Bioregionalism, peacemaking, fig trees and vines

Tree in Pasture at Sunset

Cross-posted from As of Yet Untitled

Earlier this month I was talking with my friend Chris about a talk he heard last weekend by Ched Myers on bio-regionalism. One of the key concepts from the presentation was: “You can’t save what you don’t love and you can’t love what you don’t know.” In other words, instead of thinking of abstract ideas like “environmentalism” we need to get to know our own place or “bio-region”.

Ched touches on similar themes in his recent blog post titled with a similar quote: “We Won’t Save Places We Don’t Love…”. He compares the way suburbanites relate to their place to the way farmers and indigenous communities relate to the land they live and work on.

Chris has been working with Christian Peacemaker Team’s local partners in Colombia since August 2008 when he graduated from the first training that I helped with after joining CPT. He pointed out that our local partners are not struggling for abstract concepts like justice or environmentalism. They are fighting for places that they know intimately.

Chris says:

For example, CPT Colombia is accompanying The Southern Bolivar Agricultural-Mining Federation (AGROMISBOL), which is a network of primarily subsistence small-scale miners a throughout the entire Sierra de San Lucas mountain range. A mountain range rich in natural resources such as gold and water. The livelihoods and life-styles of these miners and farmers is in jeopardy because of military and paramilitary efforts to clear the land in order to provide international corporate mining unfettered access to resources.

Of course these communities are concerned about issue based politics such as environmentalism, classism, and the right to an education. But the fundamental core to their resistance is about remaining on the land they know and love. Recently, one member of these communities, spoke to exactly this by telling me, “Look at this paradise that has been given to us. We won’t give up easily and leave this land. Look at the resistance here – they threaten us, cut us, assassinate us but we continue to stay because the riches of this country are for the Colombian people. God has given us this.”

This holds true beyond the Colombia team. In Iraq, much of the teams work has been with families displaced from their homes in the mountainous border region between Iraq and Turkey and Iraq and Iran. The impact of the bombings is tied directly to its impact on their land. One recent release from the team begins with this quote from a village leader: “The tomatoes will be ready in a few days, Yesterday there was bombing on this mountain.”

I’ve already written on this blog about the First Nations community in Ontario that stood up to logging companies who tried to strip their land bare. In Palestine, the community of At-Tuwani has for years nonviolently resisted violent attempts by Israeli settlers to displace them.

Often I find that when I write or talk about peace and justice work, people begin to throw around terms like “leftist ideology”. My conversation with Chris helped me realize that the central desire for CPT partners flows not out of these abstractions but out of a knowledge of and love for a place. It’s also the reason for the endurance and strength of these communities in the face of such immense odds.

We can see the images of bio-regionalism running through the bible, especially in prophetic visions of peace and justice such as Micah 4:3-4:

3 God will judge between many peoples

and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide.

They will beat their swords into plowshares

and their spears into pruning hooks.

Nation will not take up sword against nation,

nor will they train for war anymore.

4 Every one will sit under their own vine

and under their own fig tree,

and no one will make them afraid,

for God Almighty has spoken.

This image in verse four is not an abstract idea: it is concretely realized in the plants and fruits of Isaiah’s bio-region: the fig tree and the grape vine. God’s vision of shalom is for the whole world, but it is realized in the particulars of our place and our home.

For those of us who have grown up in the suburbs or cities of North America, their is a clear challenge to participate in what Ched calls “re-place-ment”. In our work as Christian Peacemaker Teams our partners invite us into this practice through the witness of their lives and their love for the land God has given them.

I took the photo above at sunset last night on Crazy Rooster Farm, where I’m spending the weekend. It’s an experiment in permaculture (and perhaps re-place-ment) in Wisconsin. Come back next week for more photos

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6 Responses to “Bioregionalism, peacemaking, fig trees and vines”

  1. Sam Says:

    I love this image of being deeply rooted in place. Wendel Berry does good work on this theme too.
    I confess feeling one caution, however. There’s also a deep biblical stream on exile-on migration and being willing to find God in a strange land. There’s something really profound about the Mennonite story not of fighting for land, but moving to a new place, finding another home when that is what is necessary to live in peace-to know that humans can create home anywhere. Now, because this is my history, I don’t know what it would feel like to say that ‘my family has farmed this land for uncounted generations’ so I don’t want to dismiss how much this matters, but I do think there is something deeply troubling about any sense that a particular piece of this planet belongs by right to any particular group of people.

  2. TimN Says:

    Sam,

    Thanks for your response. A couple of thoughts:

    1. I agree that there is a deep biblical stream of exile. I think its important to note that that exile is often (if not always) from empire to a particular place. Along with Ched, Wes Howard Brook is another biblical scholar who explores these themes of exile and empire well. For example: Resisting the Religious Elite’s Collaboration with Empire, Part I: Jerusalem under the Persians

      There is certainly a nomadic tradition as well, but even in the story of Abraham and Lot we see the importance of particular places over and over again.

    2. I think Mennonites are a good example of people who have fled empire to find a particular place. Along the way we have invested deeply in relationship with one another as a people. However, that investment in a people has sometimes blinded us to relationship with the people who were there before us. Time and time again Mennonites have showed up to make “empty” land productive. Often, this land had recently been cleared (or was in the process of being cleared) by empire, whether that be the Ukraine or Pennsylvania. While we can claim that we were not “fighting for land” we were often complicit in the violence of others.

      While you may be troubled by the “sense that a particular piece of this planet belongs by right to any particular group of people” I doubt that you support the violent removal of people from said land. Perhaps rather than using the paradigm of “belongs” we can instead simply agree that humans shouldn’t be cleared off of land they love and belong to. Unfortunately, that’s the history Mennonites have been a part of.

    3. When we read the biblical narrative, Mennonites in the US can no longer simply read ourselves into the exile narrative. This is part of our history. But a much more accurate lens for understanding our recent history and present is that of empire.
    1. Sam Says:

      I agree entirely about some of the fraught history with Empire and Mennonites, particularly in Ukraine, the United States and Canada. Blindly accepting the benefits of empire as a ‘blessing from God’ is one of those things Christians really need to work on in a number of contexts. (although I do note, sadly, that in the Biblical narrative the return from exile to a promised place always involved ethnic cleansing.)
      I very much am not trying to justify the abuse you recount here, obviously its wrong to use force to destroy people’s lives and culture.
      But I do think about how complicated these ‘ownership’ disputes can get. I think about Israel/Palestine, and both sides claiming ‘promised land’ I think about nationalists, arguing that new immigrants are undermining the culture and identity of a country.
      I wonder if there is space to both say obviously people shouldn’t be cleared off of land they love and belong to and that all people are called to welcome the stranger and find ways to weave new groups into the fabric of community.

    2. Wil Says:

      As a student of Urban and Regional Planning, I am interested in learning more about bioregionalism in the Bible.

      I have an atheist professor that is regularly using Gen 1:28 (with its language of multiply on the earth and subdue it) as a reason why Christianity is an enemy of bioregionalism and also to the associated necessity of growth management that exists within bioregionalism.

      My goal is to understand and promote bioregionalism from a Christian perspective, so when I read that you are aware of many examples of bioregionalism in the Bible, I am hoping you might share some more references and perhaps discuss Gen 1:28 and related.

    3. Ben_jammin Says:

      Here at Tent of Nations, a Palestinian farm surrounded by four illegal Israeli settlements,where I am currently serving there is such a story. A Palestinian family which owns the land since about a hundred years refuses to give up their land to settlers - even though they offered them an open cheque where they could write whatever number they would have wanted for the land.
      Being here, I realize how little I know about my own home - Germany and it’s landscape and environment.
      I’ll still be here for another ten months and I try not to make to many plans on what I’ll do afterwards, but I am certain that this experience will lead me to love my own bio-region more and work harder to protect and cultivate it.

    4. TimN Says:

      Will,

      As I mentioned in the article, Ched Myers is doing good thinking on this with a biblical focus. His piece on the Cedars of Lebanon is a good place to start: The Cedar Has Fallen! The Prophetic Word vs. Imperial Clear-Cutting

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