Choosing Sunshine: The Heart of the Matter
David R. Weiss – October 19, 2019
The Gospel in Transition #45 – Subscribe at www.davidrweiss.com
For Margaret and me, putting in rooftop solar was never about financial incentives. It was simply one more step in bringing the day-to-day details of our life into closer alignment with the convictions of our faith, the values of our hearts, and the needs of our planet.
Although the intricacies of our personal faith may differ in details, we share the deep conviction that we are at home on Earth. That the world—indeed the entire cosmos—is profoundly interwoven in ways that hold us, and all that is, in community. This awareness has percolated upward in each of our lives by varied paths at varied paces; these days it is seamlessly part of the faith we each hold about the Mystery that dwells at the heart of all that is.
That Mystery, however named or understood, is the energy behind creation, animating it as it unfolds in wonderful diversity, terrifying upheaval, and awe-inspiring beauty. We honor that Mystery when we acknowledge that nature—from mountain ranges to microbes, from whole species to specific creatures—bears the imprint of the Holy no less than we do. When the Genesis creation tale tells us that “God saw all that God had made, and behold it was very good,” (Gen. 1:31) we say, Yes! And we affirm creation as a very good place to call home.
We see in Jesus—and in many other holy teachers, as well—an embodied announcement that God’s goodness runs far deeper than we can imagine … embracing all of us. And—that such unconditional goodness invites our company as it runs rampant across creation. Thus, however imperfectly, we seek to echo the goodness of God in how we live our lives, from the tenderness of our love for one another, to the love we hold for our families, to the hospitality we offer to those we encounter in the world, to the respect and reverence we cultivate for the Earth community. That new solar array on our roof? It’s simply, truly, one more echo of the goodness of God, that we offer to the world.
Indeed, although the words “solar panel” did not appear in our marriage ceremony, they were resting right between the lines. We shaped our service around “seven sacred stones”—the core values that had ripened in each of our lives independently before we pledged our love to one another at forty-one. We set these “sacred stones” at the center of our wedding … at the center of our marriage … at the center of our shared life. Among the seven were these three (emphasis added here):
2. Connections to creation: honoring the earth from our bodies to the dirt. This stone honors the joy we experience at being immersed in creation. It honors our celebration of being embodied persons and our celebration of the goodness of the earth, both in its wild grandeur and in its more mundane presence in our own backyard.
3. Cooperative living with one another. This stone honors the simple joy we take in living and working side by side. It marks our commitment to share happily in all that it takes to build and maintain a home together—and to do so in ways that care for one another and the earth.
6. Spirituality: turning outward in compassion and justice. This stone honors the outward movement of our spirituality as our care for those around us. It honors the passion with which we seek to practice compassion and justice toward our neighbors, our companion creatures, and the earth itself. And it honors the various ways we each do this, together and individually, in our work and in our play.
We basically got married to put up solar panels.
If those 26 solar panels manifest the momentum of our earlier lives coming together, they also reflect the loves that have grown since we married in 2001. In particular, the intertwined love for the six children we now share in our blended family and the nine grandchildren who have graced our lives over the past thirteen years. We put up solar for them. None of them live with us any longer, and I rather doubt any of them will want to buy our 100-year-old home (and its many quirks) when we decide to sell. But those panels on our roof are nonetheless a testament to our hope for their future.
As our rooftop array comes to life, we hope it piques the curiosity of our grandchildren (and our children) about the near-limitless power of the sun. The sun’s energy reaching Earth is 10,000 times our current usage! That’s not to say we can capture all of it—or that the other far more finite resources on the planet could sustain a humanity using all that energy (learning to live with “enough” is one of the primary vocations for our species). But it does suggest that the pathway toward a better future is soaked in sunshine not fossil fuel. We’d be overjoyed for them to grow up in a world where residential solar (and other forms of solar) becomes the norm—and is rooted in the reverent awareness that investing in solar is one way we embrace Earth as home.
On a much more sobering (but no less honest or enthusiastic) note, as we reckon with the climate crisis, which will get worse—and for a long time—before it gets better (the getting worse is near-certain, the getting better remains a long shot), we want to lessen our reliance on fossil fuels as much as possible. We’re still stuck in a society where practical denial or malignant indifference to climate concerns at the level of public policy/planning still makes solar a “novel” choice. But, as climatologist Michael Mann has said, “It’s not a matter of are we ‘effed’ or not (as though it were 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.”
Over its 30-year life our small solar array will provide sunshine-driven electricity to our home, leaving 88 tons of coal where it belongs: underground. That’s hardly enough to save the planet (a phrase so foolishly anthropocentric it reinforces the very problem it tries to address, but you get the point). Not even enough to save our souls. Another hugely problematic phrase—I simply mean that one solar array does not secure our personal integrity. From our embrace of creation, to our following in the company of Jesus, to our love for another and for our family, rooftop solar is just one piece in the work of integrity. That’s the project of a lifetime, and Margaret and I are in it the way we’re in our marriage: till death do us part.
With that fierce familial love that says “to hell with the odds” and reaches defiantly from this generation to the next, those panels harnessing today’s sunshine are also our investment in a tumultuous tomorrow, buying our children and grandchildren a future that is a little less ‘effed’: one that perhaps has a little more time for them and the rest of their generation to find their own way home to a planet that’s always been waiting for us. Right here.
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 discuss those incentives, as well as the other practical steps in our process to install solar, in my last post: www.davidrweiss.com/2019/10/18/rooftop-solar-nuts-and-bolts.
 Curious? You’ll find a list of all seven sacred stones here: https://tothetune.files.wordpress.com/2019/10/seven-golden-stones.pdf.
 Drawdown, edited by Paul Hawken (New York: Penguin, 2017, pp. 10-11), lists rooftop solar among the most promising alternative technologies to “draw down” our use of carbon-emitting practices and reach a future where we live in relative harmony with nature rather than in opposition to the very planet that is our home.