Pocahontas County resident and Coordinator of Christians for the Mountains to speak at Sustainable Living Forum
SWEET SPRINGS, W.Va. — “We’re facing extinction.”
With that sentence, Allen Johnson, a purveyor of the Gospel and coordinator for Christians for the Mountains, immediately dispelled any notions that he holds an optimistic outlook regarding the state of the world.
Yet, he still proclaims hope. In short, he’s a bit like the author of Ecclesiastes. He recognizes our existential threats, acknowledges their seriousness, yet somehow, in the end, finds hope.
Johnson will be speaking at the Sweet Springs Sustainable Living Forum set for Aug. 16-18 here. He will speak about the proper Christian response to the many challenges facing the world. He is scheduled to speak Saturday afternoon during the 1:30 p.m. session and will participate in a round table discussion later in the afternoon.
In full disclosure, Johnson’s assertion that humanity is in a perilous position was prompted by the question, “Do you believe that humanity is facing extinction.” What was jolting was that his response was offered without hesitation, with certainty and even a sense of resignation.
He explained, “Climate change, ocean trash, nuclear weaponry, refugees because of hunger, religious bigotry and tribal conflicts because of limited food and living space” are just some of the existential threats to humanity. And like the author of Ecclesiastes, Johnson dost not hesitate to point out excesses. “Meanwhile we have those in gated communities that can live high on the hog. (The disparity) is creating increasing resentment.”
He isn’t surprised. “God is giving humans space to be God. God is saying, ‘If you want to be God, go ahead and try it and see how it works out.’” Yet, Johnson is seeing evidence to offer him hope. “There is a certain awareness of racism, domestic violence and other issues. Consciousness is changing. There is a lot of good stuff happening.” Conversely, he continued, “But we’re just in a situation where we’re addicted to fossil fuels. Food supplies are disproportionate. Technology is there, but it’s a race about how best to use it.”
Johnson offered he’s surprised nuclear weapons haven’t been used since U.S. President Harry Truman authorized their use twice against the Japanese at the end of World War II. Johnson observed, “Overall, I think nations are trying to be more peaceful, but they do use proxies.”
We need to act lovingly. That’s the way of hope. We must live the reality of the Sermon on the Mount. Trust that it is truth and the right way to live.
He continued, “I have a hope. It’s based on a dialectic approach. I work out of hope. We have to work for justice. We have to work. We can’t give up. We are to work faithfully. Our job, my job, your job is to not build a bomb shelter. We need to act lovingly. That’s the way of hope. We must live the reality of the Sermon on the Mount. Trust that it is truth and the right way to live. Be generous and kind. Do not hoard money. All those things Jesus teaches are still pathways we are to follow.”
Johnson pointed especially to the role retirement-aged people can — indeed, must — play. “I think children are less valued today. We’ve got to think in terms of the future, instead of thinking about retiring and living it up. People should offer their skills to the community. For instance, look at the immigrants. How do we help them? It’s not an easy logistical question. I think it’s a choice. It’s an attitude. It’s even about a reverence for life. It’s critical if we are going to solve anything. There needs to be critical mass of people who will stand for truth and justice.”
Johnson is also hopeful that various faith traditions call for the care of creation. “Collaboration is very common. Buddism, Hinduism, Islam and other traditions teach that the earth nourishes us, supports us.” He pointed to Genesis 2:15-17; the second half of verse 15 says that humankind is “ … to cultivate and care …” for the earth. So, said Johnson, “The earth is there to support us. Our job then, is to nourish and protect it. If we do so, it will take care of us. It’s a symbiotic relationship.”
He continued, “We can’t be God. We are gifted by God to be able to eat from it and respect it for future generations. But there are limits. As technology and human hubris grows exponentially, we have to consider the earth’s and humanity’s limits. Nuclear war is an example of transgressing those limits.” Climate change is too because it is caused by humankind’s use of fossil fuels, transgressing the limits of the planet and humankind’s ability to respond to its consequences, argued Johnson.
While Johnson says the times require action by everyone possible, he nevertheless acknowledged the importance of taking time to take in nature.“In the mid 90s, I began to do what I call ‘Opening the Book of Nature’ retreats.” He said a retreat would generally include about a dozen people. “We go out for individual attentiveness, to attune to nature and the lessons it might teach us. We come back and share. Then we repeat it. It was an early practice of Christians. God reveals through scripture and nature and they work well together.”
He explained, “It has that tradition of nurture in nature. The problem is it isn’t done much. The enlightenment changed it. Nature is now seen as a commodity. It’s something most people are disconnected with. Spending time in nature and natural settings is very spiritually strengthening. It helps us recover from Nature Deficit Disorder.” He added that children in particular need to be encouraged to play in the natural world.
Yet, he observed, that’s rare. For instance, the miles and miles of trails in nearby national forests are rarely used, Johnson noted. It doesn’t help that West Virginia is the only state to lose population every census since 1950.
A native of South Dakota, he married his college sweetheart in 1971. They wondered about the Midwest and Appalachia, teaching in the Appalachian coalfields and finding other ways to serve. They’ve had four sons along the way and settled in Pocahontas County decades ago. Learn more about Christians for the Mountains.
The Sustainable Living Forum is open to the public and free of charge. Primitive camping at the venue is free. Food vendors will be providing breakfast, lunch and dinner options at reasonable prices. Additional attractions include craft vendors, historical stations and hands-on demonstrations.
For additional information about the Sustainable Living Forum program or about the Sweet Springs Resort Park Foundation, call 304-536-1207, check the Sweet Springs Resort Park Foundation Facebook page or the Events page of the Appalachian Chronicle. To get there by GPS: 19540 Sweet Springs Valley Road, Gap Mills, WV 24941.
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