Abortion Rights – Presente!

Abortion Rights – Presente!
David R. Weiss – September 4, 2021

As a man, a white man no less, I check the demographic boxes that are responsible for more suffering, exploitation, and callous brutality toward life than probably any other broad category of human persons.

So it’s perilous for me to presume anyone cares what I have to say about women’s reproductive rights. Yet it’s also important for me to speak … so the women in my life hear my support loud and clear … and so I do not miss the opportunity to openly reject the values of white men that have wrought such evil on the world.

Anti-abortion laws are foremost anti-women laws. They prioritize control of women’s bodies and lives and sexuality and future rather than ensuring women’s education and autonomy and health and integrity.

But it’s more than that. Scratch beneath almost any anti-abortion legal initiative and you’ll find  its proponents are eager to use the death penalty, quick to invest in war, happy to look away from poverty, disinterested in responding to the climate crisis, unsupportive of the Covid vaccines, angrily anti-mask, against robust sex education and access to contraceptives, determined to preserve a health care system that cares first for profit, and hellbent on making it as hard as possible for persons of color to vote. (And more.)

Connect all those dots and anti-abortions laws are ultimately part of a worldview that trusts only white men to know what it best for anyone. (Yes, there are women and persons of color who are anti-abortion, but the overarching worldview is racist, misogynist, and ecocidal.)

There are a host of justice-oriented life-affirming ways to lessen the frequency of abortion that actually work. But those seeking to outlaw abortion are not ultimately interested in lessening its frequency; they’re interested in criminalizing women who second-guess their white male worldview and (in Texas, at least) anyone who aids them.

I am not “pro-abortion”; I am pro-life. But I recognize that life itself is messy, and sometimes a choice for abortion is the most “pro-life” choice a woman can make—and the instances where this is true happen more frequently in a manifestly unjust world (which is the very world that the larger anti-abortion agenda in fact seeks to maintain). And, in a manifestly unjust world, every assault on abortion rights makes that world even more unjust.

Finally, that choice belongs foremost to the woman in whose body … in whose life … it will play out. Is that position fraught with peril? Of course. Life is fraught with peril. But in balancing the needs of justice, it is past time to trust each woman to think and feel and choose for herself. And past time for the rest of us is to be publicly and passionately committed to building a world in which women find themselves respected, supported, honored, educated, and safe.

If we truly commit to these things, we will find ourselves more able to trust their choices—and we will find our world more ready to support those same choices, whatever they are.

To the women in my life, in this anxious moment, I see you. I hear you. I trust you. And I am dedicated to building a world where respect, support, honor, education, safety—and trust—are indeed the touchstones of your lived experience. Someday. Starting now.

* * *

David Weiss is a theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, doing “public theology” around climate crisis, sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. Reach him at drw59mn@gmail.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.

This entry was posted on September 4, 2021. 1 Comment

Collapse … and the Love of God

Collapse … and the Love of God
David R. Weiss – August 29

Dark Hope: a hope that is fully alongside us in the unpredictable tumult ahead. Indeed,
not a hope that “shines in the darkness,” but a hope that abides as darkness itself.

In my Dark Hope series earlier this month I allowed myself to stare into the abyss—the likelihood, the near certainty, that our civilization is heading toward a tumultuous collapse. The opening acts of climate breakdown are already with us in the forms of record heat and drought, hurricane and flood, ice melt and sea level rise, wildfires and species loss—from insects to mammals. And societal breakdown is also at the door in the dismissal of science, frenzied xenophobia, extremism, rising violent rhetoric—and outright violence. Moreover, the collective unwillingness of so many to respond to a pandemic with civility, common sense, or compassion, foreshadows a descent into barbarism when conditions worsen—which they will.

It’s a lot to carry. And never really set down. Margaret notices how I sigh—often and deeply—some days, as if I am winded and trying to catch my breath. It’s not physical weariness per se, although I certainly feel it in my body. Some days I’m just emotionally out of breath. All. Day. Long.

Recently one of my grandchildren recounted with dramatic dismay the lack of good cell phone reception at one place they stayed while visiting family in Mexico. In back-to-back sentences he described easy access to a cell signal as a “necessity” and “convenience”—as though the two terms meant the same thing. When I pointed out the gap between their meanings, he admitted that “convenience” was more accurate, but immediately claimed that—for his generation—it was a “necessary convenience.” I did not point out that “convenience” will go extinct for his generation.

One of my most faithful readers, after reading my Dark Hope essays, remarked about how deeply they challenged her understanding of God. “Do you really think God would allow things to so completely unravel?” she asked. It was not some naïve question. She is a wise woman, older than me, and has wrestled with theological questions that have carried her quite “outside the box” for plenty of years herself. But, like me, she is a parent and a grandparent, and to contemplate a future that goes so far sideways is a very different prospect when you feel so deeply connected through those you love to days you don’t expect to see yourself.

It is a real question. What does the prospect of worldwide ecological and societal collapse say about God?

The question is a version of many others. What does 9/11 … or the Holocaust … or slavery (say about God? Or any number of other instantaneous or generational calamities that inflict suffering on the innocent. All such questions challenge the righteousness or at least the omnipotence (the all-powerfulness) of God.

I remember reading Elie Wiesel’s Night sometime in college. There is a scene where he recounts the hanging of three prisoners, one of them a young boy. Mounted on chairs, with nooses around their necks, the other prisoners were ordered to attend the killing. One man cried out from the crowd, “Where is God?!” Then the chairs were kicked away. The two men died instantly, but the boy, too light, hung for thirty minutes, his life ebbing away in slow agony. Again, the voice from the crowd, “Where is God now?!” And Wiesel heard the answer, unspoken but fully formed, rise within him: “Where is God? Here God is—God is hanging here on this gallows …” (Night, Bantam Books, 1960, pp. 61-62)

Wiesel’s witness runs along a razor’s edge. It might mean, God is as good as dead—helpless, abandoned, just like us. It might be a cry of abject despair. And he admits that this declaration, painful as it is, resonates. And yet, this is a razor’s edge: there is a second, quieter, even more challenging claim.

That claim, which Wiesel allows, even if he never fully embraces it himself, is that in some inscrutable way, here, at the very focal point of our suffering—our seeming abandonment to the forces of chaos and worse—right here, God somehow is alongside us.

This shadowy wisdom, kindred to Dark Hope, bears a daring, audacious, paradoxical witness to God’s presence under conditions that appear to deny it. This is the same impulse behind Martin Luther’s theology of the cross, Jürgen Moltman’s crucified God, the seed of Central American Liberation Theology, and Sharon Welch’s feminist liberatory vision. To be clear, these varied expressions are hardly identical with each other—or with Wiesel, but they express the apprehension of a common mystery: that sacred presence is not limited to what we might count as “victory.”

It would take a book to unpack all of this. But I will suggest a couple core insights that are at once troubling and reassuring. I think it is fair to say that God is not omnipotent—at least not in the way we have measured power since the predominance of patriarchy. God is not omnipotent via power-over or having final control. That measure of omnipotence is the human reaction to the radical insecurity that marks our lives: it is the desire to foreclose any option not to our liking … projected from us onto God.

Rather, God’s commitment to offering-and-fostering-love is the defining feature of divinity. I say this in theological language, but I mean as much cosmically as supernaturally. God, which I think of as the energy that pervades and shapes the cosmos, is fundamentally focused on relating everything to everything else. At the sheer physical level, that’s gravity: the cosmic force of mutual attraction. But as consciousness rises, that longing for relationship becomes collaborative: our wills participate in furthering —or twisting—God’s longing for mutuality as the crowning pattern of creation. This is the mystery of agency in a cause-and-effect cosmos. (And the topic for a whole other essay!)

But this is the unexpected consequence of God’s “choice” to prioritize love (the possibility of mutual relationship) over power (the assertion of control): it means there is always an exposed soft underbelly to the sacred. God is not all-powerful, but all-vulnerable. God’s “super-power” is not the ability to protect us but the promise to accompany us no matter what. This is a whole different axis of power.

This is NOT an argument for a God who is infinitely weak (unless you are bound only to a notion of power as control—a notion that might appear compelling in the short-term, but which is ultimately a foolish affront to and at times an evil distortion of the soft sacred hum of the universe). But it is a truth we rarely encounter. God’s power rests unequivocally in love and vulnerability—and the power these forces have to (potentially) effect transformation in the beings with whom God longs to collaborate.

Here is the holy mystery of God in its most terrifying truth. At every moment of cosmic history (for our concern here—at every moment of human history) God’s longing for mutual relationship is sufficient to effect it … but can never guarantee it. There is no moment in which hope is utterly lost, because so long as the universe is, God is willing mutuality into all that is. And God never stops.

But neither does God control the future. God invites and persists and accompanies and encourages and strengthens and holds us unendingly in love. Still, in our corner of the universe, the fate of life on this small blue planet rests on the collaborative energy between human beings and God—and on the host of biophysical systems that have evolved around us. Earth history is improvisation.

We are deep into a cacophonous improvisation right now, one that portends catastrophe and collapse. Even if it comes to that, God’s longing to foment love will go there with us. Even in this maelstrom, God’s presence will be sufficient to transform those of us who choose to collaborate into partners with God in caring for a shattered planet and a shattered society. Whether such work will carry the day—who knows. But that it will be holy work, of this I am sure. And that, my friends, is cause for joy.

* * *

David Weiss is a theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, doing “public theology” around climate crisis, sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. Reach him at drw59mn@gmail.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.

Welcome to the Otharktocene [Ōth-ARKT-ō-cene]

Welcome to the Otharktocene [Ōth-ARKT-ō-cene]
David R. Weiss – August 24, 2021

Most of us didn’t even notice the “Now Leaving the Holocene” sign as we flew past it, but earth scientists generally agree that we did, in fact, exit that epoch around 1950 or so. It’s understandable we missed it; after all, we weren’t looking for an exit lane. For some 11,700 years (more or less) we cruised along in a geologic period where the various bio-chemical-physical forces the give Earth its “personality” provided a remarkably stable planetary system—in our case a planetary demeanor conducive to the birth of human civilization.

Indeed, Earth system scientists first noticed our departure—belatedly, with the Holocene already 50 years in the rearview mirror. These scientists use systems theory as a framework to understand how all the various features of our planet fit together—and function. In short, systems theory asserts (or observes) that everything is dynamically connected to everything else and, therefore, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The whole, in fact, emerges as the parts interact. (The Buddhist notion of “interbeing” and the African concept of ubuntu make similar assertions about human beings, suggesting that each one of us exists—emerges—at the nexus of a host of relationships.)

For Earth system scientists, the life-giving and civilization-supporting conditions of the Holocene Epoch are the emergent whole shaped by elemental planetary processes that act in concert—a “living system,” as it were—to establish the playing field for life on this small blue planet. Dynamic, interactive, and largely self-regulating, for the last twelve millennia these processes have maintained a planet worth calling home: Earth.

While homo sapiens first appeared some 200,000 years ago, it was only during the Holocene epoch, beginning around 10,000 BCE, that humanity began to flourish. Seasons stabilized, and across those seasons—for nearly 12,000 years—average global surface temperatures never varied, plus or minus, by more than a single degree Celsius. The Holocene provided a climate for agriculture to emerge … followed by cities and civilization.

We owe our life as we know it to the Holocene. Thus, Earth system scientists have been eager to fathom the forces and processes within the Earth system that allowed the Holocene to happen and, perhaps more importantly, that have allowed it to persist. We know of no other planetary condition under which human life can thrive as it has during the Holocene. None. It was, therefore, a moment of exasperated and unsettling insight when, during a February 2000 meeting of international scientists to discuss the overall “health” of the Earth System, one of them exclaimed, “We are no longer in the Holocene; we are in the … Anthropocene.”

That word—Anthropocene (literally the “new” epoch “of the human/anthropos”)—was coined in the heat of the moment (pun intended), to denote that the Earth System was being impacted by a new planetary force: human activity. The name is both entirely accurate and woefully misleading.

It’s accurate that at some point in our relatively recent past (often dated paradoxically from either the dropping of the atomic bomb or the post-war industrial boom—in either case, around 1950), human activity reached a new pitch and a new zenith, often labeled the Great Acceleration. We became a planetary force in its own right. (BIG CLARIFICATION: that “we” is collective human activity definitively shaped and driven by a mostly white, Western, male-centric world. That’s hardly a nod to ingenuity; more likely evidence of guilt for ecocide.) The tumblers had been lining up slowly over millennia, aided by patriarchy, religion, and science. Finally, with the age of empire/exploitation followed by industrial capitalism, consumer capitalism, nuclear militarism, and economic globalization, we humans “earned” a seat at a prized table.

Think of it. If the very bounds of the Holocene were marked out by the interaction of climate, the ozone layer, the genetic richness of the biosphere, the great biogeochemical cycles of nitrogen and phosphorous, the freshwater cycle, the ocean system, and shifting patterns of land use—suddenly we had a spot at THAT table. If you ever wondered what it would be like to “play god,” I suppose becoming a planetary force is one way.

But there are other much older and much more powerful gods at this table. And, honestly, it’s as though we’ve taken our seat like a loud drunk, kicking the table, throwing our elbows wide, and spilling everyone else’s beverages into their laps. They’re not happy, these other gods. As planetary forces they are older—much older—than us, and each one on its own is much powerful than we are; taken together, we barely count. Except that we poke them. Relentlessly.

Anthropocene? I’d say we’ve entered the Otharktocene, a word of my own making, that might be roughly translated “cene: the new [epoch in which we] ōthō: poke [the] arktos: bear.” Because that’s about all we’re really doing right now. Anthropocene suggests we “wield” the force of our impact by some measure of design. No, we’re “wielding” nothing so much as belligerent arrogance absent any wisdom.

Even more misleadingly, Anthropocene suggests that, having become the decisive player in the Earth System of late, if we rethink our ambitions we can, of course, smooth everything out. We’re in the driver’s seat, aren’t we? Hell no! These ancient planetary processes are forces that channel an inertia beyond our grasp. Ubuntu: this new epoch, like the Holocene, exists at the nexus of a host of relationships. And all those ancient forces are talking to one another. Grumbling in discontent. Screaming in anguish. Writhing in torment. Rising in anger.

Sure, we are the defining force of this new epoch, but we are defining it merely by poking the bear. Again and again and again.

Systems seek equilibrium. And these other older forces having been playing the long game for eons. They will eventually settle into a new rhythm. But whether within that new rhythm human activity persists on a scale sufficient to retain our seat at the table remains to be seen. Odds are good that, at best, we’ll have a much-chastened role.

At worst, we might find ourselves hurtling toward a Hothouse Earth scenario, with global surface temperatures up by 4-5 degrees Celsius, with ripples and echoes across every planetary process. In that case, the Anthropocene would likely end up naming the trigger point on the way to an epoch so vastly different than the Holocene, so … inhospitable to humanity, that we—anthropos—might find that we have no place at all in it to call home. Oops. That would be awkward.

Welcome to the Otharktocene.

And, if you missed the memo, it’s time to stop poking the bear.

* * *

David Weiss is a theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, doing “public theology” around climate crisis, sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. Reach him at drw59mn@gmail.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.

The Latest IPCC Report and the Pressing Imperative of Delivering Dark Hope

The Latest IPCC Report and the Pressing Imperative of Delivering Dark Hope
David R. Weiss – August 9, 2021

Dark Hope: a hope that is fully alongside us in the unpredictable tumult ahead. Indeed, not a hope that “shines in the darkness,” but a hope that abides as darkness itself.

Sunrise with a red glow from wildfire smoke, Alberta, Canada. Photo by Kym MacKinnon on Unsplash

The latest IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change) just out today does everything but connect the dots: ecological and societal collapse IS coming and we are NOT ready. These are the five “key takeaways” identified by CNN, captured here in DIRECT quotes from the CNN story:

(1) Humans are unequivocally warming the planet. Society’s reliance on fossil fuels is the reason the planet has already warmed 1.2 degrees Celsius—every bit of it through the emission of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane.

(2) The only way to stop the warming is to end greenhouse gas emissions: The longer it takes, the hotter it gets. Avoiding 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming is all but impossible … avoiding the worsening impacts that come from approaching and passing 2 degrees of warming will take significant cuts to greenhouse gas emissions starting immediately. If emissions continue to increase, the world will top 2 degrees Celsius of warming—possibly before 2050—and reach 3 degrees Celsius before the end of the century.

(3) Climate impacts (heat waves, droughts, flooding, hurricanes, sea level rise, weather whiplash) are severe in every region of the planet, and will worsen with every fraction of a degree of warming.

(4) Some changes are irreversible, even under the lowest emissions scenarios. Ice sheets will continue melting for hundreds to thousands of years, which will cause sea levels to rise well beyond 2100 and stay higher for millennia.

(5) Atmospheric methane is skyrocketing and is currently the highest it’s been in 800,000 years, largely because of a combination of natural gas leaks (around drilling sites) and unsustainable agriculture and cattle farming.

As usual, the report wants to say two things at once: the situation is dire AND there is still time if we start now. But the undeniable truth is that we are NOT starting now. We are politically and culturally incapable of starting now. As one tiny but immediate example of that, on a Chicago news station today I listened to a news story summarizing this latest IPCC report, then immediately as the station cut away for commercial, the newscaster said, “When we return, get ready to crank up your AC as we hear about the heat coming our way next week.”

This is why even holding temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius is barely imaginable. We are headed toward ecological and societal collapse the likes of which we cannot fathom. It may be survivable, but we are completely unprepared to meet the challenges that are already inexorably racing at us.

Over the past two weeks I wrote an eight-essay series about what it means to be church (or any authentic human community) … in a time of approaching ecological-social collapse. This is only the beginning of the next chapter of my work. If you missed that series, I implore you to read it start to finish. (Links are below.) It is still a bit rough and raw: I wrote it “on the run” day by day. I will be refining and expanding on every paragraph in the months and years ahead. But these essays make an essential beginning—and we are already far too late in our beginning.

This is an annotated overview of the essays, with links to each one. 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.

Delivering Dark Hope #1: It’s a Dickens of a Time to be the Church. In which I announce the overarching project I plan to undertake, along with my conviction that in this moment for the church to be the church means to “deliver dark hope.”

Delivering Dark Hope #2: Collapse – the Bio-Physical Roots. In which I set forth the damning “hard science” evidence for why eco-social collapse is now a foregone conclusion. This essay is far from exhaustive—and was written prior to today’s IPCC report—but, sadly, it is not difficult to make the case we have passed the point of no return.

Delivering Dark Hope #3: Collapse – The Psychic-Social-Cultural Roots. In which I draw on Trauma Management Theory (grounded in Ernest Becker’s Denial of Death, 1973), to set forth the equally damning “soft science” evidence for why eco-social collapse is now a foregone conclusion.

Delivering Dark Hope #4: An Abiding, Enduring Vocation. In which I argue that the moment has arrived for the church to make an unwavering declaration of collapse (there is no more time for cautious words if we intend to be church) and make an equally unwavering commitment to be with God’s people as we are pulled into the midst of collapse.

Delivering Dark Hope #5: What of Justice? In which I explain why, even as climate breakdown becomes an all-encompassing reality, that reality encompasses justice work; it doesn’t supersede it. There remains quintessential, even existential value to justice work, even and especially in an unraveling world.

Delivering Dark Hope #6: Faith Fit for Collapse. In which I suggest some of the key features of “faith fit for collapse,” such as the gratitude-awe, grief-lament, empathy-solidarity, mutual vulnerability, and the holiness of liminality. This involves both reclaiming core features of our distant heritage and imagining new ways to cultivate and practice them in a wholly changed world.

Delivering Dark Hope #7: Children … of Collapse. In which I (try to) address head on the awkward agonizing dilemma of acknowledging that we will bequeath to our children a world so deeply wounded that all their lives will be necessarily given over to its care. How then will we love these lives that have already been consigned to such jeopardy? I don’t yet know, but I will learn.

Delivering Dark Hope #8: Collapsing into … Joy. In which I assert that, even as we careen toward eco-social collapse, and even though we rightly feel frantic and frenzy, nonetheless it remains possible to live our lives well and with purpose even now. There is much that we will not fathom in advance—that we will only understand in the doing—but somehow Dark Hope brings with it joy.

I do not claim these essays are definitive. They were penned on the run. They mark only the beginning of my own plunge into writing theology in the very midst of collapse. But I pledge to keep writing, to bear witness to the Gospel as our world unravels. And to imagine as fiercely and faithfully as I can what it means to be human in the years ahead.

I do not believe you will find a more thoughtful guide or a more worthy conversation partner on this journey. I hope you join me. (Please subscribe!) Dark Hope awaits. And we have no time to lose.

*           *           *

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.

David Weiss is a theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, doing “public theology” around climate crisis, sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. Reach him at drw59mn@gmail.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.

This entry was posted on August 9, 2021. 1 Comment

Collapsing into … Joy – Delivering Dark Hope #8

Collapsing into … Joy – Delivering Dark Hope #8
David R. Weiss – August 5, 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 #8 in an 8-essay series in which I’ve been thinking out loud and 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; this is just an overview of sorts. (Here are links to essay #1, essay #2, essay #3, essay #4, essay #5, essay #6, and essay #7. Each 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.)

*           *           *

Dark Hope: a hope that is fully alongside us in the unpredictable tumult ahead. Indeed, not a hope that “shines in the darkness,” but a hope that abides as darkness itself.

Margaret is my faithful editor. She is also my beloved spouse, dearest friend, life companion, playmate, and more. But she is not least the first pair of eyes to read most of my words (and catch most of my typos) before I hit “publish.”  

Last night was no exception. When I finished “Children … of Collapse,” I gave it to her to read. These are our six children (we conceived none of them together, but we hold them all together in our hearts) and our nine grandchildren. Usually she will mark the mistakes, and often add comments in the margin (Wow! Yes! Powerful! Or longer remarks). I sometimes hear her audibly sigh in sync with those marginal notations.

Last night she read in silence. Then, without saying a word, she came and held me, and we hugged one another at the terrible truth I had written. There was no joy. More a breathless sense of awe at the words that occasionally move through me on their way into the world. And an awful sense of foreboding at the words themselves.

Per the rhythm of our life, Margaret headed to bed a couple hours before me. While she slept I sat on the floor at the foot of the bed and wrote a love note for her to find in the morning:

“This reading, listening, thinking, and writing that I’m doing these days takes a toll on me. Amid the ‘euphoria’ of words well-crafted … is the weight they bear. I would be lost without you. It’s been 40 years since I read Camp Concentration (Thomas Disch, 1968). I only vaguely recall the plot—but the closing lines are still vivid. All the more so these days: ‘Much that is terrible we do not know. Much that is beautiful we shall yet discover. Let’s sail together till we come to the edge.’ Margaret, how much I love you!” ~David

Ten days ago I began these essays … on a whim. Of sorts. The sort of whim that appears in the Christian feminist phrase “God’s fierce whimsy.” A colleague posted a challenge: to imagine what change, transformation, gestation can occur in ten days. All these thoughts—nearly 11,000 words now!—have been brooding in my heart-mind for months. Then this sister in the holy work of justice-making sort of dared me—on a whim—to open that door for ten days and invite these words to come forth. A holy whim then.

Do you thank someone for that? I’m not sure she had any idea what this challenge would ask of me. I’m not sure I did either. I sensed the simmering inside, the clawing in my mind, the twisting in my heart, the screeching in my gut. I sensed these things enough to know I was not eager to open the door. Now the door is not just open, it’s off its hinges—in splinters, I fear. Thanks … I guess.

Anyway, I promised Joy on this last day. Here’s what I got.

Praxis names the intentional communal circle of doing-reflecting-doing-reflecting-doing. In base Christian communities (lay-centered small groups focused on study-discussion-practice of core biblical themes, first seen in Latin America in the late 1960s) praxis helped birth liberation theology, leading ordinary Christian peasants to do-reflect-do-reflect-do the Bible as they read it together.

Dark Hope will be like that. Exactly. We’ll do-reflect-do-reflect-do (where “doing” means the sort of things I noted in my “Faith Fit for Collapse” piece: gratitude, awe, lament, empathy, compassion, and liminality. And that doing—perhaps not immediately, but soon (which is to say, soon enough)—will birth Joy.

King said, “The time is always right to do good.” We like to believe we have all the time in the world. And that when we get around to it, we will do right by the climate. But I say there is no time left to avert collapse. None. King replies even louder, “The time is always right to do good.” We’re not arguing; it’s a call-and-response. We’re both right.

I imagine collapse will arrive as Jesus put it, “like a thief in the night.” We won’t be “ready.” Ever. Unless we’re doing right. So, I say, don’t fret over much about collapse. Be attentive, yes. But be in your life as fully as you can. And fill that life with choices worthy of Joy.

Which is not the same as the selfish pursuit of wealth or stuff or power or cheap fun. Joy is that which affirms life and value to all that is, even if it is quirkily so just for you. If you teach or cook or heal or build or manage or nurse or write or whatever you do, do it with as much heart as you can. Because anything that builds up the whole of humanity now is of priceless worth. And whatever brings you happiness, so long as it doesn’t come at the expense of another’s suffering, savor that happiness. We don’t have all the time in the world. All the time we have left in the world … is NOW. So live.

I think of the gospel writer John and his interesting notion of eternal life. Scholars call it “realized eschatology”; it’s a fancy way of saying that John pulls the “last things” (eschatoi) into this present moment (it’s “realized” right now). He is 100% convinced—he doesn’t “argue” this, he announces it: eternal life begins now. I don’t know whether John had a vibrant notion of heaven (most Jews don’t, and John was a deeply Jewish gospel writer), but it’s clear that he had a profoundly vibrant notion of life in the wake of Jesus. It was life that ran infinitely deep, fearlessly so, and life that had no need to wait for death in order to become eternal. To fill the NOW brimful and more.

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

John is also the gospel writer who gives us a cosmic Christology. Seemingly disinterested in shepherds or Magi, angels or stars, he says, “In the beginning was the Word.” And “all things came into being through this Word.” John audaciously suggests that in Jesus’ life we behold an incarnate echo of the Big Bang. John calls that echo Love. And Jesus commends it to us as his signature deed. “By this people will know you are my followers: that you love one another.”

We could use a little realized eschatology today. Love fiercely and fully and widely and deeply. And you will know the taste of eternal life: Joy.

That Joy may feel a little thin right now. Because, likely as much for you as for me, this news of collapse is a bit of an emotional shit show when it first hits you. But praxis. Do-reflect-do-reflect-do some more. It is the mundane—done with deep intention, done together, done with love—that, by the same sacred alchemy that powered the original Big Bang, is yet able to make miracles. To bring Joy.

We’re heading into some pretty severe turbulence. And time is short. So, stitch together, with others around you, a whole bunch of gratitude, lament, empathy, compassion, and liminality. Do so with love. And I promise, no matter what comes our way, Julian of Norwich’s words will ring true: “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” That’s Joy.

One of my former Hamline students (Annika Rutenbeck, 2004) wrote in a journal entry I’ve always remembered: God is at the mercy of our good doings. That’s holy wisdom. As our ecosystem collapses and our social fabric frays … and tears, we will wonder, “Where is God in all of this?!” And I think Annika has it just right: in our good doings. God is there. And so is Joy.

Be there, too.

*           *           *

David Weiss is a theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, doing “public theology” around climate crisis, sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. Reach him at drw59mn@gmail.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.

This entry was posted on August 6, 2021. 1 Comment

Children … of Collapse – Delivering Dark Hope #7

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.

Our family – Summer 2017

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 drw59mn@gmail.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.

This entry was posted on August 5, 2021. 2 Comments

Faith Fit for Collapse – Delivering Dark Hope #6

Faith Fit for Collapse – Delivering Dark Hope #6
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 #6 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, and essay #5. While each essay treats a different facet of the larger project, there is a narrative arc to them. I encourage you to read them in order when possible.)

*           *           *

In this essay I want to introduce some of the themes I think can guide churches in fostering a “faith fit for collapse.” That sounds underwhelming. As in, “Really? ‘Fit for collapse’? That’s all you got for us?!” Fair enough. But trust me, when collapse hits—and hits hard—this is the faith you want. This is incarnational faith absent the Hallelujah chorus, unassuming, cobbled together, stumbling in the dark, but stubbornly incarnational nonetheless.

We begin with a couple necessary asides.

One. I align myself with the faith community that draws its life out of the story of Jesus and the vision of justice-mercy-compassion-grace that forms the grand arc of God’s liberating love in the Bible. But I do NOT regard Christianity (or the Bible) as having a monopoly on sacred wisdom. I believe most long-standing religious and philosophical traditions harbor genuine truths in their teachings and practices. And no single tradition has it all “right.” I do my thinking alongside and with the church—specifically the progressive edge of the Christian tradition—because this is where I make my spiritual home, and this is the collection of language and imagery I know best. Because as yet this community has little inkling of what it can—and must—do to bear good news to a world in collapse. And because awakening this community is my vocation: that place where my deep passion and joy meet the world’s deep hunger and need.

Two. This is Christian faith … on edge. I’d argue that authentic Christian faith has always and everywhere been “on edge.” Placing compassion—active empathy-solidarity with the suffering—as a core Christian virtue, means that anytime the church is anywhere other than alongside those who suffer, seeking to undo the causes of their suffering and working to promote their ability to flourish, it’s being something other than the church. Usually that’s been as chaplain to empire (or culture or economy … or whiteness). Occasionally, as Inquisitor, by many different names. The Christian faith I suggest here moves against that current and is decidedly, unreservedly … on edge. It may seem vaguely familiar but uncomfortably disconcerting. Yet with all my heart and all my mind, I believe it is the path that beckons to those who follow Jesus. I’m sure my understanding will deepen as I write (and live!) my way into it. But I am convinced the path begins here. Now. So let’s.

Features of a Faith Fit for Collapse. These are just some of my intuitions. The challenge for the church is to reclaim ancient ideas and/or practices that cultivate features like these—or to create fresh ideas and practices to do so. None of them are uniquely Christian, but they will have a distinctively Christian expression in the context of our story and life.

Gratitude and awe. Obviously, there are deep roots for this in the biblical tradition, but Joanna Macy sets it as the foundation for her “Work that Reconnects.” She regards it not simply as a praiseworthy disposition; in our present context it’s the essential anchor for our work. Cultivating and then embodying practices that instill and strengthen gratitude and awe is a life-or-death proposition in a time of collapse.

Grief and lament. This is about honesty, but it goes further. It begins with confessing, recognizing, and feeling in our gut the anguish of all the horror we have wrought on the natural world, the many ways we’ve uncreated creation. Part of this is accountability. Adulting involves honest self-appraisal. But the deeper, near mystical part of this, is that ONLY authentic grief and lament before the suffering of the world can open a doorway forward. ONLY this. We are at a DEAD END until we grieve. And the sides are closing in. Fast. Holding onto gratitude and awe for dear life, we must fashion ways that open us to grief that has every right to swallow us whole. But it won’t.

Empathy-Solidarity. What we will discover, bathed in grief that is honest and overwhelming, is that we are IN FACT (not as warm fuzzy feeling, but IN FACT!) kin to all creation. Our capacity for grief is the echo of our original kinship, often recounted in myths and more recently confirmed by science. Interwoven and entangled are not nice metaphors. They are gritty descriptions for the blessed mystical-ecological messiness of nature. And this empathy-solidarity, rooted in the original fabric of the cosmos can tie us back into the energy of the universe: Love. But ONLY on the far side of grief, ONLY as empathy with ALL creation. Any attempt to “cheat” here, to be anything less than “all in,” will cost us everything. The church has become very good at making modest demands on its people. Today the God who created and loves the world we have so despoiled asks everything of us. It is time for the church to be a partner in that ask.

Compassion as Mutual Vulnerability. We idolize security. Insofar as “death is the cause of sin” (see essay #3), our desire for security in the face of finitude is among the most deeply ingrained self-defeating impulse we carry. The truth of this life is that we all die, and we’re all bound together, one living messy mass from tiny microbes to brilliant minds: one. Until death comes for us. Compassion is not a virtue by which the secure offer aid to the insecure; it is the revolutionary solidarity by which we own the truth that we are all vulnerable, and our best “protection” is to be vulnerable together. This means embracing the goodness of finitude, which will be a challenge for the church. This is a MUCH bigger project than a paragraph, but somehow, if we want to keep “heaven” as part of our faith, we must use it to bolster our commitment to the preciousness of this life (in which we die), lived in mutual vulnerability … and joy. For whatever years we have, here … is home.

The Liminal is Holy. But only if we make it so. We have learned (for example, in hospice) to accompany both patients and families as they hover (liminally—on the threshold) between worlds. We will dwell for years in the discomfort of a great inbetweenness. It may unleash chaos and terror. But if we learn how to hover within the liminal while holding one another close we can render it holy, pregnant with opportunity, even in the midst of collapse.

There is more to say. And other days to say it. The features named above (and more) will need to find expression in our theology and practice, prayers and hymnody, sacraments and social gatherings. Our faith-formation (for all ages) will involve developing the character that supports these features and sharing the skills that allow us to embody them. In every facet of our being church we must learn to manifest God’s liberatory love for creation. Not because such love can forestall collapse, but because it can endure collapse. That’s where we are. That’s what we need. God help us if we turn away.

But we’re not here alone. Besides countless persons in my own faith tradition, I’ve encountered “clarifying echoes” from outside it. These help me re-true my own inheritance, or recover pearls of great worth that have been neglected over the years. Joanna Macy’s Active Hope and The Work that Reconnects—steeped in her own experience of Buddhist teachings and systems theory—have been revelatory and have confirmed my own intuitions. Robin Wall Kimmerer’s writings on Indigenous wisdom have been a treasure. And my readings in the Transition Town Movement, Permaculture, and Deep Adaptation have offered profound moments of common recognition. What I write on the page continues an unending conversation in my heart and mind … and with you.

Finally, in my last piece I admitted, “daunting” seems too small a word for what we face. But I also said it’s possible to imagine communities that might cultivate passions and joys that center our energy on tending the world. “Salvation” shares the same root as “salve,” a healing ointment. Rather than thinking we can save the world, perhaps it is enough help that we might salve the world: tend its wounds, and our own, as best we can. Perhaps that is the sacred wisdom we need most today.

*           *           *

David Weiss is a theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, doing “public theology” around climate crisis, sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. Reach him at drw59mn@gmail.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.

This entry was posted on August 4, 2021. 3 Comments

What of Justice? – Delivering Dark Hope #5

What of Justice? – Delivering Dark Hope #5
David R. Weiss – August 2, 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 #5 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, and essay #4. While each essay treats a different facet of the larger project, there is a narrative arc to them. I encourage you to read them in order when possible.)

*           *           *

Given my position that ecological and societal collapse is now inevitable, does that mean that nothing else—not even climate activism—matters anymore, and that we should all simply “brace for impact”?

No. And No.

Yes, we should “brace for impact.” But climate activism still matters—as does every other social justice cause. In fact, precisely at this precarious juncture, as we slide toward potentially precipitous collapse, about the worst thing we can do is ignore everything else. (The worst thing we can do is pretend everything will be fine.)

I regard collapse—massively disruptive collapse on both ecological and societal levels—as inevitable by the end of this century, and likely much, much sooner. This is not negotiable. We’re on the very cusp of “game over” for the apex of humanity in its techno-racist-extractive-capitalist expression.

(Whether we get the chance to refashion ourselves in a different human expression remains to be seen. Clearly, there are other possible forms of human community. Unfortunately, this form—and with the enthusiastic consent of Constantinian Christianity—has become cancerous … and has metastasized across continents and cultures. This present form of pathological human “community” is driving collapse in a way that will impact and undo every human community everywhere on the planet.)

What remains negotiable is just how catastrophic, brutal, and dehumanizing collapse gets as it plays out. But we’re not negotiating from a position of strength. We’ve wreaked havoc on nearly every biophysical Earth system that supports our well-being. Worse, we’ve established whole human-built systems that now functionally compel our individual participation in further undoing the planet regardless of our own intentions. (“Individual responsibility,” while critical for our own integrity, is largely impotent at slowing the damage done by large-scale destructive systems.) Nonetheless, every system of injustice we can challenge lessens the evil that collapse will usher into our world.

Consider Enbridge’s Line 3 project in northern Minnesota. It serves one purpose only within the Earth System: to facilitate (and accelerate!) the incineration of tar sands oil into the atmosphere. Some say it will “power” the economy and provide jobs. But “it’s NOT the economy, stupid.” It’s the land, water, air, heat, animals, plants, and the people. Given the scientific awareness we have, Line 3’s ongoing construction is an act of willful ecocide carried out by persons, companies, governments addicted to a way of life that deals in death. Stopping Line 3 matters, not because doing so will prevent collapse, but because doing so will lessen the severity of collapse. It will save lives. Climate activism is quintessential and existential work in a collapsing world.

depositphotos.com 114234518

But … the same is true of every other social justice issue. To name only a few examples:

Nuclear storage. As electrical grids become less reliable around the clock, nuclear waste storage facilities represent the very gates of hell, with radioactive waste just waiting for our grid to drop its guard. There is no longer arc of injustice nor reach of evil than that we have forced future generations to protect themselves from our lust for energy. Anti-nuclear work is quintessential and existential in a collapsing world.

Immigration justice. The history of undocumented immigrants is the history of unjust foreign policies used to enrich our nation by mal-developing other nations’ economies, agricultural policies, and societies. Climate breakdown—driven largely by the exorbitant energy use of over-developed countries—is creating additional human and ecological crises in other nations, which will drive waves of climate refugees across our borders. Immigration justice, redressing both past injustices as well as the unfolding climate reality, is quintessential and existential work in a collapsing world.

Racial Justice. Black lives have been historically—unremittingly—subjected to socio-physical violence (of which the police/prison industrial complex is only the most visible manifestation). This is inseparable from a culture and economy that “live” by extraction and exploitation. Our ability to navigate collapse with our humanity intact rests on our readiness to affirm how deeply Black Lives Matter and our willingness to abolish the systems created to control them. Racial justice work is quintessential and existential in a collapsing world.

Indigenous Rights. Our genocidal treatment of Native Americans foreshadowed our ecocidal treatment of the land to which they knew themselves to be intimately related. There is no path toward a life-affirming relationship with the land on which we dwell without repairing the deeply broken relationship we have brokered with the land’s indigenous peoples. This work is quintessential and existential in a collapsing world.

Gender and Sexual Justice. The biases we carry toward gender or sexual expression reflect a mistrust of the mysterious forces at play in our own embodiment that in turn drives an unwise impulse to control and/or condemn those same forces when they manifest differently in other lives. This dynamic of being so ill at ease in natural bodies is interwoven with our assumption that nature itself needs our control and/or merits our contempt. Gender and Sexual Justice is quintessential and existential work in a collapsing world.

Gun reform. As our politics becomes more polarized and our societal fabric becomes more frayed, and climate change stresses our personal and communal lives far more disruptively than Covid did, does anyone think more guns will be a providential addition to this equation? Like the climate crisis, this problem has been deliberately created. Successive generations of politicians chose to ignore it until it’s now truly frightening to address. We must somehow reign in the actual proliferation of guns and our societal fetish that equates power with the capacity to kill. Gun reform is quintessential and existential work in a collapsing world.

Voting Rights. Electoral politics has shown itself more amenable to corruption than to collaboration in seeking real justice, but this makes the struggle to protect and extend voting rights all the more critical. Given the rise of Republican neo-fascist white-nationalist misogynist extremism, there can be no doubt that where they gain control of legislatures at the state or federal level they will undercut efforts to avoid climate catastrophe. (See essay #3.) Voting Rights work is quintessential and existential in a collapsing world.

I could go on. None of these issues—or countless others—can afford to wait until after the climate crisis has been successfully met. First, because the climate crisis has not and will not be “successfully met”; it’s “game over” on that count. Second, because the only way the collapse crisis might be successfully met (where “success” means unprecedented disruption and tumult instead of the catastrophic erasure of humanity), is if we work vigorously on all these fronts simultaneously.

Daunting doesn’t begin to capture the scope. It’s true, nearly all of us inherited some portion of the crises before us from earlier generations, even as we’ve entangled our own lives with them over the years. It’s also true, those holding the greatest wealth and power in almost every case hold the greatest culpability. But in a crisis, none of that really matters. What matters is responding in the present moment, and the quickest impulse, as the immensity of our situation becomes clear, is paralysis.

I believe one of the graces of Dark Hope is the invitation to follow our deepest passion in our response. We need not … ought not … cannot attempt to do everything. Attending to vocation, finding that sweet spot where our deep passion meets the world’s deep need—and trusting that others are doing the same—preserves our focus, and focuses our energy, when everything is clamoring for it all at once. I don’t pretend this is easy. It requires passions that are shaped by care for the world. And communities that shape such passions. Not easy. But possible. Necessary. Dark Hope. More tomorrow.

*           *           *

David Weiss is a theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, doing “public theology” around climate crisis, sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. Reach him at drw59mn@gmail.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.

This entry was posted on August 3, 2021. 4 Comments

From Madagascar to Minnesota: Belonging and Voice and Gospel

From Madagascar to Minnesota: Belonging and Voice and Gospel
David R. Weiss – August 1, 2021

Sermon for St. Paul’s United Church of Christ, Saint Paul, Minnesota
A progressive, Open and Affirming, Creation Justice congregation (www.spucconsummit.org)

Text: 2 Corinthians 3: 2-6a; 12 / Verse 12: Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness.

Prayer: Gathering God, from the many places of our lives we are gathered here in this moment. Bless my speaking. Bless this community’s listening. And bless our belonging to one another. Amen.

*           *           *

My message continues our series on Belonging … in three chapters: Madagascar, Corinth, and Saint Paul.

Chapter One: Madagascar. The country, but also the 2005 animated movie. Some of you may know the story, but for those who don’t, here’s a quick re-cap.

The movie features Marty, a zebra, Alex, a lion, Melman, a giraffe, and Gloria, a hippo. They’re talking animals—after all, it’s an animated film. We first meet them in Central Park Zoo in New York, where we listen in as the four friends debate the lure of life in the wild versus the comfort of life in the Zoo.

Before long, however, that debate comes to life when, through a wild series of misadventures, they find themselves ship-wrecked on the island of Madagascar. All four animals are initially quite dismayed, but after being befriended by a pack of entertaining lemurs, they begin to explore the island.

Marty, Melman, and Gloria quickly decide that Madagascar is veritable paradise. Their favorite foods are fresher than ever and all around them. Life in the wild tastes very good indeed. Alex, however, has a problem. Raised on a diet of fresh steak in the zoo, you could say that his favorite food is also fresher than ever and all around him—except he knows it by name.

The movie is filled with humor, but it’s the lion’s crisis that carries the plot forward. Alex, himself, is deeply distressed to find that when he looks at his friends he begins to see them AS STEAK. It’s equally nerve-wracking for Marty, Melman, and Gloria, who try to talk sense to Alex, but he grows hungrier by the day. The movie nearly careens from comedy into tragedy , when the circle of friends make a saving discovery: there are fish swimming in the bay, and Alex can satisfy his hunger by eating fish.

This is the “save-the-day” feel-good moment of the movie. Now everyone can live happily ever after. Except, of course, the fish, but no one seems to mind.

Why? Because of all the animals that appear in the movie, only the fish don’t talk. So they never become characters in their own right. If the fish had been given voices like the sea creatures in Finding Nemo, you can bet more than a few kids would’ve bawled in protest while Alex resolved his food issues at the fish’s expense.

But having been rendered voiceless, they become, quite literally, fair game for resolving the crisis without anyone feeling bad for them. And this is crucial: someone—in this case, the writer—rendered the fish voiceless.

You can argue that as carnivores Lions must “by nature” eat meat of some sort. That’s true, but a film filled with talking animals isn’t really about “nature”; it’s about friendship. And belonging.

Ultimately, the movie carries a message that might be unintended, but is crystal clear to any kid who knows that in other tales … fish talk. The message is that until every person becomes a character with a voice, you really don’t know whether you’ve resolved your issues or not.

Boom.

As an aside: this is EXACTLY what Critical Race Theory is about. The story of who we are as a nation only works as a feel-good story if we render certain people voiceless. American history—past and present—have been taught by a process in which white people decide who gets a voice. And Critical Race Theory demands that we ask hard questions about our own history, our national story—questions that hinge on whose voices are heard.

Chapter Two: Corinth.

During Jesus’ ministry in Galilee and Judea he proclaimed a message of belonging. More than simply proclaiming it, he practiced it. Persons deemed outcast because of their ethnicity or disease or social status were welcomed by Jesus. Women were included; children were blessed. Jesus went so far as to dare his followers to behold him in every person they encountered—and then to act accordingly.

This was a bold vision of community. In the early decades after Jesus, Paul became the leading missionary of the Jesus’ movement. Planting churches around the Mediterranean, he carried this vision of deep belonging far across the Greco-Roman world.

He was determined to shape churches so that they would become communities that echoed the impulse of gracious welcome that so animated Jesus’ own ministry.

But Roman society, like the Jewish society of Jesus’ day, was deeply stratified—shaped by power dynamics that “ordered” every relationship, every event, every aspect of society. Which meant it was all too easy for early churches to be misshaped by these values. Especially since these early churches reflected the same breadth of social diversity as in Roman society at large.

Paul is adamant, however, that in the church something NEW is unfolding. He uses the metaphor of the human body to say, yes, we display many differences, but we belong to the same body. We all have value. And whether we are feet or eyes or legs or ears, we belong to one another.

Elsewhere he says, “there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female” (Gal. 3:28). He isn’t saying these identities no longer exist, he’s saying that in Christ, differences no longer have power to divide us.

In his first letter to the church at Corinth Paul explodes in anger when addressing their practice of communion—the Christian ritual that seals our belonging (1 Cor. 11:17-22, 29). When they gathered for worship, like many early Christian communities, they shared a sort of potluck meal, followed by telling stories and singing hymns, and culminating in the Lord’s Supper. But in Corinth the wealthier members came early with their food and feasted, while those who were servants or slaves arrived later, finding only crumbs. By the time they celebrated the Lord’s Supper, the divisions between the haves and the have-nots, far from disappearing, were freshly etched in the hunger and humiliation of those who arrived last. It was precisely what the meal was not supposed to be.

Finally, in our text today, Paul uses another image to evoke the profound newness of Christian community. You may know that the Greek word EKKLESÍA, which we’ve come to translate as “church,” in Greek simply means, “an assembly.”

But in the Greco-Roman imagination—in the world where Paul’s churches were founded—EKKLESÍA meant a very specific Assembly. It hearkened back to the original Greek ideal of self-governing cities, each of which met as an Assembly. Well, the free-born male citizens met as an Assembly. They gathered to discuss the affairs of the city, to assess its well-being—and its needs, and to pool their wisdom in charting a path forward. That’s what Assemblies do.

So when Paul calls these early Christian communities EKKLESÍA, he’s harnessing a vibrant image from their worldview and telling them, This is what Christian communities do. They gather as an Assembly to discuss the affairs of their community, to assess their well-being—and their needs, and to pool their wisdom in charting a path forward.

But our text goes one step further, although we miss its audacious claim the same way we likely missed the voiceless fish in Madagascar. The last phrase said, “Since we have such a hope—(which is the Spirit-filled presence of Christ in our midst)—we act with great boldness.”

Did you catch that? Of course, you didn’t. How could you? Most of our translations completely hide it, and none of them make it clear. The Greek word translated here as “act” is PARRESÍA. And it can mean “act,” but in an Assembly, in an EKKLESÍA, PARRESÍA has a very specific meaning. Roughly translated as “free speech,” it names the speech exercised by—and only permitted to—free-born male citizens in the Assembly. In that context PARRESÍA is that speech and nothing else. It is the free, frank, bold, deliberative, future-charting speech of the Assembly.

Of the 62 Bible translations I looked at (thanks to biblegateway.com; I don’t own 62 Bibles!), 36 translated it with some form of “act”; 26 translated it using some form of “speech”; but not one found a way to clarify this as the “free speech of the Assembly.” Of course, Paul’s original audience knew that. But we don’t. And so we miss the power of Paul’s carefully chosen words.

But there’s one thing more. In the EKKLESÍA that Paul founded to carry forward the Spirit of Jesus, PARRESÍA—the free, frank, bold, deliberative, future-charting speech of the Assembly—belongs to everyone. By virtue of baptism, each person is made equally and fully a citizen of the realm of God, and each person is commissioned to discuss the affairs of the Assembly, to assess its well-being—and its needs, and to pool their wisdom in charting a path forward. Because we belong to one another that much.

Think back to Madagascar for a moment. Paul is declaring that in the Christian Assembly there can be NO FISH WITHOUT VOICES. NONE.

Boom.

Chapter Three: Saint Paul. This is the shortest chapter, because, in the true spirit of PARRESÍA, this is our chapter … to write together in the years ahead. So I offer just a few things to think about … as an EKKLESÍA.

The spirit of the Jesus movement has always been challenged by the powers that be in the world. Both Roman and Jewish leaders came after Jesus. By the end of the first century, women in Paul’s churches found their voices again silenced. By the end of the fourth century, from Constantine onward, the church became so entangled in worldly power that for millennia it has not only often reflected the world’s preferred values, it has often baptized them as its own.

But the Spirit persists. Eventually, in many EKKLESÍA, women regained their voice, although not everywhere. But here women’s voices are loud and clear. Eventually LGBTQ persons claimed their place in the EKKLESÍA, although not everywhere. And there continue to be places where terror seeks to silence them. But as an Open and Affirming congregation, their voices are welcomed here.

But there is so much work yet to do here in Saint Paul—which names both our congregation, our EKKLESÍA and also our wider community.

As we wrestle with the meaning of racial justice—especially justice for Black and brown lives—how will we make certain that their voices matter in the EKKLESÍA?

As we consider the long legacy of broken treaties, the mistreatment and worse of Native Americans and their lands, how will we make certain that their voices matter in the EKKLESÍA?

As state legislatures across the country attempt to “render fish voiceless” through laws that make voting more difficult for persons of color, how will we ensure, at least here in Minnesota, that their voices are valued and their votes are counted?

So many voices longing to be heard!

Indeed, what about fish—as fish? How might we hear the voices of entire species, dying oceans, smoke-filled air, lands parched by drought or drilled for oil? Science tells us that we are truly ecologically interwoven with all life on Earth. What would it mean to affirm that the voice of these non-human “citizens of creation” must also be heard if we are to faithfully discuss the affairs of the whole Earth Assembly, to assess its well-being—and its needs, and to pool their wisdom alongside our own in charting a path forward in a time of such ecological peril?

These are just some of the conversations that await us. They are undeniably daunting. But we become a more Spirit-filled EKKLESÍA with each new voice that joins us.

PARRESÍA is the free, frank, bold, deliberative, future-charting speech of the church. It is the sound of Gospel playing out in communities where we all belong to one another.

Boom. May it be so. Amen.

*           *           *

David Weiss is a theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, doing “public theology” around climate crisis, sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. Reach him at drw59mn@gmail.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.

An Abiding, Enduring Vocation: Delivering Dark Hope #4

An Abiding, Enduring Vocation: Delivering Dark Hope #4
David R. Weiss – July 29, 2021

NOTE: I am writing for my life—and for yours. Modest regular support for my writing (even $2-10/month!) via Patreon not only keeps me fed, it’s also a huge emotional-spiritual boost, letting me know my words are valued. None of my writing behind a pay wall. It’s all gift. Over the next decade it may be among the most important gifts you receive. If you can support me with a monthly gift I’m grateful. In any case, please read—and please subscribe.

*           *           *

This is #4 in an eight-essay series written over ten days 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, and essay #3; while each essay treats a different facet of the larger project, there is a narrative arc to them. I encourage you to read them in order when possible.)

*           *           *

After two essays on collapse, it’s time for some hope. But not just any hope; dark hope.

Why Dark Hope? I’m trying to frame a “hope” that is decidedly not “upbeat.” Because hope in its “upbeat” tone is too close for comfort to foolhardy optimism, which is, in turn, too close for comfort to sheer arrogance, both of which have played a prime role in fostering the collapse that is coming for us. Even more pointedly, though, I say Dark Hope because we’ll need a hope that is fully alongside us in the unpredictable tumult ahead. Not a hope that says, “keep your chin up” or “hang in there,” but a hope that gasps with us: “breathe!” Indeed, not a hope that shines in the darkness, but a hope that abides as darkness itself. I’ll write a longer piece on this, but that’s a start.

But first, a little more on collapse … because today, July 29, 2021, is World Overshoot Day 2021: the day when, as a global community, we’ve used as many resources as the planet can generate in a year. In other words, for the remainder of 2021, we’re stealing resources from future generations. In the late 1970’s, when we slipped into overshoot in late December, it was the first time—in the history of forever—that humanity as a whole had outstripped Earth’s abundance. Since then, we’ve rolled that date back by five months. Now we enter overshoot in July.

But July 29, 2021 is World Overshoot Day. Not all countries use their share of global resources at the same pace. Here in the United States, we blew by our Country Overshoot Day … all the way back on March 14. We’ll spend the last 292 days of 2021 draining off the life of future generations. Did we really think that Mother Nature wouldn’t notice?!

This is why ecological and societal collapse is inevitable. Because we have made overshoot into the very infrastructure of our culture. It is the means by which we’ve come to manage the trauma of our mortality (see essay #3). The rising CO2 levels that drive climate change are “merely” symptomatic of our cultural addiction to an extractive economy now wedded to ecocidal consumption amid psychic denial. But now collapse is coming.

Which is why we must turn swiftly to “Deliver Dark Hope” for the days to come.

Honestly, in the worst-case scenario (and there are more persons than you might guess who foresee a worst-case scenario), the cascading effects of climate change and loss of biodiversity integrity (basically rupturing ecosystem after ecosystem) will be so severe that humanity as a species will not survive the next 100 years. That’s a worst-case scenario, but it is NOT an inconceivable one. Were it to come to pass, the last human being to ever live might already have been born. Worst-case scenario, but conceivable. Sit with that awareness for a few days.

Personally, I still think a best-case scenario is possible: one where over the next 20-40 years we experience a series of jarring lurches backward in development as agricultural, political, electrical, civic, medical systems and more are upended by a world running on overshoot far too much and far too long. Any projection of a smooth, technologically guided draw-down strikes me as dangerously naïve.

Mathematically, the Minnesota Twins (currently 17 games out of first place, with a record of 43-60) could still come back to win their division. But only a fool would bet money today on their World Series chances this year. And only an addict would bet the life savings of their entire family on that prospect.  

Right now our entire culture is drenched in addictive consumption—this is true to varying degrees across almost every demographic. Which is why even the level-headed climate pundits preferred by the mainstream media are able to keep telling us, “It’s bad, but there’s still a chance to make this all right.” My brother, who died after a decades long battle with alcoholism, believed right up until his last drink, that there was still a chance to make this all right. I’m telling you, that type of talk simply encourages addicts of all stripes—including lots of folks of good will—to bet the entire welfare of the next generation on the tiniest mathematical possibility (one that nothing in all history says is possible): “we can still make it all right.”

Collapse is coming. And it will be chaotic, brutal, deadly, and apocalyptic in ways we’ll wish happened only on the movie screen … or in the Bible. Still, in a best-case scenario—the one with multiple jarring backward lurches—if we brace for collapse and if we prepare ourselves and one another to endure, we may persevere. Which brings me to Dark Hope.

In 1939, Lutheran pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer accepted an invitation to come to Union Seminary in New York. Already fiercely critical of (and targeted by) Hitler and the Nazi regime, the invitation offered him safety on the eve of the Second World War. But soon after arriving he changed his mind—despite strong pressure from many friends to remain here. He explained that he needed to return to be with the German people in order to be worthy to participate in rebuilding their life after the war. Bonhoeffer’s conviction became clear and unwavering: he was called to be with his people in the midst of tumult. His vocation was to embody Emmanuel—“God-with-us”—for his community.

Today, for the church to deliver Dark Hope—to bear good news in the very belly of the beast that is collapse—we must be equally clear and unwavering. We dare not hold on to the safety of “calm” until it is too late to bear witness at all. Like Bonhoeffer, our calling is to be God’s presence in the midst of God’s people … in the midst of collapse. That begins by having the conviction to be public in acknowledging that collapse is coming. Avoiding it is no longer possible. Hoping otherwise is no longer justified. And waiting even a little longer to see what comes our way risks choosing timid caution in a moment that requires daring faithfulness.

That moment is now. If we are to have a harvest of Dark Hope ready for when our people need it, we must begin planting those seeds today.

There is still more to say about Dark Hope, and I will say it briefly in the days ahead … and at length in the months and years to come. If you’ve come with me this far, thank you. Here’s where we have yet to go.

Sunday: My assertion that Dark Hope admits the impending reality of collapse is NOT a cry of resignation. It is a call to action oriented toward the truth. There remains quintessential, even existential value to justice work. This is true even and especially in a world that’s unraveling. Stopping pipelines, honoring Black Lives, abolishing prisons—this work becomes all the more imperative in a world misshapen by climate breakdown.

Monday: The shape of Christian faith (actually of human faith) in this time of Dark Hope will be steeped in lament-compassion. But there are other key virtues to be cultivated as well, such as the gratitude, awe, widened kinship, mutual service, and healthy humility mentioned yesterday. This is a twin summons that involves both reclaiming core features of our distant heritage and imagining new ways to cultivate and practice them in a wholly changed world.

Tuesday: This will be the most difficult piece for me to write (and the one I am least prepared for). I will offer some first thoughts on how Dark Hope honors our children and grandchildren as the blessing they are, within the agonizing recognition that their inheritance from us … will be collapse. How then will we love these lives that have already been consigned to such jeopardy? I don’t yet know, but I will learn.

Wednesday: This much I do know, even though I cannot say how: Dark Hope brings with it joy. There is much that we will not fathom in advance—we will only understand in the doing, but I believe compassion is the alchemy of human existence. It is the seed of the sacred in our lives. And its fruit is joy.

And now, a short break from these essays to prepare a sermon. I’ll be “back” on Sunday. I hope you are, too.

*           *           *

David Weiss is a theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, doing “public theology” around climate crisis, sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. Reach him at drw59mn@gmail.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.

This entry was posted on July 30, 2021. 5 Comments