Wildfires and General Synod
Amid smoke that looked like fog, I traveled to General Synod last week on a Greyhound bus from Cleveland to Indianapolis. As I did so, I pondered with self-conscious awareness the pull of a familiar form of wishful thinking—the hope that catastrophic events such as wildfires and their unfurling blankets of smoke will alarm people into profound action. However, if there is one thing the climate crisis has taught us over the past many years, it is that disaster does not necessarily translate into the kind of sustained, collective action that brings about change. This awareness should not lead to despair, but instead point us to more durable grounds of hope.
In her book, No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power in the New Gilded Age, Jane McAlevey does just this. From past movements and from leaders like Ella Baker and Septima Clark, we know that change can happen, and can happen with relative speed, when ordinary people become active participants in their own liberation. This takes not just work, but sustained, organized work. As the UCC climate activist, David Orr reminds us, “Hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up.”
At General Synod, I witnessed this kind of hope taking root. After careful deliberation, debate, and discernment, delegates passed two resolutions related to climate change: one focused on reducing plastic pollution and the other one urging the electrification of churches, homes, and communities. It took work to pass these resolutions, and it will take continued work back in our churches and communities to realize the aspirations of these resolutions. In speaking to an audience at General Synod, Ibram Kendi painted a picture of a liberating church—a church where people are inspired by a revolutionary Jesus to transform the conditions of an oppressive society. Herein lies our great promise and potential as the living body of Christ, even amid the smoke of wildfires.