Sacred Circle Liturgy – a Climate Crisis Resource

Sacred Circle Liturgy – a Climate Crisis Resource
David R. Weiss, September 18, 2019

I’m pleased to share a worship resource I recently created around the climate crisis. It’s finished just in time to be ready for use in my immediate setting: at St. Paul’s United Church of Christ here in St. Paul. We’ll offer it as a Sacred Circle for Our Climate this Friday evening, 6:30-7:30, following the Global Youth Climate Strike.

BUT—while our timing (and my timeline) was set by the Climate Strike, the service itself could be used anytime you want a prayerful gathering around climate. Although it may be too late for others to use it this weekend—but it is pretty much out-of-the-box ready, so if you’re still looking, look here!—I hope it can be useful in the months and years ahead. You’ll find find it here as a Word doc or a PDF. This is a prime example of one type of resource I hope to devote more time to through my Patreon-funded Community-Supported Theology work.

If you lead or assist with worship-planning, please check it out. If you’re concerned about the climate crisis and connected to a faith community, pass it along to those who do the worship planning. Here’s a little more background:

This Sacred Circle service was a spontaneous outgrowth of a book study using Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re In without Going Crazy by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone (New World Library, 2012; www.activehope.info). The book presents a practical way to process thoughts and feelings about the threat posed by climate change. It is especially powerful when read as a group. We found it transformational.

We did the book study over the summer of 2019. As we were completing the study, the Global Youth Climate Strike of September 2019 was on the horizon, so we chose to plan a contemplative service for the evening of the same day as the strike. This was both to be in solidarity with the youth (who were inviting adults to join them in daytime strikes, marches, etc.) and also to offer a quieter and more spiritual opportunity at the end of the workday.

However, this service is NOT specific to the Global Youth Climate Strike. Although it reflects the rising voices of youth around climate—a theme hardly limited to the September 2019 Strike—the service is shaped much more directly by the themes in Active Hope which express Joanna Macy’s “Work That Reconnects” philosophy of personal and communal empowerment. In that sense, this service can provide a powerful moment of spiritual reflection at any point during the year.

Active Hope is not a Christian book, but it is certainly spirit-friendly. Because the climate crisis is such a looming human threat, we were committed to creating a liturgy that, while reverent and prayerful, was also expansive and inclusive so that persons of many faiths (or no religious faith) would feel comfortable.

The Work That Reconnects (the “philosophy” underpinning Active Hope) is grounded in four “movements”: coming from gratitude, honoring the world’s pain, seeing with new eyes, and goiing forth. The book explores each theme at some length. Our liturgy reflects them, although for time’s sake we combined the last two movements in our third section. Our purpose was not to “teach” the book, but to trust its wisdom and honor the power of our experience in using it together.

Finally, although I wrote the liturgy itself, the service as a whole—and the energy to make it a reality—is thanks to all the members of the Active Hope Book Group at St. Paul’s UCC in St. Paul, Minnesota: Deb George, Kate Hansen, Tracy Kugler, Donna Olson, Tracie Olson Payne, Bruce Tyler, and myself, David Weiss.

http://www.davidrweiss.com

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Inner Transition: Where the Given Meets the Gospel

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.[1]

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

*                *                *

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.

[1] 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.

Making Love as the World Ends

Making Love as the World Ends: on Joy During an Apocalypse
David R. Weiss – August 29, 2019
The Gospel in Transition #39 – Subscribe at www.davidrweiss.com

Today’s post is dedicated to M, a young friend and former student of mine. I’ve been thinking about writing on these thoughts for some time now—they speak to the pitched tension in my own life, too. But the final push was M’s recent lament: “How do I keep working towards seemingly pointless goals like career and marriage when the earth is dying and my lifetime will probably see an apocalyptic world?”

To some of you, M’s mini-existential crisis might seem like mere young adult drama. But I assure you, it’s your misplaced sense of security that makes M’s anguish seem over the top. If you ask me, she’s named all too pointedly the path we’re ALL on. She simply has the (dis)advantage of seeing-feeling this more clearly than most of us. In part because she’s young enough to have not yet fully found her place in the world; and having not yet landed on her feet as an adult means it’s a bit easier to call “Bullshit” on the increasingly empty presumptions of that adult world.

Besides this, M is inwardly home to a perfect storm of intelligence, empathy, creativity, curiosity, playful spirit, and wounded soul. She feels life—including at times the absence of feeling—with an immediacy that would be refreshing were it not just as often overwhelming.

Her question is really OUR question. (Even if we haven’t asked it yet—though if you know me, you know my own versions of her question have chased me relentlessly the past few years.) And I want to share some thoughts on it—for M, of course. But also for the rest of you. And for me, too.

Our worlds—both the physical biosphere and the constructed social-cultural sphere—are not on the verge of collapse. That collapse is already underway. The fabric of our common life—flora, fauna, ecosystems, and societies—is a single garment, and it is actively fraying right now, though often beyond our line of vision. There are certainly things we can do to lessen the speed and the scope of that collapse—though it is an open question (really, a doubtful prospect) as to whether we muster the resolve to do those things. But the idea that we can somehow sidestep the coming collapse, that’s the type of wishful delusion that M is unwilling—in the immediacy of her perception, unable—to swallow.

And I’m with her.

But if this is our real situation—if we truly face the end of the world (at least the world as we know it), how dare we spend our time making love? How dare we pursue joy while an apocalypse arrives? I say: HOW DARE WE NOT? Even—maybe especially—in a world fast unraveling, the invocation of joy is a deep good. Indeed, revelatory.

Let me explain. I suspect I’m actually both less hopeful AND more hopeful than most of my readers. Less hopeful, because I’m persuaded that over the next five decades (maybe sooner) our world will be unmade by the choices we’ve made over the past several centuries. Mad Max? No, probably not (but maybe). But the worst problems we face here and there today will be amplified … and everywhere. Ecological, social, political, relational. When I say “collapse,” I don’t choose the word for effect but for accuracy.

And yet, more hopeful as well. For two reasons. First, because life on the far side of collapse may actually come to embrace practices that are more sustainable and regenerative, more in sync with our place on the planet. Collapse may do for our society what our political-cultural-moral will seems roundly incapable of: reigning in the egos and addictions that are deadly to life itself. It may not, of course. In which case, Mad Max may yet have his day. But it just might. Secondly, though, I’m more hopeful than most of you because even in the midst of collapse, I believe human dignity, compassion, meaning, and beauty can survive. Here, too, it’s possible they won’t. But they may—and I hope they do.

Which means that career and marriage—meaningful work and chosen companionship—still matter. And, if anything, they matter all the more, because such things as these will be among the first notes in any halting symphony that sounds forth beauty in the midst of chaos. Which is why I might argue that we have a human moral duty to make love as the world ends. “Duty” is a strange word to apply to intimate ecstasy, so I use it advisedly—more to make a point about how important it is, than to turn joy into obligation.

Our capacity to make love—to cultivate profoundly tactile joy with another—as the world ends, is one measure of our commitment to make sure that such intimacy carries forward on the far side of that ending. Our quiet persistent intention to choose simple joy and vocational purpose and authentic companionship matters, even as the unraveling world tries to tell us they don’t. It’s capitalism and consumerism and corporate power that don’t matter. It’s these forces (and more) that underwrote this unraveling. And while they might want to take every last vestige of humanity out with them, we can claim the best of who are as worth saving. We must.

Something does come next. And what we value in this moment will indelibly mark the next one.

So, M, this is my counsel to you. I can’t pretend it’s perfect or wise. It’s just my own heartfelt intuition. But I trust it. And I think you will be able to hear it right now. Others may need to tuck it away until the day comes when they have nothing left to hang onto except crumpled words like these.

Trust the grief that calls your name. It is real, and deep, and overwhelming. It is the world’s wound asking to be known. It is, if you like, God crying out in this corner of the cosmos. No mere babe in a manger, but every babe … and every creature … and even whole ecosystems creaking under the strain of human folly. And if we cannot heal the earth, we might at least cradle it in our heart.

And while I do not think Earth’s anguish wishes to undo you, it still might, if you do not tether yourself also to joy.

This, then, is the deep paradox, the peril-promise of this fraught moment. Seek to find work with humble purpose, because by doing mundane good day by day by day, you will also discover that Earth’s pain can be borne only the same way: day by day by day. Treasure the trusted and tender companions you’ve made, because in their company the infinite weight of Earth’s wounds will press you low, but not too low. And make sweet love (or bake bread, or paint pictures, or walk in the woods—however you find your simple ecstasy)—yes, make sweet love as the world ends, so that Earth’s heartbreak is somehow held within your joy.

If you do these things—even imperfectly—it will be enough.

The seed cannot predict the soil or the weather, its whole purpose is to be ready to do its small part to carry one more generation forward. You are that seed of compassion and curiosity, of searing sorrow and giggling joy. You are enough.

 

 

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.

Moral Restlessness and the God Who is … Not Yet

Moral Restlessness and the God Who is … Not Yet
David R. Weiss – August 24, 2019
The Gospel in Transition #38 – Subscribe at www.davidrweiss.com

There may be no more essential “growing edge” in Christian faith than to embrace a theology of moral restlessness. To be sure, I am fully convinced that nonreligious persons can hold (and ought to cultivate) a posture of moral restlessness as well. But as I’m writing these pieces foremost for persons of religious faith,[1] for these persons, the way we imagine God (often at a level deeper than words and creeds) is the foundation of our moral vision.

In response to the climate emergency (have you been following the news this past week … month … year?!) I say we need to find a deep well of moral restlessness within us. By moral restlessness I mean that we need to be “on our toes,” ready to shift both the impulses and the long-standing habits of our lives (think beef, gas stoves, and air flight—for God’s sakes!—among other things) if we wish to have any chance of preserving a future for those we love. And yet we seem to find this so difficult. It’s only one steak—how could that make a difference? Gas cooks so much nicer than electric—why would I want to change? And Sun Country just announced $79 fares from the Twin Cities to Florida this winter—who could resist that?

It’s true that the scope—and the roots—of the climate crisis are such that only structural change will make much of a difference. Those corporations and individuals with the most money have the loudest voices in shaping public policy and they have clearly rigged the system to benefit their interests. And their interests are driven by a genocidal addiction to profit, power, wealth, status, and privilege. They will threaten everything—that’s us, animals, eco-systems, and the entire planet’s stability—in order to satisfy their genocidal urges. And they will buy influence to game the system to prevent change for as long as possible. That’s the stark truth.

Although it’s possible that political campaigns and grassroots efforts can make a difference. We see instances of that in the twentieth century (civil rights, women’s rights, apartheid, same-sex marriage, etc.), although we also see how fragile those gains can be. I’m not arguing for social-political indifference; from city and town to state and nation, we need to be engaged.

But there is also an inner engagement we must make. It is essential for the sense of integrity and personal empowerment that can not only fuel our social-political work, but can also undergird the quality of inner calm that will be in short supply as the climate crisis deepens. That inner engagement is most lively when supported by moral restlessness, which for Christians, might be defined as faith leaning into the life of God.

Moral restlessness is the persistent hunger to foster wholeness in the world. It is the readiness, not simply to rearrange the furniture but to remake the entire home if needed to ensure the flourishing of all. Of course, our moral choices are framed by the bounds of our moral community. To whom are we accountable? For whom will we exercise restraint? Upon whom will we lavish our care? With whom will we share our joy? And whose sorrows, joys, needs do we embrace without hesitation? The challenge of moral restlessness—even in a finite world where conflicting values are inevitable—is to refuse to make firm boundaries about our moral community. Ever … restless, it should be ever-widening, ever-extending itself one ring further. Ever listening for the voiced and unvoiced aspirations of the others with whom we share this planet.

Thus, moral restlessness regards the grandeur of mountains, prairies, wetlands, and such as partners in a whispered dialogue of awe. It regards the intricacies of microbes, the inner lives of plants, and the beyond-our-ken cultures of our fellow creatures as invitations to community. Moral restlessness underlies the viewpoint Henry Beston (naturalist, 1888-1968) so hauntingly offered:

We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. … We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate for having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein do we err. For the animal shall not be measured by the human. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with the extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. Neither siblings nor underlings: they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, bound up in the splendor and travail of the earth. (The Outermost House, 1928)

That viewpoint—whether sparked by profoundly human awe or religious faith—might be sufficient to check the impulses and re-fashion the habits that presently threaten all that moves on this awe-full orb. We must choose to press ourselves uncomfortably at the level of personal choice, individual habit, and communal/cultural presumption. We must choose vastly different lives—and starting now—if we wish to leave anything other than a smoldering wasteland for those who come next.

For Christians (and Jews) that viewpoint has ancient seeds in the Exodus narrative. In the famous scene at the burning bush, Moses hears a voice commissioning him to assist in liberating the children of Israel from their bondage to Egypt. Moses is understandably intimidated by the task and he wants to know just WHO he’s supposed to be representing. So he asks God for a name. God responds with a self-declaration that claims a form of the verb “to be” as the way to name this Holy Presence. Some scholars have regarded this as an evasion of a name—a roundabout way of saying “none-of-your-business,” but this fails to plumb the depth of the exchange.

In Hebraic culture names establish the ground of relationship. So when God tells Moses (as it’s often translated), “I am That I am,” God sets the terms of the relationship as these: “I will burst every box you seek to contain me in. I will defy every limiting definition you devise for me. I will imagine possibilities for you—for us together—beyond your wildest dreams. Whatever you choose to think of me, I will be who I will be. I am freedom.” Well.

But there is a yet more evocative angle here. Hebrew has no distinct future tense; context determines when to cast a verb as future. And the context here (Exodus 3:13-22) calls for future tense. As though God’s very divinity rests on fulfilling the liberatory promises to free the people from their oppression and establish them in a place they can flourish. Liberation theologians have made this argument in regard to this very passage: that God is so wholly committed to the full flourishing of all as to make the proof—the truth—of God contingent on the promise of liberation.

From this radically evocative perspective, God, eternally and infinitely yearning to consummate liberation, justice, and flourishing … is not yet, pending our response, like Moses, to join in God’s holy work. Moral restlessness, then—faith leaning into the life of God—is the very womb of God. In the determination to alter our impulses and habits for the well-being of all—this is where Holy Presence begins.

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.

[1] “Faith” itself is its own type of complicated. To the extent that “faith” names the “gut disposition/frame of meaning” that all of us hold toward life, every human being is a person of faith (except perhaps those who are simply pathological or nihilist in their worldview). For nearly all of human history our frames of meaning have used religious/sacred language, but there is nothing intrinsically religious about faith. It is the innate human response to finding-fashioning-living-in-accord-with meaning in our lives.

Okay, it’s NOT about the Beef

Okay, it’s NOT about the Beef
David R. Weiss – August 14, 2019
The Gospel in Transition #37 – Subscribe at www.davidrweiss.com

It’s not really about eating beef—or using natural gas to cook with. (But, of course, at some level it is. I’ll come back to that.) If my last post felt a bit heavy on its handedness and light on its theology, I suppose it was. Anybody can have a long week that leaves them short on patience. It was my turn. So let me clarify a couple things and then get on with my point.

First, beef. Feeding America’s appetite for red meat is a threat to our future.[1] Livestock production drives deforestation across the globe, decisively weakening the planet’s capacity to capture and hold carbon. It also diverts cropland into growing livestock feed rather than raising food to support plant-based human diets—a woefully inefficient tradeoff, because if we weren’t raising so much damn cattle feed some land being used for livestock production could be used for carbon capture, and we could feed all of humanity on the rest. And, of course, the methane produced by cows is far a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. Clearly, beef is a bad deal for the planet today and a (much!) worse deal for those who inhabit the planet tomorrow.

That doesn’t mean that anyone who cares about the planet has to give up red meat. But it does mean—if they care about the planet and its inhabitants (human and more), they need to exercise real, tangible restraint in their meat-eating.

Second, natural gas. Yes, natural gas is a “cleaner” fuel source than coal or oil. And, unlike beef consumption, which, for nearly all of us is a matter of choice, meal by meal, most of us “inherit” our utility choices with the homes we buy. So the dimension of personal choice can be far less immediate, far more costly, and, in the case of home-heating, a real challenge in colder climes. Still, as demand for natural gas increases (precisely because it’s “cleaner”) so does its downside. In particular, as we exhaust the easiest access to natural gas and turn more and more to fracking, a whole unhappy host of health and geophysical risks arise, as well as the inevitable leakage of natural gas[2] (mostly methane, a greenhouse gas that is 30 times more powerful in its contribution to global heating as CO2).[3]

Natural gas is no innocent choice. The challenge has to be to reduce our fossil fuel use to a bare minimum as rapidly as possible. There is no other way to a tomorrow that does not willfully char Earth’s ecosystem than to get out of fossil fuels today. So, even as they are built into our structured homes and lives, as swiftly as we can make legitimate choices to move away from them, we should.

And choice is the doorway through which both ethics and theology enter. We face many choices as we navigate our personal and communal lives in response to global heating. I am not your expert on dietary decisions or utility option; I’m often not even my own. I muddle through those areas—and bumble bees, too!—as best I can for myself and/or with Margaret. But I am committed to making my own choices. And while one part of that is gaining the knowledge so I can make an informed choice, the bigger part is cultivating within myself (or within my marriage, or any other widening circle) the moral restlessness that makes choosing possible.

Cultivating this restlessness is a fundamentally human endeavor; I happen to believe that faith traditions (of many kinds) can assist in sowing and sustaining moral restlessness. But I also must admit that many religions harbor expressions (frequently among their most dominant/”successful” expressions—shit!) that promote a sense of morality that is primarily private (between me and God, or me and my immediate family and friends) and committed to simplistic certainty (a short list of rights and wrongs). In these instances the genuine moral restlessness that is the measure of authentic humanity is reached (if at all) in spite of, not because of religious faith.

Moral restlessness approaches the choices we face with a “hermeneutic of suspicion.” That’s “big-talk” for saying we should instinctively interrogate the choices we’re presented with by asking, “Who benefits if I choose this or that?—and who loses?” Without actively distrusting the world, moral restlessness takes very seriously the distortions (theologically, we might say, “sin”) present in both the people and (especially!) the systems around us. In a consumer capitalist society, where money speaks loudest—and where advertising money plays directly to our insecurities and deceptively to our deepest hungers—we need to be especially … suspicious … of who benefits and who loses in the choices we’re encouraged to make as consumers.

In fact, consumer capitalism, built on limitless choice of (endlessly cheaper) stuff and limitless economic growth, is wholly invested in eliminating moral restlessness—from every corner of our consciousness. The market works relentlessly to narrow the context in which we perceive ourselves until it’s simply me and mine, here and now. It wants us to measure the exhilarating range of our choices by our freedom to be indifferent to the consequences those choices have on other persons, other creatures, other places, even the entire planet and future generations. Our sense of choice becomes as big as our “moral community” is small: the fewer persons/creatures/ecosystems that really “matter” to us, the freer we are.

Within that shrunken moral community, not much beyond taste, allergy, convenience and price shape the choices I make about food … or oven. Across the entire range of household choices in front of me, the market says that only me and mine, here and now, matter. And that’s called freedom. No. This is the very antithesis of being human.

We are through others. Every deep faith tradition has a way of offering this truth. Non-theistic Buddhism asserts it no less than monotheistic Christianity. Most situate that “we” in a web that comprises an entire world of flora, fauna, and fellow beings—and stretching across time and place. It’s an ecological truth framed long before science conceived the field of ecology.

To be fully human is to act with moral responsibility in this context. When we fail to embrace the moral restlessness that considers this wider community we risk … being inhuman. That’s sounds like harsh moral judgment, but it’s more a profound existential lament. We’re so entangled in the cultural lie of individualism, that we hardly recognize the full interwoven dignity of which we are capable. To make our choices with care and concern for the whole web of life is not a “limit” to our freedom; it is, rather the very condition in which we discover it.

Finally, it’s not about the beef (or the gas oven) or any of the specific choices we make. It’s about making those choices—which may well differ from one person to the next—with moral intention and from a place of genuine moral restlessness. And—because the web of life is the context for that restlessness—it means making those choices in the generous company of the communities to which we belong. More than a matter of what’s on your plate, it truly a matter of who you recognize that you’re making the meal with. Our kitchens include the world.

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.

[1] www.climatecentral.org/news/studies-link-red-meat-and-climate-change-20264

[2] On fracking and natural gas: www.commondreams.org/news/2019/06/05/not-freedom-gas-failure-gas-first-its-kind-report-details-planetary-perils-us, www.commondreams.org/views/2019/06/23/growing-case-ban-fracking, www.commondreams.org/views/2019/07/31/research-stop-fracking-asap,

[3] Methane is 86 times more potent than CO2 in trapping the sun’s heat, but it stays in the atmosphere a shorter length of time before breaking down. The “30 times more powerful” is the official measure of its “global warming potential” over a 100-year window: www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/understanding-global-warming-potentials

What’s on Your Plate?

What’s on Your Plate?
David R. Weiss – August 12, 2019
The Gospel in Transition #36 – Subscribe at www.davidrweiss.com

I think I surprised myself as much as anyone in the room—which would mean everyone was caught off guard by the uncompromising tone of my voice. I’m usually a pretty soft-spoken person, retiring even around groups. And this voice was neither soft nor retiring.

We were discussing my step-daughter Megan’s electric stove, which was hers not by choice but because it came with the house they bought a little over a year ago. And because when she checked the cost to put in a gas line to connect to a gas stove it seemed exorbitant, so she’s begrudgingly getting used to cooking on electric. I told her she was ahead of the curve, and that we’d be looking at electric next time our stove needed replacing. To which Margaret responded, “Um, No, why would we do that?” And that’s when I mildly exploded, “WE’D DO IT FOR THE FUTURE, FOR GOSH SAKES!”

Okay, everyone calm down. First, our gas stove isn’t all that old and it still works fine. We’re not in a position to just scrap it and replace it with electric. So Margaret and I have several years to sort out our feelings about this. And the amount of gas we use in food preparation is not huge. But, like Megan, I’m not indifferent to exorbitant costs—and, for me, the exorbitant ecological cost to my grandchildren of buying a new gas oven is one I will not bear.[1] But honestly even I was surprised by the demanding urgency in my voice.

Maybe it’s the timing of that conversation. This past week the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report declared unambiguously that what we put on our plate today—from the food we choose, to the way it gets produced (and transported) at every step along the way to our dining room table—will directly impact the climate our grandchildren inherit tomorrow.[2] And right now we’re literally eating their future.

The report details the way that land degradation (much of it from ill-conceived food production practices) contributes to the climate crisis … while the climate crisis also drives extreme weather that can irreparably damage the ability of ecosystems to produce food. Additionally, new studies reveal that food produced with higher CO2 rates in the atmosphere becomes less nutritious—both rice and wheat have lower protein and vitamin content. And while a few areas will see better food production as a result of a changing climate, most will see production fall—and in countries already food insecure, declining production will have cascading health, social, and political effects … that will inevitably cross borders. Rising threats to food security anywhere will become threats to national security everywhere.

More bluntly rising threats to food security pose threats to human security globally. This isn’t an argument for secure borders; it’s an argument for wiser and more equitable choices about how we produce (and transport and prepare) our food and the land we grow it on. The IPCC report notes that empowering women farmers and strengthening the land-security of small-scale farms is an evidence-based way to support the health of the land. And relentless deforestation must be checked or we will mortally wound the planet’s ability to store carbon at a level that conducive to human society (and to many creatures besides us).

The report criticizes an “extractive industrial system” that secures food for us in ways that fail to secure the soil’s integrity—either as a supplier of nutrients or a keeper of carbon. Tim Crews, one the authors, commented, “We’re not thinking holistically from an ecological point of view. We’re not thinking of our food producing farms as being ecosystems themselves. The natural systems that existed before agriculture have a lot of the answers. We should really start paying attention to that.”[3] That’s a pretty direct shout out to permaculture. (See GITs #26-32.)

Meanwhile, Eric Holthaus, author of the Rolling Stone piece, echoes this sentiment and goes one step further: “In speaking with a half a dozen authors of the report, there was a single transformational thought that underpinned the urgency of their findings: Until we realize that we exist as part of an ecosystem, that we are part of a living planet, we will continue to destroy the soil that makes our existence possible.” And that, in large part, is the task of cosmology: having a grand story (religious or otherwise) of who we are that places us wholly within the web of this world.

The IPCC report describes a food production system that is wildly out of touch with a finite planet and a sustainable society … and one that operates (mostly) beyond the reach of actual food eaters. But not entirely. The report does make this much clear: we will not stave off climate catastrophe without slashing the amount of red meat we consume. This is non-negotiable for a livable future. Hence, in the U.S. in particular, we must make a real—population-wide—shift toward plant-based, vegetarian, and vegan diets. Or we must at least acknowledge we are damning our grandchildren to a bleak and dreadfully over-heated future because we’d rather eat as much meat as we wish today.

If enough of us rethink our meal choices we will reshape food production priorities. And, if we don’t, our grandchildren will perish. And if not ours, someone else’s—I’m not trying to melodramatic, I’m trying to be emotionally and unmistakably concrete. We can eat exactly the way we’ve been raised to eat … exactly the way we prefer to eat … and it will kill future generations. It’s time to stop pretending that personal diet choices remain personal. They are choices with cross-generational consequences, which makes them political. They reflect how people choose to share (or withhold) power in a community—including communities stretched across time.

So, maybe having all that on my mind explains the edginess in my voice in discussing oven choices. I’m largely vegetarian (occasionally eating sustainable seafood). But I have plenty of areas of choice in my own life to press myself on. One is eating “closer to harvest,”: lessening my consumption of processed food. Another is continuing to increase my consumption of (and support for) organic produce. Another is becoming more savvy about growing and preserving foods myself. And, yes, one more, is being willing to question the way I heat the food I prepare in my own home.

Jim Skea, one of the lead authors of the IPCC reports states, “We know about the huge challenges of climate change, but I don’t think we want to get across a message of despair. We want to get across a message that all actions make a difference.” That’s worth remembering as we choose what to put on our dinner plate today. Because whatever choices we make, our plate also holds one more thing besides the food: tomorrow.

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.

[1] A recent NPR story discussed natural gas and climate: www.npr.org/2019/08/05/745051104/give-up-your-gas-stove-to-save-the-planet-banning-gas-is-the-next-climate-push

[2] The data I cite from the IPCC report comes from these articles: www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/aug/03/ipcc-land-use-food-production-key-to-climate-crisis-leaked-report

www.cnn.com/2019/08/08/world/ipcc-report-land-climate-crisis-sci-intl/index.html

www.cnn.com/2019/08/09/health/ipcc-report-food-security-climate-scn/index.html

www.vox.com/2019/8/8/20758461/climate-change-report-2019-un-ipcc-land-food

[3] www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/ipcc-land-report-climate-change-869466

This entry was posted on August 12, 2019. 1 Comment

Bumbling Toward an Earth Ethic

Bumbling Toward an Earth Ethic here at Home
David R. Weiss – July 31, 2019
The Gospel in Transition #35 – Subscribe at www.davidrweiss.com

It began with a Spanish swear word, I’m sure, but I’ll skip that part. Last Thursday after supper two of our grandkids were playing baseball in our side yard. “Baseball” is overstatement; they were taking turns swinging at an assortment of tennis balls and light plastic baseballs pitched to them underhanded by their dad, Will. “Side yard” is also overstatement; this thin strip of yard is only 15 feet wide—and interrupted by a tiny porch, two window wells, a sandbox, a bird feeder, and a small flower bed. It hardly counts as “yard” and only manages to make a very makeshift baseball field because John (5½) and Benjamin (3) are equally small.

When Will, who’d been pitching while barefoot, slipped his feet back into his sandals—that’s when the swear word slipped out. Even if his English were stronger (it isn’t), in moments of existential crisis you naturally fall back on your mother tongue. And this was such a moment, so it was Nicaraguan Spanish that whistled its way through the pain. While Will’s sandals were sitting on the lawn a large bumble bee was nosing its way through one of them—and found itself suddenly trapped between leather thong and Nicaraguan foot. One of the bumble bees unique “features” is its barbless stinger. Which means these bees can sting without dying … again and again. But I don’t think it took more than one plunge of the stinger into the soft flesh between Will’s first two toes for all debate over current occupancy to be decided. The sandal belonged to the bee.

On Friday night two other grandchildren, Nora (7) and Gretchen (6½), were here and had high hopes of playing in the sandbox after supper. But as we prepared to uncover it we noticed a small flurry of bumble bees nearby. There aren’t any flowers right here—not even any real clover in the grass to speak of—so why so many bees? It didn’t take long to trace their meandering paths to a common point: entrance to an abandoned rodent burrow now clearly repurposed as a long-stay bumble bee bed and breakfast. Oops.

My first instinct—duly accompanied by twin pangs of tragedy and vengeance—was to ask myself, “How do I kill them all?” My first internet search was “exterminating bumble bees.” That’s how far sin—brokenness from (and toward!) the web of life—has crept its way into my impulses.

Soon I noticed a clear parting of ways in the narratives told about bumble bees. Every site that profited from extermination services amplified the threat. They sting. And it hurts. And they can sting repeatedly. And they will aggressively defend their nests. Damn villains. But there was another story told. Less often to be sure, but there are those who champion the bumble bee, who speak of it with wistful wonder (even if also with healthy respect for its personal space).[1]

Did you know, the bumble bee is the only social bee native to North America? Honey bees were brought here from Europe. All the other bees native to this continent are solitary. Bumble bee nests, started early each spring from scratch by a single queen, only hold 50-200 bees; maybe 500 max—compared to honey bee nests with 10,000-50,000 bees. Bumble bees are thus “small town” bees.

But big time pollinators. They actually pollinate more effectively than honey bees. Their wings beat about 130 times each second (which is par for honey bees, too), but their size sets them apart. They actually generate heat as they bumble about, meaning they can start their flights earlier in the morning and continue into the cool of the evening. It also means they’re among the first pollinators to be out and about in the spring … and among the last still buzzing about in the fall. Speaking of that buzz, and owing again to the combination of wing beats and body size, bumble bees can cause “buzz pollination”—they actually … I might say erotically (see GIT #32) … vibrate plants into releasing pollen. Their fuzzy bodies carry more pollen from plant to plant. And some bumble bees have such long tongues they can feed at (and thus pollinate) flowers that other bees just can’t effectively flirt with.

Unlike honey bees, whose hives might endure for years, bumble bees hold more modest expectations; their nests just last a single season. Each spring a queen emerges from her winter hibernating place (usually a tiny hole in the ground, or a nook under some tree bark), goes on a flower feast to restore her energy, and then scouts out a spot to start her nest. Once settled, she lays eggs—all female. None will become queens—these are all workers, and all summer (living just 4-8 weeks each) they collect nectar and pollen, pollinate plants, clean and protect the nest. By late summer the queen starts laying eggs to produce male bees (drones) and new queens. Besides eating, the male bees have just one job: mate with a new queen. Most don’t even manage to do that before they die. The new queens, once “satisfied,” bulk up on food and find a safe solitary place to over-winter and start the whole cycle again next spring.

All in all, they’re pretty amazing little creatures. And, all in all, under rising threat from habitat loss, pesticide use, and a changing climate. Suddenly extermination seemed barbaric. Surely I could hire someone to relocate the bees without killing them. (In fact, I did find such a person.) But those bee-friendly websites practically plead with people to leave the nests undisturbed. Since only the new queens survive from one year to the next, even trying to safely relocate the live bees right now would risk damaging the as yet un-hatched (likely un-laid) new queen and drone eggs. Every future generation of this nest—and the untold millions of flowers, fruits, and vegetables the bees will pollinate—rests on my next move. So what do I do with the bumble bees nesting in our side yard?

All ethics is finally household ethics. I’ve often urged my readers to imagine a wider sense of community: to entertain the truth that we are interwoven in creation itself. Not apart from, not above, but entirely in, with, and under it. (Which is, ironically—maybe appropriately—exactly how Luther describes the mystical-real presence of Christ in the Sacrament.)

So I’ve roped off the nest area with yellow caution tape and posted signs offering both a word of caution and a few “fun facts”—why not take a little educational delight in these bumbling sojourners? Our swing set is several yards away; no worries there. The sand box is closer than I wish, though with a watchful adult nearby, toddlers ought to be fine playing in the sand while bees hover above the entrance to their home just a few feet away. As for baseball, given John’s growing savvy as a slugger, it was probably time to take those games up to the park anyway.

Ideal? I’m tempted to say very quickly, “Of course not.” But, wait. Our entire ecological crisis—from overheating climate to chemically wounded ecosystems, from badly polluted land, air, and water, to countless species pushed to the brink (nest by nest by nest!)—stems from our presumption that we come first. And these nests (we eventually found two entrances, likely to two nests) actually invite us, from grandparents to grandchildren, to remember that we come … always … together.

Preserving a pair of bumble bee nests in our yard will not stop climate crisis. But among all the choices we face on a daily basis, re-thinking the ones closest at hand—the ones right at home—is how we build the resolve to do face the even bigger challenges ahead. So along with the bees, we are bumbling toward an Earth ethic that includes all of us.

 

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.

[1] My bumble bee background comes from: www.bumblebeeconservation.org, www.buzzaboutbees.net, www.bumblebee.org, and www.blog.nwf.org/2014/04/5-facts-about-bumble-bees-and-how-to-help-them.

This entry was posted on July 30, 2019. 1 Comment