Thinking Anew – Time to heed the wisdom of the young
Greta Thunberg and other young climate activists have forced the world to think again about the catastrophic climate change crisis that is facing us. Photograph: Susan Walsh/AP
Sibylle Berg was born in Weimar in 1962. She is one of Germany’s most famous and provocative current writers. Her books have been translated into 30 languages. In her book Did I Ever Tell You, she recounts the story of two children living close to each other, Anna and Max, growing up in East Germany. They live in dysfunctional families and are not happy with their lives. They feel that adults refuse to listen to children and how the world would be a far better place if more heed were paid to children and their ideas.
Berg, through the minds of Anna and Max, argues that far too often children are simply afraid to express their thoughts out loud. On reading the book, it dawned on me that as a child I often wondered what would happen if the world ran short of oil or coal. But of course I always dismissed it as a silly idea because no adults would ever think of such a possibility. When Greta Thunberg appeared on the world scene, there were those, including Donald Trump, who dismissed her and suggested she go back to school. But that young woman and her growing band of young followers have forced the world to think again about the catastrophic climate change crisis that is facing us.
Tomorrow’s Gospel is the well-known parable from St Matthew (25: 1-13) where Jesus tells the story of the 10 wise bridesmaids, “Five of them were foolish and five were sensible: the foolish ones did take their lamps, but they brought no oil, whereas the sensible ones took flasks of oil as well as their lamps.”
In other words, the wise women were prepared for eventualities and were looking at the bigger picture. Whereas the unwise women were just thinking of the now and gave no thought to what might happen if their oil ran out. And so it did.
We have become so accustomed to our profligacy that we are no longer aware of how appallingly badly we are treating our environment. A friend of mine, who spent his working life as an engineer, keeps repeating to me that if we think the effects Covid-19 are having on us are bad, then how will we deal with the calamity that is facing us with the environment.
Pope Francis in his 2015 encyclical Laudato Si (Praised Be), writes: “We know that approximately one-third of all food produced is discarded, and whatever food is thrown out it is as if it were stolen from the table of the poor.”
Pope Francis goes on to talk about the pollution caused by multinationals in the poorest areas of the world, behaving in a manner in which they would never in developed countries or in the so-called first world.
It’s as clear as day that the five wise bridesmaids took the sensible action in preparing for all eventualities. They had the wisdom not to concentrate exclusively on the here and now but plan for the future.
There is a wonderful universal tone to tomorrow’s Gospel. Jesus is talking to us right now.
But isn’t that the wonder of the Bible, and all good literature, in that its wisdom never dates and it always has the power to inform and inspire us? Add to that the Christian belief that the Bible is the inspired Word of God.
Anyone with an ounce of sense must now be aware that we have mistreated our planet and it is a matter of great urgency that we take the necessary steps to begin to do what we can to repair the damage that we have done.
In the first reading in tomorrow’s liturgy from the Book of Wisdom (6: 12-16), we are told: “Wisdom is bright and does not grow dim.”
I’m back thinking of Sibylle Berg’s novella and how she describes two young children who have the wit and insight, indeed, the wisdom, to see when things are going wrong but also to know what is right. Is it that adults become accustomed to what is happening and simply go with the prevailing wind? When it comes to our environment and the damage that we are doing to it, we might pause and turn to younger people and pay more attention to them. I strongly recommend Pope Francis’ encyclical letter. Encyclicals can be heavy reading but Laudato Si is like no other.