Why He’s Worth Listening To: Alastair McIntosh at UCUCC this Weekend

Alasstair McIntosh 2I am excited that Alastair McIntosh is coming to University Congregational Church this weekend.

You may have never have heard of him.   I hadn’t until a few months ago.  But in Scotland and in international conversations about ecological and social justice, McIntosh is well known.  He’s an activist and a mystic, a realist and a dreamer.  He walks his talk.

Hell-and-High-Water-Front-HiResHe understands the need to address the challenge of climate change through political action and technological changes to renewable energy use.  He speaks clearly about the possibilities and limits of what individuals can do.  And he brings something else to the conversation about climate change and activism that captures my attention.

Like Pope Francis, McIntosh believes that climate change will necessitate the need to refashion ourselves – the ways we relate to each other and to the land upon which we live.  It means the long and slow work of examining the spiritual and psychological needs behind our drive to consume.

I for one like big challenges.  But seriously, is this even possible?  Can we as McIntosh - Spiritual Activism book coversocieties and people really do that – and can we do it in time?  And isn’t it also true that if we don’t get at the root of what drives our habits, our patterns of living will never really change?

Can we live differently?

Churches like the one I serve are full of programs and activities that equip, encourage and enable us to do lots of good things.  At times, communities like ours can look like that’s all we are – busy people doing all sorts of important things in different ways.

But at our core, communities like ours were formed out of the conviction that there is a different way to BE in the world.

January 2016 294Communities like ours are custodians of ancient traditions and texts that at their best call us to remember what it means to be human and our responsibilities to each other.

Communities like ours at our best remind us of our place in the world and our connection to the land we live upon and the peoples and communities we are part of.

Communities like ours at are best are bearers of the flame of imagination January 2016 307that dares to dream of a different way to be, a different way to follow as we navigate our way through life.  Jesus called it life in “the kingdom of God.”

We forget these tasks lost in our urgent to-do lists.  Sometimes we are too close to the work at hand that we forget why we are here and doing what we are doing.

January 2016 193People like McIntosh help me remember.  They help me to hear the call for the church to join other communities in remembering and imagining what it means to be human and our responsibilities to each other and our earth.  He makes real in his life and faith the challenge and possibility, the imagination and impossible idealism of what such a life in the kingdom of God might look like.  I don’t even understand all the terms and words he uses below but they point to something that stirs my imagination.

‘Our drift must be toward becoming whole people in a whole world,’ he says in Hell and High Water.  He outlines 12 steps to take us there – a call for a different way to BE:

  1. Rekindle inner life:

‘Too much inner life without nourishment of getting our hands dirty is just as toxic to the soul as the other way around. We need to dance between the fantastical and the practical…

  1. Value children’s primal integrity
  1. Cultivate psycho-spiritual literacy
  1. Expand our concept of consciousness
  1. Shift from violent to non-violent security:

The only antidote to the spiral of violence is the spiral of love. This is the power of nonviolence, not as passive ‘pacifism’ but as vibrant ‘truth force’….’

  1. Serve fundamental human needs
  1. Value mutuality over competition
  1. Make more with less:

The drive to consume is an addiction…and acts as a second-rate substitute for the things that our urban, post-industrial existence deprives us of: most crucially, our sense of belonging to something greater than ourselves in both human and environmental terms…

  1. Regenerate community of place
  2. Build strong but inclusive identities
  3. Educate for elementality

I am convinced, especially from my own experience growing up on the Isle of Lewis, that children both young and old need an ‘elemental education’ fully to be able to appreciate reality… They need to experience nature’s beauty and the sheer fun of it, for nature absorbs children in so many different ways’

  1. Open to grace and truth:

It may not be possible for humankind to head off the consequences of the hubris that afflicts our planet. But if worst comes to the worst, and if increased suffering falls upon life on Earth – then let us never forget that our spiritual imperative is to hold fast to hope… The problem with mere optimism is that it tries to alleviate suffering by denying reality. Hope, on the other hand, draws on inner resources that can co-exist even with outer pessimism or catastrophe.’

In a time full of bad news, I count on those who point the way to other news.  Those who point to the challenge and possibility of another way to live.   I hope I might see you this weekend.

January 2016 154

The Lecture Series at University Congregational United Church of Christ

 Alastair McIntosh
Weekend 5th to 7th February 2016
Spiritual Activism, Climate Change and Liberation Theology for our Times

Friday, Feb 5

7 – 8:30 | Spiritual Activism – Land, Soul and Agency in Social Change
In his main lecture, Alastair will speak to what can sustain our activism for social, environmental or religious change. Drawing on principles from his latest book Spiritual Activism: Leadership as Service he will use a case study of community land reform in Scotland to explore community empowerment that has had a positive impact on tackling climate change. The land, he will argue, has been colonized because our hearts are colonized. The building of right relationships with the Earth and one another requires a profound decolonisation, starting with the inner life that is the soul.


Saturday, Feb 6
9:00-10:30 am | Spiritual Experience as a Basis for Activism
It’s all very well to talk about spiritual activism, but what basis do we have for thinking that the spiritual is ‘real’? How can we deepen the inner life of the soul, hand in hand with making our outer life as activists more effective? This session will start with listening and sharing from the previous evening’s lecture.


11 am –12 Noon | Climate Change as a Focus for Liberation Theology
Alastair sees liberation theology as theology that liberates theology to do the job that theology should be doing. What does theology have to say about the driving factors behind climate change, and how might it help us cope with come what may in the come to pass?


1:00-2:30 pm | Nonviolence in a Context of Engagement with the Military
Nonviolence as informed by the Quaker Peace Testimony is central to Alastair’s work as an activist. For nearly two decades he has lectured regularly on this theme at military staff colleges across Europe. What is the spirituality of nonviolence, why does it matter, and how does he present the case to senior officers in the armed forces?


Sunday, Feb 7
9:00-9:45 am |
Christianity, the Cross and Activism Today?
Is it time to dump the embarrassment of the Cross, to dump Christianity itself? Are these things past their sell by date, or have we hardly yet begun to appreciate what a spirituality of the Cross might offer to the world in this, the third millennium?


10 am Worship Service – Preaching (Mark 6:30-52).
This passage describes the feeding of the five thousand and the walking on the water. How are the challenges of our calling to feed the hungry, and to walk on water, as activists in these our troubled times?

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