The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries
Try It This Way
Christianity really does offer good news for this time of global crisis. If we take seriously what our faith is all about, the core proclamations of the Church provide the dramatic, comprehensive possibilities that we so desperately need.
But to hear the good news, we have to take the Gospel seriously. We have to believe that real change is possible.
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I keep coming back to a line from Paul that is central to Eco-Justice Ministries. In the letter he wrote to the Romans, Paul spells out his interpretation of God in Christ. After working through some fairly weighty theological stuff, he gets to the implementation of those big ideas. Suddenly, the language becomes simpler and more direct.
"Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God -- what is good and acceptable and perfect." (Romans 12:2)
Be transformed. That could be a difficult and demanding instruction, but I'm coming to see it in a new light. Those words -- and all of Romans 12 -- have a different feel if we hear them as an invitation. "Be transformed" is an invitation to enter into joy and blessing.
Picture somebody who is struggling to accomplish a task, and just can't get it done. Maybe it is that annoying puzzle where you're told to connect 9 dots with four straight lines. You stare at the paper, try all sorts of possibilities, and none of them work. Finally, a friend relieves your frustration by saying, "try it this way" -- and stretches the lines outside the boundaries of the dots (literally "thinking outside the box"). What seemed impossible before now makes perfectly good sense.
In the face of the difficult puzzle, "try it this way" is good and liberating, an invitation rather than a command.
In Romans, "be transformed" is an invitation, an opportunity to solve the problems that Paul has been describing. "Be transformed," he says. Try living as if the realm of God is already present around us. Give it a try, and see if things don't make more sense. The long list of "exhortations" that make up the rest of chapter 12 suddenly become examples of how it works, of what flows naturally, instead of difficult rules to follow.
If we look at the whole problem differently, then we can see a new set of options. Struggle and difficulty turn into creative possibilities. What seemed like bad news can now be seen as good news.
I often evoke the image of a backpacker to "transform" the problem of having less stuff. If we're told to live more simply, to reduce our consumption, to lighten our impact on the planet, that feels like deprivation to many of us. It is a hard instruction to follow. But if we think of our journey through life as a backpacker, who personally has to carry every possession, then "packing light" becomes the joyous goal. Shedding extra baggage becomes delightful.
Be transformed. Look at yourself and the whole situation differently. Don't try to adapt the normal ways of doing things, the traditional roles and identities that have shaped you. Don't try to hold together contradictory goals. Try something completely new. Be transformed. Then it all makes sense.
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How is that good news for this time of environmental crisis? What is a transformation that opens up new possibilities? What problem gets solved when we change our perspective, and live as if the realm of God is already present around us?
One aspect of the modern world's unsolvable problem shows up often in discussions of energy policy in the business news, or in political reporting. (And that is part of the difficulty -- there's so little difference between business and political news.) How do we have economic growth in the energy sector, and still deal with climate change?
I hear politicians and industry leaders promoting an "all of the above" approach to energy: renewables, yes, and also lots of natural gas, and coal. The development of solar and wind can reduce carbon emissions, but gas and coal add much more. It is a combination that can never work.
In the last few months, I've heard apparently smart people use the political turmoil in Ukraine as an excuse for the US to export natural gas. Their conflict provides an opportunity for the US to increase production of fossil fuels. Climate impacts don't get mentioned, because the goal is to sell more gas.
As sociologist Laurel Kearns wrote a few years ago, "In most U.S. official discussions of the issue of global warming, the current market and economic system appear to be more important than any future threat to the planet's inhabitants."
Being "conformed to this world" means living as if the current market and economic system are the most important thing. We will preserve the economy -- and then deal with climate if we can. But that is an impossible situation, when preserving the economy depends on fossil fuels that will destroy the climate.
Be transformed. Live as if the realm of God -- with peace and justice for all creation -- is already present around us. The problem is changed. How do we rapidly cut the damage that we're causing to the planet, and still care for our neighbors? That is not an easy challenge, but it is possible.
Preserving the affluent way of life of the "developed" world and maintaining ecological health is another impossibility. It would take more than five planets if we were all to live with the rich diets, easy travel, and high consumption that we've come to see as "normal." So we need to "be transformed" and let go of the unsustainable visions of wealth and privilege. Try it this way -- find a just and rewarding way of life that can be sustained by the planet's life systems, and then celebrate that as the good life.
When we make that turn in values and identity, things that seemed painfully difficult, if not impossible, start to look joyous. "Try it this way" allows us to see a whole new realm of possibilities.
"Be transformed" is the way out of an impossible problem. What we have seen as normal and necessary -- "business as usual" for the economy, and a questing after ever-greater wealth -- can never work for us. We'll kill ourselves and devastate creation if we are "conformed to this world."
The good news is that we are not in an impossible situation. There is a different way. We don't have to cling to the things that are destroying us.
Try it this way -- not because somebody in power said so, but because it works better. Be transformed, because that is the way to hope and joy.
NOTE: An unusually long and image-filled Notes from 2010, "Choices from an Illusion", offers some insights into how we can open ourselves to the possibility of transformative change.
Eco-Justice Ministries * 400 S Williams St, Denver, CO 80209 * 303.715.3873
Home Page: www.eco-justice.org * E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org