Since reading Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs The Climate, I have been captured by the gravity of the issue of the Climate Crisis. Just as with the beginnings of the Occupy Wall Street movement (and for some time before that, about when the “Arab Spring” happenings were being broadcast around the world and on the Internet), I was struck with the somewhat embarrassing realization that the fate of the earth itself was at stake (at the very least, as an inhabitable place for the human race), and that the Church in America (and elsewhere) was not offering up much for us to truly enter in to the gravity of this moment. As it did with the Occupy movement, there were scant few visible conversations in new and traditional church media re: the climate crisis, just as there had been equally scant conversations re: income inequality, the issue which had been thrust onto the national stage by the movement and the media coverage of it.
The Climate crisis has been building for years, but it has really come to roost in American politics since global warming hit the big top of the national spotlight in 1989 when James Hansen of NASA published a widely circulated and reported paper on the topic, and what it could mean. Since then, we’ve seen predictions and forecasts come true years or decades early, as some of these warnings about trends and their consequences have already started manifesting themselves. I had read Gore’s “Earth in the Balance: Ecology and The Human Spirit” (1992) and seen his presentation, “An Inconvenient Truth”, in movie form. I have always considered myself, especially since those days, an “environmentalist” (although not much of an activist). That was largely due to the fact that the science and the dire consequences of ignoring what that science has been telling us, had not sunk in. It hadn’t HIT ME. That changed with Naomi’s book.
I immediately launched into a consideration of how it had happened, once again, that the church was not where it should have been: on the “forefront” of the public awareness of this “mother of all justice issues.” Of course, as usual, the church was too busy being careful and politically correct, and culturally accommodated to the prevailing winds of politics and American philosophy (which is dominated by neo-liberal capitalism).
For America, this goes back to the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. And for the church, it goes back to the beginning; where the initial narratives of the Good News began with Creation and culminated in Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom of God; a “Kingdom” that Jesus taught us to pray would come “on Earth, as it is in heaven”. In other words, the Biblical narrative is quintessentially EARTHY and ECO-centered. The most popular literary form in the Bible (and many other theological and religious texts and Holy Writings) is that of apocalypse, and that form is dominated by earth-bound imagery. Seems the very foundation and location of all of Salvation History is THIS EARTH. And there’s something ARCHETYPAL and deeply rooted in us about that message. Which makes it probable that this is one way in which the Biblical message is so powerful, and why Biblical writers (and Jesus) made use of earth-bound stories and dramas about the trevails and groanings of the earth. Paul wrote of how “In Christ everything is bound together” (did he have some archetypal sense of what we know know scientifically as genetics and DNA and how not only creatures like ourselves but also the very universe is “hung together” by those strands?)
Larry Rasmussen’s “Earth Honoring Faith” is a wonderful theology book that painstakingly and eloquently expresses this. I found it at Vanderbilt Divinity School Library, and ended up buying the Kindle version. It ought to be a basic book of theology for EcoTheology 101, and the ideas included in every THEOLOGY 101 book (which not only Seminaries need to teach but also churches and pastors and Sunday School teachers). It is , in itself, a revolutionary idea because it would immediately pose a threat to any civilization which sees itself as dependent on the very energies which ravage the ecosystem and the neighborhoods of OTHERS detached from and invisible to our way of life. As usual, the powerful appropriate for themselves whatever resources they deem crucial and leave the “waste” and by-product to be borne by people who generally had nothing to so with their acquisition and plunder, not to mention, their “benefits”. But “benefits” which are, even for us who “enjoy” them, limited and very much NON-infinite, whatever our cultural modus-operandi might tell us.
I just saw , over Christmas holiday, the movie musical “Into the Woods”, and one line (or in this case, lyric) really stuck with me. “Careful the tale you tell; That is the spell”. The movie featured a witch who cast a spell on various people, and it became the predominate occupation of their lives to deal with that spell. The same goes for our cultural narratives, which often skew us away from and obscure the Biblical narratives. The stories which obscure are “spells” which distort; which separate us from the realities of the Kingdom of God. In our Western dominated , “Gnostic/Greek” dualisms, we have become estranged from nature and from the real cosmos, which is the ecosystem. The church needs to help our culture and its people recover our connections to and dependence on that ecosystem. It is then when we recover that proper groundedness (there’s that “earth”-y theme again); that we are in an ECOsystem that encourages ECOnomy*; that word we have always associated with money and commerce, becomes something much more encompassing and whole; something that suggests (no, REVEALS) that everything is connected.
* an insight also found in Larry’ Rasmussen’s “Earth Honoring Faith: Religious Ethics in a New Key”