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PC(USA) pastor and author discusses ‘Our Angry Eden’ with Presbyterians for Earth Care

‘The world we are helping to maliciously co-create is going to be a rough one’ says the Rev. Dr. David Williams

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

NASA photo via Unsplash

LOUISVILLE — The inspiration to write his 2021 book “Our Angry Eden: Faith and Hope on a Hotter, Harsher Planet” came, of all places, during a meeting of National Capital Presbytery, the Rev. Dr. David  Williams told Presbyterians for Earth Care during a Zoom conversation Thursday. Listen to Williams’ talk here.

“We had a meeting focused on the dynamics of Creation care, the importance of recognizing our responsibility to care for the world around us, this delicate planet we’ve been blessed with,” said the pastor of Poolesville Presbyterian Church in Poolesville, Maryland. “Our charge was to go home and reflect. How should we theologically engage? I spent the next six months writing a book about that.”

While many people think the task is caring for a delicate and fragile Creation that some argue is already broken, “I have a different reaction to that,” Williams said. “Creation is huge and terrifying … It’s not that we have to care for Creation. We have to take care around Creation.”

But because we’re “generally removed” from Creation, “we live insulated from the impacts we are having on it,” Williams said. Nonetheless, we are starting to see those impacts, including floods in Pakistan and “wild variance in weather” in Africa.

“Anyone who watched [Hurricane] Ian knows what that will look like,” Williams said. “It is right here and right now, and as disciples of Jesus, we have to prepare ourselves for how our faith will be both challenged and a bulwark as we move into a new [climate] epoch.”

“The world we are helping to maliciously co-create is going to be a rough one, a difficult reality for us to inhabit,” Williams said. He asked: “Why aren’t we changing?”

“We have incredibly short attention spans,” he said, answering his own question. In addition, “we love power. We take advantage of fossil fuel available to us all the time. We travel without thinking about it. For folks who are aware, we can reduce [our footprint], but most human beings will continue to live that way.”

“It’s hard for our culture to change,” Williams said. “We have this sense of cultural inertia, and it takes forever for us to shift and make necessary decisions.”

The Rev. Dr. David Williams (Photo courtesy of Poolesville Presbyterian Church)

While “I’d like to say Presbyterians led the way to making swift decisions, I have been a Presbyterian too long to say that,” Williams said. The decision by commissioners to the 225th General Assembly to divest from five energy companies was “pleasing, but when did we start that conversation? Eight years ago? We make changes slowly, but there’s a tremendous urgency around making changes now.”

Because “there is so much money to be made,” the state of the climate crisis “won’t go away without things being so difficult that it forces our hand. We aren’t quite there yet, but when we get there, it isn’t going to be easy,” Williams predicted. “We need to shake this thought that everything we do has to be about growth.”

For young people, “it’s hard for them to feel anything other than anxious and challenged,” Williams said. “But I’m convinced this crisis will end up being a moral crisis for all of us.”

Williams noted the Greek word for “crisis” used in the gospels “is the thing that forces a decision. It refines purpose.”

“As we step into this time of testing, the Christian voice is still meaningful,” Williams said. “The teachings of Christ have powerful resonance in a time of crisis, and faith is vital for surviving and enduring.”

Williams recommended his listeners read or re-read Pope Francis’ “Laudato Si’,” or “On Care for our Common Home,” the papal encyclical on climate change.

“There needs to be a similar expression from the Protestant tradition,” Williams said. “We need to be able to speak from the ground of our faith.”

He said he wrote “Our Angry Eden” in part to “express climate concerns for Christians who may not believe it’s happening or who may not see it for what it is.” There are Christians who would argue “it doesn’t matter because before it gets bad, we’ll be raptured away. None of this is a good response.”

The book touches on biblical themes, including the ways faith adapted to the diaspora, the way our tradition welcomes the stranger and values sabbath, the necessity of finding value in humble and thrifty lives, the value of embodying grace and using every personal gift, the value of hope, and what it means to render unto Caesar.

Williams concludes his book “with hope and belief in a God who loves us and challenges. We have in our hope in God something that will allow us to endure just about anything.”

While “there is a lot of lament and anxiety, if we trust a purpose that transcends our own lives, we have a ground to base a hope that is resilient,” Williams said.

During a question-and-answer session following his talk, Williams said he believes a cultural shift on consumption is something that’s urgently needed.

“We need to change our understanding of abundance. We have so much,” he said. Included in that understanding is explaining to others how we make choices “that come from our faith,” such as the choice to live in a smaller place or to take public transportation.

The Rev. Carol Devine, the author of “Blessed Tomorrow,” will be Presbyterians for Earth Care’s next speaker. Devine’s talk on Environmental Concerns and Mid-Term Elections is set for 7 p.m. Eastern Time on Tuesday, Oct. 25. Learn more here.

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