[Editor’s Note: Lowell continues his series on how to “lower the heat” on ourselves as creation care advocates and environmental missionaries who may be in danger of being burned-out by our own relentless messaging. In this first of a two-part article, Lowell wants merely to get some random thoughts into the room before addressing a shift of audience in our mobilization efforts.]
A Joke: A man saw another man banging himself over the head with a hammer. He approached him and asked, “Why are you doing that?” The man didn’t miss a beat as he replied, “Because it feels so good when I stop.”
A Failed Thought Experiment: There was already a climate march scheduled for 100 days after the Inauguration of 2017, whether the election was won by Donald Trump or Hilary Clinton. I went to DC and marched with 200,000 others. Some of my colleagues scheduled two days of training and lobbying on Capitol Hill, and asked if I wanted to participate. “No thanks,” I said. I had previously paid lobbying visits to the Kansas delegation, spoke only with very polite staff interns, and was sweetly told how much “the senator” or “the representative” cares for the environment, despite in each case his deep ties to the Koch Brothers. “At some point,” I tried to explain to my friends, “it’s a blow to one’s dignity to keep talking to these guys.”
“You know what I really want to do,” I told them. “Let’s organize a two-day consultation, where we put our heads together and discuss where we go from here now that Scott Pruitt was dismantling the EPA, now that the US was weeks away from withdrawing from the Paris Agreement.” We met in Sojourners’ offices. There were perhaps thirty of my dearest friends in attendance.
“Okay,” I announced for the third session of our discussion, “we are going to embark on a thought experiment. That’s all this is—a thought experiment. It is NOT a serious policy or strategy discussion. Got that? Good. Okay so here is the question: “When it comes to climate action, what would it look like if we gave up on trying to convince and mobilize the Republican party and the white evangelical church (or rather, that portion doubling down on their support of a climate-denying president)?”
Crickets. We couldn’t bring ourselves to seriously engage the question. Many wanted to argue the premise instead.
Dallas Willard speaks from the grave: It is hard to interpret Matthew 7:6 sympathetically. “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” If anything, the traditional interpretation of this verse fuels our self-righteousness as we tend to understand our own understanding as “pearls” and the unconvinced masses as “swine.” Dallas Willard in his book The Divine Conspiracy, writes:
“The problem with pearls for pigs is not that the pigs are not worthy. It is not worthiness that is in question here at all, but helpfulness. Pigs cannot digest pearls, cannot nourish themselves upon them. Likewise for a dog with a Bible or a crucifix. The dog cannot eat it. The reason these animals will finally 'turn and rend you', when you one day step up to them with another load of Bibles or pearls, is that YOU at least are edible. Anyone who has ever had serious responsibilities of caring for animals will understand immediately what Jesus is saying.
“And what a picture this is of our efforts to correct and control others by pouring our good things, often truly precious things, upon them--things that they nevertheless simply cannot ingest and use to nourish themselves. Often we do not even listen to them. We 'know' without listening. Jesus saw it going on around him all the time, as we do today. And the outcome is usually exactly the same as the pig and the dog. Our good intentions make little difference. The needy person will finally become angry and attack us. The point is NOT the waste of the 'pearl' but that the person given the pearl is not helped.”
A Quotation from Albert Einstein:“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."
A Modern Parable: I approached Jesus and asked him, “Why the political theater?”
“What?” he responded.
“From Luke 9, you sent out the Twelve and included the instructions, ‘If people do not welcome you, leave their town and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.’”
“So?” he asked.
“Well, on one hand that seems to violate the missionary principle of ‘never giving up.’ I have an uncle who was a missionary in Pakistan for 23 years before he saw his first Muslim choose to follow you.”
“Or another approach would be to quietly surrender to reality, politely bow out of the village, and sincerely entrust their souls to God. They aren’t welcoming. They aren’t listening.
“You’re right. Those are two approaches.”
I continued, “Instead, I know a thing or two about the dirtiness of sandals: to take them off and pound them against the doorpost ‘as a testimony against them,’ . . . well, that just seems plain rude. So why the extra step? Why the political theater?”
“Not theater; testimony.”
“Potay-to/ Potah-to,” I replied.
Jesus didn’t respond. Instead he knelt down, unstrapped my own sandals, and washed my feet. When he had finished drying them with a towel, he took out a brush and shined one of my sandals—but only one—and replaced it on my foot. The other one he pressed into my hand and said, “Let fly. It’s only dust and a doorpost.”
Thwack! I did.
“Feels pretty good, doesn’t it?” he said with a smile, “Now let’s get moving.”
“What about retrieving my sandal first?”
“No, leave it. There’s a kid with only one sandal, who will need to wear yours if he hopes to catch up with us before we get to the next town.”
“And if the same thing happens to us there?”
“That’s why you have another sandal and eleven other colleagues and now the new kid. Don’t be afraid: in the Pilgrimage of the Burning Bush, we will all remove our remaining sandals anyway.”