Visualizing 2040: Imagining My Place in Tomorrow
September 16, 2020 – David R. Weiss
Right now I’m in a webinar on “Regenerative Leadership” taught by Transition US. The Transition Movement, international in scope, is focused on facilitating a transition away from oil-centric lives and the danger we pose to ourselves and to entire ecosystems because of our economic-cultural addiction to oil. Just as much (perhaps more so), the Movement focuses on transition toward a healthier communal way of being human on a finite planet.
Of course, it’s more than just the oil. We live, as their website says, “in an age of unprecedented change, with a number of crises converging. Climate change, global economic instability, overpopulation, erosion of community, declining biodiversity, and resource wars, have all stemmed from the availability of cheap, non-renewable fossil fuels. Global oil, gas and coal production is predicted to irreversibly decline in the next 10 to 20 years, and severe climate changes are already taking effect around the world. The coming shocks are likely to be catastrophic.” Thus, in anticipation of the coming shocks—Transition cultivates “vibrant, grassroots community initiatives that seek to build community resilience … to mitigate these converging global crises by engaging their communities in home-grown, citizen-led education, action, and multi-stakeholder planning to increase local self reliance and resilience.”
Transition US has selected “From What Is to What If: Reimagining and Rebuilding Our World” as the theme for its current yearlong campaign, and this 16-week Regenerative Leadership webinar is part of that: aiming to develop and refine leadership skills to expand transition work in communities across the country. In preparation for Thursday’s class we did a pre-taped visualization exercise that invited us to imagine waking up in 2040 and to take stock of that world as it might be if we start transitioning toward a more just sustainable world today; a sort of fast forward sneak peak at a possible tomorrow as a tool for stoking strategic planning today. Then we were asked to write two short responses to the exercise. These (lightly edited for clarity) were my responses.
What is your vision for yourself, your community, and the world in the year 2040?
Initially I found the visualization/visioning exercise both frustrating and humbling … though it did ultimately led to a place of hopefulness.
But first, the humbling frustration. Many of the visualization prompts asked me to imagine the “systems” of that future world as I moved through a typical day. (What would I eat? Where would it come from? What about my clean drinking water? Where would my waste go? What would community transit and architecture look like?) But I have very little “practical knowledge” about my day-to-day life today let alone tomorrow. It’s embarrassing how much I’m dependent on systems I don’t understand to provide water, food, energy, etc. In (too!) many ways I’m at the mercy of the modern world.
This is not an excuse to be lazy in visioning, it’s the honest lament that for some in our class (like me)—and for many in the wider public—the capacity to even muster a legitimate “what if” about better ways to access water, food, energy, transit, etc. is more likely to unlock despair than imagination. This is surely not the case for everyone, but as I listened to the prompts it was hard not to feel increasingly despondent because my life/learning has not equipped me to respond to these prompts except in fairly shallow ways.
The prompts do ask really important questions about the world we’re longing for—but they did not present ME with a bridge to get there. They focused mostly on “the hands” dimension of Transition (the practical, on-the-ground, outward aspects of Transition), while my real (and pretty much only) gifts lie much more on “the heart” dimension (the introspective, spiritual-philosophical, inward aspects of Transition). But the visualization exercise offered very few opportunities to engage that dimension. Thankfully [he wrote with bitter irony], because the world of “what is,” already regularly discounts and/or fails to value the skillset I do have, I recognized that familiar feeling and chose to imagine 2040 on terms I could engage with.
My vision for the future 2040 looks like this:
I’m 80 years old, so moving a bit slower, but I remain engaged in Inner Transition work in faith communities. While it might be nice (and kudos to those who can) to imagine a 2040 where we’ve successfully dodged climate chaos, my 2040 is a world chastened by the now unremitting waves of climate karma and one still struggling to make peace with an economy in tatters and an eco-system perilously frayed. That’s my best case scenario (sorry; and don’t ask about my worst). So what does Inner Transition work look like in that future?
My church has retooled itself into a community hub of education and inspiration. It remains rooted in its Christian tradition, but has become, as the Zapatistas say, “a world where many worlds fit,” such that events reflecting other faiths and inter-faith are part of our weekly rhythm. We “broke into” our sizable endowment to renovate our building into a multi-purposed structure that allows us to do the ministry needed in this moment. This includes hosting community ed events that reflect the heart of our faith that we are indeed “at home on earth”: teaching the closer-to-the-land life skills that make life possible on a less hospitable planet. But also teaching the hospitality skills (the listening-empathy-knowledge necessary in a culturally world) that make community possible in a country still working to undo centuries of racist-sexist-capitalist injustice; those wounds run deep!
A disproportionate part of our work, particularly my work, is fostering faith (the capacity to use stories, rituals, and convictions to make meaning in our lives) that can plumb the grief that is the pathway to a more just and sustainable 2060 or 2080. I likely won’t see those years, but others will—including some of my own children and grandchildren. Before we reach that far side of a turn we may only be starting in 2040, perhaps the closest thing to a “magic bullet” for the daunting global context we face today is near bottomless grief for the decisions made and reaffirmed countless times in prior decades, even centuries—and the suffering those decisions have purchased, past-present-and-future, for so many beings. I don’t mean grief as aimless, endless anguish, but as lament that allows us to excavate our culture, our world system, with surgical precision and resolute abandon—this grief helps true the compass that might guide us steadfastly toward a tomorrow where we make friends with finitude and that near mystical notion: enough.
But it’s not all grief. Now a resident theologian emeritus, I write a weekly column for the neighborhood online newspaper that’s equal parts wisdom, poetry, and simple snark (at 80 you can do that). I still lead weekend retreats, some connecting ancient texts (Scripture) to current themes with surprising insight and others that help persons chart the narrative of their lives against the apocalyptic canvas of the contemporary world such that meaning hovers within their reach once again. I spend a couple hours on weekday afternoons collaborating with teens on fashioning faith in a mostly post-god world: creating capacity for awe, conviction for good, and a cross-generation vision for justice. And weekend evenings I sit back in a corner next to my wife (now 81) while the church hosts community coffee houses, where mostly I enjoy the music, sip tea, and wonder how I got so lucky to be alive at this moment.
How might this vision inform what you are doing now?
Well, I’m already laying the inward (the headward and heartward) groundwork to be able to do this: I’m engaged in oodles of learning and reflection to connect my education in and passion for theology to this work. Finding institutional support—finding institutional imagination—is trickier. Still, I suppose this vision right here—moving as it does from a disgruntled rant to cheerfully sipping tea with my beloved—could inspire me to seek out co-conspirators and potential church sites … Turns out there’s really a good bit to ponder. So stay tuned.
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David Weiss is a theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, doing “public theology” around climate crisis, sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. Reach him at email@example.com. Read more at www.davidrweiss.com where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.” Support him in writing Community Supported Theology at www.patreon.com/fullfrontalfaith.