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. 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.
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.
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
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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!!
 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.
 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.