To my dear companions in Extinction Rebellion.

I want first to put something right with you. An in-joke developed in our Christian Climate Action affinity group about ‘’getting Phil Kingston into prison’’ and when it went public some of you voiced disturbance because in countries across the world, going to prison means torture and possible death. I apologise for my insensitivity. To honour them, I point to Berta Caceres, the brilliant and fearless Honduran environmental activist who was awarded the prestigious Goldman Prize. This is her acceptance speech:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AR1kwx8b0ms

She was assassinated 11 months later by government and corporate hirelings.

My campaigning has gone to new levels in this context where many groups work together with common purpose. I am relieved that at last the utter seriousness and urgency of the developing  Earth catastrophe is being pushed into public consciousness after decades of avoidance by almost all politicians, mainstream media and of course economic and financial powers. Our political ‘representatives’  have let us down. With notable exceptions, they lost their credibility by not  speaking about this.

To say a little about the last 12 days: not in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I, a former probation officer and educator of probation officers and Local Authority social workers – all of whom  work in a context of  respect for the law – would within a week be arrested on three occasions and spend considerable time in police cells. Being given the opportunity to meet so many police as human beings has been a gift. Yes, I know that when the chips are down, they have agreed to  uphold  laws which I regard as fundamentally unjust, such as those which are heavily on the side of corporate and state power. Within that context I want to emphasize their  kindness and respect to me and my colleagues. Whenever I had an opportunity to speak about my concern for my grandchildren, I asked if they had children. I was grateful that so many were willing to speak about their concerns regarding climate breakdown. One of reasonably high rank immediately responded with his concern that there are now only 12 years  within which to halt his children’s  descent into  disaster.

These connections with those who we may often regard as ‘other’ are, I am sure, made more possible by our absolute commitment to nonviolence, including verbal nonviolence, to all persons. Hard as it often is to hold on to my belief  that politicians and and those in business and finance have a humanity exactly like mine, I am determined to do so. I have no illusions about the wrongness of their ideologies and behaviour but I completely refuse to say that they aren’t human.  If someone like me can change over the years by facing the traumas of life, especially childhood ones,  and seeking help for them, I hold hope for all.

I would like to address the rest of this note to other followers of Jesus, though the link in the final paragraph may be surprisingly congruent because it touches our common humanity.

I regard myself as a fortunate man to be alive at the same time as Pope Francis. His arrival has given immense encouragement to those of us in the churches, especially the Catholic Church, who have a vocation to justice, peace and care of the Earth. Prior to this, the experience of many of us was that this vocation was  suppressed more than encouraged. It is essential at this critical time of global suffering that this vocation be fully honoured and supported. His writings and speeches about the relationship between the current global economy on the one hand and on the other the destruction of the Earth and the exclusion of the majority of the world’s population from what should be the Common Good of everyone, have a clarity and reality which has often not been as forthright in many previous papal documents.  See for example his  Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium) especially paras 52 – 75 beginning with ‘No to an Economy of Exclusion’:

http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20131124_evangelii-gaudium.html

…and many parts of ‘Praise Be, Our Common Home’ (Laudato si). My experience is that there is often a focus upon the latter document by agencies like CAFOD and Caritas and minimal references to the economic one in Joy of the Gospel.  Criticising the current economy seems to be avoided as much within the Church as in society generally.  I often regard Pope Francis as a rather lonely man in the Churches of the materially rich countries where his pastoral care and simple living are acclaimed but his economic critique is made invisible by silence. He calls us to extend our focus upon personal sin to fully include structural sin.

An aspect of Pope Francis which I value hugely is his explicit seeking of the guidance of the Holy Spirit  and his request to all of us to do the same. Our Church so often seems dead to me in comparison with the one in the Acts of the Apostles.

I end by asking  if you will read the speech by Pope Francis to the World Gathering of Popular Movements gathered at Santa Cruz in Bolivia in October 2014. I imagine that it will shock many Christians whilst being an affirmation for others.  This is the link:

http://movimientospopulares.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Documents_ingles_web.pdf

 

To those willing to look into the abyss

By Justine Huxley of stethelburgas.org

It seems we have entered a new phase in our journey of self-destruction, and the ecological and social collapse we have suspected to be on the horizon is now coming to meet us.

Protecting ourselves from hopelessness no longer serves us.  As many enlightened activists have told us (such as Scilla Elworthy, nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize), only if we walk towards the  darkness and not away from it, can we be transformed and be of real service to others or the world.

I cannot shake off the image of an individual facing a life-threatening illness.  Confronted with a potentially terminal diagnosis, making rapid outer changes in lifestyle is immediate, driven by the determination to live.  But surrendering to the real possibility of death is behind the deeper change – change which could be viewed through the lens of reconciliation.  Reconciliation with our own mortality and with how our individual life has been lived often leads to reconciliation with our family, to making peace with our enemies, and to decisions – made with a sharply awakened consciousness – about which values to live by if time might be limited.

I’ve seen awe-inspiring change made by people in these situations.  I’ve seen people drop grudges and let go of fixed patterns overnight, in a way that seemed almost unbelievable to those around them.  I’ve seen people give up long-held defences and open to the beauty and spontaneity of life. It’s as if a secret reveals itself about what it means to be human.  The seriousness also catapults us beyond the limits of the physical body and into the journey of the soul. Something much bigger than our own individual life makes its presence felt – whether we call that God, or experience it through the power of human love and our existence in a web of  relationship with others.

All this happens when we are brave enough to go beyond denial, to embrace despair and be changed by it.  And miracles are possible in this space.

Sitting with this theme of reconciliation, I feel a call to reach inward – to ask my own heart how I can love more fearlessly – not just those close to me, but our whole human family and those around the world whose lives are already being torn apart.  How can I allow my heart to be broken by it all – by the beauty of what we are destroying, by the melody of a solitary blackbird, or by those pregnant moments before first light, as a dark winter night awakens into day. How can I live the knowledge that mystery is present even in the midst of what is falling apart?

I also feel a call to reach outwards –  to colleagues, activists and spiritual companions – to make space for retreat and discernment.  Not to give up on outer action which is critical, but to explore in parallel this inner work of reconciliation and see if we can source the resilience that comes only from being in touch with the depths.  How can we prepare honestly for what is coming? How can we act with integrity, and keep acting from that place, even on the days when it all seems futile?  How can we meet this with the full depth of our spirituality – with both the ferocious passion and the ruthless inner detachment that real service demands?

To those willing to look into the abyss – may our love and connection with each other and with Earth make this a time of meaning –  and sustain us in the times to come.