From Online Communication to Ecological Crisis

When I completed my last Seminary stint, in 1991 at United Thelogical Seminary’s MA in Religious Communications degree program, the Internet was in its infancy, but I came away convinced that the online world would revolutionize communications in the church. It did change the face of communications in the church, after the business and education and governmental institutions set the examples. I worked in computers from 1991 until 1997 as I taught myself all I could about the Internet, the Web, and reflected and wrote on the theological implications of the new world of Computer Mediated Communications.

But just as the rapid growth of the Internet came rolling around to wisk me into the professional church world in 1997, six years after my second seminary degree (the first was 10 years earlier, an M.Div. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), I anticipate a sea change in the church as a community of change in the ecological crisis, arising from an Eco-Reformation necessitated by the rising ecological crisis we face. As it becomes more and more obvious to more and more people that we face a crisis of unprecedented urgency in the history of humanity, the churches will be realizing that they have to be conscious and stirred by this crisis, and that it is a matter of faith that speaks of a “life abundant”. We are, as humans, charged with the purpose of Genesis 2:15 : “To till and to keep”.

Just as churches began to awaken to the “possibilities” of the Internet (mostly as a communications and business strategic decision) , the ethics and life issues will emerge as more people become visible and undeniable victims of the new ecological realities, and the theologians will begin (as they already have been in many places) re-visiting “lost narratives” in the Scriptures: “lost” in the stories of human progress and technological prowess.

It took , in my case, 6 years for things to develop to the point where the United Methodist Publishing House thought a full time Web development position was warranted. What will be the case with the ecological crisis? I became aware , starting in September of 2014, of the significance of the ecological crisis that had first been announced in a big way to the public in 1988 by James Hansen, before Congress. It took me , and the Progressive Church communities in which I had “come of age”, 26 years for it to “sink in” to the point where I recognized and took in the significance and urgency of it.

A lot of people in my generation have had similar awakenings, usually after decades of experience and reading and preaching and teaching in communities of “Progressive” theological discourse and ministry. And, much like the vast majority of society, were relatively unfazed by what was or was not done in those 25 or so years since Hansen’s testimony. We, and the world at large, were relatively unmoved to change, or to even wonder why. Somehow, it was considered as “fringe” to be “obsessed” with this crisis (as it it were , actually, a “crisis”). It’s hard to imagine how this got basically ignored, or “relegated to the back pages” of our concerns for so long. Even when it was stressed how time was (and still is, even more so now) “of the essence”. The simplest answer is that we now are receiving so many dire reports of the rapidly accelerating conditions, and how we’ve managed to “sleep through” the years when it would have been much easier to turn things in the right direction. Even 30 years ago, it would have likely insufficient to STOP and AVOID ALL negative consequences that have built and escalated over theses past 25 years, but it would have been time very well spent to make a big impact on many more years yet to come, not to mention how getting our infrastructure transitioning to renewable energy and “retiring” fossil fuel use. We now face a much steeper climb over a far more limited time span to get ourselves into a scenario where SOME of the worst effects can be be LESS CATASTROPHIC.

Most of us had been taught to succumb easily to the idea that “we got this”, without really pitching in to call others to do the things that “we got this” people actually DO to “have this”. And we also fell for the status quo, especially in regards to the realities of this planet earth. As Bill McKibben titled his book in 2009 , “Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet”, we are (and have been) solidifying the reality of the Anthropocene, with our “footprint” making the human and its “advanced” civilizations THE determining factor of how life’s processes render upon our life here. By our “contributions” in the form of CO2 emissions, and it’s changing the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere to above 400 parts per million, we have fundamentally altered, in a bad way, the prospects of the future for us and most of life as we know it. And the theologians are seeing , many for the first time in their lives (like me) how fundamental Creation is for this whole human project. We humans have treated the earth with a utilitarian approach that assumes endless supplies of whatever we find “useful” (the very idea of “utilitarianism”), with an ignorance for the most part, of the ecological realities of that approach. We can no longer claim such ignorance. But we have put off that recognition for too long.

The Church seems to have abandoned its role as a community set apart; as a “City on a Hill”, in its call to a better way, and an incarnation, in it’s own life, what life in the Kingdom of God is about. It has abandoned this , because of what? Has it failed to help us reckon with what abundant life is all about? Has it participated in the mass cultural delusion that it is somehow impossible to destroy what life is built upon?

I myself “came to my senses”, as a result of that still small remnant of people who have been writing, preaching and teaching this gospel of a world created to generate life and to teach us how “ALL life is interrelated” (as MLK said). If we are to do any more thriving as humans into the distant future, then we have some work to do, the extent of which is rather intimidating. Some have spoken of a “World War II scale” effort, pointing to a time in America when a widespread and radical cooperation and retooling happened in our society, to meet a perceived World War threat. Factories re-tooled to make different things, car production stopped, people pitched in. We must rally to do this again, at a scale and urgency that surpasses even that historic effort. And the Church has the colossal task of re-thinking its theology to recover the ecological narrative. That in the relationships between God and Humans as witnessed in the Scriptures, in the covenants, that the welfare of the land and earth is affected and dependent upon human obedience; it is a key component of The Kingdom of God. And to be “stewards” of this Creation is not only “obedience”, but fundamental to existence.

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