We live in a divided world and we like to know where we stand in it. Who’s one of us and who’s one of them? Who’s above me in the pecking order and who’s below? We categorize: in/out; better/worse; human/non-human, and so on. Competition is seen as a good thing, an evolutionary necessity, and there are winners and losers in the competition.
In the beginning of the bible, there’s the story of Eden and the fall of the man and the woman into temptation and sin. The result is the division we experience: between us and God, between men and women, between humans and animals and the earth itself. According to this ancient story, division and blame lie at the heart of the broken-ness of the world.
Charles Eisenstein, writing in the May/June edition of Resurgence and Ecologist magazine, challenges the way that much environmental campaigning focuses on CO2 emissions. His basic point is that this narrow focus adopts the same way of thinking that caused the problems in the first place, and so is unlikely to solve those problems. Eisenstein cites the example of the Tehri Dam project in India, which was built on the premise that it would reduce carbon emissions. Simply on the basis of electricity generated by hydro-power rather than burning coal or gas, the dam is a success. However, in the big picture, it may well have led to increased emissions. Displaced villagers were re-housed in modern houses hungrier for energy than were their traditional homes. Carbon-friendly agricultural practices were lost in an urbanized setting. Trying to use the kind of broken, boundaried thinking to solve a problem that caused it will make the problem worse. It’s as ridiculous as saying “Peace is worth fighting for”. How you build defines the building. Eisenstein says, “The cause of climate instability is everything: every dimension of our separation from Earth, Nature, heart, truth, love, community and compassion”. Only when we value each element of life in its own right and adopt holistic approaches that encompass the values (e.g. those listed in the quotation) ignored by utility and division, will we build a better way of life that gives life.
I think there is much wisdom in this. That’s why the Brighthelm project is so exciting as we try to pull together the three dimensions of church, community and sustainability. For too long and too often, churches have engaged with the world around them in a piecemeal way, with an understanding of distinction between church and not-church that perpetuates the broken-ness and the divisions and so fails to serve the cosmic reconciliation through Christ we might claim to believe in. It’s very hard to move out of a problem-solving approach, especially when the problems facing us are so pressing, whether decline in church attendance or social deprivation or climate change. Trying to see the big picture – a God’s eye view, if you like – and aiming to be holistic and three-dimensional, may be the way to a world where all life can flourish.
Rev. Alex Mabbs is the minister at Brighthelm