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"Our words are reserved for the economy that has engulfed our senses," writes Talen. "Our stories do not live outside of the current sale, or this year’s war against this year’s enemy." (Photo: Sarah Van Gelder /

The 100-Year Conversation

Rev. Billy Talen

"It’s time to learn how to have the 10 year conversation, the 20 year conversation - the 100 year conversation!"   —Anohni

Since November 8th, we gaze out at the funky world.   No one has called the beginning of 2017 a scenic view.  The human part of it looks like a World War.  The nature part is a combination of super storms and vanishing life.  The Earth’s crisis rises toward the bully clowns Trump and Putin.

We take stock.  What do we know?  We know what Consumerism is and we know it’s deadly synthesis with Militarism.  We know how we are guided by structural psychological forces in our culture.  We know our economy depends on keeping us in our state of awake slumber, an inflamed present moment, bowed over our squares of light.

We know this election.  It makes us want to shut the door and stay home.  It’s ugly out there, and dangerous.  There is the temptation to subsist on sensation, on life-as-a-yoga-class, and clouds of digitized smiles.

But as we gaze out at this new year, we know we have got to shove off into it.  How can’t we be involved in the final act?  We have to ask, “What can I do for the Earth?  Where can I fit in the environmental movement?”  

If we are to mount a 100-year conversation here, then we need to be honest about the difficulty of navigating today’s environmentalism; do we trust the self-announced institutions that they will help the biosphere through our donations of resources and work.  But who ever heard of a successful social movement that presented itself as 15 big NGOs with famous names, CEO’d by white men?  (Greenpeace being the exception that proves the rule.)  There are thousands of smaller outfits doing wonderful work, but with all that marketing money, Big Green is in your face.  

When Anohni says that we need to consciously engage in talk that is full of time, she is asking us to return to the original ideal of the environmental movement, before it became big business.  She is inviting us to a view into the past and into the future like wild beings have, flying on the wings of evolution.  

Evolution is a touchstone of liberal belief, like reproductive rights and free speech.  But if we are taught evolution we’re not really invited to experience it.  It doesn’t mesh with Consumerism.  To intensify the happy anguish of sales, we over-stimulate the present moment like an over-worked sexual organ.  All future and past is collapsed into the right now.  

The view in the natural world is very different.  As rewilded humans, we would raise our eyes to the horizon and bring our periphery into vivid focus, the song-filled forest from the distant past having evolved to this moment’s music, and the unknown future already alive in the Earth around us…  But you know what?  I’m guessing.

I know that when someone really talks in centuries, it’s a complete shock.

At Standing Rock we saw an elder with a copy of the 1851 Fort Laramie treaty in his hands.  He read it like it was signed yesterday, and carried it before the traumatized ex-Blackwater gunmen standing on the sacred grounds of Turtle Island –as if the treaty’s presence would cure them of their misconception that they were defending the law.  But - we don’t obey the treaties because we have built an industrial-grade amnesia. Our words are reserved for the economy that has engulfed our senses.  Our stories do not live outside of the current sale, or this year’s war against this year’s enemy.

The first invitation to Standing Rock, put out by La Donna Brave Bull Allard, framed the fight against the pipe-line as a fight for both memory and future. As the bulldozers cut the ancestral ground, she started to live in the path of the pipeline and stated, "Our children have the right to know who they are."

We hear the First Nations people saying, repeatedly, that the Earth talks and sings and breathes.  The Earth is a living being.  That is the mantra.  I experience it only in flashes but the native people spread the present tense across hundreds of years by allowing everyone to live at once.  With everyone invited to remain, then no-body in this far-flung community ever has to leave, including the dead.  We are all here.  We have a quorum.

And so the conversation pulses out of all that life, the wind and snow, the dead and the living, the silence and the grasses, marsh hawks and antelope and humans.  The aliveness of the Earth is what carries the conversation, as an echo carries through "live air."  So voices carry across time.

Americans are taught by “the frontier” that nature waits to die for us, as we go West.  If you want the 100 year conversation, then you believe that the Earth survived after the frontier was conquered, and you need some entrancing anti-American Dream ritual to maintain this faith.  We have to believe the Earth completely.  We better start working on this.

Our Earth relatives try to teach us.  They take us to the water to face the river and the grasslands beyond, and there the gunmen stand.  We are told that the Earth is alive; the grasses and water are alive.  The unseen are here, the children who have not arrived and the ancestors who sleep in the land are here.  And there the gunmen stand.  The Earth is alive around them and even in them, beneath the armor.  The Earth is a living being.  We are made of nothing else.  The conversation is unbroken over the time of so many lives.

Try to catch a word with the Earth before the 200 mph wind starts up.  Go to where the Earth-life is poking through, maybe a rise of rooty ground between a parking lot and a Wendy's.  There are some uncontrolled weeds by the fence.

Stand on this trashy spot and talk out through it, send your words a hundred years, and then listen.     

Note: Rev. Billy Talen’s trial in Des Moines, Iowa begins Wednesday January 11.  The charge of "Trespass" stems from preaching too close to the Big Chem celebration known as the “World Food Prize” on October 13th.  The WFP is called "Monsanto’s Oscars" by locals.  Talen and  co-defendant Frank Cordaro of the Catholic Workers are pleading not guilty.   This will be a jury trial.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Rev. Billy Talen

Rev. Billy Talen

Reverend Billy Talen is pastor of The Church of Stop Shopping, New York musicians and singers who create different kinds of ritual trespassings in corporate space while holding six-part harmonies.  Their illegal concerts have recently favored banks that finance fossil fuel industries.  Upcoming shows include the Brooklyn Folk Festival, Mother's Day at Joe's Pub at the Public Theater, and the March Against Monsanto in Miami.  Talen is the author of "The Earth Wants YOU" (2016), from City Lights Books.

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