A season of online conversations

At the feast of Epiphany our Food for the Ecozoic team introduce a series of thought-provoking online conversations by reflecting on reciprocity and gifts.

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If a tree offers us its ripest, juiciest fruit, how should we show our gratitude?


If a profoundly insightful speaker offers their services for free, how should we reciprocate?      


How is this dynamic changed if the speaker is a First Nations North American whose people have suffered grievously from colonisation? How do we establish dialogue if the church played a significant role in this colonisation?


These are just some of the questions we grappled with as we planned Changing our Minds, a series of Zoom conversations with North American academics and theologians, both indigenous and Settler, who are passionate about earth justice (Click here for more information and how to register). Our questions feel right for Epiphany, the time of gifts. However we interpret the gifts of the Magi to the infant Jesus, they were certainly not financial transactions.


Yet a monetary mindset has driven our industrialised nations and precipitated the climate catastrophe we now face. Land and its abundant life have been seen in terms of economic gain; people who have inhabited and worked this land for generations have been treated as an expendable resource or, even worse, as valueless. We are so unaware of the beings with whom we share this planet that at least 10,000 species go extinct every year. This crisis cannot be solved by tweaking the present system. It demands a total change of mindset, which must include learning from the indigenous peoples we have displaced and silenced, peoples who often exercised sustainable custodianship of land for millennia. If we truly learn to see the earth, and our place within it, as gift, the world and the universe that we see will be radically changed.


We made a start in our May Rogation Walk, balancing our human narrative by stopping to reflect on our more-than-human parishioners such as the hornbeam tree in Golden Square. It was our first speaker who joins us next Sunday, Revd. Shawn Sanford Beck, who made us think about our other parishioners. In his book ‘Christian Animism’ Shawn, a Canadian priest and poet, searches out the parts of the Christian tradition which celebrate a living, sentient universe. This is a tradition that we urgently need to reclaim, and to develop for our own time.


Another speaker, Jim Perkinson, re-wilds the Bible in an exciting and challenging way, linking his interpretation to contemporary struggles and art forms like hip-hop.  He impels us to ask how a decolonised reading of our foundational text might change our idea of what Christianity should be, and change the way we practise it.

Food and table companionship are central to the ministry of Jesus. We are defined by our attitude to food, which is gifted from the earth. One response is to impose the industrialised production of monocrops. A very different response will be explored by Dr. Lyla June Johnston (Dine nation) when she talks about ancient native food systems and their lessons for the future. Indigenous people develop their own rituals of gratitude for the plants and creatures who sustain human life. They inspire us to be more bold and creative in our own rituals, not least in giving thanks.


Professor Lily Mendoza is a native of the Philippines, a Spanish colony which became territory of the USA. She draws on marginalised witness in her work on indigeneity, culture and eco-theology. Confronted by the poverty of empire and material accumulation, Lily ‘longs for the birthing of new visions and desires.’


At the start of 2024, it is easy to despair of humanity, to doubt whether our life on earth will  survive. The transformation of Onondaga Lake in New York state is a parable of hope. This site is sacred to indigenous peoples because it was here that the Peacemaker reconciled the five warring nations and established a Council of Peace. Attacked by the French in 1696, Onondaga was a mission site for Jesuits who denied its indigenous history, and later suffered hideous pollution from industrial chemicals and untreated waste. Professor Philip Arnold was the Founding Director of the ‘Great Law of Peace Centre’ at Onondaga, which repurposes the site by telling the suppressed story of its indigenous peoples. Sandy Bigtree (Bear Clan, citizen of Mohawk nation) is a multi-media performance artist engaging in collaborative educational work between the academic community and the Haudenosaunee peoples to promote the message of peace that was brought to Onondaga thousands of years ago. A false colonial history has been replaced by learning, reciprocity and an outward flow of energy.


When we planted the Three Sisters (corn, beans and squash) in our Ecozoic garden, we saw how this native American way of companion-planting enabled each plant to flourish by providing gifts to the others. This flow of reciprocity is the antithesis of monocrop systems, which are neat, controlled and atomised. Similarly, if we reject a colonising view of the earth, we will lose parts of our life-style which feel safe and under our control. But if we dare to change our minds; if we decentre ourselves and begin to live in reciprocity with all of humanity and with the more-than-human lives that surround us, it is likely to unleash a life-giving flow of energy. Our planet will be transformed.  


And in case you’re wondering about the second question we posed at the start, Sara Mark will create prints based on our Aftermath project as gifts. This affirms our insistence on the importance of place.


These conversations promise to be fascinating and challenging. They might change our minds, and make a start towards changing the world. And you can be part of them.


Click here for more information and how to register.


 The Three Sisters

 Deborah Colvin, Sara Mark, Diane Pacitti