Church Leadership & Climate Change: a quick guide to action

I work “bi-vocationally” as an evangelical youth minister and as a faith-rooted climate change activist. In the latter, I am mobilizing young Christians to influence our senior church leaders to use their moral authority to support meaningful climate action.

Given this unique role, a number of my sympathetic—but perplexed!—colleagues in ministry have asked me this question:

What can we, as leaders of the church, do about climate change?

They assume I am some sort of a expert on the topic—and for a while I did too, until I opened my mouth and realized that all that was coming out was talking points and sound bites. While these quips have certain value for inspiring large audiences and time-strapped leaders, they are not necessarily helpful for navigating the complexities of church ministry.

Recently, I have been brainstorming how to answer the climate question using the language of ministry—the sort of language that might actually take root within the church leadership imagination and blossom into original ideas and real projects. As an activist, this exercise has given me a fresh and exciting vision of what “climate action” consists of.

And so, as both an activist and a church leader, I want to share some of these ideas with you. To start, I am going to discuss the two modes available to the minister for speaking about climate change: the prophetic voice and the pastoral voice. These two voices will harmonize in three familiar ministries that can be applied to your church context.

The Prophetic Voice

The prophetic voice is a tradition that stretches back to the Old Testament. The prophets were men and women who looked upon their world with godly eyes. With this perspective, the prophets called out the present situation for what it was — and the future for what it might become.

The prophetic voice is a natural fit for talking about climate change. In a rush for cheap energy, we exploit God’s creation to extract the fuels that give us incredible power and speed. The present situation is such that scientific abstractions (e.g. carbon emissions, radiative forcing) are compounding with the rest of the world’s brokenness, as the global poor and marginalized are left most vulnerable to climate disruptions — despite contributing the least to the problem.

If we do not repent and change our ways, we risk a future where our civilization’s existence stands at risk. The planet we neglected to take care of threatens to take revenge on us through plagues like catastrophic flooding and crop failures. It is an ironic twist of justice that seems like it would fit snugly in between the writings of Amos and Obadiah.

While climate change might seem like a relatively new phenomenon, the moral obstacles are as old as the prophets. Human beings continue to succumb to greed, pride, and the false notion that there is nothing that actually can be done. We still act as if God is not real and alive in our time. Because of this, it is imperative that ministers of the Christian gospel reclaim the prophetic voice and speak out boldly against the sins that drive anthropogenic climate change.

The Pastoral Voice

Whether or not our job title includes the term “pastor”, many of us in church leadership embrace the pastoral dimensions of ministry. We hear ourselves in the call of Jesus to Peter: “tend my sheep.” Through projects of compassion and spiritual formation, we speak with the pastoral voice to join Christ in the work of leading people to streams of living water.

If it is prophetic to share the latest United Nations report on our Facebook wall, it is pastoral to join the Facebook group Climate Change: It’s Personal, where members “discuss the subjective, psychological, social, and spiritual experience of climate change.” If there is a climate report that might be of pastoral interest, it is the American Psychological Association’s recent analysis titled “Beyond Storms and Droughts: The Psychological Impacts of Climate Change”.

The work of pastoral care requires that Christian ministers be in tune to a range of emotional crises and mental distresses — including those wrought by climate change. Not only will the physical impacts of climate change be a driver of stress, trauma and grief in the 21st century, but the mere idea of climate change has important psychological consequences as well. This is evidenced by the depression and hopelessness suffered by many scientists, the so-called “frontliners” who have wrapped their minds around what our civilization is spiraling towards. Within the broader environmentalist community, phenomena like solastalgia and ecoanxiety are not figments of the imagination but very real experiences for a growing number of people. (Trust me, I’m seeing it.)

My prayer for the church is that we can learn to come around all who are suffering, all who are yearning for hope, all whose problems have been trivialized by the rest of the world. In relation to the sheep of the 21st century, this learning can only happen if the shepherds grapple with understanding how climate change is causing the flock to stir.

The Prophetic and Pastoral in Harmony

I’m no choir director, but my understanding is that when two different voices come together in song, the aim is that they somehow make a harmony. When it comes to climate change, the prophetic voice and pastoral voice resonate best in the ministries of reconciliation, sanctuary and empowerment.

Reconciliation

Sin deforms our relationships into destructive and hateful forms. Accordingly, the ministry of reconciliation is the work of joining God “who reconciled himself to us through Christ” in navigating these relationships back to a place of goodness and wholeness.

When it comes to climate change, one of the most obvious relational fault line is the divide in our political spectrum. By a fluke of history, climate change has become a marker of cultural identity and partisan politics in the United States. The stereotype goes thus: if you’re a Democrat, you “believe” in climate change; if you’re a Republican, you don’t.

In fact, studies show that a person’s view on climate change is more strongly correlated with their political affiliation than their religious identity. This means that the divisions we see in Congress are also likely to be found in our pews.

Partisan politics may seem petty to a minister of the Christian gospel. After all, in Christ there is no Jew or Gentile, slave or free, Republican or Democrat. But we are not called to transcend the fray but rather to live among it, building bridges among a humanity prone to division. This works requires the sincerity and objectivity of the prophetic voice, but also the compassion and patience of the pastoral voice.

Sanctuary

The world can be a threatening and dangerous place. For millennia, people have found refuge in spaces meant to house the sacred — in Latin, sanctuarium — so that the word sanctuary has come to mean “a place of safety.” As climate-related natural disasters increase and some parts of our civilization perhaps even destabilize, the ministry of sanctuary is all the more necessary for church leaders to consider.

The ministry of sanctuary is clearly pastoral: it is providing a space for peace and order in the midst of chaos and brokenness. But in a world affected by climate change, sanctuary must also be prophetic: it will require foresight to see the challenges ahead and be ready when disaster strikes, instead of passively waiting until after and too late.

Of course, not every church has a sanctuary building, nor does every church find itself in a community where these sort of climate-related emergencies are a realistic threat. If we expand our imagination, however, we can think of the ministry of sanctuary as directing our financial assets through our missions and international relief agencies, in order to respond to the increase in humanitarian disasters worldwide.

Empowerment

Climate dread is the overwhelming fear many feel when contemplating worst-case climate scenarios. Climate denial, on the other hand, is the categorical rejection of climate change as a reality.

While seemingly opposite, climate dread and climate denial have a common obstacle: the belief that there is nothing that can be done about climate change. Climate dreaders see planet-wide catastrophe as inevitable, either because they think we have already reached the “tipping point” or because they cannot imagine how the political coalition required to halt climate change will ever form.

On the other hand, climate deniers usually are not greedy, inhumane, or dumb — despite the stereotypes. Rather, most climate deniers have not been presented with adequate solutions to the problem. When they realize that their ability to do good is not enough to solve the problem, they mentally convince themselves that the problem is not as big as it seems. (In psychology 101, this is called cognitive dissonance).

Empowerment can play a key role in overcoming this obstacle. By giving people a sense that there is something they can do about climate change, we can help them cope with the problem or perhaps even admit to its reality. The ministry of empowerment requires using the prophetic voice to point the way forward and the pastoral voice to encourage others on that journey.

An urgent call

photo-1413977886085-3bbbf9a7cf6eI have outlined two ways of speaking about climate change — prophetically and pastorally — which intersect in the ministries of reconciliation, sanctuary, and empowerment. My hope is that these categories are specific enough to give you a vision for your own leadership, yet open enough to apply to any context.

Perhaps, even with this practical way forward, you don’t see climate change action as a priority for your ministry. Let me remind you that climate change is set to be one of the defining issues of the 21st century, shifting the ground we journey on — figuratively and literally. Many institutions, from Wall Street to the Pentagon to subsistence farmers in Malawi, are aware of this and reconsidering their own strategic priorities in light of what is being called the “new normal”.

We as church leaders must begin to think ahead and prepare for the various socio-cultural impacts climate change will bring to our world and our work. Otherwise, we risk being leaders of a church that — much like as we saw in the 20th century — will find itself playing catch-up to the present, struggling to be “relevant” and “contemporary”.

And so I beg you to take these considerations to heart — if not for the sake of the planet, for the sake of your ministry.

May God find us faithful.



Cross-posted on Medium and LinkedIn Pulse.

Church Leadership & Climate Change: a quick guide to action

BOOK REVIEW: “What Can We Do?: Practical Ways Your Youth Ministry Can Have a Global Conscience”

51tLSKtnqNLI purchased “What Can We Do? Practical Ways Your Youth Ministry Can Have a Global Conscience” out of a sustained interest in the intersection of religion and public life (professionally, I split my time as the youth minister of an evangelical church on the north side of Chicago and also as the communications assistant for a movement of faith-based climate change activists). I was pleased to see the authors, David Livermore and Terry Linhart, write what I believe to a sorely-needed resource: a practical guide for youth groups aspiring to “change the world” beyond short-term mission trips and polarizing politics.

The meat of the book are 9 chapters on various contemporary issues — such as poverty, human trafficking, and the environment. Each chapter concludes with a list of practical ways a youth group could faithfully respond. These issue-based chapters are sandwiched by short reflections on global awareness and “glocal” service for Christian teenagers. At 167 pages, the book is purposefully concise; readers interested in delving deeper into a particular subject should take advantage of the “Resources” section at the end of each chapter.

I majored in global studies & conflict transformation for undergrad, so most of the issues discussed in this book I had already studied in-depth. Rather than new knowledge, the value of the book for me was seeing complex issues distilled into their most important points relative to youth ministry (I sometimes forget teenagers don’t need every piece of information floating around in my head before they can carry the pain of the world in their hearts). As someone actively engaged in youth ministry with an eye toward doing justice, there were times I found the book encouraging — for example, I was recently feeling disappointed about how a particular outreach program wasn’t bringing in the sort of numbers one would expect, when I was reminded that we don’t do it just for the numbers but because “youth groups who emphasize outreach have higher levels of social and ethnic diversity in their groups” (p. 109).

One important critique: when Dave and Terry discuss climate change, they sheepishly say “we…don’t believe global warming and climate change are certainties” (p. 83). By framing the issue in this way, the authors mistakenly assume climate uncertainty is a question of reality rather than severity. By suggesting that Christians should “continue to probe the science on this” (p. 84), the authors convey an irresponsible lack of urgency and miss a valuable opportunity to invite youth pastors to help students understand how the media and other cultural forces shape how scientific fact is interpreted.

Although I have not yet had an opportunity to use this book with students, I think it’d make a satisfactory small group guide for any youth mission leadership team. Besides being a good read for all youth ministers to get up to date on important global issues, it also serves as a helpful reference book for the office bookshelf — although, given the nature of our rapidly changing world, there might be need for a 2nd edition sometime in the next 10 – 15 years.

(Another good book to add to the same office bookshelf would be Mae Elise Cannon’s Social Justice Handbook: Small Steps for a Better World, a more encyclopedic and comprehensive discussion of contemporary issues, written for Christians of all ages.)

Review cross-posted on Amazon.com.

BOOK REVIEW: “What Can We Do?: Practical Ways Your Youth Ministry Can Have a Global Conscience”

Historic “Clean Power Plan” Announced: What America Is Doing and What YECA Already Did

Today, Administrator Gina McCarthy of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced the proposed Clean Power Plan for existing power plants. Less than a year after President Barack Obama promised cuts in domestic carbon as part of his Climate Action Plan, the reduction standards released today are aguably the Obama Administration’s most significant climate action to date.

As a young evangelical who, as part of my Christian discipleship and witness, is working to encourage our national leaders to act swiftly and responsibly on climate change, you can imagine I looked forward to today with at least a little bit of eager anticipation.

Read more of my thoughts for Young Evangelicals for Climate Action here.

Historic “Clean Power Plan” Announced: What America Is Doing and What YECA Already Did

Epiphany, 2014 edition

It is Monday, January 6, 2014. Today, we mark the church celebration of Epiphany, the onset of a global warming-induced “polar vortex”, and the reopening of doors at the United States Congress.

Somehow, all of this fits together. But, first, let me break it all down.

Epiphany

Christmas may seem like forever ago, but a partridge in the pear tree has done the math, and “the twelve days of Christmas” only ended just yesterday. Today is the day of Epiphany.

For those of you whose neighbors have yet to take down their obnoxiously bright and colored Christmas decorations, Epiphany is the day you can finally knock on their door with righteous indignation and demand they take down that towering inflatable snowman which floods the street with 8-bit carols and somehow changes color every 37 seconds.

For Catholics and many Protestants, Epiphany marks the day Jesus was visited by the magi (aka, the three wise men). The name comes from the Greek word epiphaneia, which we would translate into “manifestation”. Accordingly, Epiphany is a celebration that God the Son was seen to be manifested in the physical form of Jesus.

5584506097_3a62c638e5_oThe story of the magi is recounted in Matthew 2:1-12. Spurred on by a rising star, the magi made a long trek from the far east, travelling potentially thousands of miles by foot/camel. When they arrived to Jerusalem, they asked where the “child who had been born king of the Jews” was. They eventually found Jesus in Bethlehem and presented him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. If these gifts strike you as particularly impractical, that’s because they were. The point of bestowing such luxuries was to underscore the royal status of this young child, born to a peasant girl and her carpenter husband.

Matthew 2:16-18 adds a narrative layer. King Herod, who had been appointed by Caesar as “king of the Jews” and rather fancied the title, did not like the idea of some child out there who also was being called “king of the Jews”. In order to secure his position, Herod sent the atrocious order to kill every child in Bethlehem aged two years or younger.

Kill. Every. Child.

Let the sadness of that sit with you for a moment. One man’s egotism caused the death of innocent children, save for the one boy he had targeted in the first place. If only he had been open-minded about the whole thing, Herod might have seen that this one boy apparently posed no immediate threat to his worldly throne. But instead, Herod failed to see light, and the consequences were simply unjustifiable.

Polar vortex

It is brutally cold today. From where I am in Chicago, it’s a high of -5°F (sans wind chill). This is balmy compared to what many other Midwesterners are experiencing, what the National Weather Service is calling “life-threatening” cold.

As the communications assistant for Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, I can attest that cold snaps like this are tough climates for talking about global warming.

I can almost hear that perennial sneer: “where’s that global warming now?”

I want to defensively retort, “it’s complicated, you ignoramus.” But just as much as name-calling is not effective for keeping the conversation alive, dismissing something as “complicated” is not a valid argument.

So, in the spirit of making my case, here’s what we know about this particular cold snap: it is part of a “polar vortex”, the icy version of a hurricane. Usually these things like to stay put where they belong — the North Pole.

npolevort_gmao_2009033

Why has this polar vortex come to visit us like an unpleasant Santa Claus? In theory, similar to how global warming will strengthen a hurricane, it also weakens the polar vortex. This year, we can attribute above-seasonal temperatures in the far north (think Canada and Greenland) to weakening this particular polar vortex. The particular problem with a polar vortex that has been compromised in such a way is that it splits and spins off in every which direction, as this NASA image (red = polar vortex) of a similar 2009 split helpfully illustrates.

Like I said, its complicated and the scientists still have to crunch their final numbers, but global warming will likely shoulder a significant portion of the blame for today’s bitterly cold weather.

2nd Session of the 113th Congress

If magi and a polar vortex weren’t enough, today marks the convening of the 2nd Session of the 113th Congress in Washington, DC.

The 113th Congress has a mildly ambitious agenda, with the debt ceiling, minimum wage and immigration being the top issues. Many voters are skeptical that the 113th Congress will even get this much done, following a historically unproductive 1st session and worse approval ratings than cockroaches.

I am not an insider, but I pay attention. My best estimation is that the 113th Congress will do little to nothing on the issue of climate change in 2014.

4275907662_fd1c967b7e_oBut, politically speaking, 2014 is far from an insignificant year for climate advocacy. It is, after all, the year of midterm elections, and many of our elected officials are up for job review, while some dark horse candidates are eyeing the title of “Mr. Representative” or “Mrs. Senator.” There just might be a key candidate or two who stakes a claim on the issues surrounding climate change.

These key candidates could come from either party. Building a political coalition is an iterating game of capture the flag, and the Democrats of late have let their guard down on the issue of climate change. It may still be firmly in their possession, but it appears to be free for the taking.

If the 2014 elections produces a handful of legislators who have promised to deliver on climate change, then the 1st session of the 114th Congress in 2015 may see the passage of a significant bill that deals comprehensively with climate change.

This would be doubly significant, for whatever leadership we exert at home we can exert on the international stage as well. Taking place in December 2015 will be the highly anticipated international climate negotiations in Paris, where representatives from all nations will try and patch together some sort of global agreement to a global problem. If the United States has cleaned up our act at home, then (past sins notwithstanding) we can influence the negotiations through a position of moral leadership. Talk about leverage!

Of course, I am not saying this will happen, just that it could.

Epiphany, 2014 edition

As the story of the magi make clear, power and wisdom do not always get along. But when power and wisdom do meet, as I suppose it was always intended they do, the result is a beautiful duet.

The infantcide at the hands of King Herod is an example of power rejecting wisdom. The message of the “wise men” was so unbearable for King Herod that he would go so far as to massacre children in the vain pursuit of proving it false. Power, without wisdom, becomes reckless.

But it could easily go the other way as well. Imagine, for a hypothetical second, that the magi make their thousand-mile trek, only to discover that there was no king to be found. As disappointment set in, the return journey would have been full of finger-pointing and bickering (“Balthasar, I knew you couldn’t be trusted with the star map!”). And so wisdom, without power, becomes jaded.

Yet, what truly happened is that wisdom found power, and power accepted the gifts of wisdom. This is what we celebrate during Epiphany, that nearly magical scene where the magi discover Jesus, who is all at once divine king and child.

The fact that today’s cold snap is somehow related to global warming might strike some as counterintuitive, perhaps as counterintuitive as a child having the power of a king. But, just like magi watching the skies for a sign, hundreds of thousands of scientists worldwide are making measurements and crunching numbers. The conclusion they have reached may at first be discomforting, especially for those of us who benefit from a fossil-fueled status quo.

However, on a day like Epiphany, where we celebrate God manifested into the world, does it make any sense to fear? Why should we fear doing what is right, when righteousness has taken on flesh and has promised to walk beside us? Will the Representatives and Senators currently in power, and the voters who put them into positions of power, be ready to accept the gifts of wisdom? (Here’s a fantastic TED talk from one Republican legislator who did; unfortunately, his constituents did not.)

I hope that I do not come off as someone using the name of God to endorse a particular political policy! In today’s political spectrum, I could see the solution ranging from a “small government” carbon price scheme to a “big government” cap-and-trade. When I speak of “wisdom” I speak not of the nuts and bolts of solving the problem, but of the courage to first, see that there is a problem, and second, strive to do something positive about it.

Global warming is a new and startling reality. Our response should not be to grasp vainly onto the vapor of a status quo, but to embrace the new challenges that come with global warming. These new challenges include (but are not limited to) transitioning into a clean energy economy, reducing the carbon footprint of individuals and communities, and adapting to the effects of global warming that are already here.

We have the power to do this. If we want it, the wisdom is there too.

This is Epiphany, 2014 edition.

Bonus for friends in warmer places: photos of all that darn snow

Granted, snowfall and temperature are not entirely correlated. But you get the gist of it.


Disclaimer: nothing in this post necessarily reflects any official position of any organizations I work for or otherwise am associated with. If you find something disagreeable in what I said, let me know and I’ll take the heat. (Like, literally. It’s cold outside.)

Epiphany, 2014 edition

On Questions

Let’s jump right in and talk about conferences. A bunch of people getting together to ask a single question.

For example: how do we manufacture a better manufacturing sector? How do we, as institutions of higher education, use social media to advance our mission? How do we practice youth ministry in the city? How do we, as the world’s 20 largest independent countries, cooperate to achieve global economic stability and agree on international financial norms?

No matter how specific the question, the participants of each conference – speakers and audience and hosts alike – never leave with exactly the same answer. There was just too much information and personal opinion swirling around for everyone to be the same page. For some people, the success of a conference is measured not in “notes taken” but “business cards collected” or “photo ops achieved.”

Motives, goals, results will vary. There will be sub-questions and tangents.

Nonetheless, what holds all these elements of a conference together for its brief blink of unity, is that single question.

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This summer, I was at a conference that was all about how Midwest-based, sustainability-focused non-profits could mobilize together to reduce the carbon footprint of the region enough to avert the climate change crisis (with the big assumption, of course, that the rest of the nation and the world does their fair share as well). It was the sort of conference with two separate dress codes – either business casual or hippie commune.

I was merely supposed to go and take notes, maybe get a few business cards along the way. When I arrived that morning, however, I found out that due to extraneous circumstances, the lead spokesperson for my organization, Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, was unable to be there that day. With roughly 20 minutes until go time, I had to prep some preliminary remarks and represent us on the “Faith and Eco-Justice” session panel.

With three other panelists, I took all sorts of questions I had not had a proper chance to prepare answers for. “What are some the greatest challenges you have had reaching out to churches in the Midwest?” “How is your organization reaching out to African-Americans and other minority groups?” “What advice would you give us scientists and policy-wonks for reaching out to faith communities?” (The entire time, I wanted to ask what the difference between “eco-justice” and regular justice was. But I figured, as a panelist, it was best I not ask such a question that could come across as either pointed or ill-informed.)

I sat alongside some excellent panelists, and the conversation that ensued was at once frank, rich and insightful. Nobody in the room wanted it to end, and we were beginning to run over our allotted time.

“One more question,” declared the moderator.

That one more question came from a man sitting behind his 17” laptop. In subtle ways, he stuck out from the rest of the crowd. He broke both dress codes and wore a simple t-shirt and cargo shorts, while his overgrown stubble qualified him for neither the professional clean-shave nor outdoorsman beard categories. He had a few extra pounds on him — not that he was unhealthily overweight, just that at a conference of environmentally conscious folks who mostly ate plants and rode bikes, the fact that he was not slender was noticeable.

“I have found this whole discussion really fascinating,” he began. “In fact, I want to ask a question to the Christians on the panel about how they see global warming in view of their doctrine of the apocalypse and the end times.” I made a quick glance at the other evangelical Christian who sat on the panel, who looked just as excited as I was to launch into this conversation about the rich theology of eschatology that goes way deeper than one finds among the Left Behind books and rapture-ready bumper-stickers which dominate Christian pop sub-culture.

“But I’m not going to ask that question,” continued the man who was beginning to look more and more like an internet troll. “Instead, I want to talk about a very important topic that none of the panelists have brought up. Nuclear power is an incredible energy source that is getting safer all the time, but for whatever reason the green orthodoxy has decided to continuously push it away…”

This so-called “question” went on for about a minute, only to end when the man turned his 17” laptop around toward the panel, although we sat too far away to make out whatever chart or map he had on the screen.

The panel was polite but unimpressed. Nuclear power was a topic about as relevant as homeopathic medicine at a Race for the Cure event. A great discussion for another time wound up riling up the audience into righteous chatter and crosstalk. I was livid if not a bit sorry, because this man’s initial question was great. It was his own agenda that defeated him.

(As another conference participant reminded me later: “what did you expect out of a room full of activists?”)

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I had a friend in college who is the sort of friend you want to have in college. Anytime, really.

She was, and continues to be, the master of the art of asking questions.

My college friend was not just interested in what you did today or how you were feeling. She wanted to know how these were connected. She wanted to uncover the passion behind your hobbies, the hope behind your labors, the values behind your talk. Her questions were far from “small talk” – they were verbal processing prompts that in the process of answering you would learn just as much about yourself as she would. She found a sly, subversive joy in making you the star of the conversation.

Nearly an hour in, I would try to turn the tables.

“Enough about me, how are things going in your own life?”

“Good, good,” she would respond.

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“Don’t the dogs under the table eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table?”

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I want to master the art of asking questions. I am not sure if I can.

My instincts as a storyteller, as a moralizer, as an advice-giver often are the first to rise to the surface. If I ever come across as silent, it is more likely because I am busy formulating my own response than it is because I am listening intently.

I once tried to come up with a pre-prepared list of “50 great questions to ask anyone.” The hope was that I would always be ready to come across as a question-asking-master.

That list never came to fruition.

Maybe you are born with the “art of asking questions.” Or maybe the “art of asking questions” is really the “art of listening.” The best questions, after all, seem to come not from outside the conversation, but rather from the inside.

There might be a chance that I can still master the art of asking questions. At the very least, I am going to give it the best shot I have left in me.

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What if a question could change the world?

We are quick to rush to the answers — especially when the issues our world faces are so urgent. We understandably want people to think the right things. We are going to be evangelists of our own good news.

As someone who believes in something out there called truth, the sort of truth that is able to be touched if not grasped, I have to logically conclude that the answers are of crucial importance.

But answers have a way of growing old, of turning into tired talking points that are not in harmony with the world around them.

Just because we have the right answers does not mean we can leave the questions behind. Like a guitarist tuning his guitar partway through the performance, the evangelist needs to make sure her favorite answers keep hitting the right note. Questions can do that.

At the ground level, however, “changing the world” is not so much about righting answers as it is about righting relationships. Peace (if I may be so bold as to suggest what peace may look like) finds its roots not in agreement but rather in trust.

And so, a challenge: let us not simply ask questions that are mere intellectual exercises or opportunities to look smart. Those have their place, and we have enough of those to go around. Let us instead ask questions that are of the sort that show we trust each other.

The sort of questions that are springboards for someone else to develop their train of thought, instead of wedges meant to exploit their inconsistencies and omissions. The sort of question where we look forward to the answer, not because it is “truthful” or “insightful” or even “interesting” but because it comes from another human being possessing that strange thing we call dignity. The sort of question that is on everyone’s mind, but nobody has been quite sure how to put it to words. The sort of question that comes from inside, not outside, the conversation.

Heck, we can even have a conference. One where we all get together and simply ask: how can we ask better questions?

Who knows if such a conference could actually change the world, or even nudge things in the right direction. There’s enough conferences as it is and most of them, we complain, are high on talk and little on action.

But, if we are going to keeping having conferences (and I don’t think they are going away anytime soon), we might as well give them the best shot we have left in us.

What are the questions that could change the world?

On Questions” is second in an ongoing series of meditations on life’s ubiquitous experiences. The first was On Notifications.

On Questions