Tuesday, March 30, 2010



This deeply-rooted, loving challenge came as a response to an article I wrote in BeFriending Creation, the journalistic arm of Quaker Earthcare Witness, reporting the success of our carbon reduction campaign for travel associated with the 2009 FGC annual sessions. It has been the occasion for reconsideration of carbon footprinting as a tool of religious ecology, and for much soul-searching among QEW's Sustainability Committee - Editor

Is it time for QEW to let go of carbon footprinting? My short answer is no, but my plea is to focus our energy on a much larger project. My problem with our efforts at carbon footprinting, or driving less and in more efficient cars, or lobbying for more responsible government action, is that while these are useful and important they often distract us from the true scale and depth of the predicament we are in. We are working on relieving symptoms instead of healing the deeper disease. Relieving symptoms is essential, even critical, work, but as a spiritual community perhaps healing the disease is our greater calling.

Centuries before there were any ideas of peak oil or climate change, thoughtful people observed with sadness and dismay the abuse and detachment with which their fellow humans interacted with nature. Here is a modern English version of William Penn writing in 1682: It would go a long way toward cautioning and directing people in the use of Nature, if they were better educated and knowledgeable about the Creation of it. For how could humanity find the confidence to abuse Nature, while they see the Great Creator in all and every part of it, staring them in the face? The global predicament we find ourselves in today is not rooted in fossil-fuels, industrialization, technology or growth-dependant economics. These are simply manifestations of the real cause: our failure to live in connectedness, solidarity and right-relationship with all aspects of the world around us.

The earth with all its abundance of resources and diversity of life is the only home we humans have. We share this home with all the life in the Earth’s biosphere. Together we are part of the interdependent life cycles and ecosystems by which Nature keeps everything in dynamic balance and keeps reinventing itself anew. We can choose to work with nature, honoring its systems of balance to help us flourish, or we can choose to try to control nature to our advantage, to gain more wealth, power, and comfort. We can choose to be an integral part of nature from which we are inseparable, or we can choose to see nature as “other,” separate from us, a resource, gift, or object for us to enslave, harvest or ignore.
But what if we only want enough for our fair share? What if we humbly accept our small place in the biosphere and delight in the mutual flourishing of the whole commonwealth of life in which we live?
This is a radically different vision of our role in the world than has been typical of our history. This is not a vision of plunderers or victims, not even of stewards or disciples, but of partners, neighbors, and co-inhabitants with all life, sharing the earth in awe and humility and doing it with equality, simplicity, integrity and peace, having learned to live in harmony with conflict.

How do we change? How do we return to the path that honors creation and reconnects us with awe and humility to our home? How are we to live in a way that nourishes deep intimacy with our inward faith and right relationship with our outward world?  Can we give up the idea that we, individually and as a species, are in any way superior or entitled regarding our use of other humans, other life forms or any of the other resources of the Earth? Can we honor and obey Nature as our only home and source of all our wellbeing and survival? Can we share her abundance equitably with all life?
We Quakers have been hiding our light under a bushel, and we are not alone. But historically we have from time to time risen above our adaptations to prevailing culture and witnessed our continuing revelation of the Truth. I see the opportunity for us to do this again. We could follow the logic of our Quaker testimonies and open our hearts to a deep connectedness with all of God’s creation. We could witness right relationship. Some say that people are not ready to receive such witness, not ready for the spiritual dimensions of our environmental and economic predicament. I suspect that it is we who are not ready, we who fear the change that will be unleashed by tapping into our core values. As long as we are dealing with incremental physical/mental change, we remain in control. But once we surrender to Spirit, once our hearts are broken open, once we allow our Light to shine out, we have no choice but to follow.

Without this deeper value-based response, I fear that we will keep falling victim to relaxing our vigilance every time things improve, however slightly or temporarily. If our actions are measured in response to conditions, then conditions rule. But if instead our actions keep referencing our deepest evolving values, then our values rule, and that is where we need to be for a sustainable future.

The economist Milton Friedman also writes about this idea: Only a crisis—actual or perceived—produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the [values] that are lying around. We are surrounded by our technology and growth-dependent economy, but let us not be distracted by the values that have led us ever more disastrously into our current global predicament. Instead let us ask what are our gifts that we Quakers can bring forward? What values do we have lying around? Everywhere new life is trying to emerge from the old. How do we forge what progress we have made into a new vision? What kind of world do we want? How do we practice and witness a new flowering from our deepest roots?
I find that I am called to contribute positively to the “values that are lying around.” My hope is that we will all be called to seek greater connection with and compassion for all of God’s creation. My vision is that we will then feel the consequences of our actions so deeply that we will gather ourselves in community to radically change our lives. This will not be easy work. For courage, resolve, love and forgiveness, we will need each other more than ever.  But we can be joyful in our strong Quaker roots and delight in the flourishing of community and movement of Spirit amongst us as we do this work. And we can celebrate returning home to our Earth, home to our brothers and sisters in the vast commonwealth of life, grieving for the damage that has been done and working together on a brighter future.

George Owen

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