On Friday I attended the March for Climate Action. I joined with thousands of others in Dublin, and indeed potentially millions across the world, who took to the streets calling for leaders to do something to curb the looming disaster.
It should be easy for Christians to tap into this issue. From the outset, scripture makes clear that the world God has created is good (Genesis 1: 31) – tov, in Hebrew – and that we are called to be faithful stewards of its sacred and precious resources.
American Benedictine nun, Joan Chittister, says this:
"The human-centred view of creation is a stunted one. It fails to recognize the oneness of creation, the symphony of life forms that depend on one another to bring the universe, pulsing and throbbing with life, to a wholeness that is mutual, that reflects the full face of God rather than simply our own."
As I watched the crowds move through Dublin, I couldn't help but feel that too often the church is slow to respond. Sometimes its theology has let it down – it has not cared to protect the earth's resources, focusing instead on Jesus coming again, as if that justifies exploitation. (This could be the reason why some of the countries that have most exploited the earth's natural resources have been (and continue to be) Christian countries.)
The church has also prioritized personal issues of sin and salvation at the expense of social and communal aspects of faith. This focus is a breathtaking misstep as Jesus, being a good Jew, never endorsed the individual at the expense of the community – as one writer put: Our faith is personal but never private.
Right now, it seems large sections of Christianity are left confused. Caught up in political gamesmanship many Christians follow in lockstep behind presidents who profess to be Christian but willfully follow through on an anti-Christian, pro-money agenda - leaders who are keen to pillage resources to acquire more and more money and power. The church, without its prophetic voice, is numb before this, its silence is staggering.
One sign (photo below) in particular, challenged me. It read:
Like most placards, it too critiqued the status quo. It had a specific focus though: religious institutions (whether we say 'mass' or 'communion', it matters not) seen to be too slow in responding, or caring, for the environment.
Of course, there is value in communion and mass, preaching and praying and attending to our faith, but it must lead us as the church into active and life-giving engagement with the world. Friday was just one march, and I thought to myself, how can this momentum be sustained? One way is through faith communities committing themselves to the ongoing work of teaching, preaching, and living more sustainable and healthy lives, as Jesus did.
There were many other signs on the march. A lot of the fun of the day (and it is fun; people were in high spirits) was reading the wide variety of banners on display. Here are a few:
"Get your head out your assets and listen to the masses."
"There is no Plan(et) B."
"The earth is getting hotter than my (imaginary) boyfriend."
"I skipped school to teach you a lesson."
On and on the signs went. As I moved through the crowd, navigating my way to the front, there was singing at every stage. Many of the young activists carried loudhailers, vying for turns to lead the chants. "What do we want? Climate action! When do we want it? Now!"
See a short video that conveys some of the atmosphere of the march here.
It was a hopeful day. Lots of people, many of them very young, holding hands and watched over by on-edge minders, meandered their way from Customs House Quay to Merrion Square. If their generation can wake up, and take hold of this and continue to challenge us, maybe, we can find our way through.
All of this is an extension of one young woman's action. On 20th August 2018, Greta Thunberg, then in the 9th grade, skipped school to protest the climate crisis and the lack of political willpower. In some ways, this all flows from that simple action.
As people of faith it shouldn't surprise us that young people's voices are being heard on this. Jesus welcomed children into his midst, presumably not merely to instruct them, but to listen (Matthew 14:19).
Jesus was once a child. Some of Jesus' prophetic action happened when he was young (Luke 2: 41-52). Of course, looking at these children and thinking about faith, my mind could not help but ponder those words of the prophet Isaiah:
"The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb,
The leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
The calf and the young lion and the fatling together;
And a little child shall lead them." (Isaiah 11: 6)