Three weeks ago, our neighbor brought Gwyn a tiny monarch caterpillar crawling on a milkweed leaf. We made a home for the little guy with an ice cream bucket and mosquito net, and watched in amazement as the leaf got gnawed and caterpillar poop appeared. In no time flat our very hungry caterpillar was huge with gorgeous yellow and black stripes. Then, overnight, it was gone. A stunning emerald chrysalis hung from the net.
This whole transformation feels tender and critical given the fact that the monarch population was decimated this year by heat in Mexico—that is, by global warming. We’re careful with our little fellow. And it’s got me thinking about change. Why is change so hard? Of course, the caterpillar’s transformation is a natural process, just like Gwyn’s growing up and my growing old, but real change, the kind that can stop global warming or sober us up or bring about reconciliation, is ridiculously difficult. What if, for instance, the church wanted to become an advocate for the environment? What would it take?
In his book Change or Die, Alan Deutschman studied instances where people have successfully changed to identify three key supports that make change possible. First, you form a new relationship with a person or community that inspires and sustains hope—think AA meetings. Second, this new relationship helps you learn, practice, and master new habits and skills. And third, the new relationship helps you reframe your thinking so you see your life and the world in an entirely new way.*
Note how relationships and community are essential for bringing about personal and social change. This is why I believe the church must leap into the effort to stop global warming: Churches’ institutional support for relationship-building can be leveraged to change people’s beliefs and behavior patterns. Or, for a more faithful perspective, a church community can and should open itself to God’s transforming presence. Our work as Christians is to break out of our cocoons, again and again, so God can make of us something new. What we most need now is a new relationship to the earth so it will be healthy for our children and our children’s children. Our faith tells us that a loving, justice-seeking relationship to the earth and each other is possible.
This morning Gwyn woke me up: “Mama, the butterfly’s here!” The chrysalis is now a webby shell; the monarch’s wings are wrinkled, its body is stunning black with white dots. This afternoon, we’ll take this miracle out to the yard and release it. And I’ll pray for a similar change in the church.
–Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew
* Thanks to Mary Anne Casey for this information!