Monday, June 9, 2008

Building Our Church

I recently finished the book Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility by Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger. As I sit down to write a review on it, I realize that there is one chapter that is so significant to the green movement it cannot be shuffled into a review of the entire book. It might be lost tucked amongst descriptions of Amazonian deforestation, the environmental justice movement, and Robert Kennedy, Jr.'s attempts to block a wind turbine project. That chapter demands its own post.
In Belonging and Fulfillment, Nordhaus and Shellenberger explore the rise of the Evangelical church and delve into its success and political dominance. It is no secret that people today feel less happy and more isolated than they did twenty or thirty years ago. Research repeatedly demonstrates, however, that the key to happiness and the cure to loneliness is connection with others. Being part of a meaningful community enriches one's life, imbues one with esteem and a feeling of belonging. Evangelical churches offer those very things to their members. People join and participate because they build relationships through their meetings, gain a sense of peace and meaning, fill a spiritual void, and belong to a larger community. The primary purpose of gatherings of the religious right is not politics, protests, or petitions. Those are mere byproducts. Rather, the primary purpose is connection, community and consummation. Because people have those needs met through their involvement with Evangelical churches, they attend meetings, regularly donate a percentage of their income and bring friends and family into the church to share the joy.
"While Evangelical Christianity is an individual and community experience, environmentalism is mostly an individual one." (203). Environmentally aware people vote in line with their green values, make individual changes to reduce their personal carbon footprint, read books, and occasionally donate money to green organizations - all primarily individual pursuits. Nordhaus and Shellenberg posit that "few among even the serious environmentalists ever actually do anything to manifest their environmentalist identities or to recruit others to join them." (Id.) Indeed, "[t]o the extent that environmentalists have meetings at all, they are more depressing than inspiring, focused more on stopping development than creating a beloved community. Drive across town to the local mega-church service and you'll likely find an energetic and vibrant righteousness that doesn't get to the dull work of door knocking and phone banking until well after the faithful have sung songs and felt the warming love of Jesus in their hearts." (Id.)
Since I was a teen, environmental progress has been painfully slow. Two steps forward, two steps back. The movement has finally gained steam in the last few years, but even now, global warming is overshadowed by other political issues. Even Democrats and Independents rank global warming 13th out of the top 19 issue facing voters today. (107) Calls to action - whether it be to stop aerial pesticide spraying or to petition a city to take action on climate change - are often met with silence. People voice their frustration over high emission vehicles and melting ice caps but fail to follow through, to attend the meeting, write the letter, enlist others.
We cannot continue as we have. Recruiting based solely on scare tactics is too slow a way to grow. The green movement instead must liken itself to the Evangelical churches that Break Through explores. We must create a Church of Climate Change, a way to promote the environmental agenda in a less frightening manner and a means to offer parishioners solace and friendship, laughter and support, community.
To my mind, the Church of Climate Change is not a place or a thing but a shift in strategy, a migration from the negative to the positive, and a movement toward gatherings based on fulfillment instead of fear. If you pay attention, you will see the beginnings of the Church of Climate Change here in the blogosphere. The nuttiness of Crunchy Chicken and the community she creates through her challenges come to mind. The blog world's support for one another, as demonstrated by A Crunchy Tribute, is another example.
The environmental church extends beyond keyboards and cables, though. It can be found at my green book club, where once a month, local wine flows freely, women share laughter and advice and talk about a good book. It is further evident in that book club's decision to expand its membership by doing something different, something purely for pleasure. This summer, we will skip one environmentally relevant book and substitute a jam making session instead. We will also join another green moms group to indulge in a safe makeup makeover. The RSVPs for the latter event are more than double our usual response - evidence that people want to connect but without the angst and anxiety with which so many environmental meetings are fraught.
The Church of Climate Change is alive and well at Green Moms Coastside, where events focus not on inconvenient truths but on holiday crafting with recycled materials, tours of organic farms, fruit picking, and bread baking demonstrations. Even movie nights in that group veer toward more light hearted but educational flicks like King Corn and Garbage Revolution. Grassroots green groups can increase turnout at meetings by hosting events that bring people together simply for the sake of being together and not the sake for political action, which can come later, after the faithful have felt the warming love of making strawberry jam together.
It is time for us, as a movement, to change focus. To reach out instead of in. To think potlucks instead of protests, movie nights instead of marches, fulfillment instead of fear. To become a political force and make the sweeping changes necessitated by climate change, peak oil and the hunger crisis, we first need to invest in one another, to build a foundation, friendships, and belonging. While I believe that individual lifestyle changes are essential, saving the world is not something we can do alone. We need community. We need each other. We need to build our church.

32 comments:

arduous said...

Beautifully put, GB!

I agree with you completely. Michael responded to me by the way. Read it here.

I'm still pondering my response. I think he raises a lot of good questions.

CindyW said...

Well said!

I completely agree that environmentalism has to embrace majority of the people on earth (or vice versa). A minority of Individuals no matter how much they are willing are not able to push the movement forward with any significant impact. That said, I think the task at hand (to Coalesce people and ideas) is incredibly difficult. Right now it may raise more questions than providing answers.

But it is a first step. We need to get to the second, third, and tenth step very fast. We don't have a whole lot of time left.

Abbie said...

Excellent post. As a person who is not religious, I have found a substitute for worship in nature and the environment. I have found so many like-minded people in my area, but it's hard to connect with them. Thanks for the idea of a green book club, I may look to get one started here.
I also want to add that we shouldn't overlook children and teenagers. I teach high school environmental science, and these kids are inspiring. Each year, they set out believing that they can change the world. One of my students organized and hosted an eco-friendly fashion show, and it was an amazing success. These kids are our future, and I feel like it's our duty to educate them and help them clean up the mess we're in now. I would encourage folks to check out their local schools' environmental club(s), ask to attend a meeting, or do a presentation or something like that. I know my kids would love to learn to make jam, or organize a bike to school day, or take part in a challenge.

Michelle Verges said...

I totally agree that the scare tactics must go. In fact, my student and I have preliminary research findings that suggest when people are in a good mood, they're more likely to adopt political views that protect the environment. (This may be an incentive to host more eco-friendly events and festivals.)

I do think the environmental movement has taken great strides in organizing people to collaborate and take action in their communities. To be sure, more work is to be done. But one concern I have is that the movement is largely catering to "green yuppies" who can afford organic products that cost more than an average consumer can afford (especially with rising gas prices). I really hope the demographics of this movement broadens to include a larger swath of concerned citizens. Maybe this church idea will rally more people behind the cause.

M

Crunchy Chicken said...

Damn, woman! Jam making session? When should I be over?

As a member of this new church, do we have to wear funny hats?

Donna said...

Fascinating. I think I need to add this book to my "must read" list!

Melinda said...

I wonder why it is that we're all thinking along these lines lately... I suppose because things are starting to get worse in the economy and general state of the world, so we are searching for solutions.

Great post. I can't help but think, though, that when we talk about a church, there is generally a god. And we should not be praising nor worshiping climate change. So I wish there was something else to call it. Maybe the Church of Sustainable Change, the Church of Positive Change, the Church of Community, or not a church at all but a community meeting place, or something else...

Natalie said...

Great! I just requested Break Through to be sent to my local libary branch. I can't wait to read it now! (Looks like the library gods are smiling on me again. There was a copy available at another branch!)

I have always had an issue with their sub-title "death of environmentalism". That just irritates me for some reason. But I didn't know - until I read your post - that they look to the Evangelical movement as a compare and contrast. Oooh. I've been thinking about that for quite some time now. I really wanted to apply "lesson learned" from them to the environmental movement.

Melinda makes an excellent point, too. I agree with her totally about needing a positive focal point!

Chile said...

Arduous, I can't read the comments on that site. After the first one, they are in tiny tiny font. ???

Green Bean, I understand what you are saying but don't ask me to join anything with the word "chuch" in it. Ain't gonna happen. :)

I also think it's all too easy to shift the focus too much, to the point that people forget to address the problems that need to be addressed. For those of us who understand and accept the validity of climate change and peak oil, having a positive focus is great. To get through to the uninformed masses, many of whom would rather not have to deal with any of this, it may still take "scare tactics" and fear. Until they know it will affect them personally, most people are not going to stop spending, driving, and consuming. It's just human nature.

I'm struggling to write about some of this for my blog but haven't had the time or energy to really figure out how to say what I want to say (and still have ya'll keep reading).

arduous said...

@ Chile, I think they're working to fix that. Hopefully they'll figure it out.

arduous said...

Oh Chile, until they fix the problem, you can still read the comments if you copy and paste them into Word. It's a pain but that's how I've been reading 'em!

Green Bean said...

Arduous: He raises lots of good questions - one we should all think about. I'm always amazed at the good ideas that flow when lots of folks put their heads together.

Cindy: The task at hand is beyond difficult. I don't see how we avoid the impact of climate change but, when politicians and the masses don't pay attention, I think building a base that can then fight for change is the only first step we can take.

Abbie: I'm not religious either. For folks who are, I think it is easy for them to direct these ideas into their places of worship. For those of us who aren't, we need to great creative. Other options for get togethers are organic wine clubs, local food potlucks, farmers market clubs (visit together), edible gardening, stich n bitch, and so on. Absolutely, you are right. We must include the children. They will be more affected than us in the long term. The Green Moms Coastside group that I mentioned regularly includes children in their activities and some 7 and 8 year olds recently started an Enviro Kids club in my town, recruiting other kids to join.

Michelle: I've read that but it's great to hear it straight from a source! Break Through does devote a chapter to how insecurity makes people feel like giving less, helping each other less. I do think initially the green movement seemed to be run by organic pillow buying yuppies. Personally, I don't think that is what the green movement is about. Sure, it's nice to have less toxic items but it is just the very tip of the ice berg. This is a movement in which everyone can participate, feel welcome, make a difference.

Crunchy: Only you have to wear a funny hat! And it looks like a giant super chicken. Really attractive.

Donna: There were a few chapters that I did not completely buy into but overall I think Break Through is a very important read.

Melinda: I used Climate Change because it keyed off of an old post of mine but you are absolutely right. If we are advocating positive thinking, we should have a positive name. I vote for Church of Community . . . of course, for those we are not religious, maybe the Community Club?

Natalie: I look forward to seeing what you think when you read Break Through. And amazing that you'd already made looked to the Evangelical churches for lessons on the green movement.

Chile: What if we change it to club? Tempting, no? I see your point about changing focus too much and being too namby pamby when really bad shit is going down. But what we were doing is not working. When I get out of the blogosphere and get out into the real world, especially the real world outside of my uber liberal SF Bay Area town, life is going on as usual. People just don't care. Scaring them hasn't worked. They either don't believe it, assume it will be fixed without their aid or, as Break Through and Michelle Verges suggest, feel scared and therefore less likely to make political changes. There certainly is a segment of the population for whom scare tactics - or the truth - work. That is us. To reach everyone else we need to do something. This may not be the answer but I don't think the answer is to keep on keepin' on. I look forward to what you eventually put together though. As I said earlier in my comments, more heads are always better than one.

Crunchy Chicken said...

I prefer secular name choices so I vote for the "Crunchy Club". But then again, that's just me.

Can my hat just be a wattle? Or maybe, since I'm Polish, I should look like a Polish chicken?

Joyce said...

Green Bean, I respectfully beg to differ that people outside the Bay area (those "masses" several of you talk about, out here in fly-over land) don't care. Everyone I know cares! Everyone I know is trying to figure out how they can change to deal with the energy crisis. Some are more adaptable than others, but if you could see how my church parking lot is changing from Buicks to Priuses, you'd know there is something going on. Our town is full of bicycles, our buses are standing room only, our thermostats have been shifted. Sure, it's economically driven, but when you talk to individuals they are very much interested in the actual environmental impact they are making. Please don't confirm Midwesterners' suspicions that Californians are elitist snobs-I've gotten to know you all well enough to know that is not usually the case.

There. Rant over.

abbie said...

Hi, Joyce. In CT we have our share of stereotypes to deal with, too. Not everyone here is a stepford wife driving a huge SUV with a nanny and a gigantic house(although we have a bunch of those...)
I think everyone all over the country is making efforts to be better to the environment, and I know for sure that it's not just a California thing. Sometimes they just move along quicker than the rest of us.

Green Bean said...

Crunchy: Totally a Polish chicken. That's too cute!

Joyce & Abbie: A couple of points. In re-reading my response to Chile, I definitely overstated the matter. I do NOT believe that no one cares and I do NOT believe that progress is not being made. Absolutely, it is. Everyday, I see more people on bicycles, the farmers market is more crowded, the train is packed. Change is coming, though I wish it would come a little faster. However, I do not believe that we have yet reached a point where the majority of the population cares enough about the environment to rank it amongst the most important issues facing this country or cares enough to form a driving political force that will railroad necessary changes through our government.

Second, as to place, I absolutely apologize if you thought that I was referencing the mid-West, or, frankly, anywhere outside of California. I recently returned from a trip within California where I did not see as much progress on the green front as I would have hoped. My comment was only referring to other areas that I come in contact with. I haven't traveled out of state in years and therefore am clueless about how life is elsewhere, aside from what I read on all your blogs and in the commments - which is to say that, Joyce, your cherries seem to be much cheaper. ;-)

I am delighted to hear, though, that much progress is being made in your neck of the woods.

Theresa said...

Wow, wow, great post! My tai chi club is a great place for this type of community and action, and so is my CSA farm group. Spiritually, I've found Taoist and Buddhist viewpoints so much more earth-connected than the protestant beliefs I was brought up on, but I know that isn't everyone's experience. It seems like the fact that we all live on this one earth together and that we need it to live, is our fundamentally unifying concept. Yet, this always seems to come across as faintly pagan somehow, and therefore off-putting to many. Not really sure why that is.

Joyce said...

My comment was a bit of a rant, and I apologize. You didn't mention the Midwest-that was my projection, I'm afraid.

There is sometimes a big disconnect, I feel, though perhaps not anyone's fault. A couple of months ago on another blog it was the evils of corn. I live in Illinois; corn is nothing but good here. Then, we should all be eating local; but you can't if you live in an apartment in a northern tier state and the farmer's markets are only open four months a year. Or, as Michelle Verges commented, you can only afford white bread from the day-old store (that's not me, but I sure know some people for whom that is true). Rural people can't afford garbage pick-up, much less recycle, and small town kids who want to go to community college have to weigh the cost savings of living at home against the expense of driving an hour round trip every day just to get to school. There is just a huge, huge part of the country for whom mass transit and bicycle commuting is not an option. They aren't blogging. They don't even have high-speed internet access yet, so forget working from home. When they hear I'm blogging, even living in a very tech-savvy community, most of them look bemused, or laugh and say "I don't have time for that nonsense!" And they don't.
And yet, they do care about the state of the environment. They make the changes they can, even if it's the much trivialized CFLs. There are more using cloth bags at the store, but they are way to practical to spend time weighing their plastic every week. They are leaving their big car (which they can't unload) at home, and driving the smaller car. They are grinning and bearing the idea of "stay-cations" this summer, and maybe for summers to come. They just can't pivot as quickly as people in large cities can. They are trying, though, so I get defensive for them.
Wow, should have made this a separate post.

Green Bean said...

Joyce: You make a great point - echoing what Michelle Verges wrote earlier. This movement is being made by everyone, not just yuppies in the city. What I love about the blog world is the exposure to so many different ways of living, of reducing our impact on the environment, different voices and viewpoints. Yours is a valuable voice, Joyce, and one I very much appreciate. You bring the people who "do not have time for this nonesense" but who do have a story to tell to life in rich detail. Don't stop writing.

Gypsy said...

That is a great post. I know how much support, motivation and inspiration I get from the green friends I do have, from my Steiner school community and from online friends too - in fact probably most of my inspiration and motivation comes from blogging!

Fake Plastic Fish said...

Too tired to read all the comments, but will get back to them later. In the meantime, just want to mention Green Sangha, which is actually a spiritually-based environmental organization that lifts me up in the way that an evangelical church might its followers but doesn't require me to believe in god. Our environmental actions come from a place of love and heart and community, and we meditate before every meeting. Anyway, that's what keeps me going.

Planning to write about another kind of church tomorrow, and will probably link to your blog post.

Beth

Fake Plastic Fish said...

Oh, and in response to Joyce... I am personally experiencing her point, that people EVERYWHERE care about the environment, because of the Take Back The Filter campaign. We have gotten signatures on the petition from every state. We are receiving used filters in the mail from folks in Alabama, Texas, Nebraska, Arkansas, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Colorado, places you wouldn't necessarily expect. And yes, I have been (pleasantly) surprised, being one of the California snobs who used to think that no one who believed in God or lived in the middle of the country cared about the environment. Boy, was I wrong.

Natalie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Natalie said...

Joyce makes some awesome points here and on her own blog about the meaning of "church". She points out, she cannot wrap her head around the idea of a church without God as its centerpiece.

And I tend to agree that "church" is a tricky word, especially for those of us who are basically cultural Christians and not wholehearted believers. In my experience, I have never found a church where the energy and buoyancy of the message could outweigh the heaviness of the baggage. However I have always been jealous of happy church-goers. I envy their sense of community, their ability to organize around a cause.

Over the weekend I was watching an episode of Bill Moyers Journal and he was discussing Obama with Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Ron Walters. They were discussing Obama's ability as a civic organizer and the implications for a possible presidency. Walters points out that since the mid-1970's the Republican party has built an "amazing infrastructure of organizations. So that their ability to deal with a public policy agenda has not just been all these people inside government. It's also been in this tremendous apparatus outside of government."

The Democrats have not built such a network, which has basically disenfranchised those who would work on their behalf. Moyers and crew theorized about Obama changing that. (Maybe Green Bean will beat him to the punch!)

Additionally, we've become so entreched in the 'us vs. them' mentality that, to some, the idea of an Evangelical Christian being interested in the environment seems unfathomable. Which is totally absurd if you really think about it. Of course anyone can be all of the above and more. People can be quite dynamic that way. And assuming people must fit squarely in one category of the other only further hurts "the cause" and weakens our democratic process.

Maybe all of this is in Break Through, which I have not yet read. Forgive me if I'm restating the obvious, as I tend to do. :-)

Joyce said...

Hi, Natalie, and all- I agree that the sticking point for many of us here is the word being used. I think all of us want the green movement to be successful in it's "outreach". I'm thinking away, and hope to post a counterproposal on my blog later today. don't want to take up all GB's comment space.

Michael Shellenberger said...

Thanks for your sweet and thoughtful post. We have been exploring some of these issues in the context of global development at the Breakthrough Blog.

Best wishes,

Michael

Green Bean said...

Joyce: Additional thoughts on how people in different areas cannot "pivot" as quickly - that is one reason we all need to be lobbying our government, from city council to Congress, to invest in renewable energy, alternative technologies and R&D. I don't think any one thing will be the answer but we need to explore all options. Living lighter or locally is easier for some of us but we cannot abandon entire communities because they do not have access to local food, public transit, etc. We need to invest in our infrastructure as well.

Beth: Finding spiritual fulfillment and connecting with like minded green people - sounds wonderful! I look forward to your post. And agree with you also about the blog world opening my eyes and connecting me with viewpoints and experiences I'd never encounter in the bubble that is the Bay Area. It's been wonderful!

Natalie: Great, thoughtful post. Sounds like you read Break Through - even though you haven't. Perhaps you should think of writing a book. ;-) You are so right: The us versus them mentality has got to go if we are going to make a go of it. And the Democrats have relied on outdated ideas and not reinvented their network. With Obama at the head, we desparately need to do that.

Joyce: Awesome exchange of ideas. I can't wait to read your counter proposal and I encourage everyone to pop over to Joyce's blog to read her current post. It is important to look at this issue from every viewpoint - not just the stay at home mom in the bay area.

Michael: Thank you!

eco 'burban mom said...

I agree, GB, I agree. While I type this comment by candelight, thanks to yet another "extreme storm", I can only agree that the strength of these bloggers keeps this green movement in motion. That inspiration, is our church. Thank you, GB. Now, I don't have to sit there all quiet like, do I?? I was never good at being quiet in church....

Anonymous said...

As an evangelical christian, I would have to say I know a number of people who attend my church are trying to live a more "green" life, whether it is finances or "doing it better for the environment" feeling motivating them. As a Christian, I feel that God gave me this earth to protect, so I should be doing my best to protect it. I also feel that within the Christian community there is a growing awareness as in all of society that we need to be doing more. Especially among the younger generation of Christians who are becoming dissatisfied with the way the "Evangelical Church" movement has gone in the past. I bet in the next 10 years you will see a major shift in the way evangelical christians vote, if not in this next election. The Great Awakening is a good book about this growing phenonemon.

Green Bean said...

EB: Of course you don't have to sit quietly! Not in this kind of church!

Anonymous: Thank you for the comment. Hopefully some folks see your book recommendation. It sounds fascinating. I'm so happy to hear that we are all moving toward a greater consciousness, toward awareness that we need to do something for the planet.

ruralaspirations said...

I couldn't agree more. Well said!

Theresa said...

In terms of environmental church-building, I thought this article was quite relevant, even though it is framed more in the political context. I found it via a comment on Greenpa's blog:

http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/haidt08/haidt08_index.html

This article really helped me gain some insight into why I can't seem to convince my dad not to vote Conservative and also how I might better engage others on the topic of the sanctity of the planet.

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