Terrified by global warming? Follow the children

This week, thousands of children around Australia participated in the School Strike 4 Climate Action, and it was magnificent! Like too many adults, whenever I think about climate change, I feel overwhelmed. We are facing the catastrophic collapse of vast ecosystems on which our lives depend; countless other species are hurtling towards extinction. Out-of-control wildfires dot the globe; terrifying hurricanes and storm surges wreak havoc; formerly arable land has been turned into desert. All around us, governments and disaster capitalists and environmental hoodlums keep chopping down trees and mining the land and opting for coal and pumping carbon into the atmosphere. They will not change, and there seems to be nothing I can do.

So I despair—and in many ways keep living as I have always done. I drive when I could walk, eat red meat, buy food from the other side of the world, and bring home mountains of plastic packaging. And in the evenings I distract myself. Instead of acting for climate justice, I pour a glass of wine and stream something. But every now and then, I wake in the middle of the night frozen with fear for the world my children will inherit.

And so I am doing exactly what Jesus said people would do. In the passage we just heard, he was more directly referring to the impending destruction of Jerusalem, which happened in 70 CE; but his words continue to resonate. For he said that when people are overwhelmed by rising floodwaters, raging storms, warming oceans, the sixth great extinction—or “distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves”—then “people will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world…” People will feel helpless. They will wake in the night feeling sick—and if they succumb to despair, they will do nothing.

But his next words make it clear that distraction and despair are not options for his followers. “Be on guard,” he says, “so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life…” Don’t distract yourself with shopping and eating and social media. Don’t pour another glass of wine. Don’t allow yourself to be paralysed by fear or crippled by anxiety.

“People will faint from fear,” he says, “… but when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” How can this be? Melting polar ice caps, rising oceans, out-of-control wildfires, extreme weather events? They’re hardly something to celebrate. But according to Jesus, they are signs that the Human One is coming with great power; and so we should let these signs galvanize us into preparing the way.

This week, we saw thousands of children and teenagers do just this. They stood together, raised their heads, and demanded our government do what it takes to act against global warming. They know, just as Jesus predicted so long ago, that this apocalypse “will come upon all who live on the face of the earth”—yet they did not let themselves be crippled by fear. Instead, they acted in hope.

And this is exactly what all people, not just children, are called to do: To see the signs, to acknowledge the fear, but to live and act in hope. And Christian hope is very practical: it means action. Our hope is not in some pie-in-the-sky caped crusader, who will fly down and save us. Instead, our hope is in the way the Holy Spirit leads real and ordinary people, including us, to participate in God’s work of healing and reconciling all creation.

As people of hope, then, we patiently engage in the practices of faith. We notice, confess and ask God to help us change our destructive ways, both as individuals and as a nation. We study the Scriptures and share the sacraments, searching for signs of life. We open ourselves to the Creator Spirit, and let it work from within. And since Jesus’ disciples are instructed to pay attention to and become like children, then this week we pay attention to the hopes, observations and actions of the children rallying across our nation, and perhaps become more like them. And when we engage in these and other Christian practices, we will gradually be put into right relationship with God and God’s good earth.

As we do these things, we continue to seek God’s culture: the wholeness and peace which never fully arrives but which we glimpse now here, now there, in unexpected people and surprising places. Like children striking for climate action; like teenagers marching on Parliament House.

And we hold onto our hope: hope for the radical, impossible change that is necessary; hope for miracle upon miracle; hope for the power generated when ordinary people of all ages act in solidarity; and hope that, when the time comes, we adults will be found to have been good and faithful caretakers of the earth and can stand alongside the children with our heads held high.

And of course we hope always in the Human One. For his coming promises the deepest healing of the earth and, with the earth’s healing, our own healing, our own wholeness, and our own redemption. Ω

A reflection on Luke 21:25-36 in a week of #ClimateStrike, given to Sanctuary, 2 December 2018 (Year C Advent 1, C01) © Alison Sampson, 2018. Image shows some dear friends – and periodic Sanctuary visitors – who rallied in Melbourne on Friday. Their oldest daughter is the emerging prophet who, a few years ago, convinced me to (almost but not yet quite entirely) replace beef and lamb with kangaroo meat.

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