Thinking More Ambitiously

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Dear CPN Friends,

I have held up on writing you recently because I don’t want to distract from specific planning for the meeting on October 2 at 10 PST. However, I am excited about overall developments and want to share my excitement with you. Of course, all the “good news” is the back side of the fact that finally people are beginning to believe the “bad news” we have been announcing about what humans are doing to our beautiful planet. As changes in weather pattern become too drastic for them to ignore, more are listening. The danger is that for so many people there are only two responses to the global crisis: deny or despair. I’m not sure which is worse. But there are also many who, on awakening, want to respond. Let’s celebrate this and try to channel new energies in creative directions. 

For me the change means that we should raise our sites drastically. We have been, for the most part, on the extreme margins. What would it take to become part of the real conversation about the future? The answer is, of course, that the situation is different in different fields such as education, agriculture, city planning, and economics. All of them are in trouble. The intuitions of process thought are becoming increasingly common in the public consciousness, but we have substantive proposals to add that would make a real difference, a saving one. Most decision makers have never heard our proposals or know that we exist. It is time to look closely and prioritize carefully.

A recent survey indicates that in terms of the public, we are no longer marginal in theology. There are individual theologians who are more influential than any one process thinker, (Tom Oord is tops among us) but there are three process theologians in the top ten, and another two who are highly congenial. This influence does not translate into acceptance in theological schools or denominational leadership but those may come. We now have a strong hand to play.

Despite its youth, Philip Clayton has led the Institute for Ecological Civilization into national visibility on several highly visible fronts, especially responding to the globally important problem of drought. From the outset, Philip planned for leadership, not life at the margins. He is succeeding. Devon Hartman has developed an industrial and business model in Pomona that is gaining wide attention. There are other possibilities for being serious players in Pomona. To think about changing our overall, still marginal, status is not mere fancy.  

I have mentioned successes simply to make the case that it is worthwhile identifying other possibilities and working on them. It is my hope that the Claremont Process Network will take the lead in identifying projects. Meanwhile, a breakthrough in thinking about funding has occurred. Jerry Bedford, who raised many millions for Heifer International, has offered his help. His special expertise is in planned giving, which focuses on wills and bequests. Huge sums will be transferred in this way in the decades immediately ahead. We can work to get our share of that, but we need money for present expenditures and special projects right away.

Gifts from John Buchanan and Michael Witmer will make it possible to hire someone half time to learn from Jerry and also raise money for current needs. We will all need to work on this, but there now seems to be an opportunity to hire professional leadership. When we identify projects that might put us on the map, there is the possibility of funding them.

So let me encourage you to think more ambitiously. If we think big, we’ll no doubt fall short, but even so we may be a good deal farther along. That we may have thirty members in our Nexus is in itself hopeful. Sometimes, when the time is ripe, real change comes quickly. The best single statement about the kind of changes that are necessary is probably Laudato Si. But very few have explored the implications or thought so comprehensively about the civilization we need as those in the process movement.

Often I call for realism. With regard to the health of our planet, it is too late for “realism.” We must think wildly. I close with one wild idea to encourage your wild hoping. The process movement has flourished most widely in China. Imagine that we played a role in getting President Biden to extend a hand of friendship to President Xi, suggesting that only cooperation between our two countries can save the world. Possible? Maybe not. But necessary? Undoubtedly. Let’s set it as a goal.

–John Cobb

  • John B. Cobb, Jr. taught theology at the Claremont School of Theology from 1958 to 1990. In 1973, with David Griffin, he established the Center for Process Studies, and throughout his career he has contributed to scholarship on Alfred North Whitehead, and promoted numerous process programs and organizations. In recent years he has given special attention to supporting work toward the building an ecological civilization. Toward that end, he led the effort to found the Claremont Institute for Process Studies in early 2019, which was renamed in his honor one year later.