A Cultural & Spiritual Transformation

A week or so ago, I attended a presentation a colleague of mine gave on a grant project she will be leading in the next three years, on environmental education with the Maasai, using the system of Lutheran schools and confirmation classes. It is a great project, with the following components:

Decolonizing climate science messaging through integrating indigenous knowledge and values in order to develop contextually-sensitive best practices of climate change mitigation, building a bridge with a bibical ecotheological framework, collaborating with trusted local leaders, and leveraging existing educational and social systems within the Lutheran church in Tanzania 

In the course of her presentation, she shared the following quote.

“I used to think that top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that thirty years of good science could address these problems. I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that” [https://winewaterwatch.org/2016/05/we-scientists-dont-know-how-to-do-that-what-a-commentary/]

Powerful, right?

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it, both because it really resonated with me, and also because I think it is true. Her point in referencing this quote, of course, is that the church knows something about spiritual transformation, and that religious communities have tremendous potential for making a difference in communities both local and global by changing people’s hearts and minds—converting them to more generous, caring, and relational ways of living in the world.

I know that there are many things to criticize about the church. Christian communities are not perfect, by any means, and they never have been: they can be cliquish and judgmental, they can act in ways both cowardly and petty, and they can turn in on themselves, ignoring the needs of the people right in front of them. They are made up of humans, after all.

However, thanks be to God, the transformative power of the church does not rest on the imperfect people who constitute it. That power comes from the One who calls, gathers and sends Christians out into the world, enabling them [through the power of the Holy Spirit] to bring about the laborious and time-consuming changes that the world so desperately needs.  The gospel that stands against human greed, animal and enivornmental exploitation, wanton wastefulness, and selfish materialism inspires us to be bold and brave, to live differently–with different priorities–and invite others into that life of grace and compassion as well.

Indeed, the church of Jesus Christ knows how to do that. What a difference the church can make when it fully lives into this embodiment of the gospel.

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