Kairos and the Core Convictions of Transition
David R. Weiss – November 19, 2019
The Gospel in Transition #48 – Subscribe at www.davidrweiss.com
This essay builds on my last post (GIT #47) about the Transition Town Movement. As said then, I’m convinced this is a kairos moment (GIT #46) for humanity as a whole—a time when the choices we make, individually and collectively, at all levels and in all places—will decisively shape the future … for everyone on the planet … and for generations to come. Faith communities have a particular responsibility because the skills needed in this kairos moment are among those that faith communities are distinctly suited to offer (which is not to say we’re the only ones able to do so, or even that we’re actually offering them—only that we could!). And there are insights in the Transition Movement that faith communities can learn from. That’s why we’re here.
To pick up from where I left off last time, in 2004 as Rob Hopkins became aware of the intertwined threats of peak oil (see GIT #47 for more on this) and climate change, he saw his training in permaculture as offering a powerful resource in shaping a community response.  So he assigned his permaculture students in Kinsdale, Ireland (pop. 2300) a course project of developing an “energy descent plan” for Kinsdale. Recognizing that any response to peak oil and climate change would require that communities dramatically lessen their dependence on fossil fuel, he asked his students to put their minds to imagining how to do this over the next fifteen years. That is, to reduce Kinsdale’s reliance on fossil fuels to one fourth of its then current use. The project goal was to produce a vision for a post-carbon Kinsdale that would be an even more desirable community to live in—and to launch the Kinsdale community itself into conversation about its future.
Although this was not yet a full-blown Transition initiative, Hopkins’ first foray into fashioning a positive, inviting community response to the challenge of living sustainably on a finite planet was a crucial learning experience for everyone involved. The students’ final result, the Kinsdale Energy Descent Plan, was never fully adopted in its original 2005 form, but it planted seeds for countless conversations and eventually led to Kinsdale becoming a Transition Town the following year.
Meanwhile, in 2005 Hopkins himself moved to Totness, England (pop. 8500). There he built on his Kinsdale experience and partnered closely with Naresh Giangrande, a peak oil educator, to create a Transition Town process more intentionally from the ground up—and as a community project rather than a campus one. Beginning in fall 2005 they used a whole series of community events to carefully lay the groundwork for a community-wide “unleasing” of Transition Town Totness in September 2006. This was followed by an entire year of further community-strengthening events ranging from educational to transformational. Since that birth of the Transition Town idea, over a thousand Transition initiatives have been undertaken in countries around the globe.
The Transition Town Movement has certainly matured as it has played out over time and spread to new settings, but it remains remarkably true to Hopkins’ original vision, which was to bring the insights of permaculture from their largely rural setting into town, villages, and cities. His conviction remains that as people in all settings begin to awaken to just how “not right” things are, the principles of permaculture can do much more than guide us in how we tend the land; they can also inspire us to tend our communities—our entire cultures—with renewed earth-offered wisdom.
Transition identifies three major crises facing humanity today. (In truth, there are more than just three, but these three intersect with many more—both amplifying and being amplified by them—so I don’t want to get tripped up by asking whether these three are the “top” three. Each is decisive, multifaceted, and reaches far. The first is peak oil, which acknowledges the extent to which our lives are unsustainably swimming in fossil fuel—and anticipates the coming crash when those fuels become scarce and costly. The second is the climate crisis, which is, of course, driven primarily by our use of fossil fuel, but this crisis is concerned with the multitude of ways that a changing climate will wreak havoc on our lives and on Earth’s ecosystems and creatures.
The third crisis the economic crisis, which is hardest to capture in words. In its most abstract form, it names the dangerous extent to which money has taken on a life of its own today: as global economic relations exist largely independent of real world products and services. The sheer weight of debt servicing and speculative investments as a share of the economy make the economic foundation of actual lives more volatile and precarious. It’s as though economic growth is a Jenga tower built ever higher only by making the base ever more likely to fall. This plays out in rising inequality, excruciating poverty, unemployment and economic displacement, etc. When money takes on a life of its own, human life is diminished from every angle.
These crises, which conspire to pose an existential threat to countless species, human society, and humanity itself, reflect what Christian faith has called sin. They expose our profound alienation from creation/nature, one another, and the sacred. But such a claim needs to be explored with nuance because one wide swath of Christianity has twisted sin into mere personal (often sexual) morality and reduced the arc of God’s work into a fall-redemption plot where Jesus’ primary purpose is to be killed. I mean none of that, and it will take a post of its own just to begin that exploration. But Christianity HAS language to name the dynamics behind these crises, and that means Christianity might be capable of rousing its members to respond in this kairos moment.
Transition also holds four key assumptions. (1) Finitude (seen in both peak oil and climate crisis) means any future other than death requires much lower energy consumption—and, knowing this, we’re wiser to plan for it rather than crash the system. (2) Our communities presently lack the resilience (think: imaginative-practical agility-adaptability) either to make the swift shift in our lives that is needed or to respond to the crash when it comes. (3) Individual actions (while necessary) are insufficient and government actions (while also necessary) are politically tenuous and practically slow, therefore collective action—by friends, neighbors, and fellow citizens—to build community resilience and to plan for and move toward a post-carbon life is indispensable to any future in which human society (and some semblance of a “healthy” ecosystem) might persist. (4) If we “unleash the collective genius” in our communities today—ideas, skills, stories, visions, etc.—it would be possible, not only to weather the worst of what’s headed our way, but even to fashion new patterns of life together in which joy and justice flourish on a finite planet.
Each of these assumptions—again, to be explored in another post—can be embraced within faith communities. Although church membership today is far more geographically scattered than in earlier eras (especially in urban areas), churches remain communities where this type of collective action could find a natural habitat. And, because these assumptions speak to the salvation (that is, the healing) of the planet and its people, churches that choose to explore what it means to be faith-based Transition communities, have the opportunity to revitalize their internal faith and energy, while also recovering a sense of external purpose that the world actually needs.
Right now. Because a kairos moment demands nothing less.
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
* * *
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.
 The background here is from Rob Hopkins, The Transition Handbook: From oil dependency to local resilience (White River Junction, Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2008), especially pp. 122-145; supplemented by the Transition US website: www.transitionus.org.