The following is a guest blog post from freelance writer Mary Valle:
A friend, Christine Lorenz, posted this video on Facebook a few days ago:
It’s a short video taken in her yard on January 13, 2013. It was 68 degrees Farenheit in Pittsburgh and wolf spiderlings were running amok. Most years, wolf spider babies are not seen until spring. Upon seeing this video, I told my friend that I had seen a tulip blooming on New Year’s Day while standing and talking to a neighbor. I saw it over her shoulder and experienced a deep dissonance as I nervously kept looking over to make sure that the flower was really there, but was too upset to say anything about it. I didn’t want to believe it was true, but it was.
One of Christine’s friends said this about her video: “It seems to me that global warming is a global emergency. If too many extreme weather events hit too many parts of the country in succession, I don't see how we can survive. Yet it seems to be pretty damn far down the list of government priorities, and that's even with Obama's election to a second term. I just want to shake the whole lot of them.”
Yesterday, I participated in a “Pray-In” for the Climate at the White House on the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. There were a variety of faithful—Buddhist monks, Christians of various stripes, Quakers, Muslims, Jews, Native Americans and friends. I didn’t go looking for them but I spoke to a lot of Catholics of all ages. The 23-year-old Liz Haney, a second-year Jesuit Volunteer working at the Center for Concern expressed her concerns about climate change as a social justice issue. “Climate change is literally happening and there is a direct call to support those people who are affected the most—the poor, the migrant and the marginalized people who are not able to move or afford higher prices on basic things.” She also mentioned that displaced persons domestically and abroad—from Sandy and in the Phillippines and Indonesia—are of special concern.
Mary Liepold, a secular Franciscan and “Pax Christi Catholic” from Silver Spring, MD, told me that peace is inherently green, because “we live on a hungry planet where war eats first.”
I spoke with Jenny Clad, the former director of Al Gore’s Climate Change Project, who said that we need to get together and talk about this, regardless of affiliation, because the religious community as a whole is vast.
We walked from the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church to a spot in front of the White House, where more people spoke. Fr. Juan Carlos Ruiz spoke on behalf of Occupy Sandy, where he has seen the value of mutual aid since communities such as Red Hook and Staten Island are still waiting for government assistance. Allen Johnson, on behalf of Christians for the Mountains, brought a cross with a large lump of coal in its center and spoke of the obscenity of mountaintop removal.
I spoke with Patrick Carolan, the Executive Director of the Franciscan Action Network, who said that no one really got the Occupy story right since, from the very start in Zucotti Park, there was always a place set aside for prayer, and, as he traveled around the country, he prayed in a lot of Occupy camps. “There’s a whole spiritual element that people are missing,” he said.
A man, seemingly jumping off the pages of Life magazine in 1965—clad in overcoat, hat, white-haired, blue-eyed, briefcase toting—walked past, sneering. I heard him say, loudly, as he passed, “What a bunch of fools,” and then laugh, bitterly, in the manner of a cartoon villain. One of my homes in Baltimore came with a basement full of stuff including boxes of old issues of Life and the Saturday Evening Post from the 1960s. I remember being struck by the appearance and repetition of ads for things in the new category of “disposable.” One image that has stayed with me was a two-page spread featuring a photo of a man hucking a lighter off the Brooklyn Bridge with glee. Because it was “disposable.” I felt bad for the angry man, who was so furious at the sight of a small assembly of peaceful protesters. Loneliness can bear bitter fruit, I thought.
I told Mr. Carolan that I found the coverage of Occupy perplexing, as well, since it seemed to me that that sort of community is the thing that everyone actually wants.
“We’re social beings,” he said. “We want to be in communities.”
Our country has mobilized before to accomplish great things. If our houses of worship, which, as Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar noted in his talk, outnumber any other kind of institution in America, can begin the to seriously mobilize effort and drive influence upwards, we might have a chance. In a lot of ways, our lack of community might be the cause of many of the causes of climate change, because that basic lack of human cohesion leads to more consumerism and war—but community might just be the solution, too.
Those who were going to risk arrest stood on one side of a line, in front of the White House fence, as participants read the names of victims of Superstorm Sandy, and how they died. We were surrounded by police in cars and on horses, and I saw the would-be arrestees shivering. I can think of a million things that are foolish, but putting yourself on the line to call attention to humanity’s unchecked, self-destructive impulse is not one of them.