[The following text was drawn from a complete manuscript of Cherice Bock’s keynote talk, which is published at: https://westernfriend.org/media/creating-resilience-climate-justice-unabridged]
What is an appropriate response to an emergency? In many emergencies, we have to react immediately in order to survive. Our bodies fill with adrenaline and respond in a split second. Our fear keeps us safe.
But what do we do when the emergency is not instantaneous, but is instead a threat that continues for months, years, lifetimes? What is an appropriate response?
We saw how people in the United States dealt with low-level emergencies over the last year, right? Remember how there were shortages of toilet paper, pasta, and dry beans? People were concerned they wouldn’t have enough and that they were going to have to survive on their own, so they started hoarding. And there’s some rationality to that. It’s an appropriate response to the situation we’re in, with a cascading set of emergencies due to mismanagement of our planet, and where each person is imagined as an individual rather than in a web of interconnected relationships. As mere individuals, there’s not much we can do but hoard and fight, or run away to someplace safer. But it’s those reactions that have gotten us into this mess.
It doesn’t have to be this way. In this last year, in addition to the challenging and scary events we’ve experienced, I’ve also witnessed and participated in the most widespread movement for racial justice I’ve seen in my lifetime. I’ve seen mutual aid groups and faith communities helping others during the wildfires and an ice storm, and I’ve been encouraged by the massive mobilizations in activism and advocacy around racial justice and climate justice. A story of courage, care, and resilience is emerging, and we can be a part of it.
Notice what happens in your body and in your spirit when you imagine yourself as part of a community where you help meet others’ needs and your needs are met by others, where you share what you have today, and trust others will share when you have a need tomorrow. What happens in your body? I find myself breathing more deeply and settling into a smile. I feel an incredible expanse opening up in my heart, so vast that there is room for all.
This is what some people call the Kingdom or Kin-dom of God, what some call the Beloved Community. This is what we will need to weather the coming decades, as we face into the increasing impacts of climate change, and as we experience a reckoning after centuries of extractive and exploitative actions by our ancestors (particularly our European-American ones). We have set in motion planetary systems, some of which we can no longer reverse, but we do have a choice of how to relate to one another in the midst of the coming challenges.
We are at a decision point as a planetary human society, and I believe the Religious Society of Friends also needs to make that same choice. Many of us are probably feeling the siren song of wanting to return to “normal,” which was a pretty comfortable time with a booming economy for those who benefitted from the system. But we know that January 2020’s “normal” is not sustainable, nor was it equitable. The murder of George Floyd made that very clear, if it wasn’t already.
So, we’re at this decision point now: Will we continue living into a culture that pretends we can have unlimited growth forever, a culture that values and protects property over human life, that treats life as a commodity to be bought and sold, that treats care as a naïve and laughable trait only good for exploitation? Or will we have the courage to live into a different way? Will we have the guts and the faithfulness to live out radical care? Will we do our part to build communities of care that can withstand the coming storms together?
Friends have dreamed and attempted to enact the type of Beloved Community I’m talking about since our denomination first began, and they based it on what they saw in the Bible. They noticed Jesus’ message of true peace that can only happen through justice and love. They noticed the early Jesus Movement selling all they had and taking care of the needs of all comers. They noticed in the biblical witness a community that stood in radical resistance to the Roman Empire’s claims of property and power. Ephesians 4:1-4 says,
1 I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling. . .
The author of this letter was a prisoner because he had been resisting the Empire’s claims and inviting all people into a community of belonging, where everyone is part of one body. Early Friends continued this tradition, standing up courageously in their day for equality and radical faithfulness. They, too, wrote letters from prison, encouraging the building up of that same communal body.
Of course, early Friends did not get it all right, and although we have much we can celebrate about our denominational story, we yet have much to learn and much repair work to do as a Society of Friends. Friends did not create the Doctrine of Discovery or slavery, but White Friends did benefit from those systems. Suffice it to say here that European-American Friends still have much learning and repair work to do in relation to living in right relationship with people and land.
But I bring us back to the questions I asked at the beginning of this message: What is an appropriate response to our current emergency? Showing up is the first step. In the face of the challenge of intersecting climate injustices, it’s easy to let fear paralyze us. But one of the main things that can help us feel and have actual collective power is to move out of our paralysis and take a step in the direction of the world we want to see.
Second, particularly for those of us who are White, it’s important to show up in solidarity and ready to learn, ready to partner and collaborate. It’s European-Americans who largely got us into the mess we’re currently in, with their focus on extraction, exploitation, and domination. It is not likely to be European-Americans who can see what needs to be done to get us out.
I attended the Treaty People Gathering in Minnesota last month to stop the construction of the Line 3 tar sands pipeline. The Anishinaabe People invited everyone to come join them in stopping the pipeline, and they called it the “Treaty People Gathering,” because if we live here in what is now called the United States, we are all treaty people. Rather than coming in believing, “I can fix this thing. I can save people,” I had to enter with an attitude of repentance, with the awareness of the need for repair.
At the Treaty People Gathering, I witnessed a beautiful expression of the Beloved Community as over 2,000 people gathered and sang together. We blocked progress of what Indigenous people call the “black snake,” the oil pipelines. At the location where I was, we occupied a boardwalk, so heavy equipment could not cross it to drill and place the pipeline underneath the headwaters of the Mississippi River.
We show up; we’re ready to learn and collaborate; we’re ready for radical action; and we shift our worldview and actions as we become more aware of the harm we’ve caused. Then, last but not least, we realize we cannot do this work alone. We have to have others to go on this journey with; we can’t form a community by ourselves. And communities are hard work. People have personality conflicts; they do hurtful or annoying things; people break trust in myriad ways.
So, I think this is really where the Quaker community comes in, with our already built-in networks of care and relationships among members. Being able to act with a strong community takes away some of our fear and anxiety. By acting together, we no longer have to fear that we won’t make it on our own. We no longer have to be anxious that we have no safety net, because we have one. This work of mutual care is challenging and countercultural, but it is the work in which we must engage if we want to survive and thrive in the coming decades, and if Friends want to have a meaningful part in the work of our time. ~~~
Cherice Bock works as a Creation Justice Advocate with Oregon Interfaith Power & Light. She is a recorded minister with Sierra Cascades Yearly Meeting of Friends.
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