Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” . . . No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.
Driving to church on Sunday, I caught the end of a conversation between Krista Tippett, host of the radio program On Being and someone I’d never heard of before but who has now risen near to the top of my reading/podcast list: Ayana Elizabeth Johnson.
Johnson is a young marine biologist dedicated to approaching our climate crises from the dual vantage points of honest assessment and belief that all is not lost. She is the editor of an anthology entitled All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis; co-creator of a podcast How to Save a Planet and cofounder of the All We Can Save Project. She’s working on a manuscript now with the working title, What If We Get It Right?
From the sound of these titles, you might surmise that Johnson is a naturally hopeful person, but she describes herself more as one drawn to solutions and getting things done. “I’m not a fan of hope as a guiding principle, because it assumes that the outcome will be good, which is not a given,” she said. “But I am completely enamored with the amount of possibility that’s available to us.”1
My heart leapt when Johnson spoke of the possibility of our getting things right, that we already have much of what we need to address climate change and other environmental concerns. “We just have to do it,” she said.
I found myself wondering, “In how many other areas of life is it also true that we already have the solutions we need at our fingertips?”
The Diocesan Creation Care Task Force is finishing up its initial task of taking stock of the many ways our congregations are working to reduce waste, decrease their dependence on fossil fuels, and care for the natural world. We will soon publish their report as the baseline for our collective efforts going forward.
Spoiler alert: local efforts are inspiring.
So, too, in other realms. There are people among us actively engaged in the works of racial equity, refugee support, food insecurity, and the prevention of gun violence. We have leaders passionately committed to congregational vitality, engaging rising generations, and encouraging each one of us to take our next faithful step on the path of following Jesus. They are inspiring to be around, for they are themselves inspired and motivated by love.
My prayer this summer is for all of us to reconnect with our sources of rest and inspiration–the people and places and experiences through which God can nourish our souls and encourage us to live with courage and love. For as Ayana Elizabeth Johnson insists, love and the belief in the possible are what motivate change far more effectively than despair and cynicism.
Johnson’s rejection of a simplistic hope based on wishful thinking is, in fact, very close to the Christian understanding of what hope is–the capacity to face reality, no matter how difficult, and still seek whatever good is possible. As people of faith, we dare to trust that God is at work amid the most challenging realities of our lives, and that by grace and acceptance, we join God in the holy work of transforming the world.
“This is a moment that calls for many leaders,” Johnson said, “because what we need is transformation in every community, in every sector of the economy, in every ecosystem, with the hundreds of solutions we have. . . It’s all about how we build a future that we want to live in, where there’s a place for us and the people and the things that we love.”
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the Diocese of Washington became known far and wide for the ways we live into the possibility of realized hope? Perhaps we are well on our way.
What if, by grace and perseverance, we got the most important things right?
1On Being – Ayana Elizabeth Johanson: What If We Get This Right?