Commentary: In Praise of House Parties
The first environmental gathering I ever attended was a house party. The plan was to watch a live video stream of a conversation with the environmental justice advocate Van Jones. As it turned out, technical difficulties prevented us from tuning in, but that was not all bad. Instead of watching a conversation, we had a conversation. We talked to each other. I can recall learning about a plan for a local public school to replace its oil-burning boiler from 1917 with a solar-powered geothermal heat pump. This pump would then power the water heaters and air conditioners for every home within 38 blocks. The idea was to create a carbon free grid for an entire neighborhood. Without that house party, such a possibility would certainly never have occurred to me.
House parties can be incubators for social change. In a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere, ideas are shared and discussed. Relationships are formed and strengthened. Is it any surprise that Jesus was fond of house parties or that the early church arose from them? The Book of Acts tells us of how each day the followers of Jesus “broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.” What scholars call table fellowship was at the heart of Christian life.
If you want to promote change today, throw a party. Invite your friends, your fellow church members, or your neighbors. Not sure what to talk about or what to do? Consider this: Arguably, the number one act of creation care today is to keep fossil fuels in the ground. The environmental activist and bestselling author Bill McKibben argues that we need to keep 80% of fossil fuels in the ground in order to prevent catastrophic consequences for the planet. To summarize this position, McKibben coined the slogan “Keep It in the Ground.”
Lately, I have found Jenga blocks to be useful in explaining McKibben’s ideas. As anyone who has played the game of Jenga knows, a tower built with blocks will quickly fall if one messes too much with the blocks at the bottom. Likewise, there are parts of creation that we simply cannot continue to mess with if we do not want our present world to collapse.
A visual demonstration like the falling of a tower leaves an impression, so my suggestion is to have a Jenga party. Eat some food, play Jenga, and explain why we need to keep fossil fuels in the ground. You can then discuss what you and your guests can do to promote both energy efficiency and renewable energy. Finally, invite your guests to sign an online petition that urges President Obama to stop the extraction of fossil fuels on public lands. Through this act alone, Obama has the authority to prevent millions of tons of carbon from entering into the atmosphere.
Ultimately, it could be that a house party is one of the most needed acts of discipleship one can take today.
Brooks Berndt is Minister for Environmental Justice.