Archive for May 2013

Poorer, poorer. Slower, slower. Smaller, smaller

Poorer, poorer. Slower, slower. Smaller, smaller

Those are radical words in our North American society today, no?

Here’s what Bob Sabbath wrote for Sojourners:

“Be anything you want. Be madmen, drunks, and bastards of every shape and form. But at all costs avoid one thing: success.”– Thomas Merton

Bob Sabath at Sojourners, 1976

Bob Sabath at Sojourners, 1976

As my extended family gathered around the Thanksgiving dinner table before the market crash in 2008, conversation with cousins flowed about friends making big money with technology start-ups: “more, more; faster, faster; bigger, bigger.”

A hail of laughter greeted me when I quietly muttered that my ambition was, “poorer, poorer; slower, slower; smaller, smaller.”

When Sojourners started in 1970, I was 23 years old. Seven young seminary students pooled $100 each and used an old typesetter that we rented for $25 a night above a noisy bar to print 20,000 copies of the first Post-American.

We took the bundles in our trucks and cars to student unions in college campuses across the country, and began collecting subscriptions in a shoebox kept in one of our rooms.

For more than a decade we lived with a common economic pot and allowed ourselves $5 a month for personal spending. The highest-paid staff person was a young woman from a neighborhood family who wanted an evening cleaning job.

We worshiped together twice a week and opened our homes to our neighbors. When our first son was born, we brought him home to a row house in Columbia Heights where we were living with 18 other people – including an African-American family and a Lakota couple with some of their extended family from the reservation in South Dakota.

You had to be a bit crazy to be in the early community. And yes, we were poor. And we were small.

We tried to slow down. I tacked to my office door Thomas Merton’s warning to social activists about the violence of overwork:

“To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects … is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism … kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”

To stay alive, we needed prophet, pastor, and monk.

On our best days these three energies were at least on speaking terms with each other. But like every other community that I know, most of the time we majored in one, minored in a second, and had a hard time with the third.

For us, the outer journey of prophetic ministry was our major. The journey together in community was our minor. And the inner journey was our blind spot. We did not know how to be silent, or still, or slow. And so, like most young communities, we often could not see our own inner contradictions and arrogance, our own excesses and extremes.

Now, 40 years later, Sojourners has grown up. We are not poor, or small, or slow. We have a large budget with many full time staff. For better or worse, Sojourners has become an “institution” with the necessities of policies, procedures, protocols, precedents, and concerns about hiring and firing, supervision and management, promotions and salaries, lawsuits and litigation.

Some might say Sojourners is now a “success.” We certainly have a bigger public microphone than we did in the past, and the message of faith-in-action that we have been pushing for 40 years seems to be taking root.

It all boils down to this: Poorer, slower, smaller may be necessary for the inner journey, but it is not a very good business plan.

In Falling Upward, Richard Rohr talks about the journey of descent that characterizes “second-half-of-life” spirituality. He reminds us that institutions by nature are “first-half-of-life structures” that “must and will be concerned with identity, boundaries, self-maintenance, self-perpetuation and self-congratulation.” He goes on to caution against false expectations:

“Don’t expect or demand from groups what they usually cannot give. Doing so will make you needlessly angry and reactionary.”

In Bill Plotkin’s model of the eight stages of human development in Nature and the Human Soul, institutions can, at most, be stage four, which in his view is still an adolescent level. In his opinion, only 15 percent of Americans have crossed into mature, initiated adulthood, and in general we are stuck in a pathological-adolescent culture that lacks the wisdom of initiated men and women elders.

An institution’s job is to encase the renewal insight in a preserving shell that can carry the renewal seed to a future generation — and not to die to their organizational identity, which is required to begin Plotkin’s stage five.

If we are lucky, we outgrow the organizations that we ourselves give birth to and become “joyfully disillusioned” with the very institutions that we help to create. And if we are wise, some of us will grow by staying within the very organizations that we ourselves have outgrown.

The tension of this seeming contradiction is the transformational stew of new possibilities, both for the individual who stays and for the organization. We should not expect the institution to be more that it can be.

In some ways we no longer “believe” in the organization, but we do pin our hopes to the renewal energy that birthed it, and keep letting that spirit renew us. Then we can stand in the midst of organizational disappointments and betrayals, of silliness and pettiness. Broken dreams and relationships do not need to destroy us. Instead, with consciously applied inner work, they can become small doors that lead to greater wholeness.

It takes a contemplative mind to see one’s own inner contradictions, the failures and inherent betrayals within our own lives and the institutions that we help to create. Those who take this journey of descent into their own sacred wound understand that what is flawed in them is somehow intimately connected to the unique gift that they have to offer to a broken world.

Shadow work becomes a necessary spiritual discipline. Seeing in themselves what they dislike in the other, they learn to be gentle and kind.

They delight in vulnerability and weakness, and believe that the wisdom that comes from their mistakes and failures is worth passing on to younger communities and movements.

Bob Sabath is Director of Web and Digital Technology and one of the founders of Sojourners. He now lives with his wife Jackie at the Rolling Ridge Study Retreat Community in West Virginia, where he offers spiritual direction and wilderness retreats. He delights in teaching his grandchildren to introduce him as: “my grandpa: he can do everything – except the one thing necessary.” Bob wants everyone to know that he is still a mess, but at least he knows it.

Editor’s NoteThese reflections were birthed by a three-day desert journey in Arizona where Bob lived with Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem, “The Man Watching.” You can read the poem and listen to his son Peter’s musical rendition HERE.


Posted May 22, 2013 by allanbaker in Christian Faith

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Good news from Alternatives Journal

Alternatives Journal bills itself as “Canada’s Environmental Voice”. I have discovered that it is worthwhile checking out their website, which is available at:

Here is a “good news story” that Alternatives Journal has published:

Photo © Christopher Meder –

Ontario’s Crown forests are expected to remain a net source of carbon emissions for the next three decades, according to the latest forestry report from the Ministry of Natural Resources.

The latest State of Ontario’s Forests report released January 3, 2013 – the third issued by the government, this one covering the fiscal years 2004 to 2008 – found that Ontario’s Crown forests will remain a carbon source until at least 2040 largely because of deforestation and decomposition of deceased and aging trees.

After 2040, changes to forest structure will see them become carbon sinks until 2100.

For the full story go to:

Who owns the Spirit?

My friend, Ted Schmidt, a prophet in the Roman Catholic faith tradition, posted this commentary about Pentecost:

Who owns the Spirit?


Pentecost—50 days after Easter.

It would be interesting to hear homilies in our churches on this day.

Was the Spirit absent from the world before Jesus? Hardly. The Holy One has been at work right from the beginning. The life force has been working within all of creation forever. It was this deep intuition, in the scripture it is called “kingdom” or basileia in the language of the New Testament, this felt reality which brought Jesus. He was hardly the first to be so touched. There have been other avatars.  Christians believe of course that his response was the fullest, a breakthrough moment in history. Ernst Troeltsch said this: “Jesus did not bring the kingdom, the kingdom brought Jesus” and it is bringing us—if we are open to its dynamism, creativity, relationality. One needs an evolutionary perspective to come close to understanding this.

We fumble with language, metaphor, ways of expressing this. Biblical words like Advocate and Comforter are not helpful.

So what did we hear in our churches? I don’t know. My hope is that we might first grasp the  Johannine wisdom that “the Spirit blows where it wills.” The Catholic Church has no exclusive claim to this. We all know people of no religion who exhibit Spirit like qualities and committed energy to justice and the common good to cosmic and global sustainability. They are vehicles of the holy energy.The kingdom has come close in these people.

World Social Forum

World Council of Churches addresses mining issues 

at the World Social Forum 2013

Source: Sahat Doloksaribu

The WCC participated in the World Social Forum held at the El Manar University in Tunis from 26 to 30 March 2013, focusing on mining and other extractive industries which generate a tremendous social and ecological debt.

Together with civil society partners, the WCC organized a workshop entitled “From Eco-debt to Eco-justice: Mining, Reparations and Defending the Global Commons.”

During the workshop, Nicolas Sersiron from the Committee for the Abolition of Third World Debt or CADTM in France discussed the links between financial debt and extractivism: debt is forcing countries in the South, and more recently and increasingly in the North, to pursue an ecologically destructive development path based on the extraction and exploitation of natural resources.

Father Dario Bossi (Brazil), from Justiça nos Trilhos and the International Network of People Affected by Vale Mining, pointed out that in many communities, mining is being made out as the only way to survive despite its terrible ecological costs, namely, deforestation, contamination of water sources, air pollution and climate change – all of which threaten the well-being, health and lives of human and other living beings, present and future. He stressed that, increasingly, the state has failed to protect human rights as well as the rights of nature.

Rev. Suzanne Matale, representing the Christian Council of Zambia and the Economic Justice Network of the Fellowship of Christian Councils in Southern Africa, called on churches to deepen community organization, research and advocacy on mining activities in their countries and regions.

Carmencita Karagdag (Philippines), coordinator of Peace for Life, highlighted the criminalization of people’s movements protecting ecology: in the last two years alone, nine ecological defenders, including indigenous leaders and church workers, have been killed for their resistance against large-scale mining in the Philippines.

Antonio Tricarico (Italy) from Re-common pointed out that reparations for ecological debt such as those accrued from mining cannot be reduced to monetary compensation, especially given the massive human rights violations involved.

Finally, Delphine Ortega (Spain) from the Observatory of Debt from Globalization proposed the use of mapping as an important tool to document as well as build critical awareness on mining and extractivism.


WSF Extractives Assembly calls for “Global Frackdown Day”

on 19 October 2013

An assembly of civil society organisations and movements working on issues around mining and extractivism was convened on the last day of the WSF. It addressed the collusion between state and extractive industries within weak regulatory frameworks leading to significant tax losses, capital flight, massive displacement, and large-scale land-grabbing for mining, oil extraction, plantations and mega-dams.

As one of the opening speakers, Athena Peralta of the WCC-Poverty, Wealth and Ecology Project, emphasized widening socio-economic inequalities in and the intensifying militarization of mining zones. She also stressed how mining and extractive activities, accompanied by heightened militarism and myriad ecological consequences, have a disproportionately heavy cost on women in the communities.

The political declaration observes, among other things, that:  “International financial institutions are encouraging extractivism as the major engine to fuel economic growth.  On the back of the financial crisis, financiers and investment bodies are looking for new areas for profitable investment, mainly financialized forms of profit making, with natural resource extraction representing a site for rapid and substantial accumulation.”

As a joint action, the assembly agreed to hold a “Global Frackdown Day” on 19 October 2013 against mining and extractivism as a destructive model of development. Organizations and movements present also agreed to conduct a mapping exercise of sites of major mining and extractive operations and people’s resistance against such activities.

Justice and Faith

Oikotree Global Forum affirms that “justice is at the heart of faith”

Source: Council for World Mission

Churches are partnering with people’s organizations and movements in order to promote justice and life under the Oikotree movement. Sponsored by the WCC, World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Council for World Mission, the Oikotree Global Forum held in Johannesburg, South Africa, from 03 to 08 March 2013, brought together around 70 representatives from churches, ecumenical organizations and people’s movements to discuss critical and common concerns for joint action.

The gathering emphasized the need to step up ecumenical support for Indian people’s struggles against POSCO. POSCO is a US-South Korean company that is planning to build a multi-billion dollar steel and port project in the state of Orissa. Despite the lack of an environmental clearance, the local government is proceeding with the forceful acquisition of land for the project.  The steel mill and port will displace at least 22,000 farmers, adversely affect the livelihoods of 20,000 fisher folk, generate a water crisis in the area, harm already threatened animal species, and deplete forests where adivasis or tribal people dwell and from which they derive sustenance.  Participants from India pointed out that communities opposing the steel mill are being criminalized. Leaders are being thrown into jail, protestors attacked by armed goons, and, on 2 March 2013, three resisters were killed in a bomb attack.

Building solidarity with the struggles of peoples in Palestine against occupation, Colombia and the Philippines against militarization, and Southern Africa against poverty and inequality  also were identified by the gathering as important areas for deepening common action.

As a “movement of movements,” Oikotree will focus theological reflection, education and awareness-building, networking, research and advocacy on land issues as an over-arching theme in the next two years.  Land brings together peoples’ struggles for socio-economic, ecological justice and their links with increased militarization.

The Oikotree movement will be participating and presenting the “Global Kairos Faith Stance,” a document in progress, at the upcoming WCC Assembly in Busan, which has the theme of “God of Life, lead us to Justice and Peace.”

Easter economics 5

“To define perpetual growth on a finite planet

as the sole measure of economic well-being

is to engage in a form of slow collective suicide.

Wade Davis in “The Wayfinders“, page 217

A participant in the economy of life

A participant in the economy of life

News that matters – South African perspective

Press Release: Concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere reach 400ppm

By  ⋅ May 13, 2013 ⋅ Post a comment

On the 10th of May 2013, the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii announced that the average CO2 concentration in the atmosphere crossed the threshold of 400ppm (parts per million). Atmospheric levels of CO2 have been steadily rising for 200 years, ever since the start of the Industrial Revolution.

The crossing of the 400ppm threshold is one of the last wake up calls we will get,” says Tristen Taylor, Project Coordinator at Earthlife Africa Johannesburg. “This threshold is quite sobering as we are more and more facing the fact that climate change will not be restricted to a rise in temperatures of 2° Celsius.” As South Africa is currently generating most of its electricity by burning coal, the country is a also major emitter of CO2 and heavily contributing to climate change.

hands-earthThe South African Department for Environmental Affairs acknowledges the accepted position that a temperatures should not rise above 2° Celsius in order to avoid catastrophic climate change. However, South Africa still relies heavily on the burning of fossil fuels and the government is planning to continue do so even in the medium term, or as Makoma Lekalakala, Programme Officer at Earthlife Africa Jhb, states:

We need to act now. We need to start shifting towards clean and renewable energy technology and drastically reduce emissions of greenhouse gases – otherwise we will bring our livelihoods even closer to collapse.

The poor are hit the hardest by the negative effects of climate change: disrupted water supplies and flash floods, longer and more intense heat waves and negative health impacts affecting employment opportunities as well as food security. Tristen Taylor states:

Instead of moving forward combining South Africa’s development agenda with the mitigation of climate change, the government still tries to address these as unassociated issues. Job creation and poverty eradication need to result from the mitigation of climate change – as green jobs in a sustainable and developing country. The costs of adapting to climate change are far greater than the costs of mitigating it.


Mauna Loa station has been monitoring CO2 levels since 1958. Each year, the recorded concentration of CO2 at Mauna Loa rises and falls in a sawtooth fashion, with the next year higher than the year before. The peak of the sawtooth typically comes in May. Check this link for the up-to-date weekly average CO2 at Mauna Loa.

Click here to download the press release.


Tristen Taylor
Project Coordinator, Earthlife Africa Johannesburg
Office: 011 339 3662
Cell: 084 250 2434
Email: tristen (at)

Makoma Lekalakala
Programme Officer, Earthlife Africa Johannesburg
Office: 011 339 3662
Cell: +27 82 682 9177
Email: makoma (at)

News that matters (2)

A headline in the New York Times reads:

“Heat-Trapping Gas Passes Milestone, Raising Fears”

Chris Stewart/Associated Press

The average carbon dioxide reading surpassed 400 parts per million at the research facility atop the Mauna Loa volcano on the island of Hawaii for the 24 hours that ended at 8 p.m. on Thursday.

Scientific instruments showed that the gas had reached an average daily level above 400 parts per million — just an odometer moment in one sense, but also a sobering reminder that decades of efforts to bring human-produced emissions under control are faltering.

The best available evidence suggests the amount of the gas in the air has not been this high for at least three million years, before humans evolved, and scientists believe the rise portends large changes in the climate and the level of the sea.

The full story is available at:

News that matters



  • On May 9th, for the first time ever, the world’s most important CO2 monitoring station recorded daily CO2 concentrations above 400 parts per million — the highest levels found on earth in over 5 million years.

    IMG_0679Already we’re seeing the deadly effects of climate change in the form of rising seas, wildfires and extreme weather of all kinds, and passing 400 PPM is an ominous sign of what might come next.

    The safe level of carbon dioxide in the atmostphere is 350 parts per million, but the only way to get there is to immediately transition the global economy away from fossil fuels and into into renewable energy, energy efficiency, and sustainable farming practices in all sectors (agriculture, transport, manufacturing, etc.).

    While the level fluctuates seasonally and varies across different latitudes, this is yet another sign that our dependence on fossil fuels is out of control.

    Bill McKibben
    Bill McKibben
    “We’re in new territory for human beings–it’s been millions of years since there’s been this much carbon in the atmosphere. The only question now is whether the relentless rise in carbon can be matched by a relentless rise in the activism necessary to stop it.”
    Dr. James Hansen
    Former NASA Climatologist
    “If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced … to at most 350 ppm.”
    Payal Parekh
    Coordinator, Global Power Shift
    Crossing the 400 ppm threshold is a somber reminder that we haven’t taken the action we need. Nevertheless there is good reason for hope — activists all across the globe are fighting the fossil fuel industry and demanding clean, just and affordable solutions to our energy needs. At Global Power Shift, a convergence in Istanbul this June, 500 mostly young climate activists from 135 countries will come together to plan a global strategy for change. Upon returning home they’ll escalate action and create the global power shift our world needs to push for 350 ppm.

    Deirdre Smith
    West Coast Fossil Free Organizer
    My grandmother said that we are always walking toward our goals or away from them. As we reach 400PPM I am thinking about her, and wondering which way the the Board of Trustees from any of the 40 fossil free campus campaigns I work with are walking. Perhaps, this will be the moment we decided to walk toward our common goals, to treat each moment as a chance to invest in our future. That’s what my grandmother would hope, that’s what I hope, that’s what students are fighting for now.

    For more information, contact