Wednesday, July 27, 2016


More from Wild Goose: Green and Black Together

I went to the Wild Goose Festival for spiritual refreshment and retreat. The events of this violent, unmoored world followed me there. In particular, my newly-attuned ear for racism and white privilege was further calibrated as the community responded to events unfolding over the weekend. Black folks took the lead, and I learned that my job was to tune in and listen deeply, learning from them what they needed from me. I came home and joined Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), who work closely with Black Lives Matter.

But my ear was also attuned to ecojustice issues, and there was a smattering of workshops addressing them. I had planned to go to the Creation Care Alliance of WNC sponsored panel on Friday, but the big names were rallying the crowd in response to the shootings, and I felt a strong need to be there. I ran into friends from the panel over the weekend, and it felt good to be in solidarity with them Scott Hardin-Nieri has brought much-needed new blood to the organization, which I have joined again after many years' absence. Scott has charisma, compassion, and strategic wits, as well as organizational leadership skills. I look forward to working with Scott and the growing list of WNC congregations who have joined hands under the Alliance's umbrella.

On Sunday morning I had a sweet reunion with my old buddies from NC Interfaith Power and Light . I met the new director, Susannah Tuttle, at the Katherine Hayhoe Asheville events this spring, and have been impressed with her leadership. Susannah carefully explained the shift in tactics from the liberal know-it-all position to one of finding common ground with your neighbor, focused more on listening than teaching. Then my old friend Penny Hooper shared a remarkable story revealing the faith community's role in the Obama Administration's recent decision to halt mid-Atlantic exploratory oil drilling (reviewed every 5 years). Penny and Mark, who is a commercial fisherman, live in Smyrna, near Morehead City on the NC coast, surrounded by swarms of conservatives. As a retired college biology teacher, Penny knows plenty about what's at risk with climate change and offshore drilling. She did some careful strategizing, leading to a non-partisan campaign under the name Concerned Citizens, comprising multiple coastal towns.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management held its final review this spring. It was attended by four mid-Atlantic governors' energy staffers in the morning, then a mandated consultation with Big Greens and citizens' groups like Penny's in the afternoon. At that meeing, BOEM chief Abby Hoffer told the enviros they were doing a great job of organizing – with one exception. “Where are the faith voices here?” she asked. Penny spoke up and said she thought she could bring that voice to the table. She went home and called Susannah. The two of them came up with a statement for Susannah to take to a meeting of NC church judicatories, which was occurring, providentially, in four days. The assembly heard the statement and unanimously adopted the no-drill position as an expression of creation care stewardship. These assembled churches represented 1.5 million members from 6200 congregations. This was definitely a voice. Within days, on March 15, President Obama announced the moratorium on Atlantic drilling, a policy reversal. The ecojustice community is pressing the administration to make the same decision with drilling in the Gulf and the Arctic. May activists take their cue from NC Power and Light, who have done us and the battered ocean an immense service.

At the memorial service on Saturday, Geeta had engaged a dignified black woman reverend with clear gifts as a contemplative leader. Finally finding a place she could identify with in the police killings, she compared her experience as a mother of teen-aged sons with Dele's, who had raised hers in D.C., where they changed buses twice each way en route to school through tough neighborhoods. From this perspective, what black families endure every day sunk in. Now, at the end the presentations, Susannah recognized Reverend Dele, who promoted an upcoming conference in Eastern NC, ”A Sustainable Race.” Reverend Dele quietly explained that the ecojustice issues that the white middle class focused upon were not the same as her community's. Each community needed to listen to each other about their particular ecojustice troubles. For the black community in eastern NC, the problems stemming from hog lagoons, unaddressed since the 1970's, are central. A conference “opening new streams of justice in our environmental and food systems” sounds like a place where white privilege could be of service to a common cause.

So where do we go from here? I read a piece awhile back suggesting that a coalition of Green and Black, broadly and deeply united through overlapping ecojustice issues, could give the ecojustice movement the momentum to make a final push into the mainstream of political action. The author pointed to the history of the civil rights movement as instructive, suggesting that climate action leaders sit down with elders from the civil rights movement. With the climate action movement taking increasingly to the streets, the time for training in civil disobedience and effective tactics is ripe. And the civil rights movement was rooted in the churches and Jesus's social gospel, which belongs at the core of this work. The solidarity of heretofore separate parts of civil society would be a tremendous boost for each. With a monumental election looming before us, the necessity for joining forces is immense. It's time for the movement we've been waiting for to come of age. Now.

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Monday, July 18, 2016


Another Side of North Carolina

Geeta and I recently attended the Wild Goose Festival in nearby Hot Springs, NC. The Goose is a Christian peace-and-justice, LBGT-friendly festival of music, networking, workshops, preaching (to the choir), and relaxing in and by the world's third oldest river, the French Broad. Practically everybody stays in a very large campground, many sites along the forested beach by the river. 3400 people attended, a new record for the festival, now in its sixth year.

I am a liberal FGC Quaker and an Advaita Vedantist. Jesus is not my ishta devata, my personal master. But I felt right at home among fellow activists, passionate seekers, inquiring and open people together, sharing a sea of compassionate love. I did not experience any exclusionary practices or folk, though I was frequently uncomfortable, due to the honest ministry around racism in particular, which seems to be the lesson of the times for me. This began at the FGC conference last year in Boone, when I first recognized that I was racist. It was reinforced by an intense SAYMA yearly gathering in June, “Unraveling Racism,” and continued through this painful weekend which included two police murders of black men, an apparent lynching, and the killing of several Dallas police officers.

The retreat was thoroughly cleansing and rejuvenating. I had three opportunities to celebrate mass, one of them in the name of the Cosmic Christ, led by Matthew Fox. I partook of the Eucharist in that case, but it neither felt honest nor authentic for me to do so in two others. I lay in the river as the current rippled over me refreshingly, my hands braced on two perfectly-placed rocks, watching others around me building cairns, stretching forth their arms in prayer, perched on rocks reading. I felt like I was at a holy river in India as a South Asian woman removed her clothes and entered the river (a two-piece suit was underneath).

Geeta and I returned to the river Saturday for a poignant service of remembrance for the slain, led by powerful leaders from the Black community, Darren and Dele. We threw stones into the river on which prayers were written, and burned paper prayers in the fire, accompanied by two solemn teenaged girl drummers. Reverend Dele led us in song as the sun set. Though the long weekend's brutality against black men was painful, we were blessed to be in a community which could hold the pain, acting to make it meaningful. More than one leader had prayed from the main stage that these victims' deaths should not be in vain. Rev Dele remarked that our times were very like the 1890's, that we were frozen in racist patterns. Darren, a freelance priest and actor who had created a makeshift altar and called for our ritual, said the violence will never end. I spoke, saying that the slowly-flowing French Broad by which we stood felt like the slow, steady progress of justice. Geeta prayed for the day when every mother could rest easy about the safety of her sons. After the ceremony, she lingered with Reverend Dele, deeply ponderring the radically different experiences of black and white mothers in our neocolonial world

There were some big names, notably Jim Wallis and Shane Claiborne. The violent events of the weekend highlighted Jim's latest book, America's Original Sin (racism). Charles Eisenstein repeated what he said at a book-signing in Asheville a year and a half ago, that we were “between stories.” There were clearly many folks looking for a new story, while others were busy revising the liturgy and experimenting with rituals. On Saturday, the big music night, Phil Madeira opened for Dar Williams, followed by the Indigo Girls. Phil also riffed for a talented group of actors, writers and artists who performed the uncanny poetry, populated by New Testament characters, of Nashville's Merril Farnsworth in a tent by the labyrinth that afternoon. Everyone at Wild Goose was relaxed, down-home, accessible and personable. There was no pulling of rank or fame; we were brothers and sisters and friends. Just folks.

The Psalms came alive for me in a new way via the talented voice and picking of Charles Pettee, as he shared his Folkpsalms musical project. I must admit I was bothered by a man in the front row who kept raising his arms in prayer in what seemed a contrived way, and worse, clapped arythmicallly. But then, after a particularly searing indictmen of the Lord by the psalmist (Psalm 88), he rose to speak. “The thing is, God is not only the receiver of the message, He is within the lament and the curse itself. And that is comforting.” I set all judgments aside at this point, as I was blessed to do on other occasions during the festival.

The Episcopalians strategically located their tent right behind the main stage, which is where I went to Matthew Fox's cosmic mass and circle dance. Each late afternoon they hosted “Beer and Hymns,” giving a new twist on our Southern name for them, Whiskeypalians. In this latest gift to the faithful, singers raised their mugs high at the end of each hymn.

The closing sermon was an exhortation from a Latino priest, Claudio Carvalhaes, a liberation theologian in rudraksha beads. Claudio resoundingly echoed the passionate preaching about Black Lives Matter on Friday from Jacqui Lewis, pastor at an inclusive church in Greenwich Village. At first I found his angry, strident tone off-putting. But as his words flowed over us like a modern-day Micah, I dropped my stiff neck and just listened. He told a story about a congregation he visited that was dipping its toes into the Justice River. They invited street people to their worship, after which all adjourned to the fellowship hall for donuts and coffee. Two minutes after the donuts were displayed, they were all gone, devoured by the underserved. The church members were left agape, waiting for the minister's blessing.

The work of underserved agape blessing is not a casual one, checking off your list of things you as a colonial privileged white have neglected. It is ongoing, and the deeper in you go, the further you see the road stretches before you. The river of justice that I spoke about at the rite by the French Broad does not enter a tunnel with a light shining at the end. Better get your measure of light as you go, no matter how flickering it may be.

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