One of the more difficult challenges of “green teams” is to have answers to a couple of challenging questions stirring in their faith communities. These questions may or may not be spoken aloud, but they are present and powerful, nonetheless. They ask, “What do you want from us?” And (and perhaps more deeply), “What do you want for us?”
We green team types are much better at answering the first question than the second. We can be persistent and clear that we want our faith communities to sign up and show up. We want them to share our passion and support our program. And sometimes they do and often do not. So, we work still harder to convince them that our passion is valid and our programs important. And it can feel like a wrestling match.
But what about that second question? What do we want for them? Because even though we may all be sharing the foxhole of climate change, it remains true that “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” Yes, we want them on our side helping us. But in what ways are we on their side, helping them?
The mission statement of Interfaith Power and Light states that IPL “inspires and mobilizes people of faith and conscience to take bold and just action on climate change.” That is clear about what we might want from our faith communities. We want courage and clear action. We want them to get up and show up on the issues.
But what about our second question? What does it say we want for those people of faith? There is some direction provided in the first words of the statement: inspiration and mobility. We could say that what we want for people of faith is for them to find their inspiration. To awaken to the life of God and the life around them. And then also, to find their power. Their ability to move and respond. Fire and power. Whether it be about our program or something else.
But the work of Inspiring and empowering people also begs some questions, such as: What is inspiring to people of faith? How do we work on their terms, and not just ours? What can heal their paralysis and empower their movement? How do we reach not just their minds, but also their hearts and hands?
Some insight into this can be drawn from James Gustave Speth, who has for decades been on the front lines of environmental advocacy at the highest levels. He wrote: I used to think that the top global environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse, and climate change. I thought that with thirty years of good science we could address these problems. I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed, and apathy, and to deal with these we need a spiritual and cultural transformation.
We who work with faith communities should not make the same mistake Speth names here – thinking that what will primarily motivate the people around us is good science. When instead, what is needed to motivate the people around us is good religion. Because spiritual and cultural transformation is the very wheelhouse of religion (or should be). Selfishness, greed, and apathy are spiritual diseases, and religion is a healing business (or can be).
The challenge of climate change is as much an invitation to renewal as it is a problem to be solved. It points us, in a big way, toward a journey of repentance and conversion we have all needed to take for a very long time. It calls us, with increasing volume, to dig deeper and reach further. To face our selfishness, apathy, and greed, and choose a better path.
What do we want for our faith communities? For them to become more of what they already are. To awaken to God and rightly name the sin and sickness of greed and selfishness. To heal of apathy and find their fire. To restore the strength and flexibility of mobility. To go where love will take them (even if not directly toward our own passions and program).
We need to be clear about answering that second question for them, even if they are not asking it directly of us. Welcome them into the healing life of God. Invite them into their own renewal and restored power. Show them the love of the blessed community of all living things.
And bless wherever it takes them.
The Rev. Jerry Cappel
The Center for Deep Green Faith