Nuggets From Kim Morrow's Call
Posted by Alyssa Martin on Sep 15, 2019
Kim Morrow is a minister and environmental advocate who has worked at the intersection of sustainability, climate change and justice for many years. She was honored at the Obama White House in 2015 as a “Champion of Change” for efforts on climate change with faith communities. She is leading a climate resiliency planning process for the City of Lincoln, Nebraska (the first in the region). Kim is passionate about helping people and communities prepare and thrive in the face of climate change. Her holistic perspective drives her work at the intersection of hope and despair in the sustainability sector. She has found resilience in her own life as she faced a seemingly extreme "family weather" event, as her teenage son transitioned from female to male. She is writing a memoir about her experience from shock to love, including reflections of “my own experience as a straight woman sandwiched between two generations of queer family members.”
Below are some of the nuggets from the call that stood out for me ...
- In speaking about what inspired her to go into ministry, Kim mentioned:
- Being aware of her "brief span on this planet" and wanting to make a meaningful contribution
- Being influenced by "The Good Society" by Robert Bellah
- Being moved by certain services that she witnessed (including those associated with the Swedenborgian church) and those communities' extravagant welcome of all people, the breadth and depth of their work, and their wholehearted embrace of what it means to be human (including the full range of the human experience)
- Being struck by the unique role that churches and faith communities play in society in terms of providing spiritual sustenance and non-capitalistic offerings.
- "Partly, it was the amazing wholesomeness of what they got to do. On one end, they were writers and readers. They had to study to create this weekly message to preach. Their sermons were very thoughtful, inspiring and funny. So, part of their job was deep study and reflection, and that appealed to me. I'd always wanted to be a writer from the time I was about 10. I didn't really know what that meant or what I was going to do with it but it pulled on my heart. Then, another time they would be teaching a class or visiting people in the hospital at really profound times in their lives -- whether it was a birth or a death or a cancer diagnosis. Maybe the next day, they'd be at the church picnic doing three-legged races with little kids. [Laughs] There was this breadth to the work that felt like a wholehearted embrace of what it meant to be human. I was very curious about the range of human experience. I wanted to know what it was like to be at that hospital bed with someone who was dying or to talk to someone who had just lost their spouse. In a way, it was an opportunity to have a front row seat at the spectrum of human experience. I was insatiably curious about that."
- Kim discussed the remarkable personal transformation she experienced as a result of the transition of her transgender son, which she recently described in an article for the Daily Good entitled "A New Son Begets A New Mother." While she was initially angry and skeptical about her child's transition from girl to boy, Kim ultimately accepted the transition and wholeheartedly embraced her son for who he was. She described the moment everything shifted for her -- the moment where she saw this person, her child, as a young man, who was kind and disciplined and whom anyone would be proud of. This person who was thriving by every measure of human health. It struck her: "I am his parent, and he is my son." As difficult as it was for Kim to share this personal story with the public, she felt that she had to "surrender to the story that demanded being written."
- On the tension between being a "progressive" and responding to her child's sense of gender: "I was feeling, "Oh, I got this. Yeah, I'm progressive. I'm open-minded. I got this all figured out." The truth was, I didn't. I was totally out of my league. I didn't understand about gender and sexuality. This younger generation is having a revolution in their understanding of gender and sexuality that I did not know very much about at all. Even though I was pretty progressive and familiar with feminism, I really had to come face-to-face with a sense of shame that I was very reluctant to realize. I was feeling shame because of a deeply-ingrained sense of what happens when you resist our patriarchal culture. The shame would come up and I would think, "What the hell is this? This is not who I am." But it actually was. It was in there. There was a lot of stuff inside of me that needed to be examined and thrown out. I'm trying to convey that in my writing. It was such a process of transformation and humility for me because, as a parent, I thought I knew what was going on. I thought I was in the driver seat and I thought Luca was being ridiculous. In the end, it turned out that Luca was my teacher and I had so much to learn."
- In speaking about what inspired her to get involved in a sustainability ministry and climate action/resiliency planning, Kim mentioned:
- Being inspired by Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth," which laid out the climate crisis in a deep and urgent way
- Being moved, as a minister, to help humanity and be an agent of hope and healing in the world, which for Kim meant grappling with the greatest threat to our civilization -- climate change
- Being challenged to "stand in the space between despair and hope": "I would say that is a central challenge of my vocation and I am aware of it on a weekly basis. In a sense, I have chosen to stand in that space between despair and hope, and be a messenger to my community of hope. It has challenged me repeatedly to stay true to my faith and my calling as a minister because the foundational calling of a minister is to be a bearer of hope to a suffering world."
- Seeing the opportunity in the crisis: "The data show we are in a really difficult time in history for human community. It seems we are going to be stressed beyond ways we have ever experienced. There is going to be strife and suffering, death and upheaval but we have a choice of how we assemble ourselves in that context. We can give into the mayhem, anger and fatalism or we can choose to come together with other people and practice love and kindness. We can find new ways of creating communities, of structuring economy, creating jobs and supporting one another at the times in our lives that we need it. That is an incredible invitation. If we didn't have this climate crisis, would we be forced to try these things out? No, because it has been too comfortable to live the way we were. Maybe there is this amazing, very small silver lining in the climate crisis that will nudge us, push us, force us to really try to live in these new kinds of communities."
- Kim said it is important to be able to communicate "across cultures" when communicating with those skeptical of climate change. In this regard, she has found it helpful to bring up foundational scriptural references to creation and stewardship of the earth. She also noted the foundational linkage between being pro-life and protecting the climate, and that the model Christian community "is a beautiful, radical experiment in hope and love."
- Kim offered the following pieces of advice to those seeking to be proactive and hopeful in the climate context:
- (1) Make sure you understand the climate hazards where you live and act accordingly
- (2) Be part of the solution, whether it's through policy advocacy or strikes or through local action (and you may be surprised by how much appetite there is for local action!): "This really helps with mental health. When we are trying to keep it all at bay, pushing it out of our line of sight, it can be threatening and anxiety-producing. Once you actually get involved--whether you’re involved in a community effort to work on climate change and resilience, or advocacy efforts in your community, or you're writing your elected officials, or going on a climate strike--you will feel better and more connected to others."
- Action at the local level can be especially meaningful: "Many of us felt so much despair [after the 2016 election] and wondered how we were going to move forward if there's no direction from the federal level. The most interesting thing happened. Local communities got energized because everyone around the country realized that we could make change on a local level. Cities around the country and the world are making really fascinating progress on climate resiliency and greenhouse gas mitigation."
- (3) Connect with others and be parts of spaces in which you can voice your despair about the climate and listen to others (like the retreats and events hosted by Joanna Macy, Kim Morrow, and others through the Work That Reconnects): "I'm not a therapist but what I understand about trauma is that it's very important to talk about it and share it with others. None of us have known how to talk about our anxiety and despair about the environment. No one in previous generations has had to talk about it. It's a whole new condition about being human on Earth. We need to create new spaces to talk about it. I would encourage people to find friends, family members or therapists with whom to talk about it."
- (4) Spend time in nature (become a "student of nature," like Joel Sartore with his Photo Ark project, which documents species in nature before they disappear)
- (5) "See with new eyes" (to borrow the words of Joanna Macy) -- that is, do not be afraid to look at things differently and look for innovative solutions
- (6) Be mindful of how you take in the news, which can often fuel despair
- Kim encouraged people to connect with her via her professional Facebook page
Lots of gratitude to all the behind-the-scenes volunteers that made this call happen!