'The Plants are Family to Us'

A little more than a century ago, the Catholic parish of Kanesatake, a Mohawk community near the town of Oka, Quebec, was suffering the kind of devastation typical of what happened to Indigenous people in the 19th century. Livestock grazing, commercial clear-cutting, and the burning of forests for farming—activities by Canadians of European descent—had turned the area’s old-growth forest to desert. Mohawk roads and homes were buried by repeated sand avalanches.

What happened next wasn’t typical: From 1888 to 1920, the parish planted 100,000 trees under the guidance of their Sulpician Order priest, Father Joseph-Daniel Lefebvre, transforming the desert back into a magnificent forest. What happened in Oka changed the attitude of the Catholic Church concerning forest conservation—and eventually inspired reforestation efforts throughout the continent.

The activities of Euro-Canadians had caused desertification astonishingly quickly after they were permitted to live in the area in the mid-1800s. (The decision to allow them in had been made by the Sulpicians, a Paris-based order of Catholic priests officially known as the Society of Saint-Sulpice. The French government, and later the British, had granted the Sulpicians control of the area, first as trustee for Indigenous peoples and later as outright owner.) With the arrival of Euro-Canadian settlers, mature trees were cut down for timber or killed by forest fires; livestock ate the young tree seedlings, finishing off a dying forest.

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Corporate Greed, Meet Coconut Theology

Coconut vessels. Images via Wylio.
Coconut vessels. Images via Wylio.

It's a clear sign something's wrong when talks on "free trade" turn an island paradise into an armed camp.

Hawaii is on lockdown this week while the U.S. tries to hammer out a regional trade agreement that's being called "NAFTA for the Pacific." While some mean this as a compliment, Hawaii's faith and labor leaders are lifting their voices against an agreement they believe will put profits for banks and corporations above workers' rights, indigenous culture, and local communities. Those leaders are drawing on the Pacific region's indigenous "Coconut Theology" to provide an alternative vision of the common good.

"Coconut Theology came out of our contextual understanding of the Gospel in the Pacific," said Rev. Piula Alailima, pastor of Wesley Methodist Church in Honolulu and a core leader in the community organizing group Faith Action for Community Equity (FACE). "When we break the body of the coconut and partake of the juice, it's a symbol of the body and blood of Christ, of sacrifice, of community and the common good."

Latin American Churches Criticize U.S. Budget Debate, Support 'Circle of Protection'

More than 140 prominent Protestant leaders from 12 Latin American countries have signed an "open letter to the Christian churches of the United States," asking American Christians to stand with "the most vulnerable members of US society" who would be affected by proposed budget cuts to the social safety net.

Citing the Circle of Protection as a positive Christian witness, the signers also expressed their dismay. "We view with deep concern recent decisions in the United States that will add to the suffering of the most vulnerable members of US society," the letter read. It was signed by a broad array of Latin American religious communities, including leaders of the Latin American Council of Churches, the United Bible Society of Latin America, evangelical councils and alliances in Peru, Ecuador, Honduras, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, and Uruguay, the Fellowship of Evangelical Churches (CONELA), the Association of Reformed and Presbyterian Churches of Latin America (AIPRAL), Micah Network, Indigenous Association of Peruvian Amazonia, and the Latin American Biblical University in Costa Rica.

Neocolonialism and Cowboys & Aliens

1100801-cowboysandaliensAmericans have a hard time knowing how to respond to the sins of our colonial past. Except for a few extremists, most people know on a gut level that the extermination of the Native Americans was a bad thing. Not that most would ever verbalize it, or offer reparations, or ask for forgiveness, or admit to current neocolonial actions, or give up stereotyped assumptions -- they just know it was wrong and don't know how to respond. The Western American way doesn't allow the past to be mourned or apologies to be made. Instead we make alien invasion movies.

8 Inspiring Movies About Social Change

1100629-gandhifilmAh the joy of watching movies in the summer! Of course, there are a number of summer blockbusters coming out that will woo crowds to the theaters, but with the sky-high prices of theater tickets these days, nobody will fault you for wanting to stay home and kick back with a rental. If you're looking for a film that will entertain and inspire you, consider adding some of these excellent films about social change to your online queue. If you have any other films to add to this list, please contribute your favorites in the comments section below. (To read more of my film reviews, check out my monthly column in Sojourners magazine.)