Children … of Collapse – Delivering Dark Hope #7
David R. Weiss – August 3, 2021
NOTE: None of my writing is behind a pay wall. It’s all gift. Over the next decade it may be among the most important gifts you receive. Still, this is my work. Every monthly pledge (even $2-10/month!) via Patreon keeps me fed in body and spirit. If you can support me with a monthly gift I’m grateful. In any case, please read—and please subscribe.
This is #7 in an 8-essay series in which I’m thinking out loud and a bit on the run about what it means to be church (or any authentic human community) … in a time of approaching ecological-social collapse. I’ll develop many of these thoughts further in the future, but I want to set out an overview of sorts. (Here are links to essay #1, essay #2, essay #3, essay #4, essay #5, and essay #6. Each essay treats a different facet of the larger project, but there is a narrative arc to them. I encourage you to read them in order when possible.)
* * *
This will be a short essay. I’m not able to write it yet.
In an earlier post I named each of my six children and nine grandchildren by name. All of them are children of collapse. In some ways I am, too. Earth scientists estimate that we left the Holocene Epoch sometime shortly before I was born in 1959. That geologic time period had lasted 12,000 years, offering sufficient climate stability (and other conditions) so that human civilization could emerge … and flourish.
But sometime after the Second World War, likely as part of the post-war boom, we entered what is often now called the Anthropocene Epoch, so named because in this chapter of Earth history, human activity became a critical factor in unsettling 12,000 years of stability. (The term itself was coined in 2000; scientists later projected backward that it effectively began sometime between 1945 and 1960.)
It is the Anthropocene that will be our undoing.
More truly put, it is the Anthropocene that has been our undoing. In its 70ish short years the Anthropocene has already irrevocably unmoored multiple planetary systems from their hospitable-to-humanity demarcations. This is hard for us to fathom. Isn’t there always time to “learn our lesson” and pull back from the edge? Or, if not always, isn’t there STILL time to do that today? On my reading the answer is No. We’ve passed the point beyond which even the goodwill of most of us will not undo the folly of a few. Or the debt incurred to those multiple planetary systems these past seven decades.
Those systems will balance out again. But that new normal will be so far removed from the Holocene that tales of the twentieth century will read like fairy tales by the end of the twenty-first century. Distant memories of a different world, without ever having left this planet. Ironically—tragically!—having christened this new epoch after ourselves (Anthropos: Humanity) and the impact of global industrial human civilization, it will almost surely become the epoch that upends and perhaps even erases that same civilization within the next century.
Which is why naming my children and grandchildren is an exercise of immeasurable grief.
It is not only that. Even someone facing a terminal diagnosis still laughs. Still takes joy in spending time with family and friends. Still treasures countless small moments. Human beings are unimaginably resilient. So while grief gets its share of stage time, it does not get the last word every night.
But a terminal diagnosis for the world-as-we-know-it? That is some deep grief. Probably no one reading these words bears much blame at all in the coming collapse. Our lives, our culture, our values have made us complicit in it. But apart from doing what we can to disentangle ourselves from destructive personal values and to transform destructive systems to make collapse less deadly (and this is really important work to do!), I don’t think there’s any real value in beating ourselves up.
I believe that as we form communities (church, neighborhood, friends) that can work to shape the character and faith that can serve us in the years ahead—as we do this—we will learn to claim our children as the blessing they are, even against the backdrop of collapse. We will find rich purpose in teaching them to love a world so deeply wounded that all their lives will be necessarily given over to its care. We will learn how to do this not simply because we owe it to them, but because we love them. And that love will refuse to allow grief the last word every night.
But tonight, I grieve.
* * *
David Weiss is a theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, doing “public theology” around climate crisis, sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.