Tag Archives: indigenous rights

First Sunday of Christmas in Year B (Utphall20)

Divorced, Together –  Nick Utphall reflects on the connections in the family of creation.

Care for Creation Commentary on the Common Lectionary 

Readings for First Sunday of Christmas, Year B (2020, 2023) 

Isaiah 61:10 – 62:3
Psalm 148
Galatians 4:4-7
Luke 2:22-40

For creation connections, it doesn’t get much clearer than the Psalm for the day, Psalm 148. I reprint it here just to refresh and maintain your contact with these globally, cosmically full words:

Hallelujah! Praise the LORD from the heavens;
    praise God in the heights.
Praise the LORD, all you angels;
    sing praise, all you hosts of heaven.
Praise the LORD, sun and moon;
    sing praise, all you shining stars.
Praise the LORD, heaven of heavens,
    and you waters above the heavens.
Let them praise the name of the LORD,
    who commanded, and they were created,
    who made them stand fast forever and ever,
    giving them a law that shall not pass away.
Praise the LORD from the earth,
    you sea monsters and all deeps;
    fire and hail, snow and fog,
    tempestuous wind, doing God’s will;
    mountains and all hills,
    fruit trees and all cedars;
    wild beasts and all cattle,
    creeping things and flying birds;
    sovereigns of the earth and all peoples,
    princes and all rulers of the world;
    young men and maidens,
    old and young together.
Let them praise the name of the LORD,
    whose name only is exalted, whose splendor is over earth and
    heaven.
The LORD has raised up strength for the people and praise for all
    faithful servants,
    the children of Israel, a people who are near the LORD. Hallelujah!

For a sense of “let all creation praise,” this Psalm voices it all! It covers the whole of creation, top to bottom. It reminds us that the creatures joining our praise are not just the tweets of sparrows or the submarine songs of whales, but that even creatures we’d consider inanimate (note: a word that means “without a spirit” or “without a soul”!) are still joining the hymns of praise and fully in relationship with God—the weather, the rocks, the solar system, and all!

It may be reading into it to a degree (anything is liable to be an interpretive framework, anyway), but I also appreciate that the Psalm isn’t promoting one standard order in creation. Plato instilled in us a sense of the “Great Chain of Being,” which was a hierarchy to rank creatures, including indicating a sense of proximity to God. So God was at the top of the staircase, and angels a step lower. That was followed by humans—generally with a presumption that males were higher than females (or a boss higher than the workers, a pastor higher than the congregation members). Depending on your preferences and debate abilities, maybe subsequently following were dolphins or dogs or chimpanzees or some other mammal. Eagles or chickens came next. Lower still were ensuing lizards and fish and those belly-crawling apple-offering snakes. Then maybe insects, which were at least higher than immobile trees. And those, in turn, must be higher and have more connection for the life and soul in them than water or asteroids or dirt.

But it seems to me that the Psalm doesn’t follow the descending staircase of that hierarchical value. When it does descend, it’s more a matter of sightline and observation, from looking up to the skies, and the clouds, and the hilltops, on down to those of us wandering about at ground level. It doesn’t see separated status; it sees community together. If this is the hymn of all creation, it strikes me that it’s less about the ego of a superstar lead singer who’s got backup singers and a band for accompaniment than it present a choir in fugue, trading off the melody from section to section and voice to voice, supporting each other in mutual harmony and rhythm.

Of course, for all of that, it may well be that the Psalm gets little attention in your worshipping gathering this weekend. It may be a preference to make more room for the limited opportunities of Christmas carols. It may be that you don’t particularly feel you need the Psalm’s echo of the gardens springing up in Isaiah 61. After all, Isaiah is a direct echo of Isaiah’s own self, since we hear some of these words just two weeks ago on the 3rd Sunday of Advent.

But for the more Christmas-focused direction, you might still tie in Psalm 148 and notice the typical “star of Bethlehem” fits as one of those voices of praise. The same for the angels that arrived to proclaim glad tidings not just to shepherds but also sheep (though the Psalm has a limited translation of “cattle,” instead of the broader and probably more-intended “livestock” or domesticated animals). And we should be sure that those sheep almost certainly went to meet and praise the baby Jesus, because the shepherds weren’t just going to leave them in the fields at night!

Slightly more focused on our personal neighborhoods of creation (at least as we commonly conceive or attend to), and yet keeping within the song of community together, today’s readings might point us to the broad expanse of human family.

Where the Psalm spans classes and generations, we might also expand across geography and remember that Black Lives Matter and hear Indigenous voices, and notice those who have been historically oppressed.

Not to be too abstract or broad, we should also really notice depictions of the scope of our families—and quite quickly see that that’s not limited by biological family.

Of course, there is the newborn child and the parents. We remember them; they’re not done just because we’re through Advent and the feast of the Nativity. Indeed, most often we think of the expectancy and the arrival, the time of pregnancy and the night of birth. Today’s Gospel reading tells us a short time later of the new family, as the parents are trying to figure out the right things to do now that they have a baby.

And in this reading, as they are going about their business (perhaps in the details of the days like other parents of newborns navigating shopping aisles for diapers), they encounter two others who happen to be there in that same space. Two old people—at least we regularly presume that age about Simeon, with the note that death was being kept temporarily at bay, and for Anna we’re told that she had lived a long time. Simeon and Anna are strangers, but did not remain strange for long. These two who encounter the baby and the new parents resemble a familiar category in many of our churches: they are adoptive grandparents. They scoop the infant into their arms, congratulate the parents, cherish and celebrate the birth, claim its goodness for their own or relate dearly to it.

The family has expanded. It has crossed the generations. It is no longer just those who will live together in a household or can claim to be related to each other. There are new relatings and relationships. New bonds are formed. The kindness of the kin-dom finds more kin.

As we’re noticing all these relationships, the 2nd reading continues to expand our awareness. By a rare Pauline highlight of human birth, of a very real mother, Paul also points to other adoptive relationships. Not just those out of kindness as church family cares for each other, but of legal adoptions.

In this, we might begin by observing the identification of Jesus as the Son of God. He rightly and directly calls God “Father, Abba” (Galatians 4:6). On the one hand, that means that of those parents who took him to the temple, Jesus maybe would come to call Joseph something more like “stepfather,” one who legally took on care for Jesus at the same time he was taking Mary as his lawfully wedded wife. It became official that Jesus was Joseph’s adopted son.

And there’s a happy exchange, a blessed swap that occurs with that pair of relationships, according to Galatians. Jesus received a human adoptive father, and we who are under the law receive God as an adoptive parent. Through this expanding family, Jesus became our sibling and brings us to be lawfully connected to his Abba who is in some way legally obligated to the care of us!

(Note a clear reminder that caring for creation also includes laws and legal structures for how families are maintained and children cared for!)

For our lives being bound up into the family of God, I also want to observe one verse from the song of Simeon. In the phrase about “now you are dismissing your servant in peace” (2:29), the word for “dismissed” occurs in the New Testament almost only in the Gospels and Acts. At its most basic, the Greek word apoluo just means “release.” It is used when Jesus sends away crowds. It is for releasing from debt and for forgiveness. The biggest concentration for this verb is around the debate about releasing Jesus or Barabbas from arrest on Good Friday.

But one of the most common uses for the verb is as the word for divorce, because a husband was “dismissing” his wife or releasing her.

It’s playing with—or a play on—words, but let’s take Simeon, holding the baby Jesus and the fulfillment of God’s promise, with him then being “divorced” in peace.

Divorce is frequently a hard reality in our families, and usually characterized by animosity more than peace, and with forgiveness maybe almost more than could be hoped.

But here, the divorce is exactly about being incorporated into God’s family, being connected in these human relationships, including for all the peoples, all nations, the whole earth (Luke 2:31-32). The odd character of this divorce is that it only binds Simeon closer to the families of the earth, and simultaneously us with him as we sing his song and welcome this baby into our embrace and are welcomed into his circle.

Again, that is care for creation, not in some abstract sense, but in the very daily reality of our families—families that may be separated and have conflict in a normal holiday season, and also families that are separated and distanced through this year of pandemic. Even as we can’t care for that in the way we might like to, this sense assures us that God binds us closer together than we’ve been able to manage.

One final practical thought on how we attend to our human lives and relationships during this time:

The parents in the Gospel reading were following a common ritual after the birth of a baby. There are also markers for the other end of life, as Anna and Simeon find a rite of passage in their old age. Perhaps this commends to us a question of what we are doing about such transitions during times of quarantine. How can we be intentional about marking rituals and celebrating very real and regular moments of life, and not leaving them isolated? When we can’t gather babies into our arms while milling about the aisles of our religious gathering places, and as we are unable to join in visitations after a death and share a funeral service, how will we properly observe these very real and regular changes in our relationships in this human family?

Perhaps one answer could include something from the practice of the liturgical rhythm of the song of Simeon. Each of the three occasions of daily prayer takes a song from these early chapters of the Gospel of Luke. Morning prayer joins the song of Zechariah after the birth of John the Baptist (Luke 1:67-79). Evening prayer repeats the song of Mary, the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55). And the prayer at the close of the day (compline or “night prayer” in Evangelical Lutheran Worship) joins the chorus of Simeon’s song, which has also been used as the canticle after a communion service as the congregation is about to leave from each other and rejoin the rest of the world.

Just as a day may close, marking the finality and transition, with this song of divorce and of connection, maybe we echo it and reverberate with this reality where in our separations we are still bound together. In our song of fulfillment, completion, and transition, we join the hymn of all creation, even in our release and sending away still finding that we are ever more united in the relationships of all life in this grand family.

Nick Utphall
nick@theMCC.net

Originally written by Nick Utphall in 2020. Read more by Nick Utphall at https://utphall.wordpress.com/ 

 

Native Land Acknowledgment:  A Process

Acknowledging the Indigenous peoples on whose land our churches sit has the potential to profoundly shift our relationship to our history, our indigenous neighbors, and the land. How might you lead your church through a process that opens the door to awakening?
Inspired by Vance Blackfox’s call for Lutherans to embrace and practice Native land acknowledgement, Kim Marinucci Acker and Trevor Bakker (Palo Alto, CA) co-led an 11-member committee through an eight-week process of self reflection, research, statement creation, and roll-out to the congregation. To share their experience, they have created a resource and facilitation guide to assist you in leading a collaborative land acknowledgment process.

Listen to them share experiences and resources on this recorded call (click to hear) and explore the resources below for more information on this topic.

*There is interest in brainstorming more ways our ELCA communities can accompany the efforts of indigenous peoples. If you are interested in joining a cohort on this topic please complete a Contact Us form (click).*

Resources and Links to us Live our a Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery:

A Christian theological ethic that incorporates our relationality with Creation into our spiritual imagination could turn us from the colonial idea of “wilderness” to understanding ourselves as part of a sacred community. – Taina Diaz-Reyes

Climate Justice & Faith Certificate at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary

Announcing a new, non-degree eco-justice learning program with Lutheran theological foundations and on-going nourishment from a cohort-based model to ensure community engagement.

Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary’s
Certificate in Climate Justice and Faith
(find out more here and submit an interest form for Fall 2021)

Hear more about the emerging Climate Justice Center at PLTS in this recording of the 2020 Founder’s Day Lecture – including the magnificent preaching of Dr. Melanie Harris and a talk with Bill McKibben!

 

Public Witness: from hand-wringing to actively loving neighbor

The 2019 ELCA Advocacy Convening (April 29 – May 1)  gathered over 100 lay and rostered  leaders to be trained as advocates. The theme: “Prepared to Care: Our Advocacy in Light of Disasters Intensified by Climate Change.” Below are some highlights as I, Phoebe Morad, experienced them. Thanks to those who support Lutherans Restoring Creation and help get our voice on the scene and for sharing this information and inspiration with your congregations and communities.

April 29th, after an 8 hour train ride from Boston: (The passenger next to me said I was taking the train such a long way to “make AOC happy,” but I said I was doing it for my kids.)

Opening worship at the glorious new space of St. Matthew’s in DC set the stage. This part had to include a bit of hand-wringing; admitting that we are full of fear and that it paralyzes us.  Director of ELCA’s Advocacy office, Amy Reumann shared that message of moving past fear in her sermon.  Washington D.C. April 2019 Service (great hymns and sample litanies)

During dinner together we heard from Lutherans across the country and globe dealing with fires, floods, immigration and agricultural devastation.  A disturbing collage of stories that are all magnified (if not caused) by a changing climate.  The positive take-away from that evening: with our combined forces of ELCA’s Global & Domestic Mission, Disaster Response, Advocacy, AND the people power in the congregations (go LRC Green Shepherds!)  we are uniquely poised to attack these issues on all fronts.

It was also terrific to have Bishop Elizabeth Eaton serve us communion as well. Photo: South Dakota Synod

 

April 30th, day two, of our training was focused on forcing ourselves into other people’s shoes.  How do we talk to people who think differently, have difference perspectives/priorities? Ani Fete-Crews from ecoAmerica’s Blessed Tomorrow’s presentation on 15 Steps to Effectively Talk about Climate utilizes current statistics about what people actually hear (which isn’t always what you say).   Time spent learning and practicing Talanoa Dialogue offered a tool for church leaders to bring back to communities with disparate views and learn how to listen to one another and find common solutions.  Hearing from pivotal leaders from island nations surrounded by the threat of rising seas and our neighbors to the South fleeing from long-term drought made the current impacts on our neighbors very real.

Her Excellency Dr. Thelma Phillip-Browne shares her concept of LIGHT from Saint Kitts & Nevis.

Conflict is not what many flee from in Nicaragua… a valley of drought for over a decade pushes families to find food.

The last day (May 1) of the convening we started out at a Mexican restaurant for (an awesome breakfast) and to be officially sent into the world – specifically to ASK our elected officials to consider the human toll of climate change.  What exactly did we ask for? Download the 2019 Advocacy Ask here which led us in conversation with our public servants.

Photo credit: Hunger Network-Ohio “Food security is tied directly to the environment and natural disaster. Droughts around the globe have led to conflict and our polluted waterways make the water impossible to drink. The Hunger Network is #Preparedtocare with ELCA Advocacy as we stormed Capitol Hill to meet with our Senators and Representatives to talk climate changes impact on our most vulnerable communities impacted by natural disaster.”

 

The energy was palpable in the ELCA DC Advocacy office as cohorts came/went to the Hill, and, it felt like  – at least for a day – we were being heard.  Bumping into other Lutherans among the offices and around the Capital was a thrill (maybe because I’m a public policy nerd).  However, the reality of complex conversations and endurance needed for collaborative work hung in the air after hours of meetings.  It was quite a refreshment to then be invited to a vibrant, grassroots reception in an inner-city church basement. With dozens of partner organizations invited to the Interfaith Power & Light’s event, we could be restored in each other’s company and be inspired by one church acting as a beacon of hope in the city.  Reformation Lutheran Church was a not only a host to this rejuvenating event, but also invited us to transformational experience called the Healing Blanket Exercise, facilitated by Prairie Rose Seminole,  ELCA’s American Indian Alaska Native Program Director.

Rooftop party with solar panels, the ELCA Advocacy Director of Energy and Corporate Responsibility and Rev. Mike Wilker.

In a contrast to the “bottom-up” mentality of the evening before, May 2nd offered a very hopeful glimpse of what is happening from the “top-down”.  Fortunately, our grassroots movement is in partnership with ecoAmerica which connects leaders from the health, policy, and religious realms so that we can leverage each other’s assets. There are MANY vignettes I would be happy to share in our next Connections Call, but if you can take the time to explore the recording below please do. Rep. Whitehouse (Dem-RI) shared a very clear understanding of what is the hold-up in his “habitat,” Dr.  Gail Christopher shared a staggering account of the impacts on health care costs, and Rev. Dorhauer talks about privilege as an impediment to the church.  If nothing else, let Shantha Ready-Alonso lead you through a guided visualization of why any of us do this work (start at minute 15 below).

Thanks again so much for being a part of this movement and helping ensure the concerns, efforts, and strengths that come from the Caring for Creation ministries within the ELCA are heard.  Meeting with leadership from all sectors of our church in person and focused on the urgent issues of climate was more effective than dozens of conference calls and hundreds of emails.  I returned home (via train of course) with a full plate of next steps and a full heart of hope.  

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

CA – March for Fossil Fuel Freedom 3/16-18

A request from Kim Acker,  member at University Lutheran Church in Palo Alto, to be public witness:

On March 16-18, our local community has decided to take to the streets to demonstrate with our bodies that the jig is up on funding fossil fuels.

I know you accept the reality of climate change, but what to do about it may remain unclear. Here is my request:

Please take a moment away from the rush, the day-to-day relentlessness.

Pause to feel what’s present for you about climate change. Drop into your vulnerable heart.

Within that space of openness within you, consider my invitation:

We don’t yet know how to talk about climate change. To talk about it in the same breath we talk about Trump, doesn’t do it justice. To talk about the planet our children are inheriting (my children are your children) requires courage and vulnerability. Whether we are conscious of it or not, many of us are feeling the effects of living in the context of ecological degradation and even the prospect of extinction. Our feelings include fear, guilt, and grief. And sitting beside those feelings, there is also joy—joy for the wonder and breathlessness of our natural world and the best of who we are together.

We are experiencing the end of the fossil fuel age.

Many of us are also victims of the fossil fuel industry’s playbook: Create doubt and hopelessness. Doubt the solutions. Debate them. Believe that it’s too late and our personal actions won’t make a difference. All these strategies make us strange bedfellows with the power structures of fossil fuel.

What those powers don’t want us to remember is that we are the sleeping giant. We have power as a people, but we have forgotten it. We don’t feel it when we are alone behind our screens. We have forgotten it because we largely live in isolation from one another and cherish our freedom and independence.

The ending of the fossil fuel era invites us to create a new world of not only using less energy and renewable energy, but also to live in greater relationship to one another and to acknowledge the truth that we live in an interconnected web of life.

In the last few months, I’ve been organizing the 3-day The March for Fossil Fuel Freedom. The march is designed to:

1. build community, develop local leaders, and build local capacity for the movement as a whole (not just this march).

2. show our legislative and corporate leaders with our physical presence on the streets that we stand for the new world, and the ending of the old.

3. use a divestment strategy asking Wells Fargo to be the first American bank to divest from funding new fossil fuel development.

The local indigenous community led by Pennie Opal Plant with Idle No More SF will stand at the head of our march. Having the opportunity to learn from the experience of local indigenous activists like Pennie has nourished and humbled those of us organizing the march. The international women who are leading the indigenous movement have already had success in Europe by working their way into the boardrooms of five European banks to demand divestment. This march follows in their footsteps.

My Invitation:

Join this movement. Be part of this community in any way you can. Yes, we need money, but money isn’t enough. We need bodies.

This is your community—it’s local.

These are your leaders—invest in them.

Do this for yourself. Marching will help you remember that we are part of something more powerful than we can imagine alone. Acting together feels good.

How you can support our effort:

· March for all or part of the march (Sunday marchers are particularly needed)

· Come to a dinner. On Saturday, I will be speaking about my passion–divesting from the industrial food system and supporting local farmers growing soil that sequesters carbon. We will celebrate with good food, music, song, and fellowship.

· Come to the rally on Monday, March 18.

· Reach out to your community, share this message, and invite them in.

· Offer your skills (we are in short supply of media professionals)

· Sponsor a marcher.

Thank you for taking time to consider my invitation to be part of building our power as a people.

Kim Acker

www.oilywells.com