Tuesday Talks with Fiona Kat Pickersgill
Fiona is a stay at home parent and book geek from Melbourne, Australia. She has a Bachelor of Arts with Honours (Sociology) from Monash University.
She is married to Matt, an engineer, and they have two children aged 13 and 10, and two cats.
Fiona, thank you for taking the time to chat with us today.
Fiona is going to be writing for us from time to time on SundayEveryday so I thought it might be nice to get to know her. Fiona has a very bright mind and runs her own blog called Streams & Desolations streamsdesolations.wordpress.com/
Fiona and I met around 8years ago at CityLife Church in Melbourne where Fiona and her family attend. Intrigued by the way that Fiona thinks and the honest way that she writes led me to asking her to be involved in the blog.
Lisa: Tell us a bit about where you grew up, your formative years?
I grew up in Leongatha, a dairy farming town about twenty minutes from the beach. I was raised in the Roman Catholic community there, attending the local parish schools. In many ways my upbringing was the epitome of the rural idyll. The South Gippsland landscape is one of rolling green hills, ancient rock formations, coastal fossil beds, and cool temperate rainforests. Saturdays were spent working on my grandparents’ dairy farm in the Strzelecki Ranges. One section of the farm ran alongside the tourist drive, The Grand Ridge Road, known for it’s winding roads and beautiful scenery. I have always loved animals and enjoyed working outdoors with the cattle. My other grandfather was principal of the town’s public school. My grandparents seemed to know most of the families in the area and so I grew up with a strong sense of my connectedness to the community.
I moved to Melbourne in my mid-twenties, with my husband and two young children. My husband was Melbourne born-and-raised and had attended CityLife Church since his childhood. Prior to meeting him I had never encountered Pentecostals, though I had met some Charismatic Catholics. While I have learned much from Pentecostalism, my small-town Catholicism strongly informs my spirituality, which is linked with the liturgical year and the shifting seasons, and my Celtic ethnic heritage.
Lisa: Fi, you have a degree in Arts which specialises in Environmental Sociology. Tell us a bit about your passion for the environment?
I can’t remember a time where I didn’t have environmental concerns on my radar. In a farming community, the year-to-year survival of a town is very much linked to the health of the agricultural environment. A season of drought can be utterly devastating, for example, and some of my earliest memories are of school classes on the importance of water conservation and weed management. My parents are keen gardeners. They were influenced by the permaculture and organic gardening movements. I remember harvesting homegrown vegetables and frequent family outings to the native plant nursery. This led me to internalise an ecologically conscious perspective. In response to working with animals on the farm I also became a vegetarian, a lifestyle that I have maintained for twenty years. In my university studies I took these ideas and in the context of my coursework was able to analyse and research them from a more academic framework, which only served to strengthen my commitment to animals and the environment.
My honours research revolved around the links between systems of animal agriculture and their impact on the environment, particularly as manifested in anthropogenic climate change. It’s an issue that matters deeply to me on a personal level. On the one hand, rural communities face significant and complex social challenges. For example, suicide is notably high among farmers and rural people, with a variety of possible causes. On the other hand, the health of animals and the environment is also important in sustaining healthy human communities. Yet, sometimes there are tensions between the methods of agriculture and the welfare of humans and animals, as well as massive tensions between the animal activist movements and the environmentalists. My honours dissertation was an attempt to explore the common ground between the interested parties as a means of furthering positive progress.
Lisa: When I look at the social issues taking precedence at the moment like: Mental Health, Violence Against women, Asylum seekers, Climate change, sexual trauma on many levels and the issue of gay marriage, homosexuality and the differing theologies around this in religious circles, which of these topics do you see as challenging us the most as we look into the next two decades?
Those are all really important issues. I am reluctant to approach them with a hierarchical outlook; all of those social challenges deserve thoughtful and compassionate attention. In the philosophical worldviews known as ‘ecofeminism,’ it is believed that systems of domination are interlinked. Negative forms of domination, whether a violent society that threatens its members with persecution, or a power-imbalanced relationship where one spouse controls and harms the other, are all issues that must be addressed. But not all of us are going to be equally well-equipped to address these issues. So, for the person who is skilled in helping others, such as a qualified social worker, they’re going to be able to do a lot to help individuals fleeing domestic violence. A different person might be better skilled in merciful and respectful dialogue with those marginalized by the community, and could potentially build relational bridges with refugee or GLBTQI people in a way that represents the love and compassion of Christ. It seems to me that if everyone works towards action in the issues they’re passionate about, they are contributing to the overall progress of society.
When we operate out of the love of Christ, we don’t need to fear “others” – we can meet them where they’re at and listen to them. To encounter someone different doesn’t even have to change our own behaviours or beliefs, but if we can find a common ground, even if it’s just in our shared humanity, we’ll go much further in demonstrating the hope and joy of the Gospel than we do when we are drawing defensive lines around our belief system and saying “no further!”
Lisa: Which of these topics challenge you personally the most?
My great passion is animals and the environment. It’s not that I see those as necessarily the most important social issues – though without a healthy ecosystem to support humanity we really don’t have a healthy and functioning space in which to worry about other problems. But animals and the environment are the areas in which I feel I am best equipped to do something practical. When we find out where our personalities, passions, strengths and talents lie, we are better positioned to make decisions regarding which social causes we’ll put our energies towards.
A further point on all this is that to fight for better conditions for fellow humans, or animals or the environment, are not mutually exclusive choices. Too often people who care for nature are stereotyped as anti-human, but in practice often environmentalists and animal activists will also be deeply concerned and compassionate about human social issues. Our capacity for compassion is not finite, to be limited to only one or two causes.
Lisa: How do you dialogue with your children over these issues?
I homeschooled my children for a year, and I think that really helped us open up the dialogue. They’re now in mainstream schooling again, but that year enabled us to take the time to explore ideas and issues to a greater depth. Prior to homeschooling my approach had been more reactionary, in that I would simply respond to questions they raised.
I believe that returning to my university studies better equipped me with a better vocabulary for discussing life with the kids. My children and I are fairly artistic, so we drew lots of pictures representing the various spectrums of human thought and experience. We’ve talked a lot about how over the course of one’s life we will meet people who view the world very differently. I introduced them to the concept of the “political compass.” This is a visual system representing not just the typical dichotomous view of “leftie” versus “conservative” politics, as it takes into account the varying degrees of authoritarian and libertarian approaches to certain types of issues. Rather than feeling threatened by ‘others,’ I hope my kids will one day be able to balance a sense of security in their own faith with a kindness to those who perceive the world differently.
Lisa: Finally – what do you say to those who 1: don’t believe in climate change, who 2: feel overwhelmed with the sheer size of the problem facing us and who feel like they can’t make a difference in their small lives against the backdrop of political spin.
Anthropogenic climate change is a broad term that usually refers to the overall and average changes in weather patterns, as affected by human activity. The short answer is that one’s religious faith does not have to fluctuate on the shifts in weather patterns. While our faith can inform our politics, it is worth asking whether our politics are doing more to inform our faith. In general, the public acceptance or rejection of climate change is heavily influenced by political and religious perspectives, rather than on science.
Many Christian denominations take environmental issues quite seriously and recent research has hinted that it is only a minority of Christian denominations that actively reject the existence climate change. To those Christians who are uncertain as to what they believe, I would encourage them to read up on the viewpoints of the scientists studying climate, as well as the social scientists (sociologists) researching the field.
For those overwhelmed by the size of the problems, I don’t have a simple answer. There is a lot of research necessary to adequately explore the causes and outcomes of climate change, not to mention careful consideration as to how the political and media contexts relay the scientific information to the public. However, there are many small environmentally-friendly actions we can take in our daily lives. A practical starting point is to take stock of how our daily choices impact on the world around us. For example, where does our food come from? Some types of food require a lot more energy, resources, land and deforestation, transportation, processing and storage than others. Learning to grow food can also be a part of it. For the beginner, maybe growing some heirloom tomatoes or herbs in a pot by the back door would be a good place to start. For the more experienced gardener, perhaps a community garden or involvement in food sharing could be an interesting challenge.
Fiona, its always such a joy to talk with you and hear your thoughtful and informed opinions. Thank you for joining us today.
- Soil and Sacrament: A spiritual memoir of food and faith (2013) by Fred Bahnson.
- A Climate of Hope: Church and mission in a warming world (2014) by C. Dawson and M. Pope.
References (all web links accessed June 2015)
- Kõlves, et. al. (2012). ‘Suicide in remote and rural areas of Australia.’ http://www.griffith.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/471985/Suicide-in-Rural-and-Remote-Areas-of-Australia.pdf (accessed June 2015).
- For example, see D. Curtin (2007), ‘Toward an ecological ethic of care,’ in Donovan and Adams, The Feminist Care Tradition in Animal Ethics, Columbia University Press, ages 87-104.
- McCright and Dunlap (2010). ‘Anti-reflexivity: the American conservative movement’s success in undermining climate science and policy.’ Theory, Culture and Society, Vol. 27(2-3): 100-133.