Here is a rather simple statement: people must be willing to change in order to become better. Reluctance to listen and refusal to reconsider opinions is contradictory to the humility Jesus modeled. This is not to say that having a firm conviction is wrong; absolute truth does exist, and it is our obligation to seek it and preserve it. Still, we must carefully reach these convictions before holding them with such tightly-clenched fists. In searching for truth about an issue, we must try to hear from differing perspectives, and to ponder on them all. This may require some deal of bravery, and a good deal of wisdom.
In the past few years, my positions have been formed by many different voices. With some issues, I have listened, read, prayed, and ended up unchanged in my position. With others, I have had my opinions completely flipped upside-down. It is always a humbling thing to admit to being wrong, but it is ultimately rewarding to reach an educated conclusion about what is truth.
I sat down last night with an urge to write, but as usual was struggling to figure out what to write about. I have become significantly less outspoken about political issues in recent months, as I have seen the hostility they can create between myself and loved ones, so my initial intent was not to write about anything controversial. My writing was going nowhere, so I took a break and ended up watching an amazing documentary called Before the Flood. (You can watch the entire thing for free on National Geographic: http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/before-the-flood/videos/before-the-flood3/embed/.) After the film, I felt such a sense of urgency that I could not write about anything else.
So many people in the United States do not believe that human activity is affecting the climate, or that the planet is in real danger, despite the undeniable facts. If you are one of them, please know that I do not hate you, nor do I think you are stupid. I believe that fear is powerful and often disguises itself as stubbornness and blindness. Fear must be recognized and addressed, even if it makes us uncomfortable.
God’s desire for us is to be in community, and this requires that we depend on and trust each other. God has given us incredible minds, and God has given us science. Very few people would deny that science is good when it comes to curing cancer or having surgery. Why, then, do some people trust a scientist to save their own lives, but refuse to accept science when it pertains to the health of the rest of Creation (which inevitably includes humankind)?
I suspect nothing I write will convince anyone of what I am now utterly convinced is true, and that is not my goal. My hope is simply to get people to watch Before the Flood, education which anyone on the spectrum of environmentalism can benefit from. Late NASA astronaut and scientist Piers John Sellers is interviewed in the film and states plainly (yet with more optimism than many of the voices in the film), “The facts are crystal clear: the ice is melting, the earth is warming, the sea level is rising. Those are facts. Rather than feeling it’s hopeless, say ‘Okay, this is the problem. Let’s be realistic. Let’s find a way out of it.’ And there are ways out of it…So there’s hope.”
If I needed anymore affirmation that this was something worth writing and posting about, I got it this morning when I opened my little common prayer book. The topic for the month of June just happens to be “Care for Creation”. I was amazed and encouraged as I read what it had to say:
“Sometimes our theology is so concentrated on heaven that it invalidates any concern for the earth. Some images in Scripture have even been misconstrued to perpetuate a disregard for Creation, such as the image that in the last days the world will be consumed by fire. But nearly every other time the ‘consumed by fire’ image is evoked in Scripture, it is a fire that purifies rather than burns up, a fire that frees up life rather than destroys it. No doubt, the way we live is shaped by how we imagine the end of the world—whether we think God’s final plan is for everything to go up in flames or for everything to be brought back to life…At its core, Creation care is about loving our global neighbor, because the poor suffer the most from the degradation of the earth and the struggle for clean water…At the heart of it all is a God who so loved the world and who called everything in it good.”
Please, please watch this documentary. We are privileged to be able to even question the validity of climate change, because we live in a country that can continue to sustain our consumption and standard of living (for now). However, plenty of people are experiencing the reality of these changes in their day-to-day lives, from forest fires in underdeveloped nations like Indonesia to carcinogenic smog in extremely developed countries like China.
Striving for sustainability and fighting against the destruction of the earth is no denial of God’s omnipotence or sovereignty. It is simply an acknowledgement of the responsibility that God has so lovingly given humanity. If a Christian were to say, “God is in control of everything, so I don’t need to bring the message of Jesus Christ to people,” most people would be appalled and tell that person that it is one of our greatest commandments to spread truth and love to others. How, then, are so many people justifying this type of mentality when it comes to the health of the planet, when the same holy book teaches us to be good stewards of the earth, to live responsibly, and to avoid selfish lifestyles?
The environment is not a political issue, and we have to stop looking at it through partisan lenses. This is a matter of human morality. If there’s one thing we can all unite around, it should be this, because we are all inextricably bound to the rest of Creation. Pope Francis released an encyclical letter titled “On Care for Our Common Home” (http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html), in which he speaks at length about the unity and holiness of all things created by God. Here is an excerpt of his closing prayer, which I’ll close with.
“Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.”