In her July 31st Annual Sessions keynote, Cherice Bock explored the question “Will friends act in radical faithfulness?” with 78 Friends. She lifted up a range of ideas and possibilities for advocacy, emphasizing community-focused work that builds hubs of climate resilience.
Cherice is a Quaker Minister living in Newberg, Oregon, outside of Portland of Sierra Cascades Yearly Meeting, and a member of North Valley Friends Meeting. She holds a Master of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary. She is a Ph.D. candidate in Environmental Studies at Antioch University in New England. Cherice is an editor of Barclay Presses Illuminate. She’s also an editor of The Environmental Studies Journal, Whole Terrain.
How do we act?
Cherice talked about what it would look like for Friends to participate in and build up hubs of quiet positive climate resilience in collaboration with their communities. She shared a vision that had Friends connecting more deeply to the earth, grounding our every action in the spirit and ‘in the living water that runs deep’, sustaining us.
She reminded us that while there’s so much to be proud of in our heritage as Friends, it’s also important to recognize that there are many harmful parts of our American culture that have taken root in our lives and Quaker practices.
Micah 6:8 and John Woolman
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
— Micah 6:8
Queries for worship:
What do we as Friends require of each other? What is required of our Beloved Community, and how do we share our Light with the world, as it pertains to racial justice and climate justice?
What is my next faithful step in helping build a hub of climate resilience in my community?
There is a famous catchphrase – WWJD? – that stands for ‘What would Jesus Do?’
In her talk, Cherice reframed the question to ‘What would John Woolman do?’ A thinker and activist who was ahead of his time, John Woolman was putting the pieces together regarding racial justice, ecological concerns, and the economy back in the 18th century. While a key focus of his work was persuading Friends to address and remediate enslaved labor, Woolman’s life of simplicity could serve as a model for modern environmentalists. She asked Friends to consider, ‘What would John Woolman be doing in our own time?’.
Known for his outspokenness against slavery, Woolman lived out his convictions by not purchasing the products made by slave labor. He would not write up wills that included passing on enslaved people as property and refused to receive hospitality in homes where people were enslaved without leaving payment for the enslaved persons. He was also very concerned about what we would now call pollution and the overuse of natural resources. He spoke out against US economic systems that see people as property and create disposable resources.
Cherice emphasized the importance of fellowship and community as we work. She highlighted the fact that Woolman in all his work was probably lonely. She asked Friends to think about:
What if he’d had a community? What if the whole yearly meeting had heard and responded to the Spirit speaking through his calling? What if they had been willing to take the steps that it took to take the steps that he took, and to do so together in community? Can you imagine what that would have felt like, and what sort of impact they would have been able to make?
For Woolman, it took decades from when he first brought up his concern to his monthly meeting, to when the yearly meeting finally took a clear stand against slavery.
Ways to Build Hubs of Climate Resilience
Cherice raised different aspects of the necessary collective work to build a sustainable future. She said that anthropogenic climate change, racial justice, and other oppressions are connected to the power structures on which our society is built. Research shows that toxic waste and the presence of other polluting facilities are more consistently co-located with communities of color in the US more than any other me. And there is a multitude of ways of other ways that the impacts of climate change and environmental hazards disproportionately affect communities of color in the US as well as globally.
She said how important it is for us to shift our worldview toward a mutual aid model. In reality, none of us can survive on our own. We need other people to do jobs we don’t know how to do. We’re integrated members of an ecosystem, a community in which each member is important.
Cherice invited attenders to focus on a shift in worldview that requires us to move from individualism and competition to collaboration and sharing. When we work together, we can actually get to our goals better than when we try to we’ve tried to compete with one another.
She suggests that we work on building hubs of climate resilience in our meetings and in our communities. Maybe your meeting is a hub, or maybe your meeting joins in a community already working on climate resilience in your region.
Advocacy and Activism
Advocacy and activism go hand in hand. If we shift our own individual actions, it can make a small difference. But if we change the laws and policies governing our shared life that creates a bigger impact. You can write letters or emails, make phone calls to elected officials, meet with your legislators or work on community organizing to get people to vote or to contact their legislators about bills that would be beneficial for Environment climate reasons.
You can run for office yourself, or support and work for other candidates with strong climate justice priorities. When doing climate and environmental advocacy, it’s important to center the voices of people of color, people who are low income, and communities being most directly affected by the impacts of climate change or pollution. Environmental Justice recognizes the disproportionate impact of climate and environmental policy decisions and works to combat the problems of systemic racism that can unfortunately easily occur.
Greening meetinghouse buildings and grounds
You can partner with other faith communities or neighborhood organizations that are already doing good work. Meetings often have land buildings and a network of skills and relationships that can help build a stronger community that’s better able to withstand the challenges of the coming climate situation? What role might your meeting play in building up the resilience of your community versus spirit leading you personally and your meeting together? Take a moment to think and less than about your role and the role your meeting might play in your local community.
Community organizing: needs assessment, asset mapping, building neighborhood social capital
Each community will have its own needs and vulnerabilities and its own assets. You can find out what’s going on in your community already. You can do a survey have people engage in a needs assessment in your neighborhood, you can find out what other local groups are already doing, such as city governments, other faith communities, neighborhood groups, and so on. Pay particular attention to environmental concerns in your communities:
What impacts of climate change or environmental pollution are already happening?
How are these impacting communities of color or communities with less power in your region?
Then you can map your assets in your own meeting and in your community. There are many ways your meeting can utilize the land and buildings that are under your care in order to partner with the community. In all of this, it’s important to keep in mind the difference between charity and mutual aid.
Climate disaster preparedness and response
Another way faith communities could be involved in building hubs of climate resilience or in disaster preparedness is if neighborhoods are already looking to your faith community space as a safe place that’s available for community use. Offering a gathering space for people displaced by climate and other disasters can be really helpful. And this will happen more as we have stronger storms, heatwaves, floods, fires, and other climate-related emergencies. You could prepare your meeting houses to host those displaced and those needing a safe space during a disaster. You can work to build good awareness of these services before a disaster so that at the moment, it’s known that people can congregate in that designated space.
Practice of Hope
Cherice talked about how to hold on to hope in the midst of all the grief and shame and fear of this time:
Hope requires us to be realistic enough to be able to understand reality as it is. And there has to be a possibility that the thing we hope for can happen.
She said that it’s important to visualize what we hope for and to be able to imagine a variety of pathways that can get us there. It is easier to hope when we’re engaged as a community when we have a community to journey with who can hold our hope when we aren’t feeling hopeful. We should also celebrate hope.
All of this is really important as we practice hope in relation to climate justice. Sometimes it feels so daunting, we feel paralyzed. But hope happens when we take a step. And then we take another step in the direction of our hoped-for future happens when we act within and alongside a supportive community.
Cherice offered three suggestions to engage this work with others and think of it as a spiritual practice:
- Engage in your environmental and climate actions as spiritual practices with a community.
- Go where the spirit is at work, even if it’s not a place where you’re currently comfortable.
- Incorporate rest as an environmental action that you do as a spiritual practice.
Watch the Keynote
Featured photograph: Julia Volk on Pexels