Pastoral Letter: Resources for a Nonviolent Social Justice-Environmental Movement

Dear wider church family,

I am preparing to introduce the Rev. Jim Antal and a Unitarian-Universalist climate event in Norwich tomorrow.  I will be co-leading a workshop with the Rev. Telos Whitfield of the Strafford UU church, talking about what local churches and communities can do and sharing what we have done together in Strafford.

I have begun compiling some resources for that workshop that I share below, but to put them in context, here is what I plan to say as I introduce Jim.

I had the honor of introducing Jim Antal in a similar setting ten months ago.  I was reading his book, Climate Church, Climate World, for the second time then.  I have since read it a third and returned to it often.

As I said last March, this is exactly the book that spiritual communities need, and that means it is exactly the book the world needs, because as Jim’s good friend, Gus Speth, points out, “The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation.”  Elsewhere Gus calls it “the rise of a new consciousness.”

Jim Antal’s book is a roadmap to help spiritual communities speed that cultural and spiritual transformation.  Jim could not have talked the talk we need if he had not walked the walk.  As Bill McKibben says in his introduction to Jim’s book, “As long as there has been a serious climate movement in the United States, Jim Antal has been at the forefront…. The world owes him a mighty thanks.”

That is what I said a year ago, but now I need both to praise Jim more highly and speak to our situation more urgently.  In the past year Jim has traveled tirelessly carrying his message around the country and he has been extraordinarily generous with his time locally. He continues to exude hope, encouragement and joy.  I feel overwhelming gratitude for his ongoing ministry and friendship.

Our urgent need of his work has increased. Over the past year we have learned that the crisis is already far worse than we thought and that we have less time than we thought to prevent the worst—eight years at most.

We have also learned that the people who are profiting from the climate crisis are not giving up, in fact they are fighting harder to do even more damage to the earth.  They and their supporters in the church and culture see themselves at war with any who try to stop them.  Scientific reports will not change them. Record-breaking floods and wildfires will not change them. The largest week of protest in the history of the world, seven million strong, will not change them.

As Bill McKibben wrote in his recent book, Falter, only a sustained, global nonviolent movement will have the power to bring the needed change.

Thich Nhat Hanh said the same thing in a 2013 interview.  He cited the tactics used by Gandhi, but insisted that this can be effective only if activists first deal with their own anger and fear.  Nhat Hanh said, “Gandhi… knew how to take care of himself during non-violent operations. He knew how to preserve energy because the struggle is long, so spiritual practice is very much needed in an attempt to help change society.”

Gandhi’s movement had three dimensions: the smallest is the best known, the strikes, fasts and marches, called Obstructive Program, or what Joanna Macy calls Holding Actions in her book Active Hope; Constructive Program, which Macy describes as creating new life-sustaining systems and practices, was where Gandhi’s movement expended most of its energy; but the third dimension was education, spiritual practice and personal transformation, working toward a shift of consciousness, and that was the heart and soul of the movement and happened every day.

Churches can help lead and equip people in all three of these dimensions.  We need to devote our energy toward creating this kind of movement for cultural and spiritual transformation in our communities today—one movement that brings together social justice and environmental causes, both by addressing the selfishness and greed that are behind them all and by creating solutions like the Green New Deal that embrace them all.

We do not have a moment to lose, so now I say even more strongly, Climate Church, Climate World is exactly the book that we need because this is all in there, and Jim Antal is the positive voice and visionary we need to help us repurpose our churches for this three-dimensional nonviolent struggle.  Let us listen to Jim and commit to work together with him without ceasing.  Thank you, Jim…

Resources (click to connect to them and please see the notes below that put these resources in the context of their usefulness):

  1. Holy Conversations: Strategic Planning as a Spiritual Practice for Congregations
  2. United Church of Strafford Future Directions Vision Statements
  3. Strafford Climate Emergency Resolution for Town Meeting
  4. Jim Antal’s Climate Church, Climate World
  5. Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone’s Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy
  6. The Coming Transformation: Values to Sustain Human and Natural Communities
  7. Gus Speth’s America the Possible
  8. Eknath Easwaran’s Gandhi the Man: How One Man Changed Himself to Change the World
  9. Michael N. Nagler’s The Search for a Nonviolent Future: A Promise of Peace for Ourselves, Our Families and Our World
  10. Michael N. Nagler’s The Nonviolence Handbook: A Guide for Practical Action
  11. Journey of the Universe Film and Book
  12. The Earth Charter
  13. Parliament of the World Religions Global Ethic (with its new 5th Directive)

Notes on Resources:

  1. This classic book by Gil Rendle and Alice Mann leads a congregation through the process of discerning its calling.  It is important for congregations to listen deeply to the Spirit and to have their actions arise out of a collective commitment to the calling they hear.
  2. This Future Directions Vision Statement came out of a simplified version of the Holy Conversations process.  It was passed unanimously and provided the clarity needed to engage boldly in work for peace, justice and the care of God’s creation.
  3. Out of the Future Directions work came a Fulfilling Our Vision committee. One of its first actions was to organize with the Strafford UU church a town-wide book group reading Jim Antal’s Climate Church, Climate World. Out of that book group the Strafford Climate Action Group formed, independent of the churches.  One of its first projects was drafting this resolution and collecting over 100 signatures to place it on the Town Meeting 2020 agenda.
  4. The single most important resource on this list.
  5. A hugely helpful, wise, comforting book for keeping active, hopeful and useful on the path to the Great Turning.  A remedy for burnout, terror or despair.  It describes the three stories we need to choose between and the three dimensions of work toward the Great Turning and so much more that we need.
  6. “This book emerged from a conference sponsored by the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies with the ambitious title: ‘Toward a New Consciousness: Creating a Society in Harmony with Nature.'”  That is the first sentence of the preface by editors Spephen R. Kellert and James Gustave Speth.  The first essay by Speth lays out a list of ingredients we need in order to change the consciousness of society: 1) awareness of calamity or the threat of one; 2. wise leaders; 3. a new narrative and positive vision being articulated; 4. one unified social justice and environmental movement; 5. effective social marketing; 6. a proliferation of models of a new way of living. Spiritual communities can help with all six of these, and we are uniquely qualified to promote a clear and consistent vision that spans all the social justice and environmental issues based on oneness, the Golden Rule and an ethic of compassion and love—an underlying vision of a new world as beautiful and possible. (See resource numbers 7, 11, 12 and 13 for this unifying vision.)
  7. Gus’s vision of that beautiful and possible new world, and his guidance on how to get there.
  8. An extremely inspiring and useful book.  Transformed people transform people and transform the world.  This reveals a side of Gandhi and his movement that is usually overlooked, and he would say it was the most essential ingredient.  This is what Thich Nhat Hanh was talking about above, the spiritual life needed to sustain a nonviolent movement.
  9. Another extremely inspiring and useful book that goes hand in hand with number 8.
  10. A short and expert guide by the author of the longer book in number 9.
  11. This brilliant new narrative of our collective human story is a crucial part of evolving consciousness toward a developmental level where our culture recognizes and honors universal oneness with all people, creatures and the earth itself.
  12. and 13. Two documents that provide the ethical rules and vision for a new just, peaceful and life-sustaining global civilization.  Together they provide all the foundation needed for a unified social justice-environmental nonviolent movement for change.  Many of the other resources in this list rest on this foundation.

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