AT HOME ON EARTH: Christian Spirituality in a Time of Climate Change
PART THREE – Prophetic: Faith as Resistance (pdf here)
David R. Weiss – October 30, 2016
[NOTE: This lecture series has had a bit of a built-in challenge. Three inter-related talks, but in three different venues, and spaced out over a seven week period. I’ve had about 300 total people attend, but only a small handful of folks have attended all three. So lectures two and three have needed to include lots of “echoes” back to earlier talks to keep everyone together. Over the winter, I’ll hope to integrate all three talks into one longer text without all the repetitions. Until then, you get them piecemeal and with repeats. Oh well.]
In Deuteronomy 30 (verse 19), Moses addresses the people of Israel before they cross over into the Promised Land. He says, “I call heaven and earth as witnesses today—to see that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life so that you and your children and your children’s children may live. Hold fast to God, so that your days may be long and well on the soil where God has set you.”
Both Matthew (16:3) and Luke (12:56) record Jesus’ exasperated words to the crowds following him—always at a safe distance: “When you see clouds developing in the west, you understand that rain is coming. When you feel the south wind blowing, you know that scorching heat will follow. You even read the color of the sky to know whether it will be fair or stormy. How is it that you fail to read the signs of the times?”
For Jesus, the “signs of the times” meant the in-breaking of God’s kin-dom that was occurring in his own preaching and ministry. For us, the images Jesus chose collapse on top of each other. The signs of the times we fail to read—and which call out desperately for the in-breaking of God’s kin-dom here and now—have precisely to do with the weather. More accurately with the climate, and our reluctance to read in that data “signs of the times” to which we must respond.
Choose life. Because it must be chosen. And both heaven and earth—metaphorically for Moses, but rather literally for us—wait to bear witness. To see whether we read the signs of the times. To see whether we choose life. The well-being of our children, and our children’s children, rests on our choice. And the in-breaking of God’s kin-dom continues, calling us to respond in faithful discipleship still today.
One last scene, perhaps apocryphal, but treasured in our Lutheran heritage nonetheless. Late at night on October 31st, anticipating the congregation that would assemble for an All Saints Mass the following morning, a young monk in his mid-thirties raises a mallet to pound the nail that will post a copy of his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church—499 years ago. That monk, Martin Luther, having read the signs of the times in his day, responded with a call to the church to “choose life” by a renewed fidelity to a message of grace, beginning what we now know as the Reformation. His example of passionate faith, bold conviction, and decisive action is worth more than simply remembering as we commence a 500th anniversary celebration. We’ll need to repeat it ourselves if we hope to choose life today.
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I’ve arranged these talks around a central affirmation, followed by a question with three distinct responses. The affirmation is that we are AT HOME ON EARTH. Though we have too rarely acted like it, this beautiful, precious, abundant, finite, fragile planet is our home.
Right now, because of our own actions, our home is becoming inhospitably hot. So the question arises: What form does Christian spirituality take in a time of climate change?
The threefold response is this: Christian spirituality in a time of climate change will be apocalyptic, evangelical, and prophetic. I’ve devoted one talk to each response so far, leaving “prophetic” for tonight. But I see now how this has implied more distinction between the responses than is true. Really, this is one response with multiple dimensions to it, a response best-named, though with awkward precision, by a compound hyphenated word. This spirituality is apocalyptic (dash)evangelical(dash)prophetic all-at-once.
Despite being a mouthful, this holds critical insight because each dimension necessarily feeds into and supports the others. It isn’t a linear progression, as though we focus first on one, then check it off as “done” and turn to the next. No. You might think of this as “origami spirituality.” Many of you are familiar, no doubt, with the Japanese art of paper-folding. An origami sculpture becomes “real”—it assumes its three-dimensional shape only as the individual folds, made one at a time, move together. If a fold is missing, the movement can’t happen.
Christian spirituality in a time of climate change will require distinct folds that are apocalyptic, evangelical, and prophetic. Yet only as all the folds work together, each making its own contribution to an apocalyptic-evangelical-prophetic spirituality, does the spirituality itself come to life.
Tonight my focus is on the prophetic dimension, but I’ll be showing how this dimension interacts with the other two.
There is also fourth dimension to this spirituality worth noting up front. Not so much a theological dimension as a matter of “scope.” Christian spirituality in a time of climate change will also be individual, communal, and public. As it takes on life, this spirituality will engage us in all its dimensions individually (speaking to each of our minds, moving each of our hearts, affecting each of our personal choices), and communally (as people of faith gathered together for worship, prayer, fellowship, or action), and publically (as participants in politics, as shapers of public policy, as citizens willing to speak truth to those who place profits before the planet’s wellbeing). I’ll acknowledge these differing scopes along the way as well.
So, prophetic. This dimension is about truth-telling. In popular culture “prophetic” is often cast as “predicting the future,” but biblical-speaking, the prophetic task is primarily about naming the present with dramatic clarity that creates openings for us to make the choices necessary to move us toward a life-giving future.
This truth-telling takes on different tones in different contexts. Indeed, it will have a different tone as it supports the differing dimensions of apocalyptic lament, evangelical hope, and prophetic resistance. Looking to the Bible can help us see these differing tones.
At times for the Hebrew prophets this meant finding language that could cut through the quiet denial in Israel’s life as they drifted toward disaster. The prophets sought imagery potent enough to rouse the people to lament, to invite, even compel them to feel the impending anguish of their decades long infidelity to God and indifference to the claim of justice on their lives. Not likely to be nominated for any congeniality awards, these prophets knew that the only path forward went directly through anguish, grief, lament, and repentance.
This prophetic tone has a place in our spirituality today. In my first talk, I introduced the apocalyptic world-ending character of climate change. The enormity of this threat is so great that we’ll do almost anything to minimize it, rationalize it, look away from it, outright deny it.
When I listed off, one by one, the sixteen hottest years on record since 1880—and noted that each of those years fell during my own daughter’s 20-year lifetime—that’s prophetic imagery. The numbers move through your ears into your brain and swiftly into your gut, because you also have (or know) children or grandchildren twenty and under. And that image links necessary emotion feeling to reluctant intellect awareness.
In my last talk, I offered the image of a guardrail, keeping us safe as we drive along a highway that skirts the edge of a rocky ravine. Most climate scientists agree that if the planet warms by more than 2 degrees Celsius—and it’s already warmed by one full degree in the past century—the challenges to human society will be significant. From heat waves and more extreme storm events, to crop failure and coastal flooding, once we warm past 2 degrees we we’ll feel the heat in ways well beyond the temperature itself. So climate scientists argue that a 2-degree guardrail is critical. And most climate scientists agree that what I described as a 1.5-degree “rumble strip” that wakes us with a jolt before hitting the guardrail is an even better idea … but maybe be problematic in some alarming ways.
Because, as I explained, even if—starting immediately—we were to use only the oil and gas coming from currently operating oil and fields—and burned NO MORE COAL at all—this alone will push us right past that 1.5 degree rumble strip. Add in the coal coming out of mines already operating, and we’ll plow right through that 2-degree guardrail. This is with no new drilling. No new mines. That’s an apocalyptic scenario. And that analogy of guardrail and rumble strip is an attempt at prophetic language that grabs you and forces you to feel the jolt of that rumble strip right now.
I mentioned that our planet is now hotter than it has been at any point in the last 10,000 years. Hotter than at any point during the entire history of human civilization—and thanks specifically to industrial human activity, it’s heating up at a rate that’s at least TEN TIMES faster than anything seen during those 10,000 years.
I observed that under the much-heralded Paris Agreement on reducing greenhouse gases—due to go into force in early November—even if every one of the 195 nations meets their pledged reduction, the planet will still warm by 2.7 degrees Celsius by the end of this century (during my grandchildren’s lifetime), approaching the 3-degree mark beyond which climate scientists say we enter a realm of global warming that is likely “incompatible with an organized global community.”
Meanwhile, the last time so much carbon was released into the atmosphere was well before the industrial revolution. It was about 56 million years ago—long before humans had to deal with the accompanying temperature rise. This time, however, because we’re releasing carbon at ten times the rate that occurred 56 million years ago, the capacity of ecosystems—of plants and animals (and humans) to adapt is much, much less. And we’ve grabbed all of creation and put it on this roller coaster with us.
The situation is potentially so apocalyptic that it’s barely comprehensible in its dread. Which is why one task of a prophetic spirituality is finding ways to wake people up.
Borrowing words from Jeremiah (6:14), there will be a tendency for people—all of us—to want to heal the wounds of Earth too lightly, downplaying the full extent of damage done. To say “peace, peace, when there is no peace,” to gather on Sunday mornings and, in effect, simply chant, “this is the temple of the Lord, this is the temple of the Lord” (7:4), as though our sanctuary is beyond the reach of the coming heat.
As I argued in my earlier talks, as the depth of this crisis—and our complicity in creating it—sinks in, we’ll almost surely be paralyzed by fear and guilt, or we’ll want to do something, anything. Because if we can busy ourselves with doing, we can distract ourselves from feeling the deep grief and lament that is the only way forward. So another facet of the prophetic imagination is to hold us in grief and lament until we can plumb the bottom of this anguish.
There are plenty of articles, books, speakers, and films that can offer a beginning point in this journey. Leonardo DiCaprio’s new documentary on climate change, titled Before the Flood, has just premiered on the National Geographic channel. In fact, National Geographic is letting you stream it for free anytime this coming week because they view it as so important. Personally, I’d suggest watching it in small groups rather than alone, because I gather the film is intended in its own way to leave you reeling with the reality of climate change. This journey will not be for the faint of heart—except that it this journey includes all of us, so what matters most is that we make it together.
But more than simply educating ourselves, we need to process this grief using the tools of our faith.
Each year, soon after Christmas, we recall the slaughter of the holy innocents by Herod. We hear Matthew (2:18) echo Jeremiah’s image (31:15) of Rachel, weeping for her children. This year, dare we imagine the poor imperiled by climate change, the many creatures and plants likely to disappear forever—dare we allow these to be the focus of Rachel’s tears today?
Jeremiah (29:5) tells the refugees heading into exile, “Go ahead, build homes and plant gardens in the land where you are going … because you aren’t coming back anytime soon.” Can we hear in those words of such thin hope, words that may be all we can say to those who will be relocated by climate change in the decades just ahead?
Jesus wept for Jerusalem (Luke 19:41), for having ignored prophet after prophet, for having never learned the things that make for peace. Dare we now hear in Jesus’ tears, weeping that is for us, that we have ignored prophet after prophet, that we have not learned the things that make for peace with creation?
At what point should our baptismal prayers—or the art around our baptismal fonts—begin to reflect the undeniable kinship between this “holy” water and the melting glaciers, the dying oceans, and the rising floodwaters around the globe. How does the wetness of gracious promise traced on our foreheads, connect us just as truly to the profound grief of water across the world? I don’t know, but this is what prophetic spirituality means—to seek connections to the images that already have power in our imagination, and bring them to bear on the needs of this moment.
There is a host of imagery related to lament, grief, and repentance in our biblical and historical traditions. It’s already present in our worship in psalms, prayers, hymns, and rituals, but now we’ll need to re-imagine them with a suffering planet—and all its inhabitants—in mind. We’ll need, reverently, soberly, creatively, to write new prayers, psalms, and hymns, and create new rituals that will guide us through this grieving. We may well need to host potlucks where we come together to name, honor, and grieve the loss of planetary habitats and creatures. If the monarch butterfly goes extinct, it may well be appropriate to create memory boards in churches across the country, and invite people to come and share a memory of a monarch, and then grieve that we did not act sooner on its behalf.
Some of this will happen at the personal level, but much of it will be communal work that we do as congregations or as small groups within congregations. It’s simply too daunting to take on by ourselves. But within our communities of faith, it cannot rest on our pastors. It’s too much for them alone. This is shared ministry, and we’ll need to read and write and weep and pray and create these rituals together. If ever there was a need for a priesthood of all believers, it’s today.
And, occasionally, we’ll venture out into public spaces with our grief, because everyone on the planet is going to be impacted by climate change. Not just Christians, not just believers. We’ll model for others that eco-grief is possible, perhaps at the riverbank or on farmland or in the town square. And we’ll bear prophetic witness to our recognition that grief is the only first step forward.
At the same time, we must also listen to and learn from others. There are secular activists and persons in other faith traditions working at this just as fervently as us. So while we should be driven to share our insights, we must never presume that we alone have something to share.
There is a second tone to prophetic truth-telling, which is to assist in the evangelical task of summoning hope. This doesn’t exactly follow after grief, because it sustains us in grief. But it doesn’t precede grief either, because until we begin to feel the full depth grief, we have no inkling of how much we need this hope. And ultimately, this hope carries within it the seeds of resistance, to which we’ll turn last.
The Hebrew prophets demonstrate this tone of prophetic speech when they mine Israel’s memory and imagination to offer a message that speaks the newness of which God is ever capable. In the depths of the Babylonian Exile, the prophet Ezekiel received his vision of dry bones, brought back to life, to tell the refugees that even when it seemed like no future was possible, God could make a new future for them. Likewise, two later prophets, carrying on the tradition of Isaiah but speaking on the far side of catastrophe, tell the people that God will do a new thing (43:19), and that there will come a time when the barren one will sing (54:1) because a future will open up … although only after an entire generation in exile.
Our spirituality will need to display this tone of prophetic voice, too. I explored this in my second talk, under the theme evangelical hope. We must offer a word of good news, in part to sustain us as we feel the full weight of grief. In part to see even dimly the possibility of a future in the midst of a present that may well seem like an exile on a biblical scale. And in part to proclaim a “real-as-Reformation” word of radical grace to us—a word that is likely our only hope for survival as a species.
I described in that talk how it will be important for us to remember who God is. That God—who the prophets dared to name Emmanuel, “God-With-Us”—has promised to be with us in deep solidarity through whatever we must endure. I recalled the banishment from Eden, the generations of slavery in Egypt, and the Exile as moments where we see that God’s promise is true. I also acknowledged that it’s more comforting to assert this truth for others, than to realize that this time it’s about us. It’s our turn to be accompanied by holy hope in a time of apocalyptic upheaval … which feels a bit less reassuring, because now it comes with the upheaval as well as the hope.
I suggested it may be just as important to remember not only that God is with us, but how God is with us: primarily by way of vulnerability. It matters because it would be fair to say that the vast majority of our climate crisis is the result of our centuries long quest for control over nature rather than for harmony with nature. Having imaged God as absolute power, we’ve tried to echo that ourselves—with devastating consequences, not only for us, but also for the whole web of life.
Yet both the Hebrew Bible’s story about God and also the gospel accounts of Jesus show us the surprising truth that wholeness comes not by avoiding vulnerability, but by embracing it. So, part of what we must learn from this prophetic voice of hope is a new way of being human as we discover that the God who keeps us company even now is a vulnerable God. And it is past time for our humanity to reflect this.
Another task of this prophetic tone of hope to find language and imagery to help us remember who we are. One simple but profound way of doing this is learning to think of ourselves as humus beings. The original Hebrew in the Genesis creation tale (2:8) tells us that God formed an adam from the adamah, literally that God fashioned an earthling from the earth, or a humus being from the humus.
It’s a small wordplay, but it carries an etymological—and ecological—truth about our profound kinship to the ground. It reminds us that, from Eden onward, we were intended for intimacy: humus beings, commissioned by God to tend the humus, to be caretakers of the Garden to which we are indelibly linked.
I’ve noted that my body (and yours) only achieves its living humanity by existing in concert with some 100 trillion microbes that make me their home. That may be a scientific fact, but it’s also a prophetically hopeful image because it declares a kinship with creation that we have not yet fully acknowledged, but which has been true for as long as long human beings have been. We don’t exist apart from creation—we never have. From that first mythic moment when we were drawn from the humus, we have carried within us a whole ecosystem, even as “we live and move and have our being” within a larger ecosystem as well.
Acknowledging this kinship may allow us to grieve for the rest of creation as for our kin, to grieve at the depth that may ready us for repentance and resistance. I’m convinced that if there is any path forward for us, as people of faith, as inhabitants of a finite and fragile planet, it is by way of intimacy: with each other, with our companion creatures, and with the earth.
Tonight I want to add two further thoughts to these.
First, I suggest we expand our thinking about incarnation to an ecological level. When we say that in Jesus God took on flesh, then, like me, like you, God took on flesh with the assistance of 100 trillion microbes. And suddenly “incarnation” isn’t about God becoming “human,” but about God dwelling in the midst of all creation. No less than any of us, Jesus’ humanity is interwoven with the cosmos. The iron that reddened his blood was first formed in the stars. The water that comprised over half his body weight had been here on Earth for over 4 billion years ago. When John 3:16 says “God so loved the world,” it uses the Greek word cosmos, meaning the whole of creation. We have tended, perhaps selfishly, to presume that, of course, God loves us humans best of all. But just maybe a vulnerable God loved the stardust and the iron, the water and the trillions of microbes, just as much as us.
And perhaps it’s time for our psalms and songs, our art and ethics to recognize that it’s neither scientifically accurate nor theologically wise to narrow down incarnation to humanity.
Second, I want to propose that, as one habit of our newly claimed intimacy with all things created, we move to a first name basis with our home planet. Without going so far as to declare she is a living being (though even some scientists suggest she acts like one in certain aspects), let’s drop the “the,” that we so casually add to Earth. I would never say of my wife, “I love ‘the’ Margaret.” No, I love Margaret. To insert a “the” sets up an impersonal distance that is immediately obvious when we’re talking about a person, but slips through unnoticed when we’re talking about our own planet.
I’m not sure why this is. We don’t say “the Mars,” or “the Saturn,” but we too easily say, “the Earth.” Now listen to the difference it makes when I say, “I live on Earth. I care for Earth. I hope my children know Earth. I want Earth and all her companion creatures to thrive. There is an undeniable personal character to this speech, an intimacy that comes with these words. A recognition, so eloquently phrased by Martin Buber—and so quickly lost with the use of “the”—that we are most human when we meet Earth as Thou.
This tone of prophetic voice is essential to Christian Spirituality in a time of climate change. The dance between apocalyptic grief and evangelical hope will last for decades … likely for the rest of our lives. Even if in this very moment we altered all the damaging behaviors we engage in, Earth’s wounds run so deep, and the inertia of our wounding is so great, that it would be generations before we actually reversed course.
Which is to say, we have some time to figure out this tone of prophetic speech. I’ve offered some suggestions here, but as I said last time, this isn’t only my grief, it’s ours; it isn’t only my hope, it’s ours. As a church we’ll need to imagine together how to embody our lament and how to sustain our hope. I only say tonight that it can and must be done. The whole world, which God so loved, is counting on us.
Finally, we come to the third tone of prophetic speech, the tone where words grow legs and walk. I’ve named it on past occasions as resistance—and have suggested that, perhaps surprisingly, it includes repentance among its deeds. Resistance flows from anguish and hope, but it has its own set of folds in our “origami spirituality,” so it deserves a description of its own as well.
We see this prophetic speech in the Hebrew prophets when Moses (Ex. 9:1) says to Pharaoh, “Let me people go.” We see it when Elijah (1 Kings 18) challenges the prophets of Baal to an outdoor barbeque contest to demonstrate the Yahweh alone is God. We see it when Jeremiah faces down King Jehoiakim (Jer. 22:13-16), chastising him for his opulent palace built with forced labor and for the rampant injustice under his rule. He concludes by asking, “Do you think you are a king because you compete in cedar? Did not your father eat and drink and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. Your father judged the cause of the poor and needy. Is not this to know me? says the LORD.”
This is the prophetic speech of resistance. It announces God’s liberatory activity. It makes clear that God alone is God. And it speaks truth to power.
One way to conceive of this tone of the prophetic is to call it “oppositional”: it aims to counter something. It’s also present in Jesus’ ministry. Throughout his encounters with religious leaders and culminating in his cleansing of the Temple, Jesus challenges and then symbolically dismantles the religious economy of his day, which tried to sell access to God and played people against one another. But resistance is just as present in his parables, healings, and table fellowship, where he counters the system that is and dares to model a very different way of being community.
I’m tempted to say we’ll need this tone of prophetic speech most of all, because it “gets things done,” but that’s just my own impatience to do speaking up. The truth is, separated from lament or hope, even this powerful speech will end being little more than busy noise. Each fold in the paper is essential; none is truly functional without the others. I see a several particular roles for prophetic resistance.
The first is to ground our repentance. As I alluded in my last talk, repentance belongs here, rather than simply as an offshoot of lament, because, in a culture with coordinated forces that are hell-bent on destroying the ecosystem, acts of repentance are indeed acts of resistance.
Recall Paul’s ominous declaration (Eph. 6:12) that in our struggle to be faithful, we contend not merely with flesh and blood—not merely with the frailties and temptations of our own humanity, nor merely with the controlling obstructions of others—but against “principalities and powers.” Though originally read reflecting a worldview that saw human activity beset by demonic influences, contemporary scholars (Jaques Ellul, William Stringfellow, John Howard Yoder, and Walter Wink among others) suggest that Paul has made a much more sophisticated and insightful observation here. They see Paul calling attention to the our capacity to set up empires that establish whole systems with an inertia that is greater than any individual person—an inertia that seemingly takes on a life of its own. Not a consciousness, per se, but an institutionalized energy that can will forward a set of assumptions that can have dehumanizing, inhuman consequences.
As such, “principalities and powers” names the constellation of market forces that drive the insatiable and idolatrous pursuit of stuff that has crept into the entirety of our lives. We must find ways to resist this, actively and decisively. It’s really only been in the last 100 years that advertisers have stopped trying to sell us things based on their material qualities. Advertising, as we’ve known it our entire lives, but only recently in human society, has paired products with desired social values to sell them. So we buy cars or beer or jeans or perfume in order to “buy” the happiness, sexiness, friendship, success that advertisers pair it with. Of course, you can’t buy any of those things. But advertising has so colonized our social world that it shapes the way we process our desires. It creates in us a seamless sense of reason and feeling that stuff brings meaning.
And it’s done that for a century now. Which means that while advertisers have told us we need to consume the planet in order to find meaning, that lesson was mediated to us through the habits of our parents. This is insidious. Because it means we learned these habits that are so hurtful to the planet from people we loved and trusted. This will make it all the harder to unlearn them. My parents never taught me to destroy the planet, but they modeled an innocent but so very costly disregard for the way that stuff exacts a toll on Earth because of the principalities at work in the marketplace.
We absolutely must break our addiction to consumption, because it’s killing Earth right now. But we won’t be able to resist the powers and principalities that drive this addiction on our own. We will need, church by church, to establish small groups of mutual support in which w examine the patterns in our lives that are manipulated by forces that could care less about a livable planet. There are resources that can help us do this, but this type of awkward, uncomfortable engagement with one another is simply non-negotiable. Either we do it, or by our lack of doing it, we tell our children and our grandchildren that the stuff we love means more to us than their future. We cannot love both.
I said earlier tonight that part of the prophetic work of hope is to proclaim a “real-as-Reformation” word of radical grace to us—a word that is likely our only hope for survival as a species. I say that because of this challenge right here. Hearing from the church, from our pastors and the rest of our faith companions, the gracious word of God’s claim on each of us as beloved child—exactly as we are, without need of any “stuff” at all—that word alone, become real in our lives, is perhaps the only power sufficient to break the spell of stuff over our lives. That may be the most important thing you hear tonight: the Lutheran-Christian declaration of grace may be the only power sufficient to unbind us from our addiction to stuff. (To be clear: I am convinced that other traditions also bear transformative truths that can break the spell of us, but in our tradition this is that word.)
Alongside this, we need to prophetically resist the other lifestyle choices that drive fossil fuel use. These range from diet to transportation to residential and office building to city planning and more. They’re less about the stuff we accumulate than about the conveniences and preferences that we assume have no cost greater than our own wallet. They do. They have—for generations. And these choices, too, are foreclosing the future for our grandchildren, not to mention for other species and habitats. So we need to gather to ask the hard questions about the ecological cost of the meat we eat, the fertilizer we spread, the cars we drive, the roads we build, and more. And to ask them, framed by lament, steadied by hope, and steeled by a resolve to be faithful in our resistance to the powers that abide in cultural and corporate systems, powers that pull us into choices directly counter to God’s love for this world.
Both of these prophetic actions, breaking our addiction to stuff and changing the choices of convenience and preference in our lives, will involve personal decisions best shaped and supported by our communities. But beyond this, they will also ask us to step into the public sphere and reshape the policies and the practices that continue to act as though Earth is ours to exploit until she dies.
All day long today there have been international vigils happening to lift up in prayer those injured and arrested at Standing Rock in their effort to protect the water that nourishes their tribe, the same water that is life for all of us. There are multiple sides to this conflict, but assuredly this type of prophetic confrontation is in our future, too, if we wish to honor Earth as the recipient of God’s love, and if we wish to face our children’s children with integrity at the end of our lives. This struggle is not simply for our soul. It is for our soil and our air and our water. It is for Earth’s sake as much as for our own. And in it we contend not merely against flesh and blood, but against powers and principalities. So it will be public, political, and very personal before it’s over.
Finally, in this hard work, relishing community, joy and wonder will also become prophetic acts of resistance. Once
we are secure in our faith—graced with a sense of worth given by God, affirmed by one another so that we can break our addiction to stuff and to other choices that harm the planet—we will discover that the way to truly feed our souls, to truly seek out meaning, is through moments of genuine community, deep joy, and rapt wonder. And against the principalities and powers that want to measure meaning in money and status, in power and stuff, it will be an act of daring resistance to choose otherwise … and to offer that choice to others as well.
As we make these choices, exercising this tone of prophetic speech, we’ll find that even amidst the lament on a warming planet there will be joy and laughter. Even during the upheaval in economies and ecosystems, new communities can be made. And even on those days when climate change seems to have done its worst, if we have renewed ourselves within and without, there will be occasions for wonder. Not an abundance perhaps, but enough.
Some scholars say that when Jesus instructs us to pray for “daily bread,” he means “bread sufficient for the day”—never a surplus, simply enough. It’s a petition profoundly pertinent to the challenges we face today. In a time of climate change, this simple petition within the Lord’s prayer might become a regular moment of prophetic speech on Sunday morning.
It seems like we have so much to do. And as though it is so late in the day, and we’ve missed years and decades and generations of opportunities to start sooner. That’s all true.
But the moment that we have is right now.
Climate change is upon us, and if we intend to be faithful to God, to one another, and to Earth and all her creatures, we’ll seize this moment without delay. We’ll fashion a spirituality that is apocalyptic and enables us to truly lament. We’ll fashion a spirituality that is evangelical and anchors us in hope. We’ll fashion a spirituality that is prophetic and empowers us to repent and to resist. We’ll commit to these things as individuals and as communities, and we’ll carry them over into the public sphere as well.
It is a lot to do. And there is a lot at stake. But we’re not alone. The God who fashioned us out of humus, who wove our being right into the rest of creation, that God is here with us. And besides God, we are here in the good company of Earth and all her wondrous flora and fauna. We are indeed AT HOME ON EARTH. It’s time to tend the garden.
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David R. Weiss is the author of When God Was a Little Girl, a playfully profound and slyly subversive children’s picture book (Beaver’s Pond Press, 2013; www.WhenGodWasaLittleGirl.com) as well as To the Tune of a Welcoming God: Lyrical reflections on sexuality, spirituality and the wideness of God’s welcome (2008, Langdon Street Press). A theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, David is committed to doing “public theology” around issues of sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. He lives in St. Paul and speaks on college campuses and at church and community events. You can reach him at email@example.com and read more at www.ToTheTune.com where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.”
My easy references to and actions toward the “earth” will change as I think more intentionally of my relationship to Mother Father Earth. Thankyou, David.