At Box Hill Baptist we are exploring the Season of Creation. On September 8th it is our young people who are leading the service. We invited them to lead us early in the series because it is they who will live with the consequences of the environmental crisis that is climate change. We need to hear from them, and dialogue with them. The teenage activist Greta Thunberg has been a catalyst for people of all ages to mobilise around climate change, but young people especially have responded to her message.
Whenever I talk with younger people about climate and environment I feel guilty – guilty because I know I will probably not live to see the consequences of how my generation, and earlier generations, have lived – but they will. Perhaps that is why the one Bible reading they selected from the smorgasbord of the lectionary for the service they are leading is Luke 14.25-33, where Jesus warns about the cost of discipleship, and how sensible people count the cost of what they are doing, whether in building or in battle, if they are going to succeed. When it comes to the consequences of our opulent lifestyles and technical mastery of the world, have we really ‘done the math’?
For those who trust David Attenborough, that avuncular but doughty prophet, you might like to look at his documentary The Facts. For those with a brave spirit and a taste for more punchy academic approaches, you might try the work of Jem Bendell, Professor of Sustainability Leadership at the University of Cumbria. Jem’s blog is a fascinating resource that will introduce you to his work. His latest focus is the concept of Deep Adaption: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy. Deep Adaptation presumes that we are facing “an inevitable near-term social collapse due to climate change” (cheery news!) and seeks to prepare us for the kinds of adaptations and responses we will be called upon to make. He also engages with the kinds of social and psychological defenses (‘systems of denial’) that stop us from thinking through such challenging scenarios (which defenses then compound the crisis and make everything worse).
For those of us familiar with the Bible however, the category of ‘inevitable near-term social collapse’ is pretty much stock-in-trade. Think about the Exodus and all that desert wandering, homelessness and near starvation. What about David and his paid soldiering and hiding, and wars and adventures before he got to be king with all those wives and concubines? The Prophets and their warnings of desolated cities and barren landscapes. Esther and Daniel and all that genocidal plotting against the people of Israel. Not to mention all of Revelation and some of the ‘reality therapy’ handed out to struggling Christians in a few of the letters in the New Testament. We are comfortable western Christians who have been rather well insulated (until now) from the effects of climate change, but if we have been reading our Bibles we know the world is not always like that. And we also know that even in the most dire and dangerous situation, there is hope!
Bendell in his Deep Adaptation model, asks us to engage with three positive responses to what he calls the climate tragedy. They are resilience, relinquishment and restoration.
Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress, involving the creative reinterpretation of identity and priorities.
Relinquishment is people and communities letting go of certain assets, behaviours and beliefs where retaining them could make matters worse.
Restoration is people and communities rediscovering attitudes and approaches to life and organisation that our hydrocarbon-fuelled civilisation eroded. This includes re-wilding landscapes, changing diets back to match the seasons, rediscovering non-electronically powered forms of play and increased community-level productivity and support.
(the above summary is from Barbara Lepani, Wild Mountain Collective Blog)
While Jem Bendell’s work is very challenging, I see it as an extended riff on Jesus’ teaching about counting the cost, complete with the warning that Jesus ended his speech with – that we are all going to be a lot poorer! But in other ways we may be richer, better off, happier, more engaged with each other. While looking squarely at the magnitude of the problem, and perhaps the inevitability of catastrophe, is very difficult to do, it is the only way to find hope on the other side of whatever is coming.
Jeremiah prophesied the end of his city (Jerusalem) and his society for decades before anyone took notice. They lived in denial and false hope. And then, when the inevitability of the disaster could no longer be avoided, and everyone was liquidating their assets and hunkering down, Jeremiah bought land and had the transaction publicly witnessed, and the deeds sealed and buried, as a sign that there was a future and generations beyond the present would someday build on what he had done. (What is it with prophets and their names – Jem/Jeremiah?)
We are in much deeper trouble than Jeremiah and his people, but Jesus urges us to ‘do the math’, accept the facts, look it square in the face and pray for the resilience to live through it, the courage to let go what must be abandoned, and the skill and hope to work for restoration into the future.
Jim Barr 8/9/2019