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K. Lauren de Boer is a poet, essayist, and composer with a special interest in human-Earth relations. He is author of Where It Comes From, a collection of poems, and was executive editor of EarthLight, a magazine of spiritual ecology, for many years. You may find him via TerraVitaBooks.net.
Donald Trump’s rise is in part a backlash to the Obama years, and not entirely surprising. But it’s only part of the story. Many progressives, including myself, were lulled into believing, when Obama was elected, that the racial divides in this country were beginning to heal. How else could a black president be elected, twice? What were we basing that assumption on, exactly? How could it have been healed when there was so little real deep cultural work done to heal the past? He was elected more on a promise of change, not racial healing.
It was never completely about race, but about a disaffection with what life has become in America for many people. At its heart was a longing for change. There is a dearth of meaning in American life rooted in the lack of a story, a story that truly liberates the human from limited forms of identity, from seeing ourselves as mere consumers, or even mere Americans (or any of the sub-identities within our nationalist identity). There is a certain irony in that because we talk so much about freedom in this country, and the primary source of meaning is human liberty — from the shackles of ignorance, greed, narrow self-interest, from our latching onto our smaller identities. Americans tend to equate freedom with individualism and self-reliance. With that comes a mistaken notion that to be free is to be separate. But true freedom is found not in separation but in a vibrant interiority that thrives from relationship.
The difficulty with this election was that people needed positive references to help guide them, not the destructive references of anger, hatred, and fear. Bernie Sanders represented a more positive reference and ignited passion in many people, but was smacked down by a dying system that was nevertheless still powerful enough to overcome his efforts. And of course cosmology — a functional story — and a sense of ourselves as an integral Earth community are positive references entirely absent from the electoral process.
I was sorting through boxes in the garage the other day (one of the things I do when I need to take my mind off destabilizing news or events) and I came across a carton of back issues of newspapers I had saved. They were all about pivotal events — Clinton’s first election, September 11, Obama’s election, etc. What I noticed in the clippings from past elections was the remarkable similarity in the story line. The operant word was “change.” Bill Clinton was the candidate offering change. Then came Obama, offering the same. Trump was elected primarily because he was, compared to Hillary Clinton, the change candidate. He was seen as the outsider to a corrupt system, although he is the ultimate insider to the patriarchy. You could even say that he is the quintessence of patriarchy.
When Obama promised to go after Wall Street and make big changes, people were willing to look past race and vote for him. Trump appealed to the same frustration that people were feeling with a system rigged against them. And years of obstructionism and gridlock in Washington only confirmed their suspicions that career politicians were ignoring their pain. He just did so in a much darker way, appealing to baser instincts. People in this country are pragmatists. They tend to vote for their interests, not their ideals, at least for the most part. There are, of course, some who do vote their conscience, but they are in the minority. Many voted for Trump out of outright racism and hatred, but many of the same people voted for Obama when it suited their interests.
So, I’ve woken many mornings since election night feeling that I cannot wake up from a nightmare. In many ways, it is too surreal to believe. And yet I have to believe it and confront it. It’s not only the threat Trump poses to the health of the planet. It is also a nightmare because hate crimes and racial incidents are widespread since his rise to power. The Ku Klux Klan is holding a celebration of his election. Neo-Nazi groups, biker groups, skinheads, hate groups, and white supremacy groups are dancing in the streets. Resentment and fear of women can now be expressed openly. It’s like they now have permission to fling their hatred into the world. He is the dying patriarchy laid bare. He epitomizes the fear of nature, the body, a united humanity, and the spirit. This is the ugliest America.
And yet…there is more underneath all of this. Something to which I choose to adhere and that will eventually pull me out of my despair….
In many ways, this election was less about ideas and issues than it was about a clash between paradigms, or essential world views. One is in ascendance, the other is dying. One goes toward the light, one is blinded by darkness. One believes in the future, one attaches itself desperately to demagogues who idealize the past.
Ideologies shift, they come and go. Political factions come and go. They are like the shadows of shadows, mirrors that rise up and break and fall away. What endures is a beacon of light that people either follow or not, either embrace or reject. That is where the real choice resides, not in seasonal picks between candidates that are lighter or darker shades of each other. People will make the right choice when presented with actual and meaningful choices. That didn’t happen in this election. As for who supported Trump and who didn’t, I don’t think we really choose the factions we find ourselves in. We end up there by temperament or fate or accident, not by real choice. But commitment to that beacon of light is a choice, one that allows one to speak with some authority and wisdom about what is of ultimate concern to all of the Earth community and of our responsibility to safeguard it and nourish it in ourselves and others. So we should not be on the defensive or shy about our vision of the future. It is those who adhere to the dying system who must defend their actions.
We are fireflies in the sense that we carry that beacon of light within us. And we each have our own way of carrying our torch to provide people, and ourselves, with the references we need. The 2016 election has made it clear that it is all the more important for people of good faith to fill the airwaves and the town halls and the print media with messages that give people true references, ones that affirm life and the future. So the work continues and is even more important. People need something more to embrace than the empty promises of a demagogue. But if that is all that is offered, that becomes the more palatable choice than continued disaffection.
We are in a moment of destabilization. The infantile antics of people like Trump and his followers won’t much matter in the end. They will cause suffering, without a doubt. They will cause destruction and a lot of noise. There will be losses to mourn. But they will not extinguish life and the evolution toward the beacon of light. Destabilization causes a void, and it is at these moments that something new will arise.
—K. Lauren de Boer
Find your lodestone.
So often Thomas Berry’s words give a mountain-top view of what is real and valuable, in good times and bad, in the terminal Cenozoic Era, the nascent Ecozoic Era.
In light of the American election that took place November 8, 2016, this is your homework: reread the 1978 essay that Thomas Berry wrote The New Story, published as a booklet for Teilhard Studies (Teilhard Studies Number 1, Winter 1978).
Are his words still true? Are they truer now after the election? Do you see anything differently? If so, what?
Here is a link to a pdf of it if your paper copy alludes you: http://static1.1.sqspcdn.com/static/f/558814/15477548/1323199778867/The_New_Story.pdf?token=9y5NTzP1uAD90D633nBtK3g8FQA%3D
Besides there being a lot of NY-CA energy around me these days, this project is important because it honors the human imagination in relationship with the human and other-than-human world. And speaks to beauty. I also like the boldness to publish the project as a “Bundle” (like old folios?), being free from binding, so that each page may have its own life separate from the Bundle.
Support the publication of a Bioregional Bundle, which includes art, poetry, ideas and practices for reinhabitation or living-in-place.
A Kickstarter campaign finishing on Wednesday, May 18, 2016. New Paltz, NY
Reinhabitation is the bioregional project of living-in-place whose foundations have remained rather constant and sturdy over time. Many would begin with this statement by Aldo Leopold, from his Sand County Almanac: “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” The practical consequences of this enduring wisdom are to enlarge our sense of community to include water (and watersheds), plants, animals and soil and to assume a worth to them beyond an instrumental value for humans.
Leopold’s land ethic serves as a starting point for Thomas Berry’s articulation of the “earth community,” within which the human is embedded and is the source of celebration, creative inspiration and sustenance.
Ray Dasmann and Peter Berg write, “Living-in-place means following the necessities and pleasures of life as they are uniquely presented by a particular site, and evolving ways to ensure long-term occupancy of that site ….. Simply stated, it involves applying for membership in a biotic community and ceasing to be its exploiter.”
Berg offers the following cornerstones for reinhabitory practices: restore and maintain natural systems; develop sustainable means for satisfying basic human needs; and create and support a broad range of activities that make it possible to fit better into the life-place.
We are asking for help to print a Bioregional Bundle, which is a collection of art, writing and ideas that strive to anchor themselves in this vibrant context, while encouraging an appreciation of how wildness is central to land-based customs and community building (and is a counterbalance to the increasing virtualization of everyday life).
The Bioregional Bundle will include the following:
• A helpful Hudson Estuary map showing watersheds, forest communities and totem animals.
• Art Murphy’s powerful fossil photographs establish the presence of a deep prehuman past, often forgotten.
• George Tukel looks at how neighborhoods can become more self-reliant and convivial once they are located within bioregions.
• Carol Zaloom’s linocut prints and Mikhail Horowitz’s prose remind us of the eternal collision between the wild and cultivated worlds.
• Evan Pritchard, of the Micmac people, researches how Hudson Valley Native Americans, in the late 1600s and early 1700s, met basic needs in parallel to the European money economy.
These pieces are rooted in the Mid-Hudson Valley of New York but were intended to speak across bioregional borders and to diverse communities working to translate place identity into practical day-to-day activities.
It is important to emphasize that the contents of the Bioregional Bundle are composed and ready for printing which this Kick Starter effort is raising the money for.
We are seeking $6,650 to print 1,000 copies of the Bundle. Most will be distributed freely through local grassroots watershed groups, as a “potlatch” styled gift, and around 350 will go to Planet Drum Foundation, a not-for-profit bioregional networking organization out of San Francisco, California, for their national membership.
More at: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1569534818/reinhabitat-the-hudson-estuary?ref=card
Happy Earth Day 2016! I thought this was beautifully articulated today by The Gaia Foundation in London.
What is Earth Jurisprudence?
In response to the multiple eco-social crises we face today, cultural historian and Gaia patron, Thomas Berry, called for a paradigm shift from a human-centred to an Earth-centred world view. Thomas believed, as we do, that today we need an Earth Jurisprudence – a deep philosophy and a way of governing our societies that recognises that the Earth is the primary source of the laws we must live by.
The Earth’s laws govern life on our planet, including our own. We are born into a lawful and ordered Universe and our responsibility as one of many species is to understand and respect these laws and living processes. Our governance systems need to be derived from these laws and our ways of life guided by them. Indigenous peoples who maintain their ways of life recognise this reality. The violation of these laws, as we are now witnessing, leads to ecological, climatic, social, and economic chaos.
This understanding, that human well-being is intrinsically linked to the well-being of Earth, is common to indigenous cultures and the way in which humans have understood our place in the world for most of our history. The idea that humans are superior and unaccountable to Nature rather than inextricably part of her, has led to a planetary crisis. We have become profoundly disconnected from the Earth and treat the Earth as a collection of objects or ‘resources’ to be used rather than a community to which we belong.
Earth Jurisprudence acknowledges that the good of the whole takes precedence over the good of the individual elements. This is the foundational thought for the transition away from an extractive relationship with our planet and each other, fostered by the modern industrial society and the ideology of the growth economy. The way we govern ourselves needs to embody an ethical code of practice which requires us to live according to Nature’s laws for the well-being of the whole of Earth Community and future generations of all species.
More to explore through their work at The Gaia Foundation: http://us2.campaign-archive1.com/?u=02c4daf3f04db09cb03d78dc8&id=0a94625203&e=d742d2ce4c
Gosh, that seems to sum it up in one simple phrase!
This is the tag line of the 2016 Annual Steiner Books Spiritual Research Seminar’s conference called Engaging the Heart at New York University, March 18-19, 2016 put on by Steiner Books/Anthroposophic Press.
Once again, it is stated that human-Earth relations depend on sound human-human relations.
“Every being has a right not to be abused by humans, a right not to be despoiled of its primary dignity whereby it gives some manner of expression to the great mystery of existence, and a right not to be used for trivial purposes.”
– Thomas Berry, “An Ecologically Sensitive Spirituality”, 1996, in
The Sacred Universe by Thomas Berry, 2009, Columbia University Press.
A comment by Rob Ham, M.A.
Of course Thomas was referring to the Earth’s nonhuman creatures and systems. It is true that they must be respected if our species is to survive. However, while we are fostering respect for the nonhuman, shouldn’t we also protect the marginalized segments of the human community from abuse by other humans? How will the poor and people of color ever devote themselves to the love and respect of the Earth community necessary to avert global environmental crisis until they are confident in the love and respect of their own human family? Love of the Earth community and love of the human community are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they must be achieved simultaneously if we are to survive.
Telling the human story within the larger context of Earth and Cosmos is not new, even to us westerners, apparently. Look at H.G. Wells’ The Outline of History (1920). He calls Book I “The World Before Man” with chapters entitled thus: Chapter 1 “The Earth in Space and Time”; Chapter 2 “The Record of the Rocks”; Chapter 3 “Life and Climate”; Chapter 4 “The Age of Reptiles”; Chapter 5 “The Age of Mammal”. Book II “The Making of Man” begins with Chapter 6 “Apes and Sub-Men and Men”. He used the same story-telling structure of nested holons that Teilhard, Thomas Berry, and Brian Swimme use to tell the Story of the Universe: Universe, Earth, Life, Humans. Wells was thinking about the context of the human story.
The first sentence of the tome begins:
And first, before we begin the history of life, let us tell something of the stage upon which our drama is put and of the background against which it is played.
Wells uses “stage”, “drama”, “background”, and “played” like the Chorus/narrator of a Shakespearean drama. He tells us he is embarking on the telling of a story and wants the reader to be thus prepared.
Shifting voices his second paragraph reads:
In the last few hundred years there has been an extraordinary enlargement of men’s ideas about the visible universe in which they live. At the same time there has been perhaps a certain diminution in their individual self-importance. They have learnt that they are items in a whole far vaster, more enduring and more wonderful than their ancestors ever dreamed or suspected.
He moves straight to point out the human-Universe relationship and the evolution of consciousness brought to us by the scientific venture, then addresses the deflation of the Western ego in this new knowledge. Interestingly he tips his late 19th century-early 20th century cosmological cards when addresses humans as “items” – we might address them as “subjects” or “persons” – but then goes on to appreciate how full of wonder – “wonderful” – it is to be alive now to know this story.
Script and Recitation: Andrew Levitt
Music for Solo Cello and Guitar: Scott Walker
A 90-minute performance intended for adult audiences
We are now booking performances in North Carolina and beyond
Cost: $1,000 within a 60-mile radius of Greensboro, NC
(Additional travel/accommodation costs at a greater distance)
If you are interested in booking a performance, please contact Center Director, Peggy Whalen-Levitt at beholdnature.@aol.com.
When asked how we might serve the children at this time, Thomas would say, “Tell them a story.” Any encounter with Thomas Berry was an encounter with the story of the universe as a great story encompassing vast reaches of time and space and also as an intimate story about you and me and him and the bluebird singing in the dogwood this very moment. In his presence one sensed the beauty of every aspect of life on earth; one felt the wonder of the extraordinary in every ordinary element of being; and one experienced our intimate kinship with all beings with whom we share the earth. When he spoke one was inspired by a sense of the place of the human in the story of the unfolding of time in the universe and by the moment of shared presence with a fern unfolding in springtime at one’s feet. In his own words we can hear again how Thomas wove the immediate into the grandeur of things and how he heard each note in time for its contribution to the unfinished symphony of the cosmos.
“The Meadow Across the Creek: Words From Thomas Berry” is a performance piece in Thomas Berry’s own lyrical and inspiring words. Growing up in Greensboro, NC, Thomas Berry had a “Meadow Across the Creek” experience when he was eleven years old that became a touchstone for his life and work. Mirroring this moment of mystical rapport in childhood, Thomas’ prose and poetry invite others into a deep presence to Earth and Cosmos.
The Center premiered it first performance of “The Meadow Across the Creek: Words from Thomas Berry” on November 7, 2014 at the Greensboro Historical Museum as part of the city-wide Thomas Berry Centennial. Here’s what people are saying:
“The performance was absolutely wonderful! Thank you so much for that hour’s powerful experience.”
~ Tom Droppers
“I am remembering the show last night and wishing that I had a CD to listen to it all over again tonight. There was so much to live into and take in during that performance. Andrew, you were wonderful, what can I say. The music was very moving and rich and layered and when you both were performing at the same time it was a perfect weaving. I really loved the piece on Cello that went along with the story of Greensboro. It was lively and fun and one could really feel the passage of time! There were several moments when I felt Thomas’s presence… I loved the space, the simple stage, the blanket over your shoulders. I really would love to hear it again, at my own pace, so that I can hit pause on the CD player and take in deeply what is being conveyed. I can still see the violets and the stars.”
~ Sandy Bisdee
“Didn’t see you, Andrew, at the end of the program so didn’t get to tell you how very much I enjoyed it, how lovely it was, all of it lovely: the dialogue, the readings, the music, the gathering of people – many of whom I knew. I enjoyed every minute of it!”
~ Gay Cheney
“What a wonderful evening. It was a beautiful reverie! Andrew and Scott did a superb job. I was so struck by how I felt Thomas Berry was telling his story.”
~ Mary Hartsell
Andrew Levitt holds a BA in English from Yale University and a PhD in Folklore from the University of Pennsylvania. He trained as a mime with Marcel Marceau and with Paul J. Curtis at The American Mime Theatre. In his career life, he has worked with silence and words. He performed and taught mime professionally for over thirty years. He then helped found the high school at the Emerson Waldorf School in Chapel Hill, NC where he taught Humanities and directed theater for seven years. As Dr. Merryandrew, he currently works as a cosmic clown in the Pediatric unit at Moses Cone Memorial Hospital.
Scott Walker has taught strings in the Greensboro area for over 30 years. Scott plays fiddle, guitar and cello and founded The Walker Family Band in 2002, which has delighted audiences throughout the Southeast with a distinctive take on traditional styles. His career has been dedicated to teaching young musicians in a variety of public and private schools, and as a private instructor of Suzuki music technique on cello and violin. Scott’s love of traditional Irish fiddle tunes resulted in the founding of Walker Street Fiddlers in 2009
In law, the right of using and enjoying all the advantages and profits of the property of another without altering or damaging it. A term Thomas Jefferson wrote about.
Or, to put it slightly differently: In law, the right of using and enjoying all the advantages and profits of the property, land, air, water, soil, creatures, atmosphere, bioregion, Earth of another generation without altering or damaging it, poisoning it, blowing it up, making it radio active, damming it, extincting it, eating it all, cutting it all down, mining it all, paving it, dumping on it, emptying it, taking it all.