“The ultimately responsible question is not how I extricate myself heroically from a situation but how a coming generation is to go on living.” (“After Ten Years,” 42)
“There are people who think it frivolous and Christians who think it impious to hope for a better future on earth and to prepare for it. They believe in chaos, disorder, and catastrophe, perceiving it in what is happening now. They withdraw in resignation or pious flight from the world, from the responsibility for ongoing life, for building anew, for the coming generations. It may be that the day of judgment will dawn tomorrow; only then and no earlier will we readily lay down our work for a better future.” (“After Ten Years,” 51)
Dietrich Bonhoeffer shared these kernels of wisdom with three trusted friends and colleagues in an essay he wrote in 1942 after ten years of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi dictatorship. Two and a half years later three of the four men had been executed by the Nazis for their participation in a conspiracy that tried to assassinate Hitler on three separate occasions. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was one of them.
I find myself thinking about these lines as we launch Climate Justice Week here at Luther. In my view, too many who have been confronted with dire warnings about climate change have withdrawn from the issue. Climate denialism has quickly morphed into climate fatalism and weak resignation. Many have shifted almost overnight from denying we have a problem to now saying there is little we can do about it.
Both attitudes ignite my wrath because they are self-serving and irresponsible. They are self-serving because they justify taking no action, which only perpetuates the status quo from which climate deniers and fatalists currently benefit. They are irresponsible because we have the ability over the course of the next decade to reduce significantly the threat climate change poses to future generations.
This Wednesday, our country’s most famous climate scientist, Dr. James Hanson, will give the David J. Roslien Lecture on Science and Leadership. His talk is titled, “Shape Your Future: Energy, Climate, and Human Rights.” I hope we pack the Center for Faith and Life for his talk at 7 p.m.
The next day, May 2, Luther will host the Youth Director of Earth Guardians, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez. He is an 18-year-old indigenous climate activist, hip-hop artist, and powerful voice on the front lines of a global youth-led environmental movement. That event will take place from 6:30-8:00 p.m. outdoors in the Bentdahl Commons.
These are just two of the great events taking place during Climate Justice Week. I hope all members of the Luther community will check out all of the activities and participate in as many as possible.
I know Dr. Hanson’s concern about climate change is directly linked to his concern about his grandchildren. Two years ago, my wife Karen and I also became grandparents. One reason both of us care so passionately about climate change is because we love our two sons, our daughter-in-law, and our one and only granddaughter who was born on Earth Day 2017. (See the photo of Anna Rose that was taken during her birthday party a week ago.)
One year before he was hanged in the Flossenbürg concentration camp, Bonhoeffer wrote the following in a sermon he had written but could not deliver at the baptism of his nephew and godson, Dietrich Wilhelm Rüdiger Bethge:
“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” (Prov. 4:23) . . . For you, the younger, newborn generation, we want to preserve that soul, which will empower you to plan and build up and give shape to a new and better life.
May each of us vigilantly protect the springs of life and have the courage to act for the welfare of future generations.