Climate Change—Claiming this Crisis as Ours
David R. Weiss
I’m a theologian. It’s “in my blood,” I like to say. The same heart that pushes and pulls this life-force through my body seems, and with equal regularity, to push and pull an awareness of God through my life.
I’m also—and no less—son, husband, father, grandfather. Add to that planetary citizen and child of God, both since my conception, the latter being publically confirmed by water a few weeks after my own arrival in the wee hours of a Christmas morning some five decades ago.
Born into a thick web of relationships both more complex in their promise and more complicated in their “baggage” than I have ever been able to fully grasp, I dwell at the ecological intersection of faith, creation, and chaos. The blood that gives me life was seeded in the stars. The water that christened me was distilled on a planet billions of years in the making.
And I worry.
About the world my kids, and especially my grandkids (and yours) are going to inherit. The world they’re going have to weather, if you will.
Mostly my worry sits in the background of an overly busy life. In our society that busy-ness too quickly gets counted as virtue, as though personal industry automatically confers worthy purpose on every activity that fills our schedule. I’m not so sure. Wisdom is rarely the fruit of frenzied action. More often, even the important ways we busy ourselves keep us from pausing long enough to take full stock of the situation and consider what is truly required of us in this moment.
This year, as we enter Advent, I’m bringing my worry to the foreground. Not because I want to spoil Christmas by donning some eco-Scrooge outfit and shouting “Bah Humbug!” behind a cluster of charts about a warmer, stormier, scarier planet. Rather, as an act of faith, in the conviction that Christmas—and the story that unfolds from it—both compels and empowers us to respond to the coming climate crisis.
There are, of course, real reasons why we have been so slow to address climate change. Though “real” is not the same as “good”—and claiming uncertainty about its factual basis counts as neither a real nor a good reason. The enormity of the threat, the inertia of lifestyles now thoroughly embedded in systems beyond any individual control, the impulse to preserve what is familiar, the short term addictive rush of stuff, and the sheer power of those who profit from plundering the planet—these are among the real reasons. Though none of them come close to being good reasons.
So when I imagine my grandchildren fifty years out, and they face the world we’ve bequeathed to them, none of those real reasons offer much comfort. I want to do better than merely excuse my failure to act. As a result, my Christmas list is short and sweet this year: I want the tools necessary to fashion a legacy of unconditional (and sometimes costly) care for the planet and resolute (and sometimes risky) resistance to the forces that threaten Earth’s otherwise eager desire to host life. Pretty sure that tool set is not available at Wal-Mart or on Amazon. But it’s what I want. It’s what we need.
The brewing tempest of the climate crisis threatens to overwhelm us, driving us deeper into denial or paralyzing us with fear. Do we—specifically as the church—have words and deeds to offer one another (and maybe the wider world) about how we faithfully face such an uncertain future? Both Testaments we hold sacred bear witness to a God who accompanies us into storms and can ultimately still the winds.
And I suspect—I’ll say it, I believe there is a repository of untapped wisdom woven into the rhythm of our liturgical year, and that it can anchor us—offer tether lines if you will—to hold us fast in the buffeting winds as we seek to address the climate that is so relentlessly addressing us these days.
What can the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Easter, Pentecost, and the long green Season of the Church offer us as insight into how we meet the challenge of the unsettled seasons on our planet?
I have some ideas, but I need to be clear: I’m on a steep learning curve. This is a larger project than I’ve ever undertaken (and I’ve taken on some large projects). But it calls out to me as the project asking for my energy today. I’m confident as a theologian-poet that what I see/sense in the outer periphery of my vision holds promise. I just need to sit still long enough so that the images come into focus. And I’m committed as that son-husband-father-grandfather, planetary citizen, and child of God to do this work.
There is one other thing on my Christmas list, alongside that tool set: company. No matter our individual aspirations, this challenge is so all-encompassing that even our best principled actions will be ineffective (though not thereby worthless)—unless we learn to act in concert.
So I’m looking for a community willing to say out loud with me, from our star-seeded blood to our water-crossed brows, this is our crisis to face, our moment to be church, our season to journey together in holy conversation with one another.
Advent is the season of holy expectation and longing. We like to imagine we know what we’re longing for: the birth of a babe in a manger two thousand years ago. But there are other ways for Christmas to come. And in the face of climate change we’ll encounter Emmanuel—the Presence of God-with-us—in the honest company we keep with one another. Uncertain. Vulnerable. Present. Merry Christmas, indeed.
David R. Weiss is a theologian, writer, poet and hymnist committed to doing “public theology” around issues of ecology, sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. He is the author of To the Tune of a Welcoming God: Lyrical reflections on sexuality, spirituality and the wideness of God’s welcome (2008) and When God Was a Little Girl (2013), a playfully profound and slyly subversive children’s picture book. He lives in St. Paul with his wife, Margaret. They have a blended family of five (mostly grown children) and seven grandchildren. Read more at www.ToTheTune.com where David blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.”