, rigorously critique its impacts, and offer alternatives.

 

One of the most slippery ways “consumption” defends itself, however, is by saying that if we stop consuming, all of the folks in India, China, Mexico and Brazil who are making these products will lose their livelihoods. That is true if the only source of life is the maquiladora. However, what I quickly understood as I was in India is that if I took the money I waste on my useless consumption and instead offer it up as payment for the Global North’s climate debt, I would be making an amend for the havoc my consumption has wrought, I would be supporting green and truly sustainable development, and I would be interrupting the ideology of consumption and extraction and replacing it with a more global vision of stewardship and climate justice in response to the crisis we are in.

 

I’m not talking charity here, I’m talking about wealth redistribution and putting substance to the IPCC’s “equal but differentiated responsibilities” framework. There are truly countless organizations all over the world (many of them indigenous) working locally to replace the extractivist worldview with something much more sustainable. For specifics, go to Naomi’s book and the references in the back. Better yet, read her book and come to understand some of the work these organizations are doing globally.

 

And so that is really why I am writing this – not to do the solipsistic, passive aggressive lefty thing where we cynically criticize ourselves and call ourselves hypocrites in order to actually shame and blame others, nor am I trying to induce guilt and shame and point a finger. Instead, I am openly sharing what has come up for me since I left for India in December and how I intend to apply these lessons to a hopeful and sustainable solution whereby we ALL can live on this planet. By some studies / measures as a middle-class U.S.-er I consume 80% more than is allowable if we are to try and keep planetary warming limited to two degrees centigrade. While many think we have missed that two-degree mark, it is no reason to not then shoot for two-point-five degrees. And while there is no guarantee that any of this will matter or work, it is absolutely certain that if the West does not curb its consumption by somewhere around 80%, and stop exporting this way of life as laudable, we will most surely suffer deeply and badly as a planet for a very, very long time.

 

Please do not hear my words from a place of guilt or shame. Brain research has shown that that is a weak place of motivation and stops learning (see, for example, the work of Dr. Daniel Siegel in The Mindful Brain). Rather, if you are a middle-class U.S.-er, make the changes you can and do this work from the place of altruism. Do it for the love of the natural world. Do it because it truly is the right thing to do. Do it as an amend for the colonization and genocide that created this wealth. Do it for future generations of all life on this planet. Do it as spiritual practice. Do it for a host of possible reasons or combinations therein. Whatever your motive, let us begin to do it now – to dig deep, to cut deeply, and to move quickly to a worldview that is in resonance and not dissonance with this planet.

 

One of Klein’s last points in her book, to light the way perhaps, is an analysis of various social movements that have achieved significant political, social and at times even some economic change – and of course the overarching theme was the word movement. We cannot do this alone, but if we are not practicing it as individuals it becomes difficult to authentically participate in those movements, and almost impossible to keep them alive over the long haul. One of the slogans of the People’s Climate March was, “to change everything, we need everyone” and so please join in climate justice work, please talk to others, please engage politically and socially, and if you are someone with economic access, please dig deep and work to make the changes necessary for this movement to lead us into a sustainable future. I thank you for your partnership on this path and hope to learn from you as we all do our level best.

Losing a Little Hope, Gaining a Little Faith

I was in Iceland this past week presenting a workshop at a conference addressing climate change and its impacts and causes. I attended this conference once before in Seattle in 2012 and found it to be an engaging group of people and a lot of fascinating information about the science side of climate change. I noticed, however, that while the conference title was “Impacts and Causes” there was only one 15-minute paper that mentioned issues of race and the role it played in getting us here (cause), the role it plays in who is disproportionately impacted, and the role it will potentially play in terms of what solutions are adopted, how they are implemented, and ultimately who those solutions are designed to benefit. Startled by this, I decided to present something regarding climate justice and the role that race, class and gender oppression have played in getting us to this current climate emergency and how a gender, class and race-justice lens will prove to be essential if we are to “get out of this” with any sense of equity and integrity as a planet. So I headed to Reykjavík and from the off it seemed the gods were conspiring against me in terms of travel problems, housing problems, and general exhaustion (I had been up for 27 hours by the time I presented), but I persevered. And here is what I encountered…

 

In a morning “discussion” session around human impacts, I was listening intently to various folks sharing about the sundry challenges in getting “people” (read “Western people”) to understand and adequately respond to this current climate moment. Finally I spoke up and suggested that underneath the variables of scientific ignorance, fear, resistance to what is going on, etc. was the pernicious problem of race, class and gender oppression and the seduction of their privileges, the normativity of their ideologies and rationalizations, and the sheer power of their systems to sustain the status quo. Thus, in my estimation, if we are to both properly understand the full magnitude of “peoples’” resistance and know how to help folks through that resistance, we need to craft and utilize a social justice lens in our work. Several heads nodded and then a white, professional-middle class (University faculty member), male said that “we simply do not have time to end race, class and gender oppression before we begin to do work on climate change” and that I was being unrealistic. A few minutes later the session ended and I did not have a chance to respond. As we left the room, he came up to me (first, letting me know he started a feminist group in college) and reiterated that we simply had no chance of addressing the current climate issues if we waited for everyone to change their minds about oppression. I suggested to him that I was in no way saying we had to “solve” those issues before we do climate work, but rather aswe do our climate work. He argued again, and then we parted ways as we both headed into different sessions. Shortly thereafter a white woman approached me and thanked me for my comments, then two men of color did the same and I was struck by the fact that every time I share this perspective it is never people of color, poor folks, etc. who tell me we do not “have time” to do social justice work as we do climate justice work. It is always those who have privilege who see these issues as somehow separable, as if one is not inextricably linked to the other.

 

These exchanges gave me some fuel, tired as I was, to do my workshop and try to show that these are not discrete entities at all, but rather that it is precisely the oppressive ideologies of racism, classism and sexism that have brought us to this climate crisis as a planet. Sometimes folks say “No, Industrialization did it”, but that system is merely a tool – in the hands of people who deeply revere nature, it is possible that Industrialization would not have been such a vehicle for our destruction. But, in the hands of a society with an intensely sexist worldview and that frames nature in the feminine, we know what will inevitably happen to nature (see Francis Bacon and his statement that one has to rape nature to understand her secrets). Combine that with a rapacious appetite for material resources fueled by a classist ideology that equates your class status with your humanity and value in the world, and it makes sense that Europe went on its imperialist rampage of colonization. Top that off with a racial ideology that shamelessly purports White supremacy and White society’s (first read “European” and later as “White, U.S.-er”) right to rule the world, and you get a worldview that almost has no other choice than to use Industrialization in such a way that has lead our species to this unbelievable climate crisis.

 

And so, I got ready for my workshop in hopes of some solid discussion and engagement…and then a whopping 8 people showed up. Yep, 8. Mind you, they were an enthusiastic group, but nevertheless I was disappointed. There were only two other places for folks to go at that time and so the paltry showing was not just “too many workshops to choose from” but more likely a statement that this content was simply not important in the minds of the attendees. So, I did my best but could not shake the feeling at the time or in the days that followed, that I wasted my time because scientists have no interest in thinking about ideological mindsets that lead us into and out of holes. And so, I lost some hope. Not all of my hope, but a good chunk of it. How would we ever be able to address these issues if we ignored social justice issues and used the same “pair of glasses” that got us into this mess to get us out of it? More importantly, how would we possibly be able to respond to the needs of this world’s most vulnerable with respect to climate change (people who also happen to be the targets of race, class and gender oppression) if we cannot even acknowledge the core relationship between gender, class and racial oppressions and climate change? I felt frustrated, chagrined, and even a titch lost.

 

Fortunately for me, I am currently reading Sharon Salzberg’s book Faith: Trusting your own deepest experience (thus the title of this blog post). In it she has a chapter where she talks about doing work out in the world and feeling as if we’re not making a difference. Very gently she then identifies the difference between hope and faith. Hope, she suggests, is tied to an outcome, to a need, or even a demand. As I read this, I had to admit that I indeed had “hoped” that folks at the conference would see things my way, would incorporate this into their work, and we would all work for climate justice and not just technocratic climate solutions. In a broader sense, however, I also had to admit that I have this type of “hope” in almost all aspects of the work I do. I do want a particular outcome, I’m often not surrendered, and I do not always accept the possibility of a greater truth in the grand scheme of things. Does this mean I stop working for justice? No, absolutely not. But it does mean that I don’t know what the end of the road, or even the path along the road, looks like, and in lieu of humbly admitting this, I tend to squeeze more tightly to what I think “should” happen and invariably constrict the ability of life to unfold as is necessary. Salzberg is not suggesting, nor am I, that we adopt a “whatever, dude” approach to social justice work. But she is, I think, offering a wise distinction between a demand disguised as hope and a deeper faith that trusts in the bigger reality around us.

 

Faith, in Salzberg’s description (and she described it many times in subtly different ways) is about life on life’s terms, about trusting in the deep and profound interconnection of all things, about realizing that though an action may not seem to have any impact, everything we do has some form of impact on the greater whole, and about the fact that while outcome cannot be controlled, two key things can: intention and skillfulness. Intention matters because it is the energy that serves as the ground from which the action grows. An intention rooted in judgement, demand, or a sense of “my way or the highway” does not serve as a wholesome foundation for social justice work, and is in fact often antithetical to it. An intention rooted in love, in care for others, in a desire to see good things come to all, or in a deep sense of connection gives social justice work a much better chance of being useful and well received. Likewise, a lack of skillfulness in how this work is done (negative tone, an inability to listen, a narrow mind) makes it difficult to receive the message and less likely that folks will be drawn to it. Doing this work with patience, joy, an open heart, and an expansive worldview makes it more attractive and easily palatable even to those who might disagree.

 

And so, if I imbue my work around social justice and climate justice with a deep intent to love and serve the world (rather than craft it to what I think it should be), and if I do that work skillfully by keeping in mind my impacts and the needs of the greater whole, I just might find that I will have greater faith (presently and over the long haul) in the efficacy of the work I am doing even when there’s only 8 people there. Though I did not realize it at the time, my workshop in Iceland left me feeling hopeless precisely because my fear of the impacts of climate change, my deep concern for this planet, and my desire for social justice left me demanding a certain outcome. Recognizing, albeit late, that what really matters is that I show up, do my best, and try to work from a place of love, care and skillfulness, has replaced some of that hopelessness with faith. I still feel quite clear about the connections between the oppressive worldview that got us here and the need for a social justice worldview in getting us out. But, I can perhaps wear it more loosely in hopes that I can learn more about what that can look like and thereby be more effective in the work I do. Being a consultant / trainer is a tough bit of business because I rarely see any fruits of what I come in to a group or organization to do. And yet, in reading Salzberg I was reminded that I don’t need to see some form of “result” in order to know that my work, all of our work for social justice, matters and has an impact. In this light, perhaps having 8 folks in the room was exactly how it needed to be. Hope would say maybe, faith would say yes.

“Discovering Mindfulness”

A few months back I received a mass email from someone in my general professional circle asking for information or stories regarding the use of mindfulness in our social justice education, activism and research. More specifically, the person said they were interested in compiling this information as a foundation for their “cutting edge research on mindfulness in social justice work”. And that last bit is what really made my stomach turn: there is nothing “cutting edge” about examining mindfulness in social justice education, activism, or research. The “edge” is only in this White, male, U.S.-born, tenured professor’s mind simply because he has not seen it before. And sadly, the mindset that makes him think that he is “discovering” mindfulness as it pertains to social justice work is the very same mindset that will make it extremely difficult for him to actually develop or attain mindfulness. Much like the mythical Columbus narrative, this academic professional believes that because it is new to him, it must therefore be new to the field; “if I have not seen it referenced in all these years, it must not exist”. Never mind that all over the globe these traditions have formed the pillars of social structures geared toward what we call “social justice” for millennia. Or, more recently that Thich Nhat Hanh has been espousing engaged Buddhism for decades, or that the Dalai Lama has long supported extensive research on the important role meditation can play in education, or even that the traditions of non-violence and non-harming in U.S. social justice activism in large part arise from deeply rooted, and decidedly pre-Western traditions globally and in North America.

Thus, “mindfulness” is not a new concept in social justice work. What is “new” is the ubiquitous framing of millennia-old practices from all over the world as one, uniform “mindfulness” package. And that framing has not come about because it is the next step in a natural evolution of these bodies of work, information, practice, or tradition. No, this framing has come about, particularly in the U.S., because it is fast enough, easy enough, and basic enough for U.S.ers to understand and engage in. In many of its U.S. iterations, “mindfulness” could be described as the McDonald’s of deep insight practice. It is quippy enough for CNN to do a short report on it, it is easy enough for a magazine to feature it on its cover and run a 2000 word essay presumably explaining it all, and it is marketable enough for volumes of books to be written by U.S.ers for U.S.ers and that fit within the U.S. frame. Take for example the mass marketing of yoga. I have a friend who has been a “hot yoga” instructor for a handful of years but if you were to ask her what deep tradition that yogic style comes from, she would have no idea. Not because she is not intelligent enough to know, but because her teacher training did not emphasize it. That yogic practice does not need you to know the deep spiritual significance of what they do, they just want you to feel like you got a good work out and that “something happened in there”. Now, this is not at all to dismiss those studios, teachers, and practitioners who have been quietly, respectfully and thoughtfully cultivating a practice in this country – those people have taken great pains to be ever-conscious from whence they came and are a strong model for how this work can effectively be brought to the U.S. However, it should be noted that these same people would never say that they have “discovered” yoga or that they are doing “cutting edge” yoga instruction. Similarly, the Vipassana center I occasionally study at is constantly framing its teaching within the core instruction the Buddha laid down 2500 years ago.

To return to my initial example, I am not at all saying that a White, male, U.S.-born, tenured professor should not talk about, read about, speak about, think about, or practice mindfulness in his social justice work. What I am saying is that there must be a measure of humility and introspection and self-analysis that goes along with that practice in order to have any credibility and thus to have any real contribution to the overall social justice environment. It would be refreshing if this person had instead said something to the effect, “The U.S. education system (social justice education and activism included) has been woefully late in recognizing the huge range of millennia-old practices that encourage students, teachers and administrators alike to be mindful of the work we do and the impacts we have. As such, I and my colleagues are conducting a small body of research to identify what it is that we have been missing and what other societies around the world, as well as indigenous societies here in North America, have known for thousands of years. We broach this topic with deep humility and a full recognition that the limitations of our social histories and long-standing frames of reference allow us to understand only a small portion of what we will uncover. Nevertheless, we are interested in adding one more voice to the many already there regarding the topic of mindfulness in social justice work and welcome your thoughts and contributions.” An unlikely missive from anyone who has as much privilege as most U.S. academics do, but in my opinion a necessary approach if we are to grasp the complexity and full application of these traditions we are lumping together as “mindfulness”.

And so what leads a White, male, U.S.-born, tenured professor to claim that his research on mindfulness in social justice work is “cutting edge”? In a phrase, roughly five centuries of colonization – colonization as it impacts the minds, bodies and spirits of our society’s people, and colonization as it constructs large-scale ideologies, systems, and identities that are rooted in power, privilege and access for some at the direct expense of others. It is this colonial mindset (substantially honed in higher education) that hides these systems of power and privilege behind the notion of “discovery” or “research” and then ties them to one’s value and identity as an academic. Unfortunately, academics such as these will perhaps be seen by their peers as having actually “discovered” mindfulness in social justice education and activism. Their publications on the matter will likely be lauded as the very “cutting edge work” they claim it to be, and they will be asked to speak and train and teach on such matters. I say “unfortunately” not because I do not like this colleague or others like him, but because if this work is viewed as the foundation or starting point for mindfulness in social justice education it dismisses the centuries upon centuries of work already done in this regard and sets our overall social justice work back by significant degrees. Rather, I would like U.S. work on mindfulness in social justice education and activism to start squarely from a place of humility, rather than discovery, such that we open ourselves to the voluminous bodies of work that can light our way and support us in our desire for justice, hope, and peace in our world.

Interconnections

When I was in graduate school, the field of social justice education was largely stuck in the minefield of siloed social identity politics and did not often talk about the deep and complex interconnections of various issues of oppression and their corresponding pathways to liberation. In fact, to do so was often viewed as a way to take refuge in one’s subordinate identities instead of attending to the privilege and access one had due to their dominant identities.

In truth, however, all forms of oppression are interrelated, not just in how they intersect, but in deeper ways that speak to their interdependence and how they actually need each other to persist. For example, race needs a socially constructed and ruthlessly enforced gender binary in order to justify and make “normal” its own socially constructed categories. Because of this, racial oppression does not just intersect with gender oppression, but goes even further by policing gender, enforcing gender binaries, and connecting its own whiteness to gender oppressive ideologies such as “ideal female beauty”. Underneath this interdependence, however, lies an even deeper common element of all oppressions – their interconnection. At its worst, this represents the profoundly toxic impact that any form of oppression has on the entire web of life and its disruption to the ways our human family is connected. At its best, however, this deep interconnection can provide clarity and hope regarding social justice work– if all oppressions are connected to each other and to the greater web of life, then social change can begin anywhere at any time by any one. Thus, while it is possible to view the interconnection of oppressions as evidence of their intractability, I prefer to see it as testimony to their vulnerability and the power each and every one of us has to overcome them. Seen at its fullest, this web of connection is the ultimate threat to oppressive structures that rely so heavily on xenophobic responses to centuries (or millennia) of created “others”. Perhaps this is the reason it is so often poo-pooed by those in power: if we all truly understood that what we do to each other ultimately will always come back to us, as is the case in deeply interconnected systems, we would be highly motivated to care for each other instead of oppress each other. As Robert Thurman and Sharon Salzberg state in their book Love your enemies, “if my enemy is safe and happy, they have little reason to stay my enemy.”

And while all of this is true, it feels too utilitarian of a way of understanding the import of interconnectedness. Viewed in its full complexity “interconnection” is more than just a means to end oppression – it speaks truth to the profound biological, spiritual, social, and ideological “inter-being” (Thich Nhat Hanh) that we all share not only as a species but as a small part of this planet’s incredibly dynamic fabric of life. When I was growing up my aunt Marta used to talk like this and I would hear other members of my family chuckle and label it “hippie talk”. Fortunately today there is “evidence” (so essential to the Western mind) from all directions (neuro science, social science, educational theory, botany, climate science, cosmology, etc.) that points to what our bodies already know – we are a small part of this larger natural world, so deeply connected to its beautiful and troubling perturbations that every single step we take has consequences…so tread mindfully.

Which brings me to my hope for this coming year (not much different form my hope last January): that I more deeply awaken to, or perhaps just re-member, all that I am connected to and in so doing tread ever so carefully as I do my part in working for social justice, addressing climate change, participating more fully in my community, and learning to actually live within life on this glorious planet. I’ve written a few blog posts on climate change and climate justice and as so many others have noted, it’s our profound separation from each other and the severing of our connection to the wider, natural world that has set the table for climate change and all of its ramifications. It makes sense, right? Wide-spread industrialization and “endless” consumption combined with ruthlessly hierarchical structures of power all held in the hands of such a disconnected group of folks has obvious consequences not the least of which are the steep and relatively quick changes to our climate. Conversely and just as powerfully, however, the deep internalization of how each and every one of us is connected to all life is not only capable of dismantling the various systems of oppression we have created, but also provides a viable pathway for navigating climate change (and the future of our species on this planet) with dignity, grace, and peace.

This teaches me that the space I perceive between “me” and “you” is really just a fiction. It’s not empty “space” at all. It’s actually energetic, electromagnetic interstitial tissue connecting my life to yours and to every other life. When I ground into this, I feel it, I know it in my bones. And when I do not, I can feel that too – lost, alone in a crowd, “busy”, frustrated with the world and my place in it, and an inexplicable emptiness that I am encouraged to fill with “stuff”. And so my commitment for this year is to be ever more mindful of that connection – THE connection of all things to all things – and tread lightly. By honoring it, nurturing it, and letting it feed me, it will in turn improve the efficacy of my work, feed and support my relationships and bit-by-bit help heal the greater whole. Isn’t this what social justice work is ultimately about?

A Love-ly Week

I’ve started this post a number of times trying to find a way to share the experiences I have had this past week without sounding superficial, forced, or like a bad greeting card. Nothing has worked and so I’ll just get to the point.

It began last Saturday with a workshop I did on racial justice for a faith community in the Twin Cities. Lots could be said about the content of the day, about the exceptional commitment of its participants, or about the deep import of social justice within so many spiritual belief systems, but as I drove away after a very long day what stood out the most was how deeply folks responded when we spoke of love and how essential it is for racial justice work and living a spiritual life (at least in this tradition). Importantly, these were not orchestrated moments of written reflection about “the connection between racial justice and love”, but rather spontaneous and heartfelt ones when I, or someone in the group, would make such simple but down to earth statements about the role love plays in our work. They were extemporaneous and quick, but they registered for all of us, often with a collective pause or a breathing in, and then we continued on. Of everything that was shared over the course of 8-plus hours of training, those brief moments of authentic connection to love were what stayed with me…because truth be told that is what I am hungry for right now. And I think it’s what others are hungry for too. Not the saccharin-y sweet, dime-a-dozen blither blather we constantly hear about love in this society, but the kind of love that says, “I’m here too. I’m not sure what to do either. But, together, and I mean truly together, I believe we can figure it out.” And so, I left that training reminded that I need more of that kind of connection if I am to do this work well, and appreciative of this congregation’s example of how to try and make it happen in their church.

Then, on Sunday I attended the wedding of my two friends Pete and Steve. The church was completely packed with family, friends, and colleagues all awaiting the marriage of two men who have been together almost 20 years. It was certainly not my first gay wedding, but there was something particular with this one. I know that many in the queer community question the efficacy and equity of placing marriage at the forefront of the LBGT mainstream political movement, I do too, but this is not a commentary about that. It is a commentary about the feeling in the room: the undeniable harmonics of the heart and the way 200-plus people resoundingly supported Pete and Steve’s love. When they were pronounced husband and husband the room exploded with cheers, applause, foot-pounding, and everyone jumped to their feet for an extended celebration. The ceremony wasn’t over yet but the crowd had chosen that moment to punctuate the day – love is love. The two of them were in tears, the family was in tears, the ministers were in tears, and the congregants were in tears. It seemed to me that the sheer size of the assemblage and its powerful support for Pete and Steve’s commitment allowed the room to slip one layer deeper into the life-giving truth about love…and we all surrendered to it. These are tough times, there is uncertainty lurking around too many corners, and in the midst of it we cheered like mad for these guys and the love they have for each other and that we have for them because we all needed it. Love is a salve, there can be no question about that. And last Sunday it certainly was for everyone in the room. Pete and Steve were just the “official” reason we were there, but what we really wanted perhaps without even knowing it was the love of community, of hope, and of what it means to live in a world where it really is all that matters, even for just a moment. I cried and cheered and was so happy, grateful and relieved to be present for such an unabashed display of love. What a gift they gave us.

On Monday I was training again and this time had only three hours to do some sort of racial equity training for a room of just over 200 teachers. Not an easy task, but made a little more challenging by the fact that they had already done various degrees of initial training and therefore were wanting something more compelling, more challenging, and “new”. I have learned over the years that when majority White groups suggest that they have “already covered a lot” of racial equity content it often means that they have “learned” a lot but perhaps not “integrated” all of that information. So, I went ahead and covered some of the basics, but from a different angle and then complimented that with stories from my own journey (mostly my mistakes) and where I am today. And it is here that I did my best to toss in elements of what bell hooks calls “a love ethic”. I shared about the love that master teachers have for the art of teaching, for their students, and for the deep human promise that education holds. I shared about the love that grows when we do racial justice work and that gets snuffed out when we do not. I talked about the way the soul can atrophy under the listless and isolating influence of White privilege and how it can shine like the sun of Hafiz when it is arcing toward racial justice. I did my best to be real and to speak truth to a tough subject with 200 different souls sitting in the room. When I was done I noticed again that what stayed with me were the audience’s reactions to the comments about care, compassion, and love. Maybe I imagined it, but the group seemed to lean in a little more and the room became slightly more still when we honestly broached the topic of love.

Given how challenging social justice work can be, and certainly how fraught this current social / political / economic moment in time is, the importance of deeply caring for one another and grounding our work in love cannot be overestimated. It’s what those people of faith wanted in their congregation, it’s why the crowd at the wedding raised the roof with cheers and tears, and it is what our teachers need as they help our youth prepare for their future. All too often I get “caught” in my head and so I’m grateful for days like these where I am reminded to lean more into my heart and come back to center. It is said that the best teaching, training, and organizing always has a solid balance between the head and heart and I saw the evidence of that in the groups I had the privilege to be with this week. I’m grateful for their example.

How Many Alarm Bells Will It Take?

I learned a new word the other day, “solastalgia” – it means, “psychic or existential distress related to degradation of the environment, especially due to climate change”. Dr. Teddie Potter taught about it in her Minneapolis Community and Technical College presentation (which she graciously invited me to join her in) regarding issues of climate change and how our society is responding emotionally to its frightening realities. Dr. Potter suggested that, whether conscious of it or not, many in this society are realizing the current climate change realities and as a result solastalgia, sometimes on deep levels, is taking hold. If deep solastalgia was the case in the U.S. up to last week, after this weekend’s release of the most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) regarding our current and future climate realities, most U.S.ers have likely slid even further into a solastalgic state. I wrote earlier about “finding your anchor” regarding climate change and climate justice work, and so I will not repeat that here. But, this sobering report certainly does challenge one’s capacity to stay present, look the issues squarely in the eye, and move forward and so the invocation to find our anchor(s) is as germane now as ever before. Despite the solastalgia potential, I strongly recommend folks look at the IPCC’s report and be familiar with its findings. I will list some of the key ones here, but before I do, I want to highlight a few helpful points regarding “scientific reports”.

Framing points to consider

1. The IPCC is a panel that draws from the work of hundreds of climate scientists around the globe. As such, it is a comprehensive, yet “middle of the road” body of findings. This is important to know because it reflects a framework of averages that are notoriously conservative. In contrast, many folks in the “climate change denial” camp draw on the findings of people who are not climate scientists at all, but who have other reasons (such as funding from the carbon lobby) for stating their climate denial beliefs and they often use the “middle of the road” findings of the IPCC as fuel for downplaying the presence or impacts of climate change.

2. Building on the above point, science in general does tend to be conservative when proffering “findings” or “estimates” and certainly with respect to “applications and implications” (when done within the parameters of solid science). I know this from reading the work of these climate scientists, from watching Dr. James Hansen so reluctantly step forward and gradually speak more of his mind, and from my own undergraduate work in biology (molecular and immunology) where I was taught first hand about the tendency for scientists to stay objective, open-minded, and strictly about the science (we can debate the reality of objectivity another time). This is important information because if a typically conservative field is sounding an alarm, it is critical for lay people to listen and respond to the call.

3. And finally, I want to underscore that science has been sounding an alarm about the climate, to varying degrees, for the last 30-50 years, with that alarm growing from a subtle caution to what it is today: an emergency. This is not a concern, not an issue, not even a crisis anymore – it is truly an emergency and the IPCC report helps underscore that point.

Some key findings

Having stated those initial points, here are a few of the key findings put forth in the report:

1. It is “unequivocal” that climate change is happening and that the dominant cause is human action (anthropogenic) and our pouring of CO2 and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) into the atmosphere. More specifically, concentrations of CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have increased to levels that are unprecedented in at least 800,000 years. The burning of fossil fuels is the main reason behind a 40% increase in CO2 concentrations since the industrial revolution (with 1750 being the typical starting point for these measurements).

2. And, even if the world begins to moderate greenhouse gas emissions, warming is likely to cross the critical threshold of 2C by the end of this century. More specifically, the report says that global temperatures are likely to rise by 0.3C to 4.8C, by the end of the century depending on how much governments control carbon emissions.

3. Crossing 2C would have serious consequences, including sea level rises, heatwaves and changes to rainfall meaning dry regions get less and already wet areas receive more. More specifically, sea levels are expected to rise a further 26-82cm by the end of the century. Additionally, the oceans have acidified as they have absorbed about a third of the carbon dioxide emitted. This will have substantial consequences on the oceanic food chain as coral reefs and other shelled creatures cannot solidify their structures and will therefore begin to die off.

4. To avoid dangerous levels of climate change, beyond 2C, the world can only emit a total of between 800 and 880 gigatonnes of carbon (from the second bullet on page 20 of the report where it says to have between a 33% and 66% chance of staying below 2C, and when accounting for additional radiative forcings, the total is 800-880 GtCO2. Some media outlets have reported that our carbon budget is 1000 gigatonnes, but that does not account for positive RF). Of this, about 530 gigatonnes had already been emitted by 2011 (one citation averages it at 545 gigatonnes). This has clear implications for our fossil fuel consumption, meaning that humans cannot burn all of the coal, oil and gas reserves that countries and companies possess.

5. Global warming has not “stopped” or “reversed”, as some climate change skeptics assert, and in fact the last three decades are the warmest on record since consistent recordings have been taken. Most of this warming has been taken up by the oceans, and so using land temperatures only (which the skeptics often cite) would not give the whole picture of warming.

What can we do?

I avoid offering tidy “action steps” because social justice issues are so complex and do not tend to respond neatly to “how to” lists. However, this is a critical time and so I will toss a few ideas out.

1. First, we need to reverse our thinking regarding where we place our organizing / responsive energy, effort and time. For decades there has been a growing commentary about “switching to energy efficient light bulbs” and “recycling” and “turning off our lights”…all good and well. However, none of these “trickled up” in a quick enough or forceful enough manner so as to fundamentally impact the carbon industry, its lobby, or our governmental leaders. The result is that we are in a position where our carbon consumption and CO2 output has declined minimally, while the global consumption and output has continued to steadily increase. As such, I recommend that we do in fact continue to engage in “energy efficiency” acts in our residences, workplaces, and social spaces. The change, however, is that we must turn the bulk of our collective voice and organizing toward significantly pressuring our government to make immediate, substantial changes. Changes such as a carbon tax, changes like stopping Keystone XL, changes like investing heavily in renewable forms of energy, changes like limiting the shipping of coal to China and other countries, changes like subsidizing electric cars and charging stations, changes like focusing on closed loop production, and changes like demanding that the United States cut to 1990 levels of CO2 production in the next decade. The time for small-scale actions has passed and we are in a moment where we must make deep cuts, take strong action, and demand powerful and steadfast leadership toward those ends.

2. Second, we must move the climate conversation to the front of our political discourse. Elections are coming up soon and while issues like jobs, housing, and transportation are perennial political issues, as well they should be, the climate must also be at the top of the list given its compounding influence on every social and political area. For example, if climate change is not responded to immediately and forcefully, unemployment issues will be compounded – crops failing, forests burning, rivers and lakes drying lead to fewer jobs in all associated industries which means less money in the economy and the correlated losses from that and so on. Similarly, as the climate changes we will continue to experience “weather whiplash” and storms (on June 21, 2013 a substantial storm knocked out power to tens of thousands of residents with hundreds of trees down in a highly populated area of Minneapolis) will stretch our energy infrastructure and costs will begin to rise, heating will become more expensive, and housing accessibility will obviously change. And finally, transportation will obviously be impacted as the climate changes and we suffer the most egregious of its impacts. As such, we will see that slowly but surely the reality of climate change will drive the political discourse, and so let us not be reactive to that reality and instead demand that our elected officials are educated about climate change, understand its wide-reaching impacts, and make creative, adaptive solutions central to their political work.

3. And third, we need to educate ourselves, our neighbors, and our communities about climate change, climate justice and climate organizing so we can collectively pressure our government to act like a citizen of a global community. “We the people” must change from a national to a global reference. We all must help our elected officials and others in power awaken to the reality that “we the people” is NOT just about the United States and instead refers to all 7.13 billion of us. “We the people” is a call to our species, not to our nationalism. “We the people” is a naming of our common humanity, not a reification of US exceptionalism. “We the people” is a passionate and beautiful declaration of our connection and commitment to each other. That does not mean that we merge into one nation and lose our “identity” but it does mean that finally our common human connections and truths trump the separations we have nursed for so long.

In sum, what I am suggesting is that when in an emergency, it is not wise to focus solely on the minutiae at the expense of the larger picture – to take a garden hose to one small spot of a house engulfed in flames will not likely save any portion of the house, even that which the hose is spraying. But, if that garden hose is used to the best of its capacity and larger, more powerful, and widely dispersed hoses are directed at the house, then there is a chance to save the house.

One place to start would be 350.org. While I really struggle with some of the race, class and gender issues of their organization, they are folks who are mobilizing in large numbers in DC and around the nation / globe to respond to the alarm. Additionally, here is a listing of non-profits working on climate issues in terms of their philanthropic ranking. I’m not saying these are all the best choices either, but as you read about their work and dig more deeply into their political approaches you can decide if any of these are a good fit for you. You can also look up the Indigenous Environmental Network (and the work of Tom Goldtooth) as well as Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy (CEED) to get a clearer racial / social justice framing of these issues and actions that are being taken.

Whatever group you decide to collaborate with, make sure it is one that is organizing at the bottom in order to apply pressure at the top, and which has the intention of making large, systematic changes regarding our carbon use and CO2 output. This is the critical issue. The IPCC has once again sounded the alarm. Let us, through our organizing and actions, make it the last time they have to do so.

Lessons from the Boulevard

I was notified last week that my workshop on addressing climate change through a race, class and gender justice lens was accepted at a climate change conference next summer. Needless to say I am really excited about this because the conference is almost exclusively science, policy and NGO folks and so having me as a social justice educator in their midst should be an interesting experience for all of us. I went to this conference two years ago in Seattle and was deeply moved by the steadfast and optimistic commitment these scientists, international lawyers, and global relief workers showed in the face of the stark and terrifying reality that they, more than others, know in great detail – we are heading for disaster. In session after session, they inspired me to stay focused, buttress my commitment however I can, and forge ahead in an effort to educate others about what is happening regarding climate change, what we need to do, and how we need to do it (the “how” is where I and my presentation come in). And I hope that I have stayed true to the deepened commitment I made then and continue to make – I will do whatever I can to sound the alarm and educate.

 

As two tiny gestures toward that end, this spring I built a “Little Library” as a way to feed social justice / climate change books to my neighbors, and I dug up my front boulevard area in order to plant some “community gardens” for my neighbors to nibble from as they walked by. I envisioned avid readers flocking to the yard, swapping stories abut the social justice content they just read, while partaking in the beautiful food blooming perfectly and in great abundance. I imagined an evolving mix of neighbors being inspired to get into conversations about growing their own food and then somehow stumbling into amazing insights about social justice, climate change, transition towns, and sustainable communities. You see where this is going, right? Here’s what really happened.

 

The Library

The Little Library, as I suspected, did in fact attract a range of folks. I had not even finished mounting it on its stand before the two children across the street came running over saying, “Our mom wants to know if you want some kids’ books for you library.” I of course said yes since I have no children and thus my supply of kids’ books is severely limited. Within minutes they ran back over with armloads of books. It was pretty cool and lifted my spirits about the potential success of this venture. I am not the first to do this, of course, but I am the first on the block and I hope that every block in south Minneapolis will eventually be well stocked with books of all sorts. Of my personal array of books (and I hate to give away books) my first two contributions were extra copies of Black feminist thought (Patricia Hill Collins) and Come out fighting: A century of essential writing on gay and lesbian liberation. Seeing this and secretly fearing disaster, my friends contributed mysteries, classics, more kids books, and a range of lighter fare…and their books went first. In fact, I checked every day to see if my first two books were taken and it took an inordinately long time for them to disappear. I wondered aloud what this might mean and friends only proffered jokes about what I tend to read. I laughed as well, but inside I really did start to wonder what it would mean to have a Little Library solely dedicated to social justice-leaning books. Would they be taken? If not, why? Would people use their free time to read such things? If not, why? I live in a very White liberal, gender liberal, LBGTQI liberal neighborhood and I began to consider how much this might be a reflection of the troubling difference between what liberals tend to do in their free time and what they politically stand for publicly. Where is the line between liberal and progressive? I wonder about these things because I know like I know like I know that “liberalism” is no path to liberation, and so if this is where we are, then we are in some trouble when it comes to social justice issues, and by extension when it comes to climate change and climate justice.

 

I also wonder this out of a deeper concern for how we as a society are crafting our political and social lives and where the two shall meet. Liberal politics tend to be a politics of convenience and appeasement. They are a stretch for those who embody them only in the sense that their bearer might be inconvenienced and challenged here and there, but they require nothing in the way of the release of privilege and the “resorting” of one’s life from the ground up along the lines of justice. Liberal politics have an “add on” feel about them because they do not change or transform the edifice of power that creates and sustains systems of dominance and oppression, but merely seek ways to “add on” others’ rights and opportunities to the edifice itself. Case in point, I have been talking a lot lately with what I would describe as “hetero liberals” – heterosexuals who fought hard for, gave money toward, and lawn-signed endlessly for the rights of LBGT people to marry in Minnesota. Importantly, however, these heterosexual “allies” were not simultaneously examining their own privilege or the ways they themselves are hamstrung by heteronormativity and the tightness of gender norms and expectations that undergird their heterosexual lives. As such they did not make it a campaign for their freedom as well, but rather a campaign for “the freedom to marry” with nary a question about what marriage has been and currently is in this society. Now, when I would ask them about this they replied, “when LBGT people can marry, it will by default, change what marriage is.” Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe it will simply mean that LBGT people are now an “add on” to the overall edifice of marriage in this society, and therefore parroting heterosexual definitions of marriage.

 

(At this point those of you who are married or who want to be married might be about to stop reading because you might think I am bashing marriage, but before you go, let me clarify: I think that there is nothing more sacred than the commitment one person makes to those they love. For some who choose not to marry, that commitment can come in the form of a deep and abiding life commitment to a community. For others who have children but are not married, that commitment can be seen in the beauty and power of parenting. Still others choose one person with whom they commit to spending the rest of their life with through turmoil and celebration. These are deeply profound and utterly gorgeous gestures that we make to others and are such beautiful aspects of who we are as humans. What I am asking the reader to lean into in the above paragraph is not the dismantling of this type of commitment, but rather a critique of the “institution of marriage”, its hugely complicated, profoundly gendered, and deeply power-based history, and how that plays out in contemporary U.S. society and its notions of marriage. Just that. So, please hang with me.)

 

All this came from watching how Oh, the places you’ll go, The poisonwood bible, and The help went whirling in and out of the library while my more political books stayed put (I added others after my first two). But that is often what liberalism does – it separates the political and personal, and in the end that simply doubles-back and serves the very same oppressive structures that liberals oppose. And so I will continue to ply my neighbors with political books in hopes that as we all place our political ideas in the community space (in this case, the sidewalk in front of my house) we can begin to see how deeply connected all of these issues are to the core of our lives and that we must live integrated and not a partitioned political lives such that we can steadily and consistently create the world we all so desperately want to live in. To be transparent, I am offering this critique to myself more than anyone else. One of the greatest gifts this Little Library has given me is the wake-up call I am alluding to – if my politics are not part of the community life here on my block, then what good are they? If they do not live and breathe and create “home” right here, then perhaps I am merely enacting liberal posturing and therefore need to take a closer look. As a step in pushing myself more, this fall and winter I plan on hosting “educational workshops” for my neighbors and friends about climate justice and what we can do with respect to it in hopes that I can create the lived politics (instead of political life) I am discussing here.

 

The Garden

As for the garden, that was an even more challenging experiment. The first and foremost problem was simply my lack of gardening skills. I placed too much in too small of spaces (I have three raised beds), the cherry tomato plant turned into perhaps the first ever sun gold cherry tomato tree, and the radishes did well at first and then there simply wasn’t enough sun for them. But, this is all fixable – I just need to become a better gardener. What accompanied the garden experiment and how to “fix” it is less clear to me. So, not only did those food justice, climate change conversations not happen (at least not to my knowledge), but my neighbors had no idea they could even take the food. Realizing this, I put small signs on the boxes saying “community gardens” but that did not seem to encourage everyone. Then I built a little box with the same sign on top and placed paper bags (like the ones you take a lunch to school in) inside it so folks would be prompted to fill one. Still, no takers. Then I went around personally to my neighbors and point blank invited (perhaps told) them to take the food. At this point, some did. And yet others, even after I helped them see what a radish looked like when it was ready to be picked, still did not partake despite their excitement and saying that they “definitely would”. Now, to be fair, my educational efforts were less than spectacular as I had also hoped to make a flyer with web sites and TED talks to view but ran out of time to make that happen. Nevertheless, it seemed like an unusual thing to tell people there’s free, fresh, organic food for the taking and to have no one really do it – to have neighbors not eat food from “my” yard. And that, I think, was the rub – property and the notion of “mine” and “yours”. As I paid closer attention to folks walking by and continued talking to neighbors about it, I began to pick up on peoples’ fear of crossing the line in terms of “property” and by extension “propriety”. After all, part of the American Dream is the possession of my house, my yard, my space and it is the “my” that I think is what kept them from seeing anything out there as “our” and more importantly from seeing this street, this neighborhood and this city as an “our”.

 

The insidious relationship between U.S. class and race structures has us drowning in endless divisions of “mine” and “yours”, and far too few of “ours”. And yet I, for one, deeply want more of the “our”. I do not want to live in a home that feels isolated and cut off from those around me. In some U.S. (and certainly many global) communities there is not this separation. In predominantly white, professional middle class communities there is. In the past I would frame this analysis within the context of race and class and the need to dismantle these structures and that would be it. Today I agree with that framing and know that we must place it in an even larger context of adaptation to the coming climate reality. Globally, the most vulnerable will feel the pain of it all first. In the U.S., a society that has “me, mine and yours” firmly tied to race, class and gender, those targeted by deeply rooted racist, classist and gender oppressive power structures will be the first to be impacted. And so I am writing here not to proffer more political framing, but rather to suggest a simple shift that might help – a shift from “mine” to “ours”. The rugged individualism so intractably associated with the race and class history of this country would have us believe that this idea is “socialism”, “weak”, will make us “vulnerable as a nation”, and will ultimately “destroy our democracy” because it is “un-American”. It would have us think that whatever we who are white and middle class, and those male, have in our possession has been earned and achieved all by ourselves (and not acquired as a result of oppression and privilege). But, if we are going to bandy about clichés, I prefer ones such as “silence is complicity”, “if not me, then who? if not now, then when?” and “no one is free when others are oppressed” because I think they are more honest. The idea of an “individual” is one that serves disconnection, which feeds fear, which is fuel for the deepening “mine” versus “yours”, which distills into “us” and “them”, which is exactly the division necessary for systems of oppression to exist. Racial, class, and gender oppressions rely on this separation, a community grounded in “ours” blurs it.

 

And so, I think my little garden experiment, in the faintest of ways, brushed up against these divisions and offered a different take on what we could be to each other and how we could live together on this block. It acknowledged the fourth wall and asked people to step through, cross lines, blur boundaries and in so doing be just the tiniest bit more of a “we”. For a more articulate and compelling conversation about this I strongly suggest you watch two TED talks (Pam Warhurst and her work in a small village in England and Ron Finley and his work in Los Angeles) that demonstrate the power of “we”. Contrary to the typical naysayers, their work is not weak, nor detrimental to human progress. Instead, they both breathe life into the notion that we are a family of people and that we do, in fact, live here together. I am taking guidance from these two “radicals” and next year will be planting even more “stuff” for the boulevard, trying to get a neighbor or two to do the same, and blurring a few more lines in an effort to build the kind of community I want and that we actually need for the coming decades of climate reality.

 

Perhaps it was a titch ambitious to hope that a library in my front yard and three small raised bed garden boxes would lead to a south Minneapolis revolution (one can hope), but it has taught me a lot. Most importantly, it has given me important information about Liberalism and the power of the possessive “mine” so that as the fall descends and winter draws near, I will spend my time inside drawing up “Season Two of the Little Library and Community Gardens Action Plan” in hopes that next year there is just a bit more connection of my politics to my life, the slightest movement form “mine” to “ours”, and a little more conversation and community. Feel free stop by. Or better yet, build some on your block.

Moral Mondays

I was not raised a Christian and most likely will not identify as such in my life. I do, however, have a deep appreciation for the monotheisms and the key prophets and voices from each, particularly as they discuss social justice issues. Karen Armstrong’s work on the monotheisms in general and Christianity in particular, along with the work of Bishop John Shelby Spong and some of the writings of Jim Wallis have helped me understand more clearly the deeply rooted social justice nature of Jesus’s teachings and Christianity as a whole. As I listen to and read reports about the Moral Monday protests in North Carolina, I am again moved by the power of Christianity as a transformative force toward social justice. And while there has developed a fairly wide range of issues being protested each Monday since March, the general theme (what Rev. William Barber of the North Carolina NAACP and primary organizer of Moral Mondays, calls “a new Southern Strategy”) expressed by these multi-racial, multi-class, multi-denominational protestors seems to be a call for a state government that cares for its most vulnerable citizens and that safeguards the rights of those most marginalized.

The interfaith character of these protests suggests that across all denominations there is a shared message of ending poverty and helping those who are in need. To me this is incredibly heartening. Since the late 1970s the gap between the “have’s” and the “have not’s” has increased to absurd proportions and if history is any guide, this trend is a sure-fire recipe for internal collapse. A society cannot stay cohesive and healthy when so few control so much at the expense of so many. I was in Rome five years ago and while talking to an archaeologist who also worked as a tour guide (she said archeologists are a dime a dozen in Rome and so they all had to have one to two other jobs) I asked her why Rome fell. I had learned in school it was the “barbarians” nibbling at the Roman borders combined with internal political and religious strife that caused the fall of the Roman empire. She shook her head and said, “No, Rome fell because the gap between those who had and those who didn’t became too large and the needs of the many were eclipsed by the myopic avarice of the few. And, when the largest component of society is so weakened, and the smallest component is so bloated and out of touch, any society (indeed every society) will fall by its own hand.” Mind you she did not say money or wealth was bad, she was saying that blinding hubris combined with absurd excess leads to an imbalanced society that has no choice but to self-destruct.

 

And so the Moral Mondays, to me, are more than just North Carolinians protesting a handful of policies, they are more than just some people of faith speaking out against a perceived injustice, to me they are a calling of conscious that has been heard again and again in this and other countries when the basic needs of people are not being met, and more specifically when the needs of the many are eclipsed by the needs of the elite few. Again, I’m not a Christian (nor a North Carolinian for that matter), but I can completely get behind a movement that is rooted in deep principles of faith and willing to lay it all on the line to end class oppression and racial oppression in North Carolina (and in our society as whole). And as I have said, while a bevy of other groups have joined in and tagged on to the overall agenda, it has not escaped anyone that a very large number of North Carolinian people of faith have come together to say enough.

 

This country has a long history of class and race oppression. When the British began colonizing this portion of North America they brought with them two essential frameworks for their possession and use of power against “others”; the first was Christian hegemony whereby if you were not Christian you were not seen as “civilized” or truly “human”; the second was a long-standing class hierarchy so entrenched that it was simply understood that one was born, lived in, and died in their divinely ordered class. There was no “boostraps” myth and no Horatio Alger stories flooding the popular imagination yet. Instead, class was intractable, essentialized in the body, and meant to express one’s humanity and value in the world. Once the British realized these two frameworks of power were insufficient to control the various peoples in the North American colonies, they had to create another framework to buttress their colonial power: race. The creation of race, to first separate those who would oppose the British and later to explain away the contradiction of the birth of a democracy and the institutions of genocide and slavery, was and still is a powerful dividing line in US society. The result of this weaving together of race, class and Christian hegemony was the propping up of the power of white, Christian, land-holding men. And, whenever this was threatened one of the most convenient strategies was to pit poor and working class white men against poor and working class people of color (by the dominant power structure “playing its race card”) thereby using racial allegiance as a way to stamp out white working class frustration about their economic conditions. And whenever an alliance between poor and working class people of all races was able to overcome this pitting of people against each other, Christian hegemony was used to divide the “humans” from the “savages” and once again establish the power in the hands of the white, land-holding, Christian men.

 

Reverend Barber knows this history well, I’m sure, and so his and other religions leaders’ intention to not allow these age-old wedges to be driven into this movement is very powerful. Proactively reaching across lines of race and class and denomination is an extremely wise approach and will hopefully lead to a North Carolina that is not only committed to economic and racial justice, but whose Christianity is one that cares for the poor and vulnerable and opposes countless cuts to state government that hurt the poor and benefit the wealthy. I am in support of the separation of church and state and so would not want a Christian doctrine as the moral compass for this society. But, values of love, compassion, humility, wisdom, and caring for the most vulnerable and marginalized through the lens of equality and equity instead of charity and paternalism (sic) is a society I would be proud to claim and be an active citizen in. If a loving, humble, reflective and socially just Christianity is the lens through which some of my fellow citizens work to bring about such a society, wonderful.

 

In no small way it would literally be a miracle if the movement created by Moral Mondays could reclaim the loving, just and progressive territory Christianity can rightfully claim. As a non-Christian looking from the outside in it has always been difficult for me to understand how a religion rooted in love could have such a long list of people, groups, and ways of being in the world it hated. The Buddha rightly said 2500 years ago that hatred can never be stopped by hatred; it is only with love that hatred can cease. It seems to me that Christianity is rife with opportunities for this love to be expressed and I truly welcome the voices of the many people of faith in North Carolina and may the echo of their commitment for social justice carry across this entire country.