Carolyn VandenDolder was the planned speaker at semi-programmed worship January 20, 2013.
When considering and questioning and praying and preparing what to say today, I was uncomfortably aware that what can seem vapid or trite or pat to me for years can, one day, seem relevant, meaningful, Truth with a capital T. When speaking about fear and optimism, faith and action, it’s hard to be original. This is what is meaningful to me today.
I rang in the New Year with such a feeling of hopelessness this year. The issues of human overpopulation and the resulting climate change ravaging our planet have been concerns for me. When I’ve spoken in the last six months or so with people younger than me – people who have yet to enter fully into independent adulthood; people who are adults and someday hope to have children; people who have children still in elementary school – I hear their real concern about what the future holds. We all have those concerns but in these conversations with people younger than me, I feel an intense poignancy. There seems so much hanging in the balance for them – the chance to raise a family trusting there will be enough – enough food, water, jobs. Some are angry that the world and their future feel so at risk. They feel it’s unfair that they are saddled with these problems – that other generations have left them in such a hopeless mess. Some openly grieve. Some are afraid. Some feel guilty that they have participated so willingly in a culture that so fecklessly squanders limited resources and creates so much environmental destruction. Many feel quite helpless.
I can feel really afraid. For me, fear demands action that will fix things. My fear doesn’t necessarily lead me to action that is constructive or good in the long-term. It can, I suppose, but it prompts me to action that will put a quick stop to the threat. Well. There’s no way to put a quick stop to the problem we face with climate change. Our human numbers on the planet – the resources they use and the effects they produce – are estimated to be 3-7 times MORE than the world’s sustainable carrying capacity, if we allow for the sustainable existence of other species. Our ravenous consumption to maintain the standard of living so many aspire to has taken generations to cultivate. These trends and their effects do not have a quick solution. And it is unfair that people younger than I are saddled with these problems.
Growing up, I idolized my father. He knew everything. He could fix everything. If he was behind your idea, it would work out. In my mind, the people of power were: #1, God (because he had that kind of magic thing going for him); #2, my father; #3, Perry Mason. Perry Mason always knew what to do next. He always figured out who the bad guy was and how to protect the innocent. And he managed to do it within the boundaries of the rules. I loved Perry Mason.
One day a few weeks ago, I was wondering about what I would say today and feeling quite despondent about what the future holds and was startled to hear a part of a Perry Mason episode that seemed . . . relevant. An angry young man was confronting Perry Mason and said, “Your generation doesn’t know what it’s like to live under the threat of the bomb. My whole future can vanish in an instant and I have no control. Because of what YOUR generation created. You can’t understand because you don’t know. It’s just not fair!” And Perry Mason said something to the effect: Every generation faces threats and fears – war; depression; plague; being eaten. And every generation has to figure out a way to overcome those threats and fears. And we will. Because that is the essence of the human spirit . . .
Yeah, it turns kind of hokey I realized, watching it as an adult. But it gave me some hope. My grandmother faced raising a young family with no steady wage-earner during the depression. My father saw many of his brothers and friends – and he himself – being sent off to war where so many were dying. When our family was still young, my parents wondered what our society was headed for as assassinations began appearing in the headlines; our President was indicted and left office in disgrace and trust in government plummeted; then inflation cut to the quick any sense of financial security my parents had. Looking back, these events or issues don’t seem as threatening. Because, of course, the scary part is living through these times of challenge, having no idea how things will turn out. Generation after generation has.
There’s a Bible verse from Matthew (6:25): “Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body more than raiment? (26) Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them.” And it carries on, (28) “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: (29) And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. (30) Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?”
I’ve always disliked this verse. Probably because it has been offered to me when I’ve had worries – not the little worries of the day but BIG worries that don’t have an apparent answer and that time won’t necessarily heal. It seems like a biblical Bobby McFerrin Don’t-worry-be-happy kind of thing to say. And it seems to absolve us from responsibility to make things better. To address the big stuff.
I work with a group that sees the absolute need for us to reduce human birthrates – for the sake of our species and for the sake of our planet and everything else living on it. So many days it feels like these few are trying to push against the boulder of cultural habits, “entitlements” and expectations; trying, through sheer force of will, to keep the boulder from advancing so it can then, slowly start getting pushed back uphill before it crushes us all.
The scene from Perry Mason and the verse from Matthew give me a different perspective and a different mental picture. First, every generation has to figure out things. Some things that previous generations have figured out, we have to figure out over and over again. But it’s not unique that a generation faces something other generations haven’t – or is forced to deal with something other generations have skirted. Okay, so this is the task of OUR time. It may be bigger than things faced before, it may not be. It feels huge. But it’s our task. We must take it on. Instead of feeling helpless and hopeless, I have started looking at what I can do.
And the verse says to me, God cares. God cares about us and about Earth. And even though we have totally screwed up the earth’s stewardship, God wants us to figure this out. I really believe that. The image that comes to me instead of the huge boulder of demise that we have to push against, is instead one where God is speaking to people, nudging people, prompting people all over the world. All we have to do is support and encourage those nudges. All we have to do is make sure our seemingly-little-in-the-grand-scheme-of-the-universe-but-in-truth-quite-profound light is shining – that our little flame is flickering and we try, by example and by outreach, to light the kindling God has laid in others for us.
For me, faith means working on something even if the results are slow in coming. Even if the results don’t come in my lifetime. I / we are living in the middle of the threat and I don’t know how it’s going to turn out. But this is our task. God is with us, encouraging us, invested in what happens to us. We are what God has to work with. What we do matters. Now more than ever. Now, as ever.