I was afraid to read this book. “As if being a youth pastor and climate change aren’t challenging enough without combining the two,” I thought. As I dove into chapter 1, entitled “All this pain,” I steeled myself for something academic and depressing.
What I found were stories rooted in joy and love, that make being with youth and young adults sound like the best job in the world. The book describes real people, grappling with hard questions together while being the church in everyday ways: volunteering, taking spiritual retreats in nature, evaluating lifestyle choices, finding ways to talk about God. I look forward to hearing from Talitha Amadea Aho at the Youth Climate Summit July 7.
This is not a book of how-tos and answers. It is an encounter with a wise and grounded mentor who bridges the gap between the Christian faith she cherishes and today’s youth with grace and insight. Climate change is a focal point–but also a backdrop to the larger work of learning to be people of faith, hope and love, no matter the circumstances.
Addressing spiritual needs
In Deep Waters is organized around three spiritual needs. The author identifies them as the need for love and belonging; the need for meaning and direction; and the need for interpersonal accountability. By the latter, she means the ability to communicate clearly, work together and navigate conflict. If you read the book in fits and starts as I did, you may lose sight of which spiritual need underlies a given story. I suggest you jot these three needs down on a bookmark or the inside front cover to refer to while you are reading.
In a chapter on releasing defensiveness, Aho describes a challenge from a parishioner that came her way before she had thought much about carbon footprints. A parent questioned the wisdom of flying across the country for a youth service trip. She emphasized that her child would not be attending because this use of carbon did not fit with the family’s priorities. Even though I identify with the parent’s concern, I found myself squirming for Aho as she faced criticism. Knowing how fraught it can be to navigate environmental morality, I was moved by the author’s positive interpretation of what happened. The parent is held up as a model of direct, healthy communication. I was grateful for the reminder that guilt, grudge or passive-aggressive payback are not the only ways to respond to conflict.
Shaped by smoke
Aho and her youth are probably out ahead of where many Mennonite churches are in dealing with climate change because of where they are located. Oakland, California, is already experiencing climate change effects that have not yet come to many parts of the country. Smoke from fire seasons permeates the book and awakens its characters in ways that can only happen through firsthand experience.
No matter. I recommend this book for anyone who works with youth–even those who are not yet concerned about climate change. We are all in deep waters when it comes to sharing the faith we love in the current cultural milieu, and Aho is an inspiring swim coach.