I just finished the book (Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love by Elizabeth A. Johnson) this morning, and I’ve been wandering ( and wondering) about for a couple of hours since. I’ve spent a part of that time diving back into Margaret Swedish’s “Living Beyond the End of the World: A Spirituality of Hope”. These two books have been like reading Apocalyptic Scripture ( with a strong dose of both major thrusts of apocalypse: 1. Sin, darkness and destruction and 2. Promise and Restoration). Both these books availed themselves of that healthy, realistic balance of both themes, but ” Living Beyond the End…” …takes on directly the hard task of accepting the reality of what’s happening, which is to be heavy on the first thrust; the dire, death-threatening circumstances we face.
It’s not only just “threatening”; this has been at work inducing death; the deaths of species at an unprecedented rate. The death of people from unprecedented and extreme weather inducing disasters, creating refugees, disease, and wars. And these will only worsen as we continue to do everything to worsen the problem: clear cutting forests to make way for technological agriculture and even agriculture for the purpose of producing soybeans and corn and palm oil for fuels, which are being found to be woefully inadequate alternatives, not to mention the relative loss of that arable land for growing products to be used for food, and the forcing out of small farmers from the process as the large corporations bring in the heavy machinery, producing massive amounts of additional CO2.
It is the role of apocalypse to “UNVEIL” (which is the meaning of the word). To tell the story that needs to be told to reveal that something is dreadfully wrong. This seems to be the biggest struggle for our culture, which wants to hold on fast to the idea that “we got this”. The faith in “unlimited progress” is “dying hard” (holding on for dear life seems more accurate). And this is most disturbing when I see it at play in the church. I see, everyday the continued absence of an appropriate sense of urgency. I see denominations avoiding the topic altogether on their denominational websites, which are their number one public facing source of information about who they are. The websites represent a way to tell their story and describe what they are about. There seems to be scarcely any awareness that we face anything like an unprecedented civilizational challenge, which would seem to put this on an emergency footing. This is a challenge that goes deep into who we are as a people, inducing re-evaluation, re-thinking and reformation of our theology itself (since much of Western Christianity has been negligent in giving blessing to the “full-speed ahead” of industrial civilization’s shaping of our desires and values which have sent us hurdling down the path of “Overshoot”: Overshoot being the title of William Catton’s book on how we humans have overshot the natural sustainability processes and resources of the earth).
If we are faced with such a challenge, and need a full-scale re-orientation of our economy, way of living, and also our theology (so as to recover the deeply ecological message that our Western hermeneutic has lost), isn’t this something that ought to be found somewhere in the church’s descriptions and stories about itself? Doesn’t this warrant , at the VERY LEAST, Front Page news? Definitive re-assesment? Laser-sharp focus on what we have to do going forward? Or are we caught up in the denial that this just can’t be, and that someone will come up with a heroic solution. Are we operating on the denial that we are facing dire physical ramifications (and indeed, already experiencing them), and just continuing to “Amuse Ourselves to Death”? Isn’t there something about the church being a prophetic presence in the world; a call to speak the truth and not waiting for the world to “get it” but to simply “live it” and to be able to articulate a word about “the hope that is within us”?