“Love is Sacrifice. Love sacrifices itself for its neighbor.” – Thaddeus of Vitovnica
Throughout my life, in different contexts, I have been asked the question “what are you willing to sacrifice?” When I was a youth playing soccer, coaches would use this question as a motivator in practices to get our team to push our bodies beyond what we thought possible. As a young adult organizing anti-war protests during the height of the Iraq War, organizers would ask ourselves the same question, except the implication was around one’s willingness to be imprisoned or assaulted by the police. And in seminary classrooms full of individuals who have dedicated themselves to the idea that humans can make positive changes in the world, we would ask ourselves this same question around what changes we would need to make in our own lives to help others and how far we would go to make those changes.
At their core, questions around sacrifice are really questions of priorities, vision, and ultimately love. As an athlete, being asked to sacrifice the comfort of my body and to endure pain from hard physical exercise was a question of priorities – was I willing to endure pain in training so that my team would be in a better position to win when we competed? When I was protesting, the question of sacrifice was a question of vision – was I willing to subject my body to potential injury or possibly lose my freedom to promote a vision of the world that doesn’t include violence as a viable solution to foreign policy? As someone who is dedicated to pursing a better future for all peoples, questions around sacrifice are questions of love – do I love others enough to change how I am acting in the world so that they might have a better life, even if that comes at my own expense?
As our collective intertwined societies grapple with solutions to climate change, there will inevitably be questions of sacrifice. And, it is in humans’ willingness of sacrifice where I find hope for the future as climate change continues to profoundly impact the world. Our faith communities, across traditions and denominations, believe in sacrificing for others. We sacrifice because we know that caring for everyone is better than caring only for ourselves. Simply, we sacrifice because we love our communities and our neighbors.
As faith communities, we know what it is like to sacrifice as an act of love. Many of us are already spending our evenings and weekends organizing and protesting for racial justice, donating money from our paychecks to provide food for individuals who cannot afford to eat, staying up all night at emergency shelters so that there are beds for people when they have nowhere to sleep, visiting cancer wards so folks going through chemotherapy have the comfort of another soul around them as they face the uncertainties of illness, and generally providing love and care for our community. We are sacrificing because we genuinely believe in a vision of the world that is more loving, merciful, and just, and that living in a world driven by love and cooperation is better than a world driven by greed and competition, which is what makes climate change so devastating.
Climate change is not simply presenting a number of technical challenges that humans need to address, ranging from declines in conventional agricultural production to increased demand for hospital capacity as tropical diseases migrate further toward the poles. Climate change is impacting the ability of our faith communities to sacrifice ourselves in care for our neighbors in the ways that we have always done. Functionally, it is limiting our ability to love others and to help our neighbors in need.
When Texas lost power earlier this year to a climate-induced polar vortex, the Red Cross was unable to set up warming stations in partner churches because everyone lost electricity, leaving many folks to freeze. Those local faith communities who had partnered with the Red Cross wanted to help their neighbors in need. In fact, they had preemptively planned on being sources of aid in a natural disaster – they had already sacrificed their time, energy, and financial resources in planning to help their community. Yet, because of the depth of impacts of climate change, they we rendered helpless in the polar vortex.
Or, when Hurricane Laura hit the Gulf Coast, millions of people were asked to evacuate. And because of the number of people evacuating amidst Covid restrictions, hotels filled to capacity and churches were unable to open their doors, leaving many folks without a place to stay while their homes were destroyed by Laura. Again, because of the scale and pervasiveness of climate change, faith communities were unable to provide for people in a way that they planned and wanted.
Even though these individual situations were objectively terrible, there is real hope and possibility to address climate driven crises despite their immense scale. While all the impacts of climate change cannot be fully known, we can predict enough of the challenges to mitigate many of the harms, allowing our faith communities to continue to serve our communities. We can build up our resilience to climate change so that we can continue to do the work that is so important to our missions – we can continue to be a source of love when the needs of our communities become immense.
And we are already seeing some signs of these transformations happening, where individual organizations are recognizing that some of the most impactful work to address suffering in climate change requires a different way of thinking. As one example, faith communities in California are installing battery backup systems to their solar arrays so that when wildfires cause massive power outages, those faith organizations can be centers of aid for their community, providing everything from a climate-controlled environment to electricity for dialysis machines. And, without those backups, those same faith organizations would be unable to help some of the most vulnerable people in their communities when wildfires inevitably come again.
But, our potential to build resilience against climate change is much greater than battery backups and solar arrays, which are valuable tools toward resiliency. Knowing that agricultural production is projected to decline, leading to food shortages and high food prices, our faith communities could install hydroponic gardens in our buildings, maximizing the use of their space and energy consumption. This would reduce the amount of greenhouse gasses needed to transport agricultural goods, lower pesticide and nutrient loads in our waterways, decrease the amount water needed to grow food, and provide healthy and nutritious food to our neighbors when they might not be able to afford or have access to food otherwise. It would also help our communities continue our necessary commitment toward food justice by creating a source of food that is not predicated on the continued exploitation of migrant labor and continuous mineral extraction.
Understanding that flooding often impacts potable water supplies, marginalized communities are statistically the most impacted by flooding events, and that flooding is projected to increase due to climate change in many communities, building systems to provide clean water in crises becomes an act of solidarity and love with our neighbors who are so often exploited. To address challenges to potable water supplies in flooding events, our faith communities could implement numerous solutions to providing water in a disaster, including installing reverse-osmosis (R-O) water filtration systems into their kitchens. In addition to providing emergency water aid to community members in need, R-O systems would provide great tasting water year-round. Here, the simple act of providing potable water in a disaster situation continues our commitment to providing for everyone in our community.
And, with a projected displacement of billions of individuals, in areas where populations are expected to increase due to climate-migration, faith communities can work together to proactively address the needs of individuals who will be forced into migration situations. By working together to create concrete plans for faith communities to coordinate resources during instantaneous migration events, like a coastal hurricane evacuation, or through purchasing supplies and adapting our buildings to better facilitate emergency housing, faith communities can meet the needs of mass migration. Often, individuals forced into migration events have lost everything in the process of migration. Faith communities opening their doors and welcoming individuals and families in desperate situations would show the radical love and commitment we have to our neighbors in need.
And these are only a few tangible examples of how our faith communities can continue our missions while preparing for climate change.
But more than any physical or infrastructural project, our faith communities need to be emotionally and spiritually preparing for the impacts of climate change. This includes understanding the depth of suffering that climate change can create while finding hope to live and thrive when disasters strike, or our communities change in unjust ways. We must become resilient enough to become flexible problem solvers to provide aid to our communities while being sources of love, comfort, and strength to others as their worldviews are challenged by the realities of climate change.
At Brugmansia Ministries, we talk about resiliency as ministry. But, foundationally, we believe that we need our faith communities’ ministries to be resilient to climate change, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We need communities that are prepared and empowered to walk with their neighbors in love as the world shifts around us. Because, without resiliency, all of our good will and love will be rendered helpless in climate change. And, to me, that loss would be larger than any single natural disaster.
In this watershed moment, there is such incredible potential for our faith communities to address these challenges in ways that will make our world better. Together, we do not need to succumb to the crushing weight of climate change. We can build systems and prepare in ways that make sure that our communities are fed and have clean water, reduce our greenhouse gas production, provide everyone with access to medical care, and handle migration with compassion instead of neglect. All while working to make our society more merciful, more just, and more loving.
And that vision, for me, is worth any sacrifice.
I hope it is for you, too.
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