The time you were living in

Re: the last post, this sermon excerpt ably expresses what I was getting at: facing up to the enormity of the climate crisis without repackaging it into something more familiar and mentally tractable:

“Half of all the living species on this planet will disappear on our watch when we’re assigned responsibility,” the man said, voice starting to thunder. “How do we take on board the meaning of that?”

The church was hot. The choir members fanned themselves with their programs, which read “A Moral Call to Action on the Climate Crisis.” The man in the pulpit was listed as “Former Vice President,” but the title felt wrong. There in Ebenezer Baptist Church, in his eighth decade of life, Al Gore was something other, something more, especially as he summoned the voice of a future generation to chastise his own.

“You could describe with your scientific instruments — all the digital devices and computers and artificial intelligence and consumer goods — but you couldn’t understand the time you were living in?” Gore growled, face flushed with rage, fist pounding the pulpit. “You could not discern the CENTRAL FACT OF YOUR LIFE? Which is that it was YOUR responsibility during YOUR lifetime to prevent the worst TRAGEDY in all of human history?”


Begging for a grandiose vision

Jacob Bacharach:

The mark of seriousness in any plan “to address climate change” is not, as the technocrats would tell you, its focus, narrowness, and granular specificity, but rather the opposite: here, for once, is a field that’s begging for a grandiose vision. Within the lifetimes of people who have already been born, there is going to have to be a revolution in human affairs commensurable with the advent of agriculture or the industrial revolution.

I have been in a Mood for a while now about the paucity of serious thinking about climate change that’s worth returning to later; but for now, let me say that most Christian thinking on the matter, even from traditions (like Quakerism) that embrace the apocalyptic dimensions of Christianity, has been garbage. Much like generals who are only prepared to fight the last war, we are awash in prophets loudly proclaiming the End Times of 30 or 300 or 3,000 years ago; but when it comes to the End Times of the current moment, and all the ways it defeats our familiar methods for apprehending the world—even the very idea of an End Times that would do away with the grubby work of actually preserving civilization—there is scarcely a whisper.


This is horrible news:

Rachel Held Evans, an influential progressive Christian writer and speaker who cheerfully challenged American evangelical culture, died on Saturday at a hospital in Nashville, Tennessee. Evans, 37, entered the hospital in mid-April with the flu, and then had a severe allergic reaction to antibiotics, as she wrote on Twitter several weeks ago. According to her husband, Dan Evans, she then developed sustained seizures. Doctors put her in a medically induced coma, but some seizures returned when her medical team attempted to wean her from the medications that were maintaining her coma. Her condition worsened on Thursday morning, and her medical team discovered severe swelling of her brain. She died early on Saturday morning.

Part of the shock of Evans’ death is, of course, her age: she was only a year younger than me, and the possibility of dying so suddenly, despite being relatively young and in apparent good health, is just overwhelming. “Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring.” I think about my two children, about the same age as Rachel and Dan’s, and the thought of them losing a parent this young in life is more overwhelming still.

Another part of the shock is realizing just how important a person it is that we’ve lost. I had not thought of her as a touchstone in my own thought in the way that, say, Richard Beck has been (though see his remembrance of her), but this weekend it hit me how much Evans, in her writings and in her person, had become for me the model of what that strange beast called progressive Christianity should look like. And looking through the #BecauseOfRHE hashtag on Twitter reveals the breadth of the lives she touched: fellow writers whom she elevated or encouraged; Christians whose faith had crumbled and who, through Evans, were able to rebuild it without the prejudices that had broken it down; LGBTQ Christians who felt heard and validated, perhaps for the first time, by her; and so many others. Ashley Wilcox puts it very well:

The grieving about Rachel Held Evans has been so public because she has meant a lot to so many of us. Even those who never met her are feeling this loss. She was a kind presence on a platform that often rewards those who are not kind. She was open about what she believed, and was willing to change. It is a loss for all of us that we will not get to see her grow as a writer and a speaker, that we will not read what she had to say at 40, or 50, or 75.

I’m holding her and her family and friends in the Light, and I hope you will too.

The dead end of religious liberty

Fred Clark:

“Religious liberty” no longer refers to the constitutional principle enshrined in the First Amendment. It is a buzzword, a misleading slogan asserting religious privilege exclusive to a particular variety of politically conservative Christian — which is to say a privilege only for the kinds of Christians who always and only support the Republican Party.

I’m increasingly convinced that religious liberty in the United States has become a dead end, in part because of the way in which the concept has been abused in recent years by Hobby Lobby and others. Rather than being a shield to protect people of faith from state coercion, it has become a sword to hack away at the foundations of civil society—the very idea that there are things we must hold in common if we are going to have any kind of polity. It probably merits a post of its own, but this also applies to the tradition of war tax resistance and/or advocacy for a peace tax fund that many Quakers have participated in. At a time when the things that bind us together as a society are so fragile, I’m wary of efforts that smack of isolating oneself from the sins of the world, rather than building solidarity in hopes that, God willing, those sins might be overcome.

Passivity is not an option

What are the reasons to choose nonviolent methods of resisting evil (as opposed to acquiescing to evil by criticizing violent resistance to it)? One reason may be spiritual: If you walk in the Light of Christ and are in that power, you are beyond the temptation to commit acts of violence to get what you want—recall that the Bible identifies lust as the principal cause of war and fighting. Another reason may be practical: Adhering to nonviolence even when under attack by one’s enemy ends up discrediting the enemy and prevents an escalating cycle of violence that would hurt your own cause.

In both cases, however, passivity is not an option. You must put your body on the line in some fashion, whether it to be to receive the enemy’s blows or by overwhelming the enemy through thousands of bodies like your own, as for example when thousands of counter-protesters routed a band of white nationalists that were marching in Boston.


Nothing symbolizes the foreclosure of the future like the slaughter of a nation’s young. And it’s so routine now — there have been at least eight this year at a school or college where someone was injured or killed — that attention will quickly fade, as it does with subjects one doesn’t intend to do anything about. Another word for that bitter fatalism is “defeat.”

And we have been, in an important moral sense, defeated. We won’t do anything about it, or can’t; the fact is so well understood that we don’t even need new commentaries stating as much for each shooting — we just recycle the old ones, from the old shootings. If this is what American freedom means, if this is what the Constitution entails, if this is where prayer gets us, then it’s easy to understand why millennials — the first generation to be raised on a steady stream of schoolhouse slaughter — barely believe in anything, democracy, American-style liberty, America’s future and organized religion included.

Elizabeth Bruenig