Saturday, January 9, 2016

Laudato Si: Sunday Reflection #22... BOLD CULTURAL REVOLUTION, anyone?

Over the Christmas break, it was nice to have time to moodle about lighter topics than papal encyclicals. I also had some time to think about these weekly essays on Pope Francis' most important letter, Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home, and to realize what a worthwhile effort they are even though very few folks will ever read what I'm writing. The thing is, even a practitioner of Voluntary Simplicity like myself can become complacent over time, but I find that in rereading Pope Francis' call to action for the sake of our planet and throwing challenges out to my readers, I'm being stirred to action once again. It's all good!

On further reflection, the one thing I wish I could change is that this blog format doesn't really allow people to engage in discussion about what we read -- if only I could invite you all into my living room once a week to chat! But you're too spread out, so instead, I've adjusted some settings to make the comment section more reader friendly, and hope that some of you might be willing to share your thoughts or engage each other (and me) in discussion there, even if it means I end up with spam comments to wade through and delete. Please, feel free to click the Comment link at the bottom of this moodling if you have thoughts or ideas to share, and remember to play nice.

On to our reading for this week: Paragraphs 111-114 of Laudato Si, which can be accessed by clicking here and scrolling down. We'll start the year easy with only the last four paragraphs from the section, The Globalization of the Technocratic Paradigm.

It seems that Pope Francis and friends are calling us to recognize that technology has its good points, but that giving it complete power over the way we live, think, and act is a huge issue that our world needs to face. The two-pronged belief that technology is the answer to our planet's every issue and that technological convenience is essential to every part of our lives has brought us to a place where we are simply using technology's many different facets to entertain ourselves or in "a series of urgent and partial responses to the immediate problems of pollution, environmental decay and the depletion of natural resources" (paragraph 111).

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In this way, we are missing the Big Picture -- and too often dealing with the symptoms rather than the original disease that needs to be cured. What's required is "a distinctive way of looking at things, a way of thinking, policies, an educational programme, a lifestyle and a spirituality which together generate resistance to the assault of the technocratic paradigm" (paragraph 111). It's going to take more than scientists to get us out of the mess we're in. I think Franciscan Richard Rohr expresses it well in his quote (to the right).

It's become too easy for us to imagine that technology is running the world, but the last time I checked, it was still human beings who were in charge (though leaning heavily on processes that are more technological than humane). Pope Francis rightly notes that "We have the freedom needed to limit and direct technology; we can put it at the service of another type of progress, one which is healthier, more human, more social, more integral" (paragraph 112).

And I am hopeful that this will happen -- in fact, I am seeing it happening more and more. At the beginning of our family's journey into a life of less consumption and more meaning almost ten years ago, it felt as though we were constantly swimming against a tide of non-essential trends, fashions, possessions and experiences all designed to turn us into the shopaholics that marketers told us we should be for our happiness' sake. But in the last few years, the current seems to be shifting in our favour -- there's been a huge uptick in common sense -- and people are realizing that we can't buy happiness, but it can be found by owning less, living smaller, protecting the planet and enjoying a healthier, more balanced life. My oldest daughter and her friends' desire to ride their bikes everywhere rather than drive is just one example of this kind of thinking. The recent increases in vegetarianism and veganism can also be seen as another kind of rethinking of consumerism. And there are dozens of other examples! Slow food, small homes, permaculture, you-name-it!

I love these lines at the end of paragraph 112, which notes the awareness that is creeping into our world:
An authentic humanity, calling for a new synthesis, seems to dwell in the midst of our technological culture, almost unnoticed, like a mist seeping gently beneath a closed door. Will the promise last, in spite of everything, with all that is authentic rising up in stubborn resistance? 
Yes! I want to shout... But... Technology has offered humanity so many amazing gadgets and gizmos -- the "novelties" mentioned in paragraph 113 -- that we've become distracted from living lives of depth and meaning. The "constant flood of new products" are simply "new forms of escapism to help us endure the emptiness" because, in our distraction, we have forgotten how to deeply appreciate life in all its manifestations. Pope Francis and his encyclical team clearly ask that we get back to authenticity -- that we "refuse to resign ourselves to this [escapism], and continue to wonder about the purpose of life and meaning of everything."

Here is the beginning of the BOLD CULTURAL REVOLUTION (the Pope's words, my uppercase, sorry) that the world needs. It's gotten to the point where it seems we've become a bit blasé about all the technological and scientific wonders in our lives and have let science and technology (dare I say it?) take on God's saving role in the world. But the only saviour for this planet is the God of peace and justice who acts through us -- through our appreciation for creation's wonders and our efforts to improve the lives of every being on earth by reducing our consumption, sharing our riches, and cleaning up after ourselves.

The final line of paragraph 114 says it perfectly:
Nobody is suggesting a return to the Stone Age, but we do need to slow down and look at reality in a different way, to appropriate the positive and sustainable progress which has been made, but also to recover the values and great goals swept away by our unrestrained delusions of grandeur.
"Delusions of grandeur?! But I have no delusions of grandeur," I imagine we are all thinking (I know I am!) So here's the exercise for this week: let's read a short article about the poorest city in the world by clicking here, and note how many things are lacking in Monrovia, Liberia, for which we regularly forget to give thanks. Then let's think about the objects in our home that we'd be hard pressed to find in a home in Monrovia, where many labourers earn less than a dollar a day. And perhaps we can also consider those things that many of us feel entitled to in North America -- our vehicles, possessions, "toys," vacations...

We are blessed with so much, aren't we? Do we truly appreciate our blessings? Can we forget about delusions of grandeur that fill us with a sense of entitlement -- at least until all of creation is cared for? Can we live in harmony and solidarity with creation? Gratitude and the desire for justice for all are where BOLD CULTURAL REVOLUTION begins... and it only begins with us.

A prayer for our earth

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.


(A prayer for our earth and all quotations from Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home © Libreria Editrice Vaticana)

Next up: #23... A(nother) shot at Anthropocentrism

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