Inner Transition: Where the Given Meets the Gospel
David R. Weiss – September 7, 2019
The Gospel in Transition #40 – Subscribe at www.davidrweiss.com
I have to be honest. There are days when the latest climate news hits hard. Actually, there are weeks and months like that for me. The science is not encouraging. The math is simply unforgiving. And the physics has no empathy.
Consider: the lag time between releasing CO2 (and other greenhouse gasses) into the atmosphere and when we actually experience the impact of those raised CO2 levels is 30-40 years. That means we are just TODAY experiencing a climate shaped by the 350ppm (parts per million) of CO2 in the atmosphere 30-40 years ago. And (maybe you’ve noticed) it’s NOT pretty.
And because current CO2 levels are now well above 400ppm, the next 30-40 years are pretty much locked in as a “pre-paid” immersive learning experience on the impact that raising CO2 from 350-400ppm will have on our world. We like to think we can (somehow) swerve back from the edge of disaster just in the knick of time. But the choices we make (or fail to make) today are not so much about the next 30-40 years but what comes after that.
In other words, my own (grown) children’s climate future is NOT at the center of discussion. Their climate future was settled over the past three decades. We don’t know exactly what it’s going to look like (because if/when the positive feedback loops kick in things will get precipitously worse), but wildfires, hurricanes, flooding, droughts, sea level rise, global food insecurity and political insecurity all seem certain to increase—accompanied by an unimaginable number of climate refugees.
That’s the given. Our choices today will not alter that. But they do matter in other ways. They will determine whether we manage to lessen the worst impacts of global heating, which are still 40+ years ahead of us. And whether we endure the coming crisis—the next 30-40 years a reeling climate that’s already bought and paid for—with integrity and compassion. But there’s a catch—and it inextricably links these two sets of choices. Even if we make all the right choices for that four-decades-off future we can barely imagine (but which will become our grandchildren’s and great-grandchildren’s daily life), even if we act with supreme wisdom and restraint now, things will continue to get worse. For many of us, for the rest of our lives. Even if we do the right things. All the time.
Which means, both for our own well-being and for the sake of persons not yet conceived, we must resolve to cultivate compassion and nurture integrity without expecting it to save us. On the one hand, the emergence of such deep character is the only thing that will save us—preserve our humanity. But it will not have any significant effect on the increasingly hostile climate conditions most of us fifty-and-older will face for the rest of our lives. And the sooner we acknowledge that, the more focused we can be on the character we need to survive.
In a sense, this is what the Transition Movement has always been about: recognizing the extent to which our present lives are hitched to unsustainable—indeed deadly—practices, and choosing to transition away from them and toward truly sustainable practices before we are caught off guard, and as a matter of communal choice. And—with a measure of good spirit; because these deadly practices have not only been eroding the planet’s ecosystems, they’ve also been steadily eroding our humanity, so making different (albeit unfamiliar) choices has the capacity to re-humanize us.
At the macro level the window for orderly transition away from a fossil-fueled societal collapse is fast closing. (Indeed, a growing number of well-informed folks say the window has not only closed, it’s been padlocked shut.) And while Trump is a convenient scapegoat for this—his administration has gone out its way to damn future generations to a living hell—nonetheless our dilemma reflects decades of inaction by politicians of all stripes. Generations of fixation on profit/wealth/money/stuff as the measure of meaning in our life. And the collected energy of corporations, the wealthy, and those bought off or tricked into doing their bidding. There is plenty of blame to go around; our current president is only the latest, loudest, most brutish and clownish manifestation of a cultural infatuation with an ecocidal way of life.
In the face of this, the Transition Movement—without dismissing the value of street protest or political action—opts to place its energy in building fresh patterns of community. Because only by remaking our notion of humanity itself will we find patterns for living that can sustain us through the coming decades and (perhaps) sow the seeds of a fundamentally more ecological form of human life in the future. For all its practical focus on transportation, food, energy use, and the like, this is ultimately “religious” work—though by no means necessarily tied to a religious tradition. But beneath all of this it is about fashioning … inhabiting … a different cosmology, one that sets us more accurately and more compassionately within the web of creation. The immediate payoff—against the backdrop of the climate emergency—is that in the process we will recover the humanity that we barely remember was once ours.
This cosmology-crafting is at the heart of Inner Transition: tending to the neural paths and emotions that comprise the infrastructure of personal choice, shared community, and culture. It sometimes happens implicitly, the spontaneous result of pursuing outward habits that happen to produce corresponding inward life-giving rewards as well. And sometimes it transpires as the result of careful intent. Inner Transition is the place where—most directly—faith communities contribute to the character-shift, the cosmological revolution necessary in this moment.
The practices evident in how we hold and share power in faith communities (even in how we conduct our committee meetings) can easily echo the top-down power dynamics that are killing our planet. But they can also experiment powerfully with ways to embrace shared power, ways that echo, adapt, and amplify the model of Jesus. The shape of our worship, from the language, songs, and visual imagery we choose to the way we embody our rituals, these things, too, are cosmology-craft at work. Our willingness to endure (welcome) truth-telling in our midst and our commitment to fellowship that pushes past polite company into authentic relationship frame the crucible in which a new cosmology might be born.
We have largely and tragically imagined the Gospel—that declaration of God’s unconditional and unnerving love for every bit of creation—as a message-with-the-means to carry us from this world to the next. I am here to tell you that the only Gospel that is truly good news—that bears the message-as-means of God’s awe-full love—is the one that can carry us to the heart of this world. And inspire us to make it once again our home.
And it is our home. No less so on account of the wounds we’ve inflicted on it. No less so on account of the decades of wounding that we’ve already loaded in the atmosphere. This IS our home. We die, endure, or heal right here. But our tradition is clear, God loves this world. Embracing that truth with all of our audacious creativity, courageous compassion, and practical wisdom—in every corner of our personal and communal lives is what Inner Transition looks like. It is Gospel wrapped in all manner of flesh. As it is always is.
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 our climate crisis, 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.
 I believe many—most!—faith traditions can support a cosmology in which we are fully wed to this world. My work is within the Christian tradition because this is the tradition I’m writing out of—and into.