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  • Writer's pictureThe Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples

Hope and Restoration II | February 18, 2024 Rev. Dr. Kathryn Benton

We need to restore honor to the way we live, so that when we walk through the world we don’t have to avert our eyes with shame, so that we can hold our heads up high and receive the respectful acknowledgment of the rest of earth’s beings.


The opening words are from Robin Wall Kimmerer from her book, Braiding Sweetgrass. She says we need to restore honor to the way we live. This seems especially appropriate to address during Black History Month. If we consider the profound dishonor…the profound terror of Black history…of the history of oppression and hate that continues into the present…through both individual actions and through our systems of oppression, we know that Kimmerer is right…we need a restoration of honor…honor for all living things, including all people. This transformation…the restoration of hope is the Great Work spoken of by one of my teachers, Thomas Berry. In the book of the same name, he wrote about this respectful acknowledgment in this way:


…everything has a right to be recognized and revered.

Trees have tree rights, insects have insect rights, rivers have river rights,

and mountains have mountain rights.


This would be a profound shift in our worldview…a shift that I had felt would happen so many years ago. Having participated in the first Earth Day in 1970, I had hope. I did not envision the profound work that this would encompass…the deep ways that our worldview was embedded into our world…our human world. I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to give birth to a new worldview. It would mean that we would have to have a profound respect for the earth and earth’s processes. It would mean that we must listen to ecologists and environmental scientists when they try to explain earth’s processes…processes that we have completely disrupted and learn how to restore the rights of these beings.


But this restoration of rights did not go deep enough. It did not acknowledge the need for a restoration of our human ecology as well. And this is what the Black Power movement…the Black Lives Matter movement and others like them represent. They represent an attempt to restore Black History…along with the history of all of us…a painful process that many are unwilling to do. This is what has been missing in the Environmental movement that Thomas Berry was speaking about. As pointed out by Carl Anthony, of Breakthrough Communities:


The healing of the self and the healing of the planet go together.


Kimmerer says that all flourishing is mutual…that we are part of the whole and we make a grave error if we try to separate individual well-being from the health of the whole. The self and the planet are indeed connected. And not only is our flourishing connected but so is our degradation. This includes both the so-called natural world and the human one…they are one and the same.


Anthony says that we need to develop a multicultural self…one that acknowledges a system built on racism…that has led to the reality of environmental racism. When asked what he meant by this he wrote:


I think of my next-door neighbor, a woman seventy years old: her parents were sharecroppers who were driven off the soil in the South by a combination of mechanization and the boll weevil. They were also driven away by the Ku Klux Klan and the inability to go to the polls to vote. If you search the pages of ecological literature, you don’t find anything about that kind of pain.


Isn’t this kind of pain part of the pain of the world? And of course, we know this as an extension of the time when slavery was invented, along with the concept of whiteness. Anthony reminds us that we need to deconstruct this idea of whiteness in order to do this. He points out:


I see it as central to the ecological issue that when blacks were forced to work the land, the process of human domination and the exploitation of nature occurred at exactly the same time.


The domination and exploitation of nature and of Black people…all at the same time through the aggressive industrialized, agricultural methods birthed at the same time. This is, I think, at the heart of the restoration of honor that Kimmerer was speaking of…the honoring of all peoples…without having to oppress…without having to degrade…without having to terrorize. And the honoring of their stories…the true stories that include us all. He says that we need to learn each other’s story in a rich way. The stories hold a lot of power and promise that we can become a truly multicultural self…the self that needs healing. These include stories of a people who have been able to walk through the world without having to avert their eyes with shame…they have not had the luxury of doing that. These are some of the people that we are honoring this month.


One of them was Bayard Rustin. Besides being a civil rights leader, he was also a singer… 

The Balm in Gilead can truly make the wounded whole…it can heal our soul and perhaps the soul of the planet. This illustrates the profound connection between the struggle to honor the person and to honor the natural world. We are being called to reciprocity with this world, so that we can each be healed. Since the health of the planet and our own health is profoundly interdependent, the increase in health problems of our own species is no accident and it is no accident that it is people of color and people struggling economically that are sustaining the worst of this increase. This is the collateral damage…much like the collateral damage of the current wars on our planet…not collateral at all, but built into a system that is based on oppression.

This brings us back to the story that Kimmerer brings us. She describes an Ojibwe teaching about the Windigo. The Windigo is the greedy part of ourselves…the monster that dogs our steps. She says that even an overindulgent habit is Windigo. And Windigo, she says, is all around us. It is the degradation of Onondaga Lake…and all the other lakes that have been filled with sewage and industrial waste. It is seen in the gaping wound of mountaintop removal of coal in West Virginia…a square mile of industrial soybeans…or corn…or chickens. It is seen in a diamond mine in Rwanda. We are, she says, all complicit. We have…many of us, given up our honor…the inheritance of our ancestors…we have averted our eyes and can no longer hold our heads up high. We are unable to receive the respectful acknowledgment of the rest of earth’s beings when we are even unable to respect others of our own species.

The guidance, I think, comes from our wise ancestors…many whom we are honoring this month. I will leave you with the words of one of these wise ancestors…Wangari Mathai. She wrote:

What is it that calls someone to serve, to make that commitment beyond oneself that can transform the lives of those around one and bring about change that had seemed impossible? …sometimes we are called into action on behalf of a cause because of what might be called the god within us, the Source – the voice we feel speaks to us, and us only, and says that a situation is wrong, an injustice has been committed, and we must do something to reverse it. Here we are in the realm of the mysterious, and in trying to suggest what causes us to act, it would be prudent to exercise a little humility…


Cultural, as well as species humility. May we join together in this commitment and listen to the voice within telling us to act…to defeat Windigo…to keep our hands on the plow and hold on…



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