Tag Archives: environmental activism

Season of Creation 2019: Sunday September 22 in Year C (Storm Sunday)

Finding the peace of God amidst storms, we are called to wake up and face up to the storms we have created.  Leah Schade reflects on the third Sunday in the Season of Creation.

Season of Creation Commentary on Wisdom in Creation

Readings for the Third Sunday (Storm), Year C (2013, 2016, 2019, 2022)

Job 28:20-27
Psalm 29
1 Corinthians 1:21-31
Luke 8:22-25

When I was a child I looked forward to thunderstorms. At the first rumble of thunder and crack of lightning, my father would call my three siblings and me out to the porch swing where we all cuddled under the blanket and sang the songs he taught us. As the rain came down in sheets, bathing the green yard, we were bathed in the warmth of a father’s love singing “Down in the Valley.” There was a feeling of peace in the midst of the storm.

The writer of Psalm 29 seems to have a similar positive experience with storms. While there is certainly awe of those mighty energies of nature that can break trees and cause the wilderness to shake, there is also a feeling of comfort hearing the voice of God over the waters. The psalmist recognizes that nature gives testimony to God’s ultimate power over the forces of nature. In the temple of Earth, all say, “Glory!”—both humankind and other-kind.

Insurance agencies and power company crews have a less positive view of these energies of nature. Interestingly, when major weather events happen they are called “acts of God.”  But the attitude is not necessarily one of reverence. When those broken trees fall on houses and cars, snapping lines strung between poles and cutting off electricity, very few are saying “Glory.” More likely they are cursing or lamenting the destruction left behind.

Something has happened to the quality and quantity of storms in the last few decades, however, that has fundamentally changed the nature of these weather events.  In an interview with Bill Moyers on climate change, scientist Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, described the situation: “2011 was an all-time record year in the United States, for example. We had 14 individual climate and weather related disasters that each cost this country more than $1 billion. That was an all-time record, blew away previous records. And in 2012 we had events ranging from the summer-like days in January in Chicago with people out on the beach, clearly not a normal occurrence, an unusually warm spring, record setting searing temperatures across much of the lower 48, one of the worst droughts that America has ever experienced, a whole succession of extreme weather events.” (http://billmoyers.com/segment/anthony-leiserowitz-on-making-people-care-about-climate-change/)

Are these really “acts of God”?  Or should they be described as “acts of human-induced climate change”? How easy it is for some to wave away these new climate realities as just “part of the natural cycle of the earth.” But the refusal to recognize that climate change is caused by humanity’s addiction to fossil fuels that leads to greenhouse emissions that warm the planet and cause untold counts of destruction and suffering is actually a form of evil. Ecotheologian Cynthia Moe-Lobeda calls it “systemic evil” that enlists the “over-consuming class” of society in its never-ending greed for more, at the cost of untold suffering of billions across the planet (Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, Resisting Structural Evil:  Love as Ecological-Economic Vocation, Fortress Press, MN, 2013).

So what is the voice of the Lord saying today, in the midst of these catastrophic weather events and the climate crisis?  Where is Wisdom-Sophia when we need her most?  At a time when our little boat of Planet Earth is more threatened than it has ever been – by a storm of our own making—it appears that someone is blithely asleep on the deck below.

The reading from Job reminds us that God’s wisdom is sometimes hidden. There is a mystery, a profound unknownness to the inner workings of God’s mind, so to speak. And, according to verse 28, the way to access that wisdom is through fear of the Lord and departing from evil. The Hebrew word for fear in this passage is yi’rah, meaning fear, reverence and respect. The problem with the corporations who profit so mightily from our addiction to fossil fuels is that they have no fear of the Lord. In fact, they think of themselves as gods, and, indeed, appear to have the power to affect wind and water just as much as God.

The preacher of today’s readings may want to give the congregation an example of someone or some entity departing from evil because they finally “get it,” grasping the import of their decisions and actions. Moe-Lobeda’s book gives excellent examples of individuals and groups of citizens who are, in a sense, waking up to the reality of the state of our planet. They are realizing the way in which our purchases and choices of energy sources are connected with the storms and droughts that ravage our communities and lives. They are rousing from sleep, as it were, and finally taking up the work of rebuking those economic systems that cause the raging wind and waves. Perhaps that is one way to understand the story of Jesus being roused from sleep to calm the storm. It may be that his actions were a kind of parable: “The kingdom of God is like waking from sleep to confront the storm.”

Verse 24 of the First Corinthians passage reminds us that we are called. In what way do we understand our calling as Christians to stand up together to confront the storm of systemic evil and call for another way to live? It can feel intimidating to stand up to the mighty Goliaths of industry who laugh at our tiny, insignificant voices. To paraphrase verse 26, many in the environmental movement are neither powerful nor of noble birth. Aside from the handful of celebrities who lend their name-recognition to the cause, the majority of those who work in the environmental movement are ordinary citizens, many of whom had never been politically active, but now are compelled to do something to respond to threats to their children’s and community’s air, water, land and public health. And those individuals are often despised and publicly derided by bloggers and pundits directly or indirectly paid through polluting corporations. Yet we have faith that the actions of those who are “low” will “reduce to nothing things that are.” And as Christians, we proclaim this action as initiated by God and ultimately giving glory to God.

The good news for me as a Christian environmental activist who is storm-weary from skirmishes ranging from confronting fracking to standing up to a proposed tire burner in my community, is that ultimately the powers that think themselves greater than God will fall just as easily as the waves and wind before the hand of Jesus. Internally, the storms that rage in me are just as answerable to the command of Jesus. With one cry to the Master, the wild waves and wind always calm themselves in his presence, and, once again, I experience peace in the midst of the storms.

For additional care for creation reflections on the overall themes of the lectionary lessons for the month by Trisha K Tull, Professor Emerita of Old Testament, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and columnist for The Working Preacher, visit: http://www.workingpreacher.org/columnist_home.aspx?author_id=288

Sunday September 4 – 10 in Year C (Carr)

Ecojustice Commentary on the Revised Common Lectionary – Year C:  Amy Carr reflects on Luke 14:25-33 and Deuteronomy 30:15-20

Readings for September 4-10, Series C (2019, 2022)

Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Psalm 1
Philemon 1-21
Luke 14:25-33

Sitting down to think about the cost of a venture before beginning it—to see if one can afford the cost—isn’t that what those of us who treasure environmentally-minded use of land wish we would do with more foresight? But the social cost of environmental activism when it is counter-cultural—not merely pragmatic—is also something the gospel reading provokes us to consider. The stakes are even higher when activists are resisting monied and militant forces that value only short-term profit. But as our reading from Deuteronomy reminds us, individual discipleship is ever-entwined with the well-being of all—not just ourselves.

The context that keeps coming to mind to me in recent weeks is the Amazonian forest in Brazil, where a right-wing populist president, Jair Bolsonaro, denies the facts of climate change, openly encourages illegal logging, and tries to gut the environmental agencies and polices that are meant to resist deforestation. With so many Brazilians burning down—with impunity—areas of the forest for grazing, ranching, logging, mining, or farmland, many scientists fear the forest is at the tipping point after which the rainforest canopy can no longer sustain itself, drying out the forest and intensifying its vulnerability to burning. And pragmatically speaking, the irony is that farming will suffer without the canopied forest to keep more moisture in the atmosphere—and with more carbon released into the atmosphere through burning, raising temperatures and increasing drought conditions. (For sobering details about what is afoot in Brazil, see “On the brink: The Amazon is approaching an irreversible tipping point,” The Economist, 8-1-19, https://www.economist.com/briefing/2019/08/01/the-amazon-is-approaching-an-irreversible-tipping-point).

“For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it?” (Luke 14:28).

Those of us who teach know that students often do not sit down to estimate how much time they need to read, research, and write to finish a project on time. Few among us resist the pull of immediate short-term pleasure. Even when we resist the temptation of profit by cheating, we might be willing to perform beneath our capacities in order to give our time and attention to something more immediately preferable. And we know we all need Sabbath moments, lily-of-the-field hours.

But here Jesus is calling to discipleship those who have considered the costs of investing in accompanying Jesus, and who know how doing so will strain their ties to family and to the state:

Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:26-27).

Reckoned in terms of green discipleship, those costs range from a commitment to ongoing learning about environmental issues, to finding ways to organize or connect with activist groups or movements, to risking attack or death if one becomes a prominent activist—as many indigenous Brazilian environmentalists have found (such as Emrya Wajãpi, killed on his tribal Amazonian lands by encroaching miners this past July).

And what of those of us who aren’t full-time environmental activists—not full-blown disciples—because we cannot afford to sustain our lives if we did so? Is it enough for us to be in the crowd listening to Jesus’ teachings, then going home and trying to love our neighbors as ourselves—perhaps including our non-human neighbors by writing letters, signing petitions, educating ourselves as we have time—and trying not to despair about how little we as individuals and as a species are doing?

Was Jesus judging those who counted the costs of activism as too high? Those who could not hate their families, in the active sense of breaking with their expectations of our responsibilities to them? Those who did not consciously place themselves in danger of arrest or attack? Or was Jesus simply being matter-of-fact—realistic about how few could meet the challenges of all-in discipleship?

We Protestants have inherited a resistance to making spiritual distinctions of worth among Christians. It reeks too much of the abandoned conviction that monastic life was superior to family life. Yet we too valorize heroes like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was part of a small minority who resisted equating Christian identity with German nationalism.

Deuteronomy offers another perspective on a rightly dedicated life—a perspective addressed in fact to a nation. The well-being of the people and the land depended upon everyone being in sync and harmonizing with the ways of God:

See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God . . . by loving the LORD your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear . . . I declare today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land. . . . .I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live. . . (Deuteronomy 30:15-19).

Some hear in this passage the ring of a prosperity gospel, while others worry about the conquest sensibility so abused by European Christian settler colonialists, and which continues to echo no less in Israel and Palestine itself, with its two competing claims to indigeneity. But with the passage in second person plural voice, I hear myself addressed as part of a we—with no possibility of making a choice that could affect only my own status as a disciple.

In its corporate address to its audience as a people, a nation, the voice of God and Moses in Deuteronomy is as pragmatic as it is demanding. If we don’t work together to hear and heed the voice of the living God in matter-of-fact commandments (based, for ecological matters, on scientific understanding of the natural order), then we—people and land—will face collective destruction.

With a choice between collective flourishing and collective collapse, we are pulled towards a longing to harmonize, to synchronize our lives in a path of justice with our neighbors before a God who forces us to consider the consequences of doing otherwise.

If Luke sharpens the introspective focus of the question of the individual call to discipleship, Deuteronomy diffuses that focus to remind us that what is at stake is the good of the whole. We do not need to be against the state or our families, except where they walk in the way of death, the way that curses the possibility of a common life and the well-being of the land we ultimately possess together—or not at all.

Some readers may know of Paul Wellstone, a US Senator from Minnesota who was killed in a plane crash—but not before inspiring many of his students at Carleton, and many who encountered him when he was in office, with a contagious spirit of dedication to the common good. To be in his class on “Grassroots Organizing and Social Change Movements” was to be challenged to the quick to see, to care, and to participate in action to challenge structural injustice. “Why don’t the poor rise up in the streets?” Paul would ask, with prophetic passion. Among his students was a dedicated smaller group of disciples, some of whom were raised in Republican families and wondered out loud if they should or must distance themselves from old friends and families. Paul let students wonder such things, but he exuded a belief in American democracy and in everyone’s potential contribution as a citizen that was Deuteronomic in spirit—even if he spoke with the passion of Jesus calling for more. When my English major friend Deb asked Paul in office hours: “What about someone like me who wants to write children’s book? Can I contribute that way?” Paul declared that of course—there are many ways to contribute to the common good.

In many ways, for all his ability to speak like Amos, Paul (a secular Jew who drew on Jewish and humanist values) was also like the apostle Paul in Philemon—urging a better way in every way he could, appealing to the human heart to move it. As the apostle Paul encouraged Philemon to free the slave Onesimus—granting that the decision was Philemon’s alone, the power in his own hands—so too Paul Wellstone sparked a sense of possibility in those around him, a sense that we really could help to make a difference.

The activists who inspire us are those who “delight in the law of the LORD,” and “meditate” on it “day and night” (Psalm 1:2). They perceive the pathway of justice and righteousness amid any current configuration of corruption, oppression, and exploitation. “They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper” (Psalm 1:3).

We know that the just do not always prosper in conventional ways; they may have to bear their cross in ways that overtake their earthly lives. But it is prosperity simply to hold steady a vision of the common good, with ever-increasing ecological knowledge, especially in a time when many deny scientific facts.

“The way of the wicked will perish” (Psalm 1:6) by its own unsustainability. The question is whether the we all addressed by Deuteronomy will perish along with those who deny the way of God, the laws of ecosystems.

There is no path to hope except when we find closed all loopholes that might lead us to think we will be safe if we but look away. Better then to face Luke’s call to discipleship, Deuteronomy’s command to consider always the good of the whole people and land, and Paul’s creative lure to do the right thing because it tugs on our sense of a possible otherwise.

 

 

Sunday August 21 – 27 in Year C

The Tension Between Action and Rest — In the Right Balance: Robert Saler reflects on Luke 13:10-17

Care for Creation Commentary on the Common Lectionary 

Readings for August 21-27, Series C (2013, 2016, 2019, 2022)

Jeremiah 1:4-10
Psalm 71: 1-6
Hebrews 12:18-29
Luke 13:10-17

One of the most striking things about the gospel lesson for this week is that it underscores the fact that, in the gospel narratives, it is Jesus’ acts of healing that become the most intense sites of contestation and even enmity between Jesus and his interlocutors. If we include exorcisms, resurrections, and imposed recovery from disease and disability under the rubric of “healing,” then more often than not Jesus’ acts of healing are preludes to, or accompaniments with, conflict between the in-breaking kingdom of God and the status quo of politics and religiosity in Jesus’ time.

While Jesus, in this gospel lesson, is not reticent to ascribe the crippled woman’s ailment to demonic influence (13:16), the real tension in the story lives in the intersection between religious pathos (since observance of the Sabbath was and is a central and beautiful reality in Judean piety) and mundane politics. In areas fraught with vulnerability, politics become theo-politics, and existentially weighty matters are at stake whenever that happens. The theologian Paul Tillich, whose experience with the Third Reich left him particularly sensitive to the ways in which Christians used Jesus’ conflicts with the religious authorities of his time to justify anti-Judaism, often described the encounters between Jesus and these authorities as “tragic” in that both parties were following what they took to be the will of God, but with radically incommensurate ends. It is not a matter of assigning blame. Rather, it is a matter of realizing that the thickness of human traditions around honoring God and the novelty of genuinely radical religiosity do not always mix well, even when both are praiseworthy in their own right.

The fact that healing and contestation go together in the Gospels becomes highly evocative when we think about how the preacher might address this gospel theme to our language around creation care, particularly to the extent that we might draw on “healing” imagery to describe our attempts to slow or even reverse environmental degradation. There are at least two areas that come to the fore in this linguistic space around the theo-politics of healing.

First, this episode presents a homiletical opportunity to take “healing” of creation out of the realm of “warm and fuzzy” and into the space where effective environmental activism truly lives in our time: the space of political conflict, compromise, and slow, painful progress. The Christian church has no reason to ignore or even downplay the fact that care for creation is a highly politicized reality in our time. Global climate change, fracking, oil drilling, economic growth vs. sustainability—all of these are issues that divide Christians in the pews even as they divide North Americans in the street. If the Gospels are a kind of narrative paradigm that informs our worldviews, then Christians today can take genuine comfort in the fact that “healing” the Earth in the name of Christ was one of the most conflict-inducing activities in which Christ himself engaged. So too in our day. What is needed in preaching today is frank acknowledgment and informed discourse about how any action we might take on behalf of creation will bring us into the interlocking spheres of political, theological, and existential conflict that the Gospels themselves describe—and reassurance that such sites of conflict are where God’s people are called to be, since God is always already there with us.

Second, the preacher can lead her people into the tension between Sabbath and action, particularly as it relates to acts of healing and justice. Numerous ecological theologians have recommended a recovery of “sabbath” as a corrective to our increasing drive to overwork and incessant expansion of human labor—a drive that has done more than just about anything else to strain Earth’s resources. However, the Gospel narratives introduce a tension into Sabbath-keeping that resonates in the hearts of all who strive to balance contemplation and action: when are we called to act, and when is the call from God to cease action and “lie fallow,” as it were? Jesus’ own ministry embodied this tension—he rested when some called on him to act, and he acted when it would have been less scandalous to be still. A time of meditating upon how the countervailing demands of rest and action pull upon our own lives and work might well resonate with both emotional and ecological implications for God’s people this week.

And so the preacher has a rich array of questions, with few easy answers. Exactly the place where truth might well find voice!

For additional care for creation reflections on the overall themes of the lectionary lessons for the month by Trisha K Tull, Professor Emerita of Old Testament, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and columnist for The Working Preacher, visit: http://www.workingpreacher.org/columnist_home.aspx?author_id=288

Reflections from The Bible to the Frontlines – Stony Point Retreat Center, August 2019

 Lutherans Restoring Creation partnered with Presbyterians for Earth Care for their bi-annual conference at Stony Point Retreat Center in NY August 6-9, 2019 where over a hundred earth-keepers gathered.  Below are some of the remarkable reflections during our time together processing how to take some of the Bible’s directives to bring us to the frontline. Using the World Cafe Method, participants conversed around the three following verses and considered how the Word could help them (and their faith community) progress from movement to action.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. John 15: 5

“Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.”
Psalm 119:105

 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.
Romans 12: 4-6

Here are images of our time together at Stony Point Retreat Center:

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Peace for the Earth: From the Bible to the Frontlines