Posting every Friday at noon is how I act in solidarity with young climate strikers all over the world who want their elders to save their future.
There is general agreement about what needs to be done to combat climate disruption:
- Mitigation: reducing emissions.
- Adaptation: preparing infrastructure to endure the changes.
- Resilience: deepening the capacity of people to cope with trauma and build a new way of life.
The third response in the list is even weaker than the previous two.
In his book Transformational Resilience, social systems theorist Bob Doppelt says, “No response to the climate crisis will…succeed unless individuals and groups of all types around the globe understand how trauma and toxic stress affects their minds and bodies, and use skills to calm their emotions and thoughts, learn from, and find meaning, direction, and hope in adversity.” The hard scientists and social scientists are doing great work. But people are the problem. If you think their view matches the often-maligned “anthropocentric” worldview of the Bible, I agree with you. The fate of the earth has been given over to humans to steward in collaboration with one another and God. But love rarely rules. So things often die.
I’m enjoying reading Sarah Jaquette Ray in A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety as she tries to work on the missing link in climate action: the “personal resilience” of people. What she means by “personal” and “resilience” would be interesting to debate. But you probably get the gist of it. It is the same strength, vision and hope you need to call on when you realize you actually matter and you need to do something important with the skills you have in your present context. When you look into 2022 you may not automatically sense a lot of strength, vision and hope. You may be tempted to go with feelings of despair that lead you to withdraw and merely survive.
Some of you Bible readers, however, probably automatically dialed up Romans 5 when you heard “personal resilience;” you could feel the Holy Spirit drawing you to fearlessness when it comes to 2022:
We have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.
And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.
Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings,
because we know that suffering produces perseverance;
and character, hope.
And hope does not put us to shame,
because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts
through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
Sarah Jaquette Ray is a Buddhist evangelist, but I think she can align with Paul’s point of view. (Besides, divvying up the spoils between rival religious/political parties should probably be consigned to “pre-climate change.”) She gives some useful suggestions for building resilience (or faith, if you like) in the face of the blooming catastrophe we face. Here are three of them, in brief.
Don’t measure so much
As good consumer capitalists, we hardly do anything unless we think it is a good deal, from buying a washing machine to making love. So when we look at what we should do in response to the huge work of fighting climate change, we shy away from the effort because we can’t guarantee the outcome. You might not do your part because you can’t see your effort resulting in enough impact to justify the cost. But it has often been said in response to such thinking, “If you expect to see the final results of your work, you simply have not asked a big enough question.”
I admire people who can stick with their big questions and stop “counting beans” to measure whether their good is producing the best and most good. I am more with Paul, who knows his vision is limited but knows he serves in an eternal arena.
We do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. — 2 Cor 4:16-18
Fixing our eyes on what is unseen is a big enough question, in itself! Thanks to God, the eternal has been planted in history in Jesus and planted in us by the Spirit so we have strength beyond our own to call on when we face our troubles.
Sarah Jaquette Ray is dismayed to see the movement of climate action in bondage to the left-brain. She says, “Many people want to be problem-solvers and to fix things right NOW. They want less feeling less thinking, less talking and more action. But urgency and its sidekick, non-thinking, result in unintended consequences that can undermine our goals.” Resilience needs the right brain, too.
Our sense of inefficacy may have more to do with whether we think we make a difference than with assessing the difference we make. We may have an “instrumentalist’ view that says the only actions that matter are the ones which make immediate, impressive, large-scale change. If we view ourselves more realistically, accepting our limits, we often gain more energy to do what we can. Our problem is rarely that we have no power or influence; it is that we don’t use the power or influence we have because we think it is not enough.
Christianity has unwittingly taught an “instrumentalist” theology for ages. I think the Bible always starts with “You matter” and THEN gets to “So act like that.” But that truth is often turned around so people think, “I’d better do the right, the best, the most things so I can matter as much as I ought to.”
This Bible passage was often misinterpreted in that way when I was coming up
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God — even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. – 1 Corinthians 10:31-33
I think Paul is in the middle of a big discourse grounded in “You matter” when he writes those lines. So it follows that he says, “If you do anything, do it to the glory of God and you will be fine. You have nothing to lose. Love everyone, build the common good and anything else will follow — you are brothers and sisters with Jesus no less.” Even though I think that is the core of what he is teaching, I don’t know how many times I have been hit with, “You are making someone stumble” as the takeaway I should get. Don’t do anything that could be wrong! A lot of us never do anything because it might be wrong or not right enough! Doing the good we can with the Spirit we have is enough — and who knows, it might lead to more!
There are starting points in climate action everyone can do. Express dissatisfaction with the status quo. Bear witness to a crisis — don’t turn away; know about it and speak about it. Help people on the front lines. Give money. Build community. Talk about the good action that is happening — e.g.: a friend posted a picture of a smokestack near his house belching black smoke the other day on FB. You get the idea. Listening to the voice that tells you “You don’t matter” and doing nothing is the sin, not failing to do something spectacular.
Go slow enough
Urgency and action without mindful deliberation and contemplative depth does not serve the mission of climate action. Resilience takes time. Sarah Ray quotes the writers of the workbook Dismantling Racism as they teach that a relentless sense of urgency makes “it difficult to take time to be inclusive, encourage democratic and/or thoughtful decision-making, to think long-term, to consider consequences” (p. 29). Likewise with climate action, the urgency of problem solving can run over the human and community development which is crucial to solving the problem.
Dee Dee Risher (a Philly hero) writes in The Soul Making Room about how pausing to turn into gratitude slowed down her action-oriented, anxiety-driven life enough to help rejuvenate her strength.
Gratitude is the great demon-vanquisher. We cannot be grateful and carry emotions of fear anxiety or anger. Our wiring is not capable of it. Moreover, gratitude changes our place in the chain of being. Gratitude by its very nature makes us a recipient. We are not the giver. That weight is off our shoulders. Gifts are bestowed upon us and we recognize them. We do not have to produce or be worthy. Instead, moments come into our unsuspecting and outstretched hands. Our job is simply to unwrap them.
In the cause of slowing down for gratitude, some Bible verses should not be made into songs. Like this one:
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. — Matthew 6:33-4
The old song I linked helped me remember a bit of the truth. But it was so sweet so short! Our seeking is long and slow. Righteousness is incremental. What’s worse, verse one of the song (the one most of us will remember) ends with “all these things will be added to you” when it would do better to lead us to check our anxiety about not getting what we imagine we need or deserve. We need to do the best we can to trust God with the trouble at hand instead of thinking about three years from now.
The good things the people of Earth are doing in 2022 to combat climate change may or may not be enough. We know what needs to be done but people will always be the problem with doing it. Will we build one another’s capacity to cope with the trauma and learn how to build a new way of life? Will we find resilience and trust? I think Jesus followers have profound answers to that question and the means to answer it with faith, hope and love.