Today's Leaders Have Arrived


Recently I watched a video of a panel in Georgia where a member of the audience asked panelist Mary Evelyn Tucker, “Where are today’s leaders”? He referenced some names of famous adults; Tucker reminded him that Martin Luther King was 26 years of age when he started his crusade for freedom. The moderator noted that emerging leaders are even younger and challenged the audience to watch Greta Thunberg tell us how we are doing so far.


You can see a recent talk here.

Thunberg says that she recognized the crisis on her own and her parents listened to her concerns. Her single action of sitting outside the Swedish Parliament She has inspired thousands of other teens to join her and has spoken at those who enjoy the title of leaders at the UN and Davos.


At the recent WaterDocs festival I became aware of another young leader, Autumn Peltier, who sat at the feet of her great aunt. Josephine Mandamin, known as Grandmother Josephine. She was an Anishinaabe grandmother, elder and water activist involved with the Mother Earth Water Walkers.  They have riased awareness of the importance of water and our need to protect it.


Her great niece, Autumn Peltier carries the torch after re great aunt’s recent death and has already spoken to the United Nations on World Water Day in 2018 and earlier berated Canada’s Prime Minister for his inattention to the importance of Water. She connected with Swedish activism by attending the Children’s summit where she shared her story of the sacredness of water from an indigenous perspective. You can see her UN address here.

Both of these young women in their mid teens have a long perspective - already imagining themselves as grandmothers and having to tell their grandchildren how negligent we were in facing up to reality. They already show the pain of their wisdom in their serious young faces when they speak. At very least it has inspired me to share the story of the Water Walkers with the younger children that I know. As information speeds up, they know too much already and will hold us accountable.

Artists and Water

I’m looking forward to attending the WaterDocs Festival in Toronto next week. One person heavily involved in the film festival before her death was Marjorie Sharpe who was also the founder of the Toronto Community Foundation. The arts organization that I headed up for in the 1980’s was the Foundation’s first grant recipient and it was a privilege to connect with her every year - and wonderful to learn only now of her passion for water and the need to care for it.

Thomas Berry stressed the need for all disciplines and organizations to converge in the great work of telling the new story. The young founder of Unify noted in a presentation at the 2018 Parliament of World Religions that film is the Shakespeare of our day in terms of impact -and his own film on water attests to this, Music is a natural too - and I look forward to coming performances of Missa Gaia.

But I was especially moved by Bill McKibben’s article last fall about the role of two young poets. One watches ice turn to water. Another sees her home go under water. The UN reports give access to real rather than alternative facts. But we human beings need stories to bring the truth home in a way that encourages us to change. It was Shelley who told us that “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world". See how the poets help McKibben bring reality to this very important message.

You can see the full article here which also contains this video:

"Big" History

I’ve just discovered a site called the Big History Project. Much of the content is similar to that of the film, Journey of the Universe. Both are designed to help young people and adults make sense of their world as a starting point for understanding and direction. It’s remarkably good.

The course began as a co-project of historian David Christian and Microsoft’s Bill Gates. Prof, Christian began as a Russian historical scholar but became interested in a multi-disciplinary approach that would cover history from the Big Bang to the present. For someone like myself, whose secondary school history focused on Canadian and British constitutional history and expanded to European history in university, it’s a revolutionary approach. It also has real implications for young peoples’ understanding of our current world As an addition to the more serious presentation the online site has joined forces with John and Hank Green’s parallel version for the kids. While the latter is lighthearted and sometimes frenetic, it also delivers the goods.

Occasionally I am asked to teach Sunday School and I am always pleased to be at the same table with this group of kids aged six to ten.  Their world outside that one hour of the week could not be more different than the one presented in a curriculum of early bible land often replete of Victorian art. It doesn’t surprise me that as soon as the kids have any ability to object to this worldview they depart.  Churches spend a lot of time wringing their hands about the absence of young people – as they should.  But they may be missing the point. 

David Christian noted in 2010, “Over the next fifty years we will see a return of the ancient tradition of "universal history"; but this will be a new form of universal history that is global in its practice and scientific in its spirit and methods.”  This is what our kids are already learning in school and it is supplemented by online learning like this project. Most religious education programs focus on a small segment of this history without realizing the wider framing that the kids are experiencing.

With assistance from Bill Gates, the Big History Project was launched with a TED talk in 2011.  After comprehensive pilot testing, the course has been made available on a site here for free to teachers, students and interested life-long learners.While the course is intended primarily at the middle and high school level, adults will benefit in several ways.  History starts with cosmogenesis and moves through several distinct stages that the creators term The Goldilocks effect were exactly the right conditions produce something dramatically new. When we meet the planet, we have lots of indications of how things came to be.  When humans enter the picture, there are clear indications of how they live through stages and how their interactions with the physical environment affect cultural development.  Unlike my own history courses years ago with too many forgotten dates and documents, these sessions are lively and relational – and focus on why things are as they are.  They are also a reminder of the pace in which our young people operate.  It’s sometimes dizzying – and it is also real.

Modern kids and adults now have resources and sense of scale that are totally different from those covered in any Sunday School curriculum. We also have access to disciplines that were not known to all but a few of the people of those times.  We had better remember that.

Continuous Learning

The 2018 Parliament of World Religions was a life changing experience - even for someone who was simply serving as a volunteer on the extensive exhibit floor. This presentation was one of them:

I have been exploring people and organizations within my own community. My own parish encouraged our children to help raise funds for clean water in first nations communities. While the difficulties in providing good systems for small and remote communities are substantial, the reality is still shameful.

In the process of exploration, I have asked for help and received good advice and contacts. One resulted in an invitation to a recent book launch. Now I have another one and at the bottom of it is a notice about a WaterDocs Festival. Its founder was someone I knew well 30 years ago when I was an arts administrator - but I never knew her with this connection.

There are so many awful uses of technology - but the good ones redeem them.

Resolutions for the Planet

I’m often concerned about how little I am doing to combat the climate crisis and I’m reminded by a column today in Fast Company of a few practicail things. One that it doesn’t mention but one that should always be central is that we are not the only species on the planet . As writer and theologian Sally McFague observes, animals and plants were here long before us - and would survive much better without us.

But here are a few I can try.

  1. Watch the number of bottles containing cleaning fluids - keep the sizes that fit on the counter and buy future ones in bulk sizes to refill them. I’ve already been using a concentrated detergent and one large bottle from Method will last a year. It doesn’t hurt that the laundry machines specify using less.

  2. Washable bags for storage - I haven’t found any yet, but I do reuse the ones I have.

  3. Recycled paper in every room in the house - I could do batter on that one.

  4. More meatless meals - because of the crops that are needed to produce meat. It probably means looking at the vegetarian cookbook or the sections of the cookbook that I tend to avoid.

  5. Buy things locally that don’t require more shipping whenever possible.

  6. Never leave the house without a reusable bag to carry stuff home in - I’ve also stopped driving to the grocery store and buying more food than I need. The walking is doing me good and I’ve buying less and saving - since carrying it becomes an issue.

  7. Wear the clothes I already have - fortunately most of them are from materials that have lasted well

    These are easy and doable. Now to get on thinking about how to be an advocate.