Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Abandoning Business as Usual?

A resolution calling on the Investment Committee of the Executive Council, the Episcopal Church Pension Fund, the Episcopal Church Endowment Fund, and the Episcopal Church Foundation to divest from fossil fuels and reinvest in clean renewable energy is on today’s priority calendar in the House of Deputies at the Episcopal Church’s General Convention. The House of Bishops has already passed Resolution C045.

This has been an amazing General Convention so far, with signs of a sea change in the Episcopal Church. Many people have a deep desire to be the church in the world rather than simply hoping that the world might stop by some Sunday morning and see how pretty our buildings are. Getting serious about our response to climate change is a big piece of being the church in today’s world.

Yesterday I came across a post written two years ago, Discipleship and Abandoning Business as Usual. While the Sunday lectionary is not this year’s, and the specific examples of current effects of climate change and the political conversation are different, I’m sharing it because it still speaks to what we are about today at General Convention.

Please pray for the members of the House of Deputies as we continue our work on all sorts of resolutions, and especially pray for us to find the wisdom, courage, and love to end the practice of profiting from the destruction of life on this planet.

Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9: 61-62)

As we prepare for our Sunday Gospel reading of Luke 9:51-62, we are hearing about record high temperatures and dangerous heat in the southwestern United States, the most recent widely publicized effect of global warming in the news in our part of the world. In India this week, there were mass cremations of hundreds of people who were killed in floods and landslides two weeks ago. Officials there predict that the final death toll will be more than 1000 people. In Canada, the city of Calgary is beginning what promises to be a long clean-up from flooding. According to this report from the CBC, “the province faces a potentially decade-long cleanup effort that could cost $5 billion by BMO Nesbitt Burns estimates.” President Obama gave a long-awaited major speech about climate change this week.

The reality of climate change is becoming clearer as both the increase in extreme weather events and the necessity of preparing for and mitigating its effects become more visible. “Business as usual” is not a realistic option any more.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

All In: Being the Church in Today's World

Oscar Romero said in 1979:

To try to preach without referring to the history one preaches in is not to preach the gospel. Many would like a preaching so spiritualistic that it leaves sinners unbothered and does not term idolaters those who kneel before money and power. A preaching that says nothing of the sinful environment in which the gospel is reflected upon is not the gospel. 

This morning I had the delight of preaching at my parish, Church of the Resurrection in Omaha. I didn’t preach a creation care sermon per se, but I did preach on the Gospel passage. (Mark 3:20-35), and climate change is a huge piece of the history in which we preach now. (Notice the CO2 number for May on the graphic to the right.) If we turn from trying to hold onto the past to trying to follow Jesus in the present, we will find ourselves responding in significant ways to climate change and its effects. 

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All In
A Homily on Mark 3:20-35

“When [Jesus’] family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” (Mark 3:21)

What must it have been like to be Mary, the Mother of Jesus!

This week began with the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the day we remember the expectant mother Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth, who was herself miraculously expecting a baby. The Visitation is one of several days and seasons of the church calendar when we think about Mary.

We hear about and wonder about Mary the mother at Christmastime, when we tell the story of her going to Bethlehem on a donkey and then giving birth in a stable when she arrives. What was it like to be far from the comforts of home that night, giving birth, wondering at what the angel had told her and at the appearance of the shepherds? What did she feel as she snuggled her newborn baby?

We also think about Mary during Holy Week when we hear about her witnessing Jesus’ suffering and death. Mothers know that it is agonizing to know your children are in pain. How unbearable it must have been for Mary to watch her son beaten and humiliated and then hanging from the cross! 

The Feast of the Visitation looks back at a happier occasion. Elizabeth exclaims “Blessed are you among women…” and Mary replies with the words that we know as the Magnificat:

‘My soul magnifies the Lord, 
47   and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, 
48 for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
   Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed.


51 He has shown strength with his arm;
   he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
   and lifted up the lowly; 
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
   and sent the rich away empty. 

This, my friends, leads us to this morning’s Gospel lesson, this part of Mark’s Gospel where people are telling Jesus’ family “He has gone out of his mind.”  I wonder what Mary thought of these reports. Mark reports that Mary and Jesus’ brothers went and stood outside of where he was and sent to him. Maybe they wanted to talk with him and see if he really did seem to be losing his mind. Or maybe Mary remembered the vision she had during her pregnancy that evoked the words of the Magnificat, the vision of Jesus bringing down the powerful from their thrones, lifting up the lowly, filling the hungry with good things and sending the rich — who would usually get the best of everything — away empty. This is a vision of Jesus turning the world upside down and inside out. Maybe Mary wanted Jesus to come home because she knew the way prophets were treated. She knew that anyone preaching the kingdom of God risked being dismissed as crazy as best and being ostracized or even killed at worst. Jesus was doing things and saying things that made the people in power uneasy. 

Where our translation says “He has gone out of his mind”, other translations say things like, “He has lost HIs senses” (NASB) or “He’s gone mad!” (Good News Translation). The King James Bible says a fairly restrained, “He is beside himself.” Similarly, The Message translation says, “They suspected he was getting carried away with himself.” 

Whatever words we say, these sorts of words are used to dismiss someone who makes us uneasy. Ideas that challenge us, things that are new or different from what we are accustomed to, get dismissed as “crazy”, and we think the people who propose these uncomfortable ideas or actions have gotten a little too carried away. 

Hearing people say such things about Jesus and his ministry, Jesus’ family goes out to restrain him. While we can understand why his family might want to restrain Jesus to protect him, as followers of Jesus, we certainly don’t approve of anyone — not even the Blessed Virgin Mary herself — trying to restrain Jesus from doing his ministry. And yet when we look at the Church as a whole, we see people who are supposed to be followers of Jesus trying to restrain the Church from continuing his work. 

If we follow Jesus, who came to bring God’s kingdom, to bring down the powerful and lift up the lowly, if we are going to live our own lives and our lives together as a church community in our own parish and diocese and denomination in ways that turn all the injustices of the world upside down and inside out, we will be unusual. We will be what folks in this part of the country call “kind of different”. If we do it right, all in with our hearts on fire with love for Jesus, we won’t get carried away with ourselves, but we will get carried away with Jesus, and it will seem too extreme to some people, including some in powerful positions.

In recent lectionary weeks, we’ve read about Jesus sending the Holy Spirit to guide us, comfort us, and help us. This summer is a critical time for our parish and for the greater Episcopal Church. It’s proving to be a critical time for this neighborhood and this city as we try to figure out how to ensure all of our neighborhoods are safe places to live, work, and play. And this year is a critical time for our world, perhaps the last chance for the world’s leaders to set business as usual aside and get things figured out correctly to prevent catastrophic climate change. 

In these critical times, let’s not dismiss the Holy Spirit when it leads us to do something that is new or unfamiliar or hard to understand. Let’s not immediately dismiss those who sound crazy or extreme to us but who might be speaking the Spirit’s words. And let’s especially not block the work of the Spirit by appealing to what the powers that be would like us Christians to look like and do. If all the world sees of Christians is our removing ourselves from the rest of the world for an hour, more or less, on Sunday mornings, if our purpose in coming to this holy table is “for solace only and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal” if we have church meetings and conventions where we worry about maintaining the status quo, Beelzebub, the personification of evil, rejoices because we are harmless to him. C.S. Lewis’s character old Screwtape himself couldn’t invent a better scenario than to have the church preoccupied with maintaining the status quo. 

Those who truly follow Jesus will not try to hold back the work of the Holy Spirit because it makes us uneasy. We will be open to whatever allows the Spirit to turn things upside down and inside out until Jesus’ work of reconciliation, justice, and radical love is completed. It might look crazy to us, it might puzzle us, and it will sometimes be very difficult, requiring us to tap into wells of creativity and courage and love we didn’t know we had in us until the Spirit led us to them. But given a choice between some craziness — Spirit-led work rooted in Christ’s love and infused with passion and creativity — given a choice between supporting that sort of craziness and blocking the work of the Spirit, followers of Jesus have no choice but to walk where the Holy Spirit leads us. 

As we prayed earlier, “O God…Grant that by your inspiration we may think those things that are right, and by your merciful guiding may do them.” And may God grant us wisdom, courage, love, and abundant joy as we find our way. Amen.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Fossil Fuel Divestment: God or Wealth?

Jesus talks about the uses and misuses of money throughout the Gospel. In the Gospel passage for today’s Daily Office (Luke 16:10-17), Jesus points out that a slave can’t serve two masters and then says, “You cannot serve God and wealth.”

When I read that passage this morning, I immediately thought of the post Divest from fossil fuels: An appeal to the Episcopal Church that The Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas posted on her Reviving Creation blog this week. This post displays and refutes the common arguments against the Episcopal Church divesting from the fossil fuel industry, and then sets out some the reasons why it is especially right for followers of Jesus to now let go of our investments in an industry whose very purpose is now understood to be at odds with the flourishing of life on our planet.

If you are an Episcopalian, I urge you to read this post to the end:
Divest from fossil fuels: An appeal to the Episcopal ChurchMay 25, 2015
Next month, leaders in the Episcopal Church will gather in Salt Lake City for our triennial General Convention.   Among the significant decisions that will be made is a decision about whether to divest from fossil fuels – that is, whether to sell off holdings of stocks and bonds from the world’s leading 200 fossil fuel companies as identified by the Carbon Underground and to re-invest in the clean energy sector. (Continue reading…)
If you aren't Episcopalian, it also is very worthwhile as food for reflection on the broader issues underlying fossil fuel divestment for various institutions.

While other important issues in the Episcopal Church will most probably get more attention before General Convention and will be considered the “big questions” for Deputies and Bishops to consider this year, climate change is the issue that will matter the most to us by the middle of this century and beyond. It is important for Deputies, Bishops, and all of us to understand what is involved in either acting or failing to act, and to understand why divestment from fossil fuels is morally and spiritually important to the Episcopal Church. 

The meditation on today’s Gospel passage in Forward Day by Day asks “What would America look like if we took Jesus seriously when he tells us that we can’t serve God and wealth?” As we prepare for General Convention, we might reflect on what the Episcopal Church would look like — and what we would be doing now — if we took Jesus seriously when he tells us we can’t serve God and wealth. And when he teaches us to hear the cries of our brothers and sisters who are hungry, thirsty, or otherwise in danger because we are failing to act meaningfully on climate change. Or when he simply tells us to love our neighbors, giving the Samaritan — the person from outside our immediate circle — as an example of our neighbor.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Rogation Days: Praying the Bounds of a Warming World

The traditional English celebration of Rogation Days, the three days preceding Ascension Day, included a procession around the boundaries of the parish (often coextensive with the boundaries of a village). At stops along the boundaries, the congregation prayed for the welfare of the village and especially for a good growing season, and the priest blessed the fields. The procession stopped several times for these prayers and blessings, often at important landmarks along the boundaries of the parish. Along with an occasion for prayer and blessings, walking the bounds or beating the bounds also ensured a public memory and a clear public proclamation of exactly where boundaries lay. Ensuring clarity of the boundaries eliminated disputes and gave everyone a common understanding of the bounds of the parish.

The Book of Common Prayer for the Episcopal Church adapts the tradition to our time and place by focusing on traditional rural concerns for the growing season the first day, commerce and industry the second day, and stewardship of creation the third day. In this way, the custom of offering prayers and blessings on the Rogation Days has been preserved in a meaningful way for our context. But since we aren’t living in old English villages, the traditions of creating awareness of boundaries and blessing the bounds has been lost along the way. Some Episcopal parishes process around a neighborhood, community garden, or large church property or drive out into the country to bless a parishioner’s fields, allowing the tradition of praying these prayers outdoors with a festive procession to continue, but any “bounds” that are walked lack the importance of the boundaries that were both declared and blessed in earlier times.

In this era of accelerated global warming, however, we might begin a new Rogation custom of observing and praying the bounds or limits of our biosphere. Through our lack of awareness of the limits of the amounts of greenhouse gases that can be released into our atmosphere without jeopardizing life on Earth, we have made our bounds smaller. Each year the world fails to significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions and acknowledge the laws of chemistry and physics that determine the limits of our biosphere for human life, we leave ourselves less room for solutions that allow us to continue to live and live well. Our inaction is pulling the bounds tighter, leaving us less and less wiggle room. 

During the Rogation Days, we might prayerfully study the current state of global warming and pray about the bounds or limits we discover. 

Here is a place to start. The preliminary monthly average of atmospheric carbon dioxide recorded at the Mauna Loa observatory for the month of April was 403.26 ppm. (The upper safe limit to sustain life as we have known it on this planet is 350 ppm.)  As carbon dioxide levels rise, global temperatures rise. The first three months of 2015 put us on track for 2015 to surpass 2014 as the hottest year on record.

We need to put significant limits on emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases around the world to mitigate global warming. We can acknowledge the need for those limits and pray about them. As temperatures rise we will experience all sorts of big changes that will place limits on human activity. Agriculture will be impacted, marine ecosystems will suffer, and people will need to leave places that become uninhabitable because of rising seas, extreme temperatures, or lack of water. These are our new bounds, the limits within which we will try to live and continue to love one another and love God. Prayer and mindful meditation about those limits is one of the great gifts people of faith can offer now.

If we pray about those bounds and mindfully accept them, we may be able to find blessing there as well. A clear public proclamation of these limits coupled with a blessing of all living things inside these new bounds brings Rogation Days out of the realm of quaint Anglican history and into the heart of what Christ calls us to do today.

For stewardship of creation
O merciful Creator, your hand is open wide to satisfy the needs of every living creature: Make us always thankful for your loving providence; and grant that we, remembering the account that we must one day give, may be faithful stewards of your good gifts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit live and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 259, Collects for Rogation Days)    

This post is an update of my Rogation Days post from May 27, 2014.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Earth Day 2015: The Church and the Writing on the Wall

You have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see or hear or know; but the God in whose power is your very breath, and to whom belong all your ways, you have not honored. (Daniel 5:23)

Episcopalians read the story of Daniel interpreting the writing on the wall for King Belshazzar in our Daily Office readings for today and tomorrow (Daniel 5:1-12 and Daniel 5:13-30). These readings just happen to fall on Earth Day and the day after this year. For those wanting something chosen intentionally for Earth Day, our calendar provides a collect and lessons remembering John Muir, Naturalist and Writer, and Hudson Stuck, Priest and Environmentalist. But in many ways, I find the readings from Daniel more appropriate for Earth Day 2015.

Daniel names Belshazzar's sin: praising idols instead of the true God “whose power is your very breath”. Daniel notes that Belshazzar should have known better because he had seen his own father, Nebuchadnezzar, suffer the consequences of his pride. The writing on the wall spells out the consequence. God “has numbered the days” of Belshazzar’s kingdom. By the time Belshazzar saw the writing on the wall and understood the message, it was too late.

Our sin this Earth Day is that we have set idols of material and psychological comfort and comparatively short-term economic gain above following God’s commandment to care for God’s creation. Like King Belshazzar, we should know better. We have all of Scripture to tell us stories of people who set selfish goals ahead of obedience to God, and we have science to tell us what to expect to unfold from our failure to care for creation at least as much as we care for our temporary wealth and comfort. Scientists also tell us that this a critical point in our history. We know that we face worsening climate disruption under the best of circumstances, and if we don’t cut our greenhouse gas emissions very significantly and very soon, those disruptions will be more and more catastrophic. Our days may well be numbered.

Creation care is something that the church in the United States tends to tack on to our thinking, our prayers, and our budgets after other items considered more essential to our mission. Environmental stewardship is treated like something new instead of an essential piece of Christian spirituality that we are reclaiming and re-acknowledging. 

Repentance is in order this Earth Day. We repent certainly for the damage we have done to God’s creation and the effects of that damage on our sisters and brothers and other living things around the world, but we also need to repent for the damage we have done to our relationship with God through our failure to care for God’s beloved creation. Like Belshazzar, we have allowed our hubris to get in the way of a wholesome relationship with God. The Catechism teaches (p. 848, The Book of Common Prayer) that sin is “the seeking of our own will instead of the will of God, thus distorting our relationship with God, with other people, and with all creation.” Surely that is a sin to confess before God this Earth Day.

The Anglican Communion adopted the Five Marks of Mission several years ago. The Fifth Mark of Mission is “to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth”. A look at budgets at all levels and at where we put our energy, prayers, attention, and our investments show that environmental stewardship, considered essential to the church’s mission, is poorly funded and often neglected. By including creation care in the Marks of Mission, we demonstrate that on some level we know this is essential to the church’s work, but yet we fail to act as if this were an essential piece of the church’s work. 
Please pray with me this Earth Day for us to truly repent and to find the grace, wisdom, and love to heed the writing on the wall before it is too late.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Good Friday: The Goodness of Grief

Reflecting on the Solemn Collects of our Good Friday liturgy last year in the post Good Friday: Grief, Compassion and Hope, I talked about the weight of grief as we hear again the story of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion and the way that resonates with the weight of grief felt by people paying to attention to climate change and its effects on all forms of life on this planet.

The weight of that grief is heavier this year than it was last year. Since last Good Friday, 2014 has been declared the warmest year on record. As 2015 is underway, we continue to break records for the hottest continuous twelve months on record.  Arctic sea ice has hit its lowest winter maximum on record. The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is now commonly at or above 400 ppm. A new study shows that the rate of sea level rise is greater than previously thought.

California is under a Drought State of Emergency while the northeastern United States is emerging from big winter snow totals that broke records in places like Boston. Both situations produce negative economic impacts for people. Some parts of the world suffer from flooding and damaging storm winds while others see worsening drought. Along with producing immediate harm from floods, winds, and burning forests and prairies, these extreme conditions increase food insecurity. 

But Good Friday reminds us that we do not grieve alone. It can feel that way, because we live in a society that often turns away from facing challenges like climate change because we don’t know what to do with grief. Good Friday gives us a day when grief is acknowledged, felt, and even expected. It’s a day for people paying attention throughout the year to feel less alone in our grief and to be part of a worshiping community that can gather to grieve

The weight of grief for our biosphere has grown heavier in a year, but the promise of Good Friday that compassion for those who suffer can lift us all into a place of some sort of hope still rings true. Hope is not uninformed optimism; hope is not an irrational belief that we will magically return to a time before climate destabilization. Hope is faith that love has power we cannot fathom and even the worst of human experience can be redeemed.

And, more than ever, I still believe this part of last year’s reflection to be true:
Gathering our strength and doing whatever we can to prevent and relieve the human misery that results from environmental degradation is the only choice we have as followers of Christ. Choosing to acknowledge the problems we face and working to address them with so little evidence that we can succeed is where we draw on our faith and our hope.
We are an Easter people, even on Good Friday and because of Good Friday. Opening ourselves to grief, lamenting and being present to the reality of so much loss, also allows us to experience genuine compassion, the entry point to genuine hope.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ash Wednesday: Speaking the Uncomfortable Words

"Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

On Ash Wednesday, many of us go out of our way to get to church so we can hear or say these words that declare our mortality. They are not comforting words, but they are honest words. They tell the truth we all know but seldom articulate. We know that the way to a deeper appreciation of the wonder and joy of Easter resurrection begins with this clear reminder of the way things are: we are mortal, made of dust, and utterly dependent on God for life now and after the death of our present bodies. 

The passage we read on Ash Wednesday from Isaiah (Isaiah 58:1-12) might also make us a bit uncomfortable. God says that the sort of fast that God chooses isn’t a traditional fast; it isn’t practicing false humility, but it’s doing something bold: loosing the bonds of injustice, freeing the oppressed, feeding and clothing the hungry and giving them shelter. 

Different people take different paths for Lenten discipline. Different stages of life and especially different stages of the faith journey call for different practices. Anything that helps us repent of “our waste and pollution of your creation, and our lack of concern for those who come after us” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 268) is appropriate for a Lenten discipline, and especially so as the gap between what climate scientists expect us to experience this century and what we are doing to either mitigate that or prepare for it seems to grow greater every year. 

Once again this year, the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ offers the option of a “carbon fast”, a calendar with a different action each day to help us become more conscious of our energy use and more conscientious about our stewardship.  Another option is a simple practice of spending some time outdoors every day just looking and listening and reconnecting to God through reconnecting with God’s creation. [See Lent in God’s Holy Creation]

Another practice to consider adopting this Lent resonates with the truthful but sometimes uncomfortable words of Ash Wednesday: we could simply speak out loud about climate change. People are uncomfortable talking about climate change. After all, we are uncomfortable talking about our own mortality, and if climate change continues under the “business as usual” scenario that seems to be all our political and business leaders can muster, we are talking about ecocide, about the death of the biosphere that supports and sustains all living things on our planet. Speaking the truth — just saying the words — requires some boldness and courage in most settings. There is an unwritten, unspoken, assumption that climate change, like death, is not something to acknowledge in polite company. It doesn’t need to be argumentative or in people’s faces; it is often enough to say, “I’m concerned about climate change.”

In a completely secular setting, Bill Nye (the Science Guy) recently talked about climate change on MSNBC and asked that television journalists “just say ‘climate change’”. In this clip, you hear him say, “People ask me all the time ‘What can I do about climate change?’ Just talk about it. If we were talking about it, we would raise awareness and we would get to work.”

There is even more reason for Christians to talk about climate change. Just as we must take an honest look at our personal mortality in order to appreciate God’s gift of life both now and eternally, we must take an honest look at climate change in order to realize the precarious and precious nature of our biosphere. We must take an honest look at climate change in order to be grounded in the truth that can give us the sense of urgency to act boldly to keep the worst possible scenarios from unfolding. The Hebrew prophets knew that the work of God’s people was the work of the restoration or repair of a just and beautiful creation. The work of the church in this century must include the work of talking about climate change and advocating for climate stability. If we neglect this work at this critical point of human history, and if we neglect our brothers and sisters who already suffer displacement, hunger, or increased poverty and violence because of the effects of climate change, our fast days and our claims to be praying to God in humility are meaningless.