The following is an excerpt from Political Spirituality in an Age of Eco-Apocalypse by James Perkinson. It’s a featured Speakeasy selection, and there are still limited review copies available for qualified reviewers.
In asking what then is sustainable for human beings, it is hunter-gatherer societies that offer a kind of baseline with which to think. While not all such societies were themselves sustainable—many were, living for centuries or even millennia in the same ecosystem without devastating it. (Think of the Pomo Indians of Northern California dwelling in the same neighborhood for 12,000 years without having to go elsewhere. Or even more to the point, think Australian aboriginal peoples settled into the outback of the most inhospitable continent on the planet for 40,000 years without need of any of the outside input or “help” Euro-colonists of that continent have needed ever since they arrived in the 19th century.) They offer the only model we so far have for a human lifestyle that does not labor under the sign of a rather rude expiration date. And their pattern of inhabiting their respective ecospaces is patently as a “wild-honoring” species elaborating cosmologies and rituals whose lived effects conduce to preserve that space and its creatures as also “wild.”
Within this framework, classical Christological discourse, for instance, stands indicted a priori as an ideological construct deeply shaped by settled agricultural presuppositions about human domination and superiority over other life forms (as we shall explore further in the next chapter). Here, theory edges towards the brink of a yet-to-be-accomplished “Copernican Revolution”—for those of us Western-trained and “duped”—concerning the real place of our species on the planet. We have accepted for nearly half-a-millennium that earth is not the center of the universe; we have yet to believe human beings are not the center of the earth. (Whereas this latter orientation has long been both the claim and the witness of indigenous peoples the world over!) Within this compass of things cosmological what might it mean to say, “the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed”? If the favored figure of “the kingdom” is a weed—not a god in heaven or a man (gender intended) on earth, but a growth underfoot—then here is a “note from the underground” of that image: the “reign” is ultimately about the “rule” of nature—prolific, wild, self-sowing; and the “god” in the equation—a “rain” of life-forces interior to and commensurate with the whole, fecund and teeming, from fungi to elephants, on the ground of a soil so packed with multitudes that a cubic foot hosts a community solidarity ten billion strong. And all of this under a sky serving as a contact-lens-like window on an even wilder quanta of forces and energy, ballooning into an untold billion-fold of galaxies, zooming ribaldly off from one another into such a wilderness and darkness of space that entire blackboards of mathematical approximations cake up into mere chalk dust and blow away, just trying to keep up!
And the ultimate Copernican “Revolution” then may well be not so much a going forward to something entirely new, as a retrieval of what native peoples have long known: that all of our stories, any of our images, each of our varied words for this vast unthinkableness (like “God” or “Spirit”) are mere tropes for the “teemingness” all around and within us, minuscule metaphors and tiny shards of seeing whose real dangers are not mistaking something “earthly” for the divine, but an idolatry working the other way around—imagining that the earth (and its unfathomable universe of dark matters and energies) can be dominated, commodified, diced, spliced and re-engineered, used up and boiled down into entropic dissolution by self-aggrandizing human projects leveraged by a favored set of ideas, theological or technological, alike. “God” in its multiple-millennial-long career as an agri-business construct, legitimizing hoarding of means among an elite and of meanings among a priesthood, is perhaps the primal technology of “civilizational” control—the Great Licenser of Hierarchy and Patron of Locked-Down Food, withheld or given for the sake of obsequiousness at the royal whim. “Divinity” true to the fact is wild, many and everywhere—a Mystery unquantifiable in word or number. A weed, indeed!
And this leads into our final rumination—the second musing, focusing on the forward glance. The role of mustard is not to convert all living reality into itself. Of late on the world stage, within a permaculture ken about the thrust of things, it might be grasped as the repairer of an agricultural rupture, stepping into the breach of human intervention to mend the outer perimeter of ecosytemic heterogeneity. Its goal is beyond itself. Its healing power—the filling of a wound with fecundity. Its destiny—to be succeeded by a recovering prodigality of life forms. What if “YHWH’s kingdom”—counter its 1,700 year “Christian” re-codification as imperial and totalizing—were to be comprehended roughly thus: a limited function and tenure on the world stage of history; “sown” at the height of agricultural aggrandizement as a response thereto; “intended” in the mystery of proliferating cultural forms for the sake of recovery of a wild prolixity of articulations of ultimate meaning; serving to ground spiritual rumination in real struggle over real ground—demanding resistance to domination, serving the margins of weed-plants and “weed-peoples,” insisting that real change is necessarily organic and real growth subservient to the whole, anticipating its own fulfillment (and succession) in the enable-ment of a wild flourishing of multiple religious practices and cultural patterns and spoken tongues and danced rites? What if “God” is mustard and “the kingdom” an entire planet of thriving forest? If so, the deep question for our species is how long the reigning wildness will tolerate the arrogance of our will-to-homogenize and control. After all—we too are an invasive, certainly destined to be succeeded by something much grander. What if that “something grander” is actually an earth no longer decimated by corporatized growth, rather than some imagined “heaven” descending from on high to make up for all our failures? Will it take our extinction to realize this kind of reign (Perkinson, 64-66)?
Praise for Political Spirituality in an Age of Eco-Apocalypse
“After providing a compelling and cogent account of the peril that currently faces the planet, Perkinson lays out a blueprint for Christian theology and spirituality that will help to preserve humanity’s future. His ideas about how we can help ourselves out of this dangerous place represent perhaps the most important work and thinking of this sort in the past decade. I would recommend this book not only for religious studies classrooms but for any audience committed to a vision of religion that helps preserve our future here on earth.”
—Stephen G. Ray Jr., Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary
“Political Spirituality in an Age of Eco-Apocalypse is a celebration of life. Perkinson warns that if thoughtful, proactive measures ranging from policy shifts to full-scale ontological about-faces are not sought, then our apocalyptic fears will most certainly materialize. The book outlines how a turn toward indigeneity and the cultural sensibilities of those on the margins of social worlds and scientific research might stave off destruction.”
—Monica R. Miller, author of Religion and Hip Hop; Lehigh University
About the Author
James Perkinson is a long-time activist and educator from inner city Detroit, where he has a history of involvement in various community development initiatives and low-income housing projects. He holds a PhD in theology from the University of Chicago, with a secondary focus on history of religions, and has written extensively in both academic and popular journals on questions of race, class and colonialism in connection with religion and urban culture. He is in demand as a speaker on a wide variety of topics related to his interests and a recognized artist on the spoken-word poetry scene in the inner city.