In the face of a world being pushed beyond its ability to provide for life as we know it, what are we to do?
All we can ever do: repent and believe the good news of one whose love for you and this whole world is stronger than death. Let us repent of our denial, our distraction our deflection of responsibility for contributing to harming others. We embrace God’s unearned grace towards each and every creature, including me and you. The gospel of Jesus Christ is at the heart of who we are as Common Grace and the foundation of all our attempts to echo God’s goodness to others. Christian activism is the overflow of a life-giving story in which Creator God is not willing to be God without us, and so became God with us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Let us be nourished by connecting and reconnecting to that reality.
As we receive and share in the love of God, we are then gradually, slowly, painfully liberated from narrow self-concern, apathy and alienation. If only it were as simple as being told to change your light bulbs and recycle! But no, we can really only make a lasting difference by nurturing curiosity, kindness and courage.
Curiosity means being willing to dig deeper into issues, seeking to understand the roots of this crisis in systems of acquisition, exploitation and domination. These systems have their own narratives and histories and names: such as colonialism, patriarchy, white supremacy, capitalism. Dedicate time to seeking out a deeper understanding than what’s pushed in the popular press, corporate greenwashing or partisan slogans. Common Grace has a range of recommended resources to help you dig deeper in learning about climate and creation justice, including books such as A Climate of Hope: Church and Mission in a Warming World by Claire Dawson and Mick Pope.
Kindness doesn’t mean always doing what someone else demands. It doesn’t just mean being nice or remaining polite. Kindness means treating others as kin, as family, especially those who are not part of our group. Families sometimes fight; when we fight, it means struggling as those who ultimately all belong to the one who created us all. So many of those systems I just mentioned that drive ecological degradation are justified by narratives that treat others with suspicion or disdain. Those not part of our group are excluded from our horizon of concern, whether that group is defined by nationality, race, gender, generation, creed, sexuality, ability, ideology or even species. But this is where the ‘common’ in Common Grace really matters. God is good to all. We get to join in.
Courage does not mean feeling no fear. It means doing what is right, what is necessary, what is good, despite our fear, despite the costs, despite the opposition we may face. Courage means taking a step beyond what’s familiar and comfortable. If you’ve never taken any kind of deliberate political action then start writing letters, making phone calls, attending meetings, divesting your money, getting your church talking about it. If you’ve been somewhat political, take the next step out into the streets, into recruiting others, into sharing your skills, into volunteering for Common Grace or another organisation working for ecological justice. If you’re used to these things and can see they are still not enough, then step it up: work on decolonising your workplace, your church, your imagination; learn how to blockade dirty energy projects, shut things down, jam the culture that’s consuming the Earth, disrupt the business as usual that is costing us a habitable planet. But if you’re right back at never having spoken to anyone about your fears and dreams for a more just future on a world in overshoot, then break that silence. Pick someone, have a conversation. Ironically, in a society that so noisily celebrates individual freedom, the pressure to conform – to remain quiet, to avoid rocking the boat – is often immense. But we walk in the footsteps of Jesus, who continued to speak and live the truth all the way to death, and beyond. We share God’s own Spirit, the life-giving divine breath that empowers us, often through one another, to work together for justice.
Curiosity, kindness, courage flowing from the good news of God’s love in Christ. What will that look like for you specifically amidst our planetary crises?
Given the complexity of the interlocking systems driving these crises, there’s actually a huge range of useful concrete tasks to do. We need systemic change at almost every level: economic, cultural, behavioural, attitudinal, infrastructural, ideological and political (from geopolitical down to local). And that means for any given individual, or indeed local community, there will be all kinds of opportunities and possibilities in your context to seek change.
Those of us who want to see God’s will done a little more on Earth than it currently is have so many worthwhile options. Communities of mutual trust and care function as a body (like Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 12.12-27), with members taking distinct but interdependent roles. Not everyone needs (or ought) to be doing exactly the same thing; depending on your strengths, opportunities, qualifications, networks and contexts, the you-shaped contribution to climate and creation justice is going to vary. But you are needed.
We pray tonight on the only planet known to support life. To protect life from those human systems rapidly wrecking it, requires all of us, nurturing curiosity, kindness and courage, working together as recipients and conduits of God’s Common Grace. May it be so.
Originally presented by Dr Byron Smith at the Common Grace Earth Overshoot Prayer Vigil, 22nd March 2021