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November 29, 2017, Adrian, Michigan – In our time of ecological crisis, human beings are called to transform the way they view creation and to become more deeply connected to creation, one another, and themselves. This was the urgent message of a panel of speakers from the Center for Earth Ethics, who spoke at Weber Center November 27.
“The Vision: Sustained Well-Being of People and Planet,” was presented by Karenna Gore, Director of the Center for Earth Ethics; Geraldine Ann Patrick Encina, scholar-in-residence; and Mindahi Crescencio Bastida Muñoz, Director of the Center’s Original Caretakers Initiative. The talk was sponsored by the Adrian Dominican Sisters and Siena Heights University.
The Center for Earth Ethics, located at Union Theological Seminary in New York, works toward a vision of “a world where value is measured according to the sustained well-being of all people and our planet.” Its mission is carried out through four programs: Eco-ministry; Environmental Justice and Civic Engagement; Original Caretakers, supporting the learning from Indigenous peoples; and Sustainability and Global Affairs.
Sister Sharon Weber, OP, Vice President of Academic Affairs at Siena Heights University, facilitated the evening. She introduced Sister Anele Heiges, OP, a member of the Center for Earth Ethic’s Board, who invited the panel to speak on the Adrian Dominican campus. Sister Anele noted that the Center was begun in 2015 – a year before the Congregation’s General Chapter, which has called for the Congregation to “sacrifice to mitigate significantly our impact on climate change and ecological degradation.”
“We’re kind of beginning together to carry forward on what we said,” Sister Anele said. “The question that we’re all asking is, ‘Can we come to understand true systemic change and can we renew the original thinking of Earth and universe to get to a whole new way of being?’ We have to get there.”
Karenna picked up on that theme in her talk. She spoke of “moments in history where humanity faces moral crises, and there are prophetic voices and … people willing to put their whole lives on the line to listen to the call to what is moral and right. We at Union now feel that we’re in such a time.”
Many Americans are coming to a “greater realization” of how to protect the planet, while at the same time, Karenna said, “we are on a trajectory of deregulating pollution, of going in the opposite direction.” She noted that the United States is the only nation not signed onto the 2015 Paris Accord, which calls the nations to work to keep their carbon emissions low.
She praised science for the advancement it has brought to fighting disease and revealing the mysteries of the world, while also questioning the frequent separation of science from the spiritual component of life. This is especially ironic, Karenna said, since the loudest voices against climate change are “indigenous spiritual leaders and Western scientists.” Both groups often work against the current environmental degradation “from the same reverent observation, in some cases, of what is in the natural law.”
Karenna also addressed the apparent divide between Christianity and reverence for creation. She noted a 1967 article by Lynn White, “The Roots of our Ecological Crisis,” in which he noted that the major psychic revolution in history was the victory of Christianity over paganism. That brought about a “desacralization of the natural world,” Karenna said. Critics of Christianity, however, often overlook “the beautiful traditions of connectedness to nature” found in the teaching of Jesus; other areas of Scripture, such as Genesis; and Christian writings today, including Pope Francis’ recent encyclical, Laudato Sí.
Finally, Karenna noted the “economic development paradigm” that measures development from the perspective of monetary gain – and sees nature as property that can be used and even destroyed at the whim of those who believe they own it. But the world has to be valued in other ways as well, she said. In this time of the “sixth extinction,” with a great loss of biological diversity, she noted the significance not only of the larger mammals, such as elephants and whales, but of the many “tiny little bugs and species everywhere that are holding together this web of life” – and are very quickly going extinct.
Mindahi, a member of the Otomi-Toltec-Mexican original peoples, focused on the world’s need to reclaim the wisdom of the Indigenous cultures, many of whom are going extinct, just as animal species are. He noted that we in the 21st Century are not living better than our ancestors. This is especially true in large cities, where “the water we drink is not safe, the energy that we use is not clean, and the soil of the Earth is not green.”
“Actually, with science and technology, we are facing extinction,” Mindahi said. “What we need is reason. You need information. You need knowledge. But you need to know how to use that knowledge, so we need wisdom.” As original care-takers of Earth, he said, Indigenous peoples are “bringing this knowledge, this wisdom, for change in our world.”
Mindahi spoke of the role of Houses of Original Thinking to help people of today to recover wisdom and the ancient sense of connection to creation. Houses of Original Thinking offer places where people can gather to discuss the interconnection of humanity with the rest of creation and help in the transformation of human understanding of this connection.
“In Houses of Original Thinking, there’s a place for change,” Mindahi said. The harvest of these houses, he added, is for people to understand their connection to the place where they live or originated from. “In the place where you live, you need to know who were the people who lived there before,” he said. “We need to know the history of this place and the vocation of the place,” and not to use the land for a purpose for which it was not intended.
Geraldine reiterated the crisis of our times, describing it as a “civilization crisis, a planetary crisis, a global crisis, and a deep identity crisis,” especially for younger generations who do not live in the “original landscape and rooting place of [their] ancestors.” This crisis, she said, needs to be addressed from the psychological, emotional, bodily, family, and community point of view.
A scholar of archaeoastronomy and cultural astronomy, Geraldine spoke of her own experience of tracing, rebuilding, and remapping the landscapes she was studying. She recommended that people study the “ever-present” landscape of their place of origin, as well as changing factors, such as political and economic factors. “All of this ever-changing and ever-constant landscape can be analyzed to reintegrate your identity, to reintegrate not only yourself as a whole human being, but also as a member of your family and of your extended family and of the community as a whole,” she said.
This integration is as crucial to addressing the various crises of our times, Geraldine said. “As much as we can reintegrate ourselves and our stories and our collective identities and agencies and capacities, we’ll be able also to come together in a community that holds the wisdom and the knowledge and the way of life to respond to the challenges of our times.”
Feature photo: Sister Sharon Weber, OP, at podium, welcomes the audience to the Weber Center Auditorium. Listening are, from left, Karenna Gore and Sister Anele Heiges, OP.