Our ecumenical companion site, www.LetAllCreationPraise.org , is maintained by long-time supporter and fellow Lutheran restoring creation, Nick Utphall. This site is an online library of commentaries, hymns, worship samples and devotions which speak to a wide variety of Christian faiths. Rev. Utphall is pastor at Madison Christian Community in Wisconsin. Check out their site for more testimonials of working together to celebrate all of God’s gifts.
Communion with Creation at the beautiful Atlantic coastline with other stewards of God’s good creation.
Be empowered for creation care ministry at your home, congregation, school, or synod. Learn more about how to integrate concern for the planet with the moral calling to be good to our global neighbors (global/local, human/non), practice real strategies to engage in controversial issues, hear about local sea turtle conservation work, and spend time in a beautiful setting with plenty of time to reflect and rest.
The retreat will take place at the Coastal Retreat Center
2101 Palm Blvd, Isle of Palms, SC, located near historic Charleston.
SCHOLARSHIPS OFFERED ARE THANKS TO:
The retreat is sponsored by Lutherans Restoring Creation and is open to different faith traditions.
The Rev. Kris Litman-Koon:
Phone: (843) 884-5470 Email: Pastor.KLK at gmail dot com
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.
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.
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.”)
What is the Sacrament of the Altar?
It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ himself for us Christians to eat and to drink.
Where is this written?
The holy evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and St. Paul write thus:
“In the night in which he was betrayed, our Lord Jesus took bread, and gave thanks; he broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying: Take and eat; this is my body, given for you. Do this for the remembrance of me. Again, after supper, he took the cup, gave thanks, and gave it for all to drink, saying: This cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sins. Do this for the remembrance of me.”
Think! One of the last things Jesus did, before being arrested in a garden and condemned to death, was to share a meal. In various stories, one of the first things Jesus did, after rising from the dead in a garden, was to share meals. What does it mean that Jesus shares this meal with you? How do you feel about Jesus being present in something so common as a bit of bread, of God embodied in the earthly elements of our world?
Act! Visit ELCA World Hunger resources webpage for a toolkit on “Hunger and Climate Change Connections” that has activities and resources for a guided conversation on what climate change means for world hunger. Find this and other ways you can help the ELCA share food and address changing resources by searching www.ELCA.org for “hunger and climate.”
What is the benefit of such eating and drinking?
The words “given for you” and “shed for you for the forgiveness of sins” show us that forgiveness of sin, life, and salvation are given to us in the sacrament through these words, because where there is forgiveness of sin, there is also life and salvation.
How can bodily eating and drinking do such great things?
Eating and drinking certainly do not do it, but the words that are recorded: “given for you” and “shed for you for the forgiveness of sin.” These words, when accompanied by the physical eating and drinking, are the essential thing in the sacrament, and whoever believes these very words has what they declare and state, namely, “forgiveness of sin.”
Think! In regular daily meals, God is present to sustain your life. In communion with so much of creation, with the willingness of sunshine and miracle of photosynthesis, of farmers and pollinators and yeast, by soil and in a vessel God’s salvation is again made present for you. How does their part in bringing you the sacrament bring you to care for them?
Act! The physical eating and drinking is clearly a worthwhile and necessary part of God’s blessing and work. Choose ingredients and bake bread for communion. Visit a winery. “Taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Psalm 34:8)
Who, then, receives this sacrament worthily?
Fasting and bodily preparation are in fact a fine external discipline, but a person who has faith in these words, “given for you” and “shed for you for the forgiveness of sin,” is really worthy and well prepared. However, a person who does not believe these words or doubts them is unworthy and unprepared, because the words “for you” require truly believing hearts.
Think! In this way of looking at the Small Catechism, or in your life generally, what have been actions and behaviors that have been very important for you in saving the earth? How do you feel about the statement that individual actions are “significant but not sufficient” for the problem at hand? What more needs to be done that you cannot do alone?
Act! Always give thanks to God for this abiding grace in Christ, continuing to give to you and everything else. As Psalm 145:15-16 says, “The eyes of all wait upon you, O Lord, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand and satisfy the desire of every living creature.” With this in mind, say a prayer before each meal. Luther suggests, “Lord God, heavenly Father, bless us and these your gifts, which we receive from your bountiful goodness, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
I. What is Baptism?
Baptism is not simply plain water. Instead, it is water used according to God’s command and connected with God’s Word.
What then is this word of God? Where our Lord Christ says in Matthew 28: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
Think! What a great blessing clean “simply plain water” is! God could have chosen any way to act, but makes this promise to you with amazing, abundant water. How would your view of baptism change if the water were polluted and dirty or if there were no water available? How does God’s word with the water remind you of God’s work in the world?
Act! Touch the water in your baptismal font. Make the sign of the cross on yourself and others. If there is no water in the font, ask your pastor if you can add some. And then touch and enjoy its cleanness—God works in things like this!
II. What gifts or benefits does baptism grant?
It brings about forgiveness of sins, redeems from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe it, as the words and promises of God declare.
What are these words and promises of God? Where our Lord Christ says in Mark 16: “The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned.”
Think! Christians have unfortunately been apt to think of baptism as an insurance policy in case of accidental death. Why, from an ecological perspective especially, might God want to save you for your life now for the sake of this world?
Act! Think of saints you’ve known and celebrate what others have accomplished in their lives. Visit a cemetery or memorial garden and note how it continues to be a place of life. Use it as an occasion to remember that our actions today affect generations yet to come.
III. How can water do such great things?
Clearly the water does not do it, but the word of God, which is with and alongside the water, and faith, which trusts this word of God in the water. For without the word of God the water is plain water and not a baptism, but with the word of God it is a baptism, that is, a grace-filled water of life and a “bath of the new birth in the Holy Spirit,” as St. Paul says to Titus in chapter 3, “through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is sure.”
Think! Because we know of this special bath, we can also see God’s grace working through the “plain waters.” What are some of the “great things” plain water does in our world?
Act! We often overlook the value of water. Water Footprints, like the more common Carbon Footprints, are a new way to be attentive to our use and impact on water supplies. Give it a try at http://www.waterfootprint.org/ Visit http://www.elca.org/hunger/water for church resources.
IV. What then is the significance of such a baptism with water?
It signifies that the old person in us with all sins and evil desires is to be drowned and die through daily sorrow for sin and through repentance, and on the other hand that daily a new person is to come forth and rise up to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.
Where is this written? St. Paul says in Romans 6, “We have been buried with Christ by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we to might walk in newness of life.”
Think! Again, not waiting for afterlife, here is a daily hope that you may live rightly in God’s world. What are five things you can do for the world today because you have the benefit and grace of life?
Act! Obviously God’s Word is strongest, but notice how this cleansing and purifying of baptism is done with water. Take this opportunity to see what harmful cleaning chemicals you could replace with something better.
Our Father in heaven.
What is this? With these words God wants to attract us, so that we come to believe that he is truly our Father and we are truly his children, in order that we may ask him boldly and with complete confidence, as loving children ask their loving father.
Think! Calling God a Father “in heaven” was to clarify we weren’t talking to a birth parent. It is not trying to say God is “in some heaven light years away.” How is God even more nurturing and trustworthy like a loving parent if God is “Here in this Place” (ELW Hymn #532), still walking amid the garden (Genesis 3:8)?
Act! Since our minds are on the heavens with this prayer, don’t let it get too ethereal! Go outside and notice the clouds or the stars. Feel the sunlight. Watch the phase of the moon. Pause in this prayer to look up from life’s busy paths.
Hallowed be your name.
What is this? It is true that God’s name is holy in itself, but we ask in this prayer that it may also become holy in and among us.
How does this come about? Whenever the word of God is taught clearly and purely and we, as God’s children, also live holy lives according to it. To this end help us, dear Father in heaven! However, whoever teaches and lives otherwise than the Word of God teaches, dishonors the name of God among us. Preserve us from this, heavenly Father!
Think! Asking that God make us holy, we often think about it as more pious, more focused on the supernatural. How do you think God would define holy living amid creation? (You might see the prophets for help—Isaiah 5:8, 11:6-9, 24:3-6; Hosea 2:18-19, 4:3; Amos 5:8-12; Micah 4:4, 6:8)
Act! Adopt a new way of holy living by finding at least one new way to be mindful about conserving resources: Shut off lights. Recycle. Use less water. Pay attention to your actions as a spiritual discipline.
Your kingdom come.
What is this? In fact, God’s kingdom comes on its own without our prayer, but we ask in this prayer that it may also come to us.
How does this come about? Whenever our heavenly Father gives us his Holy Spirit, so that through the Holy Spirit’s grace we believe God’s holy word and live godly lives here in time and hereafter in eternity.
Think! Notice again that the kingdom is not equated to heaven, but comes in how we live here and now. Read Mark 4:30-32, where Jesus compares God’s kingdom to a mustard shrub in which we all rest. Where do you experience the nesting comfort of God’s promise?
Act! Since the parable talks of birds and plants, find and identify one around you. Know this amazing diversity of who your nest-mates are.
Your will be done, on earth as in heaven.
What is this? In fact, God’s good and gracious will come about without our prayer, but we ask in this prayer that it may also come about in and among us.
How does this come about? Whenever God breaks and hinders every evil scheme and will—as are present in the will of the devil, the world, and our flesh—that would not allow us to hallow God’s name and would prevent the coming of his kingdom, and instead whenever God strengthens us and keeps us steadfast in his word and in faith until the end of our lives. This is God’s good and gracious will.
Think! The prayer continues reinforcing that this is a matter for this life—for this earth! If flowers bloom to the glory of God, gurgling rapids sing God’s praises, and even rocks do what they’re supposed to do, how can you listen for God’s will for you to love all your creaturely neighbors on earth?
Act! Luther says God breaks us from the world, here not meaning the natural world but the things that get in the way of focusing on what God wants. Make a list of at least 5 ways your actions or lifestyle get in the way of God’s good for the natural world. Then list at least 5 things of this world you’d like to pay better attention to. Finally, list at least 5 things to change for the culture of your church, community, or country.
Give us this day our daily bread.
What is this? In fact, God gives daily bread without our prayers, even to all evil people, but we ask in this prayer that God cause us to recognize what our daily bread is and to receive it with thanksgiving.
What then does “daily bread” mean? Everything included in the necessity and nourishment for our bodies, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, farm, fields, livestock, money, property, an upright spouse, upright children, upright members of the household, upright and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, decency, honor, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.
Think! Luther here already admits the ecological expanse of our daily sustenance. Where did your last meal come from and what did it take to produce it? How much can you trace about the full origins of your food?
Act! Go one day per week without eating meat. If all Americans did it, it would be the same as taking one of every eight (8 million) cars off the road! Help spread what our resources can sustain.
Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.
What is this? We ask in this prayer that our heavenly Father would not regard our sins nor deny these petitions on their account, for we are worthy of nothing for which we ask, nor have we earned it. Instead we ask that God would give us all things by grace, for we daily sin much and indeed deserve only punishment. So, on the other hand, we, too, truly want to forgive heartily and to do good gladly to those who sin against us.
Think! How do we balance pardoning and holding accountable environmental sins? Will seals forgive us our oil spills? Will ancient redwoods and Amazon rainforests forgive air pollution and deforestation? Will stream life and coral reefs forgive us for mountain top removal and burning coal? Will people of island nations forgive us for the flooding of their homes?
Act! As atonement for our corporate sins, plant a tree, ride a bike or find another way to atone for and mitigate the destruction humans cause. And know that God is eagerly helping you!
Save us from the time of trial. (Lead us not into temptation.)
What is this? It is true that God tempts no one, but we ask in this prayer that God would preserve and keep us, so that the devil, the world, and our flesh may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great and shameful sins, and that, although we may be attacked by them, we may finally prevail and gain the victory.
Think! An average child watches 20,000 commercials on TV each year. This corporate consumer myth of brand identity and purchasing ease and inexpensive happiness is much of what got us into our current ecological crisis. How can you help a child to enjoy life in a natural state?
Act! Don’t forget to get outside yourself! Shut off the TV or computer at some point this week and go for a walk, or sit and enjoy.
And deliver us from evil. (For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and forever. Amen.)
What is this? We ask in this prayer, as in a summary, that our Father in heaven may deliver us from all kinds of evil—affecting body or soul, property or reputation—and at last, when our final hour comes, may grant us a blessed end and take us by grace from this valley of tears to himself in heaven.
Think! In Luther’s summary, this perhaps also points to the close of the prayer—and the start—that we are in God’s care forever and ever. Even in this time of trial where we may fear irreversible harm, God is with us. “Yes, it is going to come about just like this!” How does God’s ongoing work for good in this world empower you and give you hope?
Act! Pray for God’s work to save the whole earth. And pray that you also will love what God loves and save what God saves. Yes it shall be so!
The 1st Article, on Creation
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
What is this? I believe that God has created me together with all that exists. God has given me and still preserves my body and soul: eyes, ears, and all limbs and senses; reason and all mental faculties. In addition, God daily and abundantly provides shoes and clothing, food and drink, house and farm, spouse and children, fields, livestock, and all property—along with all the necessities and nourishment for this body and life. God protects me against all danger and shields and preserves me from all evil. And all this is done out of pure, fatherly, and divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness of mine at all! For all this I owe it to God to thank and praise, serve and obey him. This is most certainly true.
Think! In the Creed, Luther frames his thoughts as “me” so that I can know how good God is in my life. We can easily also hear that promise for all of creation. Read Job 38-41, where God the Father speaks of delighting in all of God’s children—including those of no use to humans or even seen by humans as dangerous. What are ways God the Father might be working to “preserve” and “protect” other creatures in this world?
Act! Listen as rivers clap their hands (Psalm 98:8) and trees sing for joy (1 Chronicles 16:33) at God’s goodness and steadfast love! Sing with St. Francis in his Canticle of the Sun (ELW Hymn #835, LBW #527), joining with all our sisters and brothers in praise of God.
The 2nd Article, on Redemption
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father; and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
What is this? I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father in eternity, and also a true human, born of the virgin Mary, is my Lord. He has redeemed me, a lost and condemned human being. He has purchased and freed me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death. He has done all this in order that I may belong to him, live under him in his kingdom, and serve him in eternal righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as he is risen from the dead and lives and rules eternally. This is most certainly true.
Think! Read Romans 8:18-23. What are ways around us where you think the whole creation has been groaning until now because of our sin, waiting for us to live righteously?
Act! Next time in worship at Confession and Forgiveness, confess your complicity in humanity’s greatest sin of catastrophic planet-wide destruction. Then hear the word of forgiveness in Jesus’ name as your vocational call to go and live rightly amid creation, serving Christ by loving others.
The 3rd Article, on Sanctification
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.
What is this? I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith. Daily in this Christian church the Holy Spirit abundantly forgives all sins—mine and those of all believers. On the last day the Holy Spirit will raise me and all the dead and will give to me and all believers in Christ eternal life. This is most certainly true.
Think! Read Genesis 1:1-5. The Spirit that moved over the waters is the Spirit who breathes new life into you, making you a new creation. What can you celebrate as resurrection moments in your life and in this world? When has the Spirit enlivened you, inspired you or those around you to live in new ways amid creation?
Act! Watch the wind blow waves across a lake or find some water to blow on with your own breath. This is the source of life, and God says it is good!
The 1st Commandment: You shall have no other gods.
What is this? We are to fear, love, and trust God above all things.
Think! Read Matthew 5:45. Jesus makes a promise of sun and rain, that this is always around us—good or bad, human or not. How does this promise of needs of life help you love and trust God? What leads you away from the promise, leading you to place trust in other things?
Act! Give thanks for 100 things you encounter in creation today as a way to remember that God is source of everything, working forever to bless us all with what we need to live.
The 2nd Commandment: You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God.
What is this? We are to fear and love God, so that we do not curse, swear, practice magic, lie, or deceive using God’s name, but instead use that very name in every time of need to call on, pray to, praise, and give thanks to God.
Think! 2 billion people (1/3 of the planet) are Christian. What a huge difference our prayers could make in this place! Still, we often think “heaven is my home,” as if we don’t have a part of this world. How does that view take God’s name in vain for this life?
Act! Say a prayer, calling on God presence to be with you today. Ask this same thing for five kinds of other creatures around you.
The 3rd Commandment: Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.
What is this? We are to fear and love God, so that we do not despise preaching or God’s Word, but instead keep that word holy and gladly hear and learn it.
Think! Read Leviticus 25:1-12. Not only humans need sabbath. Why does God want soils also to rest and “all inhabitants” of a place to have the chance to return?
Act! Learn about or visit a place that has been used and had a chance to rest – a vacant lot, a Superfund site (http://www.epa.gov/superfund) or Conservation Reserve Program farmland (http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/CRP/)
The 4th Commandment: Honor your father and your mother.
What is this? We are to fear and love God, so that we neither despise nor anger our parents and others in authority, but instead honor, serve, obey, love, and respect them.
Think! It doesn’t just take two parents, or even a village. Our lives are birthed and nurtured by this whole world. How would we treat Earth differently if we really honored her as our Mother?
Act! Water a plant, bow to the soil, or delight in a weather forecast today. Serve, love, and respect the planet!
The 5th Commandment: You shall not murder.
What is this? We are to fear and love God, so that we neither endanger nor harm the lives of our neighbors, but instead help and support them in all life’s needs.
Think! Climate change is already causing what has been called the Sixth Great Extinction, greater than what killed the dinosaurs. Why might our destruction of biodiversity—of God’s great variety of creatures, from polar bears and coral reefs to dwarf crocodiles and others we haven’t even discovered—why might that be of concern?
Act! The impacts of burning fossil fuels are also hurting our poorest human neighbors worst. Go to http://www.lwr.org and search “climate” for stories of how Lutheran World Relief is working to help communities around the world mitigate and adapt amid changing weather patterns.
The 6th Commandment: You shall not commit adultery.
What is this? We are to fear and love God, so that we lead pure and decent lives in words and deed, and each of us loves and honors his or her spouse.
Think! From the last commandment about not harming a creature, this extends to not harming its closest relationships. We could think of it as a ripple effect through the ecosystem. Many orchids, for example, evolved to be pollinated by a single species of insect or bird. How might our world be different without bees to enable plants to reproduce?
Act! Author Michael Pollan says humans have historically eaten 80,000 species but today products of four (corn, soybeans, wheat, rice) amount to 2/3 of our calories. Spread the love—and the genes! Buy food or plant a garden with something you wouldn’t normally—especially an heirloom variety.
The 7th Commandment: You shall not steal.
What is this? We are to fear and love God, so that we neither take our neighbors’ money or property nor acquire them by using shoddy merchandise or crooked deals, but instead help them to improve and protect their property and income.
Think! If all 7.3 billion people of the planet consumed like Americans, we would need the resources of more than four planets to sustain us. Using or abusing in this way, how are we stealing the planet’s resources—and from whom?
Act! Do an online search for “environmental refugees” and learn about how climate change will cause millions of people to be without food, water, or homes.
The 8th Commandment: You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
What is this? We are to fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations. Instead we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.
Think! In a harsh climate, it can be hard to speak kindly, with self-righteous tree-huggers versus global warming deniers. What way today can you gently but firmly encourage care for creation?
Act! Become a defender of wildlife and an advocate for justice. Lobby your government officials to speak out against threats and speak up on behalf of creation, from children to polar bears to clean air. Or contact the media and ask that climate change be presented not with skeptics’ perspectives but according to the overwhelming scientific consensus.
The 9th Commandment: You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.
What is this? We are to fear and love God, so that we do not try to trick our neighbors our of their inheritance or property or try to get it for ourselves by claiming to have a legal right to it and the like, but instead be of help and be of service to them in keeping what is theirs.
Think! This one we could take pretty directly. According to the US Census, the average house was 1660 square feet in 1973 and 2519 square feet in 2008, more than 50% bigger. Why have we become accustomed to feeling we need so much and aren’t satisfied without more?
Act! Find ways to make your home simpler and less cluttered. Give something you don’t need to a secondhand store or put it on Craig’s List. Make your home better with an energy audit or Energy Star appliances and Water Sense products when needed.
The 10th Commandment: You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
What is this? We are to fear and love God, so that we do not entice, force, or steal away from our neighbors their spouses, household workers, or livestock, but instead urge them to stay and fulfill their responsibilities to our neighbors.
Think! Let’s think of habitats others need to survive: For most of 4 billion years, other creatures didn’t need to compete with us wanting what they’ve got. Now, whether urban sprawl or using resources, we are changing habitats in our world. Agricultural land is drifting toward higher latitudes because of warming. Desertification affects over 2 billion people. A swath of plastics twice the side of Texas floats in the North Pacific Gyre. What is the problem with treating this whole planet as if it is here only for us?
Act! Fight deforestation by using shade-grown coffees (and eco-palms!). Look for the Forest Stewardship Council label for sustainably harvested papers (www.fscus.org/). Plant trees from the Arbor Day Foundation (www.arborday.org/).
What then does God say about all these commandments?
God says the following: “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and fourth generation of those that reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
What is this? God threatens to punish all who break these commandments. Therefore we are to fear his wrath and not disobey these commandments. However, God promises grace and every good thing to all those who keep these commandments. Therefore we are also to love and trust him and gladly act according to his command.
Think! Even if we stopped adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere and oceans immediately, today’s CO2 would still be affecting the climate for a hundred years. How does it feel that God would leave us to suffer at least that long, and perhaps irreparably, the devastating consequences of our actions?
Act! Find a way to talk to somebody about how relevant (or how unimportant) you feel your behavior amid creation is for your faith.
We marked the 500th anniversary of the Reformation with the occasion of Martin Luther writing his 95 Theses. For those of us living with the Reformation heritage, however, another of his writings has likely been more influential in shaping our identity: his Small Catechism of 1528. The occasion for this handbook was that Luther discovered the need to teach the basics of the faith after visiting the evangelical or protestant congregations a decade in to the Reformation.
This exercise takes Luther’s back-to-basics approach, and also sets it in a broader ecological perspective. As a church that is “always reforming,” we know that the good news of God continues to encounter us in our life. Just as the papacy and indulgences (the focus of the 95 Theses) are not our central concern, so we also attend to contemporary threats and current events, recognizing the need in our times for Eco-Reformation.
Here, each piece of Luther’s Small Catechism is followed by a learning question, then by a suggested participatory action. You may use this personally, or print one section each week in your bulletin, or adapt it for confirmation classes. This is only one way to try seeing the entirety of our faith as permeated with creation care.
One way to look at worship is to say that it is the place where we can express with the larger community the Christian life we have nurtured at home and work throughout the week. Another way to look at worship is to say that it is about reinstating our proper place in relation to God, ourselves, and other people when we have had difficulty maintaining these relationships through the week. It is like being lost in the woods and then stopping to orientate ourselves to the directions by means of a compass and our nearness to the edge of the forest—and then finding our way home. It is like being lost at sea and then stopping to locate ourselves from the stars in the sky so that we know where we really are—and then returning to solid ground. It is like using a global positioning locator to know just where we are in relation to everything else—and then being moved into the right position. Worship is a matter of getting/keeping our bearings and being situated in our rightful place in the universe. In this process, it is important to emphasize that it is not we ourselves who get our bearings. Rather, we put ourselves into a position to allow God to give us our bearings, to restore us to our rightful relationships.
Restoring relationships with God and one another: Through the rituals and events of worship, we find ourselves restored to right relationships. Through worship we are oriented to wholeness and our true purpose in life by being brought back into proper relationship with God, ourselves, and others. For example, by praise of God, we restore God to God’s rightful place in our lives as the one who created and sustains us. By thanksgiving, we recognize our human dependence on God for life and health. By confession and forgiveness, we seek to overcome our self-alienation and the brokenness of our relationships. By hearing the word of grace and challenge, we rediscover a proper sense of direction and our purpose in life. Through the offering, we give ourselves and our resources to this renewed vocation. Through prayer, we express a longing for all people who are lost or broken to be restored to a place of wholeness in relationship. By communing together, we return from alienation to a harmonious connection with others of the human community. With a blessing and a benediction, we go out with a renewed sense of who we are, where we are, and where we are going. We have become orientated. We have found our bearings, and we have reaffirmed who we truly are and whose we truly are—and, in so doing, we have found our home, our place of belonging in the world. Of course, it is our responsibility to seek to remain in these relationship from communal worship to communal worship.
Restoring our Relationship with nature. Unfortunately, our restoration/reorientation to place often leaves out an important and, indeed, crucial relationship. We reorient to God, self, and others, but often without restoring our relationship to nature. Yet nature is the web of life out of which we have come and where we will go. Nature is the inextricable matrix in which we live and move and have our being. We are a part of nature. Along with all other living beings and non-living things, we are nature. And if we are out of sorts with the rest of nature, if we are displaced from harmony with the creation of which we are such an integral part, if we are sinning against the natural world from which we ourselves have emerged, then we cannot fully find our bearings or our place.
If God created the world as a place in relation to which human life is inextricably woven, then we need to make the whole natural world an integral and important part of our worshipping experience. If worship is restoring ourselves to our proper place in the world—to recall who we are, where we have come from, the things upon which we depend, and that for which we are responsible—then worship must be a celebration of all life and an orienting of ourselves to our proper place within it. Nature can and should be such a fundamental dimension of the Christian life that we reflect the triad: Love God, Love your neighbor as yourself, and Care for creation.
Worshiping with Nature. To be fully into right relationship, we are called not only to restore our relationship with nature, but also to experience our solidarity with nature in relationship with God. That is, we humans are to worship and praise God with nature. Remember that the Psalms call for the hills to clap their hands and the trees to shout praises, along with animals and sea creatures, the seas and the soils, the trees and the grain—thus calling: “All creation, praise the Lord.” Hence, we can think about nature as our partners in worship. Nature itself is part of our worshipping community. It is important then that we are both in nature and with nature in our worship.
Worship as Counter-Cultural. Restoration to relationship with God, others, and nature is not the same as accommodation or assimilation into the society and culture around us. In fact, it may be quite the opposite. Reconciled relationships with God will orient us to values, actions, and structures that may go against the grain of the world around us. Reconciled relationships will place us in an alternative community that reflects the vision of God for human life. Reconciled relationships with others may set us at odds with the injustices, oppressions, neglect, and discrimination of groups and individuals not sharing the values of the church. Similarly, reorienting ourselves to love of nature and care for creation may lead us to resist and oppose the practices of local and national government, businesses, corporations, and others who may contribute to the flagrant degradations of Earth’s natural systems and life. Worship can be quite radical in its call for discipleship. Worship can be subversive of the culture and an expression of counter-cultural thinking and acting. It can lead us to advocate for public policies and laws that foster love of neighbor and care for creation. At the same time, our re-orientation in worship may lead us to affirm many movements and actions in the culture that further the values and behavior fostered by our Christian way of being in the world.
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]
Sermon for Epiphany 5A, the Rev. Lisa E. Dahill, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Worship and Christian Spirituality, Trinity Lutheran Seminary
IPL Climate Preach-In, Trinity Lutheran Seminary
Epiphany 5A, February 12, 2014
Isaiah 58:1-12; Psalm 112:1-10; 1 Corinthians 2:1-16; Matthew 5:13-20
This week is the annual Preach-In on Climate Change sponsored across the country by Interfaith Power and Light. This Preach-In urges pastors, priests, ministers, rabbis, faith leaders of all kinds to call attention to the ways climate change is destroying God’s creation already and threatening future life on Earth. All across the U.S. preachers will be preaching this Friday, this Saturday, this Sunday. Here at Trinity we too are taking part, so I volunteered to preach.
I signed up to preach… about climate change. Kind of a big topic. Just a bit – overwhelming.
How big? You know: the forms of the future of life on Earth at stake… millions of species going extinct… catastrophic storms and droughts killing the poorest already – and no idea how much hotter and more chaotic the climate will become just from the emissions we’ve already burned – let alone all the emissions we’re planning to keep on burning since even with all the disruptions so far and the warming and acidification of the oceans and the deforestation of jungles around the world and the rising seas and wilder storms and unpredictable growing seasons – even with all this already threatening the fragile hold the poorest humans on Earth have to life, we are apparently helpless to find a new way – helpless to stop the gas guzzling and the petroleum-based food systems, stop the fossil fuel extraction, stop the burning and the burning and the burning… Why should we cut carbon emissions when China’s not going to? Why should China cut emissions when we’re not going to? Why should we mobilize to pull together in sacrificial action across national borders or even, heck, just across political boundaries within our national borders, and act already when, it’s just too big, too diffuse, too far off, the danger screened from our view… and we keep ourselves busy with other things.
So how on Earth do you preach about this? How?? Dr. Langknecht – how am I to preach about this? You senior preachers – how…?? It’s too big, too huge… there are no words.
There are no words because the ones who would say them – who are right now shouting for the world’s attention – will drown when the monster storms and rising seas finally wash over their Pacific Islands home, lowest-lying islands of the world
There are no words because what can we say? God will fix this? Science will save us? The promise of magical salvation doesn’t convince the peasant farmers who rely on meltwater from the Kilimanjaro glaciers that will be gone soon. Once their children too have starved, there will be no words.
There are no words because in the face of danger too big to address we hide… of course we do! We shut down. We shut up. We preach about other things – needs we can address, not the ones that jolt us awake in fear for great-grandchildren who will never know a planet as beautiful and abundant and healthy as the one we were born on. We can’t bear to hear the cries of those not yet born – there are no words.
Or, even worse – we do hear them, we do hear the science, but how can we act? It’s not like we want the heating of our homes and the running of our seminary to addright this minute to the poison in the air and the heating of the Earth – but what choice do we have? We’re all enmeshed in this. We might want to speak out, but what would we say? There’s no easy place to grab hold and mobilize; it’s too complex and huge and pointless – the system’s broken, the powerful won’t listen, why speak? Why put ourselves at risk, speaking out when no one else is? [In an earlier generation Christians watched the rounding up of the Jews, week after week, and said nothing – because we’re afraid, because it could get us in trouble, because what good would it do anyway?] There are no words. It’s too big.
In fact, there is only one Word big enough to hold all this chaos and the planet itself – one Word small enough to inhabit the finest structures of each delicate hair on an insect’s back, each drop of water on Earth. We who love this Word – this living Word, this Logos through whom all things were made, and are made – we who have no words for our planet’s future, but who love this Word through whom it all was made, are poised in an unprecedented place. More starkly than any previous generation of Christians, we are faced globally with this choice: to participate in the speaking now of this living Word, in all its beauty and power, or to be increasingly complicit in the actual ongoing silencing of this Word, the Logos of God in all that is. For make no mistake: it is precisely this living Word, the Logos permeating the creation in unique and marvelous forms all over this Earth, that our present way of life is exterminating. This living Word in all its complexity is the very thing our Earth-destruction isunraveling, the very voice and Word and heart and Logos of God woven throughout the intricacy of species and life-forms. Letting ourselves be silenced in the face of this ongoing erasure will permit more and more of that Word being silenced, day after day after day. The longer we continue our present course, the fewer there will be left – of any species – to speak the Word…
That’s one option, to be silent about all this. It’s safer and quieter and more sickening. But it’s not the only way. This day we also hear the call to SPEAK that Word incarnate throughout creation, enfleshed in Jesus, poured out into us! For what do we hear this Word of all-that-is saying, this week? Shout out, do not hold back! Raise your voice like a trumpet! Call the people to conversion! Be fearless: you’re salt! You are light! Don’t suffocate yourself under a bushel – speak!
This can only be a communal call, this speaking the living Word in an eco-cidal age. Alone it’s too hard. We are a GreenFaith seminary – what will that mean? How will we act?
It’s not all up to the president and the Board – but we need the President and the Board to set us on a course for real prophetic ecological witness to a threatened world, and to authorize bold discernment and action. Geo-thermal, anyone?
It’s not all up to the faculty – but we need the faculty to use this curriculum process to think even further outside the box, to equip leaders for radically immersive connection to the Word alive in the natural world, the voice of God spoken and alive, just as deeply as we teach our students to love the Word in the Scriptures.
It’s not all up to the staff, to the students, to the spouses, to our congregations – but we need every single voice and heart, everyone’s best creative joyful imagination, to grow this place into a vibrant seedbed where we learn how to step off the grid and into the soil, how to use our land responsibly and how to breathe the sky and the Spirit and [to give up our privilege and] to rattle the cages of Congress and local leaders and join with others as long as it takes till there’s change, and life, and to invite inner-city kids to the woods – and to learn ever more fully to pray in the languages of our creek and our trees and wind and storm and garden.
This living Word is calling us all on Earth to a new immersion in the Logos through whom all things were made, a new intimacy and immediacy of senses, a much bigger circle of kin, a congregation wide enough to include all Earth-systems of life. We are creative people – we are reforming people – we are imaginative people, sacramental people, and we are people of the Word, this Living Word, who calls to us through this Earth and gives us voice when we’ve lost our voice. When we have no words, in the face of all we’ve lost already and all we will yet lose in the years ahead – when we have no words in the face of our fear and pain this Word itself carries us. In life and in death we belong to this Lord, woven into our very cells. And this Word enfleshed in all that is will never cease to fill us and breathe in us and come pouring roaring bursting out: Shout out, do not hold back! Raise your voice like a trumpet! We are salt! We are light! Let’s go!
The Rev. Dr. Lisa E. Dahill
Sermon for Sixth Sunday in Epiphany, Year A
Saint Andrew and Emmaus Lutheran Churches, Racine WI
February 16, 2014 – National Preach-In on Climate Change
Dr. Peter W. Bakken
Executive Director, Wisconsin Interfaith Power and Light
May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
In our first reading, from Deuteronomy, this morning, we heard some of Moses’ final instructions to the Hebrew people. He had led them out of slavery in Egypt and through forty years of wandering in the desert. They were about to cross the river Jordan and enter the Promised Land, though he would not be going with them.
Moses makes it clear that in their new home they will face fateful choices, choices that will determine whether their future will be one of prosperity or adversity, blessing or curse, life or death.
His words also make clear that their choices will be made and their future lived out as creatures within creation: as dwellers in the land in the presence of heaven and earth.
“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, loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the LORD swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.”
Like the people of ancient Israel, we are faced with choices that mean life or death, blessings or curses for ourselves and for our descendants.
Creation is God’s gift to us – of a world of abundance, beauty and mystery, a living and life-sustaining planet with water to drink and air to breathe and fertile soil in which to grow food; a world of forests and prairies, of oceans and mountains, of an unimaginable variety of plants and animals from the sparrows, squirrels and dandelions in our back yards to tropical rain forests, polar bears and coral reefs.
Creation is indeed God’s gift to us – but not for us alone: rather, it is a gift for all people and for all creatures.
Sadly, though, throughout our history as a species, we have not always treated creation and other creatures with the respect they deserve. We have not always justly shared the earth and its fruits with our neighbors. Too often, we have not chosen to walk in God’s ways, in the ways of justice, peace, and the care of the earth. To often, we have chosen instead to bow down to and serve the gods of greed, hatred, domination, and self-indulgence.
Past generations have made both good and bad choices, and we, and the rest of creation, live with the consequences of those choices.
One of those choices has been to get the overwhelming majority of our energy from fossil fuels – from coal, oil, and natural gas. In Wisconsin, nearly three-quarters of our energy comes from coal – which we have to import, because we have no coal of our own, at a cost of over eight and a half million dollars every year.
That choice has brought both blessings and curses, life and death.
In many ways, fossil fuels have been a blessing. They have been a treasure trove of millions of years of stored sunlight that we have released in the twinkling of an eye, geologically speaking. With that energy we have created industries and technologies that have brought undreamed of prosperity – although not for everyone. And the livelihoods of many people are dependent on the fossil fuel industry, although for some, like coal miners, it may be at the cost of their health and safety.
The use of fossil fuels may not have been the wrong choice in the early stages of the industrial era. But as a society we have clung to that decision in spite of growing evidence that it is not sustainable, that the costs of continuing on this path are outweighing the benefits.
Some of the costs are quite clear and immediate. There have been quite a few news stories recently of trains carrying crude oil exploding, rivers contaminated by coal ash spills, and coal processing chemicals infiltrating water supplies.
Other costs are more indirect: health problems from breathing the by-products of burning fossil fuels such as fine carbon particulates, nitrous oxide, and ozone, or from eating fish contaminated with mercury.
And others may be less obvious but are no less real: the increasing amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that is causing acidification of the oceans and disruptions in the earth’s climate as a result of global warming.
These are matters of justice because many of these costs fall more heavily on those who are the most vulnerable, like children, the chronically ill, and the elderly. And they are also borne by those who live in poor and minority communities. They are often more directly exposed to pollution from power plants and have fewer resources to protect themselves from flooding, heat waves, and crop failures caused by climate change.
As a society, we can debate the relative weights of various costs and benefits, the advantages and disadvantages of alternative technologies, the details of particular scientific projections and analyses. But surely we can and must demand a cleaner, healthier, safer world for ourselves and our descendants. Surely we want to be remembered as a generation that chose life rather than death. Surely we can do better than this!
We can’t turn back the clock. We may not be able to retrieve and contain all the toxic chemicals we have released into the environment. We can’t resurrect every extinct species. We can only reduce, not stop, global warming.
But we still have choices, important choices that will have consequences for ourselves; for the most vulnerable neighbors in our communities and the world; for our children, grandchildren, and descendants; and for the creatures with which we share this planet.
I had the privilege and pleasure of spending last night not far from here, in the hermitage at the Racine Dominicans Eco-Justice Center. In real and practical ways, the Center is a signpost pointing to the sorts of choices we must make and the path that we need to follow if we and future generations are going to live long on this gifted and graceful earth in faithful obedience to God, with love and justice toward our neighbors, and with care and respect for the whole of creation.
If you haven’t done so already, I encourage you to visit the Center and see for yourself the wind turbine, the solar panels that provide electricity and hot water, and the gardens and the chickens, bees, alpacas, goats and other creatures they care for. And you can see their respect for the history of that place, even as they help to teach schoolchildren the knowledge and values that we all need to learn in order to create a more sustainable society.
The people of Israel said farewell to their prophet Moses before they crossed the river Jordan into the Promised Land. Not long ago, we took leave of a latter-day prophet with a passion for justice and care for the earth, who for decades used music and humor to cajole us into making choices that will lead to life rather than death. In his song, “Rainbow Race,” Pete Seeger sang,
One blue sky above us,
One ocean, lapping all our shores.
One earth so green and round,
Who could ask for more?
And because I love you
I’ll give it one more try.
To show my rainbow race
It’s too soon to die.
Go tell, go tell all the little children!
Go tell mothers and fathers, too:
Now’s our last chance to learn to share
What’s been given to me and you
One blue sky above us,
One ocean, lapping all our shores.
One earth so green and round,
Who could ask for more?
Heaven and earth will bear witness, in very concrete ways, to the choices you and I make today.
Resources for preaching on climate change from A New Awakening, an ecumenical movement for climate solutions.
Climate Change and Poverty in the Household of God
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.
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.
Now updated and with a new afterword, Field Notes from a Catastrophe is the book to read on the defining issue and greatest challenge of our times.
Last Chance: Preserving Life on Earth by Larry Schweiger of the national Wildlife Federation (Golden, CO: Fulcrum Publishing, 2009).
“This is an unabashed call to each and every American to moral duty for the future of life on earth,” begins National Wildlife Federation president and CEO Larry J. Schweiger in this stirring exposé and call to action. Speaking to us not just as a conservation leader but also as an outdoor lover and a parent, Schweiger describes the causes and effects of global warming on our wildlife, ecosystems, and human life as we know it.