“Religion is the basis of sustainability.” Interview with David Radcliff & Tom Benevento, New Community Project, Elgin, IL

Co-Presented by PlanetShifter.com Magazine & openmythsource.com

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Allison and the Caribou by David Radcliff

Allison is nine years old, but her people have lived in her part of the world for 10,000 years. So have the caribou. Do you know what a caribou is? It’s like a reindeer–except it doesn’t fly. Caribou live in cold areas of the world–like Alaska, where Allison lives–and travel in great herds, sometimes thousands of animals at a time.

Allison and her people, the Gwich’in tribe, live above the Arctic Circle where it gets down to 60 degrees below zero in the winter. (Find the Arctic Circle on the globe.) In fact, they go for weeks without seeing the sun in the winter. In the summertime, there are days when the sun never goes down. But every day, Allison’s family and others in the village eat caribou meat. It’s been the most important part of their diet for thousands of years. They also use other parts of the caribou to make clothing and tools.

In the spring, the caribou are on the move. They are on their way from their winter grazing lands to the far north–about as far as you can go without going right off the top of the world. They go up there to give birth to their babies. Why to they do this? Up there is a place called the coastal plain. It is a very large and very flat area. This is important for two reasons. This means the mother caribou can see a long ways and be on the lookout for bears that might be coming to try to catch the baby caribou. And because it is so flat, there is always a strong wind, and the wind helps keep the mosquitos off the caribou. Otherwise, every animal might have thousands of these insects on it–and that would be VERY uncomfortable–and even dangerous to the animal’s health.

One other thing about this area is that it has lots of vegetation – bushes and grasses that the caribou eat to stay strong and healthy. And they’ll soon need to be strong and healthy, because as soon as their calves are big enough, they start to travel south. They’ll go hundreds of miles to the place where they’ll stay during the winter.

That’s where Allison and the Gwich’in people come in. When the caribou pass by her village in the spring or fall, the hunters go out to meet them. In fact, the whole village goes out to meet them–men, women, and children. Some are hunting, some are scouting for caribou, others are cooking the meals and taking care of the camp. When they go back to the village, however, they need to bring back enough meat to feed their families for the whole year. Even though they really need the meet, they never hunt for the mothers and calves, but only for other caribou.

But lately there’s a problem. Bears and mosquitos and caribou aren’t the only thing on the coastal plain. Underneath the plain there’s also oil. And so people want to drill for the oil. Why is that? Yes, Americans use more oil that anybody else on earth. Every one of us will use about 18 barrels of this fuel every year. So we’re always looking for more—no matter where it is.

Companies have already drilled for oil in just about all of the rest of the coastal plain of Alaska, but now they want to go to the last place left–where the caribou give birth to their babies. The people of Allison’s village never go to hunt the caribou on the coastal plain—they see it as a very special place, and believe the caribou should be left alone there. Even if the people are very hungry, they won’t go there. But the oil companies don’t see it as a special place, just as another place to drill for oil. Allison and her family are worried that if this happens, it might upset the caribou. If it changes the way the caribou give birth, making them move to another place, or to a place where they are so protected against the bears, Allison and her family might not have enough caribou to eat.

In fact, their whole life would change, because so much of what they do every day is connected to the caribou. When Allison and her family go to church, they give thanks to God for the caribou, and for the beautiful place they call home. And they thank God for people like the Church of the Brethren, who is working with the Gwich’in people to save the caribou and the way of life Allison and her people have lived for 10,000 years. But they are worried about what might happen to the caribou. Wouldn’t you be? Is there anything we could do to help Allison not to be so worried?

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Interview with Tom & David by Willi –

Is a belief in God necessary to understand and counter global warming and other eco-crisis?

Of course not–and religion quite often stands in the way of countering these threats, with its focus on the afterlife or feelings that God will intervene. However, at NCP we see our faith as a key part of our impetus for dealing with these and other issues. We feel God is the God of all creation and of people everywhere, and calls us to responsibility for the wellness of all life. We also see Jesus as a radical social reformer/transformer, calling for peace with justice.

Can you tell us about any new stories and/or symbols that NCP has created or adopted to help the cause?

NCP is about creating the “beloved community” referred to by MLK. It is a realization that we are all a part of this and all have a level of brokenness with our lives and creation. This mutuality brings us together with forgiveness and love for healing and restoration. Our logo–the upside down globe–is our most potent visible symbol: a reminder that there is no “rightside up” when looking at Earth from space. In addition, it reminds us of the reversal of fortunes laid out by Jesus in the Beatitudes–blessed are the poor, the meek, the peacemakers.

Is sustainability like a new religion?

Religion is the basis of sustainability. The root word for religion is Lig or ligament, meaning that which binds us together. This is the foundation for sustainability-the building of and respect for relationships. While we don’t see sustainability as a “religion” per se, it is one of our most significant core values, whether speaking of sustainable human communities (people valued and able to express their full potential) or our larger biotic community. In a sense, if we aren’t sustainable in the long term with the earth, human life is not viable. What’s more basic/value-laden than that?

Here, alchemy is increasingly a process for positive change. What is alchemy to your group?

Inviting people to re-imagine life as about relationship and seeking deeper connections with self, God, neighbor, creation. We feel people have a deep longing for these things–a longing tapped into by the consumer culture–but also subverted and exploited by this culture, as it promises what it cannot deliver–happiness, friendship, meaning through things.

Are you creating new myths at NCP? Here are some our ours:

I suppose we are hoping to resurrect ancient myths–of a God of love, not vengeance; of a human family, rather than dispirit and warring human clans; of a deep connection with the planet, rather than an adversarial or indifferent engagement with it; of lives that have meaning as they express justice, love and peace, rather than the spurious pursuit of meaning down any of the many false paths offered by our society.

How do you believe the Earth came to be in such peril?

A combination of greed, corporate manipulation, political acquiescence, short-sightedness, technology-run-wild, loss of vision by religious and national leaders, gullibility by citizens. And the Earth’s own largess–we’ve been spoiled to this point, thinking the bounty was never-ending–now, if we open our eyes, we see this just ain’t so. But that’s hard for entitled US citizens to grasp/accept.

Can you discuss the connections between Christianity the impact of capitalism and consumerism?

The life of Jesus is anti-capitalistic and anti-consumeristic. He taught sharing of resources; delight in the natural world; wariness of accumulation; justice for the oppressed; finding meaning in loving others and God; always seeing people as ends, not means–none of these are the values of consumerism/capitalism. Christianity as a religion has too often embraced or tolerated the very things Jesus warned against.

Is permaculture the way back to Nature? God? Why?

Our understanding is that permaculture is the wisdom gained from ecosystems, native peoples and appropriate modern technologies. It connects us to a broader view of our place in the world and respects the wisdom of all life forms and interactions.

How do you assess potential partners? What are your key values?

Mmutual respect, shared goals, adequate resources to carry on a relationship, capable leadership, strong grassroots network

Connections –

David Radcliff
New Community Project
Dradcliff at newcommunityproject.org

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