Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Light Game

"Through a young intern’s experience in a garden, we come to see how learning the incarnational art of growing food and coming to a deeper realization about why we’re here go hand in hand. In this simple narrative, Mary craftfully weaves together a story that reveals the connections between organic farming, religion, science, energy, light, and life to bring us to reflect on life’s deepest questions. The Light Game is a must-read for anyone searching for deeper answers, who questions religion, or who questions their own life. It will help us more clearly see the light inside each of us, and show us how we can each bring more light into the world."   - Kelly Moltzen, MPH, RDN, Franciscan Action Network board member & Wake Forest University School of Divinity Re:Generate Fellow
The Light Game, available for free on Kindle until September 14

"What if life is a game and there is only one rule?"

We are all searching for answers about the meaning of life. So much so that we often forget about the core truths about what it means to be human, and that people of all religions are in search of the same thing. Those of us who practice religion all seek to understand the "cause, nature, and purpose of the universe," which is how defines "religion."  But what if it all is actually very simple?  In my own tradition, I've realized that the very premise of the religion - that Jesus' life was about sharing what it means to live as an incarnational human being on Earth - becomes an elephant in the room when considering the schism between the life Jesus taught us to live and the human predicaments we find ourselves in at this moment in time. Catholics and other Christians often forget about the incarnationality of the religion, spending entire livelihoods deliberating on philosophical and theological concepts instead of living out what the religion tells us is important: how we live life on Earth.

To be in-carnate is to be in the flesh. The word represents a spiritual being residing in the flesh, in human form.  To fully live as humans we have to know how to nourish ourselves with food from the Earth, and so it is important for us to consider how the food we eat is grown, and even better, to grow some of that food ourselves.

Mary Colborn helps us make a critical discovery about the nature of the energy that produces our food in her new book The Light Game. As an organic farmer and lifelong spiritual Catholic, Mary helps us see that the energy that is used by plants to produce oxygen and food comprises the same vibrating molecules that make up the energy we live off of and is shared in our interactions with one another. Through the various parables (many rooted in the natural world) and healings performed by Jesus throughout his lifetime, Jesus was telling us the same thing. We are Light. We are all made of the same divine energy as that which created the cosmos.  And therefore, each of our lives is critically important, as we are all part of the whole.  We all have an integral role to play during our time on this Earth.

I met Mary through the Global Catholic Climate Movement and had a chance to visit her farm in Michigan recently after supporting her Barnraiser fundraiser earlier in the year.  I've been interested in supporting her work especially after realizing our shared interests in promoting regenerative agriculture within the Catholic Church. While at the farm, Mary read me an almost finalized version of The Light Game. As the book is about a young intern working in the fields of Mary's farm and wrestling with questions about the meaning of life as Mary ponders these questions out loud with her, it felt almost as if I was in the book itself, as I helped harvest produce and talked to Mary about the contents of the book. We picked green beans and raspberries and reflected on Franciscan spirituality, integral ecology, and the challenges of trying to sustain a farm in this day & age with little government support for small-scale organic farmers. I met Mary's sister Tina, saw the chickens, barns that need repair, and acres and acres of unused farmland potential that could be created into a teaching farm with student interns as Mary envisions. I also saw the giant Love Letter on the side of her barn that she talks about at the end of the book. As a struggling small-scale organic farmer, Mary hopes to use the proceeds from the book to revitalize the farm, create a food hub and internship program for young farmers. She's not working alone, either- Mary hopes to do this in tandem with the Kalamazoo Valley Community College Food Innovation Center, which is building a food hub for farmers in the Kalamazoo Valley of Michigan.

I cannot stress enough how exciting this project is, and how profound The Light Game's message is. I would really like you all to read it, and so would Mary.  In honor of World Suicide Prevention Day (September 10), Mary is making her book available for free for five days, downloadable on Kindle or the Kindle app.  Please check it out and share your comments - we'd love to hear what you think! 

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

New Heaven, New Earth: Musings on Permaculture & Integral Ecology

There has been oppression, corruption and war for millennia – this, we know, is not something new.  Jesus and other prophets have actively taught means of interacting within corrupt systems to bring about Heaven on Earth.  Many of these people, Jesus included, did their ministry and prayer work in natural environments, and told parables that led people to contemplate the natural world. Coming to these realizations throughout my lifetime, I immediately recognized myself in the story of permaculture expert Bill Mollison, as told by Fred Bahnson in Soil and Sacrament:   

Mollison had grown up in a small village in Tasmania, and became horrified as he saw fish stocks collapsing and large sections of forest disappear. He began to protest against the political and industrial systems that were to blame. ‘But,’ he wrote in Introduction to Permaculture, ‘I soon decided that it was no good persisting with opposition that in the end achieved nothing.’ For the next two years Mollison withdrew from society. When he returned he realized he did not want to oppose anything ever again and waste his time. He wanted to come back only with something positive, ‘Something that would allow us all to exist without the wholesale collapse of biological systems.’ What Mollison came back with was the beginnings of permaculture, a ‘whole human system.’

I likewise decided early on to focus on building a holistic system. Thus, my career has focused on nutrition, public health, and promoting sustainable food systems whenever possible.  What I’ve realized since the 2015 release of Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si is that these ideas about permaculture are very much in line with the concept of integral ecology.

We can use systems thinking to create an integrative food system where food grown is connected with healthcare and mental health systems and a more sustainable environment. We can put the systems in place to put Laudato Si into action. To do this, we will need to educate, but we will also need to organize and advocate.  While Bill Mollison may have chosen not to oppose anything and Jesus did much of his ministry in the fields, we must also remember that Jesus also flipped over the money tables in the temple.  It’s clear in the Bible that man cannot serve God and mammon, and that we shouldn’t worship the golden calf. Yet, that is what so many corporations are doing now.

According to Citizens United, corporations are people – but of course, we know that’s not true. We know the people making up the corporations are people, not the corporations themselves.  We also know it is not good to wish ill on the people making up the corporations. It is good for them to have livable wages to support themselves and their families, healthcare, and meaningful work.  To make sure everyone has a fair chance for these necessary components of healthy living, the people who are most enmeshed in corporate greed – amassing gross wealth off the backs of the working poor – need to back off a good deal from their possessions and materialism, and open up to more of a communal, humane way of interacting with the marginalized.

With decent financial and human investment, we can create more green jobs, include people affected by injustices in the decisionmaking processes, and capture carbon back into the Earth to mitigate and prevent catastrophic climate change. This is just as true in the Bronx as it is in Harlem, as it is in the bayous of Louisiana, as it is in Haiti, and every other place affected by environmental injustices.

In Soil and Sacrament, Fred Bahnson also quotes Rainer Maria Rilke:

All will come again into its strength:
the fields undivided, the waters undammed,
the trees towering and the walls built low.
And in the valleys, people as strong
and as varied as the land.

What a vision of shalom! When I read this I thought first of bringing shalom to Haiti, where the water has been dammed up leading to much dry, barren land, exacerbated by deforestation due to the burning of wood for cooking fires.  It reminded me of the holistic vision for restoration of this island nation that I’ve begun brainstorming with several others over the past few months. But this prophetic poetic excerpt can apply to anywhere we wish to restore with shalom - God’s holistic peace.

So, how can we begin sharing the stories of people creating a “new heaven and a new earth” and living out Laudato Si?  When will we begin to create a truly holistic system of integral ecology and shalom?

1Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” – Revelations 21: 1-4

Friday, August 26, 2016

“So That They May Be One”: John 17 and Catholic-Protestant Dialogue

Yesterday, I stepped foot into the Bahá’í House of Worship for North America on the outskirts of Chicago with my good friend from high school, who happens to be Jewish.  The Baha’i faith is one that is inclusive of all religions – actually, the Bahá’ís believe “the religions of the world come from the same Source and are in essence successive chapters of one religion from God.” After my experiences with religious unity with GreenFaith, it felt so good to be able to return to this feeling of oneness, this feeling that I did not need to feel separated from my brothers and sisters of other religions and other denominations, despite the world’s great attempts to keep us all divided.  Growing up in the public school system, I have always had friends of other religions and denominations, and the divide between us because of my connection to the Catholic Church has always saddened me.  So, it felt good yesterday to be able to share in worship with someone who, other than babysitting kids at her temple during Jewish holiday services as a teenager, I had not previously shared a religious experience with.  

As a teenager, I was very active in a Franciscan ministry program for youth called Capuchin Youth & Family Ministries. The Franciscan charism then left me thirsting for more than I was able to get from the Catholic church on my college campus, and I began exploring the non-denominational, ecumenical, and Protestant angles of Christianity, where I felt a unity and inclusiveness that reminded me of the Franciscan charism I had previously experienced.  Since then I have felt I bridged a divide between the Catholic Church and non-Catholic Christians.  I also had a spiritual awakening during this time that “we are all one.” 

“Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are” is a line from a verse in John 17.  This verse, as it happens, has also inspired others within the Christian tradition to come together in unity across denominations.  The John 17 Movement seeks to bridge the divide between Catholics and Protestants, and even includes a moving message from Pope Francis about unity:

Pope Francis message to John 17 Movement on May 23rd, 2015 in Phoenix, AZ from John 17 Movement on Vimeo.

I am deeply inspired by this movement for unity, and as a board member of the Franciscan Action Network, which represents all branches of the family of followers of St. Francis of Assisi – Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, and Ecumenical – I am committed to learning what more we can do to bring unity to Christians everywhere. We share a common heritage, one of following the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.  Now in this moment in history, when the world has been turned upside down by Pope Francis, may we ask ourselves, “What Would Jesus Do?”.

May we return to the prayer of Jesus in John 17, and learn to seek unity between the gaps that divide us.  

Friday, May 13, 2016

David Choquehuanca, Foreign Minister of Bolivia and "Bien Vivir"

I had the honor of introducing David Choquehuanca, Foreign Minister of Bolivia, at William Camacaro's May 12th Alberto Lovera Bolivarian Circle event about "Bien Vivir," or "Living Well."  This is an indigenous concept of humanity living in harmony with nature that is so simple it may seem radical (which actually shouldn't surprise anyone, as the word radical means "to the root"). 

David's comments about Bien Vivir, Bolivian culture, and its earth-honoring traditions echoed Pope Francis' encyclical Laudato Si in profound ways. He spoke of a "crisis of values, morals and world outlook," the need for us to be integral human beings, living in alignment with Mother Nature / Mother Earth, the need for a focus on equality, the concept that we all belong to one big family, and the similarities and distinctions amongst humans and between humans and other aspects of nature. He spoke of many indigenous terms and concepts that show us the deep wisdom our world has fallen away from, such as the symbolism in the Bolivian flag that we must learn to nourish ourselves and seek nutritional sovereignty, not just learn how to eat.  Bien Vivir is possible for those committed to self determination, dialogue, and resisting capitalism but transcending socialism, to a new way of pushing forward to decolonization in order to support all of life.  This concept is best captured in the Quechua-Aymara term "Jallalla," which Pope Francis greeted crowds with when he visited Bolivia in 2015. The more we compare this indigenous wisdom with the recently unearthed spirituality of the Church that Pope Francis has unearthed and shared in Laudato Si, the more I believe we will see just how similar these worldviews are.

As we know, Pope Francis took his name from St. Francis of Assisi. St. Francis exuded and lived out a spirituality that displayed his kinship with all of creation - a worldview that is actually quite similar to the indigenous worldview David Choquehuanca spoke about. I find great value and importance in working to bring this spirituality back to a Church that needs our support to instill the teachings of Pope Francis in a meaningful way.

I am therefore grateful to be part of organizing a Laudato Si workshop series with the West Side Deanery, which includes Catholic Churches along the West Side of Manhattan in the Archdiocese of NY.  The next workshop, the second of a two-part focus on Chapter 5: Lines of Approach and Action, will be held on Tuesday, May 17 at 7pm at St. John the Baptist Church on West 30th St between 7th and 8th Avenues (refreshments at 6:30pm). We'll be sharing about several Catholic and religious organizations working to address climate change and other social justice issues, that people can collaborate with to bring various ecological initiatives back to their home parishes or organizations.

Another opportunity to continue the conversation is by participating in Tierra Sagrada (Sacred Earth, Sacred Trust) - a global day of worldwide, multifaith prayer and action for creation on June 12.  Organized by people of faith from Latin America, this day will mark six months after the Paris Climate Agreement, join the celebration of International Environment Day (June 5) and the first anniversary of the publication of Pope Francis' encyclical Laudato Si (June 18). While 175 countries have already signed the Paris Climate Agreement, "we are set for temperature rises well above the critical 1.5°C limit that governments agreed to, and that scientists, activists, and vulnerable communities are fighting for with the cry of '1.5°C to Stay Alive'." It seems we still have a long way to go to realize the vision of Bien Vivir that David Choquehuanca speaks about so eloquently. 

Saturday, April 9, 2016

New York for Bernie, 2016

There are some times when we need to become our own media. One of those times is now.
The Bronx, the United States, and the World need Bernie. And right now, Bernie needs New York.
New York, let's show the world that New York City is not the center of the universe because of Wall Street, but because of its humanity.

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend Congressman Bernie Sanders' presidential rally at St. Mary's Park in Mott Haven, the section of the South Bronx where I have lived for the past five years.  The rally was a huge success and drew between 18,500-20,000 people - people of all backgrounds - the working class. And today, Bernie came to a second rally in the Bronx, this time at Bronx Community College - another success. The library auditorium was filled with college students and others - real Bronxites and other New Yorkers - listening to this Vermont Senator from Brooklyn who gives us hope.

I was grateful to hear New York State Assemblyman Luis Sepulveda standing up for Bernie at both rallies. Sepulveda says he did not endorse Bernie from the beginning, but wanted to look at the issues first. Once he did, he realized there was no other candidate he could stand with other than Bernie Sanders.  This is line with previous meetings I have been in with Assemblyman Sepulveda, where I distinctly remember leaving feeling impressed with how principled he was.

Some major news outlets have been starting to pay attention, giving more airwaves to Bernie Sanders and the issues that he is talking about, rather than the rhetoric and contradictions being spewed by other candidates. Yet there are still a lot of doubtful people, and people who say Hillary is going to win New York, she has all the superdelegates. Well, that's precisely the establishment we are working to deconstruct, that Bernie has been talking about.  He walks the walk in his opposition to money in politics, the need to repeal Citizens United, and the need for campaign finance reform. That is the first step to a true democracy. He has been consistent on his messages about the need to hold the banks of Wall Street accountable, invest in living wages ($15/hr) for working class people rather than war, make college education affordable, have a healthcare system for all, accept the human-induced causes of climate change and take responsibility for addressing them, bar for-profit prisons, and address the plight of urban communities across the country.  Political actions that demonstrate that he upholds the human dignity of all, especially the most disenfranchised.

Bernie spoke eloquently about religious coexistence - what matters is not if a person is Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist, or other - but that there is love.  My good friend Jonathan Reid shared a video on my Facebook page the other day of someone giving out Free Hugs at a Bernie Rally and a Trump Rally.  It goes without saying, there was a lot more love at the Bernie rally.

Man offers free hugs at Sanders and Trump rallies and gets shockingly different responses Free Hugs Project
Posted by Salon on Thursday, March 31, 2016

Actually, Bernie has received an invitation to speak at the Vatican next week.  Though, he is not the first progressive socialist Jew to be invited to the Vatican; last year, the Vatican invited Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate.

A friend of mine made a flyer comparing Bernie Sanders' statements on climate change, war, and economic inequality to those of Pope Francis, even before the announcement was made about the Vatican's invitation.  It is really not hard to figure out why someone like Bernie Sanders would appeal to the Vatican.  He speaks up about addressing wealth inequality and other injustices that keep people oppressed - issues that fit squarely within the realm of Catholic Social Teaching. His spiritual convictions - that we are all in this together - are also very much in line with the church's teachings.

Besides the superdelegates, the other significant concern regarding the primaries is all of the support the unions are throwing at Hillary Clinton.  Bernie supports unions too - why wouldn't he?  He's for the working class.  The Working Families Party has already enthusiastically endorsed Bernie Sanders, though unfortunately the votes don't count in the primaries.  But the unions are endorsing Hillary.  What's even sadder is they are unethically using staff time to support Hillary. A friend of mine who works for a union told me they were going to make him go canvas for Hillary.  I told him to just talk about the issues.

Through Bronx Health REACH, I am working with the United Federation of Teachers to bring nutrition education into schools in the Bronx. The UFT is a big help in this regard, certainly they play an important role in society. But one role they should not play is endorsing candidates, especially if those wishes go against their employees.  That role is what the Working Families Party is for.

I had a wonderful time at the Bernie rally today. I met real New Yorkers, with incredible stories to tell.  I stood online next to a retiree currently serving on a Bronx community board who said of his career working on Wall Street: "If you want to see cocaine, go to Wall Street."  He had become addicted to drugs working on Wall Street, not from living the Bronx.  I also had a fascinating conversation with the guy sitting next to me during the rally, an actor named James McDaniel, who lives in Harlem, saw the gentrification that happened around the time Bill Clinton moved his office to the Harlem State Office Building, and has been invited to dinners at the White House on numerous occasions.  He told me the one time he got to speak to President Obama, he said, "This country doesn't deserve you."  I would have to agree with him. It made me sad, actually, to hear Bernie today saying the same thing Obama said during his candidacy, that he needs the American people to work with him.  Because the thing is, Obama and Sanders are telling the truth.  Things will not change unless we the people are working together with progressive elected officials to create the change we want to see. 

This election, the primaries are an opportunity for Americans to vote with their values. The Democratic ticket can go to Bernie or Hillary. It is not about who will beat who later on. We are talking about nowNow is our opportunity to create a revolution, as Tracy Chapman's voice sang out through the loudspeaker at the end of the Bernie rally.

The choice is ours.  Will we stand up for our values?  We have until April 19th to decide. This is our opportunity to embrace hope and our spiritual convictions and build a world we can be proud of. I hope we will choose it. And for those who are still skeptics, may I ask that you seek to really listen to a few Bernie supporters. They probably have some pretty incredible stories to tell.