On Learning from His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew about ecology

The other day I was at a Greek Festival, and yes we were there for the food. But after I had eaten all of the baklava any one human being could possibly ingest in one day I set off to explore the various and sundry tables where concessionaires were hawking their wares.  As I prowled, I came across a woman who was ‘selling’ solar energy. As a nod to her location at the festival, she had two placards with quotes from His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. Of course given the sheltered life that I live, I was unfamiliar with this particular Patriarch of the Orthodox Church and his commitment to the environment. . . .  I do have a lot to learn!  And what a joy that I do. So, here is some of what His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch has to say:

Climate Change and Social Justice

“If human beings were to treat one another’s personal property the way they treat the natural environment, we would view that behavior as anti-social and illegal. We would expect legal sanctions and even compensation. When will we learn that to commit a crime against the natural world is also a sin?”

“The way we respond to the natural environment is directly reflects the way we treat human beings. The willingness to exploit the environment is revealed in the willingness to permit avoidable human suffering. So the survival of the natural environment is also the survival of ourselves. When we will understand that a crime against nature is a crime against ourselves and sin against God?”

Poverty, Protection and Preservation

“Poverty is not caused by the lack of material resources. It is the immediate result of our exploitation and waste. There is a close link between the economy of the poor and the warming of our planet. Conservation and compassion are intimately connected. The web of life is a sacred gift of God — ever so precious, yet ever so delicate. Each of us dwells within the wider ecosystem; each of us is a part of a larger, global environment. We must serve our neighbor and preserve our world with both humility and generosity, in a perspective of frugality and solidarity.”

“All of us have to work, each from his or her own place in the world; indeed, we must work together, irrespective of religious conviction, racial origin, and professional discipline. Our efforts will remain meaningless and fruitless if they remain fragmented and isolated. For, the protection of the world’s natural beauty is one consideration, one concern, one song, to the glory of God and all creation.”

“Climate change is much more than an issue of environmental preservation. Insofar as human-induced, it is a profoundly moral and spiritual problem. To persist in our current path of ecological destruction is not only folly. It is suicidal because it jeopardizes the diversity of our planet. Moreover, climate change constitutes a matter of social and economic justice. For, those who will most directly and severely be affected by climate change will be the poorer and more vulnerable nations (what Christian Scriptures refer to as our “neighbor”) as well as the younger and future generations (the world of our children, and of our children’s children).”

Healing and Repentance

“It is a qualitative element of our faith that we believe in and accept a Creator, who fashioned the world out of love, making and calling it “very good.” Tending to and caring for this creation is not a political whim or a social fashion. It is a divine commandment; it is a religious obligation. It is no less than the will of God that we leave as light a footprint on our environment.”

“It is never too late. God’s world has incredible healing powers; and human choices can change the tide in global warming. Within a single generation, we could steer earth toward our children’s future. With God’s blessing and help, that generation can begin now. For the first time in the history of our world, we recognize that our decisions and choices directly impact the environment. It is up to us to shape our future; it is up to us to choose our destiny. Breaking the vicious circle of ecological degradation is a choice with which we are uniquely endowed, at this crucial moment in the history of our planet.”

“Ecology cannot inspire respect for nature if it does not express a different worldview from the one that prevails in our culture today, from the one that led us to this ecological impasse in the first place. What is required is an act of repentance, a change in our established ways, a renewed image of ourselves, one another and the world around us within the perspective of the divine design for creation. To achieve this transformation, what is required is nothing less than a radical reversal of our perspectives and practices.”

Fear and Love

“It should not be fear of impending disaster with regard to global change that obliges us to change our ways with regard to the natural environment. Rather, it should be a recognition of the cosmic harmony and original beauty that exists in the world. We must learn to make our communities more sensitive and to render our behavior toward nature more respectful. We must acquire a compassionate heart – what St. Isaac of Syria, a seventh century mystic once called a heart that burns with love for the whole of creation: for humans, for birds and beasts, for all God’s creatures.”

“The fundamental criterion for an ecological ethic is not individualistic or commercial. It is deeply spiritual. For, the root of the environmental crisis lies in human greed and selfishness. What is asked of us is not greater technological skill, but deeper repentance for our wrongful and wasteful ways. What is demanded is a sense of sacrifice, which comes with cost but also brings about fulfillment. Only through such self-denial, through our willingness sometimes to forgo and to say “no” or “enough” will we rediscover our true human place in the universe.”

Sacrifice and Waste

“This sacrifice for the sake of sharing means learning to give, and not simply to give up. It is learning to share and to connect with others and with the natural world. It is a way of loving, of moving gradually away from what I want to what God’s world needs. It is liberation from fear, greed and compulsion. It is regaining a sense of wonder, being filled with a sense of goodness, seeing all things in God, and God in all things.”

“If we are guilty of relentless waste, it is because we have lost the spirit of worship. We are no longer respectful pilgrims on this earth; we have been reduced to careless consumers or passing travelers. This spiritual vision of worship guides us to a life that sees more clearly and shares more fairly, moving away from what we want individually to what the world needs globally. Then, we begin to value everything for its place in creation and not simply its economic value to us, thereby restoring the original beauty of the world, seeing all things in God and God in all things.”

“We have been commanded to taste of the world’s fruits, not to waste them; we have been commissioned to care for the world, not to waste it. When Christ fed the multitudes with a few loaves and fish on a hill in Palestine, he instructed his disciples to “gather up all of the remaining fragments, so that nothing may be lost.” (John 6.12) This instruction should serve as a model in a time of wasteful consumption, where even the refuse of affluent societies can nourish entire populations.”

From https://www.patriarchate.org/bartholomew-quotes

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The People of Peace and the Four Creations

Often enough I find myself pondering questions that seem to have no answers. Questions like, “why are we here?” “what is the meaning (the point) of life?” “where did we all come from?” When I find myself wondering about where we all came from I often meander over to creation stories. I grew up with the Christian version of the Genesis creation story. As I got a bit older the version of Eve and the snake and the apple left a bitter taste in my mouth, so I looked to other cultures and wisdom traditions. This story comes from the Hopi people of northern Arizona. “Hopi” means “People of Peace”. The stories here were recorded in the 1950s by Oswald White Bear Fredericks and his wife Naomi from the storytelling of older Hopi at the village of Oraibi, which tree-ring dating indicates has been inhabited by the Hopi since at least 1150 AD. They recount The Four Creations:

At the first was endless space. Only the Creator, Taiowa was in the earliest days. Those days had no time, no shape, and no life; there was only the mind of the Creator. And then it came to be that the infinite creator created the finite in Sotuknang, whom the Creator made as agent to establish nine universes. Sotuknang gathered together matter from the endless space to make the nine solid worlds; he gathered the waters from the endless space and placed them on these worlds to make land and sea; then he gather together air to make winds and breezes on these worlds. The fourth act of creation with which the Creator charged Sotuknang was the creation of life. Sotuknang went to the world that was to first host life and there he created Spider Woman, and he gave her the power to create life. First Spider Woman took some earth and mixed it with saliva to make two beings. Over them she sang the Creation Song, and they came to life. She instructed one of them, Poqanghoya, to go across the earth and solidify it. She instructed the other, Palongawhoya, to send out sound to resonate through the earth, so that the earth vibrated with the energy of the Creator. Poqanghoya and Palongawhoya were dispatched to the poles of the earth to keep it rotating.

Then Spider Woman made all the plants, the flowers, the bushes, and the trees. She made the birds and animals using earth and singing the Creation Song. When all this was done, she made human beings, using yellow, red, white, and black earth mixed with her saliva. Singing the Creation Song, she made four men, and then in her own form she made four women. At first they had a soft spot in their foreheads, and although it solidified, it left a space through which they could hear the voice of Sotuknang and their Creator. Because these people could not speak, Spider Woman called on Sotuknang, who gave them four languages. His only instructions were for them to respect their Creator and to live in harmony with him.

These people spread across the earth and multiplied. Even though they spoke four languages, in those days they could understand each other’s thoughts, and for many years they and the animals lived together as one. Eventually, however, they began to divide, both the people from the animals and the people from each other, as they focused on their differences rather than their similarities. As division and suspicion became more widespread, only a few people from each of the four groups still remembered their Creator. Sotuknang appeared before these few and told them that he and the Creator would have to destroy this world, and that these few who remembered the Creator must travel across the land, following a cloud and a star, to find refuge. These people began their treks from the places where they lived, and when they finally converged Sotuknang appeared again. He opened a huge ant mound and told these people to go down in it to live with the ants while he destroyed the world with fire, and he told them to learn from the ants while they were there. The people went down and lived with the ants, who had storerooms of food that they had gathered in the summer, as well as chambers in which the people could live. This went on for quite a while, because after Sotuknang cleansed the world with fire it took a long time for the world to cool off. As the ants’ food ran low, the people refused the food, but the ants kept feeding them and only tightened their own belts, which is why ants have such tiny waists today.

After this Sotuknang finished making the second world, which was not quite as beautiful as the first. Again he admonished the people to remember their Creator as they and the ants that had hosted them spread across the earth. The people multiplied rapidly and soon covered the entire earth. They did not live with the animals, however, because the animals in this second world were wild and unfriendly. Instead the people lived in villages and built roads between these, so that trade sprang up. They stored goods and traded those for goods from elsewhere, and soon they were trading for things they did not need. As their desire to have more and more grew, they began to forget their Creator, and soon wars over resources and trade were breaking out between villages. Again Sotuknang appeared before the few people who still remembered the Creator, and again he sent them to live with the ants while he destroyed this corrupt world. This time he ordered Poqanghoya and Palongawhoya to abandon their posts at the poles, and soon the world spun out of control and rolled over. Mountains slid and fell, and lakes and rivers splashed across the land as the earth tumbled, and finally the earth froze over into nothing but ice.

After many years, Sotuknang sent Poqanghoya and Palongawhoya back to the poles to resume the normal rotation of the earth, and soon the ice melted and life returned. Sotuknang called the people up from their refuge, and he introduced them to the third world that he had made. Again he admonished the people to remember their Creator as they spread across the land. As they did so, they multiplied quickly, even more quickly than before, and soon they were living in large cities and developing into separate nations. With so many people and so many nations, soon there was war, and some of the nations made huge shields on which they could fly, and from these flying shields they attacked other cities. When Sotuknang saw all this war and destruction, he resolved to destroy this world quickly before it corrupted the few people who still remembered the Creator. He called on Spider Woman to gather those few and, along the shore, she placed each person with a little food in the hollow stem of a reed. When she had done this, Sotuknang let loose a flood that destroyed the warring cities and the world on which they lived.

Once the rocking of the waves ceased, Spider Woman unsealed the reeds so the people could see. They floated on the water for many days, looking for land, until finally they drifted to an island. On the island they built little reed boats and set sail again to the east. After drifting many days, they came to a larger island, and after many more days to an even larger island. They hoped that this would be the fourth world that Sótuknang had made for them, but Spider Woman assured them that they still had a long and hard journey ahead. They walked across this island and built rafts on the far side, and set sail to the east again. They came to a fourth and still larger island, but again they had to cross it on foot and then build more rafts to continue east. From this island, Spider Woman sent them on alone, and after many days they encountered a vast land. Its shores were so high that they could not find a place to land, and only by opening the doors in their heads did they know where to go to land.

When they finally got ashore, Sotuknang was there waiting for them. As they watched to the west, he made the islands that they had used like stepping stones disappear into the sea. He welcomed them to the fourth world, but he warned them that it was not as beautiful as the previous ones, and that life here would be harder, with heat and cold, and tall mountains and deep valleys. He sent them on their way to migrate across the wild new land in search of the homes for their respective clans. The clans were to migrate across the land to learn its ways, although some grew weak and stopped in the warm climates or rich lands along the way. The Hopi trekked and far and wide, and went through the cold and icy country to the north before finally settling in the arid lands between the Colorado River and Rio Grande River. They chose that place so that the hardship of their life would always remind them of their dependence on, and link to, their Creator.

Perhaps we would do well to remember that there are multiple ways of knowing and being. Our current world has come to prize above all the empirical ways of knowing, trusting only what can be seen, touch, tasted, counted valuing the material as the only plane of reality. In doing this we have lost touch with and devalued the knowing of the world’s wisdom traditions. We have lost touch with the paths with heart. Perhaps we would do well to re-member the stories, the traditions, the best of the wisdom practices of our elders, of all elders.

Perhaps we also would do well to remember our interdependence, our links to all of creation, and the need for peace in our hearts, in our lives and in our world.

peace to us all.

Happy Easter, Happy Season of Greening, Manifesto: the mad farmer liberation front

today is Easter. We decided to go to church to honor the moment and to re-member. It was the right choice.

The gathering words were taken from a poem by Wendell Berry. The words seemed so right, I thought I would share them with you. I hope they are as meaningful for you as they are for me.

Manifesto:
The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

by Wendell Berry

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.

And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.

When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.

Listen to carrion — put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.

Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.

As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go.

Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

“Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” from The Country of Marriage, copyright ® 1973 by Wendell Berry, reprinted by permission of Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.