Hope: Changing the Way We Think to Solve the Environmental Crisis

We have talked often recently about hope. Our Lenten worship series was “Cleaning House, Finding Hope.” In early April, I shared a sermon called “Finding Hope,” in which I said that hope is a verb, that we find hope by taking action. I said that hope often travels with companions, including “faithfulness, love, patience, justice, trust, belief, courage, commitment.” After our Pacific Northwest Conference Annual Meeting, we spent some time unpacking Conference Minister Mike Denton’s message, in which he said, “Hope. Is. Built.”


One might think that we have pretty much covered the topic by now. But wait—there’s more. Our Social and Environmental Justice Book Group just read a book by Elin Kelsey called Hope Matters: Why Changing the Way We Think Is Critical to Solving the Environmental Crisis. After weeks of good discussion about this book, Kathy Mahan and I were wishing that the whole congregation could know about some of the ideas in this book, because we found them helpful. So Kathy and I have picked just a few of the concepts to share with you this morning.


Define hope

We start by defining hope, and here we’re going to ask for your input. How do you define hope?


Elin Kelsey says, “Hope is not about turning our backs on the facts” (Elin Kelsey, Hope Matters: Why Changing the Way We Think Is Critical to Solving the Environmental Crisis [Greystone Books: Vancouver, B.C., 2020], 43). She continues: “It’s precisely because we do know how much trouble we are facing that millions of people all over the globe participate in climate protests. Protests are inherently hopeful acts” (Ibid.). “Hope is not complacent. It is a powerful political act” (Ibid., 40). Hope is about choosing your frame, and choosing not to live in the doom and gloom frame.


Hopepunk (p. 139)

Kathy: Hopepunk is a way to stay engaged with the struggle. I wasn’t hopeful, but Nancy Meier recommended that our group read this book, and now I’m feeling more hopeful and energized. Talk about p. 140, “It’s about committing to what you believe in and acting as a force for good… strength and bravery.”


Meighan: Collective response, role of church (p. 140)

Kelsey says,


Rather than waiting for a single heroic figure to lead us out of trouble, hopepunk situates heroism as a collective response. It’s about committing to what you believe in and acting as a force for good. Regardless of how wrecked something is or how bad things might be, you act in the best ways you can. Hopepunk acknowledges that caring about something requires strength and bravery.

Vulnerable, inspired, defiant, responsive, connected to others present and elsewhere—these are just some of the feelings Jason Miller, a graduate student, described as he shifted from being a sympathetic bystander, sending support through the internet, to standing in solidarity with protesters demanding human rights. “The experience finally gave me a bodily response to what I have known intellectually for some time—that this goal of affecting positive change will always be an uphill battle, and that one must be willing to play the role of the outsider even when advocating for a collective. But I also left feeling the vitality of those desiring change” (Ibid., 140).


Reflection: Need to define hopepunk first to set up this reading.

Waiting for a single heroic figure to save us is what the disciples did. They depended on Jesus to save them, and when he was gone, they had to realize it was up to them as a collective. It’s up to us. When we celebrate communion (com = with, so united with each other and with Christ), we recognize that there is no one Christ. Christ is in all of us. We are all called to take up the work. Hopepunk gives us the motivation, the energy, the enthusiasm to move forward, the courage to stare climate change in the eye and keep working to do better.


Perhaps you recall that Barack Obama ran on the words “hope” and “change” during his first presidential campaign. Hope and change. My impression was that so many people pinned their wish for whatever changes they wanted onto Obama, that they saw him as a potential savior from all ills. He had to remind us, “Yes, we can.” It takes all of us, working with hope, collectively, to create and be the change we want to see in the world.


Volodymyr Zelenskyy embodies contagious hope and courage. He is not the lone savior of the Ukrainian people, but he does model how to keep doing every possible thing that one can do to get through this war. He leads with hope against impossible odds, shows up every day to do everything he can possibly do to keep his country afloat—and his hope is contagious. Others act with hope and courage perhaps because they’re taking a cue from him.



Compassion and kindness

Kathy: p. 150: “Compassion is so important to preventing and tackling these conditions that teaching people how to be more compassionate has been shown to deliver a high return on investment.

humpback whales intervening on behalf of other species (p. 151)

Hope is contagious. Talk about it, act within a hopeful framework.

Meighan: Role of church to create compassionate communities that are brave, strong, and resilient. (pp. 38 or 147-48)

Environmental causes, like so many other critically important issues, can create the discouraging feeling that no matter how much we do, it’s never enough.

Clearly, in light of these circumstances, engaging in self-care is vitally important. So too is the need for community-building within groups that focuses on appreciating collective strengths and extending compassion to one another. . . . [E]ngaging in and observing kindness is a way of noticing the good around us, rather than seeing a world full of bad news and stress. (147)


Kelsey specifically says hope is not about being Pollyanna and denying that anything is wrong. It’s about fighting hard for what will make the world better, and remembering to take care of each other along the way.


You feel deeply about the environmental crisis because you have a deep love for this magnificent planet. That love is a strong and wonderful quality, and it’s empowering to find a way to excavate it from beneath all your fear and anger and grief and disappointment. When you look through the research at what triggers and sustains personal environmental behaviors, it’s things like compassion rather than shaming. It’s showing empathy when someone does something that they know they shouldn’t do—reminding them that we’re all human and mistakes are just a normal part of life. It’s finding meaningful purpose in the actions. It’s getting support from important relationships (Ibid., 38).


At its best, this is what Church does well: love creation, show compassion, feel empathy for mistakes, forgive, extend grace, find meaning, give support through important relationships.


This is what church, at its best, is all about: compassionate, resilient, brave community.


Trending hopeful:

Kathy: Elephant ivory (pp.158-60) Paul Allen and the Great Elephant Census, awareness that came about elephant populations. China had a massive public awareness campaign. Attitudes began to shift. Ban ivory trade.


Meighan: Food waste: CityFruit here in Seattle, urban food forests (p. 173)


Kathy: We’re not at the starting line.

Monterey Bay cleaner than it has been in 200 years, need to continue good work by banning plastic bags. (p. 183)

Plastic bags: sea turtle YouTube video has had 35 million views, is impacting world views on plastic garbage. (pp. 163ff.) Now we pay 10 cents/bag at grocery store. This is the new normal, becomes invisible unless we remember to celebrate that this is progress.


Meighan: Caroline Dennett, consultant for 11 years at Shell, quits: https://www.politico.eu/article/shell-consultant-caroline-dennett-quits-extreme-harm-planet-climate-change-fossil-fuels-extraction/


Kathy: Ridwell collaborates with DeckTrex decking material using recycled Styrofoam. Takes batteries, light bulbs, all those hard to recycle things. Keeps them out of the landfill.


Meighan: Nathaniel Stinnett and the Environmental Voter Project impacted the election in Georgia. We get to participate in this work today.


Close with Kim Stafford poem

For the Bird Singing before Dawn

Kim Stafford


Some people presume to be hopeful
when there is no evidence for hope,
to be happy when there is no cause.
Let me say now, I’m with them.


In deep darkness on a cold twig
in a dangerous world, one first
little fluff lets out a peep, a warble,
a song—and in a little while, behold:


the first glimmer comes, then a glow
filters through the misty trees,
then the bold sun rises, then
everyone starts bustling about.


And that first crazy optimist, can we
forgive her for thinking, dawn by dawn,
“Hey, I made that happen!
And oh, life is so fine.”


Copyright © 2022 by Kim Stafford. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 27, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets. Used by permission of the poet.


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