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.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Soil & Sacrament: Fred Bahnson & Shamu Sadeh - Thurs at St. John the Divine

Dear friends,
I am writing to invite you by a talk by Fred Bahnson, author of Soil and Sacrament, this upcoming Thursday at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.  Fred will be joined by Shamu Sadeh, the Jewish farmer who was featured in the Adamah chapter of Soil and Sacrament.

Thursday, March 10, 2016
7 PM – 8:30 PM, Cathedral of St. John the Divine
1047 Amsterdam Avenue at 112th Street

I first learned about Fred and his work several years ago.  I was impressed by the work of the Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy, and happened to be searching through the list of Food & Community Fellows when I found Fred's profile and his work on understanding the faith community's role in the food movement.  Not too long after, I learned about a book he co-authored with Norman Wirzba, Making Peace with the Land: God's Call to Reconcile with Creation.

Last year, several colleagues informed me of Fred's Re:Generate Fellowship program through the Wake Forest University School of Divinity's Food, Faith & Religious Leadership Initiative which he directs.  I was accepted to the program, and spent one of the most fulfilling weeks of my life last summer in the hills of North Carolina in true fellowship, learning and sharing and envisioning a "New Heaven, New Earth" with the other fellows and program participants. 

Fred has become a dear mentor of mine, who through profound spiritual conversion has developed a true gift for articulating the inextricable link between "our yearning for real food" and "our spiritual desire to be fed" as we seek to be truly alive.  I feel a deep sense of peace and shalom in the work of bringing people closer to the adamah from which we come, and am so grateful for his leadership in this endeavor.  I still have much to learn from him.

I hope you will be able to come and listen to Fred and Shamu speak this Thursday at St. John the Divine. Please spread the word to others who may be interested as well!

Peace -- and Shalom,

Saturday, November 28, 2015

What is Enough?

It’s two days after Thanksgiving and one day after what is commonly known as “Black Friday” here in the U.S.  Meanwhile, the climate justice pilgrims have just completed their journey from Rome to Paris on foot for the People’s Pilgrimage, bringing the voices of people of faith from across the world to Paris for the COP-21 climate negotiations, with the message that the United Nations must pass a strong climate treaty. 

I find myself joining other OurVoices leaders in asking the question, “What is enough?” 

How is it that we choose to be thankful for a day every year, and then we allow ourselves to continue to live in a society that turns around the next day, with people knocking one another over in the quest to get the best deal on the latest gadget? 

I have always understood that the holidays are a time to be grateful for what we have, for family, friends, nourishing food and the opportunities provided for us in our lives.  A time to sober ourselves to the reality that there are billions of people across the planet who are hungry and living in poverty, subject to the whims of an unstable climate caused in large part by our unsustainable lifestyles.  Given these realities, to me the materialistic frenzy that surrounds the holidays is too harmful to just be written off as shallow.  

I am grateful for growing up with a religious orientation that taught me the love of God for all people, and through which I eventually came to understand the spiritual and ecological interconnectedness of all people and aspects of creation to one another.   My experiences and those of many other spiritually conscious people have convicted me that faith, religion, and spirituality allow any of us to transform ourselves into more compassionate human beings, and that this transformation is exactly what our religious and spiritual traditions were created for.   When we do not pay attention to this reality and instead focus on the inflatable Christmas lawn decorations and long wish lists for Santa Claus and his elves, we are betraying the very purpose of the holi-day.  Americans spend more than $600 billion during the holiday season, causing some to believe Christmas is synonymous with materialism.

How did we get to this point, and what will it take for us to return to the real meaning of the holiday season….and pass strong climate legislation?

I like returning to St. Nicholas, from whom the story of Santa Claus was born.  As legend has it, when Nicholas learned of a poor man who could not afford a proper dowry for his three daughters, he decided help them. He secretly threw three purses filled with gold coins through the window of the family’s house in order to help prevent the women from remaining unmarried, becoming prostitutes or being assumed to be prostitutes.  To me this is far cry from what our society has manufactured, which somehow ties a spinoff of the legend of St. Nicholas together with a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ in a stable in Nazareth, into a “holiday” celebrated by Christians and non-Christians alike that does more harm than good for God’s creation, or to use the term popularlized by Pope Francis, “our common home.”   Not to mention completely looking past the deeper spiritual messages that Jesus preached about and stood for through his incarnation as the Christ.  

For a moment, let us pause at the wonders of the sacred world we are privileged to live in.  

For me, this is enough.

As we return to thinking about the season of gift-giving, wouldn’t we do better to celebrate the holidays by following the example of St. Nicholas, who gave of himself to protect the welfare and dignity of young women?   Given how our actions create ripple effects, our unsustainable lifestyles are directly connected to instances of human trafficking across the world:  as I have learned from Franciscans International, areas where mining of precious minerals occurs are also hot spots for human trafficking.  Instead of asking for the latest electronics or fashion items from the local mall this year, what if we replaced our selfish desires with means of combating instances which destroy the lives and self-esteems of our global brothers and sisters?  This year, for those who insist on buying me gifts for Christmas, I’ll be asking for products and services that help girls get to primary or secondary school safely through Global Girlfriend.   And no gift-wrapping, please.   In the meantime, I’ll be praying for a strong climate treaty at COP-21, with the awareness that we must put our prayers and Pope Francis’ words of Laudato Si’ into action in order to realize a better world.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Faith in Action Food Summit: October 22

Breaking Bread Together to Address Hunger & Health

Faith calls us to be present to the world’s realities: a faith life which is disconnected from the needs of one’s physical body and the world around us is not good for one’s physical or spiritual well-being. Instead, we are called to create communities where everyone is free from disease, no one goes hungry, workers are treated well, and where children are nourished and ready to succeed. In such a community, people can eat with dignity around the table together, and food is affordable and accessible for all. This is the world we are called to co-create with the universal Creator. National Food Day – a nation-wide celebration of real food – is an opportunity for faith leaders to come together to celebrate real food and see what we can do to create a food system that feeds and nourishes with the bounty of the earth, rather than one that harms human health and the ecosystems surrounding us.

The Bronx Multi-Faith Advisory Group cordially invites you to gather for a Faith in Action Food Summit on October 22nd from 10am-1pm at the Bronx Museum of the Arts (1040 Grand Concourse, Bronx NY 10456). This is an opportunity for faith leaders to gain a deeper understanding of the ways people of faith can get involved in creating an equitable and sustainable food system that promotes health and reduces hunger. The Summit will equip participants with messages that can be taken back to congregations the following weekend, putting Bronx-based efforts to create a holistic food system on the map alongside others from across the country who will also be celebrating Food Day, which is held every year on October 24.