Creation Crucified:  The Passion of the Earth

One of the last Golden toads of Costa Rica, now extinct.

During Lent, Christians remember and grieve Jesus’ death at the hands of a murderous system that included official representatives, religious collaborators, a public that could be manipulated, and friends who betrayed, denied, or abandoned him.  We remember and grieve the countless others who have been executed over the years by similar systems of worldly power.  Meanwhile, creation is being crucified as surely as Jesus was crucified on the cross.

This understanding has profound implications when we consider the harm being done to creation.  Even though many of us as individuals try to treat the earth with the respect it deserves, the institutions and systems in which we participate are plundering the earth and leaving it despoiled and desecrated.  This does not bode well for humans or the other life forms with whom we are interrelated and interconnected on this earth.  The institutions and operating systems that support industrial civilization are destroying the ecosystems upon which all life depends!  The insatiable appetite of the global system of wealth-driven corporate capitalism continues to devour the gifts of the earth, destroying the goodness of creation, destroying our non-human companions, destroying prospects for future generations, destroying our humanity.

Now the Trump Administration’s federal budget proposal includes cuts of 31% to the Environmental Protection Agency, which was formed in 1970 as the result of grassroots activism and widespread public concern.   The very agency charged with protecting the environment is being cut more deeply than any other program.

The destruction continues and accelerates.  Several climate change feedback loops have kicked in, making runaway climate change more likely each day.  The Sixth Great Extinction is well underway, as the atmosphere and oceans heat up, as toxins become ubiquitous, and as diverse ecosystems are paved over, “developed,” or converted into monoculture crops.  Humans suffer as air, land, and water are overused or contaminated, and as food prices rise.  Fukishima continues spewing radioactive waste into the oceans as more nuclear power plants are built.  Powerful nations wage resource wars and attempt to dominate the earth in an endless cycle of violence, employing drones and other high-tech weapons that kill civilians, obliterate communities, and create toxic wastelands.

No one on earth will be left untouched by the current system of death, for it is destroying life itself.  The web of life is being unraveled.  The air, water, land, and stable climate necessary for sustaining life are being destroyed by the institutional imperatives of today’s global corporate empire.  The earth is dying—signs of death are all around.  Creation itself is being crucified.

In this dying of Earth’s life systems, her children, both human and non-human, suffer.  Songs of praise become cries of pain and lament, “My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?”  “God help us!  Has God forsaken us?  Where is God?”

But it is not God who has forsaken us, it is we who have forsaken God.  God is right here in the midst of the persecuted and tortured earth, suffering in and with Earth’s creatures, including but not limited to humanity, experiencing forsakenness.  God weeps for the harm done, because God experiences it all from the inside—the terror of the Polar Bear who discovers she cannot swim the distance to the next ice floe, the confusion of the Monarch butterfly whose migratory home has been destroyed, the loneliness of the last Golden Toad who croaks unceasingly for a mate.  God experiences the alarm of people in island nations that are being subsumed by rising seas and the panic and grief of families whose crops fail and children die because of increasing drought.  God experiences the “great loneliness of spirit” of the child who realizes that species are dying, and who wants a future of abundant life.

Where is there hope for new life?  I see signs of resurrection in the rising up of people who are no longer willing to consent to the current global system of death and are rising up in nonviolent resistance and creative action.  Surely God is on the side of those who love life and are willing to give themselves fully to the struggle out of love, as Jesus did. The compassion and passion that motivated Jesus may save us yet, as his risen Spirit lives and loves through us.  If we are willing, God will breathe new life into us, inspire us, empower us, and work through us to bring about healing and new life for all creation.

Previous blog post:  The Suffering God:  Where Humanity is Crucified
Next Post:  Conventional Wisdom:  The Wisdom of this World

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Dust and Ashes

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On this Ash Wednesday, I share with you an excerpt from my book, Shaking the Gates of Hell:

It’s this radical humility that is absolutely essential to our time.Brian Swimme

As we consider the destruction of the earth and the suffering of our fellow creatures, both human and nonhuman, two primary responses seem appropriate: repentance and humble acceptance of our own mortality. In Christianity ashes are used to symbolize these two themes on Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. In Ash Wednesday services the imposition of ashes is a way of showing our repentance, our intention to turn away from harmful actions and to turn back toward God. As we consider the damage to the earth we are called to repent of our own violence, greed, and over-consumption, our participation in ecological destruction and human misery. We are called to repent of our complicity in the harm caused by the institutions and systems of which we are a part.

We are also called to a humble acceptance of our place in the universe: “Remember, O mortal, that you are dust, and to dust you will return.” Ashes symbolize our mortality, reminding us of who we are: human beings, made up of the dust of the earth. Humus, human, humility—these words all have the same root. Our bodies are made up of the same elements that make up the earth’s crust. For that matter, we are made up of the same elements that make up the stars. We are, quite literally, star dust (as Joni Mitchell wrote in her song “Woodstock”). We participate in the great unfolding journey of the universe, and our role is to celebrate in mystery and awe. And yet we are mortal. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust

T.S. Eliot’s poem “Ash Wednesday” brilliantly portrays the dual Lenten focus on repentance and acceptance of our mortality. It expresses a sense of dust and ashes, of hopelessness, of powerlessness to change. These feelings resonate with many people facing the pain and challenges of the world today. But then, in the poem, surprisingly:

The lost heart quickens and rejoices

for the lost lilac and the lost sea voices

and the weak spirit quickens to rebel

for the bent goldenrod and the lost sea smell

quickens to recover the cry of quail

and the whirling plover.

The earth has the power to call us back to life, through the divine Spirit that moves through creation. In some mysterious way, the earth can provide us with an antidote to despair and can renew our spiritual connection with what is deepest within our souls. It is our context, our “ground of being,” through which the Spirit touches us, reminding us of what is real and important, who we are, and with whom we are connected.

Teach us to sit still,

even among these rocks,

our peace in His will.

And even among these rocks,

Sister, Mother, and spirit of the river, spirit of the sea

Suffer me not to be separated,

And let my cry come unto Thee.

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Another Dam is Not a Solution to Climate Change

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An area of the Bear River that would be submerged by the Centennial Dam.

The excessive rainfall that we have experienced recently is something that we can expect with climate change.  As average global temperatures rise, weather patterns are thrown off balance. We can’t know whether a particular extreme weather event is caused by such warming, but we do know that it makes such events statistically more likely. In recent years, there have been thousands of record-breaking weather disruptions all over the world.  As air warms, more water evaporates, drying out the land and causing drought, as it has here in California.  Clouds carry this additional moisture, making storms more likely. This results in the excessive rainfall, super storms, typhoons, hurricanes, and floods that are creating disasters on every continent.

Recent storms have stressed the Oroville Dam to a point where 200,000 people had to be evacuated.  I grew up in Oroville while the dam was being built.  My family and I lived just a few blocks from the Feather River.  As kids we spent most of our summer days there. The dam flooded habitat of plant and animal species.  The fish ladder and hatchery were built to counteract its toll on salmon and steelhead.  The dam also flooded our upstream swimming sites and areas where local teenagers used to find arrowheads, that is, the ancient homelands of the Maidu people of the region.  My Maidu step-brother Lee, whose mother was born on at the Moorehouse Rancheria near Oroville, still lives there.  When the dam failed, his grown kids and grandkids evacuated and joined him at his house above the dam.

Nevada County responded to flood evacuees with great generosity.  Now that people are returning to their homes and the immediate danger has been alleviated, we can hope that the damage will be repaired and people will be safe.

Now our community is facing another dam-related challenge: the proposal to build the Centennial Dam near Colfax and create another reservoir on the Bear River. This project is being billed as a response to ongoing climate change. We can expect many more such proposed solutions as the planet continues to warm.

Recently my husband and I spent time with our daughter and several grandchildren at a nearby campground on the banks of the Bear River, in an area that will be submerged if the project goes forward. Concerned people opposing the dam displayed maps and charts showing the areas that would be taken by eminent domain, destroyed, and submerged: 125 existing homes, trees and native plants, downstream waterways, ecosystems and various species that thrive here. Members of the local Indigenous community told the children stories and demonstrated traditional uses of particular stones found on the river bank, then invited everyone into a circle for a ritual of protection for all the beings who inhabit this place, and for our descendants who will come after.

Whether or not to build this dam is a climate justice issue. From one perspective, another reservoir makes sense, since precipitation is less dependable and the snowpack no longer ensures a continuous supply of water. But there would be great social and environmental costs, including the loss of people’s homes, destruction of Native cultural sites, loss of habitat for many plant and animal species, damage downstream to fish and other wildlife, and the forfeiture of people’s ability to enjoy this unique part of the natural world. Furthermore, logging the trees, bulldozing the plants, scraping the soil, building the dam, and flooding the region would release stored carbon into the atmosphere and eliminate the carbon sequestration function that the living trees, plants, and soil provide. There are alternatives that would avoid these social and environmental costs, including recharging groundwater that has been depleted by over-pumping. This dam is an example of a so-called solution that exacerbates the problem of climate change.

This proposal to respond to climate change by building a dam, along with the controversy it is generating, is an example of difficult policy decisions that will face us for the foreseeable future. It is also an example of a regional struggle to prevent ecosystem destruction, block further carbon pollution, and link the rights of Indigenous people with the rights of the earth. For people who live nearby, go to the SYRCL website at yubariver.org/ to find out more and send your comments.  This struggle may yet become another example of people around the world doing what we can to preserve the integrity of the places we call home.

More Clearcuts in Nevada County?

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SPI Clearcut outside Nevada City, past Cascade Shores

Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI) is at it again, planning to clearcut forested areas in Nevada County.  The Wash Timber Harvest Plan (THP) outlines their plans to engage in industrial forestry on 160 forested acres five miles from Nevada City, on land right next to South Yuba State Park.  According to the local Forest Issues Group, the THP “contains significant errors, contradictory information, omissions, and misinformation,” which “should have made this document legally inadmissible to the timber harvest plan review process.”

First, for those who don’t know about SPI, it is the largest private landowner in California.  Its overall long-range plan is to clearcut 70% of its holdings on a rolling basis in order to create “even-aged forests,” that is, tree farms.  This involves clearcutting intact forest ecosystems, applying herbicides to prevent the re-growth of native species, and then planting stands of commercial timber that can be harvested like carrots.   Their plans are well underway.

Industrial tree farms do not provide the habitat needed by the diversity of species that inhabit regular forest ecosystems.  Chief Seattle said, “When the animals are gone, humans will die of a great loneliness of spirit.”  As our natural world is diminished, I recognize that loneliness of spirit in myself.

Today is the last day of public comments. (Send comments to reddingpubliccomment@fire.ca.gov)  Few members of the public have the technical expertise to read and understand the complexities of forestry law, with its details, classifications, and regulations.  I don’t know these specifics, so my comments will not be technical.  Many thanks to the Forest Issues Group, who sent a letter addressing SPI’s questionable motivations for purchase (just two years ago) and the details (including omissions and apparent illegalities) of the Timber Harvest Plan.

The above photo was taken outside of Nevada City, beyond Cascade Shores.  A couple of years ago, a group of us went out for a ceremony of Amends and Healing for Mother Earth.  We planted seeds, sang songs, and read the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth.   I hope that the community asserts its power to protect the 160 acres in the Wash Timber Harvest Plan.  Whether this blog post or my comments have any bearing on the decision, they demonstrate my refusal to simply stand by while the machine of ecological devastation rolls on.

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Preparing for Trial in North Dakota

58408707190cf_800x686-56195462478UPDATE:  My trial has been postponed until February or March, because there are so many court cases.  Shirley’s trial is now scheduled for Jan. 31, together with Janie and Christy’s.  Their trials could be postponed as well.

 

As the New Year approaches, four of us from Nevada County who were arrested in November during a nonviolent action near Standing Rock are preparing to return to North Dakota in January for trial.   The lawyers we have retained are in touch with the Water Protectors Legal Collective, the legal team that bailed us out of jail and keeps us updated about trials related to Standing Rock.

My trial is scheduled for January 13, so it’s coming up soon.  My lawyer is trying to have it rescheduled to January 31, so I can travel and go to court with Janie and Christy, whose trials are scheduled for that date.  Shirley’s trial has not yet been scheduled.  Evidently the courts are overwhelmed, so my lawyer says that some of our cases may be postponed or even dropped.

But trials are moving forward.  According to the Water Protectors Legal Collective, “Criminal prosecutions of the over 500 Water Protectors who have been arrested since August are moving forward rapidly, amidst an extremely hostile criminal legal system.  Hundreds of Water Protectors will be in court during the next few weeks.”

The first trials related to Standing Rock were held these last two weeks of December.  The first case was continued because the prosecutor had failed to provide the defense team with evidence that could exonerate the defendants.  Several other cases were continued due to the holidays and the difficulty of getting to court because of the recent blizzard.  On December 20, those who appeared had a jury trial, were found guilty, and were sentenced to 10 days in jail.  All 10 days were suspended for those willing to pay $500 to Morton County and $500 in court costs.  According to the Legal Collective, “Though disappointing, the sentence is much better than the plea bargain the prosecution had offered prior to trial.”

We will see how these cases proceed.  Each case is different, and the charges vary.  I am charged with “obstructing a government function” (I thought I was obstructing a corporate function).  It is a Class A misdemeanor, the most serious, carrying a penalty of up to one year in jail, though I doubt that the sentence will be that harsh.

I welcome the opportunity to “speak truth to power” through the court system in support of the water protectors at Standing Rock.  By standing up for what we believe and refusing to be intimidated, we discover the strength we have.  By acting for justice in solidarity with others, the way forward becomes clear.  Both personal and social transformation become possible and hope becomes a reality.

For those who are able to make a year-end donation:

Donate to the Crowdfunding Site for our Legal Fees.  This is tax-deductible because it is being administered through local nonprofit Earth Justice Ministries.  Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, we are close to our goal of raising enough money to pay the up-front fees for our lawyers.  Additional funds will go towards travel and lodging as we return to stand trial.  Funds that we don’t need for our trials will be donated to the Water Protectors Legal Collective.

Donate to the Water Protectors Legal Collective, which paid our bail, are working with our lawyers, and are keeping us updated about trials related to Standing Rock.  They are also raising money to assist people with travel and housing who need to return to stand trial.

Donate to the Oceti Sakowin Camp, the main camp at Standing Rock.  As of today, they are not accepting any physical donations except firewood and cash.

 

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 Find previous blog postings about Standing Rock.