Back in 2010 I had a dream of the façades opening up with all the institutions that have shaped the public square being represented as buildings and in a moment the fronts of the buildings opened up, swinging forward and then up. The insides could be seen. In that dream the shocking element was that in the public square there were enough believers to join in a (Christian) song that was started by someone with the result that the façades closed again – as quickly as they had opened. An audible voice spoke to me;

It is the familiar that brings things back to where they were, that restores the status quo.

The familiar… and the desire to resort (as Christians) to the encouraging songs / statements that ‘God is in control’ is probably more dangerous than the familiar in another context.

I believe that we – who claim to be ‘followers of the Lamb wherever he goes’ – have both a responsibility and an authority to bring about change, hence if we simply go with ‘leave things as they are’ we are exercising that authority – and now looking back on the dream I understand why what was taking place (opening of façades) resulted in the return to normal (normal!!!) button being pushed.

Further we have to ask what on earth do we mean by ‘God is in control’. Very clearly Jesus taught us to pray in a certain way because God was not in control – OK a bit of a paraphrase of ‘let your will be done on earth’. The will of God is not being done on the earth in many settings, and as God is working toward an end, that of the renewal of all creation (new heaven and new earth), it seems clear that s/he is not working toward that through some exercise of power (the age old objection of a moral, loving God has the power to do xyz and does not do it). If we talk of the rule of God we must not think of ‘rule’ as if there is a powerful force that God exerts. LOVE does not control, and how frustrating that must be!! Perhaps equally frustrating is that we don’t easily co-operate with God’s seasons. An extended version of Ecclesiastes could be ‘there is a time to sing, and a time to refrain from singing; there is a time for the facades to open… and a time for all the Christians to say, stay open and let all be revealed’. OK the canon is closed and I didn’t get my contribution accepted.

Now we are headed into unknown territory but I think the precursors of 2010 and that decade are not simply being repeated. Now for some even deeper paths.

I consider that we are witnessing not simply façades opening up but some very fixed points collapsing. Collapse brings us to chaos. Chaos is a tough place to be but it also marked the beginning of all of creation. Chaos was responded to with ‘shape’ to answer the issue of ‘without form’ and then shape was responded to with ‘filling’ to answer the issue of ’emptiness’.

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

If using the term ‘collapse’ is close to being accurate there are numerous responses that can be made:

  • the old uncertainty is shored up by a restating and re-establishing of what was (and I consider that at the forefront of such a response will be the underlining of patriarchy).
  • the old shape is not changed but filled with something we think is new – Jesus warned against this with the wine / wineskin illustration (and here we can watch the ‘currency’ issues that are everywhere this year – and beyond).
  • we live uncomfortably with hope that if enough of us can live in that insecure place that we will be aligning with the Spirit who hovers over the deep (the chaos).

If there were enough believers in the public square to join together to see the façades close back up again, maybe there are enough present to see a great shift toward a ‘new heaven and new earth’; enough to corporately to say ‘we have a dream; a dream that one day…’

11 thoughts on “Collapse

  1. The reality is that there is no going back actually. Doesn’t matter how hard some folks sing or invest in the forms and shapes they know and love. Won’t matter at all. The climate is bigger than all of us and it is now irrevocably changed. Done. And doing. And going to keep doing.
    So the question for everyone of us is about how we shape the new creation. With what will we fill that shape? Sure, we can pull on ancient hatreds and structures of oppression that will reward some elites and penalize, if not outright murder others. Yup, we can attempt that. But it won’t hold. Our ancient hatreds and fears and the shapes we created and filled to satisfy them cannot hold. They will, after delivering additional destruction and suffering, collapse too.
    We face the deepest questions of all. Who are we? How do we relate to all the other species, plants, insects, and animals on this planet? Are we takers, to the point of environmental collapse? Or are we respectful, living in reciprocity with nature as indigenous teachings emphasize? The taking leads to death for more than ourselves. So it is time to learn another way. We all, will have to work together to figure out the new shape of things and how those shapes will be filled. What places will we create together?
    Hanging onto the old is a futile project. It merely extends suffering and destruction. Life means dancing into and through the chaos and trusting that there is something on the other side that we and other species can enjoy and thrive in.
    Personally, while climate change is pretty scary at times, I actually fear the human response much more. The brutal and violent increase of patriarchy and repression of all things female. The class war against the poor. The sheer indifference of the elites and the wealthy towards suffering. The greed of corporations that just continue to ravage the planet and communities. Water wars. Environmental destruction through wars and conflicts. Yup, climate change pales against all of that kind of chaos.
    If we would lay down our weapons we might find that we can trust this planet to provide for us as she has always done. If we can quiet our spirits and listen maybe we will hear the new song to be sung.

    1. Is climate change really happening though to the point where we fear ? It assumes we are alone responsible and surely we are in relationship with a living God. That relationship does not express itself in fear. Most of climate change ideology is driven my an agenda and I choose not to partner with that fear monger that is the media.

  2. I think there are two approaches to climate change – and by that I don’t mean ‘fear’ and ‘denial’. I agree that there is a ‘fear’ response… understandable if is not a theist (but a deist / atheist etc.) But the creation / new creation paradigms I think call for stewardship (Gen. 1 and 2) with an understanding that creation follows where we go (‘cursed because of you – Gen. 3). Hence a responsibility, and an awareness that exploitation is guarded against in the Torah. Sabbath, Jubilee being the climax of those regulations. Hence I do see the environmental issues being the result of human sin / exploitation – nicely worded in the original sin: ‘see, desired… took’.

    The above does not produce fear but sobriety.

    New creation – this world is not to burned up and thrown away but renewed / regenerated – I saw a new heaven and a new earth.

    How does new creation come about? I am pretty conventional here – the parousia of Jesus. But given that the ‘first’ coming of Jesus was missed and they had the Scriptures maybe we will miss what the ‘return’ is about. So environmentally maybe Mr. Luther’s quote regarding if he knew Jesus was about to return and being asked what he would do… he would plant an apple tree! Quite a response then and maybe a bigger response now?

    I agree totally on the ‘fear’ issue… a faith response to the issue will look differently.

    Maybe also we need to look again at ‘we are not solely responsible’… Seems God gave the planet to us; the planet was given to the powers by ‘us’; Jesus came as one of ‘us’ so that we might finish the finished work.

  3. This dream is so profound. I think that there is no way to reach this world without something different, something new and if we just double down on old models of being the body of Christ there will be no restoration or knowledge of the gospel. I just don’t know what that looks like though or how it can happen? There are churches who are highly effective and ‘successful’ though like HTB for example really caring about the poor and social justice whilst doing a traditional model of church albeit a charismatic style who have a relatively large group of young people within them. I think God will bless whatever expressions we try just because he’s entirely compassionate and loving and makes compromises with us in our naivety and desire to hang onto the old ways and will show up wherever we give him space – God’s kind that way!! However most young people won’t want to take part in this and are living for short term goals and this is a generation where narcissistic social media and self care is paramount (this is not a criticism it is all they know and there is a mental health crisis and they are told to put there own needs first the very opposite of what I was taught growing up in a Christian home!). I know this because I see it in my daughter and her friends and my nieces and nephews etc. they live for short term goals and temporal dreams. How do we inspire them to want to ‘take up their cross and follow the lamb wherever he goes’? How do we show them he is the way, the truth and the life and that ‘greater love has no person but to lay down their life for a friend’. I don’t know – I wish I did – I just pray and hope for the kingdom to come and some powerful demonstration of the gospel of Jesus to manifest to convince them and the world at large..

    1. A recent survey in Canada showed that young adults, post-secondary students, are profoundly pessimistic about any kind of future at all. This has been documented globally as well. They use short term goals as a way to keep going even though they believe there is no future due to the inaction on climate change. Some try to live ‘normal’ lives. Some just cease functioning. I don’t blame them at all. They have grown up watching us do nothing but make it worse.
      They don’t need the church per se. What they need is a mission to get through the next 50 years of climate chaos and upheavals and then given every possible tool and skill we think we can give them. Beyond that they need to be encouraged to imagine a better, more just world which doing things the same old, same old, will not, cannot ever produce.
      I try to get my students to play and vision and imagine how things can be transformed for the better even as we discuss evacuation planning and disaster planning for cities. I find they are desperate for a reason to hope for any kind of future at all.
      They are acutely aware that my generation (I am 65) has robbed them of a future, perhaps in the most stark of terms. My generation intentionally refused to address the causes of climate change and in fact escalated the whole thing. They aren’t stupid, they know all of this. It leads to an existential despair or outright denial in order to keep functioning. Every term I have to deal with mental health issues in my classes due to this despair.
      Perhaps it is the elders and the older generations who need to take up the cross and follow Jesus for we surely failed there too. It is the most basic of instincts, for any species, to enable the survival of the next generations. How is it, we chose to do the opposite?

  4. Yes Anne I agree with you and my 23 year old daughter suffers from moderate was at times severe OCD so I am painfully aware of the sadness and supported her through it. Due to trauma of my chronic health issues partly too so I am inadvertently to blame there. I’m not being critical of them and understand why they think the way they do but I am critical of the culture around them which is cynically causing harm. TikTok, celebrity culture, social media is very toxic a lot of the time and there is a lot to be pessimistic about true. I just wish they could see that they are the solution as they are told constantly that they are victims which is not altogether helpful . I feel deep sympathy and empathy with them and sorrow and yes while we’re here we can do that and carry their burdens. What worries me is how they will cope when we’re not. I pray the kingdom will touch them in some way and transform the messinesses around them. I wish I was more optimistic than I am. Martin is the great optimist thankfully and you do some amazing work with young people too!!!

    1. I struggle with the same feelings you have as I try hard to shepherd young people through courses heavy with climate adaptation and resilience. They are smarter and more resilient than they know. And they will learn that as they go along.
      But here is some encouraging news. . . the olds are in the streets. Third Act, a new organization for us elders is going to do demonstrations around the banks funding fossil fuels on Tuesday in the USA. That is worthy of celebration. Not all of us can get out and march or demonstrate but we can support humanity coming together to solve these problems in some way.

  5. Clearly climate change and its effects on people of all ages is, of course, a critical issue. But reading and re-reading Martin’s blog suggests to me that there are other issues in the mix here.
    Example: the world’s financial system, which is not just used by the West (capitalism) but by all countries. This potentially has the power to halt any progress on ‘net zero’ in its tracks as governments try to protect the economic welfare of their populations in the short term as best they can which, after all, is their supposed first duty.
    Collapse – chaos here will cause the most vulnerable countries to climate change even more severe problems than current severe weather events. It will also hit young people the hardest as they do not the financial resources to withstand such an onslaught. Yes, it’s a broken system, but is there another one which can do the job? As a graduate in economics, I can’t see one except at the very margins.

    1. Thanks Geoff… can be depressing… or maybe from chaos (and / or margins) God works, brooding, then comes shapes and then filling? I am in the latter camp, and it needs to be something deeper than a simple analysis, of the West is to blame (yes with colonialism, certain aspects of economics, oppression etc…).
      Maybe if we think of the triad of ethnicity, gender and class (Gal. 3) or the triad of the three temptations of political, economic and religious control we might have a framework to begin – to see some changes?
      I like John: ‘I saw a new heaven and a new earth’.

  6. A couple of additional thoughts:
    (1) Re: facades. I guess they fell out indicating an increased transparency in established organisations. We’ve seen plenty of this and their attempts to hide away again; viz Wikileaks illuminating US overseas activities, Panama Papers revealing hidden away billions by those who have, Hancock’s WhatsApps (in UK) showing the inner workings of government in the Covid era, Prince Harry giving insight into British royal relationships etc. etc. Perhaps more to come?
    Christians singing familiar songs: mostly middle class and conservative will want to protect their economic and social position.
    (2) Maybe God is a God of order and Satan, one of chaos? Should we really be sowing into the third option of insecurity and chaos?

    1. Love your couple of initial thoughts, Geoff. God the God of order / Satan of chaos… I am also toying with the idea of God working in the chaos – what results in a shaking of everything is that which cannot be shaken. Not sure if we should be sowing into chaos or looking to create it (as if I have such power to create universal chaos – maybe at a personal level!)… but sowing where we want the world to go – taking a leaf out of the widow’s book she (unknowingly) sowed into the next 40 years.

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