An Engineered Future?

An angel in the Christmas pageant.

Christmas angel: the image of God.

When I look deeply into the eyes of my grandchildren, sometimes I say, “When I look into your eyes I can see God.”  For me, each precious child is an expression of the divine, an embodiment of Love.  I also know that Spirit is not only manifest through human beings.  The earth and the universe itself is an expression of the glory of God.

This is ultimately what the concept of “incarnation” is about.  Matter is not separate from Spirit, but expresses Spirit.  We live in a sacramental universe–the creation is an “outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.”

We human beings, however, cannot always tell the difference between sacred and profane.  And sadly, today’s institutions and systems are built upon commercializing, manipulating, exploiting, and altering the natural world, including the very bodies of human beings.

Guari and I spent the last two days at a gathering focused on……  The presenter was Jaydee Hanson, a friend we used to work with in the 1990s when he led the Ministry of God’s Creation at the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society.  Jaydee is now Policy Director of The International Center for Technology Assessment and the Center for Food Safety.

Jaydee updated us on new technologies and how they have progressed.  For instance, no longer does genetic engineering simply consist of modifying of life forms by inserting genes of one species into another.  Scientists are now engaged in synthetic biology.   They write whole new genetic codes in order to redesign existing species or to create new life forms, using materials that can be ordered online.  Having already cloned Rhesus monkeys, a company is now seeking a patent to genetically engineer a human embryo.

Nanotechnology has progressed to the point where nano-sized particles are now in many common products, including tools, clothes, cosmetics, and even foods.  Nano particles are sprayed onto M&Ms and sugary breakfast cereals to create a long-lasting, shiny effect.  As a matter of fact, quite a few common foods contain nano-particles.  Sunscreens and anti-aging creams often contain titanium dioxide, a nano product that allows the creams to be absorbed, not just into the skin but into the cells.  Anti-fungal socks may contain nano-silver to keep your socks from smelling bad.  Tires are often sprayed with carbon nanotubes to make them more resilient, then the old tires are shredded to make (voila!) spongey surfaces for children’s playgrounds that can release particles that the children then breathe.  According to Scientific American, carbon nanotubes may be as toxic as asbestos.  Plastic bags often contain a sprayed-on nano product that can shed particles onto foods–even organic foods.

What’s the problem with having common household products that contain nanotechnology products ?  Nano-sized particles are so small that they can cross the blood-brain barrier and can enter the nuclei of our cells, causing mutations that will be passed on to future generations.

Some nano “tubes” are small enough to be breathed into the lungs (from spray-on sunscreen, hair spray, tires on playgrounds, etc.), but too long to be breathed out, so can have long-term effects.

These are yet more unintended consequences of human projects that sounded good (to someone) at the time.  Our beautiful planet is being devastated by such projects, which are the direct result of the de-sacrilization of the natural world.

Meanwhile, many of the promises of miraculous medical cures have not been realized, but the unregulated research and flow of corporate and government money continues.  There needs to be much more public awareness, debate, and ethical action on this issue, which is intertwined with the need for transformed values, institutions, and systems.  We need to slow down this process of engineering the future, where creation is being made over in the image of the ideologies, institutions, and systems that we human beings have created.

I hope and pray that the day will come when my grandchildren will be able to look into the eyes of their grandchildren and say, “When I look into your eyes, I can see God.”  I am dedicating my life to that goal.

This is not the first time I have written about advanced technologies.  My book, Shaking the Gates of Hell:  Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization, includes a chapter on “Engineering the Future:  Techno-Utopia or Techno-Hell,” which begins with the story of a Stanford project to insert human brain cells into mice. 

The website of the The International Center for Technology Assessment and the Center for Food Safety is comprehensive, and includes information about their suggestions for ethical guidelines and advocacy for regulations.  Find their Resources page here. 

 

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Fast Track to Hell

no fast track tpp

Last week a bill was introduced in Congress that would give Fast Track Authority to the Obama Administration in order to grease the wheels to passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (or TPP), a monstrous trade agreement that twelve Pacific Rim nations, including the United States, have been negotiating secretly for four years.  This week is crucial in  defeating Fast Track, in order to give more time for the public and for members of Congress to learn about the far-reaching and deadly provisions contained in this pact.

The TPP, if passed, will impact every aspect of our lives, and will be the final undoing of democracy itself.  Fast track, if passed, will be a fast track to hell.

First, the TPP will restrict the ability of our government (and the governments of all member nations) in making and enforcing laws of every kind.  This will include laws related to:  consumer safety, product labeling (such as GMOs), worker’s rights, preferential purchasing (such as “buy local” or “made in the USA”), environmental protections, local sovereignty, organic standards, rights of family farms, restrictions on privatizing public services or community resources, and any other law that may interfere with corporate profits.

Second, the TPP will require governments to adopt laws that will increase corporate profits, as specified in the agreement itself.  For instance, it will greatly extend patent and copyright protections for corporations.  This will ensure greater corporate profits, for instance, for drug manufacturers, while making it more difficult and expensive for people in member nations to buy generic drugs.  For the poor this may mean death.  The TPP will threaten Internet freedom in many ways.  For instance,  “temporary copies” downloaded from the Internet (essentially any computer downloads) will have copyright protection, and violations of copyright laws will be subject to both civil and (depending on the scale) criminal sanctions.

These are just a  few of the thousands of regulations being negotiated behind the scenes by corporate CEOs and government representatives with security clearance.  By restricting our government’s law-making ability and by requiring our government to pass certain laws, the TPP threatens democracy itself.

If passed, corporations will be able to file disputes through the TPP, challenging specific laws.  A tribunal will rule on whether these laws can stand or whether they are “barriers to trade.”  These tribunals have binding authority and can institute sanctions if we don’t comply.  But no worries–the official policy of the US government is to comply with all such rulings, and to change any offending laws.  Besides, the United States, on behalf of US-based corporations, is pushing this agreement,  despite the fact that it is bad for people, for communities, and for the earth.

In fact, the TPP is so bad that the only way to get it passed is to rush it through via Fast Track.  If the US public becomes aware of the deadly details of this agreement, opposition will continue to grow and support will vanish.  Opposition to Fast Track is growing.  One example is the City of Los Angeles, which has passed a resolution opposing Fast Track Authority.

The official promotion of this trade agreement and Fast Track is an example of the flawed global economic system, which currently runs as a giant Ponzi scheme.  If the TPP is enacted, it will take us even more quickly down the road toward a living hell on earth that I describe in my book, Shaking the Gates of Hell:  Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization.  It will take political power even more completely out of the hands of the people, and deliver it to for-profit corporations.

This will speed up the process that is already well underway:  of consolidating corporate power and converting human labor, communities, humanity’s common heritage, and the gifts of the earth into profits that show up as digits on a computer screen, to be electronically traded, used for speculation, and finally cashed out by the wealthy few economic “winners.”  Meanwhile, the number of losers and the extent of our social and environmental losses will continue to grow, as long as vampire corporations continue to make rules that enable them to suck the life blood out of people and the earth.

This can’t last.  We are quickly heading toward a social, economic, and ecological train wreck.  Our children’s and grandchildren’s lives are being quickly diminished as we speak.  The TPP would only speed up the process.

Fortunately, we don’t need to leave these decisions to government “leaders” who are blinded by allegiance to their corporate sponsors.  The fact is, we who can see what is at stake are the only ones who can stop this fast track to hell.  I trust that God and all the powers of the living earth are with us in this struggle.

Learn more!  Watch this video in which Emanuel Sferios and I explain “Toxic Trade Agreements and the TPP.”     Sign a simple petition opposing fast track.  Learn more and stay updated  through Flush the TPP  and Public Citizen .  Help us defeat this disastrous trade bill.

Why We Can’t Wait to Take Action Until Our Kids are Grown

Sharon and friend at the Nevada Test Site on Good Friday, early 1980s

I’ve been a part of conversations lately about whether parents should wait to take action for peace, justice, and the environment until their children are older, or even until they are grown.  Although I understand how busy the lives of modern parents can be, I have come to the conclusion that postponing involvement in the great social issues that face humanity is not in the best interests of either parents or children.  Caring for our children doesn’t have to shut us down or make our life smaller or keep us from taking a stand or from working to bring about social change.  In fact, concern for our children can motivate us to work to solve the very real challenges of our world today.

I first became involved in working for peace when I became aware of some very real threats to my children.  It was 1979, and Congress was debating whether to re-institute draft registration.  I had preteen and teenage children who would have been required to register when they turned eighteen, and I was totally opposed to that happening (although ultimately it did).  I had lived through the Vietnam War, and many of my peers had been drafted.  The first social justice meeting I attended was the newly formed Nevada County Anti-Draft Coalition.  I was so glad to discover like-minded friends.

I also started learning more about the threat of nuclear war, as the United States competed with the Soviet Union in building more and more nuclear weapons and changed its official nuclear policy from deterrence through Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) to “first strike” or Counterforce.  This strategy put nukes in both countries on hair-trigger alert.

I was not the only parent whose fear for their children kept them up nights, and many of us joined more seasoned peace activists in calling for an end to the insanity of the nuclear arms race.  Because (in the words of Joan Baez) “action is the antidote to despair,” I worked with another concerned mother to form a local “World Peacemakers” group, which had a spiritual component (“journey inward, journey outward”), and we got to work on the national and ultimately successful Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign.

I know now that if I hadn’t responded to the inner urgings to get involved during the time I was raising my children, my “world” would have been much smaller.   If I had stayed in the limited role that society assigns to young mothers, I wouldn’t have become the person I am today.

Also, I would  have missed so many opportunities to take action for a better future, which is our responsibility as parents and grandparents.   We can’t wait five or ten or twenty years to start protecting our children from the larger challenges that threaten them:  climate change, loss of jobs and opportunities, increasing poverty and inequity, economic or social collapse, violence, terror, war.  They will ask us someday what we were doing during this critical time in the history of the earth.  What will we tell them?

This doesn’t mean that we need to stay busy all the time working for peace and justice, or that we can’t take time off, take care of ourselves, or enjoy life.  But it’s important to stay aware of and connected to the larger patterns of history, to listen for God’s call (which may surprise us), and be ready to respond.

It’s a joyful thing to be part of a community of people who are working together to build a better society and world, where all children can be cared for.  I am so glad I haven’t missed the great joy of making good friends and working with kindred spirits who care as much as I do and who have faith in “the power of the people” to bring social and global transformation.  I believe that this is God working through us limited (and sometimes remarkably gifted) human beings.  As Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”  Together we can do so much more than we can do alone.

The Silence of God

IMG_1177

I believe that the great challenges of our time require deep inner work as well as courageous outer action.  If we stay on the surface of things, it feels natural to act in ways that are approved by the dominant culture.  Contemplative prayer, meditation, and other spiritual practices can help equip us for resistance to forces that would have us conform to the status quo.

Often in prayer what I hear when I listen is silence.  People sometimes interpret God’s silence as the absence of God.   Not me.  I understand God as the Ground of Being, as Love itself, in whom we live and move and have our being, so there’s nowhere for God to go.  I have let go of expectations.   Spending time with Spirit is enough.   Settling into darkness–listening to the silence of God.

Sometimes I feel the love or gain an insight or find clarity about some decision or sense a nudge in a particular direction or feel moved to make a course correction.  But the most familiar answer to my prayer and my most familiar form of prayer is immersion in silence.

It is here, in the silence, that I hear the still, small voice of God, a barely discernible movement of Spirit almost below the level of consciousness, a dynamic darkness, a pervasive sense of peace, an invitation to stay awake and pay attention to what’s going on below the surface, a reminder to live life at its depths.  An answer to prayer:  the silence of God.

Hope and Transformation (part 2)

Beale Anti-Drone Protestors

Beale Anti-Drone Protestors

As I look back over 2013 and consider the outlook for 2014, I see one sign of hope above all:  an awakening of consciousness and conscience among the people of the world.  Let’s hope so, because that’s what we need.  The forces of darkness are gathering, and I don’t mean this as an abstraction.  The global network of institutional powers, dominated by corporations, driven by money, and enforced by military power, continues to propel us toward a dystopian future of ever-increasing poverty, growing inequity, escalating violence, permanent war, and climate chaos.  The only good news in this scenario is that real live human beings are awakening to the insanity of this system and are organizing and agitating for transformation.

Last year brought many examples of transformation, including:

Widespread media coverage, appreciation, and discussion of Pope Francis’ words and actions demonstrating simplicity, mercy, and justice while critiquing global capitalism and small-minded Christianity.   Charges of “Marxism” and other attacks by right-wing commentators highlight their ideological distortions of Christianity rather than diminish Francis in the eyes of the world.

Increased public opposition and nonviolent direct actions related to drone warfare.  I was privileged to be a part of the resistance and was delighted that the judge that found us guilty of trespassing onto Beale Air Force Base sentenced us to just ten hours of community service.

Growing awareness and organized opposition against the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a so-called free trade agreement that is being negotiated in secret.  The TPP  would jeopardize democratically enacted laws and consolidate corporate power over governments.  I have been giving presentations on the TPP and the overall system of corporate globalization as explained in my book, Shaking the Gates of Hell:  Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization.

Growing awareness that climate change is posing an extreme threat to the human and earth community, and that we must quickly transition beyond our current fossil-fuel based, industrialized global society or face ecological, economic, and social collapse.  Locally, we have formed the Nevada County Climate Change Coalition, which is working toward this end.

These are just a few of the areas where awakening is leading to action and action is leading to hope.  Meanwhile, I am grateful for so much as this new year begins:  for my lovely family, remarkable community, and this beautiful region in the Yuba River watershed.  As I consider the great challenges we face, I am especially grateful for friends who are awakening, making costly decisions, and working with others for a transformed world.  You embody hope.  You live hope into being.

Happy New Year.