One World Week Service – Climate Changes Everything

Psalm 104; John 12.24-26


I don’t know about you,
but I am into probably my 5th or 6th year
of climate crisis overwhelm.
For a number of years I invested much time
signing online petitions, attending protest marches,
and avidly following every twist and turn
of, for example, fracking legalisation in this country,
or the extending reach of the tar sands pipeline
passing through the lands of indigenous peoples in North America.

Although I remain very engaged with the climate crisis,
I have discovered, as I think many of us have, with Brexit,
that there is a limit to how much we can take
of all the fear, threat, and doom and gloom.
Life just becomes harder to live in the face of such an onslaught
of bad news, sheer quantity of information,
and ceaseless commentary on the political battles of our day.

Scientists can now tell us that
in the shadow of fear, threat, doom and gloom,
something profound and dangerous is happening to us, physiologically.
The fight–flight–freeze response (also called hyperarousal)
is a physiological reaction
that occurs in response to a perceived harmful event, attack, or threat to survival.

Climate collapse is without doubt,
the greatest threat to ever face humanity,
and may yet wipe out our species entirely.
This is a terrifying fact. But what do we do with it?
Perhaps you are a faithful reducer, reuser and recycler
of your materials possessions;
perhaps you sign online petitions or attend climate marches.
Perhaps your chief contribution is to worry,
or perhaps you do none of the above.

I have come to believe,
that in order to truly address the deep causes of the climate crisis,
we must first address the fight-flight-freeze response,
we as a human race collectively find ourselves in right now.

Because there are big problems with it:
one, a chronic state of hyperarousal
has been shown to contribute to a leaky gut,
which is at the root of a raft of autoimmune diseases
that are, best case scenario, robbing us of our vitality,
and at worst, can be disabling and also fatal.
A second is that it is impossible to make good decisions under stress.
I think of the proposal to build massive carbon sucking engines
which will do nothing to address the cause of the crisis.
A third problem and our focus tonight,
is that that panic, fear and dread,
fly in the face of our conviction
that we are held and loved by a God of resurrection,
for whom death is no thing;
it flies in the face of our belief that in all things
we are cherished and cared for
by a good creator God,
who knows the plans he has for us,
plans to prosper us and not to harm us,
plans to give us a hope and a future.

But not only does panic as a result of threat and fear
seem logically out of place in Christian faith,
it is also at odds with our ability to experience God’s love.
Ask yourself, how easy is it
to stop in the middle of a panic,
and look deeply into the eyes of a loved one,
a share an exchange of affection? Impossible.
And so similarly, any state of acute stress response,
prevents us connecting with God
in trust and intimacy.

Whether it is a climate activism that involves fighting for the cause,
or denying it, in flight from the problem,
or freezing, and locking up, not knowing what to do,
but being unable to really, truly relax and just live,
acute stress response is not the life in all its fulness
that Christ modelled for us in his life, death and resurrection.

Perhaps you are here and don’t feel that you fit
into either the fight, flight, or freeze categories. Wonderful.
That may be because you are facing the threat of climate collapse
with a mature and steady gaze.
Or it may be because, like I have experienced,
you are not yet fully in touch with your feelings.
After all, feelings of threat, fear, doom and gloom
are not conducive to peace of mind and happiness.
And so unconsciously we put them in a box,
lock it and throw away the key.

Whether or not you identify with any of this,
the current apocalyptic climate of threat and fear,
makes it difficult to find physical or mental, health and wellness,
never mind a healthy and effective response
to the climate crisis.

To begin moving in the right direction,
– and I don’t presume to know exactly where that is –
we must first begin by acknowledging
and opening up to our feelings,
and then bringing them into the presence of God.
Our God, for whom death is no thing,
our God who knows the plans he has for us,
plans to prosper us and not to harm us,
plans to give us a hope and a future.

I believe we must connect with God in this way,
to set the whole climate crisis in the context of his love;
and when we’re there,
and when we’ve been able to calm our nerves,
and rediscover some trust, some safety, connection and hope,
to consider whether the climate crisis is not in fact a gift.

Paul Hawken, the environmental activist, journalist and author,
has said that global warming is not happening to us.
It is happening for us.
Any system without feedback will die.
What is the feedback we are getting from our changing climate?

It is my belief that the climate crisis reveals an addiction,
a spiritual malaise.
It reveals a collective, societal addiction to the status quo,
to things as they currently are.
The situation in which large and powerful
mainly Western minorities do quite well
out of the military-pharmaceutical-medical-
financial-educational-NGO-prison-industrial complex.
This is the complex set of interrelationships
that make up the broadly stable status quo
on which our society functions
and to which we, its beneficiaries,
are addicted.

But I’m not about to get all judgemental and moralistic.
For one, because I myself am just as complicit as any of you,
but also because at the heart of all addictions is a wound.
And woundedness calls forth compassion, not judgement.

Childhood trauma has been shown to be the cause of individual addictions;
what sort of trauma lies at the heart of our societal addiction
to a way of doing business, of living our lives,
of relating to Mother Earth,
that results in the repeated, nonsensical adherence
to a way of life that while it brings short-term gain
is also threatening our extinction in the long-term?

The Bible’s name for this wound is sin.
It is a wound of separation, of broken relationship.
And it is founded on a loss of trust, on fear and threat.
In other words, a lack of connection,
a felt lack of safety.
This is a story as old as Eden,
and throughout all of history
– see the Bible –
God has been working to heal this wound,
to restore the relationship,
recover the trust and safety, connection and love
that has been lost.

All recovering addicts, and many besides,
are familiar with the language of hitting rock bottom.
It speaks of hard, solid ground,
below which one cannot fall.
Hitting rock bottom, as we all know,
is what must happen to any addict
before they can truly begin the lifelong journey of recovery.

The same applies to our civilisation.
We must, I fear, hit a collective rock bottom,
and reach the end of our tolerance of this situation;
we must be able to acknowledge that our resources,
our ingenuity, our mastery of technology,
cannot solve the problem of a changing climate.
Because after all a changing climate is not in fact the problem;
but rather an unconsciously wounded human race,
addicted to the short-term high of business as usual.

Fight-flight-freeze or a state of acute stress response, I believe,
helps to explain the language we unconsciously choose
when describing the fight against climate change;
how we must combat global warming,
and fix the problem that is out there, of the climate crisis.
This is oppositional, dualistic language,
borne of the false, small, ego self,
which is fearful, under threat, and in defensive mode.

The Good News that the church has for the world,
and which we ourselves must deeply connect with,
is that we find our purpose, our place, our meaning in life,
when our small, fragile, ego self,
bows into the service of a larger, resilient, connected, one world self.

Unless the grain of wheat,
which is the small, fragile, separate ego self,
falls to the ground and dies,
it remains just a single grain;
but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

The climate crisis is not happening to us,
it is happening for us.
It is a gift, just as the alcoholic’s partner
kicking them out of the house
provides the wakeup call they need,
bringing them finally to rock bottom,
and enabling them to surrender the controlling influence
of the small, separate, false, ego self,
and bow into the service of the larger, connected, true self.

At this moment of crisis,
the world needs more people to be in service
to the connected Self,
more people able to approach life in a non-dualistic manner.

The world needs the church
to be the redeemed, beloved children of God,
who can rest in the love, safety,
and superabundant effervescent life of God,
so that we can all collectively
drop out of this state of hyperarousal,
of the acute stress response,
and into a more grounded, connected, and healing place
of abundance, creativity and reconciliation.

Friends, we worship the God of Resurrection,
for whom death is no thing,
whose life includes and transcends death itself,
and who, throughout all of history,
has been pursuing us with his love,
longing to close the gap of fear, threat, doom and gloom,
healing the deep wounds of separation
which have afflicted all of us,
and brought about the moment of crisis we currently face.
Instead he calls us to drop out
of the small fragile, defended ego self,
to die before we die,
and discover eternal life, here and now,
a life of connection, abundance,
forgiveness, compassion and healing.

Not only is this the only thing that will heal Mother Earth,
it is also the very nature of the coming Kingdom of God,
the service of which, is the only reason the church exists.