Although this reflection’s title may sound like something of interest only to Christians, I hope it will be of interest to people of other faiths as well. I hope it will serve as a contribution or an invitation to all of us sharing resources from each of our particular faiths to sustain us in doing what we can when the odds seem to be so against us.
Climate Change is a global issue. It affects people of every religious and non-religious persuasion. As it generates the awareness that, for all our differences, we are one with each other and one with Earth’s environment, it presses us to seek the unity in our diversity and to open ourselves to appreciating and learning from our diversity. How we view each other and our role in the Earth that we share may be the foundation on which we each build our response to the changes we are instrumental in generating in Earth’s climate. It is imperative that we share our various perspectives in a spirit of eagerness to learn the perspectives of others. As I have begun to explore the views of other faiths, I have been much encouraged. I hope we will all encourage each other.
So here is a beginning for what I have to offer as a Christian. It will be a challenge even to many Christians. I hope people of other faiths and no religious faith will find it helpful to learn that this is the perspective that scholars and theologians are discerning in the Bible.
The 350 Spokane Interfaith Committee has assembled a list of the 12 Top Things we can do to address the challenge of Climate Change. In spite of all the resistance and backtracking on the part of both the federal government and a significant block of voters supportive of resistance and backtracking – most of whom, it appears, root their support in their interpretation of the Christian faith – there are many others who are working hard and creatively to do what we can to arrest and even reverse climate damage. The challenge is so great that the only reasonable response may appear to be that we can do nothing; it is too late. There are, however, very good reasons why Christians should do what we can and not give up. This is the first of a series of reflections on the spiritual resources available to Christians that will be offered by members of our 350 Spokane Interfaith Committee that summon us to respond and may encourage us in the face of the enormity of the challenge.
The most essential thing we can do is learn as much as we can about the role concern for the welfare of the material world plays in Christian faith and life. What can we learn from the Bible and the Christian theological and liturgical tradition? Western Christian tradition has largely neglected importance of the world of nature in its vision of salvation, focusing solely on the fate of human individuals. Notable exceptions are the theological traditions that stem from St. Francis of Assisi and the Celts. Some of the reasons for this general Western neglect are identified in Joan Connell’s and my book, Healing All Creation. Meanwhile here is a list of very readable books directed at correcting this Western deficiency. Read at least one.
- Jim Antal, Climate Church, Climate World
- Richard Bauckham, The Bible and Ecology.
- Joan Connell and Adam Bartholomew, Healing All Creation
- Jonathan A. Moo and Robert S. White, Let Creation Rejoice
- Dougas J. Moo and Jonathan A. Moo, Creation Care
- Norman Wirzba, From Nature to Creation
One other book supplements the detail offered by the above books with a broader perspective:
- Judy Cannato, Field of Compassion
Cannato draws on science and spiritual practices taught by a variety of traditions including Christian tradition and brings them together with fundamental Christian insights in order to address what she calls the “whale-sized issues” we face in our world.
She derives that term from the story of a man named Nate Sears who one day saw a whale beaching itself on Cape Cod and had the temerity to wade into the water and offer the services of his puny body to this massive creature out of compassion for its predicament. He had no idea what he was going to do, but he had to do something. He relied solely on his instincts; in the dire need of the moment, he laid his hands on the whale and it calmed down and allowed him to turn it back to the sea. Of course, it might not have worked; but out of compassion he was willing to take the chance.
Cannato offers this story as a narrative metaphor for what our challenging times call forth from us. We, too, may have no idea what we can do to meet the enormous and baffling problems that we face. But compassion calls us to do something, to do whatever comes to mind, to take the risk and try things. We may succeed or we may not. Yet compassion for our children, our grandchildren, and all the vulnerable humans and creatures of God’s good creation summons us to do what we can.
Compassion is at the heart of our Christian tradition. It is also at the heart of Judaism, Buddhism, and Islam:
“Too much self-centered thinking is the source of suffering. A compassionate concern for others’ well-being is the source of happiness.”
– Dalai Lama, quoted in The Book of Joy
“In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful…”
– Opening words of the Qur’an, known as the basmalah.
“When the soul of man is asked, What is God to you? there is only one answer that survives all theories which we carry to the grave: He is full of compassion.”
– Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel
So, Christians share the commitment to compassion with millions of people from other religious traditions to address the common good. Our Christian faith does not divide us from others but unites us. We share a common interest in a life-sustaining Earth and in living together in and from and not just on the Earth in mutual love. That is the heart of our Christian faith.
Adam Gilbert Bartholomew is a retired Episcopal priest with a Ph.D. in New Testament from Union Theological Seminary in New York City. For over 50 years he has combined parish ministry with teaching in seminaries and universities. Most recently he taught undergraduates as an adjunct at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington. He joined award-winning journalist Joan Connell in writingHealing All Creation: Genesis, the Gospel of Mark, and the Story of the Universe in response to the question raised by his Gonzaga students: What does the Bible have to offer us in these challenging times?