Threatened with Resurrection

Threatened with Resurrection
David R. Weiss – May 16, 2019
The Gospel in Transition #25 – Subscribe at www.davidrweiss.com

“They have threatened us with resurrection.” The words come from a poem written in 1980 by Julia Esquivel, a Guatemalan poet-theologian and peace activist.[1] Penned in a time of fierce persecution of peasants, human rights activists, and church workers, the image evokes a holy irony: for Christians, to live under near constant threat of death is to be … threatened with resurrection.

This wasn’t glib optimism. During Guatemala’s civil war (1960-1996) some 200,000 persons were killed. Death squads were common, as were torture, assassination, mutilation, rape, and ‘disappearances.’ To suggest that living under such conditions was, in fact, to be “threatened with resurrection,” was an act of revolutionary inward defiance. It declared: Because we do not regard death as the end of our story—for it was not the end of Jesus’ story—therefore, even in times like these, “we go on loving life” (the last five words are drawn from the poem itself).

Climate change is NOT state-sponsored terrorism. But it will (in some places it already does) mean living in the face of daily unpredictability, chaos, suffering, and grief. And it will require a posture of revolutionary inward defiance (one aspect of the Inner Transition that is central to the Transition Movement goal of resilience) to cultivate both the inner and outer resources to embrace life in this new world. Which is why, especially after my last post summoning us to embrace ecological grief, it seems a good time to remind us that as Christians, climate change threatens us with resurrection. Which in turn invites … compels us to live in the holy irony of meeting the prospect of radical uncertainty with an undaunted love for life.

This, too, is not glib optimism. The science around climate change is too unforgiving for that. The media spin is often shaped alternately by a foolhardy thirst for one more round of profits, or a fear-laden denial convinced it can’t be that bad, or the naïve belief we’ll invent our way out of this without needing to deeply(!) re-work the misshapen appetites and assumptions that got us here. But once you push through the spin, BLEAK is what stares back at you. And bleak doesn’t blink.

Part of our problem, however, is that unlike in Guatemala, where Esquivel’s poem was read against the lived experience of brutality (no one doubted they lived under immediate threat)—today both society and church remain largely in denial of the peril still mostly unseen in front of us. Even as anxiety over climate change creeps into the background of our daily lives, the immediacy of the threat is seldom felt. Not here. Not yet. But it is inexorably on the way. So I tend to shout. Sorry. (Not sorry.)

I get it. ‘Bleak’ isn’t good for the market, for one’s career path, or for our widespread consumptive addictions, so we find ways to push it to the side. But ‘bleak’ is what science tells us today, so my task is to be unrelentingly imaginative in making that bleakness real.[2]

For some it already is. The Agenda, a Canadian public television current affairs show recently hosted a 30-minute segment on the emotional impact of climate change on those directly involved in the research.[3] Scientists, whose work places them before any spin, are increasingly wrestling with deep grief as they see an Earth unmade by human folly—sometimes first hand in habitats they’ve come to love, sometimes in climate models made by math they’ve learned to trust. While objectivity is crucial in collecting and assessing the data, when that objectivity announces existential crises for habitats and for humans even scientists are given pause.

It’s what comes after the pause that counts. Rob Law, a longtime Australian climate activist, writes, “to truly tackle the climate and extinction crisis we also need to give ourselves permission to grieve, personally and collectively.”[4] Why? Not as an exercise in self-defeat, but as a means to clear the way for action. Acknowledging our grief, Low continues, allows us “to create new ways of connecting to one another, to mourn for what we all love and are losing day by day … and to galvanize what is most important.” Michael Mann, a leading climate scientist, agrees, commenting in the Agenda segment, “It’s not a matter of are we ‘effed’ or not [as though it’s a simple binary either/or], it’s a matter of how ‘effed,’ and that is left for us to determine—and that requires us to become active participants in reducing whatever carbon burn we can.”

We don’t gain anything by denying the bleakness of our present situation. In fact, denial—as well as a too-easy optimism—only heightens the risk for all of us … for all of Earth. But we need not be paralyzed by it either. As Christians, the more we dare to really hear the science, such as the IPCC report from last fall or the IPBES report from last week,[5] the more we will find ourselves threatened with resurrection.

Our response should be to manifest an undaunted love for life. The Transition Movement offers us uncanny (even providential) insight into the shape of that response, and I’ll explore Christian adaptions of Transition in a series of posts over the summer. But fundamentally, to be threatened with resurrection—as those living in Guatemala in the 1970’s and 1980’s knew firsthand—is to begin from grief. It is to recognize that the wellspring of our action (which must be manifold) is the grief we dare to feel for the whole of creation.

Moving into this grief, making it part of our faith and witness in the twenty-first century, is our foremost calling as Christian communities today. (And there is more that must be written about, too.) But calling for grief is, in a sense, good news. Biblical faith has never been afraid of grief. It is the ground out of which resurrection comes. And if there is hope for a restored future on the far side of calamity that is yet to be weathered, it will be because we dared to grieve.

If we believe in a God who works miracles with mustard seeds, then grief is the mustard seed we must sow today. We, who are threatened with resurrection.

 

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 essays 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,” I aim 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! Contact me at: drw59mn(at)gmail.com

[1] Julia Esquivel, Threatened with Resurrection: Prayers and Poems from an Exiled Guatemalan (Brethren Press, 1982). You can find the whole poem here: www.how-matters.org/2012/08/31/julia-esquivel/

[2] Walter Brueggemann considers the primary task of the Hebrew prophets as poetic. Initially (pre-Exile), that meant finding images—sometimes spoken, sometimes embodied—sufficient to carry the grief of God and visceral enough to break through the numbness of God’s people. Later (mid-Exile) it meant finding images able to awaken hope in God’s people in moments when their capacity to hope was all but extinguished by the circumstances of their lives. See The Prophetic Imagination (Fortress Press, 1978) and Hopeful Imagination (Fortress Press, 1986).

[3] www.tvo.org/video/burnout-and-despair-studying-the-climate.

[4] www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/may/09/i-have-felt-hopelessness-over-climate-change-here-is-how-we-move-past-the-immense-grief.

[5] IPPC report: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/08/global-warming-must-not-exceed-15c-warns-landmark-un-report; IPBES report: www.ipbes.net/news/Media-Release-Global-Assessment.

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