Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Mockery as Art & Rebellion

Nicholas Kristof, whose work is always brave and inspiring, wrote in his column in The New York Times on Sunday, April 17 about the creative use of mockery as a tool for rebellion. He described the Serbian youth movement, Otpor (resistance), which started with just a few members and eventually mobilized enough support to spearhead the downfall of Slobodan Milosevic.

Besides practicing non-violence, the young rebels rallied people to their cause by making fun of the despot who was universally feared and hated. One stunt was to put Milosevic's picture on a barrel and roll it down the street, inviting people to hit it with sticks.

After Otpor helped bring about the overthrow of Milosevic, they began holding seminars for other oppressed peoples, including several Egyptians, who went to Serbia to get ideas for their own recent revolution.

The use of humor as an antidote to fear, of wild creativity to fight rigid oppression, of singing and talking in public places to fight the rule of silence—these are important tactics, not just for overthrowing tyrants but for dealing with other regimes (corporate, industrial, political) in which we feel powerless, humiliated, and helpless.

Radical Joy for Hard Times confronts environmental assaults with beauty. This is not elite beauty, beauty made only by the recognizably talented, but beauty re-imagined by ordinary people. Expressing sorrow and compassion for a place in the moment, we use materials found at the wounded place to transform our relationship with the place. It's democratic, empowering, and creative.

I'm very interested in exploring how other Otpor tactics might work for the environment.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Highs and Lows with Dolphins

Last Sunday, the celebration of Earth Day at the Unitarian-Universalist Congregation of Binghamton, I gave a sermon called "Rebalancing Act," in which I reflected on different ways of thinking about the "balance of nature" under current global conditions. What prompted this subject was a memorable experience of witnessing dolphins swimming in the Gulf of Mexico last fall, just three months after BP capped its leaking well, and how we, the witnesses to their lovely, fluid play, responded.

I had flown to Louisiana for Gulf Coast Rising, a day of making beauty and generosity for the land and people affected by the BP oil spill. The event was sponsored by Radical Joy for Hard Times. A few of us met on the southern shore of Grand Isle, a long, narrow island south of the Louisiana mainland that, because of its vulnerable geography, stretched out from east to west in the Gulf, was particularly hard hit by the flowing oil.

There on the beach we could see rescue teams and vehicles cleaning up other beaches. But it was a beautiful fall day. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, gulls and pelicans flew overhead, and the water looked clean and clear. We made a labyrinth in the sand and filled it with birdseed. We were holding a ceremony just prior to walking the labyrinth for the first time when we noticed that a pod of bottlenose dolphins were swimming very close to the sea wall just a few feet away.

Immediately we left off the ceremony... or rather we went over to be with the dolphins, who seemed to have arrived just in time to participate in the ceremony. There were about ten to twelve of them not more than 15-20 feet out in the water. They were diving, arcing in the sunlit air, leaping and flashing. They were beautiful, and they exemplified playfulness, freedom, and fluid movement.

As we watched them, we were full of joy. And at the same time, we were full of sorrow, for we knew that these animals were living in a dangerous environment. Even though the water looked clean, we knew that the entire food chain, from microorganisms that ingested the oil and the dispersants that BP sprayed to break up the oil, all the way up to the fish and the dolphins themselves were toxic. We knew that the dolphins were at the top of that food chain. Our rapture in the moment was mixed with dread for the dolphins' future.

Joy and sorrow, rapture and dread: we stood in the balance, holding both. Perhaps receiving those two apparently contrary burdens and holding them both gently and mindfully, honoring the utter validity of both, will be our primary responsibility as we encounter ecological crises in the years to come.

(The photo above was taken that day. I didn't try to photograph the dolphins, because their presence at that moment seemed sacred and not to be "captured." However, that's the patch of water they visited. You can see the clean-up equipment in the distance.)