5th February 2014 | Dave Bookless | 9 comments

Walking the talk: Living with integrity in a disintegrating world

Every generation believes the world is falling apart morally and socially. Today, it is also falling apart ecologically. Recent chaotic weather patterns are mere symptoms of the damage our unsustainable use of earth’s resources is causing to the fabric that holds the biosphere together. In his book Eaarth Bill McKibben powerfully shows we are entering new territory, effectively inhabiting a different planet from our ancestors.[1]

Many of us know this deep down, but mostly we live as if it’s not true. In a disintegrating world we tend to live disintegrated lifestyles, with beliefs, values, and lifestyle choices in separate compartments. It’s not only true ecologically, of course. It’s easy to be a completely different person at work, in church, alone online, or relaxing with friends. If statistics are to be believed, even pastors often behave rather differently online compared to in front of their congregations.[2]

Colourful containers, by Alfvanbeem

This can lead to a huge guilt trip. In ecological terms I know I’m hypocritical. I speak and write about sustainability but still drive a car, fly occasionally, buy from supermarkets, and (believe it or not) sometimes buy new clothes. Yes, I’ve made lots of eco-choices but every time somebody says ‘Wow! You’re such an example,’ I feel guilt at my many compromises.

But guilt doesn’t help. It tends to create even bigger walls between the compartments of our lives. Instead, here are some positive suggestions… and I’m speaking to myself here, and also hope you’ll join the discussion because I certainly don’t have all the answers:

God’s pervasive presence: Psalm 24:1’s reminder that ‘The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it,’ is so shockingly counter-cultural that it should be a daily mantra, informing our shopping choices and travel decisions. Every compartment of our lives, all that we do, consume, breathe and step upon is created and sustained by God’s loving hands.

Rhythm and rest: The way to break bad habits is to create good ones, rhythms of life that sustain us and the fabric of life. It may mean making time to cook from raw ingredients, by spending less time online, or reciting a Psalm whilst shopping, starting to talk about our faith at work, or our eco-choices at church. Joining the dots… and whatever we do, we need to rest, to celebrate God’s Sabbath for all creation.

Accountability: I need people to question my inconsistencies and help me live what I preach. My teenagers do this without being asked! Who are we accountable to for how we shop, travel, and eat? It’s not about comparison or coercion but mutual support amongst friends, helping us live with integrity. Are there two or three people you could meet with regularly to chat through those lifestyle conundrums?

Community: Individualism is the seed of our world’s disintegration. God exists in Divine community of Father, Son and Spirit, and our fractured world can only be healed as we rebuild relationships within ourselves, with others, and with the community of creation. Church should be about life together, not just services together, a biodiversity of people who encourage, challenge and inspire us. What about our neighbours? How many of the compartments of our lives do we share with them?

Enjoying God’s world: One reason for life’s compartmentalization is exhaustion and stress. We shut off what we can’t cope with. Renewal begins with spending time in God’s presence in the garden of creation. Nurturing plants, feeding garden birds, breathing fresh air, learning to observe and meditate on God’s hand in nature’s cycles, are spiritual practices that bring hope and reunite the fragments of life.

You may have noticed that God’s presence, Rhythms, Accountability, Community and Enjoyment spell GRACE. Grace forgives our inconsistencies and frees us to keep going forwards. Grace encourages a response of gratitude, not guilt. Knowing we inhabit a world infused by God’s grace releases us from thinking it’s our responsibility to save planet earth. Earth will be restored and renewed only by God’s grace. Grace doesn’t resolve all our dilemmas, but it brings hope and sets us free to reintegrate our fractured lives and live with integrity in the midst of a broken world.

[1] McKibben, Bill (2011). Eaarth – Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. New York: Griffin.

[2] 51% of pastors say cyber porn is a possible temptation; 37% say it is a current struggle (Christianity Today Leadership Survey, December 2001).

Categories: Reflections
About Dave Bookless

Dave has worked with A Rocha since 1997, first as an International Trustee, then from 2001 with A Rocha UK as co-founder (with his wife Anne), National Director, and then Director for Theology, Churches & Sustainable Communities. He joined the A Rocha International team in September 2011. His role as Advisor for Theology and Churches includes providing advice and resources for ARI’s Trustees, Team and national A Rocha organisations, and coordinating liaison with international theological and mission networks and organisations. He is also studying for a part-time PhD at Cambridge University on biblical theology and biodiversity conservation.

View all posts by Dave Bookless

9 responses to “Walking the talk: Living with integrity in a disintegrating world”

  1. so refreshing and encouraging material 🙂 thanks Dave!!!

  2. Peter Sidebotham says:

    Thanks Dave – I, too, long to live more simply and sustainably, in GRACE. And fall so far short so much of the time. Thanks for the inspiration to take a few more small steps.

  3. C says:

    “Knowing we inhabit a world infused by God’s grace releases us from thinking it’s our responsibility to save planet earth.” This is a tough one. I think I see what you are saying, but it’s hard to know where to draw the line. I am struggling with this as I learn more about increasing levels of aluminum and other toxins in our soil and water. Please watch What in the World Are They Spraying http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jf0khstYDLA and Why in the World Are They Spraying http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TGsi7JaV6gs and spread the word. Although it is difficult to find a way to make change against the powers that be, HOW can we look at our children/grandchildren and NOT say or do anything about this evil practice? If this continues there will be NO organic food. Anywhere. I am struggling to discover what He wants me to do about this, but I feel compelled to share the info. Oh come, Lord Jesus!

    • Júlio Reis says:

      I think Dave means you’re free from the responsibility of saving it, not from working on the task of honouring the earth’s owner by taking care of it. For me this is absolutely liberating. Saving the earth is a task too big for any one person—ultimately even for all people, as we need to be saved from ourselves if the earth is going to be saved at all.

      By all means, if you’re being led to an issue, do work on it: watch and sign petitions and organize local groups. But at the end of the day, you can stop, look at your work, and think: “I’m done for today”. You can rest assured. Don’t carry a burden that’s not yours to carry. God will take your efforts and do something beautiful with it. But you can find rest, even while taking on a task that’s much larger than yourself.

      That’s what I try to do, anyway. Very hard to put down the burdens and relax for me… but I’ll keep trying. 🙂

      • Dave Bookless says:

        Julio is spot-on! It’s good to be passionate and committed about the environmental issues God puts on our hearts, but ultimately whether we succeed or fail is not down to us, and there’s a point where we stop and leave it up to God. Sustaining and ‘saving’ the world is God’s business before it’s ours and continued by God when we reach our limits – as the theologian Katharine Dell puts it: “the sustaining of life [is] a process initiated by God but continued by his creatures.”

      • Kala Snyder says:

        Julio – I think your post is going on my fridge to remind me every day of the meaning of GRACE’s blessings, and my purpose to serve both our world and still take care of myself.

        We must be strong, diligent, united, forgiving, unrelenting, compassionate, encouraging, and loving as we strive to live as the example He instructs us.

        You are all an inspiration!

        Dave – I can’t thank you enough for your post. Your words have given me a guide to help sort through the same guilty I feel when I cannot exactly walk my talk. Trying to be plastic-free, living off the earth, avoiding spending, re-purposing, decreasing electronic use, speaking of God’s blessings and love to fellow man, being a wife and mother working to successfully raise contributing and conscientious family members… Daily I can get overwhelmed by the fact that there are times I buy hamburger buns. And they come in plastic. And they may have GMOs because my budget is what it is…and while I can buy as much organic as possible, as little plastic as possible, and work harder to avoid polluting our world sometimes those practices are unavoidable (right?); I gotta “give it up to God” every day or I will depress myself.

        Often I wonder what God says about our consumerism. Too frequently I question churches, organizations, even my own business… How do I help without harming? How do I donate to feed others when they’re provided plastic-based utensils and preservative-filled foods? How do I work and educate in the medical field when I don’t agree with the ‘accepted’ medical practices of medications and so much waste?

        I sigh a contented sigh because I do realize I don’t have to have all the answers. Everything comes from Him and for a reason.

        I want to THANK YOU for this post. 🙂 I will have to learn more about what you’ve found through God’s word on how to be stronger on these points. This was what I’ve needed to read for some time. You are a blessing and I am grateful.

      • mabbsonsea says:

        This is such a helpful perspective – thank you

  4. Anthony says:

    I agree – it is the cognitive dissonance which is uncomfortable. Reminds if story of chap hanging off a cliff ‘If there is a God up there save me’ ‘Let go and I’ll catch you’ ‘Is there any other god up there?’ I know I need to be more radical and let go of many of my securities but so much easier to enjoy another meal and watch the last two of The Bridge. (PS I have revelled in outdoors and spent half an hour in meditation partly as a result of reading this blog)

    • Dave Bookless says:

      Indeed! I was watching ‘The Bridge’ too last night … and reflecting on the difference between the eco-terrorism in its plot-lines, where everything depends on shocking society into waking up to the crisis, leading to violence and murder in the name of saving the planet … and a GRACE-filled approach where our part is to love, honour and obey Jesus, and to love and honour all creation (including people) … but trusting that ultimately God is in charge.

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