Last Friday night I went to my seminary Alma mater to discuss my recently published book Go Golden with the students in an ethics class. It was humbling to sit there, in a classroom I had spent many hours in as a seminary student pursuing a M.A. in religion, with a room full of students who had my book in front of them. Renowned theologian and scholar of Soren Kierkegaard, Dr. Lee Barrett facilitated the conversation in the form of an interview. After some preliminary questions about why I am interested in the topics I cover in my book, such as what is permaculture and how did I discover it, how I think the Golden Rule is related to issues like climate change and the potential ecological collapse of the biosphere, and issues of war and peace, he then turned it over to the students to ask any questions that they might have.
My book has been described as “jarring,” “convicting,” and reviewers have said that the information found therein is disturbing, provocative, and helps people to connect the dots with how we live our daily lives and how our society truly does things. Given these sometimes terrifying facts, one of the students asked me where I find hope amidst this scary reality we as humans find ourselves in. It’s an important question and one that I wrestle with a good deal because the potential for civilization’s collapse, mass extinction, and billions of human beings dying can be overwhelmingly depressing if we fail to look for hope.
I find hope in the intellectual acuity and adaptability of human beings. When these two important traits are turned towards working with nature, rather than against it, we can regenerate ecosystems, reconfigure our agricultural production, redesign our living spaces to use far fewer resources, and can foster community by working towards a common goal that it behooves us to all share – a livable planet. Human adaptability can be seen remarkably well in the BBC documentary Human Planet which shows how human beings adapt to their environments in startling and creative ways. There is an episode which shows a man who lives with his family in an ocean dwelling community. He goes into a trance before going spear fishing on the reef to feed his family. The camera follows him as he goes underwater for a full 2 and half minutes without surfacing, and without any type of breathing apparatus. He can stay under for five minutes according to his own estimate. That’s amazing to me and only one of the inspiring ways in which human beings have figured out how to live harmoniously with their environments. That to me is powerfully hopeful.
I find hope too in the ecological processes which, as a Christian I believe that God set forth in motion, which regenerate, repair, and make ecosystems resilient to disturbances from outside elements. Permaculturists and regenerative agriculture practitioners like Darren Doherty know how to fast forward those ecosystem processes to exponentially speed up the production of healthy soil for instance. Ordinarily it can take hundreds of years for an inch of top soil to be created but permaculturists and others have figured out how to create topsoil far faster by increasing organic matter in the soil, always keeping soil covered, making compost or sheet mulching, Keyline plowing, and creating swales. Human ingenuity being utilized for ecosystemic benefits gives me hope. (1)
Another thing that gives me hope is that people are finally waking up to the crisis at hand. Consider that when a calamitous thing happens in the world how often people band together to help one another, to rebuild, to clean up, to find solace, and to mitigate the pain that occurs in tragic situations. Young people in particular are currently taking action on climate change to raise awareness, to disrupt systems of ecological and economic exploitation (which are often intertwined). Greta Thunberg, (2) a Swedish teenager has become one of the faces of the movement by youth to demand action on climate change from the governments of the world’s wealthy (and thereby most consumptive and polluting) nations. She’s been vocal about how being on the autistic spectrum helps her to see through lies and persistently speak truth to power. Millions upon millions of people are being inspired by her and other climate change activists and are taking real action. What once started as a single concerned teenager in Sweden has swelled to multitudes of people in countries around the world demanding action and making changes in their own lives. That gives me hope.
My personal eschatological views give me hope as well. As I understand things theologically, Jesus put a great deal of emphasis on how to live into the Kindom of God, in our limited time on Earth. Rather than a literal second coming, “rapture-style,” I believe that the so-called “Second Coming” is actually something we are called to live into to facilitate. By living out Jesus’ teachings on loving our neighbors as ourselves, and doing unto others as we would have them do to us and our most cherished loved ones, we can usher in the Kindom of God, here on Earth. Those who maintain that God will create another new planet ex nihilo have no problem with the destruction of this one. Fortunately, those folks, though vocal, are in the minority, and they’re wrong on so many levels. I agree with Presbyterian theologian and scholar Cornelius Plantinga who wrote that the Kingdom of God is where Shalom is and that this is not someplace in the clouds but is rather “heaven coming to us.” (3) This is how I have long understood the statement attributed to Jesus in John’s gospel about Christ being “The way, the truth, and the life.” In other words, when we live out the teachings of Jesus, we reach the Father, here and now. When we live out love of neighbor, love of God, and love of God’s creation, we then bring forth God’s Shalom to our communities, and our world. I find hope in this and in the fact that there is now a growing creation care movement in evangelical Christian circles that did not seem to be present when I was living in that world twenty plus years ago.
There is a tremendous amount of truly dispiriting, and depressing stuff going on in our world right now. Climate change and rampant warfare being among the most disconcerting and despondency inducing. That said, there is hope if we know where to look. There is hope when we band together and live out Shalom in our daily lives. There is hope as Plantinga says when we educate ourselves and act upon that education with Shalom as the goal. My goal is to educate myself and others about these issues as a means of living out God’s Shalom here and now while ushering in the Kindom come. May we as people of faith strive to do so daily with God as our helper.
(1) These techniques and topics are covered in greater detail in my book.
(3) Plantinga, Cornelius, Engaging God’s World, Eerdmans Publishing, 2002, p137.
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