Resilience – Without Waiting for Permission
David R. Weiss – March 28, 2019
The Gospel in Transition #17 – Subscribe at www.davidrweiss.com
From catastrophic flooding in the U.S. Midwest to Cyclone Idai’s devastation of southeastern Africa to the recent confirmation we’re living in the warmest decade since records have been kept, the reality of climate change is hitting us everywhere these days. Except in Congress, where we continue to be regularly embarrassed by politicians who take the floor to mock climate science and ignore the suffering being multiplied all around us. Taken together, these two observations explain the fourth core insight of the Transition Movement: that we should (1) enliven imagination, (2) tap into deep agency, (3) reclaim and share earthbound skills … (4) without waiting for permission from the “governing” (political, corporate, and cultural) forces around us.
Convinced that climate change is already upon us—and that any livable future will necessarily look different than the past-present that brought us to this point—Transition believes that the faster we embrace that different future, the better off we and all future generations will be. And Transition affirms that the fastest, healthiest way to transition is local. Local transition leverages the energy available among people in neighborhoods and communities as its own natural resource. Resilience in the face of climate change arises not only by changing how we live but also by strengthening the bonds the join us to each other as we work for a human community more in harmony with the planet. Resilience is as much a social deepening as it is a technological transformation.
Transition’s fourth insight is critical because the “governing” (political, corporate, and cultural) forces around us are often conflicted—so entangled in profit interests or the preservation of power that they actually become tools in preventing the changes needed for our survival. Only rarely do they actively foster positive change. And if we wait for their permission to transition, our worlds—both social and natural, both local and global—will be in a shambles before we’re officially “permitted” to change. This is yet another place where Christian origins can inspire us today.
The Jesus movement unfolded in a society … without permission. In Jesus’ day, Roman society espoused values that ran wholly contrary to the radical hospitality and compassion that Jesus taught and practiced. Even the dominant expression of Jesus’ own Jewish tradition—deeply grounded by the prophets in hospitality and compassion—was persistently tempted to seek ways to preserve a measure of its own power under Roman rule so that it also worked to suppress its best impulses. Indeed they both exerted enormous political, social, and religious pressure to conform to values designed to keep society fragmented and stratified between a variety of in-group/out-group divisions that left no room, no permission, for community that didn’t come at the expense of some “other.”
For Jesus to announce the good news of God’s grace—radical acceptance-welcome-affirmation—as the basis on new community could only happen by not waiting for permission. Across my last four essays I’ve given just the barest glimpses into some of the ways that the ministry of the historical Jesus and the earliest patterns of the Christian church were far more this worldly in their focus than many of us grew up thinking. This is not to say that Jesus and the earliest Christians did not have truly deep convictions about an Ultimate and Gracious Reality they knew as God. But it is to be clear that they experienced God as impinging graciously in this world: redeeming … renewing … altogether remaking the conditions in which human life found possibility. And that aspect of Jesus ministry and the early church is profoundly worth reclaiming today.
A few snippets. In a classic exchange with the Pharisees (Mk 12:13-17 || Mt 22:15-22 || Lk 20:20-26), Jesus is asked whether it’s lawful to pay tribute to Caesar. It’s a trick question. To say, Yes—as Roman law demanded—would break Jewish law by paying the tax (as required) with a coin that proclaimed Caesar as god. To say, No—as Jewish law demanded in its strict rejection of any actions that gave even the appearance of idolatry—would break Roman law. Jesus’ good options are reduced to none. But in a move that perhaps anticipates James T. Kirk’s response to the Kobayashi Maru dilemma in Star Trek, Jesus … cheats. Well, he alters the frame.
After asking whose image appears on a Roman coin, Jesus responds, “Then give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” The catch is two-fold. First, for a Jew all things are God’s, leaving—in truth—nothing that belongs to Caesar. Second, for a Jew, because every human being bears the image of God—and together in our common humanity and infinite diversity we bear witness to the unity and infinity of God—and therefore, that paltry Roman coin, with its cheap attempt to replicate the very finite image of Caesar endlessly across the empire … well, actually it just shows how far short Caesar falls of the greatness of God. So if you must pay the tax to survive, you will not be judged for that. In fact, your payment might even be made as something of an insult to the Emperor.
But that is not to say that every hard choice has an easy out. When we consider new mining initiatives in Minnesota’s northlands or the Line 3 pipeline project: whose image is reflected in the boundary waters? Whose life-giving nature appears in the aquifers beneath the land? Whose sacred presence is known in the wild rice? Whose character upholds the weight of treaties (even if we choose to break them)? These questions do not resolve on so neat a turn of wit. But to recall that Jesus reframed dilemmas to reveal both their stakes and our other options is critical for us today.
Walter Wink (among others) reveals the extent to which the Jesus’ famous words (Mt 5:39-42 || Lk 6:29-30), about turning a cheek, giving a cloak, or walking an extra mile are all exhortations to not simply trust in the long arc of the moral universe, but to bend it with nonviolent human action. Perhaps because, if the moral arc of the universe bends toward justice, it will be because of those who bear the image of the God of justice jumping on it with all their might. With all their hope.
Perhaps that’s the place to pause today. More about Wink’s discussion—and how we jump—next time.
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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.
 There are multiple sources for this. I’ve found Marcus Borg particularly insightful and compelling—across all his writing, but most clearly presented here: Jesus: A New Vision (HarperSanFrancisco, 1987) and Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time (HarperSanFrancisco, 1994).
 www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kobayashi_Maru. Far be it from me to call Kirk a messianic figure, however he does seem to share with Jesus the confidence that there is no such thing as a no-win scenario.
 www.theshalomcenter.org/content/god-caesar-image-coin. There’s a lot more going on here than I discuss above.
 Walter Wink, The Powers That Be (NY: Doubleday, 1998), pp. 98-111.