Johnny Cash, Global Warming, and Pope Francis

by Dick Gillett

Dick GillettHeading up to Phinney Ridge in my car the other day on my morning coffee run, I grabbed a Johnny Cash CD as I went out the door and put it on. Instantly the resonating voice of the old singer and his wonderful uncomplicated music went to the depths of my soul as he sang “When the Man Comes Around.”

The words to this song are chock full of apocalyptic verses from the Book of Revelation in the Bible: doom, the end of the world, judgment, good and evil, choice. It is definitely not a book many people read nowadays, including myself as an ordained minister.

But the pathos of Cash’s music transported me back to a conference held at Pomona College in California I’d only just returned from on June 7. Called Seizing an Alternative: Toward an Ecological Civilization,” the conference was a gathering of over 2000 people from all over, including about 130 from the People’s Republic of China. The topic was “global warming” and what to do about it, and the mood was somber—downright apocalyptic at times. “We live in the midst of perhaps the greatest crisis the world has known,” warned noted environmentalist and keynoter Bill McKibben, “and it has come upon us very fast.” He called for a “global grassroots movement” to address the global warming generated by putting trillions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere yearly. “It may already be too late” to save the planet, warned theologian John Cobb.

So that morning in my car, Cash’s apocalyptic music and global warming came together for me.

But there was also great determination at the conference by participants as we partook of several dozen workshops over three days. We focused on specific aspects, projects, and models to address the huge complexity of a global society that must eventually move from an expanding economy to a “steady state” economy.

Can we actually imagine a society whose ethic is guided toward sharing with others? Instead of unlimited consumption and rampant individualism?

This past Thursday June 18 Pope Francis issued his much-anticipated Encyclical Laudato Si on the ecological crisis, and it drew immediate worldwide acclaim. For me it served as a striking public underline to that moment of hearing Johnny Cash’s apocalyptic song and its fusion with my still-fresh memory of the “Seizing the Moment” conference at Pomona College. “Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political, and for the distribution of goods,” warned the Encyclical. “It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.”

At St Andrews we have already instituted important structural changes and recycling practices, including the installing of solar panels, and are ahead of many churches in recognizing climate change. We should be justly proud! But I believe we are at just the beginning of understanding and responding to the monumental challenges facing us both as a Church, and as a civilization. You’re invited to join the Creation Keepers at its next meeting July 19, after the 10am service, to become involved!