Fifty years ago in his Kentucky hermitage, Thomas Merton wrote:
"Let me say this before rain becomes a utility that they can plan and distribute for money. By "they" I mean the people who cannot understand that rain is a festival, who do not appreciate its gratuity, who think that what has no price has no value, that what cannot be sold is not real, so that the only way to make something actual is to place it on the market. The time will come when they will sell you even your rain. At the moment it is still free, and I am in it. I celebrate its gratuity and its meaninglessness." --from “Rain and the Rhinoceros” in Raids on the Unspeakable
Stick with me here, friends. Rain is a gift of grace, falling on the just and the unjust. Its waters are also a necessity of life. In the 1990’s under structural adjustment imposed by the World Bank, water was privatized in Cochabamba, Bolivia. When Bechtel corporation tripled the water rates, people began collecting rain water off their roofs and in cisterns. Whereupon Bechtel claimed all the water belonged to them and tried charging people for the rainwater. This sparked an uprising that drove out the corporation. A decade later the General Assembly of the United Nations declared water to be a human right.
In Detroit at present Governor Snyder through the Emergency Manager has hired dozens of private contractors to shut-off water to120-150,000 homes - any that are more than $150 in arrears. Several things are at work. This is clearly an attempt to make the Water Department cash rich, altering quickly its bottom line, so as to make it more valuable for sale or regionalization. The Water Department is a public trust serving a human right and cannot, must not, be sold to service the banks. Water is the emblem of the commons, not to be privatized and commodified. //more
Kirstin (above) was a participant at our recent Bartimaeus Permaculture Design Certificate Course.
"It may be that there is among you a root sprouting poisonous and bitter growth. All who hear the words of this oath and bless themselves, thinking in their hearts, 'We are safe even though we go our own stubborn ways” (thus bringing disaster on moist and dry alike) — the Lord will be unwilling to pardon them, for the Lord’s anger and passion will smoke against them. All the curses written in this book will descend on them, and the Lord will blot out their names from under heaven…
The next generation, your children who rise up after you, as well as the foreigner who comes from a distant country, will see the devastation of that land and the afflictions with which the Lord has afflicted it — all its soil burned out by sulfur and salt, nothing planted, nothing sprouting, unable to support any vegetation… — they and indeed all the nations will wonder, “Why has the Lord done thus to this land? What caused this great display of anger?' They will conclude, 'It is because they abandoned the covenant of the Lord, the God of their ancestors, which he made with them when he brought them out of the land of Egypt'.” From Deuteronomy 29
Many of us have seen them from the air: shapes dotting the landscape, like crop circles in that they are round, and unlike crop circles in that they are barren. What used to be an irrigated field is now a scar, formed in a perfect sphere around the former center pivot and salinized to death by the salt deposits that the water left behind as temperate crops were ripped out of arid land like shrapnel out of wounded flesh. Can anyone make a case that this is what the Creator intended when humans were tasked with tending and keeping the earth? //more
Save the dates for these upcoming BCM webinars, featuring scriptural reflection, movement history and social justice themes. Our 2014 schedule will be (mostly) the second Tuesday of the month at 5:45-7:15 pm Pacific Time except where noted.
Tuesday, June 10:
"From Babel to Pentecost: Insurgent Cultural Diversity vs. Imperial Conformity." Ched's study of Gen 11 and Acts 2 as warning tales about monoculture, and the divine endorsement of human diversity. Register here.
Tuesday, July 29:
"Elijah and the Wilderness Prophetic Tradition." Ched will look at the Elijah cycle (I Kg 17 - II Kg 2), the archetypes of wilderness prophecy and how this can contribute to a theology of “watershed discipleship.” Register here.
Tuesday, August 26:
(Annual BCM Free Summer Community Webinar)
"A Lifetime of Hospitality and Resistance: A Visit with Jeff Dietrich of the Los Angeles Catholic Worker." Ched will interview this venerable elder about his long history with the Catholic Worker movement. Register here.
More webinars for the second half of the year to be posted soon. Your participation helps us increase our reach and reduce our carbon footprint!
We are near the end of our 17 day permaculture design certificate Institute here in the Ojai Valley. This PDC, led by Chris Grataski, has included a significant track of theological reflection and scripture study, facilitated by Sylvia Keesmaat and me (the three of us pictured above).
This morning the group of a dozen participants summarized seven principles/practices for reading the Bible with a permacultural sensibility, or what Kirsten Vander Giessen-Reitsma has dubbed "permaneutics":
- Pay attention to context, both of the text and of where we are reading from.
- Practice thoughtful and protracted observation of the text before jumping to interpretation.
- Respect each text as part of a larger story that is living and that we are invited to inhabit (not just use and exploit).
- Look for earth-patterns and agrarian aspects of scripture that have been ignored or under-valued in traditional approaches; once we look for them, we find they are everywhere!
- Focus on the real-world and actual geographic settings of biblical stories, which are inseparable from the meanings of the text ("re-placement"). Experiment with analogies between biblical landscapes and our own.
- Be sensitive to the "invisible webs" and "sub-surface complexities" that run throughout and interrelate the ecological texture of scripture.
- Understand that we are working on terrain that is disturbed and degraded--both that of we as readers (with our invasive preconceptions and ideologies) and that of scriptural texts (as the product of imperfect and conflicted communities of the past).
If we practice these approaches, and commit to returning repeatedly to our sacred stories to accept feedback and perspective--since they are older and wiser than we are--we can animate theology and practices of watershed discipleship that promote healing, regeneration and resiliency in our churches and in our world.
Way to go PDCers!
Last night I attended the ordination of our buddy Scott Claassen as a deacon ("servant") in the Episcopal Church (first step to being priested). What was lovely about the ceremony (presided over by old friend Bishop Jon Bruno) was that it took place at a laundromat.
Scott chose to have his ordination not in the insular confines of a chapel, but amidst the monthly "Laundry Love" ministry of his Thads congregation. For a few hours the laundromat is made available to homeless and street folk to come and do their washing for free (pictured above). Not the usual venue for solemn liturgy (especially for Episcopalians!). But the noisy chaos and awkward class mixing last night made it the most meaningful ordination I've been to.
As Thads priest Jimmy Bartz said in his poignant 1-minute sermon: "Remember Scott: Deacon first. Always deacon first."
Note: This blog post was written by Jeremy John, an activist for food justice, Huffpost blogger, and web developer who has recently been volunteering many hours to overhaul and update our BCM websites. You can support his KickStarter campaign to organize churches to overcome poor communities' access to health foods here.
I'm one not given to joy. I'm far more likely to escape from normal with a fantasy novel than I am to delight in the cutting of vegetables and the washing of dishes.
One of the joys of assessing manuscripts by new authors is discovering both a good story and a good storyteller. So it was a delight working with Gordon Oyer, a midwest Mennonite, on his book project documenting the historic retreat of pioneering peacemakers with Thomas Merton in the fall of 1964 (in photo above), which included A.J. Muste, J.H. Yoder, the Berrigan brothers, Jim Forest and others.
Three powerful faith traditions--Anabaptist peace ecclesiology, Catholic radicalism and Protestant political theology--converged for the first time at that legendary retreat at Merton's hermitage. The resulting synergy has fueled North American Christian activism ever since. Any of us who seek today to bear public witness to the gospel, justice and political imagination are truly “children” of that conversation a half a century ago; whenever we gather in a retreat setting to discern the times and our response, we are walking in their footsteps. Oyer has gifted us with a magnificent chronicle of that seminal eventin his forthcoming Pursuing The Spiritual Roots of Protest, now out from Cascade Books.
Two retreats around the book are being planned. The first is just two months away, and will be held at Kirkridge in PA. I urge you to check it out (share the Facebook page with your circles). Another is being planned for October 24-25 at the Merton Center in Louisville, KY. Please help spread the word!
It’s good to recognize milestones. First published by Orbis Books in 1988, a 20th anniversary edition of this commentary with new front matter was issued in 2008. It is still widely used in theological schools, but also is tackled by lay readers in study groups (despite the teasing I get for writing “such a long and difficult tome”). I am grateful that this study has had measurable impact on the seminary, sanctuary and streets alike. People often tell me that it changed their lives—three lovely notes I’ve received over the years are below—and I can honestly say that it changed mine as well. A quarter century later, I’m still trying to embody the discipleship vision of Mark’s gospel in my life and work.
Featuring scriptural reflection on a timely social justice theme.
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