Michael Dowd Exclusive: The Future's Calling Us to Greatness

How do we move ahead to justice & harmony at this critical juncture in history?

Posted Dec 19, 2014

Michael Dowd is a bestselling evolutionary theologian and evangelist for an honorable relationship to the future. His book Thank God for Evolution was endorsed by 6 Nobel Prize-winning scientists, noted skeptics, and by religious leaders across the spectrum. He's been featured in The New York Times, LA Times, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Newsweek, Discover, and on CNN, ABC News, and Fox News. He and his wife, science writer Connie Barlow, have traveled the country sharing The Great Story with thousands of people. Together they've spoken to more than 2000 groups across North America.

When I personally saw Connie and Michael present "The Great Story" almost a decade ago, I was powerfully moved. Here was an epic story that united what we know about the science of our universe and Life on Earth, with a reality-based, paradigm-shifting vision of humanity's place on Earth and in the cosmos. That story helps frame the central question of our time: How we can move forward as a species at this critical juncture in history to a place of global security, justice, and harmony for all?

If you haven't come across Michael and Connie's work before, you're in for a potentially life-changing experience. If you have, then you already know the epic potential for human capacity their legacy invokes. [For more on this work and others like it, definitely visit The Big History Project and Michael's review of it.]

When I learned recently that Michael had turned his attention to gathering the voices of many others working fiercely to enact the beneficial change (the harmony!) the world needs via the marriage of science, sustainability, and inspiration, I was thrilled. Here were the exact voices and ideas I've been eager to spotlight at Mothering Nature. Michael's new series of Skype interviews with dozens of the world's most respected leaders and visionaries is called The Future Is Calling Us to Greatness. It's part of the prescription the world requires for the systemic, cultural healing and the immediate changes we need to solve the climate crisis, the symptoms that cause it, and everything that is inter-related to these. Michael kindly agreed to let Mothering Nature have a sneak peek at some those interviews, as well as this exclusive interview with him about why he put together this symposium.

The Future Is Calling Us to Greatness speakers include: 

This is an unusual mix of people, but they are among the most important change agents of our time. And central to many of these discussions are the interlinkages between the world's greatest problems—such as climate change, poverty, the disparity between rich and poor, peak oil, sexism, racism, genocide, our tortured relationship with animals and the 6th extinction, and the other symptoms of a highly dysfunctional cultural system. People are now starting to see that when we get to the core of these inter-related problems, the solutions are widespread and systemically restorative. Which is why Michael told me in a phone call:

"Nothing has ever fired me up more than doing these interviews. I came away from many of them with tears of hope and joy. And believe me, I know the dire nature of these problems! These people and ideas give me hope and the energy to act in the face of all the scary stuff."

Join me now to learn more from Michael about this incredible series, how it came about, and why it's so vital to today's world. Then, in the weeks ahead, look for spotlights here at Mothering Nature of some of these powerful interviews before they're released on January 26 (FREE for two weeks). You may decide there's no more important way to start your 2015: for yourself, your family and friends, and, if you are a counselor or healer, for your clients. Likewise, if you're concerned or overwhelmed about Life on Earth, species extinction, climate change, and the other ills of our current culture—and you want to know how to help contribute to solving the greatest moral crisis of our time—this series is for you.

Greetings Michael. I’m thrilled to welcome you to Mothering Nature. So much of your life’s work dovetails with my mission: to help unleash an epic force for harmony on Earth. Could you share with us a little about your background and how you work to unleash that force for harmony?

Sure, Rachel. I’ve been a minister for 25 years and I have always had a passion for where science, inspiration, and sustainability intersect. I pastored three United Church of Christ congregations from the mid-1980s to mid-1990s. I then spent several years working at the cutting edge of eco-theology, environmental sustainability, and community organizing. And since April 2002, my wife, noted science writer and evolutionary educator Connie Barlow, and I have crisscrossed North America speaking in churches and colleges across the continent. We've spoken to some 2,000 secular and religious groups over the past twelve years—always focusing on what we call “the sacred side of science and an honorable relationship to the future.”

Two years ago climate change went from being a back burner issue for us to being front and center. Our climate change “come to Jesus moment" happened when we watched David Roberts’ 2012 TEDx talk: Climate Change is Simple. Now, and for the perceivable future, everything I do, everything I teach and preach, and pretty much everything I make time for, revolves around whether or not it contributes to a healthy future.

My great mentor, cultural historian and acclaimed “geologian” Thomas Berry, famously wrote, "As a species, our predicament and our way into the future can be summarized in three sentences: (1) Throughout the 20th and early 21st centuries, the glory of the human has become the desolation of the Earth. (2) The desolation of the Earth is becoming the great shame of the human. (3) Therefore, all programs, policies, activities, and institutions must henceforth be judged primarily by the extent to which they inhibit, ignore, or foster a mutually enhancing human-Earth relationship." So I guess you could say that that's my mission in a nutshell: to help make sure that my Christian tradition’s sense of mission, theology, doctrine, etc, is pro-future, rather than anti-future. To my mind, it all boils down to that distinction.

Part of the reason we’re in touch is because you’ve compiled a series of epic and transformative interviews called “The Future is Calling Us to Greatness” with some of the world’s most highly respected scientists, visionaries, and healers. These interviews yield exactly the sort of emergent, paradigm-shifting, and fiercely powerful support and information that Mothering Nature spotlights. They call forth and model the “epic force for harmony” that today’s world requires.

Please tell us about what lead you to do these interviews? Why are they so vital in today’s world? Why have you said this is “one of the most important projects of your life?”

Sure, Rachel, I’d be happy to. Throughout 2012, Connie and I have been teaching and preaching along the route of The Great March for Climate Action. We've addressed more than 100 groups this year, mostly churches but a few college and university classrooms as well, beginning in San Diego in late February and finishing up in Washington DC in early November. (Three were roughly 50 people who marched the entire 3,000 mile journey. Sometimes we were a week or two ahead of them, sometimes a week or two behind them, and sometimes speaking in rallies along the way).

The title of my main evening program throughout the year—a very bold and provocative multimedia program—was the same as this free online Symposium: “The Future is Calling Us to Greatness.”

(NOTE: Just a few days ago, Michael and Connie uploaded this hour-long visually stunning Keynote program to YouTube, which can be seen HERE. You can get a sense of how prophetic it is by the alternate title, “Reality Is Lord! A Scientific View of God and Why This Matters on a Rapidly Warming Planet.”)

Throughout 2014 I've also been interviewing many of the world's top experts in climate change, sustainability, and how to hold some really terrifying things in mind and heart without going crazy or wallowing in despair. How can we stay positive and engaged — and work together with people of very different backgrounds and beliefs — in the service of a just and healthy future for all.

So, yes, human psychology has been central to this project all along. Indeed, I asked the vast majority of my guests, if not all of them: “How do you stay inspired to act in the face of global scale challenges such as climate change, peak oil, the growing gap between the rich and poor, and so forth? What is it that helps you wake up each day motivated to do the vital work that you're doing?” The responses I got were deeply moving, as I’m sure you can imagine.

Are these interviews relevant to the world’s healers and psychologists? Why? Do you think there is anything more important today than providing professional healers with a powerful—unified but diverse—vision of how to act when the future calls us all to greatness? Why or why not?

I consider these interviews to be profoundly relevant to healers and psychologists of all stripe and color. Whatever our respective backgrounds and beliefs, we can all agree on the absolute necessity of fostering a just and thriving future for humanity and the larger body of life of which we are part. How to stay inspired and on purpose in the face of enormous obstacles – politically, economically, religiously, and otherwise – is something that all psychologists, psychiatrists, and others in healing and helping professions should know how to do based on personal experience, because, they, themselves, will be soon be called on to assist others in that same process.

When one looks at the world and human history through what I call “deep-time eyes,” it's not hard to imagine that our ancestors are rooting us on, and the future is calling us to greatness. I would go so far, in fact, to suggest that this may be one of the most useful and empowering beliefs a person can hold in the 21st century. Have and having had a 45-minute to hour-long one-on-one conversation with all these amazing thought leaders and activists, I can confidently say each of them would agree with that sentiment.

Are you aware that some in the research community (including The American Psychology Association, see Further Resources below) have documented a dire need in the world for psychologists and counselors to adequately support emergent psycho-social challenges related to climate change? How can the interviews you recorded help these practitioners and their clients?

No, Rachel, I was not aware of that research, but it doesn't surprise me at all! And frankly, I can't imagine any preparation more useful, more timely, and more important then psychologists and therapists carefully attending to these interviews and taking thorough notes – or, perhaps even better yet, marking up the transcripts.

What was one of the more memorable moments you had as you did these interviews?

For almost everyone, I asked this question: "If you could have dinner with anyone in the world, who would it be?" And people had so many interesting and thoughtful answers. But it was Bill McKibben who knocked me out of my chair. He said, "I'd really like to have dinner with my wife, my kid, and my dog." 

What inspires you the most about these offerings? If you could tell professional psychologists (and the rest of us for that matter!) one thing about why listening in to these interview will help change the world for the better, what would it be?

What inspires me the most about these conversations is simply this: no matter what our diverse backgrounds, beliefs, philosophies, theologies, political orientations or whatever, and no matter what our respective fields of expertise may be, we can all find a way to contribute powerfully to the most urgent moral crisis of our time.

Of all the things that I've done accomplished over the course of my career of popularizing the inspiring side of science and an honorable relationship to the future, nothing has inspired me more than these 55 interviews. And as anyone who takes time to watch or listen to even more than a few of them will discover, this is not hyperbole.

Thank you so very much for talking with us Michael. It's an honor to learn more about this series and bring these powerful thinkers and change agents to the Mothering Nature audience and beyond.

Visit The Future Is Calling Us to Greatness and be sure to watch Michael's short video sharing more about why he (and I) are so excited about this symposium. Then see where your heart takes you...And don't forget to tune in to Mothering Nature as we spotlight some of these interviews in the weeks ahead with a sneak peek at the material.

Further Resources

Join the Mothering Nature conversation on Facebook and Twitter

Note: I follow the policy of the LA Times and Popular Science (as further explained at CBSNews.com) and refuse climate-change denial comments. 

© Rachel Clark. Reprint with the specific permission of the author.

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