What can people of faith offer to broader environmental and other social justice movements?
Cherice’s work in ecotheology–a field of liberation theology centered around the relationship between religion and environment–seeks to support communication between communities focusing on theory, action, and reflection. Drawing on early Quaker history and her own ecospirituality, she examines how an insistence on individual integrity can leave us preoccupied with performative virtue, and how people of faith can move away from false charity toward an ethic of liberation.
Cherice Bock (she/her) is a Quaker from Oregon who combines advanced degrees in theology and environmental studies to teach, advocate, and organize with people of faith. Cherice leads Oregon Interfaith Power & Light and is an adjunct professor of ecotheology at Portland Seminary. She co-edited the book Quakers, Creation Care, and Sustainability, and she has a book forthcoming entitled, A Quaker Ecology: Meditations on the Future of Friends.
To learn more about Cherice’s work, visit https://chericebock.com
View Cherice’s August 2022 Pendle Hill First Monday lecture, “Friends & Sabbath in the Time of Climate Change,” here: https://youtu.be/k6tB3vqebxA
Cherice shares the following quotes:
“May we look upon our treasures, and the furniture of our houses, and the garments in which we array ourselves, and try whether the seeds of war have any nourishment in these possessions or not.” - John Woolman
“False charity constrains the fearful and subdued, the ‘rejects of life,’ to extend their trembling hands. True generosity lies in striving so that these hands—whether of individuals or entire peoples—need be extended less and less in supplication, so that more and more they become human hands which work and, working, transform the world.” - Paolo Friere, Pedagogy of the Oppressed
Find a transcript for this episode here.
The Seed is a project of Pendle Hill, a Quaker center, open to all, for Spirit-led learning, retreat, and community. We’re located in Wallingford, Pennsylvania, on the traditional territory of the Lenni-Lenape people.
Follow us @pendlehillseed on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and subscribe to The Seed wherever you get your podcasts to get episodes in your library as they're released. To learn more, visit pendlehill.org/podcast.
This project is made possible by the generous support of the Thomas H. & Mary Williams Shoemaker Fund.
Cherice Bock 0:11
...Things that we're called to do in worship, we do in our lives. And that's living with integrity.
Dwight Dunston 0:22
You're listening to The Seed: Conversations for Radical Hope, a Pendle Hill podcast where Quakers and other seekers come together to explore visions of the world that is growing up through the cracks of our broken systems. I'm your host, Dwight Dunston. This season, we're creating a space to explore the Quaker testimony of integrity. Together with our guests, we'll talk through the challenges and possibilities of aligning our intentions and actions, in embodying our values with authenticity and grace.
Our guest today is Cherice Bock. Cherice is a Quaker from Oregon who combines advanced degrees in theology and environmental studies to teach, advocate, and organize with people of faith. Cherice leads Oregon nterfaith Power and Light and as an adjunct professor of eco Theology at Portland seminary. She co edited the book Quakers, Creation Care, and Sustainability and has a book forthcoming entitled A Quaker Ecology: Meditations on the Future of Friends.
Cherice, thank you so, so much for taking time out to be on the podcast, The Seed: Conversations for Radical Hope. We're going to get into some of your work and some of your thinking, some of your experiences. But on the podcast, we always love to start with this question, which is about a check-in with you, and would just love for you to share what's it like being Cherice today.
Cherice Bock 1:50
Today, I am sitting in my home office in Oregon, and looking out the window to blue skies, which is a little bit unusual. At this time of year in Oregon. I'm feeling a little bit scattered as I feel like my life is taking me in several different directions, feeling like there, there are just so many things going on in the world that I care about. And so trying to be present in the moment and enjoy the space that we get to create here today.
Dwight Dunston 2:27
Thank you for that. We've been exploring this theme of integrity this season on our podcast. And it's one of the testimonies. But I'm just curious for folks who are listening, who maybe aren't familiar with the idea of testimonies, I'm curious how you would explain to someone what Quaker testimonies are, and specifically, how do you see the testimony of integrity come alive and Quaker faith Quaker spirituality.
Cherice Bock 2:58
Quaker testimonies are the sort of heart of what it means to be a Quaker. There are a lot of different beliefs and practices among friends around the world. And I think that the Quaker testimonies are things that are fairly consistent across the different branches of friends, and they are related particularly to our testimony to equality and peacemaking. And so I think those are kind of the heart of the the testimonies and the other ones flow out of that. And so as early friends began and built their movement, based on the leading of the Spirit, they, from the beginning, noticed equality as something that that Jesus talked about, and that the New Testament authors talked about, and that needed to be part of their practice together. And then the the peace testimony is probably what friends are known for best, of course, you know, listening to the words of Jesus and the implications of everybody having access to the Spirit. We live that out through peaceful resolution of conflict. And so I think integrity is also a piece of a piece of that peacemaking. We let our guests be yes, we make sure that we're speaking truth and acting in ways that are consistent with making peace and living equitably with others. And making sure that we're being being honest and straightforward and living up to the things that we say we believe. I think it really comes out of this necessity of walking the walk that we don't just gather for worship, but we also take that spirit out into our everyday lives and the things that we're called to do in worship we do in our lives. And that's, that's living with integrity.
Dwight Dunston 5:10
You're alluding to some of the early times of Quakerism, of being a Christian centered religion. So Jesus being this figure who embodies integrity, and equality and community and in this very intentional way, and then also I want to bring us to the present and bring us to use specifically of what that idea what the word integrity means to you. And I'm curious if in your work and your vocation, how you see others, potentially stepping into their own sense of integrity, how you've supported other folks to step into their own sense of integrity. And perhaps while you're answering that question, maybe just speak to your work as an eco theologist as well.
Cherice Bock 5:54
Yeah, in my work, doing ecotheology, I am doing a lot of work in relation to how do we not just write theological papers about how the environment and climate issues relate to the Bible and Christian tradition and all the things that theologians write about? But how do we actually get that lived out in the world? And so I think that relates a lot to integrity of how do we do what we say that we believe. And as we're doing the work of trying to put our theory into words, trying to process through what it means to be people living in this moment, where we're experiencing the climate crisis, and trying to find meaning through the traditions that we have built up, whether that's in Quakerism, or other parts of faith traditions? How do we then also make that something that impacts how we live our lives? How do we translate that into a movement? Right? How do we move from words on the page two actions and meaningful changes meaningful transformation in the great turning that we need to experience as a worldwide human community.
And so my dissertation actually focuses on kind of eco spirituality and how people enacting environmental and climate actions to you know, things that that we experience as meaningful for caring for the planet, how those can be spiritual practices, that gives us hope, and meaning to continue the struggle, continue the work, and then translating those actions and the meaning that we make back onto the page so that other people can learn about it. So that's kind of how I see my my work is helping us through this kind of praxis cycle of, you know, theory, action reflection, and actually, you know, not getting stuck in the theory piece of that, you know, okay, we've got the theory, let's try it out, let's reflect on how that went and try to articulate it in ways that other people can connect with. So that's how I see my work as an ecotheologian, to try to keep that praxis cycle going, and make sure that the people out there doing the work in the streets, in their particular parts of the movement are being heard, and that their voices can then be enlightening to other people who are trying to keep doing this work.
But I think people have faith can offer to the broader environmental movement, this groundedness in spiritual practice, and finding meaning through traditions and through our connectedness to our faith communities and the community of our life, to be able to keep doing this work for the long term, so we don't get burnt out.
Dwight Dunston 9:01
I loved hearing about the practices that you support other people to step into, whether it's research and action and reflection. I know in other spaces, it's been known as like an experiential cycle: you have folks have an experience, and they reflect on it, and they generalize it, then they apply it to their their lives. And I'm also just thinking about the work that you do in the world and your own way of how you spend your time in research, but also in action. And I imagine, perhaps the Quaker faith offers a moment to reflect, like, you have a practice in your life as well, that beautifully mirrors the practice that you move other folks through. And I think lots of folks who have, I would say, a lot of broken heartedness around things that they see in the world--the injustices that they see--and perhaps anger and rage. You know, these can all contribute to an individual feeling a sense of burnout as they try and do everything within their power, with their skills, with their gifts, to bend the arc of the universe towards justice, as King and others said. And I'm just curious, in your own life, what has supported you to stay in the work for as long as you have? What has supported you to stay within your integrity in the work? Because I hear the idea of not burning out also to me feels like there's a commitment to being in Integrity with your own mind, body, spirit in this work.
Cherice Bock 10:29
I think this is a major challenge. Because there are so many things to pay attention to. There's so many things competing for our time and our outrage during this moment, so, for me, it's been important to discern what is my work, and what is not my work. And I think, as I have also learned more and bumped into more of my own ingrained white supremacy culture, I have recognized that that is a piece of white supremacy culture that we are taught particularly for white like I am to try to do everything to try to be the white savior, of course, if you want to use that term, and to fix everything, right? And that's not my work. So part of, I think, the work of learning a new way learning to live sustainably, learning to interrupt patterns of oppression that have been built up, particularly in this country that we call the United States and other countries that have been colonized, that idea of going in and fixing everything is part of the problem. Yeah, and so, learning my own limits, and being willing to stay within those boundaries, is part of living sustainably, part of learning a new model that doesn't try to take over and control everything.
Dwight Dunston 12:05
Hmm, yeah, I so appreciate just the process, you walk yourself through as you discern. And I want to make a little space, because I know that as we're having this conversation about integrity, I know that you brought a quote, that has supported to shape the way that you live within your own integrity. And so would love to just hold a little space for you to read that, and then to share how that quote has shaped you, how it's moved within you, how it's helped to crystallize your understanding of integrity.
Cherice Bock 12:39
I brought a quote from John Woolman. And I don't know maybe this is something that all of your people on the podcast are bringing, I don't know. But it's one that, to me, really just gets at the heart of things.
Dwight Dunston 12:53
We gonna keep amplifying it...
Cherice Bock 12:55
'May we look upon our treasures, the furniture of our houses and our garments, and try whether the seeds of war have nourishment in these are possessions.'
And Woolman lived that out, right. He had a store, and he gave it up because he felt like he was participating too much in an unjust economic system that was not healthy for him. And he intentionally moved away from parts of his business that would have economically benefited by supporting slavery. And he encouraged other people to do that as well. And so I think he's probably the best model that we have in Quakerism, of trying to live with integrity. And I noticed that he didn't do that by himself. I mean, he lived with his own personal integrity, but he also invited people into that, so that he wouldn't be doing that alone. And so, Woolman went around and tried to convince, you know, other Quakers that they should stop supporting slavery. And a lot of Quakers eventually got on board with that. We could wish that they had done so much sooner. But he invited people into that work. But he didn't wait until other people were on board to start living with as much integrity as he could personally. The work of our individual integrity is great, but I think can get us stuck in sort of a virtue ethics space. And I would rather us be in more of a liberation ethics category. Sometimes it's pretty easy to think about integrity as like I, as an individual, make my individual choices about what it means to live with integrity. But we can't live with integrity by ourselves, because we are in relationship with other people and the other species. You know, I can stop doing things that contribute to the climate crisis, I could stop using everything that relates to fossil fuels if I wanted to maybe I went and lived out in the middle of nowhere, somewhere, maybe. But I can't shift the whole culture by myself. I need a community to do that with.
I do see that the way that people practice virtues generally is as an individual action: I can personally feel virtuous or pious, because I am living virtuously, according to my own opinion of whatever virtue looks like in the moment. So with integrity, you know, I have integrity to live out my concerns about the climate crisis. But how do we shift from that virtue ethics to a liberation ethics where we recognize that until everybody has what we all need, and until we can all live in a sustainable way, our own personal virtuous actions aren't really enough. And so in addition to, or alongside, my appreciation, I guess, for Quaker history and Quaker thinkers, I also in seminary encountered the work of Paulo Freire, and The Pedagogy of the Oppressed. And so when I read that, it kind of brought the pieces together for me: of what Quakerism is trying to do, and yet how it often misses out on some of the dimensions of racial justice, indigenous rights, and issues of gender and other dimensions of intersectional social justice concerns that white Quakers didn't always recognize in historical time periods. So moving into that liberation ethics, where we're able to recognize our own space in an oppressor and oppressed cycle, I also wanted to bring this quote from Pedagogy of the Oppressed.
'False charity constrains the fearful and subdued the rejects of life to extend their trembling hands. True generosity lies in striving so that these hands, whether if individuals or entire people's need be extended less and less in supplication, so that more and more they become human hands, which work, and working, transform the world.'
And so, to me, this helped shift my perspective from the false charity of like, benevolent Quakers giving such wonderful ideas of equality and integrity and peacemaking out into the world. And "aren't we great for trying to, you know, have business practices that have integrity" and stuff like that, but to this more of a mutual, uplifting justice framework that recognizes that we're partners and collaborators in the work of moving toward a more just and sustainable world. So that again shifts from the kind of white supremacy model of a benevolent Savior figure who is offering fixes to working with, and partnering with, and collaborating with one another to transform the world and make it into the world that we want to see. Maybe we could call it the Beloved Community or the kingdom of God or "Kindom" of God.
Dwight Dunston 17:36
As we close, Cherice, just thank you so much for your time and energy and brilliance and spirit today. And we'd love to close our time with just any last reflections that you want to share here at the end of our time together. And also, you named at different points some of the growing edges of folks who are of the Quaker faith to step into some opportunities. And, maybe if there was a gift or a takeaway, or an invitation for Quakers, as they as a body look to embody integrity more lovingly, more committed to that liberation ethics that you named earlier. What would that invitation be for folks listening to this and just wondering what the next step for them could be?
Cherice Bock 19:32
Next steps are often showing up when people ask you to. So, finding out who's working on environmental justice and climate justice in your region. What are the indigenous groups? What are the folks working on racial justice and environmental justice doing in your region? And showing up, and showing up consistently. And doing the things that you're asked. And for me, this includes bumping into my own opinions, my own ingrained white supremacy culture, my own desire to fix things or to make things work faster, and to get frustrated when things don't happen quickly. And so learning to recognize those things in yourself and to process through them and keep showing up in healthy, and loving, and humble ways. So I think showing up and building those relationships of trust is part of the work of integrity right now, for Friends, particularly for white Friends who are wondering what to do and how to get involved. And the Woolman quote that I shared about the treasures, the furniture of our houses, our garments, you know, this work is related to the material world, to the economy, to the balance of power, in our society. And for many Friends, we have valued the way that society sees us as people who are living with integrity and honesty in our business practices that made Friends wealthy and in our social justice actions. And yet, those of us who are white benefit from the way that the economic system is set up. And so that is one of the things that I feel like is something that I have been learning a lot more about, through participation in actions for racial justice and environmental justice: this aspect of, what is our what is our relationship to property? What is our understanding of property and laws around who owns things? And who protects that? And these are not questions that earlier Friends necessarily asked ourselves. So I think this is continued work for, for Friends, for white Friends, if we want to actually do the work of becoming more inclusive and decolonizing. These are the types of questions that we need to ask ourselves and work on. So I encourage Friends to do the work of showing up of noticing and recognizing when we bump into those issues in ourselves and need to process through them. And to allow the Spirit to be active in us, not only as individuals calling ourselves to integrity, but as a community discerning what is right and just and sustainable, and will move us into the community that we want to see and we want to be in the next generations.
Dwight Dunston 23:03
Cherice, thank you so much for everything today. I am very grateful that you have chosen the path that you have chosen, and that I got to meet you at this juncture in your path, and look forward to continuing to build and grow and learn from him with you. So thank you so much.
Cherice Bock 23:22
Thank you. Thank you so much for for the work that you're doing
Dwight Dunston 23:41
Pendle Hill is a Quaker center, open to all, for Spirit-led learning, retreat, and community. We’re located in Wallingford, Pennsylvania, on the traditional territory of the Lenni-Lenape people. Visit us at PendleHill.org. Many of our guests are teachers, leaders, and speakers at Pendle Hill. For a full list of these upcoming education opportunities, visit our events page at pendlehill.org/learn.
This podcast was produced and edited by Ariel Goodman, with editorial support by Pendle Hill education associate Anna Hill, and advising from education director Frances Kreimer. Our episodes were mixed by Leah Shaw Dameron. Our theme music is the I Rise Project by Reverend Rhetta Morgan and Bennett Kuhn, produced by Astro Nautico Records.
This project was made possible by the generous support of the Thomas H. and Mary Williams Shoemaker Fund.
To learn more about Cherice's work, visit www.chericebock.com. Please subscribe, rate, and review us wherever you get your podcasts. It helps us to continue planting these seeds. You can follow us @PendleHillSeed on all social media platforms.