I’ve been wondering what the unique ethical response to ecology from a Christian perspective would be for the past while, and if there would actually be one! Mostly, I think that there is no unique response, and that the ethics would look similar whether from a Christian or humanist perspective. But David Keith talks about the moral hazard regarding ecology and geoengineering: if geoengineering (basically fixing the atmosphere after we messed it up) is possible on a large scale, then it lessens the motivation to stop messing up the ecology, since we can just fix it up later.

So, the unique Christian response? Well, from Christian ethics ecological awareness is not simply a response to a messed up ecology, but inherent to Christian ethics (yes, I know that the Christian tradition doesn’t have a good record, but there is also the mystics who had a radical approach to nature). So, geoengineering doesn’t lessen the Christian responsibility one wee bit! Could the same be said from a humanist perspective? Probably, since, as Keith points out, geoengineering can’t be the final solution, but even if it weren’t so, the Christian response would be to care for ecology no matter how well we are able to just fic it up later…

What do you think? Is there something like a unique Christian ethic when it comes to ecology?

I’ve been wondering about this question for a long time now. How much can we mess things up? Will God always keep thing in line, or can people mess things up totally? Was it theologically possible that the world could have been destroyed by nuclear war during the 60’s and 70’s? Is it possible that humans can destroy humanity through global warming? How much can we mess things up?

See, the pragmatist in me say that reality is that we can mess things up really really bad. Maybe totally is too big a term, as 11th hour say, it’s humanity that is in trouble, not creation. Humans may become extinct, not creation. So let’s ask this question: Can humanity really mess up humanity? Can we wipe out humanity, or would God always keep humanity intact? (OK, until the second coming if you would).

On the other hand, the tradition in me say that God created and cares for humanity (good theist that I am), God will always keep the 7000 that serve God in place (1 Kings 19), God will never again destroy the earth by water (Gen 9).

Sitting in a class yesterday someone used the Missio Dei to say that we should sometimes relax, knowing that God is in any case working in the world, whether we are doing something or not. Now, I have some thoughts on the Missio Dei, but decided not to take part. I have my doubts whether we can say this, when I read the gospels and Acts it would seem like we are sent to the world, that caring for the world is a task given to the church.

What this illustrates, I think, is the danger of the extreme of the view that God will always keep thing intact (no, my classmate did not take this to the extreme), is passifism. On the other hand, I think the extreme of the pragmatist in me might be humanism (I’m not always sure that humanism is a bad thing, but as theologian I’m sure that as a believer there is more in following Jesus than you would find in humanism).

So, help me here: Theologically, would God always keep humanity intact, or can we mess thing up really bad? Is this a journey between the extremes of passifism and humanism? Is humanism the extreme?

burn in hellTurn or Burn T-shirtWe’ve all met them. The “turn or burn” type evangelicals. Those who give evangelicals their bad name. Those who drive the idea that faith is about a fear for hell. But time has passed, most of us don’t take them very seriously, few people I know actually still try this take on evangelism, and even with someone like Kimball that still try to make hell and important concept, it’s important that hell should not become the motivating factor for evangelism.

But more and more we are getting the “turn or burn” message with global warming as well. Those angry liberals (and sometimes I’m one of them) who keep moaning about the conservatives (and yes, I think this is stupid labels) who only worry about heaven (and more often than not more about hell than heaven) and is of “no earthly good” now have there own hell. It’s a hell on earth. And if you don’t turn… well, you will burn. If you don’t change your ecological lifestyle then you will have it hot in a couple of years time.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I feel very strong about the ecology. I accept what scientists tell me about global warming (yes, I know that there isn’t consensus). I took a lot of trouble this year to make global warming a larger part of the Engineering curriculum at the University of Pretoria (OK, it’s just one week’s worth of ethics lectures more, but I tried!). Sometimes I even think an extremist like James Lovelock might be right!

What I’m concerned about is when the motivation for change become fear, which just cause people to again react against it (what I think underlies a post like this). Global warming should be feared, but when that is all that motivate the changes we make, then I doubt how deeply we really change.

Now, those not converting people by making them afraid of hell, could either tell them of the utopia of heaven, or tell them about a story by which to make sense of life. This isn’t a post about evangelism, so I’ll not go into that too deeply. Point is that I believe that there is some deeper reason to change why we do things the way we do. Not because of our fear of a hell on earth, neither because we are promised an earthly utopia when we do change. Rather because there is a way of making sense of our lives which call us to live different.

Our Green Spirituality should be based on respect for creation, on a love for creation. If ever we do find ways of undoing every bit of damage we do to the earth, would that give us a pass to do whatever we want? If fear is all that drive us, then yes, it will. But if we live life in a way which search for harmony with creation, then a different approach is needed. Oh, and with harmony we obviously need to remember to humans are part of creation, so human extinction projects is not what I’ll be proposing.

As followers of Jesus we should talk about ecology, but then remember that there is a positive motivation for change. Global Warming seem to be the result of humans not living in harmony, not the motivation for changing our lives which is not in harmony. And this can be true whether Global Warming is the issue or not!

This post is a part of the June Synchroblog on “Green Living and Spirituality.” 

Other bloggers:

Is it All About the Green? by Phil Wyman
Rediscovering Humanity’s Primal Commission by Adam Gonnerman
Bashing SUV’s for Jesus by David Fisher
Little Green Man by Sonja Andrews 
Saints and Animals by Steve Hayes

Monasticism, Systems theory, Sustainable Development… how could these help us to form a vision of intentional communal living for a post-modern, globalized, hyper-technological age? What’s been on my mind the past year or so, and more and more pressing the past few months, is how would intentional communities with young working professionals look like. Not full-time monastic experiences, but simply living for those in full-time jobs, or maybe studying.

After reading Blue Like Jazz, and especially after listening to Roger speaking on neo-monasticism a while ago, I started asking myself where my ideas on communal living was formed. I think I can again trace it back to one of my second bibles, the Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson. The ideas of especially Arkady and the Hiroko group (seldom do you find direct access to Hiroko herself, rather you see what she has formed by looking to those around her) was my first introduction to communal living. Without knowing what this will do to me, I then had a five year communal living experience in a University residence called Taaibos. And somewhere through taking part in the Emerging Church conversation ideas started forming…

Neo-monasticism, Systems theory and Sustainable Development, three concepts which I know very little about, but which I think together might help provide a vision for intentional communal living. Sustainability prod us into the question, into considering communal living, it also might help us find the intentionality in what we are doing. Systems theory help provide us with a way of approaching the question that might result in sustainability, and linking into the monastic tradition open an age old tradition of intentional living up to us.

Sustainable development, or sustainable living, concerns the question how we should live, how we should develop, so that this could continue, also in generations coming. The concept usually concerns ecology, but I think also looking at it psychologically and physiologically might help. It was, however, the ecological and economic perspectives of sustainability which first made me think about communal living. The question is simple: Is it sustainable to have everyone living as a nuclear family in a 200 square meter home with a dog and a cat? I think not. Not only Robinson, but also other Sci-fi writers probably helped me ask this question, because in sci-fi living in some form of communal setting is quite common: think about space ships or living underground after some nuclear war for example. But sustainability had more to say for intentional living. In intentional communities we need to rethink how we live, do we live in harmony with the ecology around us? Can we do something to lessen the human footprint on ecology? Can we create a culture that is ecologically friendly? Touching on ecology, psychology and physiology: How does our diet look? In intentional communities we need to intentionally look into this aspect of life. Are the networks we are in sustainable psychologically, would be another important question. This goes both ways, some communal settings can turn sour, which means that we did not have a sustainable way of living in relation to others, but the extreme individualism where we do not link up with those living around us I believe is not sustainable either. In community we need to find this sustainable way of living. Also physiologically, is the way we treat our bodies sustainable. Yes, our bodies will die, but are we killing ourselves unnecessarily?

Within Systems theory you find the well-known concept that the whole is more than the sum of its parts; this needs to be true in communal settings. Especially when working with professionals working while living in community. We need communities which do not drain more energy from people than they give to people. I envision a system of a minimal commitment therefore. This would mean that we have a commitment when living intentionally, and this commitment we need to take seriously, whatever exactly it might be. But it need to be a minimal time commitment, the community shouldn’t attempt at taking as much as possible in terms of time from this within the community. Rather, the community should give time, intentionally help those within it to manage their time in a healthy manner. Some of this time would intentionally go into the communal part of the community, but this I think should be mostly around the practice of eating together, a practice which can be considered important from a psychological view, but, for Christians, also follow in the way of Jesus.

Neo-monasticism I understand the least of all, so I’m sure others participating in the synchroblog will give better definitions. I add this because I think intentional living for professionals, centering on a sustainable lifestyle, could learn from the monastic tradition, and might do so more easily by learning from the neo-monastic movements. The community needs to help each other to form positive life patterns, disciplines which will result in a healthy lifestyle. For many these would include spiritual disciplines, and has a lot to learn from the mystic tradition, but could include more, also a strong intellectual emphasis, for example, when working with professionals.

These three things I believe can form part of the foundation for a healthy intentional community for young professionals.

And for interest sake, if you know of any communities like this in the Pretoria-Joburg area, do leave a comment.

Also check out these great bloggers on monasticism:

Phil Wyman at Phil Wyman’s Square No More
Beth at Until Translucent
Adam Gonnerman at Igneous Quill
Steve Hayes at Notes from the Underground
Jonathan Brink at JonathanBrink.com
Sally Coleman at Eternal Echoes
Bryan Riley at at Charis Shalom
Cobus van Wyngaard at My Contemplations
Mike Bursell at Mike’s Musings
David Fisher at Cosmic Collisions
Alan Knox at The Assembling of the Church
Sam Norton at Elizaphanian
Erin Word at Decompressing Faith
Sonja Andrews at Calacirian

I just came out of a public lecture by Patrick Moore on ecology. This is part of the great thing of being at TUKS in Centenary year, they have arranged all these wonderful speakers on different topics. Moore was a cofounder of Greenpeace in 1971, was director of Greenpeace International for a number of years, but has left Greenpeace because he thinks they have become irrational in their approach, and has then founded the company greenspirit.

He did quite a good job of attacking An Inconvenient Truth, the Al Gore film on global warming, making all kinds of claims about CO2 and warming not being that closely together, and that the earth are currently in a cool faze, thus warming isn’t unnatural. This was done by looking at the last 1 billion years, whereas Gore look at the last 600 000 as far as I can remember. Oh, he didn’t ever say the name of Gore, but I found it quite obvious where he was going. The fact that his graphs and Gore’s graphs differ is complicating things a little bit. I’m not quite sure why Moore still fight for reducing the CO2 footprint though, but he does.

His basic thing is: more nuclear, more wood. The nuclear part I agree with totally. I first found it when reading James Lovelock, he made the statement: Nuclear is the new Green. Moore spent a large part of his 90 minute speech to point out that Nuclear can be done safely today. I think he has a point, replace fossil fuel for Nuclear, at least where Hydrogen isn’t possible.

The other thing is to make more of trees, grow more trees, to take more CO2 from the atmosphere, and use the wood as building material and energy source (no, I can’t understand why he would want to burn more trees, causing more CO2, maybe I’ll read his book sometime and understand). Moore is currently into the trees and ecology business. There is a lot in his idea to use wood as building material, a natural sustainable resource.

But all in all, I was a bit uncomfortable with Moore’s presentation. I might be missing something significant somewhere, but he seem to make things a little too easy. The chances of messing things up doesn’t seem to exist when I listen to him. Where Lovelock, who is on the total other extreme, notice the fact that most species become extinct, and warn us that humans might not be invulnerable, Moore notice that all of us have the genes of surviving in us, since we are part of an evolutionary line which have survived throughout the ages.

I think noticing the differences between people like Moore, Gore and Lovelock is forcing me to realize even more the complexities involved with ecology, and possible ecological disasters.

Every new pastor, and mostly anyone who has ever moved to a new community, know the experience of getting to know a new community. I guess when you’re doing a job in the public eye it just becomes a much more complex process, cause it has to happen so fast. So I’ve been discovering our community the last few months, which could be difficult. Firstly, we have about 1000 people attending on a Sunday morning, secondly, the area is about 10km by 30km big, since much of it is still situated on plots, and even farms, although it is a city congregation.

But today I think discovering your community got a new meaning. One of our elders, which is responsible for youth ministry, and whom I’ve got to know over the past few months, got connected with an student in ecology a while ago, and arranged a visit. So we went into the blazing sun, and looked and listened to her explaining how she is mapping the plants in our area, a three year process which she just started. I know nothing about plants, and it was quite an interesting experience.

And suddenly I realized that this was part of getting to know my community. The ecological situation within my community is part of what I need to know. Although my interest in ecology is much more on a global scale, especially concerning global warming, I believe we need to be aware of our local ecology as well, and act in ways that would benifit our local ecology, as well as the global ecology.

Everyone do not live in places with lots of natural beauty, kilometers of fields with plants and animals, but even if you need to drive a distance, maybe take the time to ask someone to also introduce you to the ecology of your community, and not just the humans.

I joined the TGIF crowd again this morning at Brooklyn mall. Cori invited me last week, I wasn’t aware of this group until then. Roger Saner was speaking on neo-Monasticism, a topic I know absolutely nothing about, but have a lot of thoughts on lately, so I was eager so listen. Steve Hays was there as well, and left some thoughts on what Roger said, which I’m not going to repeat, it was a little early for me, so I’m not sure whether I listened so good. Roger will post some thoughts on his blog somewhere, and said he’ll try and upload the podcast as well onto ons of his blogs.

I had one question though. I struggled to see the line between neo-monasticism and the emerging conversation in Roger’s speech. Still wondering on the relation between the two…

But OK. This is my thoughts, thoughts which I’ve been pondering for a while now, and which was again triggered in the last few months when I read Blue Like Jazz. I’m not sure yet was the relationship between intentional communal living and new-monasticism might be, but I think I might be more onto the former than the latter, not sure yet.

I’ve been living in a communal setting for 5 years now, moved out end of last year. It might be communal settings we seldom recognize when talking these things in theological conversations, but this really is what it is. It was called Taaibos, and is a University residence at Tukkies. 240 guys, 7 corridors, some intentionality (making first year students part of the community – with a very positive orientation program, winning res of the year, having fun, that kind of thing) but usually a few people managing the system, and a lot sitting on the fringe, a lot like a congregation actually. But I really learned a lot form this communal experience, a lot about people, about living together, being together when things aint good, that kind of stuff.

So, why think about communal living again after 5 years? I think the general communal living system which students follow can be a great experience, and really teach you a lot, however, after 5 years I’m thinking that their might be something more. Something which won’t give you what this open communal systems gave, but maybe give something else later on in life. A more intentional group. Maybe this is similar to what the guys at, for example, nieucommunties are doing, but some things will have to differ.

  • When thinking communal living/neo monasticism/call it what you want, the sustainable idea is to have communities of people working or studying, with normal lives. Not devoted only to the community.
  • I think we need more than a religious community, it should also be a community where we develop rythms of life which will cause a sustainable lifestyle (in the psycological, physical, but also the ecological sense of the word)
  • It should be a place where spirituality is developed, but with a strong theological base, and a close link with tradition, or else I feel a sect or a cult coming
  • It should be a commited group, but a free group, since we are not working with monks who vowed their way into this community. So something like a minimal commitment, but which is kept
  • Yes, it should also be a missional community, but the form of mission might differ, because we have a lesser commitment, and people working and living a life that is bigger than the community

Sometimes I think I’d like to experiment with something like this, taking what we’ve learned about communal living at university, joining it with monastic, neo-monastic, intentional communal living, emerging, or whatever ideas, and seeing what developes out of this.