We Need a Clean Energy Conversion

By Brian McLaren 08-10-2010

We need a clean energy conversion.

If civil rights was the key issue of the previous generation, I think clean energy is one of the two or three most important issues of our generation. For that conversion to take place, as we've seen, we need to help people see four truths:

  1. Dirty energy is cheap, and that's a problem.
  2. We must re-price dirty energy.
  3. We must wisely invest the dividends of re-pricing dirty energy.
  4. People who currently oppose clean energy conversion need to be respectfully listened to, genuinely understood, consistently and kindly responded to, and humbly invited to join in a journey towards a more sustainable way of life.

Now these four truths aren't simply matters of scientific data or secular policy. Each of them flows from values of a deeply spiritual nature.

For example, to say that money isn't the most important consideration in life -- that's a spiritual matter. To think long-term, not just in terms of winning the next election but in terms of our moral duty to generations yet unborn -- that's a spiritual matter. To seek the common good -- not just self-interest -- that's also a spiritual matter. And to determine in advance that people who oppose our ideas are not enemies or obstacles but neighbors who deserve respectful dialogue ... that's a spiritual matter too.

To speak in terms of clean and dirty ... that language evokes deeply held values that go far back in religious history. Although "cleanliness is next to godliness" isn't in the Bible, the idea that clean is good and dirty is bad -- that is.

Having served as an evangelical Christian pastor for 24 years, I know that calling people to conversion is spiritual work. Conversion means turning around. It involves a turning away -- from wrong, foolish, and destructive behaviors, and a turning to -- to God and neighbor and all creation in love. It involves a radical transformation of beliefs, values, and daily life.

Conversion changes everything. It means having an epiphany or spiritual awakening that changes us, makes us "new creatures" in a new creation. No wonder it requires repentance -- deep rethinking, a profound reinterpretation of things, including regret for past and present wrongs.

Scientists can give us data that tells us we're in trouble. Politicians can channel a desire for change into policy. But it will take a genuine spiritual movement to translate scientific data into a desire for change.

Sadly, some religious communities are currently playing on the wrong side. Some are actively on the side of dirty energy and others are on the sidelines, complacent about the whole matter. But there's good news for these religious communities -- they can change like everybody else! Religious communities can be converted to a better way too! (Just look at a tremendously significant step taken recently by Southern Baptists, for example.)

It's interesting to note: in the gospels, Jesus constantly confronts "unclean spirits" -- spirits which drag people down into moral filth and social decay. He does so by the power of the Holy Spirit -- who could perhaps also be named (in contrast to unclean spirits) the Clean Spirit, or the Spirit of Healing, Health, and Wholeness. In Jesus' Nazareth manifesto, at the very beginning of his ministry, he quoted the prophet Isaiah: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me." The Spirit would proclaim, he said, good news to the poor; the Spirit would help blind people see; the Spirit would liberate people who were captives.

Today, I believe the Spirit of God similarly wants to bring good news to people who are suffering the worst consequences of cheap, dirty energy. The Spirit today wants to help people who have been blinded by greed, apathy, convenience, and lack of vision to see a new and better way of life. The Spirit today wants to liberate people from captivity within a self-destructive and dirty economy to vitality in a sustainable and regenerative one.

I'm a committed Christian, and you may be too. Or you may follow Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Indigenous religion, humanism, agnosticism, atheism, or whatever. I wonder what could happen if we, from our many traditions, opened our hearts to a spiritual movement toward a better way of life -- including a clean energy conversion. We wouldn't be trying to convert one another to join us where we are now. Instead, we would be willing to go with one another to a place none of us have ever been before. That involves a journey; it involves moving; it involves growth. It is a call to conversion from which nobody need be exempt.

Brian McLarenBrian McLaren is an author and speaker whose new book is A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith.

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