Communities Rising!

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Opening Remarks for ‘Communities Rising!’ Event – Dec. 28, 2016

by Randy Morris

Immediately after the election of Donald J. Trump to the presidency of the United States, many citizens began to organize in groups large and small to protest his ascension to power and consider strategic responses.  In the city of Seattle, a group of activists that first came together to protest the Iraq War in 2003 decided to reinvigorate their organizing efforts in order to confront the challenge of Trumpism.  They asked me if I would give a ten-minute talk to animate the conversation.  On the evening of December 28th, 2016, an overflow crowd that exceeded expectations gathered in a church sanctuary to begin a new chapter in the history of Communities Rising! (www.communitiesrisingus.org).  This is the talk I gave.  –Randy Morris

Thanks to Rick and Cecile and to all of you for responding to this call for Communities to Arise!  I have been asked to situate our activism work into a larger context and I am happy to do so by talking about three big ideas – the changing nature of our experience of time, this moment of time called ‘The Great Turning’, and the call of human destiny.

Time has become a burden instead of the compass it once was.  I want to suggest that this is because we are living at the end of time as we know it.  

First, the issue of time.  You may have noticed that in the span of your own lifetime, no matter your age, time seems to be constantly accelerating.  By the time we adjust to some new technology, something new comes along and we need to change our ways again.  At the same time, it seems that there is never enough time. Time has become a burden instead of the compass it once was.  I want to suggest that this is because we are living at the end of time as we know it.

If we imagine a time line with ‘now’ marked on it, we could look back and say that with the rise of Trumpism we are entering a new time, the likes of which we have never seen before.  But why stop there?  Looking back we could say that time has not been the same since 1950, when all the graphs of accelerating change – population increase, energy consumption, CO2 emission, to name a few – all transition from arithmetic progressions to geometric progressions.  For example, I was born in 1950 and am a member of the first generation to witness a doubling of the earth’s human population in one lifetime.  I may even live long enough to see it triple. Or maybe we need to go back to the 1840’s and the rise of the industrial age to see how that era is ending now.  Why is it ending?  Because it is completely unsustainable.  The earth’s resources cannot support unlimited growth.

But let’s keep going.There are many other turning points in time that are ending now – 1650 and the rise of science in the West, when a scientific experiment was described as ‘vexing Dame Nature in order to wring her secrets from her,’ thus embedding misogyny in the very foundations of the scientific enterprise.

There are many other turning points in time that are ending now – 1650 and the rise of science in the West, when a scientific experiment was described as ‘vexing Dame Nature in order to wring her secrets from her,’ thus embedding misogyny in the very foundations of the scientific enterprise.

Or 1492 and the beginning of the genocide of indigenous cultures in North America.  Heck, let’s go back to 500 BC and Axial Age, when Buddha and Lao Tse and Pythagoras are all exploring a new kind of reflective consciousness that is emerging simultaneously in all corners of the earth.  Or 10,000 years ago and the rise of agriculture, or 70,000 years ago when a volcanic eruption reduced the human population to a few thousand people, the last time the human species came as close as we are now to extinction.  In fact, let’s go back 67 million years when an asteroid hit the earth and ended the age of dinosaurs.  That was the last time we saw the same rate of the extinction of species that is happening right now on this blue-green jewel we call Earth.  

My point is this:  the rise of Trumpism seems so dire because it coincides with the last gasp of a series of ages that are all coming to an end.  The psychologist C. G. Jung calls this a Kairos time, a time of the “Changing of the Gods”.  The great Gaian Teacher Joanna Macy calls it the time of “The Great Turning” – the transition from a completely unsustainable, empire-based model of civilization to one based on earth community and sustainability.  About this period, the economist David Korten writes,

By what name will future generations know our time? Will they speak in anger and frustration of the time of the Great Unraveling, when profligate consumption exceeded Earth’s capacity to sustain and led to an accelerating wave of collapsing environmental systems, violent competition for what remained of the planet’s resources, and a dramatic dieback of the human population?  Or will they look back in joyful celebration on the time of the Great Turning, when their forebears embraced the higher-order potential of their human nature, turned crisis into opportunity, and learned to live in creative partnership with one another and earth?

This perspective of Deep Time — when we gather our human and more-than-human ancestors from the past and merge them in our moral imagination with the future beings who yearn to be born — reveals the true meaning of our gathering tonight.

It is useful to recall Joanna Macy’s teaching about the Great Turning.  She says there are three dimensions to the work of bringing about needed change.  The first moment is called ‘holding actions in defense of life on earth’.  These are the actions we typically associate with political activism – stop the clear-cutting, stop the global arms trade, stop the destruction of species, etc. etc.  It is heroic work and can save many things for the sustainable society to come, but by itself it is not enough to bring about that society.  

A second dimension is equally crucial, and that is ‘transforming the foundations of our common life’.  We need to understand the dynamics of corporate capitalism and generate new social structures and technological innovations through which to govern ourselves while protecting the grounds of our common life.  The goal is to demystify the workings of the Industrial Growth Society and design alternative structures to it.  

The third dimension is equally important: to develop spiritual and psychological resources for the changes that are coming, by shifting the way we see things and re-orienting our values to include an earth-centered ethic.  Joanna teaches that we cannot do this without first acknowledging the grief and pain we feel for the state of the earth.  By honoring that pain, we drop the illusion of our separate and isolated selves and begin to see the living tendrils that connect us to the Tree of Life, that ancient image of a mutual web of interdependence with each other and with the entire created order.  Re-discovering the meaning of “All Our Relations” is the antidote to Trumpism.

Our destiny as individuals who are attuned to the dynamics of this age is to become agents of a cultural transformation on a scale that has not been seen before.

The last idea I want to present is perhaps best articulated by the great Eco-theologian Thomas Berry.  He says that our current situation can be summarized in two statements.  First, “The glory of the human has become the desolation of the earth.” All of the incredible advances of human science, art and technology have led us to this place – a devastated planet.  But he doesn’t stop there.  He goes on to say, “And the desolation of the earth has become the destiny of the human”.  Our destiny as individuals who are attuned to the dynamics of this age is to become agents of a cultural transformation on a scale that has not been seen before.

It sounds grand, because it is.  For reasons that are shrouded in Mystery, we on this planet are alive at a time in which the fate of the human species dangles by a thin thread.  It is a time of great danger, but also of incredible opportunity.

Our task is to enter into these dark Mysteries and bend them toward Peace. As the Pachamama Alliance people say, we have the opportunity to live the most meaningful lives ever lived by human beings!  It requires the inner work of cultivating our imaginations and discerning our gifts, and the outer work of offering our gifts to the world with courage and love.  Armed with insight into the radical interdependence of all life on earth, and with a compassion that embraces the pain and suffering of all beings, we are ready to do the work of the Great Turning.  This is the larger, cosmic context of our work here tonight.  It can be summarized with these words:  Communities Arise In Defense of Life on Earth!!


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Randy Morris
, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus at Antioch University Seattle where he supervised the Spiritual Studies and Psychology programs in Liberal Studies.  Prior to that, he taught kids in Atlanta and Hiroshima, Japan for ten years. He continues to teach adjunct classes in depth psychology, dreamwork, mythology, ecospirituality, and ritual process.  His life-long interest is in personal and cultural initiation in preparation for the Great Turning.  He is President Emeritus for the non-profit Rite of Passage Journeys, where he served as a vision quest guide for many years.  He is an avid kayaker and music-maker and loves to sit by the waters and daydream.   

 

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