(note: This is a thought experiment in progress. Even I don't agree with all the ideas herein all the time. Please email me at: apegrrl@
rattlebrain.com
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Missionaria Protectiva

Community Building Practices

In the novel Earth, David Brin describes the North American Church of Gaia, a religion based on the principles of deep ecology. The NorAmChuGa is a bit heavy-handed, and sets itself clearly in opposition to established monotheistic religions. I believe that such an approach would be counter-productive, driving away those who most need to hear the message.

Instead of a new religion that denies established ones, I envision a set of ideas and practices that promote positive change, but can be made compatible with diverse existing beliefs. It would not directly address theology, leaving Muslims, Christians, Jews and Hindus to sustain their current basic theological traditions. It would instead address how an individual's faith is put into practice.

The following are some ideas for guidelines on this practice. These were written primarily with North American practitioners in mind, so some would need adjustment or reinterpretation to fit better with existing conditions in other localities.

Truth | Understanding | Energy | Recycling and Waste | Sabbath | Robes | Threads | Great Commitment | Jubilee Year | Justice | Journey


Truth

The only sacred truth is life. This truth can only be contained within a living mind. While we can attempt to communicate this truth through our writing, our art and our voice, the essence of it must be discovered within each living being. A recording of a being's thoughts on this truth must never be mistaken for the truth itself. Writings and utterings serve only as a guide for others who seek truth.

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Understanding

Remember that the only real sin is to remain ignorant when knowlege is available. Some do harm because they do not yet know. Do not hate them. Do not deride them. Only try to teach them. It is only those who understand the harm they are doing, yet continue to do harm, who are the enemies of righteousness.

Remember too that the path is a hard one to follow, and like any path it must be walked one step at a time. Those who have learned, and who have decided to walk the path, must be supported and celebrated for every step they take. They must never be chastised or derided for not having walked far.

The goal of this teaching, and the goal of all devotees, must never be to restrict action. The teaching is not meant to be prohibitive. It is only meant to shed light, like a small candle in the darkest night that will grow to be the midsummer sun. When people can see and understand what is happening in the world around them, they can stop doing harm and begin to do miracles.

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Energy

This practice is to enhance our awareness of the energy we consume. Most energy comes from our sun, but right now we use much energy that has been stored as hydrocarbons in the earth rather than the current energy bestowed by our home star. A quiet moment will help us reflect on the sun's generosity.

Whenever you are about to consume energy, pause a moment. Take a deep breath. As you inhale, give thanks for the energy you are about to use. As you exhale, ask for strength to help heal the wounds of the world. Do this whenever you eat a meal, start a fire, turn an ignition key, turn on a light or a computer, a toaster or a television.

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Recycling and Waste

As with energy, we should have practices that enhance our awareness that nothing is ever "thrown away." It is especially important that we think about the disposition of each item, knowing where it is going and acknowledging the different impacts of "disposal." While the exact words are not crucial, the different sentiments are.

If you are disposing of something that will go into a landfill or will be incinerated, ask forgiveness by raising a hand and saying "Hail Gaia, Full of Grace." If you are disposing of paper, aluminum, glass, plastics or similar materials to be recycled in industrial processes, raise a hand and say "Go with Gaia." If you are disposing of food or other wastes to be composted, raise a hand in the air, smile and say "Join Gaia with Joy."

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Sabbath Practice

These are some ideas for a Sabbath practice. Some of them can compliment existing Sabbath practices for whatever religion the participant already practices. Some are more geared toward building a new "religion" among those who currently do not practice any faith.

Honor the Sabbath. For one day, try to think about your every action and it's impact on the earth, and try to be more gentle than you are the rest of the week. Eat simpler food, especially things you've grown in your own garden. Travel only on foot. Use only natural light. Don't use electronics or machines. Don't buy anything you will later burn or throw away.

The Sabbath is also a day for celebration and togetherness. Take a walk with your lover, your friends, your family. Tickle your children. Make love with your spouse. Play, sing, dance, laugh, together.

The Sabbath is a day for sharing. Opportunities to share are abundant, and should be celebrated daily, but most especially on the Sabbath. Lend something to a friend: a book, a garden tool, some clothes, some food, or your own effort and help with their chores. Give away something in your possession to someone who needs it more. Those in need should not hesitate to ask help from those who can give it, but even the neediest person has something to give. All those on the path should make an extra effort to give of themselves, in the way they smile at someone, embrace someone, listen to someone. Give to those who are not yet on the path as generously as you give to your kin and friends who are.

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Sabbath Robes

I imagined this practice as a way to reinforce community identity, sharing and connection.

I see the ceremony of robe exchange like this: The acolyte obtains a large piece (1m X 3m) of organic, naturally dyed, minimally treated cloth. This cloth is cut into two equal pieces. Hems are sewn, sealing the sides to within 15cm of the bottom and the shoulder, and sealing from the edge in 30cm on each side on the shoulders. The bottom and the opening for the arms and head are stitched to keep them from raveling. Finally, acolytes sew their own name on the back of the left shoulder. Often this will be the first time an acolyte has sewn anything. It is okay to ask for assistance, though the acolyte must do the bulk of the work. One who has given such a robe is now a devotee, and may receive a robe from anyone who wishes to give.

The ceremony of giving Sabbath robes, and the wearing of the Sabbath robe reminds us of that the Sabbath is a day for sharing.The Sabbath robe is a simple garment. It must be made from pure cloth, grown, harvested, woven, prepared and cleansed with as little harm to the Earth as possible. It must be sewn by the hand of a friend.

When you are ready to commit more fully to the path, you will prepare a Sabbath robe and give it to a friend. The recipient of such a robe may only be one who has made the robe and given it to another.

If you receive a robe when you already have one, you must add some stitching to the old robe, reinforcing any part of it that has weakened and adding your name to the robe. Then wash the robe by your own hand, dry it in the light of the sun, then give it to one who has given a robe.

Anyone in possession of a Sabbath robe should wear it with pride and honor on the Sabbath day. As you don a Sabbath robe, read aloud the names of those who have worn it before you, and thank them for their loving work. Anyone wearing a Sabbath robe should be greeted with reverence by all. When you see a Sabbath robe on another person, honor that person and all those whose names they wear, and remember the gentleness, celebration and sharing that give meaning to the Sabbath.

The Sabbath robe may be worn loose, or secured with a simple belt that was also grown, harvested, woven, prepared and cleansed with as little harm to the Earth as possible. It should be worn outside any other garments so the names of its devoted givers can be seen by all. You show your own devotion and gratitude by wearing it thus on the Sabbath at sunrise and sunset.

The Sabbath robe can be worn throughout the Sabbath day, but may be reverently yet joyfully removed before eating or play. Those who have chosen to dedicate their lives to devotion and who will bear no children may wear a Sabbath robe every day. They may keep more than one robe, provided they make and give away at least one robe for every robe they possess.

The Sabbath robe should be washed by its wearer's hand, and dried in the light of the sun. The stains, wrinkles and patches on the robe show the wearer's humility before the whims of the Universe. The names it bears remind us of each other's capacity for devotion.

While novices may simultaneously exchange their first robe with one another, it is much preferable to give a newly-made robe to one who already has a robe. In time the giver will receive a robe that has been worn by another. Likewise, devotees may give an older robe to one who has just given them a robe, but it is preferable to give to another so that the circle of love and honor grows ever wider.

When you receive any robe, you must wear it, stitch it and wash it before giving it to another. If you have more than one Sabbath robe, you must give away the one that carries the most names.

If you make a second robe, make a small one and give it to a child from another household who is on the path. A child nearing adulthood should make an adult robe and give it to an adult devotee. When the child reaches adulthood and receives a robe from an adult, they can give their small robe to a younger child who is on the path.

When a devotee dies, they may be buried or cremated in a Sabbath robe. The loved ones of the dead should choose from among them the robe carrying the most names, and make this a final gift to the deceased. A loved one should then step forward and make a new Sabbath robe that will carry the name of the dead. This robe may then be given to another devotee.

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Threads to Connect Us

This is another, simpler practice that may be more broadly applied for building a community of sharing and trust among those who adhere to these ideas.

The faithful, those who are willing and ready to help others in the cause of life, may identify themselves by the wearing of four braided ribbons or threads: one brown, for the vital cycle of life and death in the soil; one blue, for the vital water that flows through and unites all beings on earth; one white, for the light of the sun that provides the energy for life; one green, to celebrate the abundance and joy of living. These may be worn by humans around the wrist, in the hair, around the neck or around the waist. They may be displayed proudly where one is safe in one's community, or hidden and displayed secretly where one's faith may put one's life in jeopardy.

Those who wear the ribbons are to be known as the community of the faithful. They must give help to others in need, and they must freely ask the community of the faithful for help when working to serve life. They must be kind to others. They must be greeted warmly and with love by the faithful.

For those who have made the great commitment, forsaking the urge to conceive offspring so that they might better serve all life, the brown, blue, white and green may be tattooed as a lasting reminder of their commitment. Such devotion must be given the respect and love of the community of the faithful. Those who have made this commitment must be offered any hospitality and aid that the faithful can provide.

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Below is the draft/proposal for guiding a shift in thinking about human population.

The Great Commitment

As living beings, we are blessed and cursed by sex. The division of male and female makes us mortal. It makes each one of us unique. It unleashes the diversity and passion of life. It drives us with the urge to leave something of ourselves for the future, knowing that we will not live to see the far future with our own eyes.

In most sexual beings, this great drive and passion is for biological reproduction. To have gametes participate in the divine dance of conception is the highest goal of the jellyfish, the oak and the eagle. Humans have been blessed with consciousness, and therefore with alternatives. We understand and think about the future. We may choose not to conceive offspring, but instead to build the future of life in other ways.

As these words are written, life on Earth is facing a grave crisis. This crisis was created by humans who did not look deeply into the future, or humans whose visions of the future were misguided. Now, humans of faith must take responsibility. We must work to correct the errors made by our powerful species. At this time of crisis, we must work to reduce the burdens we have placed on our homeworld.

All those who love life must work to reduce their harm to life. Right now, reducing the burden of human population is crucial to the recovery of Earth. Those of great faith may choose to make a great commitment to life by forsaking their natural desires to conceive children of their own.

The separation of the sexes into male and female means that the demands of this forsaking weigh differently on each sex. Man and woman have different paths to the great commitment.

The male has the potential to fertilize many females and conceive a multitude of offspring. Their desire for the act of love is so strong that they should not be expected to forsake that by will alone. Because of this difficulty, and because conception does not transform the male body, the great commitment of a male must be to accept full sterilization {note: this could even be temporary sterilization, with a renewal of vows at each re-administration, and an acknowledgement of vow-breaking for reversal}. Once he has done this, he is free in his behavior to do as he believes is right, so long as no harm comes to others by his actions. Only a sterile male has made the sacred pact of great commitment.

The female body may only bear so many children in one life. Because the female must carry the greater burden in producing heirs, her body is not so easily deprived of fertility. But because her conception would result in her pregnancy, she has more potential to control conception by will and action than the male. So the female may make the great commitment not to bear offspring and maintain that commitment by her own will. Because the female body evolved to develop and nourish her children, this desire may be difficult to overcome. But so long as no child is conceived with her gametes, no fetus nurtured in her womb, she may channel her desires to the nourishment and development of all life, working to care for the young of others. Such a woman is free in her behavior to do as she believes is right, so long as no harm comes to others by her actions. A woman's vow that she will bear no young is the sacred pact of great commitment.

By this, both male and female are asked for great sacrifice. Not all can make such sacrifices. But the deeply faithful will feel the calling of their hart to make this great commitment. Once they have made the sacred pact of great commitment, they may wear the mark of their commitment. Their sacrifice in this commitment earns them the honor, respect and support of all in the community of the faithful. Their commitment is made to benefit all life.

Not everyone can make this great commitment. All life is sacred, and a human child is an embodiment of the sacred, blessed with tremendous potential for wisdom, power and love. But just as diamonds are made precious by their rarity, so should it be with human children. When a woman gives birth to only one or two children, the community of the faithful must offer their aid, their care and their love to that woman and her children. Those who chose to have children of their own should not have too many, lest they burden the community of life that sustains them.

[Full disclosure: this "Great Commitment" is basically what my husband and I have already done (short of getting a tattoo or whatever mark might advertise this), so I am putting myself in position to reap whatever benefits might accrue from this change in attitude.]

more on population issues

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Jubilee

I've just learned about the biblical concept of the Jubilee Year, an excellent launch point for impacting/unsettling conservative "fundamentalists" and a tie-in with the Muslim laws against usury and other financial practices. In the Jubilee year, debts are forgiven and land is turned over to tennants. In a global Jubilee, the debts of the developing world could be forgiven so they could concentrate on healing and growing their homelands rather than generating income by exporting thier resources.

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Justice

One of the most important lessons from the scientific study of game theory and the evolution of cooperation is the need to identify and prevent cheating. System cheaters break down the supportive networks of cooperation that lead to win-win situations. For any cooperative system to work, these system cheaters must be easily identified. Most functioning systems include some opportunity for retaliation: costly punishments are leveled against cheaters.

I wonder if there is a way to reduce the costs of retaliation, and instead use the identification and "punishment" of cheaters to promote greater good. In something like the "Pay It Forward" scheme, any system cheater must repay his/her cheating threefold to the community, in addition to publicly asking forgiveness. The public aspect would more strongly discourage recidivism, as people would thus be both informed of the identity of a former cheater, and obliged to encourage that cheater to pay back the debt owed. Something like shaving the head of a fairly convicted cheater might be useful, making the cheater's status visible during the time of pennance, while being reversible with the passage of time. (Frankly, I don't like this one as it may also punish those who have lost their hair for other reasons, and there is certainly something to be said for shaved heads as a resource-friendly expression of deep committment as well -- I know I used a lot less water when I had a shaved head).

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Journey

To encourage the exchange of ideas and genes, and to provide another strong rite of adulthood, young people should leave their hometown for a year and travel as far as they can before they return and begin a family. Those who are making the great committment should use this time to do missionary work. While young lovers or friends may travel together, the important thing is to leave the comfort of familiar surroundings and people, if possible being exposed to a different culture and language. The journey year may be part of higher education, lived all in one place far from home, or it may involve constant travel to new places. Young journeyers must be welcomed, encouraged, assisted and taught at every opportunity by resident believers.


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last updated 29-Aug-2003
first posted 29 Aug 2002

please feel free to spread these memes, Creative Commons Licensebut be nice and give credit where credit is due - refer people back here to the apegrrl This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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