LONDON— The October Rebellion kicks off in light rain, and a coalition of Extinction Rebellion (XR) spiritual groups—including XR Christian Climate Action, XR Muslims, XR Jews, Sikhs, and XR Buddhists—band together despite the nip-your-cheeks wind to stride onto the road of Lambeth Bridge. It is a heavily used pedestrian and vehicle cross-point over the Thames, a short hop, its northern end practically in the Palace of Westminster’s shadow. By 9 a.m, it is filled with the smell of incense burning, the voices of a four-part Christian choir singing XR’s Demands like they’re a holiday carol, samba drums, scores of rebels arriving in groups to hug and reminisce and hunker down on the pavement.
By 10 a.m, police form a human barrier at the bridge’s ends, cutting off ingress and arresting those inside. As they do so, a line of meditators forms in front them like a mirror to an alternate reality—eyes closed in kneeling positions, a Tibetan singing bowl placed like an offering towards the officers’ feet. Over the day, the group reforms despite the police blockade on the bridge, transforming a traffic circle on the north side of the river into a kind of unconventional spiritual village. A rabbi reads from the Torah, a pagan group performs a dance on a traffic barrier. Buddhist nuns and Anglican priests chat like old friends. People pray. Their home may be ephemeral, but its proof-of-concept impact is long-lasting.
This is XR Faith Bridge’s visionary goal:
Imagine a sacred space above the water, where cars can no longer go but where there is the still mutterings of 24/7 prayer. It will be a place of prophecy and worship – a space where we can cry together and grow hope together.
While the group never explicitly names XR’s commitment to regenerative culture, its aims—and the communities it has fostered at their encampment—solidly fall within the frame of building a regenerative culture.
On the streets, I asked spiritual leaders, men and women representing several religions and denominations, why their faith calls them to act in the name of Extinction Rebellion. The following is their response.
Mothiur Rahman, XR Muslims
I’m here as XR Muslims…to bring the elements of our different faiths, but with a common objective, which is that we need to bring our hearts, we need to bring our love, to overcome the abusive that are preventing climate justice, and we’re here at the edge of a world which is tumbling and falling and we need to come together across our faiths.
My surname is Rahman, and Rahma is one of the names of Allah’s compassion, and the sense of compassion that we need to bring balance to the world. Al Mizan is one of the concepts in Islam which talks about balance and harmony and the world isn’t in balance and in disharmony, and so we need to bring our love and our compassion, and these are seen as feelings inside ourselves that are a reflection of the divine and the sacred, so we can touch these in ourselves, we can touch these feelings, and in touching our feelings we touch into our connection to the sacred, to Allah, to unity. And so for me I’m coming particularly, Sufism is a connection for me, I’m coming from that perspective as well, and I guess also the whole sort of fear about Islam, and I’m coming here to bring a different perspective to Islam as well, the perspective of love that is also a message from Muhammad Abd’allah Nabi Islaam is there, and it needs to be brought out that all faiths have this concept of love at their heart.
Reverend Helen Burnett, Vicar in the Church of England, St. Peter and St. Paul’s, Charlton
Actually, everything in my faith calls me to do this because that’s what Jesus did. Jesus broke the unjust laws, he was perfectly happy with just laws, but if an unjust law existed he would break it, so he would cross over the road to help somebody on the sabbath, he would raise people on the sabbath, he would heal people on the sabbath. So he was very much our model for nonviolent civil disobedience. So, that is at the core of all that we do…We sometimes domesticate Jesus and, sort of, pacify him and make him meek and mild, but actually Jesus would have been on this bridge today, and he would have been praying on this bridge as well, because prayer is a huge part of our faith, and we have to combine praying and acting. So, there is a balance between being contemplative and finding one’s depths that will give one courage to then step and out and do the action. You can’t have the one without the other as far as I’m concerned, and that’s what XR combines, they combine the spirituality with the physical acts, and without that we won’t stay peaceful.
Sheila, Buddhist Nun in the Tibetan Tradition
As part of my faith I have taken vows to…we call it a Bodhisattva vow, and that is a vow to continually strive to help other people, no matter how many lives we have, and, so, I see that very much as part of the vows I’ve taken, to help people in whatever way I can, and that is: helping with XR, that is a very strong motivation for me. It is civil disobedience, but there are powers that are higher that need to be respected beyond those that misguided lawmakers sometimes make. I think there’s a quote of the Dalai Llama that says “rules are very important, because they help you decide which ones to break.”
Sister Hilda Mary, Community of the Sisters of the Church
Well, I think this is God’s Earth, God’s created it. We are at a time of crisis, we’ve got to respect the Earth, care for it, and at one point, at my age, I thought I can’t be bothered, I’ll just go on composting and recycling and then I saw the young children and I thought we owe it to them to do everything we possibly can because its their future, and they might not have much Earth to live on unless we do something, so I think we’ve got to do as much as we possibly can, as well as going on composting, recycling, growing vegetables, so that’s why I’m here today, I think, because of our children’s future…There’s something else I want to say. We have sisters in the Solomon Islands, and indeed Franciscans there as well, and some of them, their islands are disappearing because of the rising sea level, so [our sisterhood is] actually connected to that happening. Their gardens are getting salt water in them, they can’t grow their food anymore. So we’re very aware of other things that are going on in other parts of the world. Because we’re actually connected and involved there.
Aian, Priest in the Anglican Church
I believe that the world is a creation that has, in a way, been gifted to us, but gifted to us to steward it, to care for it. There is a really wonderful passage written in a letter to a church in Rome in the Bible that talks about how all of creation is waiting, in anticipation, groaning for the freedom for the Children of God to be revealed—it’s talking about the liberation of everything, not just of people but actually of all of creation being redeemed, being made whole in God’s plan, that God’s love is actually for all his world, not even just people. Alongside that, God has this passion in the Old Testament in particular that comes in so clearly for what it calls the orphans, the widows, and the strangers. So that’s, if you like, we’re looking at the disaster affecting people to mean that they lose families, that lose economic ability to care for themselves, and that they lose whole countries, and that they’re forced to move. And so all three of those categories really touch on what global warming is going to do to people and I think the prophets were great examples of people that rebelled in their own time and spoke out against injustice, spoke out for mistreatment or any circumstance that would damage the vulnerable. The orphans, the widows, and the strangers. And so, whilst I think we have definitely got to respect all people and, where we can, to live inside the law, ultimately as a Christian I follow a lot of people, including Jesus, including St. Paul, who were all arrested and imprisoned for things, who broke the rules of their day, because there are bigger things to stand for.
Rabbi Jeffrey Newman, formerly of Finchley Reform Synagogue
On the connection to civil disobedience: It’s impossible, at least for me, to read the Bible of Prophets without recognizing how much we’re rooted in the Earth, in social justice, in an awareness of the world around us, and, attempting to give all that we have on its behalf seems to me the highest calling towards God. Judaism has never despised civil disobedience from the very beginning of the rescue of Moses by the two midwives; Moses’ rebellion against Pharaoh; right up to the modern day, with Soviet Jews high-jacking a plane; rabbis, particularly in America, in civil disobedience. We have never had power, and so we’ve always had to use what means we could to influence those who do have power.
On the connection to climate rebellion: The highest principle is the saving of life, pikuach nefesh, there isn’t anything more that we’re doing here in Extinction Rebellion than being aware that millions, or hundreds of millions of people, already are at threat because of the changing climate, and if you add in future generations then….this is where we have to be. We have to work alongside to those who are absolutely dedicated to trying to save life.
On Regenerative Culture: I want to add then, because you’re writing about regenerative culture. Regenerative Culture is the heart of Extinction Rebellion. It is fundamental to the way that the culture of Extinction Rebellion is centered, and the work that you do in welfare, in teaching people to care for themselves, in looking after one another, in ensuring well-being and food and…awareness of who we are…is the basis of this whole movement. That seems to me the best that anyone could do.
Kate Grey, United Reform Church, Church Minister in Manchester
God made the world, so at this time while we’re not all caring very significantly for the world, its really important for me to put my body, and my words, and my actions all together, and be here on the faith bridge…so that’s an act of solidarity, with the Earth, it’s an act of obedience to Jesus, who I follow, he’s my teacher, and inspiration, and to join with other sisters and brothers of all flavors, of all genders, of all faiths, because we have this one Earth, this one planet I call creation, and, I…it needs to last for everybody, so. That’s why I’m here.
Susan Sayers, Anglican Priest
So I’ve been campaigning since (she thinks about it), all my adult life, actually. Since we had that first picture of the Earthrise from when people went to the moon, that was what first made me think, “Oh my goodness! We need to look after this place, it’s so beautiful and so fragile.” So I’m here today because I love the creator. And Jesus, this was his home, this place, this beautiful place that was gifted to us, to all of us, to live in, and yet we have, instead of being good stewards of it, we have messed it up through greed, and I think that’s appalling, and as a result of that, it is in such dire straits that we are in an emergency. And unless we act now, it’s going to be too late. And I’ve got grandchildren, and anyway even if I didn’t have grandchildren, they’re all the future generations. I don’t want this beautiful planet that we’ve been given to be trashed any longer. So I want an end to the trashing. And I want the turning around of the trashing so that it’s, as much as possible, healed and cleaned. And I think in God’s grace and power we can do that.