A conversation aroused in my house about a week ago after my roommate watched the film, Bidder 70. She brought up that we can get comfortable marching in protests, joining in on sit-ins, and supporting boycotts. Tim DeChristopher, Bidder 70, took creative risks to slow down the process of oil and natural gas fracking that was going to take over some beautiful and untouched land in Utah. DeChristopher’s activity had him in conflict with the US government and after nearly two years in prison, he was released two months ago. Found in a similar situation are three non-violent anti-nuclear weapon protestors in Nevada. Their charges have been escalating from violations to breaking federal laws. Thus changing their prison sentences from 6 months to more than 15 years! Empires throughout the centuries have used tactics like this, cutting off the head of leaders, to put fear into others who have the same concerns for justice. Catherine Keller authored a beautiful text titled On the Mystery in which she describes uses of power in this way:
We are radically interdependent, we are unbearably vulnerable to each other. We are in each other’s power. But power does not mean dominance. Power is manifest concretely in the flow of influence, the flow of me into your experience, of you into mine, by which we consciously and unconsciously affect each other. We may define power as the energy of influence: so it can be human or inhuman, benign or destructive. Power is that process whereby causal influence has effect: whereby any being has its effect on another (80).
If power is neither inherently good or bad as Keller points out, how can we use our “energy of influence” to encourage good social and political change while those currently with more power use it for the sake of dominance and control? This question stumps me, but I do know that it must come from the bottom up rather than from the top. Those on the bottom struggle with what sociologists name interlocking oppressions. These oppressions look slightly different depending on what culture your located, but these are the people who have no power of influence because their voices are squashed by the powerful.
In the US, WASP (White Anglo Saxon Protestant) males still make up the majority of the rich and powerful. The breakdown of categories or traits that are dependent on oppression and power include: race, nationality, sexuality, gender, disability, and class. Of course, there can be several more factors that influence oppression, but these are much more systemic and prevalent ones in the US. Although, sociologists, rightly focus, on human persons in society, other oppressions exist beyond the person. These include the way that we treat animals, our earth-dwelling-fellows, and the Earth herself.
If Keller is right about the interconnectedness of all things, then this must be true for how we treat the Earth and other creatures. According to those who follow the changing climate of the Earth, those who will be most affected by melting ice and expanding oceans will not be the those in the US or China, but third world countries who do not aid in global warming. The ill effects of us overusing the Earth’s resources does not directly effect us, but “the least of these.” If this interrelatedness is found in oppressive structures then its opposite should be true. Mainly that structures of justice helps to lift up society in whatever way it is performed. Thus, if we start constructing a new path for justice where the Earth is treated with dignity and respect, then may be we can treat others in the same way. Leonardo Boff, a liberation theologian, poses an interesting connexion in Francis of Assissi: A Model for Human Liberation in the form of a story of Franciscan Spirituality.
On one occasion, Brother Bonaventure, the gardener of the friary at the Portiuncula, climbing Mount Subasio with a brother from a faraway country, was asked what Franciscan spirituality is. Brother Bonaventure, a simple and very spiritual man, in a sweet voice made more so by his Umbrian accent, responded: “Franciscan spirituality is Saint Francis. And who is Saint Francis? It is enough to utter his name and everyone knows who he is. Saint Francis was a man of God. And because he was a man of God, he always lived what is essential. And so he was simple, courteous, and gentle with everyone, just like God.”
Later in the afternoon, Brother Bonaventure and a new brother walk out in a nearby field.
The brother from the faraway country discovers some mulberries, green and ripe, and he tastes them. “Why do you take the green mulberries, Brother?” interrupts Brother Bonaventure. “Don’t you see that they suffer? Would you cut someone down in the prime of life? Only when they are older do they offer themselves gladly for our enjoyment” (3).
Our culture is not simple. We have layers upon layers of technology, myths perpetuated to keep our conscience clear. We’re over-militarized and undereducated. We cannot undo many of the mistakes that we have made here and around the world, but we can move forward to make sure that they never happen again. We can make sure that people are treated fairly at work in terms of wages and hours. That everyone should be treated with the great kindness and love. The Earth should not be polluted for items that are unnecessary anyway! We don’t need fracked water for the sake of job creation! Everything is interconnected! Let’s start acting like it.