by Jess Rigel
Recently I was blessed to attend a day-long retreat at Christmount Conference Center led by faith leaders and climate scientists working with the Creation Care Alliance (CCA) of Western North Carolina. The CCA collaborates with over 50 local congregations to organize events and initiatives focused on raising awareness of the importance of environmental stewardship and the realities of climate change.
At this event, clergy gathered to hear Dr. Norman Wirzba of Duke Divinity School, climate scientist Deke Arndt, and storyteller Laura Lengnick of Cultivating Resilience. Wirzba challenged us to view the climate crisis as a crisis of our inability to practice Sabbath; to rest in the reality that God made us enough in a world led by frenetic busy-ness and consumerism. Dr. Wirzba encouraged us to practice Sabbath as a means of resisting these cultural norms, linking this call to the creation account in Genesis, as well as to the Sabbath commandments in Exodus and Deuteronomy. He also reflected on his own agricultural roots, sharing tales of the influence of his grandparents, who were farmers in Canada, and of their personal and communal commitment to Sabbath as a demonstration of their faith, even and in spite of weather events that threatened their very livelihoods.
Deke Arndt, who serves as a lead editor of the State of the Climate report, then educated those present by linking climate science directly to negative shifts in economic disparity, armed conflict, immigration, and various humanitarian crises, yet the most powerful part of his presentation was rooted in his family history as well. Raised in Oklahoma, Deke had grown up as a witness to the scars of the Dust Bowl on agrarian communities in the state. He shared that because of the damage the Dust Bowl had caused to his family’s farm, both his great grandfather and his great grandmother had left Oklahoma to seek better lives elsewhere, abandoning his grandmother when she was only nine years old. From then on, his grandmother worked her entire life in order to maintain custody of her four year old sister, and she managed, but not without consequences. He grew up with a relative embittered by her own history and sense of loss; the soil was not the only thing left scarred.
After listening to Wirzba and Arndt’s testimonies, Laura Lengnick invited participants to reflect on our own stories and experiences of climate change. We wrote about the first time we realized the climate was shifting and how it affected us emotionally, then shared those accounts aloud with one another. People wrote about fires and floods and shifts in seasons; they wrote about heartbreak and guilt and even enjoyment. It was a powerful witness to the way the consequences of climate change are affecting all lives, not only in terms of how the planet or the economy is responding, but also in terms of the individual psyche. In sharing our stories, it became obvious that the spiritual impacts of climate change are as detrimental as the environmental impacts.
We parted ways after a brief reflection on the day’s content, but I wish that we’d had more time together. More time to hike and explore the place where we were, more time to focus on action items and share resources about next steps, more time to grow in relationship with one another. It was a gift to enjoy the beauty of the Black Mountains and to learn about the work of my fellow faith leaders who love and value the earth as evidence of God’s sustaining care and boundless creativity. I hope that we will continue to come together to strengthen one another as we work for justice for our communities and justice for our planet.
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