Resilience – and Earthbound Skills

Resilience – and Earthbound Skills
David R. Weiss – March 24, 2019
The Gospel in Transition #16 – Subscribe at www.davidrweiss.com

This week I take up the third of four key facets to the Transition Movement: that we reclaim and share the very earthbound skills required in this moment.[1] If you hear a soft-spoken ominous edge in that phrase, it’s intentional. Transition does not promote a doomsday portrait of the future. But it is a movement made by math, so to speak, and the numbers—from those that estimate the oil/gas reserves beneath the ground to those that measure with apocalyptic precision the rising CO2 in the atmosphere above us—well, the numbers portend a future that (like it or not) will look very different from the one we’ve taken as our birthright.

Thus, Transition asks us to imagine moving toward that future rather than denying its need or passively waiting for its inevitable encroachment into our lives. For one, that future will be dramatically less centered around the extraction and use of fossil fuel. But, more than this, that future—sooner or later—will also (and just as necessarily) be centered less around consumption period. Even as we develop newer, cleaner ways to generate energy, produce goods, and get around—quite apart from all such advances—we inhabit a finite planet. Even with an abundance of renewable energy, the material wealth we count as “success” cannot be extended across the globe without exhausting the planet itself. Whether we embrace a renewed appreciation for simplicity on this side or the far side of socio-industrial-ecological collapse is up to us. Embracing it on this side, might actually avoid forcing our children to face life on the far side. Or maybe not; hard to say. There’s that soft-spoken ominous edge again.

Nevertheless, Transition places its focus on the surprising goodness of lives that choose “local and less” in the genuine confidence that these choices actually mean “deeper and more.” Which brings us to what I’ve named “earthbound skills.”

The big-picture lecture I give about Christian spirituality in a time of climate change is titled “At Home on Earth.” I chose that title because I think the roots of our disastrous relationship with this planet and its entire ecological community are tied up with an unspoken assumption that since our “true” (heavenly?) home, is somewhere other than this place, whatever this place is, it’s NOT home and so it doesn’t really count. On the contrary, I think the truest Christian message—the truest human message regardless of which faith tradition it’s refracted through—is that Earth is home. Regardless of how you or I think about an afterlife, in this life … and during the lives of all the generations before and after us … Earth is home. It provides all our material needs, and we overstep its capacity to provide (we take at a rate faster than nature can renew) to the detriment of all (human and nonhuman) who come after us and many who share the planet with us right now.

When a finite planet is home, simplicity (an active notion of enough that is humane and ecologically sensible) is at once a moral obligation and an act of reverence. Thankfully, as Transition suggests, it is also a choice for festive wisdom: it is the doorway through which lies existential joy. Not to the exclusion of natural disaster, unforeseen tragedy, human sorrow—these will always be found within the fabric of finitude. But when life is lived oriented toward “local and less” even these become more bearable because community grows stronger when it reflects the planet’s preferences, of which an intimate acquaintance with enough is front and center.

So, by “earthbound skills,” I mean the practical knowledge that helps us reclaim the sense of Earth … as Home. There are a multitude of such skills that Transition thinking identifies and supports. They literally span the gamut of our lives: food, housing, transportation, education, healthcare. How would we retool our lives—beginning locally, personally, in our natural communities—if we took seriously the need to “homestead”? To live as if this place—right here—needed to sustain us indefinitely, and by drawing fairly on resources available to us and to others? Because, um, it does. What would we work to undo? What new projects would we envision and undertake? (There are lots of resources to seed this conversation and someday I’ll dedicate a whole column to them; www.transitionus.org/knowledge-hub is a gateway to many resources. Right now my own learning curve remains steep!)

My goal today is to say that while this may strike us as a radical, almost disorienting shift in worldview, it shouldn’t. It actually has ancient roots within Christianity, albeit roots we’ve neglected too long except as aspirational imagery.

When Luke tells us that the early church held everything in common, with members sharing freely out of their excess and receiving freely for their needs (Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-35), he isn’t describing some perfect eschatological commune. He’s offering a mundane image of an imperfect church grasped by a worldview that saw the church radically called to be there for each other. If you read the rest of Acts you see how imperfect it was at times, and yet it was a community seeking to live out Jesus’ invitation that we see his face in the eyes of those in need (Matthew 25:32-45). It was a community imagining life beyond the value-laden divisions of Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, rich and poor (Gal. 3:28; I Cor. 11:17-22). It was a community experimenting with truth (as Gandhi might say) in being the Body of Christ (I Cor. 12) where the diversity of gifts (spiritual, intellectual, emotional, practical) was not intended for competition but for compassion, for sustaining the health of the whole Body together.

Obviously, in the early church this mindset was not exercised against the backdrop of an impending climate crisis, but it was communally embodied … in daily life … shaped by the context of its day … fueled by vivid spiritual imagery and ritual … in a society that dismissed (and at times persecuted) this intermingling of justice and joy. And we need those things today. One of the transcendent (nearly theological) insights of the Transition Movement is that when localized community energy is freely shared to meet the needs of the moment in shaping a better (less fossil-fuel-fed) future, in that exchange, community is strengthened, justice happens (needs are met without exploitation), joy is generated—and in the midst of all of this: hope grows and imagination reaches out yet farther.

Church communities are “pre-seeded soil” for this type of eco-centered ministry. The same energy that undergirds church potlucks, funeral luncheons, quilting groups, workdays, etc. (energy often flagging today, but still echoing in our traditions), might … must be revitalized and redirected as one part of the larger movement to transition away from acquisitive lives that have never been truly abundant and toward lives that offer us so much more. Among the local “needs of this moment” are an array of mundane “home-making” skills, some of them from reclaimed from yesteryear, others leaning into tomorrow. All of them will prosper through cross-generational skills-sharing in communities where diverse gifts and generous spirits abide.

Indeed, if churches choose to revitalize and deepen their practice of Christian fellowship, applying it earnestly toward Earth fellowship as envisioned by the Transition Movement, they’ll find not only a wealth of renewed energy and hope, they’ll discover what it feels like to know Earth as God intended: as Home.

 

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 climate change, finding hope, and the alchemy of Christian community. My weekly blog posts will 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”; my aim is 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!

[1] I introduced these in GIT #13, “Redeemed for Resilience.” They were identified by Rob Hopkins and Sarah McAdams in “The Transition Movement: Past, Present, and Future,” roundtable discussion, 2018 Transition US Tenth Anniversary Online Summit: www.transitiongathering.org/videos.

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This entry was posted on March 25, 2019. 1 Comment

Resilience – as Deep Agency

Resilience – as Deep Agency
David R. Weiss – March 17, 2019
The Gospel in Transition #15 – Subscribe at www.davidrweiss.com

As I begin week 15 of my yearlong pledge, I’m keenly aware that each post I write begs for further development. Many of these short essays contain the seeds enough for an entire book chapter in them. Perhaps eventually I’ll come back to selected posts and fill them out further. For now the discipline of weekly blogging is helpful in getting a wide array of ideas out of the table, and I trust that as I devote myself further to this work, next steps will present themselves.

In this post I want to consider the second of four key facets to the Transition movement: that we must tap into deep agency, both as individuals and as local communities.[1] Transition names the necessary commitment to shift away from the dominant expression of modern life insofar as it depends on intensive fossil fuel consumption. It seeks this transition because it recognizes that fossil fuel use is directly tied the catastrophic climate change currently occurring around the world, and also because it asserts that we can actually live fuller lives when we choose social patterns that are more in keeping with the planet’s natural limits.

Such patterns will produce lives that are overall necessarily (and rewardingly) more local in meeting the whole range of human needs. Precisely because these transitions will succeed only to the extent they fit their context, they require deep agency. Part of Transition movement’s wisdom is to trust that there is no central monopoly on environmental wisdom. Almost by its nature—indeed, by the planet’s nature—all environmental wisdom is local. Each place has its own unique eco-character and if human communities are to live in harmony with the planet that will happen place by place by place.

In transition, no one size fits all. No top-down hierarchy calls the shots. Yes, there are a number of requisite principles and skills. But beyond them, improvisation wins the day. And the hallmark of improvisation with integrity in one’s own ecological context is deep agency. It is knowing who we are, where we are, what’s needed in this place (both for Earth and for community)—and then making real choices toward transition from this knowledge. Imagination, creativity, vision, knowledge—these are foundational. But the energy to animate all of them in coordination rests in deep agency: the near miracle of taking charge of our lives within worlds that profit by keeping us consumer-cogs of the status quo. Deep agency involves becoming citizen-architects of the world that awaits our fashioning.

Citizen-architects. Who knew this could be such a high Christian calling? Well, Jesus and Paul, for two. And the author of Luke-Acts as well. Not that it is much in evidence in most churches today, where personal-communal-religious-civic agency are often a buried legacy, covered over by the multiple powers of clergy, money, tradition, and fear, all of which tend to erase the deep agency that is our vocation and Christian birthright. I’m not anti-clergy, though I might make an exception in a few specific instances … and I’m not anti-tradition, though I’m decidedly wary of traditions that too easily become more focused on self-preservation rather than anchoring vibrant responses to the present and being open to self-transformation in that process.

However, the vocation of citizen-architect—part of the church’s earliest tradition—is one tradition essential to fostering the deep agency needed for transition. It begins in Jesus’ ministry, where time and again Jesus himself shows far less interest in being atop a hierarchy than his later followers imagine (which they do more to their benefit than to the gospel’s). Jesus, for his part, sends the disciples out in pairs (Matt. 10:1-15 || Luke 10:1-20) telling them to share with those in need the same energy that swirls within him—and to do so freely. In fact, Jesus promises them (John 14:12) they will ultimately do things beyond what they’ve seen Jesus himself do. Not because they become greater than Jesus, but because the Spirit’s empowering energy within the community of his followers will ripen over time.

This commissioning as veritable equals becomes yet clearer when Jesus extends the “keys to the kingdom” to his disciples (Matt. 16:9). He tells them their authority is now sufficient to “bind or loose” (to forbid or permit) which, I’d argue, is less about establishing rules than it is about charting the way forward into uncharted territory. In a similar scene in John’s Gospel Jesus breathes on the disciples as a way of sharing God’s Breath/Spirit with them (John 20:22). It is about conferring deep agency. And doing so, not so much in his absence, but in his ongoing though invisible presence (John 14:15-28). Matthew captures this in the closing words of his Gospel, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).

So Jesus establishes a community committed to a new way of being together in the world grounded in a notion of God’s radical grace and manifest in the practice of compassion toward one another. And he tethers them not to a fixed set of rules but to the living presence of Spirit, confident that the Spirit will guide the church as it exercises deep agency. When Luke extends his tale of Jesus from the Gospel into the Acts of the Apostles, he continues to show prayer as intentional opening to the Spirit. Just as Luke’s Jesus carries out his ministry persistently grounding his actions in prayer, Luke offers a portrait of the early church similarly drawing its life out of prayer. Its devotional life, to be sure (Acts 1:14; Acts 2:42), but also its socio-economic life (Acts 2:44-45). The early church was not simply (perhaps not even primarily) a movement driven by beliefs about the next world, but a daring, Spirit-driven movement about life in this world.

Still, citizen-architects? Yes, exactly. When St. Paul exhorts the early church at Corinth to “exercise bold speech” (2 Corinthians 3:12, often rendered—domesticated!—as “acting with boldness”) he is, in fact, using the Greek word (parresia) that is the specific term for the “free speech” exercised only by the free property-owning men who gathered in the assembly of Roman cities to chart their community’s future.[2] The Christians to whom Paul was writing would have known this—precisely because it was speech forbidden to many of them: women, aliens, and slaves. Yet, emphatically for Paul, it was the baptismal birthright of every person in the church (free, slave, male, female, rich, poor, Jew, Gentile) to have parresia. Such bold speech was none other than the deep agency that guided the unfolding future of the church.

Once again we see why biblical literacy is a progressive Christian value. Our roots run back to a church in which agency was granted to—indeed commissioned to—every member in the community. This deep agency was fed by the gospel announcement of grace and the gospel praxis of compassion, and guided by the Spirit. Our Christian vocation is to be citizen-architects of a different world. In each generation we are called to envision the world that is needed—and then to bring that world into being. In this generation the world needed is one in transition. We’ll need to learn much from those beyond the church to better understand the world that is needed. But the breadth of empowerment that can help bring it to life…that lies within our own heritage, if only we dare to reclaim it. I say it’s time to take that dare.

 

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 climate change, finding hope, and the alchemy of Christian community. My weekly blog posts will 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”; my aim is 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!!

[1] I introduced these in GIT #13, “Redeemed for Resilience.” They were identified by Rob Hopkins and Sarah McAdams in “The Transition Movement: Past, Present, and Future,” roundtable discussion, 2018 Transition US Tenth Anniversary Online Summit: www.transitiongathering.org/videos.

[2] David Fredrickson, “Free Speech in Pauline Political Theology,” Word & World, 12:4 (1992), pp. 345-351.

Resilience – as Imagination

Resilience – as an Act of Imagination
David R. Weiss – March 15, 2019
The Gospel in Transition #14 – Subscribe at www.davidrweiss.com

The Transition movement is grounded a two-fold recognition.[1] First, fossil fuel is finite and, at some point in the not too distant future, production will begin to decline, leading to cost increases that will require us to transition to other energy sources. That’s not about preference or convenience, it’s about (initially) economic necessity and (eventually) material necessity when oil and gas become not simply costly but downright scarce. Second, we now know—and have known for decades!—that using fossil fuels is slow-cooking the planet. It’s altering the atmosphere in ways that will have repercussions on Earth’s climate for decades even after we stop using them.

Ultimately this isn’t a matter of political debate or a lifestyle preference. It’s about a fast approaching collision between past (and present!) choices, scientific fact, and basic math. And sadly, primarily because of corporate and political and even religious resistance (add in some personal human stubbornness as well, but this is small compared to the other driving forces) this is going to be an ugly collision.

So Transition takes it for granted that we NEED to transition away from an economic life (and a culinary life and a cultural life and a transportation life and a recreational life …) that depends on fossil fuel. In that sense, transition itself isn’t so much a choice the transition movement argues for, as it is simply the shape of the future it foresees. We will transition. What makes Transition distinctive, though, is that it has no interest in going into that fossil fuel-less world kicking and screaming, nor even with somber resignation. No, it’s eager to pursue transition because the Transition movement sees a host of good things coming our way. More on that later, but in short it sees the our transition away from fossil fuel as offering the opportunity to renew communities in vibrant, localized way that will deepen our humanity, our health, and our joy.

BUT—that doesn’t mean the aforementioned collision is going to be anything other than ugly. Which is where resilience comes in. More than merely the capacity to bounce back after a hard shock, in Transition, resilience includes the inner confidence that as communities we can, indeed, withstand the coming shock, and can move forward beyond it … toward something that may be radically simpler but also radically better. And therefore rather than passively waiting for the shock to hit us, resilience says we can choose to move toward that fossil fuel-less future. Resilience allows us to lean into transition with an urgency that is tempered by both confidence and longing. One key facet of resilience, as I mentioned in my last post, is to enliven imagination in a political-economic-cultural system designed to shut it down.[2]

Fossil fuel dependency endangers both us and the planet so “effectively” because it permeates so many systems. It’s central to producing and transporting almost everything we make and much of the food we eat. We rely on it to light and heat our homes, run our appliances, and get us from here to there to everywhere. It’s bound up with our comfort and convenience, but also with many things necessary for civilized society. Put all these things together and it’s just plain hard to imagine other ways of life that are so drenched (in largely unseen, non-greasy ways) in oil.

Add to this short list that the fossil fuel industry is extraordinarily profitable, and we have a scenario in which lack of imagination isn’t simply a matter of personal or even societal laziness, it’s orchestrated. We live in a political-economic-cultural system designed to shut imagination down. Today we may be more nuanced in our understanding of how these systems work, but, as I’ve noted earlier (GIT #6 “Home by Another Route”) this is hardly a new insight altogether. It’s exactly what the apostle Paul means when he observes that our lives are constrained not only by the temptations or the mere limits that come with being human but also by “powers and principalities”—amoral but deadly forces that get embedded in systems. Human choices conspire with them, but even human passivity acts as accomplice because these forces operate with a relentless inertia of their own that welcomes our indifference … or our distraction.[3]

In this context—and spanning two thousand years—Jesus’ parables and teaching persist as seeds that seek to expand our vision beyond what is and focus our attention on what matters. Such gifts are more necessary than ever today because the stakes involve the entire human community as well the flora and fauna across the planet. Churches (indeed faith communities of all stripes) MUST become places where enlivening our capacity for vital social imagination is not viewed as a civic nicety separate from church but as a ministry imperative. It is the pressure of the gospel on the present moment—and it is always pressing for transformation.

Thus, it is a matter of remembering—and reclaiming—who we are. At the heart of Jesus’ ministry was his announcement of the “kingdom of God.” More clumsily—but more accurately—rendered as “the activity of God reigning as king,” Jesus’ parables, healings, and table fellowship both image and embody the surprise and reversal that accompany the energy of God as it moves through our world.

While Jesus uses kingdom language (likely as a severe critique of human kingship) we might today name the positive dynamic of divine energy as kin-making activity. This radical unsettling grace transforms children, Samaritans, women, even lepers into mascots of God’s kin-dom. It resides as the revolutionary spirit behind Jesus’ commission that we see his visage on the least of these in our world. It drives Paul to declare a “new creation” in which there is “neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, nor male and female” (Gal. 3:28). Of course these differences remain, but they no longer serve as reasons for division. (Except that the powers and principalities continue to play these differences off against each other: rich vs. poor; human vs. nonhuman; first world vs. developing world; labor vs. environment, etc.)

For this reason, biblical literacy is a progressive Christian value. It enables us recover the full power of the gospel, producing inward and outward transformation at both personal and societal levels. The gospel declares the love of God for the whole of creation and beckons us to imagine a world—in this world—that echoes God’s love, not simply for those most like us, but even and especially for those least among us, whether human or non-human. This imagining is what the Transition movement calls for, although it frames this in secular language. But as faith communities we not only have a clear doorway into this conversation, we also have both a heritage to honor and a vocation to answer. Called to be this generation’s new creation community, Christian imagination invites us to lean into transition with an urgency that is tempered by both confidence and longing.

 

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 climate change, finding hope, and the alchemy of Christian community. My weekly blog posts will 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”; my aim is 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!!

[1] http://transitionus.org/why-transition

[2] Rob Hopkins and Sarah McAdams in “The Transition Movement: Past, Present, and Future,” roundtable discussion, 2018 Transition US Tenth Anniversary Online Summit: www.transitiongathering.org/videos.

[3] Just in February 2019 Joe Balash, U.S. assistant secretary for land and minerals management told a meeting of companies involved in oil exploration, “One of the things I have found absolutely thrilling (!) in working for this administration is that the president has a knack for keeping the attention of the media and the public focused somewhere else while we do all the work that needs to be done on behalf of the American people.” Whether he’s serious or cynical in calling this “work on behalf of the American people,” his recognition that the fossil fuel industry is aided by distraction is all too accurate. www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/mar/14/offshore-drilling-trump-official-reveals-plan-and-distractions-delight.

Redeemed for Resilience

Redeemed for Resilience
David R. Weiss – March 2, 2019
The Gospel in Transition #13 – Subscribe at www.davidrweiss.com

This week’s post further introduces the notion of being “redeemed for resilience,” but before we turn to that I need explain a bit about why both parts of that claim might catch many who identify with the Christian tradition off guard. I ended my last post asserting that there are surprising resonances between key insights of the Transition movement and the Jesus story and the early church as glimpsed in Acts and Paul’s epistles. I called these touch points “surprising” because the church that nearly all of us know is on this side of Constantine.

Although Constantine’s “conversion” to Christianity and the subsequent “conversion” of Christianity to the imperial religion of the Roman Empire makes for a complicated tale, the basic shift is pretty clear. Over the course of the fourth century, Christianity transformed itself from a faith that lived at the edges of society—and quite set off from political power (at times persecuted by it)—to a religion at ease with … and entangled with the dominant political power … and invested in its preservation and expansion.

It’s hard to overstate this shift. Both the initial pitch and dynamic of the gospel message are aimed at those who live—and die—at the edge of power. In the wake of Jesus’ historical ministry, the early church, while clearly beset by its own internal struggles over the role of women, the embrace of the Gentiles, and a host of other topics, nevertheless distinguished itself as a Spirit-driven movement. From Constantine onward the Spirit was increasingly domesticated—hobbled would be accurate.

Those with political power typically regard religion as an asset to be used to their benefit. And from Emperor Constantine to President Trump this has most often meant using “Christianity” to unite nations and baptize patriotism (often alongside colonizing or otherwise suppressing “others”). The unity and the patriotism are shaped by the values of the dominant powers of the day and rarely reflect the gospel values of Jesus. And the more thoroughly such “Christianity” is interwoven with the dominant culture that supports that dominant political power, the more we all become … docile. And while you likely won’t find “docile” listed as an antonym to “resilient” in your thesaurus (I checked mine), it’s close enough. If resilience is what we need, docility is what we can’t afford.

This isn’t to say that threads of the initial Jesus’ movement haven’t found their way forward past Constantine. They have. But post-Constantine the most authentic expressions of the gospel dynamic are often relegated to the exceptional. Reserved for the domain of personal piety, “radical” communities (whether convent, monastery, commune, or even cult), or, in moderation, congregations.

But what if we were redeemed … for resilience? What if the commission to carry the gospel to the ends of the Earth was less (or not at all!) about savings souls for Jesus and more (or entirely!) about helping to unleash the power of the gospel to humanize societies and to harmonize them with ecosystems around the globe? Hint: that’s where I’m putting all my chips.

Redeemed. Christian vocabulary is loaded with land mines. And while the twin attics of Christian history and theology display remarkable diversity, common understandings are often unhelpfully narrow. I don’t mean, “redeemed from our sins”—especially not where “sins” is reduced to rule-breaking that buys us a one-way ticket to damnation unless we’re somehow “redeemed.” No. When I say, “redeemed,” I mean something much less and much more.

Much less in that I’m not talking about some supernatural transaction that plays out across the scope of eternity; I’m talking about having our worldview “bought back,” re-directed at the rather mundane level of daily life. Much more in that I actually believe THIS is what Jesus intended: a “re-purchasing” of our imagination and our actions such that we honor the image of God in our neighbors and the dignity of creation all around us. Much more in that this is redemption that bears fruit here and now, which happens to be not only where we most need it, but also where God most desires it.

Resilience. Recall that Rob Hopkins, co-founder of the Transition movement, describes resilience as the capacity “to withstand shock and then adapt … to think on one’s feet in any given situation.” But he adds that even more than this, resilience is able to meet shock/threat “as an opportunity to step forward and engage … in a positive and creative way.”[1]

I have sometimes described “faith” to my students as NOT the set of beliefs we hold but the internal-intuitive posture (trusting, fearful, cynical, judgmental, etc.) with which we lean into life. That faith/posture is both birthed and fostered by the beliefs, practices, biases, and experiences at play around us. In this sense, resilience is a faith/posture cultivated to meet the world in the midst of its acknowledged threats nonetheless grounded in trust. Not a naïve trust that everything will just somehow work out, but a more gritty trust that somehow—as a community of people (beginning at the most local levels) we can make choices that move us in the direction of living harmoniously on a finite planet. That’s resilience.

And at its authentic heart, Christianity is a story with the power to redeem us for resilience, to reshape our worldview decisively—redemptively—such that (among other things) we turn from living off the world to living in/with the world. And we make this “turn” with such vitality and joy that words like “born again” (John 3:1-8) or “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:16-20) are legitimate hyperbole.

Last fall, on the tenth anniversary of its arrival in the U.S., two Transition movement leaders identified several of its core insights as these: (1) to enliven imagination in a political-economic-cultural system designed to shut it down; (2) to tap into deep agency, both as individuals and as local communities; (3) to reclaim and share the very earthbound skills required in this moment; and (4) to do these things without waiting for permission from the “governing” (political, corporate, and cultural) forces around us.[2]

In the coming weeks I’ll explore each insight as it has echoes in Christianity. I’ll argue that not only Jesus’ parables and teaching but also the early church’s use of language, imagery, and ritual are precisely efforts to enliven imagination in a political-economic-cultural system designed to shut it down. I’ll assert that Jesus’ commissioning of disciples and Paul’s call to exercise “bold speech” on behalf of the gospel both seek to tap into deep agency, both as individuals and as local communities. I’ll suggest that Jesus’ teaching about “the least of these” (among others) as well as the portrait of the early church found in both Acts and Paul’s letters in a certain sense anticipate the need to reclaim and share the very earthbound skills required in this moment. And I’ll propose that both Jesus’ ministry and Paul’s vision for the church are rife with invitations to do these things without waiting for permission from the “governing” (political, corporate, and cultural) forces around us.

Next week we begin by looking at Jesus and the early church as an exercise in enlivening our imagination. I hope you’ll be back.

 

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 climate change, finding hope, and the alchemy of Christian community. My weekly blog posts will 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”; my aim is 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!!

[1] www.transitionnetwork.org/news-and-blog/building-resilience

[2] Rob Hopkins and Sarah McAdams in “The Transition Movement: Past, Present, and Future,” roundtable discussion, 2018 Transition US Tenth Anniversary Online Summit: www.transitiongathering.org/videos.

(Perhaps) the Most Important Ask of My Life

(Perhaps) the Most Important Ask of My Life
David R. Weiss – February 27, 2019

Usually on my blog I post my reflections, whether inward or outward, set here for your consideration. Today I’m writing directly to YOU.

Some of you have followed my blog since I launched it a decade ago. Several of you have subscribed just in the last month or two. However long you’ve been with, thanks for listening in as I put words on the sparks that fly across the gray matter in my mind. Now I’m going to ask you—if you can—to put some money out in support of those sparks.

I’ve launched a Patreon website to help fund my thinking and writing for years to come. In this blog post I’ll explain why I’m doing this, what changes, and how you can support me in this endeavor.

What changes?

In a word: nothing. My blog posts will remain public and available (free) to everyone who comes to my website. This is partly a theological conviction: my theology is grace-driven—grounded in the GIFT character of God’s love—and I want my work to reflect that as clearly as possible. That’s important to say because most persons who use Patreon as a way to fund their work use a “transactional” model where paid support gets you quicker or more extensive access to what someone produces. That’s a very legitimate choice for most persons, and it has a certain pull even on me (my groceries, utilities, mortgage all operate transactionally—I only access what I pay for), but I intend to continue blogging as gift. It feels like the right choice for me even as it’s a risky one.

On the other hand: everything changes. Maybe. To the extent that the support for my work comes forward from you and from new followers, I’ll be able to devote more time to thinking and writing about the things that matter most to me … to the church … and to the wider world. Patreon offers me the possibility to do this work more faithfully and more fervently than I’ve ever been able to in my entire life.

Why—and why now?

For a host of reasons I’ve never found a real match between paid employment and inner gifts. I’m not going to review those reasons here (I’ve blogged about them several times in the past years). I’m not going apologize for missed opportunities or getting distracted by good work that fell short of being vocation—or for work that has been vocational but not economically sustainable. I’m here to ask for support as I do the work that calls out to me now … and likely for the rest of my life. I hope you’ll step up and be there with me. But if not, you’re still welcome to keep reading as I chart this new course. Maybe my work will draw you further in as it goes along.

My vocation goal is toward public theology—thinking out loud about God and the deepest sources of meaning in our lives as they intersect with the issues of today. Thinking, writing, speaking, teaching. For a large season of my life (about 20 years) that call focused foremost around welcome to LGBTQ persons. In recent years, without leaving that work behind, I’ve felt pulled strongly to the challenge of climate change and imagining how Christian (and other) communities can faithfully respond. I expect this work will last me for the next 20 years. Climate change isn’t going anywhere (except in the direction of worse), so, quite frankly, I expect I’ll be doing this work until I lose my life, my mind, or my faith. I’m in for the long haul.

I hope to do more public speaking again, and I won’t turn down college teaching opportunities (although they’ve been rare of late)—so long as they’re also opportunities to deepen my own work. But at age 59, I’m interested in summoning all my energy, insights, all gifts, into doing work that really matters. And, if I can garner even a modest stream of steady income from Patreon, it will enable me to do this. Not selfishly, but as a way to honor a call which has always been about linking my work to the wider world. I hope as the reach of my work extends others will want to support it as well. But as I begin this adventure, I need the support of those who have already seen what I can do, and are willing to support me in doing more, with fresh energy and deeper focus. Which is why I’m reaching out to you as my first circle of support.

So, how can you support me?

Like many online fundraising sites, Patreon offers a secure platform for people to make financial pledges to help fund my work. Unlike nearly every other such site, Patreon only processes ongoing monthly sustaining pledges. It doesn’t accept one-time gifts. It’s a way for artists and writers to cultivate “sustaining members.” Patrons (potentially YOU) create an account, put in your credit card information, and select a level of monthly support from as little as $2/month on up to whatever you can imagine. (I have one passionate supporter who has pledged $50/month(!) although most of my first pledges are in the $5-$7/month range.) Patreon bundles together the whole range of small, medium, and large pledges—allowing everyone to give a level of monthly support that is meaningful and doable for them—and I get one monthly support payment from Patreon that can actually help make my work sustainable.

Several people have asked if they can simply make a one-time or an annual gift because for one reason or another that works best for them. No … and yes. You can’t make a one-time or annual gift via Patreon; that’s not how their model is set up. And, honestly, supporting me through Patreon offers me the steadiest stream of income. However, because this work matters so much to me, I’ll gratefully accept any support you offer. In that case, you’ll need to send a check or PayPal gift directly to me. I’ll deposit these gifts into an account where I draw on them monthly like the rest of my Patreon funds. Email me for details: drw59mn(at)gmail.com.

So, here’s the big question: WILL YOU JOIN WITH ME IN THIS ADVENTURE OF “COMMUNITY SUPPORTED THEOLOGY”? I believe this is where I am called to be in this moment. With your pledge you help affirm that call.

Here’s the link to Patreon. You can read my full pitch there, or go directly to the “Become a Patron” button in the upper right of the page.

Lao-Tzu is credited with the wisdom, “The longest journey begins with a single step.” For me, this is that step. However you choose to walk with me in the months and years ahead, THANK YOU.

~David

Not Even Kansas …

Not Even Kansas …
David R. Weiss – February 21, 2019
The Gospel in Transition #12 – Subscribe at www.davidrweiss.com

Never mind about Toto or Dorothy, before long not even Kansas will be in Kansas anymore. According to a recent report in the journal Nature Communications (2/12/2019) one result of climate change is that Minnesota’s climate will eventually* feel like Kansas.[1]

*It’s the “eventually” that the problem. We’re not talking a couple hundred years. We’re talking several decades. At the current rate of climate change, for instance, in just three or four decades the southern Minnesota city of Faribault will have a climate that matches areas in Kansas—500 miles to the south. To put that in even starker perspective, it’s as though the city’s climate is moving south at 315 feet per day.

There’s nothing wrong with Kansas. Still, as University of Minnesota forest ecologist, Lee Frelich, recently remarked in testimony at a state legislative hearing, “I don’t know about you, but I didn’t move to Kansas for a reason.” Frelich’s bias, no doubt a matter of both preference and profession, is bound up with the absence of forest in Kansas. An absence looming for Minnesota as well.

As a Kansas climate creeps northward into Minnesota we may keep our 10,000 lakes, but in other ways our landscape will get an extreme makeover. The temperate broadleaf forests that now shade large swaths of central and southern Minnesota will give way to savannah grassland. Minnesota’s boreal forest—the two million acres of pine and spruce in our northern reaches—will be overtaken by maple and other deciduous trees as the evergreens “retreat” to Canada. That’s a polite way of saying they’ll die off because they can’t adapt to the damn heat. When my grandchildren reach my age (fifty years out), from the headwaters of the Mississippi across to the scenic North Shore they’ll more likely be met with sprawling prairie than towering pines.

Multiply those effects across all of Minnesota’s flora and fauna and the impact becomes staggering. We’ll lose up to a third of our native species. Moose, lynx, walleye, and Minnesota’s magical bird, the loon—all gone. Ticks and mosquitos? Not so much. Their range will expand, as will the range of various agriculture pests (in part because their late fall eggs will have a better chance of surviving warmer winters and then replenishing populations earlier in the spring). From withering drought to torrential downpour, from unrelenting heat to catastrophic flood, extreme weather, so called because it’s outside the norm, will become … almost normal. But no less extreme in the mark it makes on Minnesotans themselves.

Asthma, allergies, heat-related illnesses, and insect-borne diseases will all see a boom. Because of the way that poor air quality intersects with poor neighborhoods—and the way race intersects with both—communities of color will be hit hardest. The general upheaval wrought by climate change, plus the specific disasters it will unleash—will mean an uptick in mental health issues ranging from anxiety and depression to post traumatic stress and suicide.

Remember, the key word is “eventually,” and the problem is that, with climate change, Kansas is coming to Minnesota (so to speak) way too quickly. When “eventually” is compressed into a single generation there’s simply no time for ecosystems, animals, farmland, cities, or people to adapt. I support the Green New Deal. I’m all for Minnesota setting out a pathway to 100% renewable energy. These are good—even critical goals. But the carbon already loaded (and still loading!) into our atmosphere means that a Kansas climate has already packed its bags for Minnesota. Whether it arrives in two decades or ten, and whether it reaches all the way to the Arrowhead or slows down mid-state, these are variables. But whether Kansas comes? That ticket is already bought and paid for.

Which brings me to resilience. As we’re getting that extreme makeover courtesy of climate change—and that “getting” will stretch on for decades; Kansas won’t show up overnight but over years and years; its arrival will be at once far too fast for our comfort and yet also interminably slow until it finally settles in—during that “getting,” what we will need more than anything else is resilience.

Rob Hopkins, co-founder of the Transition movement, describes resilience as “the ability of a system, such as a local economy or community, to withstand shock and then adapt to that shock. It’s the ability to flex, adapt and to change, and think on its feet in any given situation.” Resilience will be a real virtue while Kansas seems to be clobbering us from south to north. But Hopkins goes on to say, “The twist which we try to put on resilience in the Transition Network is that the ability to react to those threats shouldn’t just be a process to avoid the worst possible outcome, but should be seen as an opportunity to engage … in a positive and creative way. Resilience is an opportunity and a step forward [my emphasis], rather than purely a disaster avoidance strategy.”[2]

You hear an inkling of (perhaps begrudging) resilience when Lee Frelich—the forest ecologist—says of his beloved boreal forest, “We’ll just have to make sure it’s the best savannah it can be. Not a bunch of invasive species. We’ll have to move some of the plants from our little tiny savannah remnants in southern Minnesota up there. We’ll just have to do the best we can.”

I happen to think Christian communities have unique resources to foster resilience, although I certainly don’t claim resilience as a uniquely Christian virtue. Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, heck, even—maybe especially—Pagans and atheists have their own unique resources for resilience (and that’s hardly an exhaustive list). But I’m writing for Christians right now and my message is that we have largely untapped resources for resilience in our tradition. And in the face of climate change that’s good news. Maybe not exactly of the sort we’d hoped for, but precisely the sort we need. I’ll unpack that more in my next post, but here’s a short teaser.

Within the Transition movement resilience is not a top-down program of specified responses. Among its core insights are these: we need to enliven imagination in a political-economic-cultural system designed to shut it down; we need to tap into deep agency, both as individuals and as local communities; we need to reclaim and share the very earthbound skills required in this moment; and we need to do these things without waiting for permission from the “governing” (political, corporate, and cultural) forces around us.[3]

There are surprising resonances between these Transition insights and the Jesus story and the early church as glimpsed in Acts and Paul’s epistles. Surprising, because as a whole from Constantine onward the church has sought to be entwined with political-economic power and dominant cultures rather than to challenge (even subvert) them for the sake of the Gospel. But there are hints we were redeemed … for resilience. Next week we’ll start there.

 

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 climate change, finding hope, and the alchemy of Christian community. My weekly blog posts will 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”; my aim is 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!!

[1] The information in this essay comes from these three news stories: Minnesota Public Radio News, February 12, 2019, City Pages, February 20, 2019, and Rochester Post-Bulletin, January 18, 2019.

[2] www.transitionnetwork.org/news-and-blog/building-resilience

[3] These insights are called out by Rob Hopkins and Sarah McAdams in “The Transition Movement: Past, Present, and Future,” a keynote roundtable discussion during the 2018 Transition US Tenth Anniversary Online Summit: www.transitiongathering.org/videos.

Extinguishing the Alphabet … of Bens and Bugs

Epiphany: Extinguishing the Alphabet … of Bens and Bugs
David R. Weiss – February 15, 2019
The Gospel in Transition #11 – Subscribe at www.davidrweiss.com

I encountered the Jewish legend decades ago in a book by Gail Ramshaw, Letters for God’s Name. The tale goes that a Jewish peasant is hurrying to finish his fieldwork to make it to the Passover service. But the sun sets, he cannot travel, and so he must spend the holy night in the field. Unable even to remember the words to the prayers, he decides in serene desperation to simply recite the alphabet and trust God to arrange the letters into their proper places.[1]

The image is one of faith and grace. Faith, that even our most meager efforts might somehow be sufficient—and grace, that God will not fail to work with what we sincerely offer. I affirm this as truth. And yet I want to push the story one bit further. What if the alphabet itself could not be found? What then? And before we rush forward to claim grace even in that extreme, I want to dwell for a moment in the terror … of an extinguished alphabet.

Because that’s what we’re facing ecologically. This past week, in the first global scientific review of the health of insects worldwide, we learned their precipitous decline is nothing short of damning.[2] Based on 73 different studies assessing insect populations, the review found that one third of all insects are now endangered. They’re presently going extinct eight times faster than mammals, birds, and reptiles (none of whom are exactly thriving!). We’ve lost 2.5% of the total biomass of insects each year for the past 25-30 years. With no recovery. Sit down and sit with that for a long quiet moment: compared to 1990, the year my now 31 year-old son turned three—over the course of his still young life—we’ve lost 80% of the total biomass of insects across the globe.

In words particularly strident in a peer-reviewed scientific paper (meaning that the phrasing had to pass by the watchful eyes of scientific peers not connected to the review itself) the study declares the very real possibility that “insects as a whole will go down the path of extinction in a few decades. The repercussions this will have for the planet’s ecosysyems are catastrophic to say the least.” To say the least.

As Professor Dave Goulson at the University of Sussex in the UK explains, “Insects are at the heart of every food web, they pollinate the large majority of plant species, keep the soil healthy, recycle nutrients, control pests, and much more.” When the Psalmist says, “Let all creation praise the Lord,” (Psalm 148 and elsewhere)—well, in earth’s praise, insects are the alphabet. And we’re extinguishing the alphabet.

The cause is not a mystery. Broadly speaking it is the direct result of agricultural intensification coupled with the use of pesticides. “Intensification” describes the practice of eliminating all “wild areas” around farm fields: every bit of land is either left entirely bare or is treated with synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Together these forces have turned insects into a largely unseen population of refugees in their own lands—and have unleashed a planetary-scale genocide of these least of God’s creatures … with cascading consequences that threaten not only our survival, but the well-being of the rest of creation. In Germany, for instance, insect losses of 75% were recorded even in protected nature reserves. The web of being does not follow the boundaries we set for field and nation. And the holes we rip in that web run far afield.

Light pollution and urbanization add to the assault on insects, encroaching on the land and darkness that are essential for insect habitat. For its part, climate change is an “entangled” factor. In some places where industrial agriculture has not yet remade landscapes and farming practices climate change is still clearly taking a toll on insect populations. But even apart from this, the rise of fossil-fuel intensive agriculture (which is what industrial agriculture is) has been a primary contributor to climate change. The warming climate and the approaching end of insects are both linked to the oil that drips through the way we eat, from farmland to grocery store to kitchen table.

Is there no way forward? Which is really to ask, is there any way backward? Because backward is the direction we need to move. There are less oily ways to eat. But they presume skills, tastes, patience, and priorities that have been crowded out of our customs and character by the twin idols of “cheap” and “convenient. The stark imperative is to change the ways we grow, deliver, process, and consume food. These are daunting systemic changes. But they are probably the only changes that can save the bugs … and the world into which they are wholly (and graciously!) interwoven. There are, as well, small scale ways to harness empowerment through the pursuit of personal accountability and integrity.

For instance, organic farms continue to “host” far more insects, even as their farmers battle the worst plant pests in ways that protect produce without devastating entire insect populations. So now we know that buying organic is perhaps an essential spiritual practice, one that aims to honor the place of bugs in God’s creation choir. Similarly, ending our love affair with the grassy lawn may prove to be a revolutionary act. On The Rachel Carson Center’s blog one post invites us to “Make Meadows not Lawns.”[3] In so doing, we not only reclaim the ground around our homes as a sacred sanctuary space, we might also come to love our tiniest and most necessary fellow earthlings. (The word “love” is not gross overstatement; it actually hearkens to E.O. Wilson’s notion of biophilia, the demonstrable psychic and emotional benefits that accrue in a deep relationship with the natural world.) We might even remember that in our own mythic origins we were christened “humus beings”—fashioned from dirt and beckoned to tend the ground beneath our feet.

Re-thinking—re-making—our food choices and our yard choices also provides opportunities to build community (share ideas, trade/teach skills) within churches and neighborhoods. In fact, the alchemy of honest grief, passionate conviction, imaginative sharing, and communal bonding may be the only combination that carries us backward in a way that can also carry us forward. If God is to arrange the remaining letters of the alphabet into a prayer that might still heal the earth, we will need to embrace insects before they are lost.

The hard data in the scientific review is hard even for me (and I have a pretty close kinship with melancholy most days). Unless we make dramatic changes, of the 20% (of the 1990) insect biomass remaining from my son Benjamin’s childhood, only 10% will be left by the time he reaches eighty. By the time my grandson, who turns three this year and is also named Benjamin, reaches his eightieth birthday … insects may well be a memory. If they are, the odds of my grandson making it to eighty aren’t much better.

Climate change is not finally about reason or profit. It is about grief and love. And, right now, dammit, it’s also about the bugs.

[1] Gail Ramshaw, Letters for God’s Name, Seabury Press, 1984, p. i.

[2] All the background data in this essay comes from: www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/feb/10/plummeting-insect-numbers-threaten-collapse-of-nature

[3] www.seeingthewoods.org/2018/12/20/make-meadows-not-lawns

 

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 climate change, finding hope, and the alchemy of Christian community. My weekly blog posts will 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”; my aim is 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!

[1] Gail Ramshaw, Letters for God’s Name, Seabury Press, 1984, p. i.

[2] All the background data in this essay comes from: www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/feb/10/plummeting-insect-numbers-threaten-collapse-of-nature

[3] www.seeingthewoods.org/2018/12/20/make-meadows-not-lawns