By Beth Remmes
Thomas Berry writes, “It’s all a question of story. We are in trouble just now because we do not have a good story. We are in between stories. The old story, the account of how we fit into it, is no longer effective. Yet we have not learned the new story.”
The current story, that most people seem to operate in, is the Business as Usual story, where the goal is to maximize profits, at the expense of people and the planet. Faster, Busy and More are common mantras in this linear, power-over, extraction-based system built on the fallacy of unlimited growth.
Many scientists, scholars, and others waking up from the delusions of consumer-driven society often put much of their energy into detailing how Business as Usual is leading to the Great Unraveling, from dire predictions about the consequences of climate change to the economic and political instability that will inevitably follow. While it is crucial to detail the likely effects of our unsustainable way of life, when the story ends here, it often causes people to shut down, or dwell in dystopian scenarios. There are entire sections of bookstores and video streaming services devoted to dystopian novels and series.
Rev. Deborah Johnson and other spiritual leaders have observed that “Pain pushes, until vision pulls.” It seems that our collective pain is pushing us towards telling the story of the Great Unraveling, but what if we redirected that energy and used our moral imagination to tell the stories of the Great Turning? What if we…used our moral imagination to tell the stories of the Great Turning?
What if we…used our moral imagination to tell the stories of the Great Turning?
If Einstein is correct, and my imagination is my preview of life’s coming attractions, then I prefer to tell a new story, a story of a sustainable community, where people are in harmony with the earth and with each other:
Imagine waking up to natural light and bird songs flooding through the windows in your bedroom. Your home is modest, but it lovingly holds all the essentials and meaningful treasures that you have accumulated over the years. While you slept, the energy that your house collected from solar panels during the day kept the water warm for your shower, ran the appliances, and had surplus energy to store and give back to the main grid to help power the public utilities. Because your house is so energy efficient, it maintained a comfortable temperature while you slept.
The water from your shower goes into a grey-water system in your house, which supplies the toilets and is also used to water your garden, along with your rain barrels. You step outside and water your lovely garden with this reclaimed water and pick some ripe fruits for your breakfast, along with a few fresh eggs from your speckled heirloom chickens. Rather than a lawn, your land plot is filled with fruits, vegetables, native plants, and habitats for the butterflies and honeybees.
A block up from your house is one of the many community gathering areas, with playing fields, open-air markets, storefronts showcasing local goods, meandering woodland paths with fruit trees, and a beautiful stage which showcases anything and everything – from bluegrass to classical music, to dancing, storytelling, and art displays.
As you walk through the commons you pass by the co-housing units where the dwelling areas are private, but the extensive common facilities are shared by the multi-generational residents. It is not uncommon to see teenagers helping out their elderly neighbors after school, or families making dinner together while their children play safely together in the yard.
Just a bit further down the permeable roadway is the community center which is covered by a vertical garden, and houses a local bank, tool library, book exchange, repair-or-reinvent shop, farm-to-table restaurant, rental center for cars and bicycles, and an internet café where you can log into the community time bank and swap your carpentry skills for a friend’s accounting skills.
In this town there is a business-center hub, where people from various professions share office space, so that they are not isolated and have the benefits of office amenities, yet do not have to endure a long commute. The building is a zero-waste facility with a green roof, a courtyard, and small wind turbines and solar panels on the roof to generate electricity. Everything is reused, recycled, or composted. This hub is a center for learning, connecting, and sharing ideas using an open source methodology that promotes free redistribution and access to a product design and implementation. This office center is also home to one of the leading Biomimicry firms, which uses nature’s time-tested patterns and strategies to design a myriad of solutions, from more efficient flight to a glue that aids in the repair process of broken bones.
At night this community center offers a variety of lectures, films, debates, and music, which appeal to the diverse population in the area. At events like these, people celebrate their customs and traditions, but also realize that we are much more similar than we are different. People celebrate their customs and traditions, but also realize that we are much more similar than we are different.
For the people in this town who need to commute into the city center or another surrounding area, they can walk to the closest train station, where a clean, renewable energy train runs every ten minutes into town. Or they can use the extensive bike and walking trails which are the main arteries, linking neighborhoods together along the public transit system.
People celebrate their customs and traditions, but also realize that we are much more similar than we are different.
Many corporations have given way to member-owned cooperatives, business externalities are now part of the cost of doing business, and people and planet are just as important – if not more so- than profit.
While the laws of the community are fair, unbiased, and communicated clearly, there are unfortunately times when a law is broken. This community justice system is modeled after the Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand, where the community is involved in the process, and the intended outcome is repair. It is a restorative justice program which is designed to support offenders as they take responsibility and change their behavior, to empower the offenders’ families to play an important role in this process, and to address the victims’ needs. When needed, people also have access to what the Hawaiians call a pu‘uhonua, which is a sanctuary where those who break a taboo or rule can go for forgiveness and transformation.
In this community there is less of an emphasis on party politics, yet there is a thriving democracy, with engagement in local government and policies. The focus is primarily on creating a resilient infrastructure. Since the community produces the majority of its power, has reliable access to healthy organic food from its gardens and nearby producers, has a clean water source that maintains safe levels due to water conservation programs, and has mutually beneficial relationships with nearby communities, there is the sense that it would be able to recover from disruptions caused by climate change or global events.
Because of the abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables from a nearby biodynamic farm, a walking culture, and low stress-levels, due in part to a culture of community rather than consumption, people are generally healthier. But when a doctor’s care is necessary there is a publicly funded state-of-the art medical center close by, with a holistic approach to health care, including acupuncture, energy medicine, and a medicinal herb garden on the grounds.
Near the healthcare facility lies an interdenominational worship center. Various groups in the community use this space, and others nearby, to come together to mark major life events and celebrate their faith traditions. People respect each other’s beliefs and appreciate the freedom to explore their connection to the divine in the form that is most meaningful for them.
The last stop in our tour around town is the beautiful school campus. The buildings are LEED certified, and there are outdoor classrooms and permaculture gardens which supply the culinary arts program and cafeteria. In addition to the core courses and valuable life skills, students are taught non-violent communication, systems thinking, mindfulness and meditation, and how to be a responsible global citizen who advocates for human, animal, and environmental rights. This school encourages life-long learning by offering continuing education classes at night on wide array of topics. As we watch the children climbing on the playground that is made from reclaimed materials and recycled rubber, we see the light in their eyes that comes from being born into a community where they will never face discrimination based on their gender, race, or sexual orientation. They also know that they are free to pursue their gifts and cultivate their talents, without sacrificing prosperity, because they live in a place where they are valued and fulfilled by the simple pleasures in life. They live in a place where they are valued and fulfilled by the simple pleasures in life.
They live in a place where they are valued and fulfilled by the simple pleasures in life.
I encourage you to expand upon this vision of a peaceful, sustainable community and become a co-creator in our conscious evolution.
The way is long – let us go together
The way is difficult – let us help each other
The way is joyful – let us share it
The way is ours alone – let us go in love
The way grows before us – let us begin
~ Unknown Author
Editor’s note: In response to Beth’s call for stories to activate our moral imaginations, the editorial team of Deep Times welcomes more stories of the Great Turning, conveyed through essays, poems, articles and visual art.
Beth Remmes is a Facilitator for The Work That Reconnects, leader of the Earth Care Team at Unity Atlanta, a member of the Unity Worldwide Ministry Earth Care Team, is on the Board of Directors for Georgia Interfaith Power and Light, and co-founder of The Four Directions Fund.
Beth grew up in occupied traditional Haudenosaunee territory in upstate New York. Childhood experiences in nature camp and school exposed her to the indigenous wisdom of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy which resonated deeply with her and planted the seeds for a future that would become dedicated to helping to create a life-sustaining society. Her website is earthspiritaction.com
Thank you so much for this essay. It made my day. I was just speaking to a group of climate activists about the need to tell different stories … and to remember that the story of the world we’re working toward is so incredibly hopeful and inspiring. Your essay articulates this so well and I’m going to share it with them.
Thank you for a vision to sustain our deepest drawings and persistent longings.
This is wonderful! Let’s add a community art studio and we’re good to go! 🙂
This is a beautiful vision Beth. Thanks for creating and sharing it.
Beautiful! Thank you for taking the time to put this vision into writing. I so agree that where we place our focus creates our reality and so few people take time to really imagine a beautiful, positive alternative.
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