Kevin J. O’Brien, The Violence of Climate Change: Lessons of Resistance from Nonviolent Activists, Georgetown University Press, Washington, DC, 2017. 228 pp. $24.95. ISBN: 9781626164352.
Kevin J. O’Brien’s The Violence of Climate Change is an inspiring read that provokes imaginative, embodied, and risk-taking engagement with the “wicked problem” (O’Brien’s terms) of ecological catastrophe. In an effort to feel and flesh a response to both O’Brien’s work and the specter of earth’s crucifixion, I crafted the following poem.
With prayers, and honey
we take and eat a cloud
of witnesses, asking the
holy ones to turn
in us, feeding divine discontent
in a time of wickedness,
this age of ecocide.
In they go, one by one,
tripping tastes, and
stretching us wide.
A Woolman and Addams,
a Day, King, and Chavez.
Five brave fools who foil
worldly wisdom with wild idealism,
speaking what few want to hear,
fearlessly uttering truth.
And they live it. They actually do!
With low wages and prayer,
habits of fasting and
clothes that hearten the great soul.
They, “by faith,” choose
hospitality, enduring “cold rooms and
lack of privacy,”1 deserting the pleasures
of “cigarettes, liquor, coffee, [and] candy.”1
Modesty embodied, wrapped in
the garments of poverty and militant action,
the saints secure moral authority through
with the people,
and the earth,
and with Christ.
We cannot be them. And we should not.
But like them, drawing strength from
despair and patience for the prospect of change
for the morrow.
And the mystery is this.
Never once—not often—do our witnesses let
loose of the structural for the personal.
Always together, never bewitched by stupid conversations of
separation, they know the fullness of being, the
interconnectedness of life, and the
responsibility such entails.
Take shorter showers and
fight the industrial machine. Do both, for they are
Our common home is in trouble, unspeakable.
And Pope Francis, a blessed witness himself,
states the obvious. “‘Tyrannical’ anthropocentrism
contributes to the problem of climate change.”2
But “in [this] house where all cry out I see! and
proceed to do the works of darkness”3
another fool counsels creative response to
this complex problem. “There is one classic
action open to the wise; strike yourself
blind, and explore that kingdom”
(Daniel Berrigan, d. 2016,
yet more alive).4
The most influential people
are the wildly idealistic. The most
beloved by creation, those who
give back—love and
life and dreams—
more than they take.
Pray, O God, that we may live it.
Pray, O God, that I actually do.
Steve Heinrichs is Director of Indigenous-Settler Relations for Mennonite Church Canada and lives in Treaty 1, Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Kevin J. O’Brien, The Violence of Climate Change: Lessons of Resistance from Nonviolent Activists (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2017), 123.
Daniel Berrigan, The Dark Night of Resistance (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1971), 67.