Thursday 24 February 2005

Thoughts On Relating With Those Who Believe "There Is No Tomorrow"

Bill Moyers made a now-famous speech called "There is no tomorrow" upon receiving the Global Environmental Citizen Award from the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School on Dec. 1, 2004. After a great introduction he launches in:

"As difficult as it is, however, for journalists to fashion a readable narrative for complex issues without depressing our readers and viewers, there is an even harder challenge - to pierce the ideology that governs official policy today. One of the biggest changes in politics in my lifetime is that the delusional is no longer marginal. It has come in from the fringe, to sit in the seat of power in the oval office and in Congress. For the first time in our history, ideology and theology hold a monopoly of power in Washington. Theology asserts propositions that cannot be proven true; ideologues hold stoutly to a world view despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality. When ideology and theology couple, their offspring are not always bad but they are always blind. And there is the danger: voters and politicians alike, oblivious to the facts.

"Remember James Watt, President Reagan's first Secretary of the Interior? My favorite online environmental journal, the ever engaging Grist, reminded us recently of how James Watt told the U.S. Congress that protecting natural resources was unimportant in light of the imminent return of Jesus Christ. In public testimony he said, 'after the last tree is felled, Christ will come back..."

Here is a link to Moyers' original speech, posted at Common Dreams where it first appeared, so folks can run off their own copy and more easily digest it:

Reading this is scary, even though Moyers probably overstates the issue a bit. But more importantly, we really do have to learn to work with and relate with "grass roots" people who have the sort of mentality he decries. This evening, while reading Moyers' remarks again, I recognized that some powerful, visceral personal feelings and memories were aroused. I think I understand all too well -- this rightist fundamentalist bent -- having grown up in rural Marshall County, IN, and soaked in a strong dose of it in my earlier years. That is, until I could properly address it after going through my biblical studies training at Eastern Mennonite College, including a final term of study-travel in the Middle East under Willard Swartley's tutelage (now retired professor and former dean of Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminaries.)

I remember coming home from the Middle East, graduating two days later, then traipsing back home to the corn fields and the daily tete-a-tete with the other "conservatives" on my construction crew -- I was experiencing a very strong theological and cultural dissonance. I could no longer take the theological, cultural, and relational experiences that loomed large in my experience and stuff them into neat little dispensations -- the package I'd grown up with. After a couple of weeks, when I could stand it no longer, I talked with my pastor. He, wisely, instead of arguing, invited me to prepare and deliver three "integrating" sermons at my home church the next month. I struggled in those weeks to sort it all out -- to interpret a broader world view and biblical message; to confront this sort of militaristic pre-millennial "preoccupation" and " we're in the last days anyway" mentality my own rural Mennonite congregation was swimming in at the time; to share my experiences without portraying a holier-than-thou attitude.

This was July of 1975. I was 21 years old then; still learning about the nuances of effective communication, measuring the risks of offending the ears who hear, and the impact of my words on the relationships involved. Yet, I don't think neither I, nor my Dad (whose fundamentalist tendencies I challenged then, as I tested my thoughts and interpretations -- and in whom I delightfully observed a sort of "mellowing out") were ever quite the same again, after that stretching, and actually fairly positive, integrating experience. As most of you would know, you don't really know something until you can "teach it."

Now, some thirty years later, I can attest to the prevalence of the theological notions Moyers explains. It seems the 'fundamentalist' perspective is very much alive, though I would not consider it being "well!") I hear and see it on patients' TVs, the deep yearning to interpret daily bad news as somehow fulfilling prophecy. I see the novels and books laying around, especially that "Left Behind" series many patients love to read while here at the hospital. It's truly pervasive in our local culture.

While I can acknowledge these persons' ideology and try to engage them within their theological world view, I try to absorb probing questions about my own opposing views with a creative, disarming response. I have learned from experience that it will do no good in the hospital to inflame emotions that could escalate into argumentation -- so I seek to get down to what I think really matters to the patient in the here and now. In other words, I just love the people anyway, right where they are, something I think Jesus would do -- i.e. earn the right to be heard. (It's not a very appropriate goal in hospital ministry to argue with people -- that is, to seek to challenge a patient's whole world view in such a short space of time, unless I have a solid ongoing relationship and know that battle is worth fighting within a counseling relationship.)

I am mostly focused in this domain on spiritual care -- helping to effect healing within their body, mind, and spirit -- and sometimes, in this process, it does dawn on people that there are, indeed, implications for how they relate and interact with their environment. Sometimes it is possible to make observations about lifestyle consequences, to help people "connect the dots" between physical and spiritual wellness and how their illness may very well be related to how people are mistreating Mother Earth. I've noticed that when it gets personal, transformation is possible.

There have been times when an aggressive person may be seeking to turn the tables and to press on ideological issues (most often a pastor I might be eating lunch with, or sometimes a zealous visitor of a patient) so much that I will share that I'm a "panmillenialist." (I truly am, because I'm optimistic enough to believe it will "all pan out in the end!") But then I'll also try to share I feel responsible to respond to the call of the Lord to "make a difference" in our world now and for the future, and to help fulfill the God-given mandate to care for creation. I tell them I don't want my own grandchildren asking me someday why I didn't do anything to help ensure their future, when we could see these problems coming, could see what was being created by ill-wrought policies -- and could have helped join my voice with others, and done something about it.

In the final analysis, people don't care how much you know, until they know how much you care -- about them. And sometimes that makes all the difference. Earning the right to be heard.

The issues disturbing Bill Moyers are precisely why I sent an opinion piece earlier last week to the editors of the Elkhart Truth and Goshen News. (I posted and original article to some friends last week, but got no response whatsoever. Maybe it was too long.) Then this week I was heartened by a reply from the editor of the "The Truth" telling me she would print it if I condensed it and wrote everything in my own words -- since they don't print any quotes from "third party organizations." So I went to work on it some more, then sent the following back -- since I believe we need to be proactive and do something positive to be able to justify and perpetuate our "optimism", as our brother Bill says...

I'd be very interested in learning from other readers here on styles and methods of engaging with others who are the type Moyers describes, where ideology trumps everything, including theology sometimes...and creates its own perverse reality.


"Letter to the Editor" for the Elkhart Truth and Goshen News
Sent 2/22/05
Focus: "Join a People's Campaign to Ratify the Kyoto Protocol"

I want to highlight some compelling words shared by Rev. Jim Ball, the executive director of the Evangelical Environmental Network. He posted them recently on a section of National Public Radio's website, "Online Commentary" (not heard on the radio), entitled "A Christian Perspective on the Kyoto Protocol and Global Warming."

I encourage you to read it in full at: but toward the middle of the article he basically states that climate change is not creation-care, nor some abstract theory. It is now a reality that brings death in its wake, since the World Health Organization estimates that up to 160,000 people die each year due to the direct and indirect impacts of global warming -- equivalent to the number of those who have died in the recent tsunami. He also mentions a report in Nature magazine estimating that "up to 37 percent of God’s creatures will be on the road to extinction because of climate change by 2050, their songs of praise to their creator snuffed out forever."

A month ago a commission of eminent scientists from our country, Great Britain, and Australia declared the world is only 10 years -- or 2 degrees Fahrenheit -- away from irreversible climate change. They agree the "point of no return" will arrive when concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide reach 400 parts per million (ppm). Since we are now at 379 ppm, and increasing at about 2 ppm per year, one can do the math - it’s obvious that we don’t have long! These scientists estimate our planet has not experienced this level of atmospheric carbon for about 420,000 years.

Likewise in January, Rajendra Pachauri (a politically astute scientist and someone the Bush administration looked favorably upon for the post of) chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, delivered a startling message to the world. It should bring a strong dose of reality, for he declared that Earth has already reached the level of dangerous concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and called for immediate and "very deep cuts" in emissions if humanity is to survive.

Conclusion? Major climactic troubles will not just aggravate our children’s generation - they are descending upon us now! Only one example among many -- the massive West Antarctic ice sheet is showing signs of having begun to collapse, according to the British Antarctic Society. As the ice melts, water levels around the world are certainly going to rise. They have already begun drawing maps illustrating where and when certain cities are going under if we can't get our act together as a global community.

But here is the stunner: On Feb. 16 the Kyoto Protocol went into effect - being a very important step to address global warming and secure nations' commitments to reduce carbon emissions. This international climate treaty was ratified by 141 nations - including Russia, and most other countries of the developed world. Appallingly, the United States is not participating -- its priorities are not reflected in President Bush’s climate policy. It’s just not in our economic interest, we are told, to submit to such reductions. Our government's focus is on developing more technologies. That is why we see various European leaders giving President Bush some heat on the issue in his current talks with them.

The facts are the USA is the world’s #1 source of green house gases heating up the earth. Our country generates 25 percent of the world's polluting carbon emissions with only 5 percent of the Earth’s population. Yet our government refuses to join in this worldwide effort to keep this planet hospitable to our children, grandchildren, and the generations to come. Scientists and economists working together around various parts of the globe are coming up with models of how a global transition to clean energy could address nature's demand for a stable climate even as it generates millions of clean-energy jobs.

You may by now be asking yourself, "What on Earth is one ordinary person like me supposed to do about it?" As a first step, I urge you to go to the website (mentioned at the end) outlining the "People's Ratification of the Kyoto Global Warming Treaty." Read about it and enjoy the satisfaction of "ratifying" it yourself!

A rapidly-growing sector of the populace in this country are finally waking up to recognize that the Constitution of the United States grants "we the people" the ultimate authority in our system of government. People are joining together to take this issue into their own hands and, as citizens of the United States, are personally ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, as a good first step. We have a rational and moral obligation to do such, and we can and will join together to demand that our elected representatives follow suit.

Through this act of "People’s Ratification" you, too, can declare your allegiance to the democratic process, our fundamental relationship with our Mother Earth, and our hope for a sustainable future for every other member of the human family. So copy the following and stick it into your internet browser:

And please, pass this information along. This is important work. It's also God's work, for we have been called to take care of God's creation.

Rev. Clair Hochstetler,
(included phone and address)

Friday 11 February 2005

Daily Inspiration

I've often found excellent inspiration for my day and free resources for "the long haul", as well, here:

Inspirational Quotes by e-mail from the Bruderhof

Check it out and see if you agree.