I was in an arena with 500 United Church people. We were sitting in table groups. A First Nations woman was sharing her story about being taken from parents and home, separated from siblings, and put in a Residential School. She described the terrible food, the rough clothing and bedding, the strict rules and beatings, and the poor excuse for an education. The woman sitting beside me leaned over and said “I was in an orphanage in Toronto 60 years ago. It was just like she’s describing.”
It was then that it struck me. It wasn’t just Native children we treated that way. The Residential schools were simply a tool of Empire. It was part of a culture of power that treated women, children, and the underclass as fodder for the machine.
In fact, with those eyes, as we hear stories of First Nations assimilation, can we see how we’ve all been assimilated into the demands of Empire? North Americans have been slowly conditioned –not as quickly and drastically as Native peoples but just as surely - to be workers and consumers in a culture driven by an insatiable appetite for economic growth.
How else can we explain how our earth is being destroyed right under our eyes? We are either complacent about it – hoping Big Brother will deal with it. Or, if we are outraged, we jump in our cars, grab some fast food, and rush to attend another meeting about it. Our voices are lost in the din of a deafening demand for Progress. Empire has us by the short and curlies.
Jesus was an aboriginal. His story is the story of a people being assimilated by Empire. His teachings called people to detach themselves from the Machine and get grounded again in earthy ways.
How many generations has it been since your people were earth people? I’m the product of five generations of assimilation since my great grandfather worked the land in an agrarian community.
While we apologize to Native peoples – here and around the globe – perhaps we should also look at how all of us have had our grounding culture taken out from under us.
Bill Plotkin in “Nature and the Human Soul” (New World Library) compiles the wisdom of First Nations people from all cultures – including European first nations – and lifts up the rituals used to connect with the wisdom in the earth.
“… nature (including our own deeper nature; soul) has always provided and still provides the best template for human maturation.
Jesus put it this way “You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.” (Matthew 5: The Sermon on the Mount, from The Message)
Plotkin: “From our current egocentric societies (materialistic, anthropocentric, competition based, class stratified, violence prone, and unsustainable) to soulcentric ones (imaginative, ecocentric, cooperation based, just, compassionate, and sustainable)
Jesus: “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.”
Maude Barlow, Chair of the Council of Canadians, spoke in our church last Friday night. She spoke about two underpinning myths of this culture.
1. Empire’s myth of continual growth and progress “Science will Save us”
2. Empire’s myth of earth’s bottomless abundance
In her latest book “Blue Covenant: The Global Water Crisis and the Coming Battle for the Right to Water”(New Press). she details the signs of a planet where Empire rules.
n 1.1 billion people around the world have no access to clean drinking water.
n Half of the world’s hospital beds are occupied by people with an easily preventable waterborne disease. Dirty water contributes to 80% of all illness.
n In the last decade, the number of children killed by diarrhea exceeded the number of people killed in all armed conflicts since the Second World War.
n Every eight seconds, a child dies from drinking dirty water.
Check out www.RightToWater.ca
The culture of Empire steals what’s native in every child
n children are commodities
n women are commodities
n communities are commodities
n The earth is a commodity
All of us have been assimilated by the culture of Empire
n might makes right
(eg. Expropriation of Native lands)
n my consumption at the expense of your human rights
(eg. Clothing Sweatshops )
n my economic security at the expense of the earth’s rights
(eg. C.P.P investments in Private water Corporations)
I do however find hope in the work being done globally at the grassroots. There is a new culture emerging. It draws from our ancient cultures and is creating a new global earth-rooted culture. Roman Catholic Theologian Thomas Berry, steeped in First Nations wisdom, in his book “The Dream of the Earth” has called it “the Great Work”. A new cosmology – a new story – a new culture is emerging.
Eco-philosopher Joanna Macy coined the phrase “The Great Turning”. Economist David Korten in his book entitled “The Great Turning” calls the transition “from Empire to Earth Community”. It is every person’s responsibility and priviledge to contribute to this metamorphosis.
This generation will either be a part of the Great Turning or the Great Ending.
- a long excerpt from Plotkin’s “Nature and the Human Soul” sums it up -
“The Great Work cannot be completed as long as there are billions of people living a patho-adolescent lifestyle of conspicuous consumption – or aspiring to one – while billions of others live in abject poverty, or as long as there remains a majority of voter support for politicians (from either left or right) with patho-adolescent ambitions and agendas, or as long as we live within political and corporate systems that suppress all alternatives to the industrial growth of society.
As soon as enough people in contemporary societies progress beyond adolescence, the entire consumer-driven economy and egocentric lifestyle will implode. The adolescent society is actually quite unstable due to its incongruence with the primary patterns of living systems. The industrial growth society is simply incompatible with collective human maturity. No true adult wants to be a consumer, worker bee, tycoon, or soldier in an imperial war – and none would go through these motions if there were other options at hand. The enlivened soul and wild nature are deadly in industrial growth economies – and vice versa.”
I am hopeful about work being done internationally, through the United Nations to create a new Earth Charter.
n -laws to protect the rights of all species
n -laws to make water a global commons – it belongs to all people and all species and cannot be controlled by private interests
I heard a news report about a town where the annual migration of turtles took them across the highway at the edge of town. For years individuals have posted themselves there and carried turtles across to help them avoid the slaughter. Now, taxpayers have invested in a turtle underpass.
It is a sign of a the Great Turning. People adapting the highways of Empire to make room for a slower, lower journey. It makes me hopeful that you and I might also find a slower, lower road to travel.
“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.” Jesus – Matthew 5