|Photo: Jan Messersmith|
Which is terrible medical advice, just for the record. But on a metaphorical level, it’s terrific. The thing that is terrifying you? The thing you are running from and denying with all your might? Turn around and stare it in the eyes. Because then it loses its power over you. Then you can figure out exactly what the issues are and start devising ways to deal with them.
Climate change is one of those things we can lift up like a snake on a stick. If we say, “Too scary! Too scary! Don’t want to look it in the face! Don’t want to talk about it!” then we just stay in freak-out mode and don’t actually deal with the problem. That helps exactly no one. The people who look to you for spiritual leadership are already freaking out. They already know it’s bad. Not talking about it, or saying it will all work out in the end, is not doing anyone any favors. But just lifting it up like a snake on a stick and freaking people out is also not doing anyone any favors. We have to look at this snake on a stick and figure out what is our power here?
So what strengths and gifts do we bring, as leaders of spiritual communities, that help empower our people to stare down the snake on a stick?
We know how to talk about greed. Those who market products to us would have us believe that we are not enough—not good enough, not attractive enough, not popular enough—unless we buy their beer, their eyeliner, their car. And then we will suddenly be surrounded by attractive young people playing volleyball on the beach or something. They are selling this image that always starts with the premise that we are not enough. But we have this counter-message, very counter-cultural, that says each person is a fabulous creature, a beloved child of the Divine, and that all those possessions may just get in the way of a good relationship with our Creator and with all of creation.
We know how to talk about lament for what is being lost. Where do people go when someone dies? They put together a memorial service, and even if they are not usually showing up in a community of worship, this is one occasion when they often come. Because we know how to grieve together in community. We know how to support each other in times of loss. And what we’re losing right now is the earth we used to know.
|Earth Ministry members at the 2017 Seattle Climate March|
We know how to talk about gratitude and abundance, community and support. We know how to talk about sharing what we have. These concepts are familiar to us. We don’t have to face the challenges of climate change alone.
We know how to talk about power. Joanna Macy talks about the difference between power over and power with. The first creation story in Genesis talks about God giving humans dominion over creation. Many have understood this as free license to do as they please with the planet. But we as spiritual leaders understand that dominion means God created everything, called it all good, and then gave it to us to take responsibility for keeping it good. How counter-cultural a message is that? No, you do not have permission from your Creator to rape and destroy the planet. You are to be a good steward of it. To take care of it. To live in harmony with it.
We as leaders of faith communities can and need to say these things. We need to offer spiritual grounding, moral and ethical frames to center our people in this work, encouragement to help people be their best possible selves, ways of seeing beyond the individual to the greater good of the community and the ecosystem. We can only do this work if we dare to raise climate change like a snake on a stick and stare it straight in the eyes. We can help each other. We can pray, meditate, advocate. We can become the world we want to see.
The Rev. Meighan Pritchard is the pastor of Prospect Congregational United Church of Christ, an Earth Ministry Member congregation.