SAVING THE FIG TREE

This blog originally appeared in Global Sisters Report, a project of National Catholic Reporter. My thanks to NCR and to author Marya Grathwohl* for permission to use it here. I welcome Marya as the first guest blogger on ecospiritualityresources.

Our moment in the Universe Story

It’s meditation time. I sit at my wide window, candle lit, a braid of sweet grass smoldering. Billings Sunrise 2 (1000x750)Sunrise, pink, magenta and glare of gold across a big sky, bronzes Eagle Sandstone cliffs that tower above my Billings, Montana, home. [Photo by Ms. Denny LeBoeuf.]

Laid down during the Late Cretaceous, 100 to 66 million years ago in the heyday of the dinosaurs, the massive cliffs appear to be the remains of a long barrier island that stood between a coastal lagoon and the shallow inland sea that flooded most of North America during that time.

Today, dawn is flung from that barrier island into my home and heart.

I know that the Earth community stands on the brink of another ending, the end of the Cenozoic, heyday of flowers, birds, mammals and, recently, humans. I am pondering a sacred scripture, wisdom laid down a mere two thousand years ago: Jesus’ parable of the fig tree (Luke 13:6-9). Can this wisdom stand as a barrier to the destruction increasingly caused by industrialized, militarized, human societies on a rampage of fossil-fuel burning? Better yet, can it inspire a new human-Earth harmony?

I think so.

Four Gospel insights for addressing climate change

The economically savvy vineyard owner instructs his hired vinedresser to cut down the unproductive fig tree. It’s taking up valuable garden space and gulping scarce water. “Wait,” says the vinedresser who respects the fig tree. …

Step one in God’s Action Plan for a flourishing Earth Community: Stand up and stop the destruction.

85369_990x742-cb1414687886This is not easy. It requires steady, long-haul, nonviolent resistance to violence against Earth. It means solidarity with people who live near toxic waste dumps or vast oil and gas fracking sites, with families living downstream from the chemical run-off of factory farms or the horror of oil “spills.” It demands speaking an inconvenient truth about our ruinous addiction to fossil fuels.

And it demands providing positive, Earth healing alternatives. Jesus, the parable teller, does just that. He’s observed farmers carefully.

“Let me dig around the fig tree, water it, apply some manure,” suggests the vinedresser.

Step two: Learn how Earth works and follow that.

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Apply Earth’s methods to how we do transportation, home heating and cooling, agriculture and health care.

Design vehicles that glide through air like fish through water, running on solar powered cells. Create buildings that generate more energy than they use, and that recycle the wastes they generate. Plant seasonal gardens. This is known as biomimicry.

“Now, let’s give the fig tree some time. Wait a year,” says the vinedresser. Ah ha! Don’t be in a rush.

Step three: Embrace the pace at which Earth does things.

I reach into my prayer basket for a version of the 23rd Psalm from Japan. There are few, if any, herds of sheep in Japan. In Wyoming a cowboy preacher called the Lord “my buckaroo.”

“Lord, You are my pacesetter, I shall not rush. You make me stop for quiet intervals, providing me with images of stillness which restore my serenity. You lead me in the way of efficiency through calmness of mind. You guide me in peace. Your timelessness keeps me in balance. You anoint me with oils of tranquility.” Gracious instructions for how to give the fig tree of Earth, and our soulful creativity, time to heal and regenerate.

In due time, enjoy the nourishing figs.

fig-fruitJesus’ listeners, familiar with the kings and prophets of Israel, see a crowd of images around a fig tree as they hear the parable. In 1 Kings, the peace and security of Judah and Israel is described as each family enjoying their vine and fig tree (4:25). In Zechariah, the people are told to invite each other to “come under your vine and your fig tree” (3:10). Inherent to this idyllic imagery is a scrupulous economic system of just distribution of land, goods and labor, as well as adequate food for all, shared. The story of Jesus feeding the crowd of thousands is evoked. Equitable economic systems are the rock solid foundation for a flourishing Earth and peace among all peoples.

Step four in God’s Action Plan: create equitable economic systems.

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The Fig Tree. This humble image of God’s stalwart shalom for the whole Earth community energizes us. It sweetens our aching efforts for just distribution of Earth’s goodness. It strengthens us as we work to transform massive, entrenched unjust systems into local, resilient communities that flourish by guaranteeing our rights to housing, food, water, education and meaningful work. And, developing economic systems from that. We feel at home as vinedressers.

And who is Jesus’ vinedresser? “My Father,” he says. (Jn 15:9)

I step through my front door into sunset. The cliffs are aglow. I hear a scream and look up in time to catch glimpse of a pair of red-tailed hawks in a glide beneath them. No need for candles. Light everywhere.

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*An Oldenburg Franciscan Sister since 1963, Marya Grathwohl lived for more than 30 years in African American, Crow and Northern Cheyenne communities, as teacher, principal and pastoral minister. She is the founding director of Earth Hope, and works in environmental restoration through farming, restoration and other ecology projects.

SPRING EQUINOX REFLECTION

spring+equinoxYou have surely noticed that daylight is increasing in the Northern Hemisphere (or that it is lessening in the Southern). No doubt our ancestors — dating back aeons — noticed this, too. Records of sky observations exist from about 8,000 years ago; many ancients were very knowledgable about the heavens. But some humans must have noticed the changes long before these formal breakthroughs. Observers eventually realized that twice a year the day and night time were equal in length.

BEGINNING AWARENESS

How awesome to imagine someone’s early “Aha!” Perhaps the same careful watcher (in the north) also noted that daylight would start to increase, eventually bringing warmer weather. What an awakening and cause for celebration!

We call this moment of equal day and night, followed by longer periods of daylight, our “spring (or vernal) equinox.” This year it happens on March 20th. The word equinox dates to the 14th century, but celebrations of this event can be traced at least to the Romans, Mayans, Egyptians, and Saxons. Surely the celebrations extend farther back in Earth’s Story. One wonders if early celebrations included thoughts of rebirth and if they had religious significance.

FAITH-FILLED CELEBRATIONS

Many religious groups use this time to honor special events in their history that relate to newness. The theme of rebirth and resurrection are present in the Christian tradition of Easter, celebrated this year on April 5th. In the Jewish faith, Passover begins April 3rd. Early Pagans in the Germanic countries celebrated planting and the new crop season. Many Persian countries, with roots in Zoroastrianism, celebrate hope and renewal with the festival of No Ruz – which means “new day.”

WHAT’S REALLY HAPPENING

Since early ancestors did not know our place in the Cosmos as we now do, they could not have pictured what we know is happening: our sphere, rotating to create day and night, is also hurling around the sun, 90 million miles away. Earth revolves around the Sun at a speed of about 18.5 miles, or 30 km, a second. It was happening long before humans evolved to observe it.

UnknownDefinitions of the spring equinox correctly state that it is “the time when the sun crosses the plane of the Earth’s equator resulting in equal parts of light and dark.” But this incorrectly implies that the sun has moved to this position. Our awareness shifts when we realize that Earth has reaches the point in its journey around the Sun when its  equator is in line with the sun.  We’ve known that for centuries, yet it is still a hard concept to remember!

The image shows Earth when it reaches this mid-point, but be sure to remember that our sun is about 110 times the diameter of Earth.

COMMEMORATIONS

By all means participate this spring in whatever celebrations are held by the religion of your choice to honor specific events in its salvation history. This is sacred time, deserving our deep prayerful participation. But also remember why the celebrations take place at this time of year.

You might also wish to honor the equinox on March 20th with this brief memorial, perhaps with new insights into your religious traditions:

1. Begin by being very conscious that you are held by gravity whether you are sitting, standing, or lying down. Imagine your place in your bioregion and its size. Continue extending awareness of your “place” until you feel embedded in your hemisphere and this entire planet. Our spherical home is relentlessly rotating East. Try to sense that movement. If you can see the sun, remember that it is not moving; you, on Earth, are traveling. Integrate your special religious remembrances into this history.

2. Keeping in mind Earth’s rotation, check this image. Unknown-1It shows Earth size relative to our sun. We know we travel completely around the sun each year. Far from being close, Sun is about 90 million miles away, and its light takes eight minutes to reach us. Once each year, when our double trajectory is just right, we experience the spring (or autumn in the Southern Hemisphere) equinox. Recall that our sun is a star.

3. Ponder Walt Whitman’s poem, “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer”

When I heard the learn’d astronomer;
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,

Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

No matter what time of day it is, stars are around us. Enter into the feeling of this poem. Look out (not necessarily up!) to wonder, to marvel, to be aware of the equinox mystery and our place in the cosmos.

4. End this memorial any way you wish.

I do hope you’ll share, in comments, how you chose to end!

Nuclear Weapons and Our Future

Doomsday Clock 

1147On January 22, 2015, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved the minute hand on the Doomsday Clock to three minutes to midnight. Kennette Benedict, the Executive Director of the Bulletin, spoke to the dangers of both nuclear weapons and climate and emphasized “this is about doomsday, this is about the end of civilization as we know it.”

The threat to the ongoing Universe Story, and the call to those who treasure our sacred planet and our interconnection with all being, is inescapable.

Extent of Danger

The U.S. government is very anxious about Iran’s and North Korea’s developing nuclear weapons. (No doubt both countries are anxious that others have weapons and they don’t.) They want to enrich uranium, but enriched uranium can be developed into plutonium that breaks down with an enormous release of energy and destruction.

Consider the relative destructive power of nuclear bombs:
– One kiloton equals 1000 tons of TNT. Think of it as one cube.
- 15 kilotons (15 cubes) were dropped on Hiroshima.
– 21 kilotons (21 cubes) on Nagasaki. Most readers will have seen pictures of the resulting wreckage and are aware of the approximate number of civilians killed.
– Then imagine 15,000 of those cubes — the power of Castle Bravo, the bomb detonated in 1954  by the U.S. at Bikini Atoll, Marshall Islands.
– Firepower has certainly increased since 1954.

Almost 16,300 nuclear weapons exist in the countries known, or assumed, to have them: the US, Russia, China, France, India, Pakistan, the UK, North Korea, and Israel. The United States has about 4,800 weapons now, enough collective destructive force to lay waste to every country on Earth.

One wonders not just about the morality of that fact, but the logic. Of the many wars and aggressions in progress today, how many would be solved by dropping a nuclear weapon? How many of the causes of conflict might be solved or reduced if funds were spent in other ways?

Continuing Destruction

As plutonium decays over hundreds of years, it continues to release radiation. This contaminates the environment and threatens human health. In Japan, people are still suffering the consequences of the bombs dropped in 1945.

Testing the weapons is also destructive of human health and the environment.

U.S. Budget Ramifications

President Obama’s proposed 2016 budget calls for $585.2 billion
for the Pentagon. (Compare that with $71 billion for education and $8.6 billion for the environment.)
The Energy Department’s nuclear weapons and other programs total an additional $35.6 billion for 2016.

1-trillion-dollarsObama’s plan proposes to rebuild the entire U.S. nuclear arsenal: the warheads plus the missiles,  planes and submarines that carry them. The National Defense Panel, appointed by Congress, found that the price tag over 30 years could be as much as $1 trillion. That’s $1,000,000,000,000, or 1,000 billion, or the piles made with $100 dollar bills shown next to the truck and the person standing beside it.

What will taxpayers get for that money besides threats of accidents, continued international arms race, and loss of money needed elsewhere? Nuclear weapons do precious little to address the threat of terrorism; nothing to counter Islamic State forces in Iraq and Syria; nothing to counteract the growing risk of cyber attack; nothing to address the causes of conflict.

Crimes Against God and Humanity

In 1984 the United Nations Human Rights Committee noted that It is evident that the designing, testing, manufacture, possession, deployment and use of nuclear weapons are among the greatest threats to the right to life which confront mankind today, and concluded that The production, testing, possession, deployment and use of nuclear weapons should be prohibited and recognized as crimes against humanity.

That UN statement echoes the 1965 Vatican II statement: Any act of war aimed indiscriminately at the destruction of entire cities or extensive areas along with their population is a crime against God and humanity. It merits unequivocal and unhesitating condemnation.

Pope Francis, in his World Peace Day Message, 2014, reiterated the stand taken by the Catholic Church for decades: I make my own the appeal of my predecessors for the non-proliferation of arms and for disarmament of all parties beginning with nuclear and chemical weapons. 

The Austrian Pledge 

vienna-conferenceIn December 2014 the Austrian government hosted the third International Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons. Participants issued the Austrian Pledge to cooperate with all relevant parties in efforts to stigmatize, prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons in light of their unacceptable humanitarian consequences and associated risks. (Sign here: www.goodbyenuk.es/take-action.)

Relevant Quotes 

Christians might keep the nuclear threat in mind as they decide what they will do this Lent. Everyone can consider the calls implied in the following quotes:

Jesus: Put away your sword; Father, forgive them; Whatsoever you do to anyone, you do to me; . . . for I was hungry and you fed me . . . .

Albert Einstein: You can’t solve problems with the same level of consciousness that created them.

Buckminster Fuller: You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.

Abraham Lincoln: The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him [sic] a friend.

Pope Paul VI: If you want peace, work for justice.

Cornelia Connelly: Actions not words.

Which quote(s) might help you respond to your call to reverse the nuclear threat and create a better future? Your comments are most welcome!