Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower

Octavia Butler’s 1993 novel, “Parable of the Sower,” opens in Los Angeles in 2024. Global warming has brought drought and rising seawater. The middle class and working poor live in gated neighborhoods, where they fend off the homeless with guns and walls. Fresh water is scarce, as valuable as money. Pharmaceutical companies have created “smart drugs,” which boost mental performance, which was taken by the mother of Lauren Oya Olamina, the book's protagonist. Lauren, a 15-year-old Black girl, lives with a condition known as "hyperempathy syndrome," a result of a mother's use of these "smart drugs." Hyperempathy syndrome means that she feels viscerally others' pain and pleasure - making her both more vulnerable and more compassionate to others.

Lauren sees that her cul de sac is increasingly under attack and is likely to be destroyed despite the wall that the residents built together as a form of protection. She tries to get others to face up to this reality but they prefer to leave their fates in God's hands (her father is a Baptist minister) and stay confined within their wall. Instead, she equips herself to survive in that future. She founds her own religion, the central tenet of which is God is Change.

Once their town wall is breached, most of the community is killed by looters. Lauren survives and becomes a refugee, with two others from her community. They join thousands of travelers making their way from the barren, unliveable southern California and walk 300 miles north, collecting like-minded travelers who pledge to form a new kind of family, where relationships aren't transactional, where everyone supports each other, and where the vulnerability and compassion of Lauren's hyperempathy are benefits instead of taboo. Together they find land in the north, and settle there to mourn those they've lost and move forward, living out the tenet that God is Change.

Some Selections:

I realize I don’t know very much. None of us knows very much. But we can all learn more. Then we can teach one another. We can stop denying reality or hoping it will go away by magic.

Freedom is dangerous, Cory, but it’s precious, too. You can’t just throw it away or let it slip away. You can’t sell it for bread and pottage.

"Your God doesn’t care about you at all,” Travis said.

“All the more reason to care about myself and others.”

“From what I’ve read,” I said to him, “the world goes crazy every three or four decades. The trick is to survive until it goes sane again.”

All that you touch
You Change.
All that you Change
Changes you.
The only lasting truth
Is Change.
Is Change.


"When I say “God is Change”, I am simultaneously denying the claim that God is unchanging and affirming that this world of contingency is all there is. When I say that God can be shaped by us, I am simultaneously denying the claim that God is transcendent and affirming that we have only ourselves to look to for a better future. “God is change — Shape God” is a challenge to see, to learn, and to work to shape our reality, just as we are shaped by it. "
~ John Halsted

What are we waiting for? What change do we know is coming, and what are we doing about it? What are the ways that we are empathetic, vulnerable, and compassionate - and how do we translate these experiences into action?

haggadah Section: Maggid - Beginning
Source: Story told with help from The New Yorker, Wikipedia, and Toshi Reagon