Sunday, September 22, 2013

Hope and the Environment

The September, 2013 issue of the Anglican evangelical journal Anvil presents a series of papers that have arisen from a consultation on "Environmental Hope".  Margot Hodson sets the stage for this special issue in an editorial, describing a discussion with a fellow theologian in 2010:
We both regularly share platforms with environmental speakers who present a bleak picture of the state of the planet. We follow and our role is to present Christian hope. As the environmental situation deteriorated, so our hope had become less proximate and more eschatological. It lacked reality and we were both struggling to find an authentic hope for this age...
 While Christians share in the "ultimate hope" of God's redemption, what is the relationship between that and the "proximate hope" of solving our very present problems - especially as those problems seem to become ever more intractable. Richard Bauckham draws on Revelation as a model for the relationship between these hopes:

The church has frequently had to think afresh about Christian hope in changing contexts. It is not that the essence of Christian hope – the great hope, founded on Jesus Christ, for God’s redemptive and fulfilling renewal of all his creation - changes. But if Christian hope is to retain its power to be the engine of the church’s engagement with the world, if it is to be more than an ineffective private dream, hope itself needs renewal as the world changes. From the infinite riches of God’s future for the world we must draw those that can be transformative for our time. That way we can re-envision the world in the light of hope. That is what happened when John the prophet, in the book of Revelation, was taken up to heaven in order to see how the critical moment of history in which his first readers were living looked from God’s perspective - from the perspective of God’s purpose to actualize his kingdom on earth as it already is in heaven. John had to be abstracted in vision from the world of the beast, the world as projected by the imperial propaganda, in order, not simply to see the future goal of God’s purposes, but also to see how that goal shed light on the present, how God’s people there and then were to live towards the coming kingdom of God and the coming renewal of all creation.
It's a sobering but encouraging atricle.  Here's the reference: Bauckham, Richard. “Ecological Hope In Crisis?” ANVIL 29, no. 1 (September 1, 2013): 43–54.

Picture of Richard Bauckham from the article cited.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Faith for Thought - next weekend

The Faith for Thought conference is next Saturday, September 28th.  This is a one-day conference in State College, PA, about living out the Christian faith - with the specific theme, this year, of "faith, hope and creation care".
If you're in the Northeast, why not come and check us out? The speaker and facilitator lineup is excellent.

I have to confess that putting this event together is extremely stressful for me.  There is an apparently endless succession of details to get right.  And despite my theoretical doubts about human activism, I struggle with the temptation to believe that if I was only more active, more in control, then I could get the details organized - put the worries to rest - set everything to rights.

So there is a little parable, in my working on Faith for Thought, of the activist temptation that I've written about earlier: the idea that the world actually is ours to save.

When really, what I should be hoping for is that at the end of the day, I am still on my feet!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Sun Come Up

A friend shared with me an invitation to purchase an educational copy of the documentary Sun Come Up directed by Jennifer Redfearn.

Here's the trailer:

From the website: Sun Come Up is an Academy Award® nominated film that shows the human face of climate change. The film follows the relocation of the Carteret Islanders, a community living on a remote island chain in the South Pacific Ocean, and now, some of the world’s first environmental refugees.

When climate change threatens their survival, the islanders face a painful decision. They must leave their ancestral land in search of a new place to call home. Sun Come Up follows a group of young islanders as they search for land and build relationships in war-torn Bougainville, 50 miles across the open ocean.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Risk, Tradition and Change

What is familiar may not be safe.

This is a difficult thing for us humans to understand. In our minds, familiarity means comfort; comfort means safety. When John Snow locked London's Broad Street pump in 1854, he was cutting off the source of a deadly cholera outbreak; but he was also cutting off the local people from their familiar water supply.  It was not easy for some to accept.

In the eighties, climbers enthusiastically embraced new low-stretch, high-strength synthetic materials like Spectra and Dyneema for runners and anchor slings.  But then came this video:

It turned out that the high-tech material with which we'd become familiar carried risks that we had not clearly perceived. When the time came to change out my slings, I went back to nylon.  Many others did the same.

What's the point? Three take-aways from this little story.
  • Though we shouldn't be too quick to assume that we are the smart ones, we also shouldn't assume that "traditional practices" are always the best.  Air pollution from cookstoves is an obvious example here.
  • A gripping presentation of the risks (like the DMM video above) can change community practice quickly. (We had had technical discussions about tensile strength and modulus of elasticity before, but they didn't have the same dramatic effect as watching a sling fail in a drop test.)
  • But - another thing that made it possible for the climbing community to switch so quickly was the ready availability of an alternative.  We just had to buy something else (which was already on the market) - a small change within a larger paradigm that remained the same. 
If the paradigm itself needs to change, how easy will that be to accomplish?

Friday, September 6, 2013

Blame and Restitution

The Rim Fire near Yosemite is the now closing in on a quarter-million acres burned, making it something like the third largest recorded in California. Thousands of firefighters are still working on controlling the blaze; the cost of firefighting operations to date exceeds $80 million.

And now this: "The U.S.Forest Service has determined that the blaze was started by an illegal campfire set by a hunter... Investigators would not say whether the hunter had turned himself in.  When the investigation is complete, the U.S. Department of Justice would decide whether to seek restitution."

Restitution! According to the dictionary, that is "restoration to the former or original state or position". What "restitution" could an individual hunter make for the incineration of 385 square miles of forest and 111 buildings?  But there is something in us which finds it deeply comforting to have an individual to blame, someone upon whom to unload our demands, however unfulfillable, for the "restoration of the original state".

Our moral vocabulary is adapted to univalent causes with definite effects.  That's one reason for the excessive weight that's attached to connecting climate change to individual natural events (like Hurricane Sandy).  If we can definitely "blame" the inundation of lower Manhattan on climate change, the thinking goes, then it's an enemy worth taking seriously; but if such definite blame can't be attributed, then the "science is uncertain" and we can retreat to business as usual.

The world of climate change, however, is a world where causation is polyvalent, effects are statistical, and restitution may well be impossible.  This is not a world where looking for someone, or something, to blame is likely to be a helpful strategy.

But that makes it a world rather like that of the New Testament.

As the New Testament writers reflect on the death of Jesus, they see in it the end of the system of blame and retribution: "what the Law was powerless to do, because it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful humanity to be a sin offering" (Romans 8:2,3).  The system of blame - the Law - is a dead end, says Paul; but beyond the dead end is a new work of God.

Can the Church receive, and live out, a manner of life "in the Spirit" beyond the dead end of contemporary climate-change blameshifting?

Image from the Fresno Bee,