Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from the epilogue of the forthcoming book, Following Jesus in a Warming World by Kyle Meyaard-Schaap (Feb. 2023, InterVarsity Press). It is an attempt to imagine the state of the climate crisis decades from now, and the U.S. church’s role in the midst of it. The vehicle for this imagining is a letter written to the author’s imagined granddaughter on her graduation day.
May 22, 2066
It’s funny, isn’t it, how we humans make meaning? How dots and lines on a page—even this page—can unlock pain and joy in equal measure. How something as small as the wink of an eye can wrap us in warmth and belonging. How a bite of bread and a swallow of juice consumed with others can somehow catch us up, if even for an instant, in the mystery of heaven. How sprinkling water over your downy head eighteen years ago filled this old man’s heart to bursting.
And how, in a few short hours, a brief walk across a stage will usher you into an entirely new world of possibility and potential. On this your day of commencement, dear Granddaughter, I hope you’ll suffer an old man’s brief sentimentality before bounding into your glorious future.
On the day you were born, I spent a lot of time ruminating on your future. An old habit. I guess I picked it up around the time your dad was born. Back then, the fierce storms and punishing heat that have been taken for granted during your life were just beginning to break through into our reality. For much of my life to that point, they had been mostly abstractions—dangerous offspring of our inaction that would one day grow up and move out of the house to wreak their havoc on the earth but innocuous enough as they merely gestated in the womb of our collective ignorance and denial.
By the time your dad was born in 2018, though, the consequences of our procrastination were becoming harder and harder to ignore. There were some our age, even then, who were choosing not to have kids. Deciding that the future was too dangerous, too unpredictable to be able to morally justify yoking a human life to it for decades to come without that human’s prior and informed consent, a sentiment your grandma and I could certainly understand, though never quite embrace. I guess our hope in God’s good plans for the world has always been more stubborn than our fear of our ability to derail them. But that doesn’t mean the fear hasn’t been there, ever mingling with the hope.
On the day your father came into the world, that alloy of hope and fear was forged and lodged deep in my heart for good. There’s a paradox to loving other mortals, that even as your heart remains fixed in your chest, its twin beats inside someone else’s. You watch your own heart’s mirror as it jumps and laughs and aches. It’s a phenomenon that repeats itself whenever we make the dangerous, awesome choice to love. All these years, as my own fearful heart has pumped dutifully inside my aging chest, it has replicated itself as first your dad and his siblings were born and then again when you and your siblings and cousins all entered this precious, precarious place. All of my Dear Ones.
I still remember each of those days perfectly, you know, including yours. That first time I held you in my arms—my heart’s newest match. I admit that in that moment my heart was mostly fear. Don’t get me wrong: we had made significant progress at pulling the world back from the brink. Countries had finally dug in—decades later than they should have—and made many of the necessary, difficult decisions that needed to be made.
The acres of solar panels and seas of windmills that you take for granted were erected in earnest. The jobs that had evaporated from traditional manufacturing hubs like Detroit, Akron, and Pittsburgh came flooding back as the demand for electric vehicles—and all their component parts—skyrocketed. Investments in high-speed public transit connected the country in ways not seen since Eisenhower latticed the nation with interstates. I know it may be hard to believe, but you weren’t always able to take that high-speed train from Iowa City to come see your grandma and me in Michigan and make it home again by dinner.
Environmental atrocities that were allowed to persist for generations were finally addressed head-on. Lead pipes were exhumed, wide-open oil and gas wellheads spewing methane to the heavens were finally capped, and toxic coal ash was contained. Black and Brown lungs and brains were allowed to heal at last.
Monopolistic electric utilities gave way to community energy as neighbors banded together to put up solar panels on their roofs and to share the electricity with one another. Noise pollution everywhere plummeted as the internal combustion engine swapped out its place under the hood for a museum plinth, bringing migrating birds back over major cities and marine life back to their traditional migration routes. Empowered by new agricultural policy, an entire generation became reacquainted with the intimate interplay of soil and seed. Food began to be grown drastically closer to home for the first time in a century. And, thanks be to God, the church finally began to claim its rightful place in the public square, demanding these measures in the name of neighbor-love and the common good. Demanding them in God’s name.
You’ve learned enough in your history classes to know that your experience of church is drastically different than mine has been for most of my life. You know that the way most churches today transition seamlessly on a Sunday morning from worship in the sanctuary to marching in the streets used to be alien. That all the polls that consistently show Christians at the top of the list of people in society most concerned about the environment and climate change is a transformation that even I dared not dream of decades ago. That churches blanketed with solar panels, dotted with community gardens, and swaddled in swaths of native plants and grasses—so commonplace today—were exotic anomalies for most of my lifetime.
Indeed, it would be hard for you to understand how fully the church and the Christians who constitute it have been transformed in the handful of decades that came before today. This day. Your special day.
I’m sorry to say that, would you somehow be able to travel those decades in reverse and find yourself in a church all those years ago, you might not recognize it. Simply put, the church has come back to itself. There is hope, my Dear One. So much hope.
So why does the fear remain? Perhaps it’s an old man’s feeble heart that still breaks for a future it couldn’t secure for you. We knew all those years ago what our slow-walking and half-measures would mean for you. We knew that even with all the progress we have made over the last several decades, powerful climate impacts were already baked into the atmosphere. We knew that your world would be fundamentally altered from the one we had known. We knew that glorious future you are getting ready to explore would be more dangerous and more unpredictable because of us.
Maybe it’s a fear that can’t let go of the world it used to know enough to find all the beauty and joy that are still to be had. Maybe it’s a fear that’s grown too familiar over the years and can’t be shed—at least not entirely. Maybe it’s a fear that, though you never have, you still might lock me with your stunning stare and I’ll find accusation in your eyes. Maybe it’s a fear that, though I tried to do all I could with what I knew, it still wasn’t enough—that I couldn’t be enough for you.
Whatever the reasons, the fear remains, mingled with the hope. And that’s okay. I’ve come to learn across these many years that hope and fear, like twinned hearts, are bound together. And though there were times when I thought the fear in my heart would swallow up the hope, it has not. In fact, the hope has been the half of my heart that has stretched and grown the most as the years have passed. Even though fear swelled in me as I held your newborn body against mine all those years ago, it’s hope that I feel more than anything else today. And I have you, Dear One, to thank for that.
It’s funny how we humans make meaning. A tassel flipped from one side to the other. A hat thrown in the air. This beautiful, wild, precious world is bursting at the seams with meaning. So go, Dear One, and make it.
Make meaning in the dappled sunlight streaming through waving leaves. In the beauty of birdsong and rushing wind. In charging waves and the utter stillness of night. In the glory and presence of the Creator pulsing through it all. In choosing to yoke your heart to another, in all its exhilarating gift and terrifying risk. In the mysterious alchemy of hope and fear.
And though it may feel at times that your heart just might be swallowed up by that fear, know this: there was once a man who thought the same thing. He thought that the fear for your life and your future would blot out all else. Instead, he has spent every day of the past eighteen years astounded by his feeble heart’s ability to love you more than it did the day before. And that love has made all the difference.
All my love, Dear One, on this day and every glorious day to come.
Taken from Following Jesus in a Warming World by Kyle Meyaard-Schaap. Copyright (c) 2023 by Kyle Meyaard-Schaap. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press. www.ivpress.com
Thank-you, Kyle, for this warm and strong and honest word about fear and hope and love.
You might remember me. I am one of those a couple of generations older, one who simply
assumed that all was well and all would be well, (partly) because I turned a blind eye in too many
directions. Even in Bible class, for goodness sake! Yet, I should not lose sight of the grace of God,
which grows in power in the middle of human weakness. And I will always be thankful for brothers
and sisters who, like you, demonstrate and articulate what Paul said so long ago about faith, hope,
and love, even while creation is groaning. So, there is good reason to reach beyond fear when I hug
my own precious grandchildren. Again, thanks!
Mr. Tuls, or course I remember you! Thanks for reading and engaging the piece. Please don’t be too hard on yourself. You laid a powerful foundation for me in those Bible classes–and for countless other students as well, I’m sure!
Thanks to both of you