Last week I shared a couple of days with about sixty people as we looked at the issue of how to find hope in our current environmental situation and how to communicate it more widely. It was organised by Ruth Valerio of A Rocha and Margot Hodson of JRI, with the main speakers were Martin Hodson, Richard Bauckham and Andy Atkins.
It’s taken me a while to process my thoughts. I think this is a good sign as it has forced me to reconsider both what we as a group of thinkers, activists and communicators should be doing, and me personally. (I haven’t seen much other comment on the conference online, so maybe other people are doing the same!)
This can only really be a personal overview and I’m only going to give brief outlines of the talks. I think Richard Bauckham’s talk is going to be published online, and it’s one where you’re better off reading the source than a second-hand description! And although the talks were important, the heart of the event was getting together and wrestling through the various issues, and giving us a safe space to express our own emotions.
These were particularly to the fore at the end of the first evening, after Martin Hodson’s “problems” talk presenting the latest updates to our environmental state. It need not be said that these were predominantly gloomy, with only a couple of potential green shoots. We then got into small groups to come up with our own ideas of what the problems were. Our group’s 14 post-it notes was not atypical.
The two morning talks gave some pointers to how we might go forward. Richard Bauckham encouraged us to rediscover the true nature of the Christian hopes. We’ve too often seen there just being one: our ultimate hope in eternal life with God in a fully restored creation, which has led to one of two opposite faults. Either we do too little to look after this one, or make an attempt to progress towards utopia on Earth (in line with post-Enlightenment thinking) and get frustrated when it doesn’t happen.
Instead we should see hope as rooted in a combination of love and faith, maturity and realism, seeing positive outcomes we can aim for which are feasible from where we are now. It may or may not be too late to avert major climate catastrophe, but we can at least do the best we can to mitigate from making it worse, to adapt as best we can, and help people imagine a possible future which is better than the one we fear.
Andy Atkins gave us the benefits of his practical experience as a campaigner. Again I can’t really do justice to his talk, but the main points I took away personally were the need to be wise in how we use what we have in the light of rapidly changing situations, and to ally with each other to use our respective strengths.
Interspersed through this were more time for group discussion, an Open Space discussion on various themes – our group looked at how we get a sustainability message out beyond our small community in the church – prayer and worship.
So what did I take away?
Perhaps greatest was a new sense of purpose and hope. It is so easy to get jaded, depressed and a sense that nobody else cares for what you do, but although the practical situation seems increasingly dire, there is still hope, plenty to do, and other supportive people there doing it too. In the week since the conference I’ve felt new passion for what I’m doing, and a few new positive ways to go forward.
It was certainly an encouragement to hear that our Sustainability in Crisis conference and this blog had been helpful to various people in their thinking and contacts.
I think the most urgent task, for me at least, is to get the message out to as many in the Christian community as possible, and now have a possible pathway for that to happen via a new contact in a significant place.
There was also a reminder that things are interconnected to a greater degree than we often see. I’ve been rethinking what I understand by stewardship/dominion in Genesis 1, which will be the subject of a future post, but if I’m right it could be helpful in unsticking some of the places the debate has got stuck.
But perhaps most is a reminder that we’re not doing this on our own: there is a community out there with the same concerns, and it helps to reconnect with them, reflect, and recharge periodically. The conference was much more than that, but had it been just that it would still have been worthwhile.