The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries
Responses to the 10/25/19 Notes
The Eco-Justice Notes distributed on 10/25/19, Too Much Attention to Climate?, raised the idea that the climate crisis is not one of a multitude of discrete problems to be solved, but is better seen as a symptom of our culture's broken and confused relationship with the natural world. It proposed transformational change -- a dramatic shift of values and worldviews -- as necessary to realign those relationships. At the end of the commentary, readers "Too Much Attention to Climate?", readers were asked:
Do you see an emphasis on transformational change as hopeful, or as a dangerous distraction? Does a deep dive into our cultural values and beliefs give us insights and tools for profound and rapid change? Or does an exploration into transformational values feel like it will slow down or distract current political and public actions to address the climate crisis?
Over 45 people offered comments based on those questions -- some with very short answers, and some fery lengthy responses. Here are a fairly representative selection of those comments and responses. They are divided into two sections -- those strongly affirming transformation, and those raising questions about transformation as a central strategy.
From Joanne: Yes to transformation. It's the only way to enact a meaningful response to climate change and the myriad other problems we face. I come from the Catholic tradition and have been impressed with Catholic social justice doctrine and with Pope Francis's concept of integral ecology; I recognize that many other belief systems also hold these same views. The Green New Deal, whether nationally or in individual states, is strong conceptually because it ties care for creation and care for all people, especially those most vulnerable, together. I pray that we can make it happen quickly enough to save us from catastrophe.
From Todd: Short answer: transformational change. It's a whole cloth, multiple level journey, IMHO. It's great to have 'clean up the ocean of plastics' ships, but the cultural mindset, economic arrangement, frame of meaning, and established habits will have to change as well. The goal is to clean up, yes, and to stop the MANY things that got us here and to start the MANY things that will support a vital future for Creation.
From Stephen: I'm glad for this post and your reflections. I come down squarely and passionately on the side of transformational ministry. For me, that is the only path of real hope.
Prior to entering the church, I spent 25 years fighting -- and mostly winning -- battles to protect open space, habitat, wildlands, and sustainable communities. Despite far more successes than failures, after 25 years I knew there had to be another way -- that all that hard work and heartache wasn't touching the core of the problem. I was very successfully putting bandaids -- or repairing gaping wounds — for a patient that was actually dying from invisible wounds on the inside.
That realization led me to leave the activist world I had inhabited all my adult life and to pursue a life that emphasizes transformation from the inside -- for me, my communities, and for the world. That in turn led me to Jesus and the church, where I have found resources and paths of such abundance that notwithstanding so much of what I see around me, I feel hope. Not optimism, but hope.
So yes, transformation is the way. I believe it must begin within individuals. As Jeremiah says, I will write the law on your hearts. From individuals, it spreads to communities. This is the work of the church.
From Paul: Strangely enough, I've recently come to a very similar [transformational] perspective. The trick will be to embrace the large task without giving up on the more limited (but still vast) one. Keep it up!
From Dorothy: I agree with the Einstein quote. ("We cannot solve the problems that we have created with the same thinking that created them.") I also was blown away when I heard the quote by Gus Speth (environmental lawyer) to the effect that greed and selfishness are at the root of the climate disaster and there is no scientific fix that can cure people's greed and selfishness. The only way to address it is through transformation of the people. Discouraging, but I think he's spot-on.
And since churches are in the "transforming, becoming new persons" business I think churches should be at the forefront of updating the message. Gone are the 1950s when churches were flourishing. Gone is the time when people honored and didn't question the church's message. The church must get out of the salvation business and address problems in this world, and not only in a superficial way of activism with no internal "heart" change.
Too big a problem to solve here, and maybe I've said too much already. Maybe it's time for an Old Testament prophet to appear. ;)
From Karin: I cannot craft a response right now. I do however concur that transformational change is absolutely necessary. I also believe that praxis provokes reflection and that a personal commitment to action moves the heart along and contagiously models "a way" for others.
From Gail: As a person who has taught environmental classes for 23 years now VALUES ARE AT THE BASE! I think they are THE most important thing to teach, to have, to understand and to work on changing. Behavior grows out of our values. Our actions need to serve our ultimate ends which need to be for the common good (and that includes the critters!).
From Lois: I appreciate the opportunity to respond, however belatedly, to your question of last week. Having read this most recent subsequent issue of your notes (11/1/19), I am better equipped to offer my humble opinion. I feel that we must not abandon the far reaching concept of transformation for the necessary current activism regarding our ecology and all the issues associated with the damage being done by humans; to the ecosystems, the planet as a whole, marginalized populations, and, if I take the concept to an even wider perspective, the entire universe (space junk and pollution). The hearts and minds of individuals must change as must the cultures created by those hearts and minds. In my opinion, the Green New Deal is a great place to start. A larger, more daunting aspiration is to convince all humans to rethink what is "enough" and to acknowledge that the Creator knew best how to design a natural system of balance to sustain life.
From Linda: Thanks for your thoughtful and heartfelt thoughts on these immense challenges we are facing. I agree that the issues are numerous and interrelated. I also feel that we are in need of societal transformation. My concern is that we don't lose the climate change momentum by changing our focus. Perhaps using personal and societal transformation as tools toward preventing the worst part of climate change, rather than "too much attention to climate change." Perhaps "Personal and Societal Transformation to a Healthy Earth". Wish we had a Presidential candidate advocating this.
From Tina: I think you raise an interesting question and perspective to this issue. ... What you're suggesting I think is getting at the root cause of all of the ecological problems we face today - which is the need for a transformational change in values. I wholeheartedly believe that a self and human-centered values system is the root cause of the ecological crisis. The big question is - how do we work to right that ship? For people of faith, we can steer them towards our guiding texts/documents/principles and how our faith directs us to care for God's creation and care for one another. I've been using this approach at my church, and while I think it does open the eyes of some to looking at their lifestyle through a different lens, I haven't figured out how to make it tangible enough for them to result in radical change. That's the struggle with this approach. People are selfish and feel entitled to the lifestyle they have - but I think the majority don't - or rather, won't - see that their lifestyle comes at a great cost to the environment and the poor.
Some days I agree with you and think if we could just change people's hearts, we'd change perspectives and behaviors. Other days - most days - I think that is an insurmountable task and we don't have time for that as our primary focus. The only way is through passing laws to the mandate the changes that needed to happen yesterday - while at the same time, doing what we can to help people understand the basis for that change.
So to answer your question, for me, in the work I do and the ministry I try to do at my church, my experience tells me that we are at a critical point where we can't afford the time it will take to effect transformational change. We know the root cause is self and human-centered values. That needs to change. But I don't think it will in time. I think we need to always be intentional to love others where they are - but we also need to be focusing our efforts on instituting laws that will force the changes that need to occur sooner rather than later.
From Jennifer: I like the transformational emphasis you describe and I love the EE exercise.
What I can't quite imagine is what this change in "the human understanding of its place and purpose in creation" would look like on a contemporary scale large enough to make a difference.
Secondly, people are notoriously bad at connecting the dots between their abstract values and the logical behavioral consequences one might draw from them.
If you can solve these two problems, I'm all for transformation over run of the mill activism. There will be plenty of activists left.
From Michele: You asked what I thought about today's "Eco-Justice Notes" and I believe that all things are related, and therefore transformational change is the best way to go. But I wouldn't expect change to be too "rapid." Still, any progress along those lines will move us closer to a goal of a just, peaceful, and sustainable world. I don't know if churches per se can be counted on to help. BUT segments within churches, that is, church members who feel called toward this type of work, can make progress for the world at large while perhaps attracting others within their faith community to join the movement.
From Dave: Are these two goals mutually exclusive? Why can't we pursue both at the same time, and adjust the allocation of time, money and other resources as needed? Certainly the goal of transformational cultural change will take much longer than implementing common sense rules that can impact climate change.
From Kirk: I agree that a transformational change in society with respect to our legal, institutional, and economic systems is fundamental and, if achieved, would lead to protection of human life and the environment. And, it seems to me this has always been true. Global warming and the climate crisis are also urgently important and cannot wait for the great transformation, which I see as a major long-term project. Both things need attention and I see no reason why both cannot be addressed at the same time by as many of us as possible. I suspect that transformational change will happen mostly after more environmental and human catastrophes have occurred.
From Charles: Perhaps we need to step back from both "transformation" and "activism," to become aware of the "lens" through which we are viewing these concepts. That lens, used by our culture, is based on an unquestioned assumption of "separation." Even when we positively assent to what needs to be done, whether climate change or plastics, the dualistic lens remains intact. So, I would say that there is a basic reversal needed which allows recognition of our true Identity ... an Identity not limited to the physical body and mind, which we blindly assume. Such recognition will transform your question of the relative importance of transformation and activism, and other questions prompted by our lens of separation (sin in Christian lexicon). I would say that all of Jesus' teachings point to the urgent nature of discovering who we are ... really ... Yet, somehow we continue to live in sin!
From Amy: I really value both: the nuts and bolts reminders about public comment on pending regulation, upcoming rallies, opportunities for education, etc. BUT deeply value the eloquent calls for reimagining and utterly transforming essential values and structures.
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