Monday, June 9, 2008

The Green Movement's New Twist On Church

Two of my favorite bloggers (GreenBean and Arduous) have posted in the last day or two about comparisons between the evangelical community and the environmentalist community made in the book "Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility" by Ted Nordhausen and Michael Schellenberger. I haven't read the book yet, (I hope to soon) but it sounds like there is a significant paradigm shift in it's approach to the green movement. Environmentalist are being encouraged to adopt a church model, and help found a "Church of Climate Change" for the green movement.

As an evangelical, this naturally intrigues me. I find it sort of flattering that we are viewed as having some things that people are longing for: community, positive messages, a sense of peace and meaning, positive self-esteem, and even joy. And here I thought we were seen as a bunch of self-righteous kooks! It's refreshing to finally be viewed with a different lens.

Of course, it's also a little odd to think about a "church" that does everything that a church usually does, but without the God part. In fact, I honestly can't wrap my mind around that, no matter how hard I try. Christ is the center of the church. He's the reason it exists. When we go to church, He's all we talk about, all we sing about, the motivator for all our outward actions. In fact, He's the glue that holds us together, because, being human and all, we're too ornery to keep it all together on our own. No amount of trying to act nice would ever make our community possible. It's when people forget about Christ and start trying to make church happen on their own terms that it usually all falls apart.

A lot of perfectly nice people have wonderful social groups, whether it's a book club, a bowling league, the Farm Bureau, or the pals down at the Master Gardening office, and when someone gets sick or loses a family member or a job, the casseroles may come in, or the offers of baby-sitting, or the help cleaning up from the disaster. I've experienced that myself. I've also seen a few people who claimed church membership who could be pretty difficult to deal with. We are by no means a perfect bunch.

I have seen my green blogging friends wrestle with so many of the very same things we wrestle with at church: materialism and consumerism vs. asceticism; hopelessness vs. hopefulness; the value of individual action vs. corporate action; whether the political process has any value at all or should be abandoned; the difficulty of speaking truth to power; the necessity for, and fruitlessness of, self-discipline; long lists of "thou shalt nots" vs. freedom from guilt-inducing rules; fanaticism vs. moderation; feeling like the rest of the world views one as some kind of nut. I could go on and on about the similarities.

I have also observed green bloggers accept the fact that it may be necessary to live with alternative values in order find happiness and fulfillment, just as Christians have accepted the fact that we live in an inexplicable parallel universe with it's own alternate value system called the Kingdom of God. I have seen them search intensely for the truth that is hidden beneath the falsehoods of our culture. It's the thing I admire most about them- and I do admire them, prodigiously! Thank goodness for people who care about the truth!

I'm certainly not a better person than any of them, but I am part of the called-out-of-the-culture group called "the church of the Living God, who is the pillar and foundation of Truth" (1 Timothy 3:15). That's where I live each day, in that Kingdom. Anyone who is actively seeking the truth is my near and dear neighbor. Left to our own devices, humans aren't going to find that much sought-after truth. But that's not a hopeless situation. I don't mean to say that I, personally, always know, without equivocation, the truth in every situation, but I know Who does.

That's the difference between the The Church of Climate Change, and the Church of the Living God: Who, ultimately, holds the Truth.


Anonymous said...

Hi Joyce. I followed you here from Green Bean's blog. As I commented there, I have had so many assumptions changed since I started my own green blog, Fake Plastic Fish, and also initiated the Take Back The Filter campaign. Having been raised in a strict, religious family, I believed that people outside of California and people who believed in God didn't care two figs about the environment. And then I found out how wrong I was.

However, I have to say I don't agree with your assertions that "He's the glue that holds us together, because, being human and all, we're too ornery to keep it all together on our own. No amount of trying to act nice would ever make our community possible. It's when people forget about Christ and start trying to make church happen on their own terms that it usually all falls apart."

I belong to a group called Green Sangha, which is based on Buddhist principals but is not religious in the sense of worshipping God. And yet I have never felt a deeper connection to the spiritual realm than I have when meditating with these folks who care so deeply about the earth. I think maybe we just have a different interpretation of our experience than you do. Instead of turning toward an external God, we turn inward and recognize that all of us are interconnected and that all life, in fact, is an expression of the one life of the universe. We are not separate and therefore, harming one is the same as harming all.

Maybe this is just semantics or maybe it's not. Just wanted to express my 2 cents. I have been awed and moved by the Christians who visit my blog and care about the earth. It's a great lesson I've learned in the year I've been blogging.

Joyce said...

Hi, Beth, thanks for stopping by.
I'm trying to formulate some ideas for another post that may offer some common ground, and hope to have it up later.

You are right, there are many people of faith that are very dedicated to solving environmental issues. And, of course, not all midwesterners are people of faith- some are just concerned citizens. It's very important for this green community to be inclusive.

Yours is a blog I have read faithfully for months, and it's the place where I first became aware of the Pacific Gyre situation, which is just not on the radar of people in the middle of the country. It has changed many of my habits permanently. Thank you!

Green Bean said...

What a thoughtful and insightful post, Joyce. I think this is a really important discussion. I was not overstating the matter in my own post when I wrote that the chapter about Evangelical Christianity was the most important in Break Through. I think the idea of coalescing people in a single club or organization - one that is inclusive of all people regardless of religion, ethnicity, location - and one that brings us together, connects us and meets our need for community is pivotal. I can see how the word "Church" would be difficult, though, for many folks to "wrap their heads around" - as you say. People on both sides of the pew seem to struggle with that term which signals that there must be a more apt description of what we are trying to build.

I actually got teary-eyed talking to my husband last night about your comments on my post because it is so moving and meaningful to me to be able to bounce around ideas with people with different backgrounds, experiences and belief systems. The blog world has really expanded my own experiences, exposed me to ideas I never would have encountered in my little bubble and made me a more open and engaged person.

I can't wait to read your "counterproposal".

ruchi said...

Joyce, first of all, I want to start off by saying that you are one of my favorite people on the blogosphere because you bring such a distinctive and yet important voice to the table. I think secularists (I'm a cultural Hindu, but fairly agnostic in practice) and religious types spend far too much time focusing on our differences, when in fact there is so much that really unites us.

I think you're right to be uneasy about the word "church," and I too share your unease. But at the same time, social group doesn't quite cut it for me. Because frankly, and I know this is going to sound maybe a bit kooky, but I do feel like there's a "higher purpose" in environmentalism. It's not necessarily about God, but it's about trying to strive for a better life for all humans. I think it's about achieving greater consciousness, about fully realizing how your actions affect others. For me, living a more sustainable life has filled me with joy and has given my life more meaning, things that I suspect many people get from religion. And the truth is, while I don't have a particular faith, I do have faith in humanity and it is my faith in humanity that allows me to approach each day with a positive outlook on life. I think that's perhaps why we all gravitate to the term "church." Because club sounds like something that could be fun, but wouldn't necessarily imbue's ones life with meaning per se.

Anyway, again, I have to tell you how much I admire you and appreciate your blog, and your perspective. I look forward to reading your "common ground" post.

Joyce said...

You are very gracious, Green Bean. I didn't mean to be a wet blanket on the discussion. You have such wonderful thoughts, and a passion for positive change that I truly, truly appreciate.

I worked for hours on this post, trying to word it in a way that would explain where I was coming from without offense, but I am sure there will be some who disagree quite heartily. Still, it was important to express it, and maybe those who don't understand what causes some of the divide between evagelicals and environmentalists could start to understand- though I'm still not sure I made myself clear. Community, mutual support, and idea generation are your goals, I think. Christians will be right with you if they don't have to worry that they are being asked to worship anything other than Christ. That's the key. I think it's very doable with that approach.

Joyce said...

Arduous, I agree, you are working with a higher purpose. I see that in so much of what you write, and I tell people about this all the time, that I've "met" these amazing people that I now think of as friends, who are so ardent in their desire to do the right thing not only for themselves, but for all humanity. Like Green Bean, I think we are having a valuable discussion here that may build some bridges (if I don't drop any more "comment bombs"!).

ruchi said...

PS, I don't think your comment on GB's post was at all inappropriate. I think in a sense it's part of your "job" to represent a minority viewpoint. I also feel like as an Indian woman, I tend to see it as my "job" to represent that minority viewpoint (which is why I think I was more harsh on AVM than I really needed to be.) Respectful disagreement is necessary if we want to continue this conversation.

Donna said...

Joyce, This is a really thoughtful post and I agree with you 100%. And it's nice to be emulated instead of ridiculed, too. :) I didn't add to the discussion on GB's site because I haven't read the book, but I am intruigued at the similarities, and you summed it up beautifully. I've always felt that if people are really, really, honestly searching for truth, that even though they start in different places, they will arrive at the same place eventually.

The Church is nothing without Christ, but it shouldn't be surprising that an honest search for truth will lead there.

Green Bean said...

Joyce, like Arduous, I didn't think it was a comment bomb, either. I really do mean it when I think the green movement needs to hear from everyone, all viewpoints. We will go nowhere if a bunch of people just like me sit around discussing something. That is how we grow. And even if I didn't have the mid-west in mind when I wrote my post and subsequent comments, your comments back were eye-opening and, frankly, truth telling. Ain't nothing wrong with that.

I skimmed your first post about brainstorming but need to take a break from the computer this afternoon - my big guy is graduating from preschool tomorrow complete with a big ceremony and me supplying 40 sandwiches! I'll let it percolate and check back in later. I think this is a really valuable discussion and we need to get it going.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Joyce. This is my first visit to your blog, and I can't help myself from commenting! But first, I have to tell you how refreshing it is to find another Christian passionate about environmental issues. It's just awesome, and I look forward to reading more of your thoughts. :)

Also, I wanted to say that I really enjoyed your post, as well as Green Bean's original post and the ensuing discussions. It is just the little bit of encouragement I've needed recently. Everything I've read lately has just bummed me out. Except this! It's so exciting to think about accomplishing things for the common good TOGETHER, as one diverse, multifaceted group. No more "us" and "them"! Both Christians and environmentalists overuse those words.

And I agree with IS a higher purpose, definitely.

Thanks again for this post. You are SO getting bookmarked!!

And sorry for the rambling!


Anonymous said...

Joyce, as I mentioned on Green Bean's post, I also agree that Church of Climate Change doesn't seem right. And I have issues with the idea of it being a church at all, let alone a church of a bad thing (ie, Climate Change). A church is a very important and distinct place in our society. It is also a place with members who share a very specific ideology, and ideology that sets itself apart from members of other churches.

I haven't read the book either. But I have read some of Bill Mc Kibben's writing where he also mentions the power of the church. It is that power, enthusiasm, and strength of an idea that is important to take with us in the fight against climate change.

I think we should call it a Meeting of Minds on Climate Change, or a Community Focused on Climate Change, or something along those lines.

Joyce said...

Melinda-I LOVE the Meeting of the Minds idea!! That's what it is! We agree to disagree about some other things, but on this issue we have a meeting of the minds.

Donna-I worried about wading in when I hadn't read the book, but I felt compelled to shoot my mouth (or keyboard) off. It is so nice to have you as a kindred spirit, sister!

Heather-Welcome! I'm glad you found this discussion, and it's giving you hope! Can't wait to hear your thoughts in the future.

GB-This is really your baby, and I don't want to name something, or get out ahead of you, when it should be yours to name. I just want to generate some ideas. Then it's back in your court. Good luck with the graduation!