In the first session of the current Organizing in the Biocommons class, Rev. Solveig Nilsen-Goodin raised this question: “What’s really going on?”

These Notes take a look at that question. If you’re really breathing these days, it means that you know something is deeply wrong in our world and our earth, and that you have some pieces of a diagnosis, but want a fuller understanding.

In this first set of daily notes, I’ll try to articulate how I see the fundamentals of our situation, what is “really going on” all around and within us, and not at the symptom-level, but in root causes, embedded in systems and their stories.

What I see comes out of forty-five years of broad-based organizing, plus post-retirement reflection, study, teaching and writing. (Here I want to thank especially the participants and co-teachers in Organizing in the Biocommons (OBC) classes going back to Spring 2010.)

Like a lot of people, I’m struggling in the nexus of spirituality, economics and ecology; and I’m trying to leave a legacy of vision and meaning to our children and grandchildren.

Our Awakening

In our time, millions of people around the planet are waking up to two great realities:

The system-story of what I’m calling “The Great Destruction.”

The system-story of Earth and its home, the Universe.

These two systems and their stories are in fundamental conflict, which is profoundly experienced by all of Earth’s living organisms including humans and their life-support systems of air, water and soil.

This conflict is the great crisis of our time. In fact, it’s the greatest crisis to face humans and our civilization since the rise of agriculture, some 10,000 years ago. Like all crises, this one presents humans with both threat and opportunity, both “No” and “Yes.”

The central problem in this conflict is the broken relationship between our human species and nature. Over the past five hundred years, our economy, culture and politics have convinced us that we are over nature, superior to it, separate from it, and our role, through our science and technology, is to control it.

That “attitude” has emerged in the industrialized, western nations from our economic system and the worldview that goes with it from our “matrix.” As a result, the people and institutions of the developed, high-consumption nations have fallen into deep confusion about the role, place and identity of humans, in our relationship with both Earth and Universe.

In turn, our confusion has both re-enforced the current economic system and its culture,

and tolerated immense damage and suffering in our natural and social systems.

Our Work

Our local, community-based mediating institutions–our schools, unions and congregations–share in this confusion, and have allowed themselves to become unmoored, cut off from their deepest source of life and meaning. Uprooted and assimilated, a great number of our mediating institutions are struggling with (or simply accepting) dysfunction or irrelevance.

This threat side of our crisis is forcing us to confront the reality of the damage and suffering around and within us–the scale, scope and urgency of The Great Destruction.

But simultaneously, the great system-story of Earth and Universe, of “creation,” is calling us to engage in what Thomas Berry calls the Great Work of our time. [1] In my view, there are two parts to that Great Work:

– Spiritual and intellectual literacy about both system-stories.

– Helping to create a new economy, based not on raping and poisoning Earth’s systems and its species, but on respecting, nurturing and celebrating them.

NOTE#2 will introduce the connction between our families and the Great Destruction.


I’m a retired organizer, now researching, teaching and writing. Carole and I, married for 53 years, live in Portland, Oregon. We have children and grandchildren in both Oregon and Washington. I’m working on two volumes, Story of Power and Power of Story both “in progress.”

[1] Relevant books by Thomas Berry include: The Great Work (Bell Tower, 1999); Evening Thoughts (Mary Evelyn Tucker, editor) (Sierra Club Books, 2006); and The Christian Future and the Fate of the Earth (Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim, editors) (Orbis, 2009).


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NOTES FOR BREATHERS #1: The “No-Yes” Of Our Situation (by Dick Harmon, a leader in our “Ecology of Grace and Justice – Organizing in the Biocommons Course”)

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