At first we thought only of disaster for our annual St. Francis Day event as forecast after forecast of steady rain, forced us to set up three huge tents for people and food on the dark and overcast St. Francis Day, October, 2014. The rain held off only intermittently. It was freezing cold. We brought out 30 or 40 blankets to protect whoever would be brave enough to come to Hardwick. What we thought an hour before the program might be a record-breaking “paltry” attendance, turned out to be just the opposite as person after person, group after group, trudged up the winding Agape driveway, umbrellas overhead, during intermittent downpours, to find shelter under the cover of tents, comfort with a cup of coffee, and warmth before the fire in our Francis House living room, which offered some protection throughout the day, from Sister Rain.
For those of us planning Agape’s annual Francis Day, the celebration of our 32nd Anniversary had the same burning intensity as the “get out the vote” campaign for this year’s American mid-term election, with this startling difference: Those who came to Agape in the driving rain, were voting in a vastly different way, one that Daniel Berrigan SJ spoke of 22 years ago at Agape’s 10th anniversary, a presidential election year. During the run-up to the 1992 presidential elections, Dan evoked “the politics of vision,” suggesting that we cling to our scriptural vision and “turn from the other” secular vision of “greed and violence, masking itself in three-piece suits and great promises.” The politics of a nonviolent vision, comments Dan, is antithetical to “an absolutely deadly and anti-human one”.
As we experience the catastrophe of a country in revolt and regression, with a Republican rout on our bloody imperial hands, Dan’s prophetic words are a consolation and reminder of our destiny as the remnant or anawim, “the poor who depend on the Lord for deliverance”. As we consider the obscenity of a 4 billion dollar price tag for a mid-term election, the remnant view of voting in the Berrigan, Jesus of Nazareth mode, is having “nothing to do with a candidate and has everything to do with a life in community.” Agape Francis Day pilgrims, voted with their feet and bodies to observe gathering at Agape on the feast day of St. Francis, October 4th, 2014, a month before our national voting debacle.
As suggested by Dan, we cast our vote by showing up, moving from the “fallen” vision of what a vote means, to the authentic derivative meaning, taken from the word “vow”, in the Latin, voveo, “meaning devoted, or devotion.” To vote in Empire is to “cast away one’s conscience.” To come to Agape, to participate in community, (especially with the adversity of weather we were all undergoing) is an act of devotion, of reclaiming conscience.
“A renunciation” of the temporal, while casting a vote “for all eternity” involves being with “spontaneous people who are capable of saying ‘no’ to the enemies of life in order to say a resounding ‘yes’ to life itself.” Certainly, huddled together in the cold and damp, we at Agape could have called ourselves the “spontaneous ones.” People came to grapple with the day’s theme of how we integrate the religious movements of ecology with those of justice, peace and nonviolence.
The Politics of Vision at Agape’s Francis Day, October 4, 2014
It is of no little significance that Dan’s niece and Philip Berrigan’s daughter, Frida Berrigan, was on the program, bringing together peacemakers, environmentalists, and academics. Thomas Berry’s concept of “The Great Work” seemed appropriate this day as we launched an encompassing conversation linking activism and ecology, hoping to engage the topic and each other so that the common ground of both movements could evolve more fully.
Frida’s role of articulating the nonviolent activist perspective on climate change and planetary degradation would, we hoped, add richness to a dialogue with Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim, their work at Yale and across the globe having reverberations throughout peace and justice communities. Could resistance and nuclear weapons movement people share strategies for action and change with those in the academic world of ecology, religion and education?
Tucker and Grim, co-directors of the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale University and the Executive Producers of the film, “Journey of the Universe” which they showed at Agape Friday evening before the main event, set the stage for the next day in the evening presentation which passionately evoked billions of years of evolution for this breathtakingly beautiful planet and universe. We carried these images of cosmic splendor into the next day through a complementary narrative on the precariousness of our survival with increasing militarization of the planet, led by the current empire-in-chief and drone general, Obama, whose reluctance to stop the X-L pipeline is reflected in the runaway production of natural gas through fracking. These are just two illustrations of millions of such integrating themes of war on the environment, as well as war and the environment.
From Canadian sponsorship of the XL to the US, Yucca Flats, NV, where protests over nuclear weapons waste storage there continue, the American political and planetary vision, unlike the Berriganian one, is summed up by Linda Blimes who reports that the ISIS, sorties cost “1 billion so far, with the current pace running at some 10 million dollars a day.” (“A High Price Tag: US fight against the Islamic State will be long and expensive, Boston Globe, 10/8/2014). It seems that the pertinent question of the days ahead is: How do we join forces and non-cooperate with the “deadly” and “anti-human” evidence of what Tucker and Grim might call anti-creation forces that assail us on all sides?
Mary Evelyn Tucker: “The Time Is Now”
Mary Evelyn led the discussion with a chronology of her personal integration of peacemaking, religion, and ecology, beginning with her study of Asian religions (PH.D from Columbia in Japanese Confucianism) including several books on the subject, to her marriage to John Grim and their collaborative efforts at Harvard on World Religions and Ecology, as well as their current post at Yale as co-directors and founders of the Forum on Religion and Ecology. Both John and Mary Evelyn studied with the famous “geologian ” Thomas Berry, forming a lifelong relationship with him.
Opening up Francis Day, Mary Evelyn challenged the faithful with both an affirmation of our shared responsibility for the future of the planet. She warned that unless we evolve into an “Earth Community”, becoming a force for change, uniting peace and justice movements with religious institutions, all becoming more involved in these critical issues, we will face the consequences of a doomed planet.
An early social justice activist, an opponent of the Viet Nam war and racial segregation, Mary Evelyn recently served as a character witness for Sr. Megan Rice, the 84 year old nun whose parents were active in the Catholic Worker movement and who, in 2012, along with two other activists, broke into the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Calling themselves “The Transform Now Plowshares” the peacemakers spray-painted anti-war slogans and splashed blood on the outside of the Uranium Materials Facility, reported in the NY Times as “the biggest security breach in the history of the Nation’s atomic complex.” We need to see the relationship of such prophetic actions to the academic research and science on the debilitating consequences of nuclear weapons storage. Scientists and academics must call for prophetic action and perhaps participate in such actions themselves.
For those of us who have spent decades with communities of resistance, including tax refusal, Mary Evelyn’s in-put was a necessary piece of the not quite completed puzzle of environmental advocacy and activist non-cooperation. The call was clear as Mary Evelyn vibrantly shared her passion and erudition as a young activist and academic, along with her strong advocacy for the engagement of youth in the ecology and faith movement at Yale and throughout the globe. “The time,” she intoned, “is Now!” How do we go forward in a shared vision which demands more specific linkages and action steps, especially now, after the mid-term elections and the Canadian “spin” on the XL pipeline: the US needs Canada to “free” us from our country’s “delay tactics”, to activate now this bonanza of polluting and dangerous tar sands extraction masked as an end to the oil crisis.
Hence, the clash between the politics of greed and destruction, versus the “eternal vote” for the evolution of the universe, underscores the vapidity of the electoral process caught up in temporal moves that lead ultimately to destruction. Mary Evelyn called on us to cherish the planet as a living organism in a vast and varying universe. The pipeline is antithetical to such cherishing.
St. Francis of Assisi and Growing Up Berrigan: Prophetic Passions
One of the funniest moments of the day (although as one of the planners of the event, the laughter comes only in retrospect) was to see Skip Schiel, Agape Mission Council Member and photo-journalist par excellence (his display of Gaza photos yearly add an aura of sacredness to Agape’s chapel) gesture to Brayton that the tent covering the main speakers would more than likely cave in if not lifted from the sides to relieve the wheelbarrow-like indentation in the broad tent with water accumulating by the minute. Protecting her baby, Madeleine, from the cascade of water, intermittently breastfeeding, Frida engaged John Grim without a complaint about Sister/Brother Rain, as they opened the afternoon session with talks on the prophetic voice of Francis of Assisi, Pope Francis’ namesake and growing up in a household of prophets as Frida did.
Francis of Assisi represents this bold voice of radical change as did Philip Berrigan. Frida spoke of her childhood game playing with her brother Jerry, of collecting blood for Pentagon actions and resisting arrest in an engaging and humorous way, captured in her new book, It Runs in the Family: On Being Raised by Radicals and Growing Into Rebellious Motherhood (an excerpt from which is found in this edition of Servant song). (www.orbooks.com)
Summing Up: Following the Prophetic Call
A month after Francis Day, a U.N Panel issued its starkest warning yet on Global Warming stating that the “risks of climate change are so profound that they could stall or even reverse generations of progress against poverty and hunger. …” The continued burning of fossil fuels and failure to reduce emissions “could threaten society with food shortages, refugee crises, the flooding of major cities and entire island nations, mass extinction of plants and animals, and a climate so drastically altered it might become dangerous for people to work or play outside during the hottest times of the year.” In short, we are looking at “irreversible impacts.” The time left to reverse course, the U.N. predicted, is about 30 years. (NY Times 11/3/2014)
Although not front stage center, these dire and prophetic warnings seemed especially relevant given the number of young people in the audience. Post-Francis Day, I read an article by Evan Mandery on “The Missing Campus Climate Debate” (NY Times 11/1/14) claiming that there is no debate on most campuses regarding fossil fuel divestment at colleges. Mandery felt that “most of America’s universities are planning to sit this one out.”
Patrick Cage, a senior at Yale, is not one to sit out this or any climate, peace and justice or religious-related connection. A summer volunteer at Agape, he raised a passionate voice for connections between faith and the environment on October 4th, speaking of the looming necessity of non-cooperation with planet-destroying corporate moguls bent on a fossil-fuel perpetuation into a cascade of destruction.
Although James Barry, a high school religion teacher and young member of Agape, had carefully planned for youth break-out groups, the non-stop rain and cold forced a shortening of the exchanges. Still, the young people, made good connections, and all sought warmth in front of the fire pit next to the two tents kept going in a primitive fashion by Dixon George and Tom Driscoll. We watched Tom bring wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of wood, while Dixon feed the fire which warmed hands and hearts.
Throughout the day, Chris Nauman, oncologist and musician, song-writer and the Midwives of Mystery, a group of young women who have been coming to Agape since undergraduate years at Smith and Anna Maria Colleges, (Alicen Roberts, Rachel Ravina and Julieann Hartley) offered comfort and solace with voices raised in praise of the planet and the spirit which brought us together. By the time of the last phase of the long, wet day, we all sat contentedly together in the Francis House living room for final interfaith prayers with Naveh Halperin intoning a Hebrew remembrance of Yom Kippur with a Jewish chant. Reflections, meditation, drumming and a skit, fleshed out the exuberant spirit of the day.
What are our action steps in combating climate change? Will Frida Berrigan, Agape, The Yale Forum on Ecology and Religion, Mary Evelyn, and John ever meet again to put teeth to our deliberations? Will there be any future attempts to integrate the themes and communities of nonviolent action with the Great Work of Thomas Berry? Will Berry’s Great Work and our participation in the Journey of the Universe lead to non-cooperation and direct action?
More significantly, are we willing to challenge our faith communities to “vote” with the devotion required, to take a vow to be community together, as Daniel Berrigan’s prophetic call, meets Mary Evelyn’s challenge to religious institutions of our day: “The moment has arrived for an emerging Earth community, a deep-time perspective that evokes beauty and awe with compassion and responsibility for our shared planetary future. It’s now in our hands.” So what do we do?