Thursday, April 2, 2015

#142 Is life sacred?

Dear all,
    I can't express how excited I am to be witnessing the early signs of spring.  And what with the garden calling, and our son Tim and his partner and toddler back from Nicaragua and staying in our house, it's hard to remember to pay attention to the rest of my life!
    I'm also excited about  the possibilities of doing scary things together.  What could be more human than banding together to try things that test our skills and courage?  I'd just love to see that energy directed toward the really big and real challenges in our world, rather than made-up ones.  On that note, what I'm trying in this essay seems a little scarier than usual--but I'm on the lookout for other things as well, and other people to do them with.  I wish you the same!

Is life sacred?

One of our proudest accomplishments as an advanced technological society is our ever-advancing ability to save human lives.  When an individual life is at stake, especially in a medical situation, our willingness and our capacity to harness enormous resource to save that life is incredible.  There is much here to value.  Yet some distortions have crept into our attitude about life that have disturbing consequences in the long term.

As a species, we are under a delusion that we’ve broken free of the web that constrained all life before us.  We think we have changed the rules of the game, with a powerful new card that we can play forever.  In reality, what has enabled us to get to this point of technological and biomedical sophistication has been the ability to link advances in human knowledge with the abundant energy of fossil fuels. Our distant plant relatives, millions of years ago, were unknowingly creating with their dead bodies a legacy for the future, and our species discovered the buried treasure.

It was this legacy that has allowed us the luxury to take on our current attitudes. We have the knowledge and technological capacity to save damaged human lives and prolong fragile and old ones beyond what those who came before could dream of. In the process, we have come to see death as a defeat, as the ultimate affront in our quest to master our environment.  With such an attitude, life becomes a test: the longer we can prolong it, the greater our success.

It seems critical to acknowledge that such assumptions about life are supported by this one-time legacy, and that our free turns are running out.  Among our best gifts to the future may be a sturdier and more lasting vision of what is sacred about life, less fragility in the face of loss, and more willingness to ascribe sacredness to other life forms.

Families who have undergone terrible losses and found their way forward to a place of resilience can be models for a new normal.  Their strength and courage are our birthright. They have learned something that our overall culture is desperately in need of:  beloved life is lost, and we have the capacity to come out stronger for it.  Death is not a defeat.  Loss is something than can enrich the whole if we’re willing to love all out, and face the suffering head on.  Rather than being dependent on—or feeling entitled to—outside forces to fix or avoid hard things, we need to build up the courage to face them.

What if the frontiers of our evolution lie not in technical advances to prolong fragile human lives more successfully, but in better maintaining the health of the whole biosphere, in claiming all life as sacred?  And if all life is sacred, then death is part of what makes it possible. I think of the ancient trees that fall and nurture life on the forest floor.  I think of how we human beings are all made of recycled materials, all part of that same miraculous whole.

I believe there will have to come a time when we are more willing to let an individual human life go. What this means for decisions about prolonging any one life I can’t see clearly, but I would rather start having these hard conversations than pretend they’ll never have to happen.  Otherwise, it will continue to be the poor and the powerless—both human and non-human—whose lives become expendable by default.

With a shift away from a single-minded goal of prolonging human lives, we may find our concept of the sacred both expanded out to include the whole web of life and honed in to those moments when we are most fully alive. After all, what could be more sacred than the opportunity to connect, the opportunity to love and be loved, the opportunity to serve, the opportunity to appreciate the joys of life while we are here?

Imagine -- A new economy is possible!

Rolling Jubilee and Strike Debt

Strike Debt was launched on the one-year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street’s eviction from Zuccotti Park—with a fundraising effort for a new Rolling Jubilee.  Through accumulated donations of $700,000, they have now cancelled almost $32 million in debt.  Starting with medical debt, they moved on to student debt, using $100,000 to buy $4 million in privately-owned debt owed by more than 2,700 Everest College students.  Purchasing this debt from secondary markets for pennies on the dollar—just the way collection agencies do—they then simply canceled it.

Moving on from Rolling Jubilee, Strike Debt’s latest project is the Debt Collective, which aims to build collective power in the face of personal debt.  As we learn where our money goes, who is profiting from those payments, and who stands to lose when we don’t pay, we can work together to renegotiate our payments or even demand the cancellation of illegitimate debts.

Some things that have made me hopeful recently:

Prince Charles of England, whose recent speech in Kentucky raised penetrating questions about the economic and philosophical assumptions that have brought human civilization to our current showdown with the earth.

The capacity of cities to demonstrate pragmatism and lead the way in solving critical social problems, i.e., with immigration IDs, and increases in the minimum wage.

Rajendra Singh, who has been working to reestablish traditional water catchment systems in an arid state of northwestern India, and has brought an eco-system—and whole villages with it—back to life.

How my decision to say hello to everyone I sit next to on the trolley—and be open to more—has challenged my perception of myself, and opened up new connections and possibilities.

More resources

Recent posts on other web/blog sites:

In, Pamela Haines locates her family's homey DIY celebrations on a class spectrum of different connections to upward mobility.


Muscle Building for Peace and Justice; a Non-Violent Workout Routine for the 21st Century--an integration of much of my experience and thinking over the years:  (or just google the title), a website that I've contributed to often (check the archives), a home for all the parenting writing I've done over the past 20 years.  NOTE THE NEW URL. START: a way to study and work together with others to create a better world.

For earlier columns, go to  I'm currently posting at