I am an early riser, one who enjoys watching the sun spread across the sky. This morning I couldn’t help but consider it a metaphor for the new light I believe is on the horizon regarding our environment. One reason for this is the reading I have been doing of late on this topic. Yesterday, it was my honor to preach at Wesley United Methodist Church adjacent to the campus of the University of Illinois. It was called a “teach in” as part of a national focus on faith and the environment. I believe a new day is dawning in terms of public awareness and constructive action.
It is not my intent to offer a reprise the sermon here. Instead I have attached a link to a copy for those who are interested. Here is my take away. First, we face enormous challenges as a society, as a global community. The damage has been severe, it will be difficult to reverse. NASA now suggests that climate change is our nation’s most serious security risk. Note the changes in the Arctic as our early warning system. (The Petermann glacier in Greenland is receding more than twenty miles a year!) Increasingly we are seeing a link with floods, wild fires and drought. We will have more than fifty million environmental refugees by the year 2020. This doubles the number of the estimates just twenty years ago.
I know the dangers of climate change are very real — difficult (some say impossible) to reverse. On the other hand, there are signs of hope, a dawning of awareness among nations, corporations and the general public. It is my sincere hope that the U.S. Congress will one day soon catch up with the scientific evidence. As the research is overwhelming clear, the Paris agreements are tentatively in process, and corporate and technological leaders are investing billions of dollars toward constructive change, it is our duty as citizens to press the case with Congress. The cost of solar and wind energy continue to drop in price.
It was a joy to be with a university community and see the commitments made by that congregation. I spoke with several students who indicated a deep appreciation for the sermon — but more importantly a personal commitment as future engineers, chemists, business leaders and farmers to a different way of thinking about our economy and ecology. Hooray for the gifts of great universities! (Look for a post soon challenging the larger church to rethink our investments in and valuing of campus ministry.)
I know that change will be difficult. Actually, it calls for a conversion — an ecological conversion, on the part of individuals, the culture and the economy. The witness of people of faith is essential as part of any solution. All people of faith – especially the local church… these communities will need to find voice on these matters. As Pope Francis demonstrated with the issuance of the encyclical Laudato Si, Christians can bring a perspective, insight and inspiration for the future — for the dawning just ahead.
The devastating assaults in Paris have shattered our best hopes during this season. I was traveling the day following this tragic time and couldn’t help but marvel at the way persons sitting in the airline terminal transfixed by the television images from Paris. The usual noises of travelers hurrying through the terminal were muted. We were all distracted. Fear and anxiety overwhelmed any sense of normalcy. Then, our worst fears about the future of terrorism seemed confirmed by the murders of innocents in San Bernardino. Terrorists assault. They kill and gravely wound unsuspecting civil servants at a holiday party.
How do we respond to such evil. What can we learn? How will we find a way forward when there are appropriate fears about the future. One healthy response is to seek to learn more, to understand more, to gain knowledge of the situation.
Who are these misguided murderers? What motivates? Why do they choose these suicidal theatrics. We want to know who is doing this and what are their motives. This is all healthy and appropriate. It is needed information. And what can we learn about Islam and this radical apocalyptic cult — this ISIS or ISIL? Important this is, all of it.
Still, isn’t it intriguing that during these days of terror, we hear volumes from the experts about Muslims — who they are and how they behave — while at the same time there is little or no consideration about who is a Christian or how Christians might act at this time. The media are full of analysis about Islam. Good. knowledge is helpful; as one of my mentors would say “facts are our friends.”
It may be as important, make that more important, to consider what it means to be a Christian in this time. In the seasons of Advent and Christmas 2015 we hear again the Jesus narratives. His life and words are captured in carols and story and sermon. What is there to be learned from this narrative about retaliation, revenge, exclusion, bigotry toward those who are different?
It is interesting that on the same day that Pope Francis announced the beginning of Year of Jubilee as a time of mercy and reconciliation, Donald Trump is loudly and adamantly speaking words designed to stir up fear and set up new systems of discrimination. Many people in this country seem to agree with him — in some places, places where there are strong “Christian” environments, there may even a majority who agree with The Donald.
What has happened? Most of those who seem to agree with Trump would be quick to say the United States is a Christian nation. Really? There is grave danger here. If we are to choose the way of discrimination toward persons of a different faith, this is a danger I would label identity theft. Someone is taking the basic elements of what it means to be a Christian and substituting a cheapened, debased form of shallow and self-serving religiosity.
It is not up to me to say whether Donald Trump is a Christian or not. He says he is, “I attend church on Christmas, Easter and special occasions.” He says that if he is elected president he will be “the greatest Christian representative ever to be in the White House.” His faithfulness and the ways he acts on his beliefs are between him and God. However, he doesn’t get a pass on his easy claims. How do they match up with the story of Christmas?
No, it is not my call to determine whether Donald is a Christian… but we do know a great deal about who and what a Christian is expected to be from the scriptures and the great traditions of the church. Racism, bigotry and calls for revenge displayed by too many just don’t square with the person and teachings of Jesus. Right now — as we gain knowledge about others, equal care needs to be given to thinking clearly about what it means to be a Christian. Certainly the calls to exclude persons from the United States based on a religious test is unconstitutional. That is easy. For me, however, it is more important to ask, is it Christlike?
We are warned at this time of year to guard our credit card information. We are told to be careful giving out information about social security numbers or family background. Someone might steal your identity and this would be disastrous. I want to warn of an even greater identity theft that is underway — it is a theft of what it means to be a Christian. Guard this closely. The loss of this identity might be even more damaging than having one’s credit compromised. The loss of this identity may close down important options that will be needed in the future if we are to find a way past this current wave of terror.
Fear is a powerful thing; so is knowledge. It is critically important in these days to know more about Islam — what is true and what is false? Let me suggest that it is even more essential, for those of us who make the faith claim that we are “Christian” to consider carefully what this means — what is true and what is false?
Dateline – Paris, November 30, 2015: It is the first day of Advent and the leaders of nations around the world gather to seek ways to address the dilemmas created by Climate Change. While there are some who believe that concern for the climate is antithetical to economic prosperity, there is a slow and steady awareness among business leaders that an alternative to this old either/or model can emerge.
Interestingly this environmental summit begins on the first day of Advent. Advent is a season filled with of stories of exile and a longing for home. It is a time of waiting and watching. Paris, touched so recently by terror, knows something about the challenges of exile and the welcoming of strangers
For me, the question of Climate Change is a leading edge of growing faith understanding. This issue is a way I continue to “learn to learn.” Sustainability is another way of speaking of the human responsibility to provide enduring care for God’s creation. So… Advent is a time to wait, think anew, and reconsider my beliefs in the light of new lessons from scripture and science.
On my desk is a copy of the encyclical “Laudato Si” offered this spring by Pope Francis. The subtitle of this fine document is “Care for Our Common Home.” Drawing on the witness of the pope’s namesake, St. Francis Assisi, we are encouraged to seek an “integral ecology.” Care for the earth, it’s creatures and all human beings is one, indivisible task — it cannot be separated into parts. Our commitment to care for the poor and stranger among us is related to our care for the earth; they are one focus. [Link to Ladato Si: Care for Our Common Home]
For years I have pondered the power and beauty of scriptures related to the the creation. The call for an integral ecology is another way of saying the deepest spiritual themes of scripture and faith are interconnected.
I think of Genesis 1, where we are told that God sees everything that has been made and announces “behold it is very good.” I consider passages like the 24th Psalm (“the earth is the Lord’s and all that is within it”) or the majesty of Psalm 104 or 148 — or Isaiah 40. All of these passages are linked speaking to how we are to relate to our neighbor — especially the widow, orphan and stranger. Our Christian scriptures culminate with Revelation 21 which speaks of the fulfillment of creation as a new heaven and a new earth.
For me, the most haunting passages comes in the eighth chapter of Romans, one section of which reads: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in childbirth right up to the present time.” It goes on, “Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not have we wait patiently for it.”
Sadly, there are climate skeptics who deny both science and these compelling scriptural injunctions. Many in the U.S. Congress are voting against the plans that will be offered by the current U.S. administration this week. Sadly, these skeptics do not offer any alternative ideas. They simply deny the science — and the scriptures. Leaders in more than half of the states are suing the administration over this climate care agenda. Okay, congress and governors, disagree if you will; however, offer some alternative. Especially if you make claims about being persons of faith. At least speak to the matter of stewardship and God’s desires for the care of the earth.
If one is an intelligent Christian, this season of Advent is a time to think carefully about God’s call for us to care for creation. The science regarding the dangers of climate change is compelling. Even if it were not, we persons of faith are to be good stewards of all we have been given. If you are a person of faith and cannot support the Paris proposals, then speak clearly about alternatives as to how we should live with care and respect for creation. Advent is the perfect season to think this through and then begin to offer alternatives in the new year.
If, like me, you are both a person of faith and trust the science, then we may have the greater task. How can we help others understand? How will we live? What will we do to bring about change.
One encouraging sign comes from persons in the corporate world who are ready to help address the climate crises. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates will be announcing the creation of a multi-billion dollar clean energy fund, tomorrow, November 30th, at the opening of the Paris summit. This announcement comes after and in addition to his announcement this summer that he was investing more than $2 billion in renewable energy that will encourage both “productivity and sustainability.”
Early reports are that several others are joining Mr. Gates in the creation of the clean energy fund; however, many donors wish to remain anonymous because there is still a considerable lobby of persons who are climate change skeptics among corporate leaders.
This skepticism and resistance is changing, and apparently quickly, Steve Schein, a former CEO and now professor in the business school at Southern Oregon University has recently written “A New Psychology for Sustainability Leadership.” In it he suggests that more and more business executives are displaying an ecologically informed worldview — a worldview that for many of them has been nurtured since childhood.
Several years ago a friend took me on a hike that led to a grove of trees in Indiana’s Yellowwood State Forest. It is a wonderful natural cathedral. The white pine planted in the mid-to-late 1930s are now over 100 feet tall. This grove is still a spiritual place for me. It is an Advent place — my Advent wreath — where I pray and think.
It is more than a place to think and pray. You see, as lovely as these trees are they are dying too soon.
Planted by the Civilian Conservation Corps, they are in an area that is often swampy and this forest lacks the necessary biodiversity of the wider forest and ground coverings all around. Still, this grove of pines is far better than the land there previously; land that was eroding and abandoned due to the Great Depression that so scoured the region in the 1930s. Something had to be done then… and it was. These trees, now one of my favorite cathedrals, were planted over 80 years ago. This was a temporary fix, perhaps only lasting 100 or 150 years. It does, however, give space for further ways the natural world might, groaning as in childbirth, bring yet another season of beauty and hope. Even if it is only a temporary fix, success at the Paris summit needs to be a part of our Advent prayers in 2015.