Tag Archives: justice

Transfiguration of Our Lord (February 20, 2020) in Year A

All Creation Looks Forward to God’s Glory Dennis Ormseth reflects on the mountain experiences of Moses, Elijah, and Jesus.

Care for Creation Commentary on the Common Lectionary (originally written by Dennis Ormseth in 2017)

Readings for Transfiguration of Our Lord, Year A (2017, 2020, 2023)

Exodus 24:12-18
Psalm 2
2 Peter 1:16-21
Matthew 17:1-9

Mountains matter.  Beginning with the readings for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, in which the mountains were called on by the prophet Micah to witness God’s controversy with God’s people, we have sought and found in the sayings of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount material grounding for an Earth-honoring faith. Now with the readings for the Sunday of the Transfiguration of our Lord, the mountains nearly speak for themselves, demanding our attention as part of some of the most important, defining narratives of the biblical tradition.

The texts constitute a thick conflation of several events in the history of God’s people, extended over the ages.  God, as it were, summons to the high mountain of the Transfiguration “those two great ancient worthies,”  Moses and Elijah, the founding liberator and lawgiver from the exodus from Egypt, and the great prophet from the reign of Ahab and Jezebel in the northern kingdom of Israel, respectively (Robert H. Smith’s phrase, from New Proclamation, Series A, 1998-1999, p. 171). Amplifying this look backwards, the first reading recalls Moses’ own encounter with God on Mt. Sinai. A comparison of these stories produces several elements held in common, which serves to tie them intimately together: each happens on a mountain, “six days later”, with a special select group; the shining face and skin, the bright cloud and voice from the cloud result in great fear on the part of the bystanders (Warren Carter, Matthew and the Margins: A Sociopolitical and Religious Reading. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2000, p. 348.)  Elijah brings to the scene an experience similarly connected to Sinai, as well. In the context of his conflict with Ahab and Jezebel and their priests of Baal, he ascends Sinai alone.  There he is caught up in a great wind, an earthquake and fire, and then hears out of the sheer silence the voice of God (1 Kings 19).  Belden Lane explores the connections here:

“The mountain narratives of Moses and Elijah had situated each of them within a context of loneliness and rejection.  In going to meet God on the mountain, the one had been scorned by his people, who demanded a golden calf to worship (Ex. 32:1).  The other had been threatened by Jezebel, who’d sworn herself to vengeance (I Kings 19:2).  In both cases, their ‘seeing of God’ on the mountain was but an interlude in an ongoing struggle, given at a time when the absence of God seemed for them most painfully real” (Belden C. Lane, The Solace of Fierce Landscapes:  Desert and Mountain Spirituality.  Oxford:  Oxford Univeersity Press, 1998, p. 135).

Thus the pairing of Moses and Elijah on Sinai with Jesus on Tabor lends political significance to the narrative of the Transfiguration. Tabor is thereby associated with a challenge to entrenched political power:

“Lying far from the corridors of influence in Jerusalem (or Egypt, for that matter), the mountains defy the authority of the state, ‘clashing with every royal religion enamored of image, vision, appearance, structure.’  Coming to Sinai, Moses had witnessed the overthrow of oppression in Egypt.  Elijah came to the mountain fleeing the corrupt regime of Ahab, having just undermined the hegemony of Baal on Mount Carmel. The mountain of God necessarily brings into question all claims to political power.  Its iconographic imagery challenges every human structure. Similarly, at Tabor, the transfiguration reaches beyond the present failure of political justice in Jerusalem to affirm an unrealized future where Christ is king” (Lane, p. 135).

Jesus brings to the mountain assembly his disciples Peter, James and his brother John, the fishermen to whom we were introduced on the Third Sunday after the Epiphany, as he called them away from their life by the sea and the hardships of fishing under the oppressive control of Roman imperial rule. Jesus has been traversing Galilee with them, teaching, healing, and feeding people as they went, a journey interspersed by repeated visits to remote areas, including both mountains and the Sea of Galilee.  Their journey culminates just prior to their ascent of the mountain in Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah, followed almost immediately, however, by a bitter exchange between Jesus and Peter over Jesus’ future path to Jerusalem and the cross. It is the opposition of his disciples to his disclosure that he will face crucifixion and death before being raised up (Matthew 16:21-28) that leads to the divine instruction from out of the cloud,  “This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him.”

The second reading for this Sunday recalls the event of the Transfiguration in the voice of Peter from some time near the end of his life, apparently also in response to the religious challenge from an opponent, suggesting the continued immediate relevance of this instruction in the life of the young church:  “You will do well to be attentive to this [account] as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” As indeed do we, also.  The older and wiser Peter sees what these narratives share:  each of these men has been in a dark place, but they are being drawn into the light.  Moses, Elijah and Jesus each went to the remote mountain after experiencing difficulty in the communities for which they are leaders. Away from the political and religious centers of society, each time the manifestation of God lends legitimacy to their leadership in a time of conflict, and empowers their future course of action.  All three emerge, as it were, from the darkness of those conflicts into the holy light on the mountain, before descending the mountain to resume their leadership according to the will of God.

Thus the presence of Moses and Elijah confirms for Jesus’ disciples his “high rank and holy task,” encouraging them “to follow him in his unrelenting journey to the cross” (Robert H. Smith, p. 171). But Jesus’ traverse of this passage from dark to light is in one key respect different.  Readers of our comment on the text for the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany might recall that we have recently heard from Moses’ farewell address from Mt. Nebo, in which he exhorted the people “to choose life” as they prepared to enter the promised land without him. Elijah’s adventure on Sinai followed on an opposite choice by the people and their leaders, once they lived in the land, of the way of death that is manifested in a pervasive drought in the land.  In contrast to both Moses’ prior exclusion from the land and Elijah’s conflict with royal idolatry there, Jesus has gone deeply into the land to engage its people, and has manifested there a benign and restorative presence among them.  He has been about the healing of the creation.

The conflict between Jesus and his disciples is particularly telling in this perspective.  As Robert H. Smith points out, in spite of their experience on the mountain, the disciples do not really hear what Jesus is saying. Matthew brings this section of his gospel to a close with an account of their dispute amongst themselves, as to who will be seated in positions of power and authority when Jesus ascends the throne of the kingdom (Matt. 20:20-27), an account that, as Smith notes, reverberates with damning significance for our own times:

“They all wanted to be in charge, to sit on seats of privilege and power.  It is not only pharaohs who build pyramids.  All the nations do it. Corporations do it.  Churches and schools organize hierarchies, and families and clans do it.  It all seems so natural.  It happens so regularly, so easily, so universally, that we find ourselves thinking, ‘of course the few were born to give orders, and the many were made to obey!’

But is it natural?  Where does it all come from?  From God?  Did God order the universe in such a way that humankind should exercise a ruthless dominion over the trees and rivers, over birds and beasts?  Did God’s voice really call out that men should rule over women?  The people of the Northern Hemisphere should dominate the poorer nations to the south?  Did the finger of God write that we should have social systems that are rigidly hierarchical, authoritarian, and patriarchal?” (Smith, pp. 172-73).

No, this pattern of domination does not come from God, as Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount has made clear.  It is those who are poor in spirit, those who lament the absence of righteousness in the land and desire above all its full restoration, the meek who give place to others in the full community of life and who seek peace, even to the point of refusing violence in return for persecution by their and Jesus’ enemies, who will be comforted and inherit the kingdom (see our comment in this series on the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany). Indeed, Jesus’ passage through the countryside constitutes a foretaste of the healing of creation to come with his entry into the full reign of God as servant of all creation.  Followers of his way have been warned against “affairs of the heart” which contribute to the patterns of dominations that disrupt the good creation (see our comment on the Sixth Sunday). They will be salt and light for a sustained and illuminating demonstration of the kingdom, characterized by obedience to God’s creation-serving law and genuine and full-hearted love of the other, including non-human creatures (see our comment on the Fifth Sunday). But for all that to take place he needs first to go to Jerusalem to confront the authorities that hold the land in destructive bondage to the pursuit of power, privilege and wealth that will result in its ecological devastation and abandonment (see our comment on the Sixth Sunday).

As we prepare to leave the mountain with him and take the Lenten road to Jerusalem, however, it is important that we take note of both the specific location and the actual event of Jesus’ transfiguration. Again we would urge, the mountain itself matters. It has been observed that Mount Tabor, the presumed locus of the transfiguration, is a very different place than Mount Sinai.  Sinai is high and forbidding, “a place of dark and difficult beauty,” as Belden Lane experienced it on a climb to the peak.  For him, “it symbolized the wandering of the children of Israel, the experience of loss and the bread of hardness.  The Sinai wilderness is a place far from home, a ‘no man’s land’ of fire and smoke.” Mt. Tabor, on the other hand, is “a cone-shaped peak in Galilee,” appropriately captured in the words of Elisaeus, a seventh-century Armenian pilgrim, who described it as surrounded by “springing wells of water and many densely planted trees, which blossom from the rain of the clouds and produce all kinds of sweet fruits and delightful scents; there are also vines which give wine worthy for kings to drink.”  “If Sinai wins the soul by threat and leanness,” Lane comments, “Tabor compels by charm.” “In Jewish history,” he notes, “Tabor is associated with Deborah, the woman of faith and daring who led her people in defeating the captain of the Canaanites and his fearful iron chariots (Judg. 4-5).  This mountain is one possessed of an ancient, feminine energy.  It is Mother and Sister, one whose strength is bent toward nurture and wholeness.”  As he walked alone in cold rain on Tabor’s lower slopes, Lane found the mountain, “especially in the rain …a place of nourishment, a place to rest and be still” As he comments, in contrast to the landscape of Sinai, Tabor ‘offers a landscape of accessible and gentle beauty.  Like a wet, green breast rising out of the Plains of Jezreel, it is bathed in light, covered with woodland trees and wildflowers.” (Lane, pp. 124-25, 130-31.)

Belden’s contrast matches our expectation that Jesus would go to such a mountain as Tabor to help bring his disciples to a sense of the beauty of creation as it would be in a world freed from the pursuit of wealth and the associated all-encompassing pattern of domination.  “The sacred mountain, from Sinai to Tabor to Zion,” comments Lane rightly, “is a place where political priorities are realigned.  To flee to the mountain is to identify with the marginalized, with those denied access to the empowerment of the state and thus subject to its wrath.  Jesus and his disciples may well have contemplated such things as they walked down Tabor on their way back toward Jerusalem.”  But where the desert-mountain tradition “stringently insists that ‘moments of splendor’ serve the purposes of justice and responsibility in the ordinary life” (Lane, p. 135), the more ecologically harmonious experience of Tabor, we want to suggest, encourages the hope that somewhere ahead lies another mountain that instead invites us to ascend it more with the beauty of the infinite than the terror of injustice, more fascinans than tremendum, more love than dread.

We in fact take that to be the deepest meaning of what happened to Jesus there on Tabor: that “he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white” is, as the Orthodox tradition understands it, the sign of things to come for the whole creation.  A recent visit by this writer to the sanctuary of Sant’ Apollinare in Classe, outside of Ravenna, Italy, where the scene of the Transfiguration fills the apse, confirms this possibility.  Moses and Elijah rest on clouds to the left and right of the star-studded cosmic field which surrounds a cross that bears the face of Jesus at its center.  Below them, trees, flowers, birds and animals of the forest delight the eye, while sheep of the parish fold and their bishop walk amongst the lilies. Again Lane comments significantly:

“Tabor is the mountain of light, taking joy in the greening power of God’s spirit, as Hildegard, the twelfth-century Benedictine nun, described its impulse toward growth.  This is a mountain that thrives on abundance and redundancy.  It supports a plant life of variegated wonder.  The apocryphal Gospel of Hebrews connects its summit with the height of mystical insight; ‘The Holy Spirit, my Mother, came and took me by the hair and carried me to the great Mount Tabor.’  Here is effulgence, an excess of glory” (Lane, p. 140).

The Transfiguration, and the Eastern iconographic tradition that builds upon it, draws us forward with a vision of the “as-yet-unrealized but promised transfigured glory of the entire material world. Because of God having been made flesh in Jesus Christ, humans are able to glimpse the very face of God in matter itself” (Lane, p. 126).  God’s love of the creation, so amply exhibited in the readings of the Season of Epiphany, knows no final limit; all creation can look forward in joy to the culmination in God’s future of the reconciliation and incorporation of all things in the glory of God.  This is, indeed, an Earth-honoring faith.

Climate Justice & Faith Course at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary

An invitation from Cynthia Moe-Lobeda:

Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary is so very pleased to announce a new development in our curriculum that may be of strong interest to you.

We have inaugurated a concentration in Climate Justice and Faith! It is available to all M.Div students and will be available to all students in the new Masters in Spirituality and Social Change that we intend to launch in the fall of 2021.

This flier (click here) describes the climate justice concentration. Please see the website for a fuller depiction at: https://www.plts.edu/programs/master-divinity/climate-justice.html

It is so utterly crucial that faith communities provide leadership in moving our world away from climate catastrophe and toward the flourishing of God’s marvelous creation. Therefore we intend – as soon as possible – to create a version of this concentration for people who want to prepare for leadership in creation care and climate justice, but who are not studying for a masters degree.  It will be a certificate in Climate Justice and Faith.  Stay tuned for more information on that opportunity.

We invite you to share this website and flyer broadly in your organization or network.

May God’s power for healing and liberation flow among us,

Cynthia D. Moe-Lobeda, Ph.D.
Professor of Theological and Social Ethics,
Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary of California Lutheran University
Church Divinity School of the Pacific
Core Doctoral Faculty, the Graduate Theological Union

Fifth Sunday after Epiphany (February 4-10) in Year A (Ormseth)

Meeting  the “Creational Need” of Nature Dennis Ormseth reflects on salt and light in this Sunday’s readings.

Care for Creation Commentary on the Common Lectionary (originally written by Dennis Ormseth in 2017)

Readings for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, Year A (2017, 2020, 2023)

Isaiah 58:1-9a [9b-12]

Psalm 112:1-9 [10]

1 Corinthians 2:1-12 [13-16]

Matthew 5:13-20

As the reading of the Sermon on the Mount continues for another eight verses this Sunday, we extend our exploration from last week’s comment, to see whether Jesus’ teaching provides further support for an “Earth-honoring faith” (See that comment for a statement of what such faith requires, following Larry Rasmussen’s description in his book by that title). Although this Sunday’s readings do not offer us an “Earth-honoring” metaphor comparable to last Sunday’s first reading, the prophet Micah’s “trial before the mountains,” there are nonetheless strong echoes here of themes we found significant for such a faith.

In the first reading, for instance, the prophet Isaiah similarly announces Jahweh’s rejection of the pretense of the wealthy who come seeking God’s presence, while they do nothing about removing the “bonds of injustice” and the “yoke” of oppression, poverty, and homelessness they place on the those below them.  The text thus again rejects the master and slave ethic, which, as Rasmussen suggests, in the industrial age has been extended from social and economic relationships to “other-than-human nature” in a “paradigm of domination that renders nature essentially a slave to humanity, its steward and master” (Larry L. Rasmussen, Earth-honoring Faith:  Religious Ethics in a New Key. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013, p. 100).  Those who choose to break with this pattern of domination and the false worship to which it is coupled, will be, in the prophet’s image, “light” that “shall break forth like the dawn” (cf. the Psalm, 112:4); they will share in a restoration of both body and habitat (The Lord will … satisfy your needs in parched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.”  58:8, 11).  Their relationship with Yahweh will be fully restored, and as they “take delight in the Lord,”  Yahweh will make them “ride upon the heights of the earth.”  Thus in the end, here, too, with their abandonment of their rebellion over against God, the mountains receive them on behalf of the Earth. Their city restored, the people will be “called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in” (58:12).  Restoration of the people’s relationship to Yahweh is accompanied by restoration of the relationship with the creation in which they live.

The second reading, in turn, brings back the theme of the power of God.  Paul disavows human wisdom and power in favor of “a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that [the Corinthian congregation’s] faith might rest, not on human wisdom, but on the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:4-5).  He speaks “God’s wisdom, secret and hidden,” he writes, which ‘none of the rulers of this age understood…, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”  The wisdom and power of the crucified Christ, revealed by the Spirit, is accordingly contrasted to the wisdom and power wielded by the politically and socially powerful in pursuit of their imperial interests. With respect to our concern for care of creation, this contrast relates to perhaps the greatest imbalance of power in the modern world, that involving control over the development and flow of energy in the global fossil fuel industry, access to which, along a long chain of investor and consumer connections, is a major source of conflict and oppression in the world, much to the destruction of habitat for both humans and other-than-humans.  The development of climate science over the past century has brought about a revelatory disclosure of these great power imbalances and their destructive impacts on the communities of creation.

So how do the sayings of the Sermon on the Mount relate to this situation?  From last Sunday’s beatitudes, this is how:  blessed are the poor in spirit, who despair over their powerlessness to liberate the earth they love, no less themselves, from the domination of the fossil fuel industry; they know themselves enmeshed and even enslaved to it by virtue of their inescapable participation in the global economy. The power of God’s presence restores them. Blessed are those who mourn, and thus do not hide or deny their grief over such terrible losses to habitat and species. God shares their pain. And blessed indeed are the meek, who do what they can in their own place, to secure space for their neighbors, both human and other-than-human, that is free from all such diminishment of their shared well-being. Theirs is the future of the earth.

Turning to this Sunday’s teaching, in so doing, the followers of this way will be regarded as “salt of the earth.”  As Warren Carter points out, the image of salt has considerable polyvalence in scripture: “Sir 39:26 identifies ‘salt’ as one of ‘the basic necessities of human life.’  It seasons food in Job 6:6.  In Lev 2:13 and Ezek 43:24 salt and sacrifice are linked.  Elisha uses salt to purify drinking water (2 Kgs 2:19-23).  In Ezra 4:14 sharing salt seems to suggest loyalty (so also ‘salt of the covenant’ in Lev 2:13 and Num 18:19.)”  As “salt of the earth,” Carter suggests, “the community of disciples, not the ruling elite or the synagogue, is to live this flavoring, purifying, sacrificial way of life committed to the world’s well- being and loyal to God’s purposes (Matthew and the Margins:  A Sociopolitical and Religious Reading, p. 137). Building on the image’s polyvalence, Robert Smith suggests that it is precisely “the people who hear his words and follow him” that are “‘salt of the earth,’ and that means salt for the earth” (New Proclamation Series A, 1998-1999, p. 148.  Emphasis added).  This is the second time the Earth is mentioned in the Sermon, the first being the reference to Earth as that which the “meek” will inherit (5:5). “Salt for the earth” can then in turn be understood as pointing to those who are loyal to the earth and help to sustain its life in all its rich diversity and beauty.  The Earth, Carter emphasizes, is where the “disciples live, in the midst of the poor in spirit, the mourning, the powerless, and the hungry and thirsty, dominated and exploited by the ruling elite (5:3-6).”  It is where the community embodies God’s empire as opposed to human empire, in mercy, purity, peacemaking and persecution, as it lives out its alternative existence (5:7-12; Matthew and the Margins, p. 138).  And as we’ve seen in our second reading, restoration of this “saltiness”, this “Earth-loyal” faith happens by drawing on the wisdom and power of God, as disclosed by the Spirit in the cross and resurrection of Jesus.

Just so, according to the Sermon’s teaching, with this Earth-loyal, Earth-honoring faith, the followers of Jesus “are the light of the world” (5:14).  For the second time, Jesus unexpectedly applies to the disciples an image that we have seen Matthew and the other evangelists use primarily for Jesus himself.  They are to continue the task first given to Israel, as our first reading reminds us (“light shall break forth like the dawn”; Isaiah 58:8, cf. Isaiah 42:6), and then assumed by Jesus as “light shining in the darkness.” The point of these two images of salt and light is clear:  as Robert Smith writes, “Through Jesus, God is laying healing hands on the world to make it ‘all right’ and to summon us to live lives of ‘all rightness” (Smith, p. 150). Those who follow Jesus up the mountain are called to manifest, for all to see, the life that leads to the fulfillment of all righteousness for all creation.  With this as his goal, the teaching of Jesus does indeed fully conform to the nature and purpose of the law and the prophet, as he claims in the closing verses of our reading (5:17-18):  gracious gift of God, fundamentally personal and inter-relational in character, meeting the needs of all creation, not a matter of abstract rules but rather grounded in the narrative of Israel’s experience with God that itself provides both guidance and encouragement for such action (For a description of these several aspects of Torah, see Terry E. Fretheim, God and World in the Old Testament. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2005, pp. 148 – 150). 

It is also shown, importantly we might add, to be highly consonant with the contemporary ecological understanding of life, which is likewise fundamentally inter-relational in character and meeting “the ‘creational need’ of nature. “

This is Church and You Are Needed Inside & Out

Watch this message from our churchwide leaders and fellow members across the country who recognize the tough, uncomfortable work of being “called out” into the world.  It is an empowering 7 minutes – worth the watch for all of us, not just the voting members who will be sitting in the conference rooms.

For those wanting to embolden their sense of calling to Creation Care for All as ministry inside and outside the church – you don’t need to have a resolution ready,  join a march, or preach on climate (yet). Start here:

 

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

Youth Gather and We All Grow!

Back in the summer of 2018 hundreds of youth and group leaders visited our Lutherans Restoring Creation space in the Interactive Educational Area during the National Youth Gathering in Houston.

Every visitor was asked to spend about 5 minutes walking through a “tour” of their typical day and consider how their daily decisions impacted their global neighbors. 

Thank you Notes to GOD – for all the gifts given to us that we don’t have to pay for.

We don’t have to let it end there though!  Get your youth group (or adult forum, or bible study, or family…) to read through the tour with pledge form in hand (or on screen) and find solutions in a prayerful way of living.  If you use our online form we can stay on touch with you and let your synod leadership know what you’re aiming for.

Click here to download the “walk through” program – share it as a power point or print it out to pass around. Pledge form in pdf form can be downloaded here (let us know how it goes!) 

The two most requested tools for Youth Groups to use as follow up to this discussion starter:

Story of Stuff 20 minute video. (Ask your group what challenges they have with their “golden arrow.”)

Know No Trash Program

 

Tool Kit on Climate Change Connections

Take yourself, your class, or your congregation on a journey that explores the intersections between climate change and hunger. These toolkits are designed to be a program-in-a-box or customizable segments of information and activities for use in many congregational or educational settings. [Read More Here]

 

 

Climate Change and Poverty in the Household of God

Climate Change and Poverty in the Household of God

by Brian E. Konkol

Brian Konkol served in South Africa as ELCA Country Coordinator of the Young Adults in Global Mission program.

Since the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNCCC) came into force in 1995, the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UNCCC has met annually to assess progress in dealing with global climate change.  From November 28 until December 9 in Durban, South Africa, the Conference of the Parties will meet again, for the 17th time, thus the title “COP17”.  Among other things, COP17 will bring together various world leaders in order to adopt decisions and resolutions, publish reports, and attempt to establish legally binding legislation for developed countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.  While some are skeptical as to how much progress may be achieved due to power politics and global economic stagnation, there is a growing sense of optimism surrounding COP17 and enthusiasm is expected to increase as the gathering draws closer.

While one could reflect upon a wide range of topics surrounding climate change and the complexity of multi-national negotiations, I find it necessary to offer a few observations from the perspective of a North American Christian residing within the borders of South Africa.  In specifics, as I prepare for my own involvement surrounding COP17 in Durban through the local faith-based community, the following observations come to mind: 1) Climate Change skepticism seems to be a USA-based phenomenon, 2) Climate Change and Poverty are intimately linked, and 3) The Christian Church has much to offer surrounding resistance and responses to climate change and poverty.

Climate Change skepticism seems to be a USA-based phenomenon

According to the Pew Research Centre, a 2009 survey found that only 57% of USA citizens believed in global warming, which was a twenty-point drop from a similar survey taken in 2006.  In addition, the study found that only 36% of the 1,500 adults questioned believed that human activities – such as pollution from power plants, industry, and vehicles – are behind an increase in global temperatures, which is down from 47% in 2006.  While there are many reasons given for a decline in environmental emphasis, the numbers reveal that USA citizens tend to be more skeptical of climate change when compared to the majority of people from other nations.  As a result, it is not surprising that the USA government has a reputation around the world as the primary roadblock to global legislation that would require more legally binding sustainable environmental standards.

In contrast to the ongoing public and political debate in the USA surrounding the legitimacy and urgency of climate change, the global scientific body of knowledge appears to be overwhelmingly clear, as highlighted in The Great Disruption by Paul Gilding:

  • …every major grouping of qualified scientists that has analyzed the issue [of climate change] comes to the same conclusion and has done so consistently over time and around the world… The broad conclusion they all come to is that we face a significant risk of major change that undermines society’s prosperity and stability, we are a substantial contributor to the risk, and to reduce the level of risk we should dramatically reduce emissions of the pollution that causes the problem.
  • The consensus position on climate change is reflected in the rigorously peer-reviewed journals in which research is presented and issues are debated.  One study by Naomi Oreskes, published in the journal Science, demonstrated that of the papers whose abstract contained the keywords global climate change between 1993 and 2003, none questioned the consensus position – not one.  Oreskes’s subsequent book, Merchants of Doubt, revealed how many who once fronted the tobacco industry’s anti-science campaign to deny the link between smoking and lung cancer are also now prominent and vocal climate change skeptics, and they are often funded to create doubt that has no credible scientific basis.

With the above thoughts in mind, it is clear that – from the basis of consensus scientific knowledge from credible specialists around the world – climate change is real, serious, and is growing worse due to human activity.  While a number of skeptics will persist, and frequent streams of propaganda – often funded by energy companies and political lobbyists – will continue, humanity cannot continue to live in denial, for failing to take action will have dramatic and far-reaching implications.  In many ways, the science reveals that climate change is merely not about politics, religion, money, or morality, but it is about the survival of the planet and the existence of life as we know it.  In other words, climate change is an issue that impacts each and every living being that God has created.

Climate Change and Poverty are intimately linked

While some argue that an increased emphasis upon environmentalism is a hindrance to economic growth, the scientific body of knowledge reports to the contrary, for climate change actually increases poverty, especially within the developing world.  Among other things, extreme weather has an impact upon productivity and can raise the price of staple foods, such as grains, that are important to households throughout the world.  In addition, studies have shown that global warming will likely increase the frequency and intensity of heat waves and drought in many areas.  These various and significant realities will have a deep and dramatic impact upon developing nations, and because of the growing inter-connectedness of globalization, they will also have a impact upon Europe and the USA.  All together, the choice between environmental sustainability and economic growth is no choice at all, for one cannot exist in the long term without the other.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), climate change is a global concern, for it increases poverty and halts sustainable development in the following ways:

  • There has been considerable research surrounding climate change and agriculture.  Among other things, climate change impacts rainfall, temperature, and water availability in vulnerable areas, thus it has a strong influence upon productivity, agricultural practices, and distribution of rural land.  In addition, climate change could worsen the prevalence of hunger through effects on production and purchasing power, thus some have predicted the number of people to be impacted by malnutrition may rise to 600 million by 2080. 
  • Of the 3 billion growth in population projected worldwide by 2050, the majority will be born in countries already experiencing water shortages.  As the climate of the earth warms, changes in rainfall, evaporation, snow, and runoff flows will be impacted. 
  • As a result of accelerated ice sheet disintegration, rising sea levels could result in 330 million people being permanently or temporarily displaced through flooding.  In addition, warming seas can also fuel the increase of more intense tropical storms.
  • One of the direct effects of climate change is an increase in temperature-related illnesses and deaths related to prolonged heat waves and humidity.  In specifics, climate change can alter the geographic range of mosquito-born diseases, such as malaria, thus exposing new populations to the disease.  As a changing climate affects the essential ingredients of maintaining good health (clean air and water, sufficient food and adequate shelter), the effects could be widespread and massive. 
  • The report of the World Health Organization’s Commission on Social Determinants of Health points out that disadvantaged communities are likely to shoulder a disproportionate share of the burden of climate change because of their increased exposure and vulnerability to health threats.  More specifically, over 90 percent of malaria and diarrheal deaths are experienced by children aged 5 years or younger, mostly in developing countries.

With all the above thoughts in mind, it is clear that the world cannot afford to engage the false debate of having to choose between environmental sustainability and economic growth, for the two go hand in hand within an interconnected system of globalization.  In many ways, the current global economic downturn and debt crisis within Europe and the USA proves how a failure to promote sustainability will drive economies into further crisis, not only in the developing world, but also within those countries that have enjoyed generations of prosperity.  And so, as increases in climate change lead to dramatic rises of inequality and poverty, those who are most responsible for climate change are called to take responsibility in order to offer sustainable livelihoods for people and places throughout the world.  The issue of climate change – and the resulting consequences of economic crisis, inequality, and poverty – has reached a breaking-point, and a lack of significant and far-reaching action will lead the world further down a dangerous path.

The Christian Church has much to offer surrounding resistance and responses

In order to resist and respond to climate change and poverty, a wide variety of world church companions are seeking innovative and respectful methods to accompany one another in God’s mission of reconciliation, transformation, and empowerment.   As stated by the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makogoba, during his sermon on creation and greed: “God calls us to be part of the solution, not part of the problem – part of the coming of the kingdom, partners in his working of redemption and salvation.”  And so, while many would argue that COP17 should be left to government leaders and scientists, the call of Jesus to seek life in its fullness for all people in all places draws people of faith toward prophetic action, for the common identity as Children of God takes precedence over national boundaries and political agendas.  In other words, as people of faith who believe in a God that created the heavens and the earth, we are called to be faithful stewards of creation in a way that brings life, rather than takes life away.

With such thoughts in mind, the late South African theologian and activist Steve de Gruchy promoted “An Olive Agenda” that is of great importance for churches and people of faith around the world seeking ways to mobilize, for he provided a significant contribution toward the pursuit of resistance and responses to climate change and poverty.  For example, de Gruchy offered a theological metaphor – the olive – that transcends the duality between the “green” environmental agenda and “brown” poverty agenda “that has disabled development discourse for the past twenty years”.  As a result of de Gruchy’s work, instead of falling into the false debate between “green” environmental sustainability and “brown” poverty reduction, an Olive Agenda combines green and brown into olive, and thus provides a “remarkably rich metaphor” that “holds together that which religious and political discourse rends apart: earth, land, climate, labor, time, family, food, nutrition, health, hunger, poverty, power and violence”.  Among other things, de Gruchy’s Olive Agenda is of exceptional value as churches and people of faith around the world seek to understand the mission of God within the context of climate change and its impact upon inequality and poverty.

According to de Gruchy, an Olive Agenda finds its theological foundation in the concept of “oikos”, translated as “the household of God”.  As ecology (oikos-logos) concerns the wisdom of how a home functions, economy (oikos-nomos) is about the rules that should govern the home, and because there is only one “home” for humankind (the earth), economy and ecology are thus “both intimately concerned about the earth, about the way human beings live upon the earth, relate to the earth, make use of the earth’s bounty, and respect the integrity of the earth”.  Therefore, the social implications of these theological affirmations are that while both brown and green agendas are “fundamentally right, taken in isolation each is tragically wrong – and thus we must integrate economy as oikos-nomos, and ecology as oikos-logos in search of sustainable life on earth, the oikos that is our only home.”  As stated previously, this Olive Agenda has the potential to dramatically transform the ways that world church companionships and people of faith respond to economic and ecological exploitation and other factors that prevent fullness of life around the world.

Moving Forward

One of the common metaphors of social development is “give someone fish and they eat for a day, but teach someone to fish and they eat for a lifetime”.  In the 21st century this statement is not fully accurate, for one has to consider who has “access to the pond”, and of course, we need to recognize that climate change is causing “the pond” the shrink.  When the pond, both literally and figuratively, is shrinking, it creates a global situation in which competition and warfare surrounding limited resources takes priority over cooperation, and survival of the fittest takes precedence over mutuality with humanity and creation.  With such realities in mind, and in light of the Olive Agenda as first articulated by Steve de Gruchy, we recognize that environmental sustainability is not merely an option for the future, but it is the only option if a future is what we truly seek.

While climate change and poverty are global concerns, one recognizes that certain nations have additional responsibility for the challenges, and as a result, must take bold leadership in promoting solutions.  For example, according to the WorldWatch Institute, the wealthiest 500 million people in the world (roughly 7% of the global population) are currently responsible for 50% of carbon dioxide emissions, while the poorest 3 billion are responsible for just 6%.  In addition, from 1900-2004 the whole of Africa generated just 2.5% of cumulative carbon dioxide emissions while the USA accounted for 29.5%.  Although these gaps have narrowed slightly in recent years, historical emissions are relevant because carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere to exert a greenhouse effect for many decades, and thus the negative impact of emissions upon development persists long after the pollution is first created.  And so, the scientific body of knowledge is clear in stating that those who are most vulnerable to the impact of climate change are those that carry the least historical responsibility for its existence.  As a result, while the entire world must rally around answers for climate change, the primary responsibility to promote such resolutions and reverse environmental injustice falls most upon the wealthiest global citizens, for anything less would be unjust, short-sighted, selfish, and irresponsible. 

With all the above in mind, the time has come to recognize that God’s mission is about the promotion of sustainable livelihoods, not merely for life after death, but also for life after birth.  As a result, the time for silence on matters such as climate change and poverty is finished, for as Martin Luther King, Jr. stated: “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transformation was not the strident clamour of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people”.  As a result of the crippling ecological and economic impact of climate change, the time has come for Christian Churches around the world – especially those within the USA – to seek responsible and respectful systems that reverse injustices and offer life for all that God has created.  The time has come for churches to call upon wealthier countries to repay their climate debt by undertaking severe cuts in emissions.  In addition, it is time for people of faith to model environmental values and advocate for the increased financial support of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind.  In other words, it is time for churches to insist that all countries involved in COP17 support legally binding legislation that values the entirety and integrity of God’s creation.

The scientific evidence surrounding climate change is clear, and the implications for both the environment and humankind are many, thus the response to such global challenges needs to be persistent, organized, and significant.  As Jesus calls upon humankind to “love they neighbor”,  and as the Old Testament prophets remind us to strive for justice, we recognize that within a deeply connected world “neighbor” implies all that God has created, and injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere.  And so, an implication of Jesus’ words and actions is to share and receive the Good News not only on Sunday mornings, but through daily acts of long-term advocacy that promotes sustainable livelihoods.  With COP17 in South Africa on the horizon, the time has come to mobilize around an Olive Agenda, as silence or neutrality on such matters will allow climate change and poverty to continue and grow worse.  The time has come when humanity can no longer afford to fight over the limited resources remaining in our shrinking pond, and the moment is upon us to pass legally binding legislation that values the gifts of creation that God has entrusted us to manage.  The time is now.  God has allowed humankind to serve as stewards of creation, and the time has come to embrace this sacred responsibility, value the resources that God has so graciously offered, and ensure that all of God’s creation – in this generation and the next – receives the fullness of life that God has promised. 

 

 

Cynthia Moe-Lobeda & Scott Thalacker on Access Utah

Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, a professor of Christian ethics, is the author of the 2013 book, Resisting Structural Evil: Love as Ecological-Economic Vocation (Fortress Press). She gave a lecture at USU in the Tanner Talks series from the College of Humanites and Social Sciences. Dr. Moe-Lobeda joins us for Access Utah today, along with Rev. Scott Thalacker, Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Logan.

Listen here: http://upr.org/post/cynthia-moe-lobeda-scott-thalacker-access-utah