Ecological and Social Justice at Christ Church Cathedral
Aiming to inform, to encourage, to inspire and to engage
Earth Day, April 22nd, 2020
IN a windowsill at the cathedral, a saw-whet owl, photographed by Jeffrey Mackie two years ago. The tiny owl’s presence in the middle of the city in the middle of the day highlights questions that many of us have been grappling with recently. Is wildlife in the city something to be celebrated or something to be feared? And more broadly, what does the health of the urban forest and its denizens have to do with social justice and human rights, here in Montreal, and around the world? These questions have become more pressing with the rise of COVID 19. The crisis is making it clearer than ever before that, it is time for us to wake up and take a hard look at what we are up to, as a nation and as a species. Nature is watching us.
Beginning a newsletter at this moment in history is like taking photographs from the window of a swiftly moving train. All the same, it has to be attempted, because social and ecological justice issues have a particular urgency in these alarming and turbulent times. This newsletter will attempt to cover some of the educational and advocacy initiatives undertaken at the cathedral, including those that will take place online. It will also provide some background information and discussion of current issues, links to relevant scientific articles and news items, and updates on the activities of other organizations with which we are affiliated. In addition, we will provide links to petitions from other organizations with which we share an urgent common cause.
Memorable Moments: During the Maundy Thursday Zoom service, while Jonathan sang the beautiful plainsong setting of Ubi Caritas, we watched a series of photos of love and compassion at work in the world. Among the people standing at a snowy rally the day after the early morning raid on the Wet’suwet’en; or the doctors and nurses heading to New York City on an airplane so they could help with Covid, making hearts with their hands; or responding to to a new refugee clampdown; or walking in the Climate March and the Pride parade, we recognised the familiar faces of cathedral clergy and parishioners. Gabrielle and Deborah and Jonathan arranged for us to follow up this meditation by writing Amnesty letters in support of those who have been arrested for acts of compassion. Deus ibi est.
In addition to the moments captured in those beautiful photographs, we would like to share one more. It is March 3rd, a Monday. The cathedral is almost empty, but a young mother and her six-year-old daughter have come in to light a candle. Their attention is attracted by the oasis by the font, and by the Boyd’s beautiful pledge tree. The mother reads and assents to the pledge, and shows her daughter how to hang little garlands of leaves on the tree. Unfortunately there are no longer seeds for the little girl to plant (as there had been on Nuit Blanche) but she is happy to continue greening the tree, while her mother watches the fountain in the font, examines the climate march placards that are buried in the foliage, and reads the message on Vivian’s banners, telling of living water springing up to everlasting life. She dips her finger in the water, and quietly makes the sign of the cross.
Placards from the Climate March on September 27th
🌏ur garden is on fire!🔥
Let’s stop pouring oil on the flames
Mon jardin, ce n’est pas un jardin
C’est la Neige
(Gilles Vigneault, 1966)
A Memorable Meeting. On March 8th, the Second Sunday in Lent, a group of twenty-some parishioners and friends met over lunch to listen to Michele Rattray Huish’s presentation, “Hope for Climate.” Michele’s message was cautiously optimistic. Drawing on her lifetime of experience at the UN, and the content of recent scientific reports, she assured her listeners that that it was not too late to avert ecological collapse. We now have the technology, she told us. And we still have the time – just barely.
Michele’s presentation was a call to hope, but it was also to repentance if ever there was one. If repentance means turning again, turning back, reversing our present course, then repentance is what we are called to do.
We need to turn back from:
- Destroying natural ecosystems for roads, parking lots, housing developments, pipelines
- Deforestation for lumber and paper products.
- Using fossil fuels (which means dramatically reducing air travel)
- Supporting large-scale “agro-biz”, especially the production of red meat and dairy products, and the importing of perishable foods by airplane
- Permitting trade in wild animals, especially internationally
We need to turn towards:
- Sustainable green energy technologies
- A guaranteed minimum income to tide people through the time of transition
- Justice for indigenous groups who act as guardians of their water and their land
- Focusing on what we need, rather than on what we want. Seeking joy from its true roots, our relationships, rather than from our possessions.
“We”, here, of course means all of us individually in the lifestyle choices that we make to reduce our footprint on the planet. But it also means our governments. These changes must be mandated – their scope is beyond individual control. The role of individuals, and of groups like ourselves, is to put pressure on governments, and to persuade other people to demand or at least to accept these urgent changes.
Michele laid out the data clearly. Unless we turn back from our present course, and turn back immediately, we are headed into a global nightmare that almost defies imagination. One feature of that nightmare will be new viruses, lured out of the rainforests and melting ice caps, and looking for new hosts: us.
Three days later, the World Health Organization declared COVID 19 a pandemic. A harbinger of things to come, requiring action now.
Responding to the COVID Crisis.
The courage, compassion and creativity of our clergy and corporation, organist and musicians, lay leaders and parishioners in responding to COVID crisis have been extraordinary. They have ensured continuing spiritual and pastoral support, through services or worship, virtual gatherings, and telephone support. The Social Service Society have been able to continue their end of the month Sunday lunch, in paper bag form. Communitas continues their remarkably effective work with prisoners and former prisoners at a time when prison populations are among the most vulnerable.
Internationally, through PWRDF and a matching programme offered by the federal government, the cathedral’s annual outreach donation was able to provide the All Mothers and Children Count programme with over $13, 000 in medical supplies and support at a time when they are very sorely needed. In keeping with our biodiversity theme, another, smaller donation was matched to provide $120 worth of seeds for our prayer partners in Tanzania, selected to increase biodiversity in crop production.
Our partners at Ten Thousand Villages are also working to ensure that farmers and artisans continue to have access to markets during this time of crisis. Although they focus on providing a living wage for producers, Ten Thousand Villages also supports sustainable, ecologically sensitive development. The Fair-Trade Boutique will, of course, be suspended until further notice, but we can continue to order our coffee, chocolate and other fairly traded staples online or support local shops who carry fairly traded products.
ESJAG, meanwhile, continues to focus on the ecological crisis as what Desmond Tutu recently called “the human rights challenge of our time.” No less than rising sea levels, no less than droughts or famines, COVID 19 offers as stark example of what is meant by ecological injustice. Humanity’s destruction of biodiversity creates the conditions for new viruses to emerge. And when they emerge, these viruses, like all the other effects of environmental degradation, disproportionately affect the vulnerable – older people, homeless people, people in fragile physical or emotional health, prisoners, refugees, impoverished, isolated or war-torn communities and nations already struggling with the effects of climate change. They also directly imperil the other living creatures with whom we share the earth, and on whom we depend for our own survival.
STEPS TOWARD A FAIRER AND GREENER WORLD: Every step we take as individuals towards a greener lifestyle is also a step towards a more just world, and a world in which pandemics may be less likely to recur. Some of these small, and not so small, steps were shared earlier in the year, during the St Francis Day evening for biodiversity. They included:
- creating a bee garden on the balcony,
- washing and reusing plastic bags,
- putting stranded earthworms back in the grass,
- inspiring your grandchildren to join the Climate protests, supporting the “stop shop” movement,
- darning old socks instead of binning them,
- moving towards plant-based protein sources, cutting down on meat and dairy
- buying locally and buying organic,
- giving up owning a car,
- forgoing a transatlantic plane trip,
- considering joining a community-supported agriculture programme such as that offered by Arlington Gardens ,who provided much of the produce for our Thanksgiving Sunday decorations.) (Shout outs also due to Lufa Farms, who donated bushels of local organic apples for Nuit Blanche, and to Westmount Florist, who lent us an entire oasis, and who will provide fairly traded flowers on request.)
More recently, in the context of this specific crisis, the Suzuki Foundation recommends:
- using hydrogen peroxide rather than bleach to disinfect home surfaces
- using Castile Soap, rather than detergent, for all washing needs.
All of these small acts are acts of ecological justice: they honour the creatures of the Earth, and they lessen the pace of biodiversity loss and climate change.
Advocacy and Transformation: It is extremely heartening that our outreach to the most vulnerable continues during this challenging time. It is a lifeline, and for many, a defense against despair. Jesus is incarnated in every act of love and kindness we extend to one another. (Thanks to Jan Jorgensen for that beautiful reminder.)
But there is also a different sort of work to do, in which everyone can be involved, even if we are confined to quarters. The 2013 Cathedral Social Justice Statement notes that “struggling against injustice goes beyond offering help to those in need: it means addressing the deep underlying causes of injustice, in order to transform the unjust structures” that promote exploitation and threaten the very survival of both the human and the wider Earth community.
One of the ways that we, as a cathedral, have been working for systemic change is through our support of Amnesty International. We invite you to read what Amnesty Canada has to say about COVID 19.
But we also urge you to connect the dots between the present pandemic and the need to protect those who protect the Earth.
Land Defenders under Attack: Through Amnesty International, we are receiving more and more appeals on behalf of water and land defenders, frequently indigenous, who face incarceration or death threats.
Amnesty is moving increasingly towards online petitions to respond to these crises, which makes it possible to continue our support despite our present restrictions. In many cases, pen and paper letters are also encouraged. Amnesty campaigns are effective. As a result of the Write for Rights campaign, for example, over 70% of those who received letters or cards are released from prison. To respond to Amnesty appeals, please go to Amnesty International Canada www.amnesty.ca and/or https://amnistie.ca .
Here are two petitions, as a place to begin. (Just click to connect to the petition and sign with another click online.)
Following up with the Wet’suwet’en: Less than two months ago, the Primate and Western Bishops issued a statement commending the Wet’suwet’en for their leadership and courage in defending the earth, “for all of us”. Recent studies have shown that indigenous groups’ traditional land management is at least as effective in protecting biodiversity as are specially designated wildlife preserves. (see the February issue of Scientific American for details.). But now that the Wet’suwet’en are no longer in the spotlight, the pipeline construction through their unceded land continues unimpeded.
The legal and ethical ramifications are discussed in a series of podcast interviews with the law professor who founded the Raven Trust Defense Fund.
Good news, though, at time of writing. In response to a deluge of petitions and phone calls, the federal government announced today (April 17) that they will create new, green-sector jobs by designating 1.7 billion dollars to clean up of the numerous “orphaned” and dangerous oil wells that have been abandoned in Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia. They have also allocated another 750 million to help companies deal with methane in the atmosphere.
In a webinar on the eve of this announcement, David Suzuki said he believed that if just three and a half percent of the Canadians became active advocates for the environment – writing letters, signing petitions, supporting advocacy organizations financially, and taking to the streets again as soon as we are able – the government would act. Today’s announcements seems to support this encouraging point of view. The recent report of the Montreal Diocesan Committee on the environment Suzuki’s call to action. More on that on at the end of this paper.
Liturgical Dance: Rosemary Cass-Beggs and the cathedral dancers had planned liturgical dances for Good Friday and for Earth Day. Both of these dances were based on indigenous approaches to healing of the earth. The actual dances will have to wait a while – perhaps until the Season of Creation, in September. In the meantime, we can ponder the prayer that inspired the Earth Dance.
Great Spirit Prayer
Oh, Great Spirit,
Whose voice I hear in the winds
and whose breath gives life to all the world.
Hear me! I need your strength and wisdom.
Let me walk in beauty, and make my eyes
ever hold the red and purple sunset.
Make my hands respect the things you have made
and my ears sharp to hear your voice.
Make me wise so that I may understand
the things you have taught my people.
Let me learn the lessons you have hidden
in every leaf and rock.
Help me remain calm and strong in the
face of all that comes towards me.
Help me find compassion without
empathy overwhelming me.
I seek strength, not to be greater than my brother,
but to fight my greatest enemy: myself.
Make me always ready to come to you
with clean hands and straight eyes.
So when life fades, as the fading sunset,
my spirit may come to you without shame.
– Translated by Lakota Sioux Chief Yellow Lark in 1887
Mini-Conference on Biodiversity. A conference planned for May 23rd, will probably take place via Zoom or on some other internet platform – sadly without the ecologically friendly lunch. More in next month’s newsletter. Save the date.
An outdoor activity for children: If you are a parent quarantined with small children, or a grandparent, talking with your children or grandchildren, on the phone or Skype or whatever you are using to communicate these days, here is an outdoor activity you might like to suggest. It comes from Niigaan Sinclair (son of Murray Sinclair, chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission), and it could not be more straightforward:
“Go outside. Say hello to everything that is alive.”
Good News from the Scientific Community
Living Waters: This report on the potential recovery of the oceans cannot be improved upon. New studies are showing that if we continue to follow new guidelines for protecting the oceans, marine life can be expected to recover in fifty years.
You can read the report in its entirety here .
Fresh Air: Marshall Burke, a professor in the Earth System Science department at Stanford calculated the reduction in air pollution in Southern China since the COVID crisis began. He found that, since travel restrictions began, the improved air quality has likely prevented twenty times more deaths than the virus has caused.
The writer emphasises repeatedly that he is NOT arguing that the virus is good for human health – but he does argue that air pollution remains by far the greater killer.
Honouring our Baptismal Commitment to “Respect, Sustain and Renew the Live of the Earth”. Former Primate Edward W Scott used to say that we are responsible to God at the level of the knowledge that is now available to us.
Looked at in this light, Burke’s finding is a rallying cry. We are having a real struggle with the COVID 19 virus – but we know how to cut down on air pollution caused by gasoline powered vehicles and industry.
As Archbishop Desmond Tutu put it in this video explaining the human rights dimension of the climate crisis, “We can no longer continue feeding our addiction to fossil fuels as if there was no tomorrow. Or there will beno tomorrow.”
This video is less than two minutes long. It is probably the most important thing in this newsletter.
A Final Note:
This little visitor was spotted – and heard – in Wallenberg Square last year just after Easter. Bright and beautiful as he is, the oriole’s anxiety and distress were evident as he flitted from windowpane to windowpane. The blossoms on which he depends had bloomed and withered a full week before he arrived. The out-of-sync-ness of things is one of the many, many disturbing aspects of the crisis we are now experiencing.
How to respond?
The best secular “to-do” list was compiled by Joanne Kerr, in an article thatI appeared on April 17th in the National Observer.
A specifically Christian, Anglican and local take on these same questions is to be found in the most recent report of the Montreal Diocesan committee on the environment began with this reminder that we live in a time when “business as usual will not do.” Click here to see what the alternative might look like. You will be encouraged and inspired.