Resilience – Bending the Arc

Resilience – Bending the Arc
David R. Weiss – April 4, 2019
The Gospel in Transition #19 – Subscribe at

Today I want to conclude my thoughts (begun in Essay #17) on 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.[1] These forces are so entangled with profit and/or power that they’re NOT going to offer permission, let alone support for us as we make the changes that are necessary for a transition away from fossil fuel intensive living. But we must transition—and quickly.

Moreover, the Transition Movement asserts that the transition needed is actually life-giving as well. Profits may suffer, power may be less concentrated, but life—that will be richer … more abundant, as Jesus called it. And I argued across my last two essays that Jesus, in fact, teaches about acting for good without waiting for permission—even when such actions are outright (and creatively) subversive of the status quo. I described what Walter Wink calls Jesus’ “Third Way”[2] (an option beyond “fight or flight”) as a way that preserves—and amplifies—human dignity, transforming the dynamics of a no-win scenario into a moment with breathing space … and fresh potential. And I suggested it invited us to not simply trust in the long arc of the moral universe, but to bend it with our own action.

As we face climate change—and systemic forces that constrain our options and obstruct our capacity for social transformation—besides imagination, energy, and skill, we must create moments with breathing space and fresh potential. And that’s precisely what Transition communities aim to do. Moving with cheerful(!) energy away from a carbon-intensive society, they are localized invitations to jump on that long arc of the moral universe—believing that its arc is not inevitable but the result of concerted communal choice. This is NOT to suggest that God is indifference to the universe’s moral character, but that God counts on those who bear God’s image to play a decisive role in shaping God’s universe for good.

But how? While this will (absolutely) sometimes involve saying “No!” to policies and projects that threaten Earth’s wellbeing (and hopefully doing so with creative gusto and fierce resolve), the defining resilience of Transition Movement is its creative gusto in saying “Yes!” to patterns of life that bend the arc toward a more sustainable, regenerative flourishing of life. Transition also regards wisdom as necessarily local, contextual, so it doesn’t offer definitive answers to how any given community might bend the arc. (And I’m also no expert, merely a fellow traveler along the way.) But I can offer some examples.

Transition Movement focuses on neighborhood connections, making a secular affirmation of Jesus’ pronouncement that the Kin-dom of God[3] is at hand—near enough to touch … perhaps waiting only upon our linked arms to burst into full bloom. Since I’m writing for faith communities, I want to suggest ways for churches, which may not have a neighborhood-based membership but do have reservoirs of deep social bonds, to exercise the “Yes!” at the heart of resilience. Transition is rooted in learning the skills to live more lightly on the planet in community because that communal aspect not only stretches the reach of all the learning, it also activates joy and hope. Thus, the goal is precisely NOT to encourage these as individual endeavors but as opportunities to mutually build community and deepen planetary kinship … even reverence for creation.

Here are several ideas of where to start. [4]

Food. Imagine conversations and group activities that foster confidence and fellowship around growing food, buying local/organic, supporting farmer’s market/CSA’s, moving toward plant-rich diets, eating seasonally, reducing food waste, canning/freezing for food storage, or using permaculture in home gardening/landscaping. Some of these could (should!) culminate in actual shared meals.

Housing. Conversations and group activities can foster confidence, fellowship, and change around energy efficient light bulbs, basic home weatherization (which could involve sharing how you adjust seasonal clothing choices before you adjust thermostats!), insulation, and energy efficient appliances. Trade experiences or aspirations for living in closer community: denser housing, co-housing, even communal homes. Some of these are “costly”; others are inexpensive and repay their investment quickly. The point is to actively share knowledge/skill and take the responsibility within our reach for the lives we live.

Transportation. Conversations and group activities can foster confidence, fellowship, and effect real change in how we move ourselves around. Creating car pools for church events—perhaps tracking this as a community challenge. Offering learning opportunities in using mass transit, from reading bus/train schedules to finding route connections to even making groups rides so that anyone who wants can feel confident using mass transit. Creating (and celebrating) opportunities to bike and walk as alternatives with side benefits of personal health and company. Maybe skills sharing in basic bike repair.

Waste. Conversations and group activities can foster confidence, fellowship, and effect real change in how we refuse, reuse, reduce, recycle, and rot (compost) our waste. There are zero-waste initiatives and recycling classes that can inspire and teach us a lot. Ending the ease with which we toss what we don’t want in the garbage is an ecological, moral, spiritual imperative—and by pursuing it as an act of communal learning, hemmed in by humility and seasoned with joy, we can go farther than as individuals.

Finally, imagine framing all of these activities—on each occasion—with prayer or other simple rituals that link this learning to our desire to care for the planet by living lightly upon it, our gratitude for Earth’s bounty, our hope to keep “home” in ways that align with Earth as our wider home. Imagine lifting up these efforts regularly (habitually!) in our communal worship as holy pursuits … as holy habits.

None of these things are nearly so daunting as the challenges to which Jesus offered his Third Way. Or are they? We’ve brought our entire ecosystem planet to a point of genuine peril by not facing them sooner. The forces that limit not only our choices, but also our imaginations are far more daunting than we want to admit. Our hearts and minds are occupied by forces that count on our complicity as they sell off our children’s future (and so much more). Saying “Yes!” to new patterns such as I suggest above will not come easily, which is why the communal and worshipful aspects are so essential.

And why the resulting joy is such good news. In fact, perhaps it is not so much the jumping itself but more precisely the union of seeking justice while generating joy that is able to actually bend the arc.

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:

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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!

[1] As identified by Rob Hopkins and Sarah McAdams in “The Transition Movement: Past, Present, and Future,” roundtable discussion, 2018 Transition US 10th Anniversary Online Summit:

[2] Walter Wink, The Powers That Be: Theology for a New Millennium (NY: Doubleday, 1998), pp. 98-111. This text offers a very accessible discussion of Wink’s more scholarly treatment in Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), pp. 175-193.

[3] Jesus, of course, says “Kingdom,” but kings are a distant abstraction for us, and he actually means something close to kin-dom in that God’s gospel activity is expressed in deepening the embrace of kinship in all directions.

[4] offers a curriculum that guides small groups through practical learning toward Transition. It could be used “off the shelf” within faith communities, though I believe framing it explicitly within a faith narrative will greatly deepen its impact when used by groups for whom a faith narrative is key in life meaning.

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