Radical Hope Today

There have been a few times when praying and studying have crystallized a vision from what had been disconnected thoughts and ideas. I like the visual of “connecting the dots”.

About forty years ago an image of my beloved Rocky Mountains hidden in a cloud of smog crystallized my unease with the idea of a nation of automobiles, and made it clear I could not own a car myself. I remember feeling a little apprehensive about how to make that work, but everything needed to do so came about effortlessly in its own time, often illuminated by the Inner Light (i.e. by the Spirit).

I’ve been learning about the idea of cultural shift recently. Looking back, being led to live without a car represented a cultural shift for me. I felt I had moved from a “car” culture, to a “no car” culture. That cultural divide likely contributed to my inability to convince anyone in the “car” culture to give up their automobile.

Part of being in the “no car” culture made me sensitive to the environmental impacts of fossil fuel mining and use. Every time I looked at cars, that triggered, again, the vision of our world enveloped in smog and all the other harmful effects of greenhouse gases. But catalytic converters hid the toxic exhaust from those in the “car” culture. And people did not like being reminded of that.

For decades there were few signs of the damage being done to Mother Earth. The ocean waters helped compensate by absorbing huge amounts of carbon dioxide. One cost of that was increasingly acid water which destroyed coral reefs and dissolved the calcium shells of much sea life.

The many harmful effects of increasing greenhouse gases are becoming increasingly apparent. We can no longer ignore the damage being done. Even if our social, economic and political systems were working well, they can not for much longer. They are being overwhelmed by climate chaos, which is rapidly worsening. Increasingly frequent and severe storms, flooding, precipitation, drought, heat and fires are already causing more damage and disruption than communities can recover from. There will be increasing violence and civil unrest as people desperately search for food, water and shelter. We are moving into cultural collapse

What do we do now?

Jonathan Lear looked for an answer by researching a culture that did collapse, and what happened after. He writes about what he learned in “Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation”. The book tells the story of how the Crow Nation dealt with the devastation of their culture. Can we adapt this story, these lessons, to find a way through our own cultural collapse? The ideas in this book have helped crystallize a new way of looking at our current condition.

SHORTLY BEFORE HE DIED, Plenty Coups, the last great chief of the Crow nation, reached out across the “clash of civilizations” and told his story to a white man. Frank B. Linderman had come to Montana in 1885 as a teenager, and he became a trapper, hunter, and cowboy. He lived in a cabin in the woods near Flathead head Lake and was intimately associated with the Crows.

Plenty Coups refused to speak of his life after the passing of the buffalo, so that his story seems to have been broken off, leaving many years unaccounted for. “I have not told you half of what happened when I was young,” he said, when urged to go on. “I can think back and tell you much more of war and horse-stealing. But when the buffalo went away the hearts of my people fell to the ground, and they could not lift them up again. After this nothing happened. There was little singing anywhere.”

Jonathan Lear. Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation (Kindle Locations 29-33). Kindle Edition.

Before going further, I think it is worth spending some thought and prayer on this.

“But when the buffalo went away the hearts of my people fell to the ground, and they could not lift them up again. After this nothing happened. There was little singing anywhere.”

Jonathan Lear. Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation (Kindle Locations 29-33). Kindle Edition.

The way the buffalo went away was by the wanton, senseless slaughter of millions of them by White men. Buffalo were one of the basis of American Indian culture. Food, hide for clothing, blankets and tipis, and spirit. In a short span of time this culture ceased to exist.


The people could not lift their hearts up again.


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