Monday, April 18, 2011

What Earth Week can learn from Holy Week

...(and conversely)
“Be truthful and ge
t to work.” (David Orr)

Our Holy Week has begun. From the Hosannas of the Palm Sunday liturgy through the remembrance of Christ’s crucifixion on Good Friday, we recall the crucifixion and the events leading up to it. As much as we are able from a distance of some two thousand years, we will look at these things, difficult though it may be to see them and think about them, because the events of Holy Week are a necessary part of the truth of the Easter story.

The point of all of this isn’t to wallow in guilt and suffering, but to deepen and widen our joy at Easter; the point is always the wonder of the Easter message. While we can have a happy Easter morning without observing Holy Week, we appreciate the wonder of the resurrection much more after we have looked at the reality of Christ’s death on the cross. Some folks seem to get stuck in Holy Week and miss the point of it all; others, believers in some variation of positive thinking, avoid Holy Week with its disturbing images of Jesus’ humiliation, its reminders of varying degrees of betrayal by the disciples, and its description of the crucifixion itself. But if we leave out either Holy Week or Easter, we miss the truth of the whole story.

Because Earth Day is April 22, Earth Week and Holy Week coincide this year. Earth Day and Earth Week are meant to focus our attention on our care of the environment, but ways to do that vary widely. Many Earth Week events will simply celebrate being outdoors in the springtime – a fine enough thing in and of itself – without talking about the realities of climate change and pollution and their very real impacts on our lives.

One thing people celebrating Earth Week could learn from the Church is the importance of allowing ourselves to look at and talk about things that are difficult to ponder. Often when I talk about climate change or plastic pollution and share my concerns with people, they know that what I am saying is true, but they tell me that they can’t let themselves “think about that”. This sort of reaction has caused some environmentalists to quit talking about those realities and focus instead on clean energy or green jobs as ends-in-themselves.

David Orr, author of several books including Down to the Wire: Confronting Climate Collapse, recently shared the preface to the coming paperback edition of Down to the Wire with the Climate Progress blog. (See David Orr on confronting climate collapse)

David Orr says “Because the issue is unlike any we have ever faced before, it would be difficult enough to handle without deliberate distortion and outright lies. The consequences are global and, beyond some threshold, they will be irreversible and catastrophic.… Yet we continue to talk about climate destabilization as if it were an ordinary issue requiring no great vision, no unshakable resolve, no fear of the abyss.”

He continues:

"Instead, many continue to believe that our failure to respond adequately is the result of our failure to present a positive image. We have, they assert, marinated too long in “doom and gloom.” Their advice, instead, is to be cheery, upbeat, and talk of happy things like green jobs and more economic growth, but whisper not a word about the prospects ahead or the suffering and death already happening. Perhaps that is a good strategy and there is room for honest disagreement. But “happy talk” was not the approach taken by Lincoln confronting slavery, or by Franklin Roosevelt facing the grim realities after Pearl Harbor. Nor was it Winston Churchill’s message to the British people at the height of the London blitz. Instead, in these and similar cases transformative leaders told the truth honestly, with conviction and eloquence."

The point, he goes on to say, “is not to be gloomy or cheery, but to be truthful and get to work.”

In our Holy Week liturgies, we show how to look at the whole truth without getting mired down in “doom and gloom”. Being truthful about why humankind needs the hope of the resurrection in the first place is one piece of what we do; and that truth is incomplete unless we look beyond it to the promise of Easter. As St. Paul knew, there’s no hope without a need for hope. Earth Week could learn from Holy Week the necessity of telling the whole story, the whole truth, both the difficult truths we would rather avoid and the hope we can find beyond that.

Conversely, the Church might consider the words “be truthful and get to work”. If we hear the whole story this week without then going out to serve in Christ’s name, if we celebrate the resurrection of the body without then getting to work as the Body of Christ in the world, we will have avoided once again the truth of the Gospel message. If we truly celebrate Easter, we will have the strength and hope to look at all the difficult things in the world and to bring Christ’s healing love to a world in very great need.

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