If I hadn’t seen it, I wouldn’t have believed it – faith leaders speaking with one voice on the ecological and social crises of our time
Earlier in the week, I was lucky enough to get invited to an exclusive “rough cut” screening of a 45 minute film that will, in my judgement, have a dramatic impact well beyond the rainbow of faith communities represented by the faith leaders in this movie.
In a world where conflict between faiths looms large in our history school books, this movie truly demonstrates that these disparate faiths have far more in common with each other than differences. And they demonstrate how all and any of these differences will be swept aside in their collective efforts to address the bewildering ecological and social crises engulfing both the developed and the developing worlds.
The movie is really a challenge to all men and women who profess to hold humanitarian beliefs, religious or otherwise. It challenges each of us to think very carefully about the choices we’re making in all aspects of our lives, and how those choices might either exacerbate or mitigate the converging crises of ecological meltdown, economic downturn and increasing inequality within and between nations.
And all this at the very time that accelerating fossil fuel depletion threatens to dramatically reduce our collective and personal resilience levels.
What’s remarkable about this movie is that it isn’t in any way preachy. I’ll repeat that: these religious leaders are not demonstrating any sanctimony or self-righteousness whatsoever. What also surprised me was the absence of oneupmanship – I was half-expecting to see some competition between the faiths as they touted their green and social justice credentials. But it didn’t come across that way.
It helps that there’s almost an equal number of women and men in the movie, but that’s not the key to the complete absence of a “holier than thou” sentiment.
It was, in fact, the personal, emotional and intellectual honesty of each of the faith representatives as they spoke to the camera about what they are doing at the personal level; how they’re empowering their communities to act positively; what they’re doing to challenge the counter-prevailing forces; how they’re breaking down the barriers between faiths; how they’re personally struggling with living in a world that makes doing the right thing the most difficult thing; how they’re reaching out beyond their immediate flock; how they’re helping us navigate the inevitable contradictions arising from a realisation that each of our lives has to change and the frustrating length of time it takes to put those realisations into effect; and how they’re helping us unearth the wisdom inside that will stop us taking the easy options and reverting back to the ways that edge us closer to crucial tipping points in the earth’s ecological and climate systems.
Particularly moving was the account that one of the men of faith gave of his own journey of realisation – from not really understanding what all the fuss was about to being deeply engaged with these epochal problems. He described it as if it were a traumatic truth that he’d protected himself from. When all rational avenues for his denial had been disproved, he’d then reluctantly slogged through an irresistable and painful path through anger and grief all the way to acceptance and action. It was a narrative that surely will be played out by the millions if we’re to align our efforts and work together.
It’s clear that the audience for this movie is not just those of us in developed economies – to whom it issues an unequivocal challenge. It’s also a warning to those nations heading in the same direction that we took. It asserts that the path of high consumption, the worship of money and status and all those extrinsic values espoused by those societies that are causing the greatest ecological impact is not a path to human fulfillment or wellbeing.
I’m not a conventionally religious man myself, and I have well-developed hypocrisy antennae that become super-sensitive around any kind of religious event or activity. That sensor was knocked right off course by one of the most unexpected moments in the movie – a person of no religious persuasion at all is given equal prominence to voice her views and aspirations on these critical matters.
So in this movie we have Priests, Rabbis, Imams, Bishops, Buddhists, Christians of every stripe, Hindi Mahasaya, Sikhs, Quakers and even a non-faith person helping us catch a glimpse of what most of us understand at a very deep level. That every single one of us has a vital impact and role in our species’ most monumental challenge – turning the tables on a converging set of crises by walking shoulder to shoulder through the valley of denial, anger and grief to reach a place where we are free to act together as we know we must.
Show this movie to your mum, your dad, your brothers and sisters, to the owner of your local newsagents. Step for the first time across the threshold of a mosque and engage the imam in conversation, hand him the dvd and let him know if he shows it you’d like to bring your family. Take a deep breath and step into the hushed spaces beneath the soaring arches of the church you recognise from your childhood, find the person who leads that congregation by example and convince her that this movie will give each person a sense of purpose and mission that will move mountains. Better still, look the landlord of the local pub right in the eyes, smile and invite him to give his flock a thrill that no soccer fixture can equal – making sure, of course, you choose a day when there are no FA cup matches.
If we’re going to be doing a bit of leading ourselves – and we’ll have to – we all have to step out of our “comfort zone” and into our “learning zone”. But let’s go gently and not be too bold and step blithely in the “panic zone” – no one’ll accompany you there, and you’ll need people right by your side. We all do, especially now.
How to get hold of this movie
There is one other key point about this movie. It hasn’t been made yet. It hasn’t been scripted, it hasn’t been filmed. No sound technicians have struggled with the acoustics of a church or mosque. No one’s doodled on a sketch pad to figure out the DVD cover. No carefully crafted letters have gone out to faith leaders. It doesn’t have a name yet and it certainly doesn’t have a budget.
Why not? Good question, and I don’t know if there’s a plausible or acceptable answer. There’s just a HUGE vacuum that we need these men and women to fill, collectively, arm in arm, shoulder to shoulder, in a unified message that holds out a welcoming hand to steady us as we stumble through very difficult territory.
However, this movie has, in this posting, drawn its first breath. Only time will tell if this first breath of life will also be its last. That’s in the hands and hearts of the men and women who have chosen to live in service to humanity and to the entirety of what some call “god’s creation” and who have vowed to use their own humanity to reflect back to us how we might use our own. Meanwhile, the shadow moves inexorably across the sundial…
This first breath is a call to our religious leaders, all of you, to step up to the challenge and breathe life into this little idea that could show us what authentic leadership is all about, empowering each of us to manifest just such leadership as we reshape our lives, our communities, our institutions and our world. Over to you.