I spent last week in Vancouver with a national colleague group that meets once each year. We were staying on the campus of the University of British Columbia and were blessed with good weather. The views of snow capped mountains over the water were stunning. The city itself had some fun areas, seemed pretty compact, boasts some good restaurants and reminded me a little of Geneva. It is a place to which I want to return and explore and a base for going north in to the Canadian Rockies. A gift in itself.
We generally spend time with one or two resource people for our conversation. This year we were led by Sallie McFaige and Herbert O’Driscoll, both of whom live in that area. Dr. McFaige taught at Vanderbilt for many years and has, for a while, taken an interest in matters environmental. She challenged us to consider the proper role of churches in addressing what she sees as the critical issue of climate change. She sees a need for us to shift our anthropology from one in which humans have dominion over the earth and its scarce resources in a lar4gely individualistic vision, to one in which humans understand ourselves more communally as part and parcel of God’s creation. I may not be doing her justice, but that is the gist of what I understood. Thus far I am with her. Where I parted company was with her fairly relentless and passionate view that the only way forward is for people in the West or developed world to make sacrifices, to give up much of our way of life, to travel less, to watch our carbon footprints, to recycle and so on. This comes at a time when many people in the developing worlds are just beginning to taste some of the advantages of development. (I’m thinking of China, or India who are about to enjoy a $2500 car that is far from ‘environmentally friendly’.) I’m reminded of a developer I met in North Carolina who said that ‘an environmentalist is someone who has already built their mountain home.’
I suspect the way forward is not so much to do with grim ethical pieties and more to do with the stewardship of abundance that we have been teaching for years. We know, for example, that a decision to have children cannot be an economic calculation, but that when we bring children into the world somehow the money piece works out alright. It has something to do with ordering our lives around what is truly important (that which is of ultimate worth). It is similar to saying that there is always enough time in the day when we are doing what we love to do. Or that we will have enough money for our lives when we practice generosity (in giving we receive).
We know that many people are drawn to what is generically called ‘spiritual practice’ and I think that the modest things we could do (such as recycling or using light bulbs that might be less damaging to the environment in the long run) could be seen as spiritual practice along with tithing and saying our prayers rather than as items on a list of things we ought to be doing like flossing our teeth and stretching for twenty minutes before we exercise and al the other things that are worthy but tiresome.
Herb O’Driscoll drew some parallels between the world today and the twilight of the Roman Empire giving rise to the preservation of a powerful Celtic Christianity. He made the important distinction between ‘Celtic spirituality’ which seems to be a modern Rorschach test of sorts and ‘Celtic Christianity’ which is really quite specific (and deeply related to the natural world). A useful distinction.