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