First, a couple of assumptions for this post.
1. Climate change is real, significant, and really significant. I grew up knowing this– way beyond aerosol cans or cfl light bulbs, there is substantial and irreparable damage that humankind has inflicted on this planet, especially since the discovery, mining, and burning of fossil fuels. This is reaching, if it has not already reached, a critical upper limit, and if we don’t halt or reverse this trend, um, it’s going to be very, very bad.
2. Peak oil/energy is real, imminent (or just past), and really significant as well. Oh, there’s plenty of oil in the ground, but it will soon cost almost as much energy to access and transport it as the well will yield. And there’s not more to be had once it’s all gone. The consequences of running out of fuel and/or only select wealthy persons having access to it are practically apocalyptic. How do you get to the store for food? How does the food get to the store? How do you get to a clinic for medicine or the medicine get to you? How do you get to work? What do industries like manufacturing, transportation, tourism, shipping, and so on look like? How are plastics made? How does someone who doesn’t own land (to grow food on) and can’t afford a hybrid and lives too far from a town center to walk even imagine a life without oil?
I’m not going to spend my time fleshing out the scenarios of these two problems coming to a head at once. It’s depressing and frightening and induces in me a sort of terror that I usually reserve for zombie movies and dental work. At the conference I attended last week, these were taken as fact (which they are), and we focused more on response.
Who is the church and how are we called to respond in light of climate crisis and peak energy?
The church is who it has always been, the body of Christ, the light of the world, the community of hope, the city on a hill. It’s just that now that city needs to be a transition town.
That’s how I think we are called to respond. We must be the centers of a new kind of community, a new way of living together. The post-oil world will not look that different than the pre-oil one. We’ll farm and trade goods. we’ll live in closer communities. We’ll interact with each other instead of our televisions. We’ll sparingly interact with the outside world (because we’ll still have computers that run on solar energy–I’m not giving up my Internet!). We’ll look out for one another, sharing what we have, carpooling if we really must go somewhere, building systems of transportation (of people and goods) and communication that are sustainable. We will support one another in the times of chaos and uncertainty and grieving–yes, grieving, because it’s not just the things we think we love that will not survive major climate crisis and energy collapse, there will be people, too.
And imagine if the church was there for all of that. Imagine if our lawns were the community gardens. Imagine if our basements and halls and sanctuaries were the places to stay warm. Imagine if our telephones and computers were the channels of communication. Imagine if our clergy and laity were the prophets of hope and the arms of support in times of struggle. Imagine if we were the positive model of how to live together, how to share, how to weather the fear and the transition around us.
We’ve been this before. In her infancy, the church was the sustainable, thriving, alternate community in the face of Roman oppression. Can we now be the sustainable, thriving, alternate community in the face of climate crisis and energy collapse?
For the church to answer this call, we have to do several things. First, we have to confess that we are just as addicted to oil and pollution as any other organization, that in fact our buildings are often the least efficient uses of space in town. Ouch. And like any good confession, we can’t stop there but must move on to repentance, to changing the way we do things as a church and the way we encourage each member of the community to do things by our words and deeds. We may need to walk away from our buildings, or share them, or use them differently. We need to begin to organize the things that will need to be in place: community gardens and agriculture, food banks, time banks and bartering, medical clinics, carpools, shared technological equipment, agency resources. We have to have at least a little of our act together if we hope to help others.
But before we can build all that, we need to build community.
That sounds familiar.
Wait, Becca, you say, I thought you cared about housing and people living homeless? Didn’t you blog about that at length? I did. And I also said that what we need to begin to address that situation is to build community.
Could it be that these communities are the same? Could looking out for one another in terms of shelter and food also mean looking out for the whole community and for the earth? Could that be our calling in this time and place? As I said in an earlier post,
Suddenly I’m thinking that the call of the church is not just to community, but to sustainable community, in all of the senses (environmental, economical, social, spiritual…) we can imagine.
It’s not going to be easy. But then again, Kermit always said being green wasn’t easy. Come to think of it, Jesus said the same thing about discipleship.