Journey to Paris

The trip to Paris is one of the more unique opportunities I’ve been invited upon even without adding to it, the backdrop of a culture in grief. Our trip was planned well before the attacks but the tone shifted in light of the new circumstances. I wrestled with whether or not it was wise or useful to go at all, being only two weeks since the tragedy took place. In hindsight, I’m grateful for the choice to press on, as it turned out to be a beautiful and transformative adventure.

Here’s the scoop:

I was invited, along with singer/songwriters John Mark & Sarah McMillan and William Matthews by several partnering organizations, Here Now, Purpose, Tearfund UK & Micah Challenge, to learn and contribute our perspectives as working artists and as Christians on the subject of climate change.  The timing of our trip coincided with the International COP 21 convention, where over 190 world leaders gathered in Paris to discuss policies about the climate.  We had the opportunity to converse with several key figures of this event, including former Irish President, MaryRobinson.

This moment was a tremendous highlight for me as it was the first time I’ve discussed a shared love of poetry with a Presidential figure and how the arts are a catalyst for social change.

We met and prayed with Christian pilgrims who had walked from as far as London and Rome to share their voice on this issue.  We sat with Bishop Efraim Tendero and  had coffee with Filippino climate ambassador, Yeb Sano, whose families have been affected by climate change in a magnitude we haven’t experienced in North Carolina.

We talked with former Chief Scientist of the UNEP, Joseph Alcamo, who says the data is more than convincing, we have to take action now. But above all of the enlightening people we met, what stood out to me most from our journey to Paris is this:

A shared concern for what kind of world we are leaving our children brought people together from every angle of the spectrum.

I don’t consider myself Republican, Democrat or Liberal. Frankly, I don’t find myself very political in general. I’d much rather talk philosophy than policy. I share views with people from each of those camps, but where I stand on an issue depends on what we are talking about.  

In this setting, I would probably be considered one of the more conservative thinkers of the group. But the beauty of what we did is that for a single moment in history, it didn’t matter. We broke down walls of “us and them” and became the human family.  We peeled away layers of polarizing rhetoric and got to the core of the issue.  Environmental concerns are first and foremost, not a political issue, but a moral, ethical and ultimately a spiritual issue that we each have to respond to individually. 

As a Christian thinker, writer and speaker, I’ve long carried a reverence for nature as I see it as God’s art. Taking care of what he has made is an act of worship to him. When I read the scriptures, I see over and over again from humanity’s first commission in Genesis to the restoration of the earth in Revelation, we humans are the custodians of the earth. The environment is not so much a resource to use up at our disposal, but a relationship to be stewarded. The Christian perspective on environmental care carries one of the strongest motives for involvement that I’ve seen, for it is rooted in eternal values. Experiencing the de-politicizing of this issue was golden for me.

Here in America, the issue of climate change, global warming and the like, plops you in one political camp or the other, like it or not. The issues may be spiritual at the core but they do play out in the political arena. It amazes me how quickly we tend to judge, throw our stones and categorize without getting to the heart of a matter. 

What if for a moment, we take the bible’s advice to be “slow to speak and quick to listen” rather than loudly preach ungrounded opinions as divine truth.  What if we listen to Jesus’ words to “love our enemies” instead of condemning those who don’t think as we do? What if we consider the narrow scope of our personal world views may not encompass the full picture? (I say this to my Liberal, Republican, Christian, Pagan and unaffiliated friends.) We may find we aren’t that different after all, especially when it comes to something as collectively experienced as the environment. We all share the same sun, the same oceans, the same air. No one is an island on this issue. We all affect each other.

My last thought is this. Let’s just say the science is wrong. Let’s say there is no climate change or global warming to worry about. Let’s say the whole thing is a hoax, as its opponents claim. Does this change our responsibility to treat the earth and life with a sense of reverence and gratitude? No. It does not. So, why not skip the arguments and make a choice to leave the earth a better place for our children?

Photo credits: Brian Lightbody