The Four Necessities

by Robin Hawley Gorsline

[Note: I began writing this well before the outbreak of Covid-19, but in some ways that crisis simply adds to the imperative that we attend to the needs of all humanity. And of course, the crisis highlights the social divisions already present—the lack of one or more of these necessities in various marginalized communities.]

For a year or more, I have included in my morning prayer a desire that everyone in the world has four things every day of their lives: 

  • water
  • food 
  • shelter and safe communities
  • and health care (both physical and mental). 

And in sufficient quantities every day to more than survive, to actually thrive. 

I call them the Four Necessities (following President Franklin Roosevelt’s proclamation of Four Freedoms for all people). Those freedoms he enunciated are still vital today (and all too lacking in too many places), as are these necessities, which are essential components for every human body on earth to not only survive but also thrive. 

As with Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms, each of us, all of us, have the inherent right to all four of the necessities. No one has the right to deny any of them to anyone. 

Indeed, I believe we have a obligation to be proactive, to do all we can to make sure they are available for all bodies, wherever they may live, whatever age, nationality, ethnicity, gender or gender identity, sexuality, income, religion, political views, education, racial group—every single body without exception. 

For me it is a call, and I believe it is a call laid on all of us. It has changed how I understand what is important, because I know that our world suffers when any one or any group of us cannot be our authentic selves. I agree with Robin Wall Kimmerer who writes, “all thriving is mutual,” meaning that if each of us, all of us, are not thriving then none of us is able to be all we can be. As Dr. King said, “no one is free until we are all free ….”, so too if any of us cannot thrive—due to lack of water, nutrition, safe and secure shelter, and lack of mental and physical health services—then none of us can live into our maximum potential. It can sound like a cliché but it is the truth: we are each and all part of an interdependent web of life. 

Just think of the waste in human capital when individuals and whole populations are without necessary hydration to be able to breathe, healthy food to strengthen their bodies, safe and sanitary and protective living conditions, and health care for their bodies and minds. 

Hands of the poor

Those of us who have these necessary conditions for life in sufficient quantity and quality can feel sorry for them, pray for them, and even donate to some group that tries to help, but in reality we are already paying—not only in funds our government may use to help (always far short of the need), but also in lost human potential and productivity in our world as well as the maintenance of law enforcement and military mechanisms to keep them from agitating against their conditions or even striking back in frustration and anger against the gruesome realities of their lives. 

Should not our first obligation as members of the human race be to do everything we can to make sure that everyone else has enough to thrive? If every body thrives, we all thrive. 

I have a special concern for Gaza, given the alarming deficiencies in their lives, but this is not limited to Gaza. Puerto Rico, part of the United States, is still struggling after Hurricane Maria and the more recent earthquake. And Somalia and so many parts of Africa, Central America, Asia, and of course the 50 states of our own nation. These four necessities are missing in lives everywhere.  Should we not be exercising empathy for the entire human race, not just our own group? 

So what to do? 

There is no one or easy solution. What is needed is a fundamental attitudinal change, radically changing the definition of success and good living, currently built on getting what only we need and want, to seeing success as being when everyone has what we need and want. As Ibram X. Kendi has said, “we need policies that are need-based.” 

I am safe in my privilege, but I do not feel successful when I know how many people are not, indeed how many are barely surviving and how many needlessly die, or whose lives become living hells, due to the lack of one or more of these necessities. 

One more thought: as I continue to learn from indigenous people and scientists about the workings of the non-human parts of the world I am struck by how often they speak of creatures (I admit my special interest is in trees) galvanizing to help others in trouble, both those in their own “tribes” and others around them. So why can’t we do that, too?

And I continue to learn how seeing that natural world as “other,” as object to be used for our own well-being, rather than as neighbor and ally and teacher and fellow citizens of the planet can make a huge difference. That is a key to creating a different world. I have much to learn about this, but already I am growing more conscious of how my own socialization and practices make things more difficult for so many, not only other humans but nature as well (think Climate Crisis/Emergency).

In posts in the future, I will look at each of these necessities in turn, highlighting the essential nature of each and how many of us—yes, us—do not have access to them. 

And I will return to how we might begin to shift our priorities. In the meantime, I invite you to read print and online articles (and share in your networks and share here) that highlight the enormous necessity gaps in our world. Don’t turn away from the troubling stories about starvation and thirst, substandard and even non-existent housing, and the lack of care for people who are sick and dying. Take them in, and think, what can I do? Feel the pain and loss that so many experience. How can I help create change, deep, systemic change so that all may thrive? 

And let us not avoid opportunities where we can provide practical help, contributing to organizations that are already at work as well as insisting our leaders shift our priorities, leading us to a new world. We can lead, too.  

Stay tuned. 

Naked in Philadelphia

I am going on an adventure—riding my bike in Philadelphia—on September 9, 2017.

No big deal, right? Where’s the adventure? Philadelphia is fairly normal as cities go, mostly flat I am told (at least in the part where I’ll be riding), with many interesting sights.

But I am not going on just any bike ride. I will be riding with hundreds of others for the ninth annual Philly World Naked Bike Ride.

Yes, I, and hundreds of others, will be riding bikes in Philadelphia without wearing clothes. And others will be riding with some clothing—it is a “bare as you dare” event.

20170408_151340I love being naked. I recently spent four days at The Woods, an LBBT-friendly clothing optional campground in Pennsylvania, and I reveled in being naked OUTDOORS all day every day. I spend most of my days at home writing while naked (Jonathan likes me to wear a t-shirt when he’s around, so I do that in the evenings and weekends).  I wish I could be naked outside in our yard.

What is the point of this event?

Organizers claim it is part of a global movement to promote fuel conscious consumption (ride your bike more, your car less), positive body image (every body is beautiful), and cycling. World Naked Bike Rides happen in many places each year. London’s version is famous, and there are others in Britain and Europe, but many people say Philadelphia does it best in the U.S.  Of course, in parts of Europe public nudity is accepted as normal.

Fuel conscious consumption is a way of focusing on how we use energy—so we can reduce our demand on finite natural resources and do our part to preserve the planet for future generations. Can we walk more, and ride bikes more, and use public transportation more often?

Philly WNBR 2017 posterPositive body image is, for me, a deeply spiritual issue. As a Queer theologian who sees the divine in all creation, I value every single human body (as a vegetarian, I also seek to value the bodies of other species).  Mine is 70 years and counting, definitely not muscled and hard, with body parts that many would not rate highly.

Indeed, for years, I did not value my own body, especially my genitals which are small. Taking my clothes off whenever and wherever I can has helped me feel a new affection and gratitude for the body I have been given, and even to validate myself for taking care of it. Of course, I could exercise more, eat less, lose ten or twenty pounds, tighten my abs, build my shoulders and biceps—but overall I am in pretty good shape for a guy in his elderhood.

The good news is that the World Naked Bike Ride, no matter where it is, encourages and celebrates all bodies. Going to Philadelphia this year is a spiritual pilgrimage for me, just as holy as going to church, going on retreat, praying by myself and with friends.

Robin bike
I “love” my step-though (not just for girls) bike!
And I am glad to promote cycling. Deciding four months ago to go to Philadelphia pushed me to buy a new bike and start riding. I have been riding two or three times each week since early July in Greenbelt where we live. Riding for an hour or so—up some hills as well as down and on the flat—is a time of centering and joy, as well as some good exercise. I feel better for riding. I wish I saw more cyclists on the streets. In Philadelphia, I imagine our nakedness will draw attention, and that may help encourage a few folks there to get on their bikes.

And who knows, maybe reading this post will encourage you?

World_Naked_Bike_Ride_-_ZaragozaI even have room on my bike rack for a second bike, so feel free to let me know you’d like to join me in this adventure. Or meet me in Philadelphia!

I encourage comments, as always (and if you are interested in joining me in Philly, you can write me at RevDrRobin@comcast.net ).

Nothing Sweeter

Christian spiritual life requires discipline.

At least, that is what I keep reading from various authorities, and what I am experiencing in my own life. It is not possible, for most of us at least–certainly for me–to grow spiritually without regular, preferably daily, focus and effort.

This effort takes time. Prayer needs to be more than slap-dash, grabbing a few seconds or a minute to say “Thanks, God!” It is not that quick prayer is not good. It is good to be in conversation with God throughout the day. Often, that conversation can be a quick word or two, or even just a nod of the head toward God.

But that cannot be all there is. Spiritual health requires investment.

If you want to lose weight, for example, you need to adjust your eating habits. That takes time and concentration. And you want to exercise. That takes time and concentration, too. Most of us who have set out to lose weight know it is a journey of ups and downs, and we know that success comes when we stay focused on regularly achieving the ups.

Spiritual health is like that as well. Habits need to be adjusted, and new muscles need to be used.

Daily prayer is essential–it may start out at a couple of minutes, but if it is regular–try for the same time each day, for example, in the same place–it grows into 5, 10, 15, 20, 30, 60 minutes over time. The more you do the more you will be able to focus. In fact, there will come a time when you don’t pray that you will feel the loss. Your day will not be as good and you know it is because you did not use time to pray.

What is the point of this discipline? It is not to say that we do it–that is spiritual self-righteousness–nor is it just to help others. At base, it is to build a relationship with God, the relationship God wants to have with you.

There is nothing sweeter.