Living and Dying with the Planet
I am partnering with the artist Dr Deborah Prior on living within the challenge of climate change. We have independent programs which we discuss with each other, but which will intersect in a major way during June - July 2020. I will be taking study leave and long service leave to accompany Dr Prior as she transports an artwork to the Tamworth Textile Triennial up the Murray – Darling from Goolwa, close to the Murray Mouth*, and then via the Barwon, Namoi, and Peel Rivers. We will travel for 25 days by push bike, camping roadside, which is a part of an ongoing art project she is undertaking.
I have two roles in this part of the project.
For Dr. Prior, I am acting as domestique and will be providing general endurance biking expertise and carrying some of her gear. I am currently teaching her the art of long distance cycling, and from my farming and agricultural science / ecology background, am teaching her to 'read the land' as we ride across it.
For myself, this project is continuing my own attempt to live out discipleship in the face of catastrophic climate change. I am working from an initial paper, Easter in the Anthropocene and developing a worst case model; that is, how do we live faithfully knowing that as a species we are becoming extinct. In light of the latest warnings of the climate emergency by world scientists this is not unrealistic, but even if we should be able to turn things around a little, our death avoidance culture needs some of us to assume the worst. Otherwise it is too easy to speak an easy theology which avoids the hardest questions about human futures.
My basic premise in all this is that if Christianity cannot speak to a humanity which is discovering that its own species is facing extinction, then as Christians we have nothing to say. I approach this not from a theoretical position that might reference the hope of resurrection, but from the practical position of how we might live in a world where society is dying. My initial confrontation with this is finding
a) that the Faith does have something to say
b) but that the psychological burden of contemplating such an end to our species is somewhere in the area of overwhelming, terrifying, and too difficult to bear to contemplate.
In this place, I am seeking to
a) continue learning how to die,
b) continue learning how to live together—as a lone cyclist, I will find this long journey with another person hard work :)
c) begin to learn to live with the psychological distress. I will not be able un-see that the river roads we will follow are through some of the most over-exploited and damaged country in Australia, through regions in deep drought, and through towns which have literally run out of water. This trip is an exercise designed to remove any false hopes of a quick fix to our predicament.
d) begin to learn pastoral care for another person as she learns to read the land. I am discovering that this catastrophe is not the same as dying, or as the bereavement of a loved one. It is something beyond our imagining, and for which we do not have a vocabulary.
I hope this will allow me to speak to the crisis we humans are living within from a position of some calm, having weathered some of the psychological storm, and with some theological coherence.
Andrew Prior ( Sept 2019)
Representative Notes from elsewhere on One Man's Web
… the Myth of Human Exceptionalism. We believe that we are always going to be here, in some way privileged above all other species. But when we stop speculating about some magical rescue by God, what we know is that we are not exceptional at all. We are just one more life form…
We are called, as Jack Spong says, to "wasteful, expansive, freely given love." (Quoted in Like Catching Water in a Net: Human Attempts to Describe the Divine, pp 46 by Val Webb) We are called to life which is non-retaliatory.
This is not easy.
Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour. (John 12:25-6)
It really is about, as Scranton says, "learning how to die."
It is also the basis of a new civilisation.
"Peace be with you," that wasteful, expansive, freely given love, which is non retaliatory, is spoken to us again this Easter as we approach a 'perfect storm.'
From On Being a Prepper
At church last night I told people of a younger friend who had said, "Given my age, I may just get to die in bed." She and I were talking about the consequences of global warming, which now seem to be an unavoidable climate catastrophe. I suggested to the meeting that if we are not addressing how to live in a dying civilisation and, perhaps, even as a part of a dying species, then we have nothing to say to younger people. Climate catastrophe is their world, and their reality. Do we take seriously that it is in such a world that God wishes to give us the Kingdom, or are we carefully averting our eyes from the rising waters and temperature?...
We are supposed to be the little flock who know that death is not the end. Who know that death is a baptism from which we are raised up. Actual embrace of the poor, serious abandonment of cars, and meat, and airplanes, are all things we Christians should do. And we should be at the protests, and writing the letters, and speaking where we have influence, small as it may be. But our lane in this marathon, our calling, is to learn to die. And to give that to the crowd and the world. As the saying goes, we need to stay in our lane.
Let me expand the quotation I made from Richard Beck
So what were Jesus's followers supposed to do? This is Jesus's constant refrain in Mark 13: Watch. That is, in fact, how Jesus's apocalyptic discourse ends, with the command to watch.
That's what I'm doing now with my beloved America. I'm just watching it fall apart. Personally, I think we are headed to a very bad place and we've lost our ability to save ourselves. In our fear-driven panic we've lost our ability to turn back from the precipice. We're going to go over the edge. Maybe sooner, maybe later. But it's just a matter of time.
But you know what? That's okay. Empires come. Empires go.
And the church simply watches.
Note that Beck is no quietist, and is active in prison ministry and ministry to disabled people. He's embracing people.
But the world where empires come, empires go, and the church simply watches is, and always has been, the world of the church, the world where we live among the empires. And in embracing the poor and the unlovely, in serving those who threaten us, in speaking up despite those who can kill the body (Luke 12:4 ) we practice for our death with all the little dyings that come with the threats and fears. But most of all, we watch. We refuse to avert our eyes. We honour God and serve the world by watching, by seeing, and by remaining faithful.
The Samurai Yamamoto Tsunetomo wrote
If by setting one’s heart right every morning and evening, one is able to live as though his body were already dead he gains freedom in the Way.
This is quoted by Roy Scranton, who wrote that as a soldier, "Instead of fearing my end, I owned it."
This works for our Way, too. I have begun to meditate on my dying. I watch. And somehow— I don't quite have the words for this yet, but somehow, simply watching and grieving has meant that "Fear not little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom," is a real comfort, something that has substance beyond just being words.
* We begin at Goolwa to avoid crossing the bridge, and also not from the Murray Mouth because it is not our Business.