Nearly three years ago I wrote the first weekly Gaian Reflection—this one on Occam’s Flint Knife—and hoped that by spamming friends, colleagues, and those interested in sustainability, a little community of Gaians might form.
I am happy to report that three years (and 156 essays) later we now have twice monthly meetings and a rotating group of three or four dozen who join our conversations, more who engage through our listserv, many more who read the weekly newsletter, and three local guilds organizing Gaian services in Honolulu, New Orleans, and Middletown.
Honestly, when I started publishing these reflections I wasn’t sure anyone would even read them, let alone keep engaging month after month, and cultivate the friendships and community that has come out of our regular interactions. But a community has formed, and it is with great pride that I announce our exciting news:
The Gaian Way is now officially a religious organization (or “church” in IRS terms—a term that encompasses all belief systems). That hopefully means we will be able to grow—both as community support grows and as local guilds increase. (Just this past week, several Gaian community members took a training on organizing a local Spirituality in Nature Group that may serve as a step in strengthening and developing new local guilds.)
Why a “Church”?
If this community were being formed 2,500 years ago (in Greece), perhaps it would have been a philosophical school, like the Stoics or the Epicureans. These philosophical ways were grappling with how the world worked and how best to live in it. And many Gaians don’t see this philosophy in religious terms—Gaia is real, not a magical being in the sky or ground (though technically Gi would probably inhabit both). But religion, as Bart Everson so eloquently described here, is about the community of practice; it’s about coming together to support each other; and in the case of many religions it’s about sharing their way with others outside of the community to see if they can benefit as much from their spiritual philosophy (for that’s what all religions are) as the adherents do.
The Gaian Way (or Gaianism) checks all those boxes. We believe in a living Earth, which the science supports, but which we recognize as having at the very least metaphoric personhood (if it’s good enough for a corporation then it’s certainly good enough for the planet that sustains all life) and deserving of our respect, reverence, and yes, even devotion. We gather regularly, both virtually, and at least in a few places in person, and work to support and sustain one’s commitment to living not just green, but living Gaian (as Krista Hiser explains so well).
As I cite reflections from other Gaians in the community, it is also clear that this is a co-created effort, not the result of one ego, as is often the case with new religious movements. If Gaia teaches us anything, it is that diversity is to be celebrated—as through this diversity comes the ability to adapt, evolve, and resiliently weather change—and change is at the heart of Gaia’s nature, especially now, as human actions push Gaia from one stable state to a new one.
Over time, we hope that this religion—both the philosophy and the community—can help cultivate healthier ways to work toward healing Gaia (as opposed to the current model of activism that tends to lead to burnout as well as prioritizing short-term solutions over the deep systemic changes needed); to address the growing despair/eco-anxiety that so many now grapple with; and to help navigate the painful transition ahead (which is inevitable at this point no matter how quickly we mobilize), specifically through encouraging the cultivation of a meditative mind, the learning of post-growth skills, and the strengthening of community ties.
Most importantly, becoming a church—which also means this is a tax-exempt charitable organization—I hope we can go from being an informal community to one that can shepherd resources and do more in the world: drawing in more Gaians, helping communities become more sustainable and resilient, supporting key knowledge sets that will only become more important as systems breakdown (from midwifery to the martial arts), but right now even more fundamentally it’ll help support the time spent to keep developing this community.
To Churchdom and Beyond
Truth be told, the process for becoming a church was disconcertingly easy (though special thanks to John Mulrow for his help in navigating and effecting the process). I watched my wife pull her hair out as she set up a non-church 501c3 this past year. There were far more hoops when applying and there are significant annual reporting expectations (at least for organizations with over $50,000 in revenue). Churches don’t have these requirements. In fact, I looked for “990 forms” for churches near me and couldn’t find many. Maybe that’s because reporting is a hassle, but it’s a bit disturbing that the income and expenses of churches, not to mention the salaries of priests and other religious leaders, aren’t transparent (unlike secular nonprofits). In fact, the whole church designation is easily abused as the comedian John Oliver illustrated so well when he created his own church as a joke for Last Week Tonight in 2015.
So if the Gaian Way continues to grow and develop, it will be a goal to create full organizational status (with those additional financial and time costs) but even now we will maintain high levels of transparency as that is important—both internally and externally. In that spirit, I will share with you that for the past three years this has been a labor of love. But for this effort to truly flourish, I will need to support my time, so I invite you, if you value the reflections and/or the community to make a tax-deductible donation here. (And if you are already a supporter, I offer you my humble thanks.) You can donate annually, monthly, or even quarterly, for those who want their donations to follow the wheel of the year. Patreon is another option, though that platform takes 15% and is not tax-deductible so I invite you to shift over if you’re a supporter there. One important note: while supporting this is appreciated, I ask you to only give with thanks, not out of obligation. No one will ever be excluded from the Gaian community if they cannot or choose not to give. (Though I’ll have to ask you sometimes!)
Again, I offer you my sincerest gratitude, for coming along on this journey over the past three years—as a reader, as a community member, as a co-creator of this new spiritual philosophy and religious community—and I look forward to another year of helping one another navigate what being a good Gaian means, particularly during this period of rapid ecological and social change, and helping each other to live up to that standard.
Go with Gaia,
PS: Over the next few months, I’ll share in the newsletter and social media, quotations from our readers and community members how the Gaian Way has affected them. If you want to share your own reflection, please send me a note at email@example.com.