Sometimes—only sometimes—I can see the flood coming.
The warming of our planet and the consequences of a great melt are obvious. I can see the manifold deluges of climate change approaching; I (should) know its first victims will likely be those among us who are already uniquely vulnerable. I step back from the shore and up from the sand. If nothing else, I build my own house on stilts, so I can stay safe and dry, so I can lift up others.
Anxiety wants to keep me at the edge of every flood. Anxiety believes I can hold it back, somehow, even if the waves are lapping at my chin. If I hold on a little longer, whispers a snarled configuration of genes and neurons and memories, I can stop it from coming. I can’t possibly get out of the water. All those people on the shore are depending on me. I don’t imagine for a moment that I could drown. I don’t recognize that all those people on the shore have already seen their individual powerlessness, that they are joining hands and raising up their houses.
Empire benefits from this feeling. When I can’t step back from any particular flood, whether climatological or emotional, I am primed to consume, to blame, to isolate—all responses ripe for exploitation by rapacious corporations, by amoral politicians.
The hard truth is that the answer to the question “What can I, as an individual, do to stop climate change?” is: nothing. You can’t do anything. In fact, the very idea that we—as atomized individuals, even lots of atomized individuals—could play a significant part in stabilizing the planet’s climate system, or changing the global economy, is objectively nuts. We can only meet this tremendous challenge together. As part of a massive and organized global movement.
And in our moments of fear, of doubt, of paralysis, when we remember that we can defy empire, we come together.
All of my notes from church this week were about anxiety, which is not what Donna’s sermon was about—except maybe it was, in an oblique way. I think it offered a response to the “why church?” question that more people than ever are asking in 2020—why, when there is so much to do, when our challenges are vast and divergent, when our partnerships need to be more intersectional and ecumenical than ever, do some of us continue to turn to church? Some of us need a container for all that worry, and a place to come together and look upwards. And then I took that thinking into Judson Discovery, our program for prospective members, after service, to continue to answer that question and to hear the answers of others. Because defying empire isn’t a one-person job.