If nothing else, 2020 has taught us that we need a different future than the present we have, filled with a pandemic, political upheaval, systemic racism, economic struggles, and climate change.
Dr. Christopher Fici, however, can already see that different future now in what some have called “anticipatory communities.” The subject of his dissertation, these communities are examples of how humans might live in a way that respects and cares for the ecosystems in which they live. In other words, they anticipate a better future by living it now.
“These kinds of communities,” Fici said, “are anticipating the way forward, especially in an ecological sense in relation to the climate emergency that we now are increasingly living in.”
In the first part of my conversation with Dr. Fici posted last week, he talked about his connection to Lake Huron, both as a child and as an adult. Growing up Catholic and now a practicing Hindu, Fici brings an inter-religious perspective not only to his connection to the Great Lakes, but also to his scholarship. He earned his PhD at Union Theological Seminary focusing on Eco-Theology and Comparative Theology. It was during his time at Union that he first learned of “anticipatory communities” from Dr. Larry Rasmussen.
Dr. Rasmussen, a mentor to Fici as well as a Christian theologian and ethicist, taught at Union Theological Seminary and wrote the book Earth-Honoring Faith: Religious Ethics in a New Key. In this book, Rasmussen writes about anticipatory communities.
Morning on L'Anse Bay, Lake Superior
“There’s a sense that these communities,” Fici said, “have a capacity to reimagine practice, to reimagine values, to reimagine economy in a way that is intentionally different and intentionally against where we’re going in terms of the status quo. But not just against but for a positive direction.”
Dr. Fici's description makes me think of some of the people and communities I've encountered through the Great Lake Spirituality Project, like Jerry Jondreau and Katy Bresette at Dynamite Hill Farms, and Menikanaehkem/Menominee Rebuilders led by Anahkwet.
In a different way, I'm also reminded of the Catholic Worker communities of Brenna Cussen-Anglada (St. Isadore Catholic Worker Farm) and Michele Naar-Obed (Hildegard House Catholic Worker). All these people and communities, for me, serve as powerful examples of a future where humans live in a respectful relationship with all of creation.
We need those examples, because the status quo has the planet continuing down a path of ecological disaster with climate change. For the Great Lakes Basin, that status quo also means problems like persistent organic pollution, invasive species, and more. And we continue down that path even as we talk about sustainability and being "green."
“Some of us,” Fici said, “are a little suspicious of terms like ‘green’ and ‘sustainability’ because sometimes those concepts can be co-opted to just keep the status quo going.” The answer, according to Fici, lies at least in part in the concept of “regeneration.”
"This term ‘regenerative,’” Fici commented, “is very much a term that most professional ecologists can describe much more poetically than I might be able to... But regenerative I particularly like because it just evokes how nature works, how the natural world works. There’s the cycles of life, of passing, and in the passing of life, life is regenerated.”
Dr. Fici used composting as a simple example of regeneration, and I thought of the compost pile my wife and I finally started this summer... old orange peels become soil for new life.
“This regenerative energy,” Fici added, “is just a manifestation of how the Divine works within the world... If you’re a Christian you believe in the resurrection of Jesus. But also in the Hindu sense we talk about reincarnation as well. You never really actually pass away or die. You just are born again into another body, so therefore we’re always living in a way.”
“I just find the reality of regeneration a really important way of understanding how we live together," Fici said. “How do we regenerate this world that we’re living in and how do we regenerate the idea of being a human being in relationship to the world?... My Hindu practices have helped me to understand that, and then connecting that to my still existing Catholic side, too. That experience of regeneration is so much a part of our religious traditions as well.”
So... what kind of future do you anticipate? Does it involve bringing new life out of the old? And can you see that future yet?