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The Climate Crisis: A Sober Assessment is Needed of What Humans Can and Cannot Do

The Climate Crisis: A Sober Assessment is Needed of What Humans Can and Cannot Do

By Julia Thompson
Special to Virtueonline
September 28, 2021

Let it be said that this 60-something baby-boomer grew up in a Democratic home in Virginia, married into a Midwestern-born Eisenhower-style Republican family, and the families my husband and I grew up in were more bipartisan than partisan, more civil than non-civil, more inculcated with a Judeo-Christian ethos than not, and more concerned about serving other people than simply "getting ahead" and surrounding ourselves with the accoutrements and language of success.

My-in laws were early members of Church of the Savior and the Potter's House in Washington, D.C. with Gordon Cosby, a cleric with a strong social conscience, being my husband's and his siblings' earliest pastor. Coincidentally, my parents were members of Gordon's childhood church in Lynchburg, Virginia, an area in which my cleric father desegregated an all-black school in the 1960s. Educated at the same seminary from which M.L King, Jr. was to graduate, Dad returned to Virginia in the late 1940s where he taught Bible to African-Americans in Southampton County, VA, home of Nat Turner's rebellion.

Later, in another pastorate he was to give up both a salary and health care for my mother, stricken with Parkinson's Disease, because the church voted to start a so-called Christian school to avoid desegregation. His resignation, with no immediate job in sight, emanated from his sober self-assessment that he had failed this congregation somehow in not getting through to them that all humans are equal before God, had long-term repercussions.

His integrity and sincere living out of his faith brought him an invitation to desegregate a school, which he did, not as a social activist but as a man of faith. That same integrity had long-term ripple effects in the church he left behind. Over time the seeds he had planted there germinated, and the county went for Douglas Wilder, the first black governor of Virginia.

His heart and life brought him invitations to speak in many churches, and my fondest memories were of his preaching ventures in African American churches where he was called a blue-eyed soul brother.

My father did not simply sow spiritual seeds. He was part owner of a tree farm and an orchard as well. After WWII, he became part owner of a family-run summer eight weeks sleep-away comprehensive camp in the Shenandoah Valley. The goal of the camp was to make a positive impact, after a war, on an upcoming generation. A few campers were the children of political leaders on both the national and state levels.

As a child, I trailed my father on two of these properties as he dug holes in which I gingerly placed pine seedlings. I knew I was sowing for a future way to pay for my college education. This exercise at some deep level, too, taught me to respect planet earth. While I clearly was not instructed to conflate Mother Earth as the end-all, be-all Creator, I did come to understand over time, that safeguarding nature was of vital importance. So was pollination of flowers by honeybees. Another avocation of my cleric father was as a bee keeper who, garbed in a bee keeper's habit while carrying a smoker, lovingly walked amongst these insects as if pupils in his school.

My father-in-law, a Washingtonian, was a transplant from Cleveland during the Korean War. He proudly talked about his ancestor, Johnny Appleseed who travelled about planting seeds for what became full-grown apple trees. As a veteran and retired Civil Servant, my husband's father took joy in carting his grandchildren to several of Arlington's nature centers. Though city dwellers, all were exposed to natural habitats, and just as I did, grew up going to retreats and scouting camps outside the city. "Leave a campground better than you found it" is a tenant of Scouts.

And in our retirement at the base of Shenandoah National Park in Albemarle County Virginia, where we have to drive to a recycling plant to recycle bottles and plastic, how do we feel about environmentalism?

We are for it, of course. We also have solar power. We know, though, these gestures, while not hollow, will not do much to save the planet, especially since it may take more energy to make solar panels than what they actually help conserve.

What is disconcerting and saddening to us is how so many younger people, politicians, and even religious leaders live in utter and near-hopeless fear about the end of the planet. Many of these aforementioned individuals, largely operate from an almost solely political and/or secular outlook about life and seem to have never fully come to terms with the inevitability of their own deaths, much less that of the planet.

As a result, many cling even tighter to what can be seen because they have little sense of transcendence or even think of themselves, if scientific-oriented, as being governed by the Law of Conservation of Matter.

Matter cannot be destroyed; it simply changes form. The season of Spring is a clear teacher that what is sown, either by nature in its spewing forth of seeds or by man, brings forth new life. In some sense, nature is self-renewable though assistance from humans is not unneeded but with the understanding even humans are limited.

Someone/Something bigger than man is in ultimate control. In Job, chapter 38 we see God upbraiding his servant Job, who through a number of personal disasters, a disease, and losses, comes to realize that he is not in control of his own destiny. Before recognition of his existential state, God, via rhetorical questions, invites Job to consider just how small the latter really is:
"Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
6 On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone--
7 while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels[a] shouted for joy?
I have often wondered why it is that environmentalists Al Gore, reared as a Baptist, and Prince Charles, reared to become King and the titular head of the Anglican Church, my church, are not more forthcoming about the hope that should be theirs that God is bigger than man.

While we can and should do what we can to protect the environment, we must look at things soberly and honestly, and like Job, come to realize our existential position as juxtaposed to that of the Creator, or First Cause(er), if you will.

Three of the world's great religions see history as being linear with a beginning and an end. To some, such world views with an end-of-days scenario, are frightening, and the view that all will give an account to the Creator for human stewardship and deeds is antiquated. Some, thus, dismiss such a notion, but even scientists who are agnostics or atheists believe there was a beginning, aka the Big Bang, and similarly believe the universe will die due to a heat death, or entropy.

For me that end, whether it happens in my life time or in some subsequent generation is not as terrifying to the nth degree as it seems to be for some.

Jesus said that heaven and earth will pass away, but his word will not.

What word? The words that were spoken by prophetic voices prior to his time about what would come upon the earth: fires, wars, famines, plagues, desolation, pestilence, and tribulation.

More significantly, though, these same voices spoke of the promise of redemption of the whole of creation. The prophet Isaiah, e.g., spoke of that time and how the glory of the Lord would be revealed and how all flesh would see it together.

John on the Isle of Patmos also foretold of the time when the seas will be no more and yet "saw" a new heaven and a new earth issuing forth. By whom? Finite man's hand? No.

Old wives 'tales? Not any more so or less so than the biblical narrative of Joseph, prime minister of Egypt. He was the man who accurately interpreted Pharaoh's dream that a time of plenty followed by a famine would come upon Egypt. Due to Joseph's wisdom, he prepared the land for that time and thwarted starvation when famine did come by storing extra grain to meet the needs of his people.

Certainly, this story suggests that far-reaching environmental measures may deliver some similar results in the 21st century and can even be prescient.

Can modern day environmentalists, though, thwart that which will come upon the earth? Not indefinitely, though we can help put in place some stop-gaps, as did Joseph.

Martin Luther said that if he knew the world were to end the next day, he would still plant an apple tree. So would I.

Even as I have contributed to the preservation of the environment in ways that I can, I think of the period of time that St. John prophesized will come. I do not presume it is tomorrow or even next year, but I also do not presume it is not. Presumption is said by some to be a sin.

People of faith realize even as they live in this empirical realm, they do so as if "on tip toes" awaiting what long-term will be set right by the First Causer. As I near my seventh decade, I recall how my father, in his senior years, eventually stopped his subscription to Time Magazine. Age, the ticking of his biological clock, but more so his spiritual antennae, admonished him that news headlines were not feeding his soul with eternal verities and preparing him for his next journey.

Living into his early 90s, he focused on gardening, golfing, and shoring up others in the faith he breathed, as if air, the latter based in a belief that the world "yet to come" -- much like ice evaporating to become gas - transcends that which humans can see with their naked eyes or experience otherwise with their other senses.

Like the patriarch Abraham, he looked more and more toward the city whose maker and builder is God and embraced what was to come. He said of his transition about to come from earth to eternity, "I have looked forward to this my entire life."

The last six weeks of his life we happily sang hymns, and he, lucid and unmedicated, spoke of "seeing" beyond the proverbial veil and recognizing his mother and father, who "looked great."

And what of us? Denying and/or ignoring eternal verities about things to come upon the earth and embracing only man-centered solutions relative to things that are transitory does not adequately address the reality about both the transient nature of humans and the planet. The earth, for pilgrim souls, has never been viewed to be "solid ground". What is deemed by others to be solid ground in actuality is molecules in motion. Fluid, if you will.

I would say to those in a great panic about rising seas, excessive heat waves, tidal waves, rising regimes, and death: humans cannot hold back nature but so much with man-made legislation and treaties.

Such human solutions will help some, but they ultimately will fail because they cannot do what only God is going to do: right all wrongs, restore all things, and bring forth a new heaven and earth. Interestingly, again we see the Law of Conservation of Matter at work -- not destruction but transformation.

I also challenge world leaders such as Prince Charles and Al Gore to get hold of the core of their faith and share it more publicly. The biggest inconvenient truth for many is that this world is not all there is and is not ultimately under human control.

King George II stood for the Hallelujah Chorus of Handel's Messiah, suggesting he affirmed its message that the kingdoms of this world belong to a Sovereign Lord greater than man and even a human king.

Al Gore, Prince Charles, and any other like-leader of environmental thrusts are in positions where they could, if they would, bring hope that is supra man-centered to bear on what to many is a dire situation that elicits little more than despair, despair that a de facto "communion of the saints" -- via Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and the like -- are unable to counter. It is said that anxiety begets anxiety, and litanies of despair in whatever form are about as helpful as "Job's comforters" were to him during his existential duress.

A global reset with a unifying world government won't succeed indefinitely either. Those pushing for it as a utopian land of milk and honey may not yet be taking into account how humans beings, unless they are transformed by God, tend to morph into totalitarian puppet masters with a sole authoritarian leader at the helm.

Redistribution of wealth and resources will, out of necessity, demand such a leader and such a government. The anti-Christ? Call this person what you want, but few expect this person to be forever benign. Many anticipate that such a leader, seeming at first to be a salvific figure, will become as power-hungry as Stalin. Implementing Lenin's belief that those who controlled food controlled the masses, Stalin seized Ukrainian farmland and starved its population. Captured by a the ideal of a human utopian society, this former theological student jettisoned any utopian ideal about a transcendent city of God for a human-oriented one that history has since shown to have been totalitarian -- ruthlessly so -- and a failure, in some sense a result that echoes Jesus' words: "Man cannot live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God." (John 4:4). These words are ones of admonishment. What man produces or strives to produce to supplant God's plans will yield crop failure and leave humans starving spiritually and existentially devoid of hope.

It is no longer unfathomable to imagine the proverbial "mark of the beast" mentioned in Revelation becoming a reality in a reconstituted, communal larger-scale global reset. While some believe the mark refers to coins used during the Roman Empire that bore an emperor's visage, others wonder if it is "yet to come" and if it will be a universal electronic passport that will be part and parcel of a supra national economic system. In the biblical context this mark is said to be necessary for buying and selling food. It may well be that this mark, indeed, refers to a past-tense scenario in the Roman Empire. Prophetic events, though, sometimes are two-pronged, with one aspect of a scenario being fulfilled near-term and another, as if viewed telescopically, to take place at a later period of time.

The generation coming up may not have read Animal Farm or 1984. Many also do not read history exhaustively, and with revisionist history supplanting earlier historical narratives, who knows if going forward our children will even have access to a fuller history of the world or an array of understandings relative to human nature. Or a full accounting of the news.

Without these broader perspectives they will be handicapped in benefitting from earlier human mistakes and in discerning what is being foisted on them by a hierarchal top-down government's orthodoxy and orthopractic implementation of an orthodoxy that may or may not crush them.

History does indeed seem to repeat itself, especially for those kept in the dark about previous excesses relative to human history and human nature.

Leaders who are rallying behind only self-help messages to this younger generation, are failing their children, grandchildren, and a generation as a whole.

Yes, we can do some things to keep our water and air clean, preserve our parks, and share resources.

Yet, our sloganeering and best efforts will not save us or salvage the planet in the end.

Also, without a transformation of the heart, humans tend to denigrate into a survival-of-the- fittest modus operandi in order to survive, often climbing over other people to champion self-interests and silencing or even killing those with whom they compete for status, having a voice, place, and/or space.

Also, those who do survive, will inevitably die themselves, and then what?

Julia Thompson is an author, a grandmother, a retired AP English teacher who fled Capitol Hill after having worked on both sides of the aisle there for seven years. She is a graduate of The University of Virginia and The University of Richmond. She has done graduate work both in England and the former USSR, traveled to twelve foreign nations, taught in the CIS, and has been on the faculties of two American universities. She resides in Albemarle County, Virginia.

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