Category Archives: Sustaining Courageous Leadership

Inter-faith Courage on Martin Luther King Jr’s 84th Birthday

In Washington D.C. today, some will observe Martin Luther King’s Birthday by holding a “Pray-in for the Climate.”

It’s a fitting commemoration, because climate change is our most pressing moral challenge, just as racial inequality was for Dr. King.

And, like him, we are called to choose hope over despair and action over paralysis. Our children’s future depends on our courage today. Courage to demand principled leadership from our politicians. And courage to change our own lives.

Nearly 50 years ago in Birmingham, Alabama, King was jailed for taking part in a non-violent protest against segregation. White church leaders were harshly and openly critical.

Dr. King responded with clarity and courage. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” he wrote. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”

King’s appeal to a common humanity and his compelling image of a “single garment of destiny” apply with equal urgency to the challenge of climate change, and inequality — of wealth, of power, and still, very often, of race — remains at the heart of this challenge.

Our reckless use of fossil fuels overloads the atmosphere with carbon dioxide, disrupting the climate. It’s already causing catastrophic storms and droughts that kill tens of millions a year.

The devastation of Hurricane Sandy is still being felt in one of the richest, most powerful cities on Earth, just as last summer’s Midwest drought is driving up food prices this winter. Imagine how much more devastating such severe weather events are in Haiti or in sub-Saharan Africa.

Those suffering the most are the poor. They didn’t create the problem. They don’t take part in the profit.

In effect, they are giving up their security, their lands, in many cases their lives, so that others can become even richer.

To me, this sounds like slavery by another name.

Slavery represents an immoral economic system that harms many and profits few. Despoiling our common atmosphere with carbon dioxide is equally an immoral economic system that harms many and profits few.

Dr. King referred to the “manacles” of racial segregation and the “chains” of discrimination.  I make bold to suggest that he might respond in similar fashion today to the unequal burden of climate change borne by the poor.

This is a moment of choice. We must choose between a more just economic system, or carry on with morally bankrupt and unsustainable economies that enslave the poor and ultimately threaten human life everywhere.

Those whose wealth is tied to the current unjust system will resist fiercely and predict ruin — just as they did when confronted by challenges to slavery and discrimination. But the reality is that abolishing slavery and ending segregation led to periods of economic resurgence.

The matter is urgent. Justice could not come soon enough for slaves and their descendants, and the Earth’s life support system has a fast-approaching limit.

Those who gather in Washington today invite us to find the courage necessary for the urgency of this moment. A motley crew of young people, survivors of Hurricane Sandy, religious leaders and others will make a choice to take part. Let’s accept the invitation to be with them in spirit and in action, in our inescapable network of mutuality. How deep is our courage?

In the Communion of Struggle

This morning the wonderful poet Judy Brown sent me an amazing Denise Levertov poem entitled Beginners.

These words could not have arrived on a more poignant day.

As Hurricane Sandy furiously raps and rustles at my windows, I consider the poet’s words: “We have only begun to love the earth…”

Perhaps Sandy is trying to wake us up to a deeper love. Maybe today we will begin to find “the power that is in us if we would join our solitudes in the communion of struggle…”

David Roithkopf who blogs for Foreign Policy magazine writes of his hope that Sandy will end “the sad virtual silence” about climate change in the U.S. Presidential election, and refers to climate change as that “which amounts to nothing less than a planet-wide risk of the first order.”

Our neighbours of the Global South have lost loved ones to unprecedented weather events for some time. They recognize this as the consequence of global warming, caused largely by our northern greed, and they too have been waiting for us to awaken – to awaken to their pain and the need for us to make dramatic reductions in our greenhouse gas emissions.

Bill McKibben suggests that we start naming these unprecedented hurricanes and storms after oil companies. Not a bad idea, in my opinion – not to demonize the oil companies which are, after all, only meeting our demands; but rather to help us all name the truth of how we together must turn away from our high consumption of fossil fuels which is jeopardizing planetary life, including our own.

So I’m provoked by two questions which Levertov’s poem asks of me today, and maybe of you:
What power is in me which I can bring to the communion of struggle?
What is unfolding here that must complete its gesture?

May our responses, in prayer and action awaken us to what is in the bud.

Pushing Down

Last spring I was seduced by a fresh green shrub, waving in ocean breeze by the marine blue sea. Surrounded by my invited Clearness Committee* members, I was asked, “What colour will you be on the afternoon of August 18th?” (They knew that The United Church of Canada would install its 41st Moderator that morning, and I would start a new stage of life.)

There was such confidence in my voice as I declared: “A spring green against a sea blue. It will be a new season. It will not be autumn.”

So much for my confident predictions and memory lapses about how much soul is grounded in natural cycles and seasons! Yes, I’m smack dab in the middle of autumn, and it’s a far better place to be than I would have imagined.

Autumn is a season for going deep into the soil of experience and reflection; of preparation for a winter that will make way for fresh activity in spring. During my new, almost daily walks in Toronto’s High Park, I’m developing a friendship with centuries-old oaks. They’re teaching me a thing or two about these life-giving rhythms.

Water and nutrients are moving away from their leaves, into their stems, and down into their roots. No longer are they preoccupied with the feverish production of chlorophyll. Instead, sugars and amino acids are being produced, so a flow of sap will come when the time is right. Proteins are being stored in roots and inner bark to grow new spring leaves – eventually.

“I’m trying to push you down” my massage therapist tells me. According to her, the pace and inevitable stress of three years of constant motion – not to mention the effects of being in a car accident a few days after General Council – have me living too far away from my core, my roots. She and the trees are getting me to move in the right direction for this season.

As Moderator it was important for me to move from heart to head much of the time. In order to represent the church as fully as possible, I tried to use both the soul’s language of scripture and poetry and the head’s language of order and of reason.

Now, though, is my time to breathe deeply, to push down into the heart again, to read my journal entries and files from three busy years –and to notice the nourishment that’s rooted there to serve new growth in the next season.

Last week I spent five glorious days with other Courage & Renewal® facilitators. Our time together reminded me of the extraordinary blessings of being part of this community of deep spiritual and communal practice. Next week I’ll be engaged in ‘courage work’ again, co-facilitating with Fred Monteith and a full circle of retreatants at Five Oaks Centre. I feel richly blessed.

Discovering seeds of true self is one of autumn’s themes. Thomas Merton put it this way: “We can be ourselves, or not, as we please. We are at liberty to be real, or to be unreal. We may be true or false, the choice is ours…. But we cannot make these choices with impunity.”

As the writer of Ephesians puts it, “I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called… bearing with one another in love.”

May your autumn choices – and mine – reflect the seeds of our true selves and calling.**

* A Clearness Committee is a communal way of supporting an individual in discernment. It is a gift of practice from the Quaker community. Clearness Committees are normally incorporated within Courage & Renewal® retreats. I will be facilitating a number of these retreats in the months to come and will keep you posted. The first is at Five Oaks Centre, Oct. 22-24: in Sudbury Nov. 19-21; and at Tatamagouche Centre, Nov. 24-26.

**If you’re wondering where to find my earlier blog postings written in other seasons, they’re in the process of moving here from wondercafe and can still be found there as well.