Honor Your Climate Changers

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The Bible can read like a big plastic bag of knotted Christmas lights. A real confounding mess. Sometimes Jesus quotes approvingly the Torah, exhorting his listeners to “honor their mothers and fathers”. But then he puts niceties aside and tells his would-be disciples that if they don’t downright hate their parents, then there’s no following him.

Similarly, the Hebrew Bible stresses throughout its weighty corpus the importance of remembering reverentially the lineage of faith founded and relayed by Israel’s ancestors. But it also takes multiple shots at whole generations of forefathers and mothers who done dirty with respect to idolatry, illicit intermarriages, foreign rites, the persecution of legitimate prophets and ugly lapses in justice and hospitality.

The same confusion exists today, but in a context climatic not biblical. At several climate change events, I’ve felt a little bemused, if not bothered, by a righteous  indignation directed at our predecessors, who, so the rhetoric goes, have screwed up the entire planet with their greed, malice, ignorance, and insatiable lust for power, profit, convenience and comfort.  The youth are telling their parents, their parents’ parents and all the other familial by-gones to take their fossil fuels and shove them back where the sun don’t shine.

Now, the amount of idiocy that has gone on since the last World War in terms of resource extraction, flouting the precautionary principle, corporate hegemony, financial inequality and all the rotten like is nothing shy of staggering.  Yes, grief and anger are appropriate responses. But neither one should eclipse gratitude. Or so it seems to me, not to mention Jesus and authors of the Bible. Our hatred must never efface the honor we owe our ancestors.

Honor? I’m afraid so. Neither you nor I would be here mulling over these words were it not for those who have gone before. Moreover, these words themselves would not exist were it not for the on-going, ancient, ancestral generosity that codified, defined and transmitted them to us, along with the hard-won techniques of speaking, writing and reading them.

Everything we enjoy, from liberty, to free-speech, to language, to cell phones, to modern, madcap mobility and even life itself we owe to our forebears, who may have been pretty stupid at times, but that by no means cancels our existential debt to them.

Consequently, I humbly suggest the injection of a little gratitude into all our climate struggles.  Let’s not throw out our ancestors with their filthy bathwater. None of us, like the goddess Athena from the parental head of Zeus, sprang ready-made and adult. Most of us were fed, nourished, educated and launched, to varying degrees of imperfection, by parents who genuinely, in not always gently, loved us.

Thankfully, you can’t go wrong with gratitude, no matter what the cause. First, it’s a highly effective lubricant; it helps close-fitting parts move smoothly.  Indignation only goes so far before resentment kicks in. Nobody likes to feel resented. As soon as they do they start to offer resistance and then friction mounts. Equally, no healthy body likes to resent, because spiritual toxins accumulate that soon render the body inefficient. Resentful people spend more time licking their wounds, real or imagined, than alleviating the world.

Second, no matter how enlightened we climate change activists esteem ourselves to be, our own cultural, historical and spiritual blindnesses inevitably darken our sight. Those who will succeed us will doubtlessly shake their heads at our own  unseen foolishness. But let it be only their heads, not their fists. If we would beg pardon for consequences unintended by our current state of ignorance or even greed, then pardon we need to extend backwards.

Of course, forgiving does not mean forgetting, which would only multiply the folly. It does mean, however, that throwing stones in the glass greenhouse we now inhabit is probably not the most prudent way to lower its temperature.

Whether any of these thoughts help unravel the wicked knots in the long, stringy Christmas lights of climate change, I can’t say. Personal experience has taught me, though, that the more frustrated and worked up I get over the stupid ball of wire and bulbs, the less capable I become to untangle it. Less important is the blame I place on the bonehead who packed them away so idiotically, than the presence of mind and perseverance I need to summon to sit down and do the hard, patient work of untying.

Greg Kennedy, SJ works as a spiritual director at the Ignatius Jesuit Centre in Guelph, Ontario. He is author of Reupholstered Psalms volumes I, II, and III; and Amazing Friendships between Animals and Saints (Novalis Press).

  • Vicky Chen
    Posted at 04:18h, 14 February Reply

    Well over 20 years ago our late Fr. Jim Profit already fought the fight of preventing climate change. Many more are taking up this task now including our Pope. However, there is still much more to do and we are running out of time.

  • Leo J. Deveau
    Posted at 06:21h, 14 February Reply

    This is one of the better reflections I’ve read on this site concerning our current social, economic and cultural challenges, especially here in Canada, namely when it comes to issues of climate change, social justice and Reconciliation.
    Thank-you Fr. Greg!

  • Norbert Piché
    Posted at 08:57h, 14 February Reply

    Very true and very relevant. Let us be grateful; we can’t go wrong with that. Wonderful words of wisdom. Thanks Greg.

  • Roger Yaworski, SJ
    Posted at 09:54h, 14 February Reply

    Thanks Greg.

  • Peter Bisson SJ
    Posted at 10:01h, 14 February Reply

    LOL! Thank you Greg!

  • Bernard Carroll, SJ
    Posted at 10:23h, 14 February Reply

    So well stated Greg! Thanks for your your penetrating and balanced surgical procedures for untying the knots.

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