Ecological Hermeneutics: “The Bible and Climate Change”

mckibben.4In a very short order we got very, very big. Human beings have always been in Job’s position–small. Our job is to figure out how to get smaller again. And I think it is essentially a theological task.
Bill McKibben

Ched Myers is always up for the challenge of making the Society of Biblical Literature’s annual gathering of “Bible geeks” accountable to the sanctuary, the street and the soil. He’s been chipping away at the ivory tower for decades now. Here are a few highlights from a paper Myers read at the Society of Biblical Literature, a couple of weeks ago, participating on a panel assessing the 20th anniversary of Bill McKibbon’s The Comforting Whirlwind: God, Job and the Scale of Creation (1994):

On McKibben’s Legacy:

Whether or not we are aware of it, every one of us owes you a huge debt of gratitude for a life’s work of truth telling, movement building and relentless advocacy. Like many of us in the room (I hope), I’ve been following and occasionally participating in since its inception, especially around the Keystone XL work. You and your colleagues have animated a truly grass roots initiative that uniquely translates the complexities of climate catastrophe into mobilizing soundbytes.
Indeed, to exhume scripture’s radical critique of imperial culture is to endure diffident dismissal by the secular left, shrill hostility from the religious right, and studied ambivalence from the ecclesial center. Yet your work on Job stands in the noble minority tradition of engaged readers of Word and World such as Jacques Ellul, Martin Luther King, Jr., William Stringfellow, Dorothy Soelle, Ernesto Cardenal, Cornell West, and Elizabeth McAlister—none of whom, let it be carefully noted, were or are professional biblical scholars.

From Job to Jesus, homing in on Jesus’ teaching in Luke 12, “that awkward moment in Luke’s gospel where Jesus, in the middle of a strongly worded diatribe about the economic delusions and entitlements of the rich, whirls around and exhorts his disciples to ‘pay attention’ to the birds and wildflowers (Lk 12:24-28)”:

But what if Jesus is simply summarizing the argument from Job’s whirlwind, a teaching meant to be taken with utter seriousness? What if this paean to birds actually demands that we confront the three pathological characteristics of modern capitalist culture—addiction, anxiety and alienation—as life and death issues? It then becomes for us truly a “text of terror”—but also a key to our liberation.
Jesus is invoking a cosmology shared by indigenous and traditional peoples the world over and throughout history, which was translated into economic lifeways characterized by symbiosis with nature, sustainable and local production and consumption, and cooperative and equitable work patterns…

Prodding McKibben: A Transition from “petitioning around policy issues” to “nurturing place-based politics” (aka, Watershed Discipleship):

I think we will see in the coming years that it is those who are rooted on particular land who will be most able to say no to the carbon juggernaut, and to say yes to more sustainable lifeways. To me, Bill, this suggests that our movement ought to be spending at least as much effort nurturing place-based politics as we do petitioning around policy issues and organizing big marches, as important as the latter are.

The approach of watershed discipleship is, in the tradition of Job’s whirlwind and Jesus’ ode to birds, blessedly geocentric, and firmly straddles the dialectic of healing the earth and delighting in it. It is my strong conviction that it can animate communities of faith to engage in contextual and constructive witness as they awaken to the realities of climate catastrophe—for which awakening we are greatly indebted to Bill McKibben.

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