Resilience – and Earthbound Skills
David R. Weiss – March 24, 2019
The Gospel in Transition #16 – Subscribe at www.davidrweiss.com
This week I take up the third of four key facets to the Transition Movement: that we reclaim and share the very earthbound skills required in this moment. If you hear a soft-spoken ominous edge in that phrase, it’s intentional. Transition does not promote a doomsday portrait of the future. But it is a movement made by math, so to speak, and the numbers—from those that estimate the oil/gas reserves beneath the ground to those that measure with apocalyptic precision the rising CO2 in the atmosphere above us—well, the numbers portend a future that (like it or not) will look very different from the one we’ve taken as our birthright.
Thus, Transition asks us to imagine moving toward that future rather than denying its need or passively waiting for its inevitable encroachment into our lives. For one, that future will be dramatically less centered around the extraction and use of fossil fuel. But, more than this, that future—sooner or later—will also (and just as necessarily) be centered less around consumption period. Even as we develop newer, cleaner ways to generate energy, produce goods, and get around—quite apart from all such advances—we inhabit a finite planet. Even with an abundance of renewable energy, the material wealth we count as “success” cannot be extended across the globe without exhausting the planet itself. Whether we embrace a renewed appreciation for simplicity on this side or the far side of socio-industrial-ecological collapse is up to us. Embracing it on this side, might actually avoid forcing our children to face life on the far side. Or maybe not; hard to say. There’s that soft-spoken ominous edge again.
Nevertheless, Transition places its focus on the surprising goodness of lives that choose “local and less” in the genuine confidence that these choices actually mean “deeper and more.” Which brings us to what I’ve named “earthbound skills.”
The big-picture lecture I give about Christian spirituality in a time of climate change is titled “At Home on Earth.” I chose that title because I think the roots of our disastrous relationship with this planet and its entire ecological community are tied up with an unspoken assumption that since our “true” (heavenly?) home, is somewhere other than this place, whatever this place is, it’s NOT home and so it doesn’t really count. On the contrary, I think the truest Christian message—the truest human message regardless of which faith tradition it’s refracted through—is that Earth is home. Regardless of how you or I think about an afterlife, in this life … and during the lives of all the generations before and after us … Earth is home. It provides all our material needs, and we overstep its capacity to provide (we take at a rate faster than nature can renew) to the detriment of all (human and nonhuman) who come after us and many who share the planet with us right now.
When a finite planet is home, simplicity (an active notion of enough that is humane and ecologically sensible) is at once a moral obligation and an act of reverence. Thankfully, as Transition suggests, it is also a choice for festive wisdom: it is the doorway through which lies existential joy. Not to the exclusion of natural disaster, unforeseen tragedy, human sorrow—these will always be found within the fabric of finitude. But when life is lived oriented toward “local and less” even these become more bearable because community grows stronger when it reflects the planet’s preferences, of which an intimate acquaintance with enough is front and center.
So, by “earthbound skills,” I mean the practical knowledge that helps us reclaim the sense of Earth … as Home. There are a multitude of such skills that Transition thinking identifies and supports. They literally span the gamut of our lives: food, housing, transportation, education, healthcare. How would we retool our lives—beginning locally, personally, in our natural communities—if we took seriously the need to “homestead”? To live as if this place—right here—needed to sustain us indefinitely, and by drawing fairly on resources available to us and to others? Because, um, it does. What would we work to undo? What new projects would we envision and undertake? (There are lots of resources to seed this conversation and someday I’ll dedicate a whole column to them; www.transitionus.org/knowledge-hub is a gateway to many resources. Right now my own learning curve remains steep!)
My goal today is to say that while this may strike us as a radical, almost disorienting shift in worldview, it shouldn’t. It actually has ancient roots within Christianity, albeit roots we’ve neglected too long except as aspirational imagery.
When Luke tells us that the early church held everything in common, with members sharing freely out of their excess and receiving freely for their needs (Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-35), he isn’t describing some perfect eschatological commune. He’s offering a mundane image of an imperfect church grasped by a worldview that saw the church radically called to be there for each other. If you read the rest of Acts you see how imperfect it was at times, and yet it was a community seeking to live out Jesus’ invitation that we see his face in the eyes of those in need (Matthew 25:32-45). It was a community imagining life beyond the value-laden divisions of Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, rich and poor (Gal. 3:28; I Cor. 11:17-22). It was a community experimenting with truth (as Gandhi might say) in being the Body of Christ (I Cor. 12) where the diversity of gifts (spiritual, intellectual, emotional, practical) was not intended for competition but for compassion, for sustaining the health of the whole Body together.
Obviously, in the early church this mindset was not exercised against the backdrop of an impending climate crisis, but it was communally embodied … in daily life … shaped by the context of its day … fueled by vivid spiritual imagery and ritual … in a society that dismissed (and at times persecuted) this intermingling of justice and joy. And we need those things today. One of the transcendent (nearly theological) insights of the Transition Movement is that when localized community energy is freely shared to meet the needs of the moment in shaping a better (less fossil-fuel-fed) future, in that exchange, community is strengthened, justice happens (needs are met without exploitation), joy is generated—and in the midst of all of this: hope grows and imagination reaches out yet farther.
Church communities are “pre-seeded soil” for this type of eco-centered ministry. The same energy that undergirds church potlucks, funeral luncheons, quilting groups, workdays, etc. (energy often flagging today, but still echoing in our traditions), might … must be revitalized and redirected as one part of the larger movement to transition away from acquisitive lives that have never been truly abundant and toward lives that offer us so much more. Among the local “needs of this moment” are an array of mundane “home-making” skills, some of them from reclaimed from yesteryear, others leaning into tomorrow. All of them will prosper through cross-generational skills-sharing in communities where diverse gifts and generous spirits abide.
Indeed, if churches choose to revitalize and deepen their practice of Christian fellowship, applying it earnestly toward Earth fellowship as envisioned by the Transition Movement, they’ll find not only a wealth of renewed energy and hope, they’ll discover what it feels like to know Earth as God intended: as Home.
PS: I’ve set up a Patreon site to help fund my work in this area. I hope you’ll invest in my thinking and writing. You can learn more about how to support me here: www.patreon.com/fullfrontalfaith
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The Gospel in Transition by David R. Weiss is a year of reflections on facing climate change, finding hope, and the alchemy of Christian community. My weekly blog posts will consider climate change, Transition, and faith—using biblical images, liturgical seasons, science, and theology, as conversation partners. Writing in a voice a bit too restless to call “devotional”; my aim is to be insightfully evocative and usefully provocative. I’d be delighted to have you join me on this journey. In fact, I hope you’ll subscribe (go to the top right sidebar!) Thanks for reading and see you next week!
 I introduced these in GIT #13, “Redeemed for Resilience.” They were identified by Rob Hopkins and Sarah McAdams in “The Transition Movement: Past, Present, and Future,” roundtable discussion, 2018 Transition US Tenth Anniversary Online Summit: www.transitiongathering.org/videos.