Awaken to Our Noblest Calling:

To Care for One Another and the Earth

Lester Brown says that saving civilization will take a massive mobilization at wartime speed.  My generation is the last to have lived during World War II.  I remember the mobilization vividly.  Food was rationed, car travel for pleasure was banned, automobile companies were prohibited from making cars and instead produced tanks and trucks.  The entire United States economy was turned around very quickly to produce the arms needed to defeat a brutal enemy.  What will it take now to galvanize us into action?

1.  An up front and personal threat prompts response.  J. W. Marriott has become a dedicated environmentalist because so many of his hotels are located on the shore.  A rise in sea level could destroy them all.  We act when we fear for the safety of something or someone we hold dear.  My wake up call occurred when a friend contracted skin cancer and felt she could no longer swim with me in the ocean.  The ozone layer, with its gaping hole, must be returned to health.  I wanted to find a way to help.

2.  A compelling vision and doable actions motivate us to get involved.  Dr. King’s dream that his four little children “will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character” plus the invitation to join him in Selma or the Poor People’s Campaign in Washington DC got many of us on our feet.  Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth flashed vivid footage of melting glaciers and devastated rain forests.  But, as yet, there has been no picture of a flourishing planet and people vivid enough to capture all our imaginations.  Take a minute to re-read the entire text of King’s speech.  That vision, crackling with brilliant cultural connections, is what is now needed for planet, poverty, peace and purpose.  Absent an international leader of stature who can articulate this for the world, each of us can frame a vision of the future that is compelling to us and back that up with action.

3.  Challenge gets us out of our seats.  Have you seen the World War II poster of Uncle Sam pointing his finger straight to your heart?  Eyes riveted he says, “We need YOU!!”  A challenge was issued:  Do your part for the war effort.  I remember pulling my wagon around the neighborhood and collecting tin cans to be converted into bullets.  At night Mom and Dad donned uniforms and went on the roof of Roosevelt School to spot enemy planes. Victory gardens were everywhere.  There was exuberance in the air – that we could pull together and win the war.   JFK’s “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country” ignited the imagination of thousands of young people who flocked to Washington to work for the government or traveled overseas with the Peace Corps.  Let’s give each other big demanding challenges to do what it takes to save the planet.  

4.  Campaigns multiply impact.  As a youngster, I had a Christmas wreath making business.  Posters were everywhere: “Buy Savings Bonds”.  For $17.50 I could purchase one bond which after ten years was redeemable for $25.00.  The national War Savings Bond program inspired thousands to put up money for the war effort.  All of us, young and old alike, were challenged to lend again and again for the duration of the war.  What would it look like if every church, temple, mosque, individual and family were mobilized to defeat the enemies of economic and environmental collapse?  How can we be challenged to act together, to give out of our excess but also to sacrifice?  What is the Big Ask we need to articulate to one another in this age?

5.  Noble actions call forth the nobility in us.  Why is it that the Sisters of Charity have astounding numbers of young women wanting to sign up when many other Catholic orders struggle to survive?  The picture of Mother Teresa, a tiny Yugoslavian woman tending the dying poor in the streets of Calcutta (now Kolkata), conveys in living color what selfless compassion is all about.  Pete Seeger built a sloop and convened sailing singalong parties to inspire and fund the cleanup of the Hudson River.  Less attention getting but equally important are the thousands who turn down the heat and wear woolies to keep warm, or the people who look out for elderly neighbors, or young parents who take in extra foster children.  These impressive actions inspire our call to care for one another and the planet.

6.  Great leaders spark sacrificial action.  Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his speeches and Fireside Chats gave direction and encouragement during World War II.  Today’s challenges require much more leadership than one person could give.  Fortunately our understanding of leadership is much richer than in the past.  Sure there is the general astride a great white horse leading the troops into battle.  But also there’s Rosa Parks, a little old lady, refusing to sit at the back of the bus.  All forms of leadership need to go into high gear: charismatic national leaders like Nelson Mandela and grassroots activists who pave the way; groups; individuals; youth and elders.  Also money, technology, industry and advertising provide leadership.  Leadership comes from all directions: top down; bottom up; middle; and sideways from unexpected sources.  We can’t wait for top leaders to give direction.  We need to make things happen ourselves and share widely what works.

7.  A compelling story illuminates our path.  Story shapes people and behavior.  The story of Manifest Destiny – that white Americans had some kind of divine right to occupy all territory from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans – propelled folks to follow the advice “Go West, young man.”  President Woodrow Wilson’s story of “making the world safe for democracy” triggered the creation of the United Nations and first attempts at global problem solving.  After 9/11 the story of “the war on terroism” unleashed wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In a talk given in December 2007, Bill Moyers called for a new American story: “It is that the promise of America leaves no on out.”  But more than an American story, we need a new global story to take us where we want to go.  That story has to be about Global Renaissance or any other name that better captures the dream of thriving beings on a healthy planet.  The story has to be that our generation saw and met the threat of planetary devastation and created an earth community of magnificently diverse cultures, peoples and natural creatures that found ways to thrive and enjoy one another as members of the same earth family.

Results We Can Expect: an awareness among people around the world that this is our finest hour, that we are fully committed and happy to be building a world that works for all.

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