Jim Antal’s theme throughout this book rests on the importance of spending our time working on the issues of climate change, not only from our understanding of the science behind the problem but also from our hearts. This has also been the theme of Quaker Earthcare Witness since its inception: that we will only change the world by changing our hearts to be “in unity with nature.”
In the same way that Friends have changed their understanding of George Fox’s message “walk cheerfully, answering that of God in everyone” to “walk cheerfully, answering that of God in everything,” Antal suggests changing the understanding of the Golden Rule. The word “other,” he says, needs to include future generations and imply all of life on the planet, not simply another individual human. And in the way that Quakers do, he ends each chapter with helpful queries and suggested activities.
Although much of the teaching in this book is directed at pastors, ministers, and lay people in Christian denominations, I found that I could translate what I learned and apply it to my unprogrammed Quaker meeting. There are gems throughout the book that inspire, such as this reminder:
What is church for in a time of disruption and discontinuity? Are we here to comfort the brokenhearted in their time of grief? Of course! Are we here to address the countless other pastoral needs that are multiplied under such conditions? Absolutely! But just as important is our call to partner with Jesus in his supreme work to reconcile us to God, to one another, and to all of creation.
Antal has been an environmental activist since the first Earth Day in the 1970s, and grew to understand that global warming threatened the whole planet. Bill McKibben wrote the foreword to the book. Antal and McKibben became jail buddies when they were arrested at a Washington, D.C. demonstration against the Keystone XL pipeline. As leader of the Massachusetts Conference United Church of Christ, Antal urged the congregations in the conference to divest their portfolios of fossil fuel stocks. He urged individuals in the churches to examine their personal complicity in harming the planet and watched as they changed from inside out to make the important changes for a healthy future for all that lives.
In the chapter on “Witnessing Together,” he offers a discussion-worthy idea for reading groups to reflect upon:
When we die and meet St. Peter at Heaven’s gate, he will invite us to pull out both our checkbook and our appointment book, and then will ask us only one question: can you find in these two records enough evidence to convict you as a Christian?
I’ve been working on these issues for decades, but there was still much to learn in these pages. Antal gave me new ways to talk about climate change with people who may be in denial. And, best of all, he helped me understand radical hope. I’ll end with his words:
We must recognize that the existential dread we experience can serve as a precondition of hope. When we have a safe context in which we can share our dread with trusted friends, by the grace of God, the Holy Spirit will ignite in us a tenacious and defiant hope.