Friday, December 8, 2017

Prophets and Joy: Prayer and Reflection for the Second Week of Advent

The light outside us grows dimmer; the light within us grows brighter.

Collect for the Second Sunday of Advent (p. 211, The Book of Common Prayer)
Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Some of today’s prophets are scientists and environmentalists who warn us of the long-term dangers of pollution and overconsumption. From the growing problem of plastic pollution to using unsustainable amounts of resources to our dependence on fossil fuels that are extracted from the earth in ways that endanger land, water, and human health before emitting carbon dioxide that contributes to global warming, these prophets warn us that our actions endanger us, future generations, and other living things. 

“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,” according to the Catechism in The Book of Common Prayer. By that definition, our disregard for the environment is indeed sinful. Our repentance this Advent season requires us to examine our neglect of the environment that sustains life on this earth and to change our way of life so we are better stewards of the gift of God’s creation.

Advent is also a time when a walk outside can reveal much to bring us joy: winter birds, sometimes footprints in the snow, soft pink light at sunset, and dazzling stars at night. When we look around and notice the wonders all around us, we realize that repentance returns us to a place of great love and great joy in God’s creation. 

This week we pray:

Merciful God, you have sent us prophets in the form of scientists and environmental advocates who can teach us how to better care for the gift of your creation that sustains every living thing on the earth. Help us to better hear them and learn from them, that we can continue to find joy in your creation and pass along the gift of your creation to future generations. Give us penitent hearts and such joy in your creation that our desire is to do what is right. We pray this in the name of  the Son that you sent to live among us because you so loved the world. Amen.


A note about these Advent offerings:

The focus of the Diocese of Nebraska’s Creation Community this year is to create and pray daily prayers appropriate to each liturgical season that remember the natural environment. Our intention is not only to add these prayers to our own regular daily prayers so we know that others in our little community are praying with us, but also to offer them for use by others in the diocese in their daily prayers. For each week of Advent, we are offering a short reflection and prayer.

It seems especially important this year to remember both the firm and proven expectation that the natural light will indeed grow brighter and also our deeper hope that metaphorically brighter days will return at a time we can’t pinpoint. Because we live in Christian hope, even as the light outside us grows dimmer, our inner light shines brighter against the darkness.


Friday, December 1, 2017

Hope: Prayer and Reflection for the First Week of Advent

The light outside us grows dimmer; the light within us grows brighter. 

Collect for the First Sunday of Advent (p. 211, The Book of Common Prayer)
Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Outdoors it's late fall. The days grow shorter and the sun lies low in the sky. We know with certainty, though, both that longer days and brighter light lie ahead and exactly when the winter solstice will bring the gradual return of the light, but still sometimes the weeks of darkness seem unending. 

Our situation with climate change caused by global warming can seem hopeless when we look at the scientific data and the global and national political situation. Unlike our knowledge of the returning natural light, we have no certain knowledge that better days lie ahead. Any genuine hope in this case is deep hope, hope that something better and brighter than the most likely outcome -- and perhaps something even better and brighter than anything we can imagine -- will come to pass. In these waning days, we pray a prayer of hope:

O God of all power and all goodness, the days are dark and our future seems uncertain. Send us in this season of Advent deep hope and the will to do what we must to help that hope become a real possibility. We ask that even when it seems foolish, you give us wisdom to put on the armor of light so all can live in hope of a future when humankind and all living things both not only live, but flourish. In the name of Jesus, the true light of the world who is not overcome by the darkness. Amen.


A note about these Advent offerings:

The focus of the Diocese of Nebraska’s Creation Community this year is to create and pray daily prayers appropriate to each liturgical season that remember the natural environment. Our intention is not only to add these prayers to our own regular daily prayers so we know that others in our little community are praying with us, but also to offer them for use by others in the diocese in their daily prayers. For each week of Advent, we are offering a short reflection and prayer.

It seems especially important this year to remember both the firm and proven expectation that the natural light will indeed grow brighter and also our deeper hope that metaphorically brighter days will return at a time we can’t pinpoint. Because we live in Christian hope, even as the light outside us grows dimmer, our inner light shines brighter against the darkness.



Praying in the Darkness

The light outside us grows dimmer; the light within us grows brighter. 

We in Nebraska are going into December with much milder weather than usual. Snowfall in the late fall has been light to nonexistent in our state, and many days have seen temperatures rise past normal. Even though the calendar says December now, some of us are still getting by without boots and our heavier coats and hats, and I’ve heard more than one person say it’s hard to get into thinking about Christmas because of the mild weather.

However, no matter how mild the weather or how lacking the snow cover, the shorter days and lower sun still tell us winter is here. Here in central Nebraska, the sun at the beginning of December sets just after 5:00, and shorter days are ahead in the next three weeks. No matter where we live in the northern hemisphere, the dimming natural light is part of these weeks before Christmas. 

Along with the naturally dimmer days, our nation’s failure to acknowledge and address climate change and its consequences to our environment along with our nation’s current political and cultural backdrop can cause us to feel as if our days are growing darker with other ways. Because of this pervasive sense of darkness, it seems especially important this year to remember both the firm expectation that the natural light will indeed grow brighter and our deeper hope that other forms of brighter light will return to our lives at a time we can’t pinpoint. Because we live in Christian hope, even as the light outside us grows dimmer, our inner light shines brighter against the darkness. 

The focus of the Diocese of Nebraska’s Creation Community this year is to create and pray daily prayers appropriate to each liturgical season that remember the natural environment. Our intention is not only to add these prayers to our own regular daily prayers so we know others in our little community are praying with us, but also to offer them for use by others in the diocese in their daily prayers. 

For Advent, we will offer a short reflection and prayer for each week of Advent.

For people wanting to join us in our prayer, I’ll be sharing a short reflection and prayer for each week of Advent in this space, beginning this evening with the offering for the First Week of Advent. Look for each week’s reflection and prayer on Friday evenings.




Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Birds and the Tolling of the Bells

This morning at 11:00 Central time, Trinity Cathedral in Omaha joined Episcopal churches across the nation in tolling their bells 59 times, once for each person who was killed in this week’s mass shooting in Las Vegas. This shooting is our most recent horror, bringing us once again to place of national grief. For some, that grief bleeds into despair as we ask what we can do not only to remember the dead and give the moment the solemnity it requires, but also to stop this progression of violence that threatens to numb us to the possibility of living any other way.

As the bells at Trinity Cathedral began tolling, groups of birds — primarily pigeons and starlings — flew up from treetops and rooftops in downtown Omaha. Murmurations of startled birds turned in the wind, navigating away from the clangs of the bells. After several tolls, though, many of the birds settled back onto the trees and roofs, and at the end of the fifty-nine tolls, groups of the remaining birds flew back into the area, leaving the distribution of birds on the trees and rooftops of downtown Omaha much as it had been before 11:00.

Our news in the United States in recent weeks has brought one startling story after another, stories of extremely destructive hurricanes, stories of racism, stories of war and threats of war, stories of interference in our political process, and stories of gun violence. Some of these are new developments of very old stories and some are new, but each new story of something way out of the ordinary momentarily startles us much as the beginning of the 59 tolls startled the birds in Omaha. After the initial shock, we move into action, whether to simply find out more about it or try to do something constructive in response. Some of us settle back to our normal routines and places fairly quickly, while others wait until the “news cycle” has moved onto something else. People who were deeply concerned about relief efforts in Puerto Rico a couple of days ago had their attention shocked away from that by what happened in Las Vegas. 

Unlike the birds, though, we have the capacity after the initial shock has worn off to choose to remember what happened and to remain concerned about the issues that underlie these news stories. We can reflect on what happened and work on figuring out better ways to live with one another. We can realize that each new shock is connected to the others, and that all those directly affected by each new horror are connected to us. No event and no person stands alone. We can realize that all the issues we treat as isolated are interconnected: our failure to address climate change is tied to our acceptance of racism and violence and dysfunctional governance. Whatever we choose to forget and ignore still affects us, whatever we choose to passively accept as some twisted new version of normal is going to affect each of us as the perversion of God’s kingdom that it is. 

And perhaps we can remember and understand the words of John Donne:

And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; 
It tolls for thee. 


Thursday, September 7, 2017

Responding to the New Normal: Sunday and Beyond

I’m writing this midway between Sundays, and between hurricanes for the mainland United States. Hurricane Irma has already done incredible damage in the Caribbean, and today we will see it continue its path to more islands while we watch to see which way it turns. Floridians are preparing for possible landfall of this huge hurricane. We pray for everyone in its path and everyone on the islands already hit, while prayers and aid continue for communities on the Texas and Louisiana coasts.

Along with hearing early reports of the catastrophic damage left by Irma on its first hits in the Caribbean,we have for weeks now found ourselves in the midst of an extraordinary confluence of events this late summer of 2017.  Fires burn in the western United States, people with DACA  status (and their families, friends, schools, and employers) face uncertainty that was not there before, and the hate on display at the August 12 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville remains largely unaddressed. And there’s so much more, but while all of this is interconnected, this post is meant to address two things: how these hurricanes and fires are changing the way many people in our communities and our pews think about climate change, and some thoughts about how the church at its best might respond to that.

What we see going on here in the U.S. is what we knew we would be seeing at some point this century. The devastation caused by storms made more severe by warmer seas and a warmer atmosphere and by fires made worse by above average temperatures and lack of rain is similar to what people in some other parts of the world have already experienced. Now, though, we are seeing it on a big scale in our own country. What we have known as an abstract probability is now visible, and the size of the disasters and the sort of effect they can have on our lives is suddenly very real. For people who weren’t sure whether climate change would really make things that much different from what they were in the past, that skepticism seems like a naive hope that has been extinguished. 

However, along with being better able to grasp how climate change can affect us, we also know that scientists tell us it will get even worse unless we act with urgency to make very significant changes in the ways we produce and use energy. We have a taste of what to expect, but even while we are trying to comprehend what is happening now, we are also getting a clearer picture of our future if we continue on our current trajectory. That picture is very distressing.

What will we do in our churches on Sunday? Our usual responses to disasters are to offer prayers for the victims (if we remember to insert them into the Prayers of the People) and perhaps to have an announcement of some sort about where to send money for disaster aid. (If we think about it early enough in advance, we might include the bulletin inserts from Episcopal Relief and Development.) Both prayer and traditional disaster aid are very much needed now, and including these usual responses is a good place to begin with our response to what is happening. Bidding prayers for everyone involved and encouraging donations to reputable aid agencies is the minimum for this Sunday. 

But we in the Church need something more this time, something that differs as much from our normal practice as the succession of Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma (and possibly a third storm, Hurricane Jose) and their scale differs from the historical norms for hurricane season in North America. Here are some things the Church can do this Sunday and beyond to help people who are trying to come to grips with the reality of the changes in our world. 

Clergy and lay leaders need to know what is happening outside of the church walls. We need to find out what is going on in the places that have already been hit by these hurricanes and what is going on elsewhere in the world — e.g. the fires in the west, the flooding in southern Asia — so that we can find compassion for the people, places, and nonhuman living things suffering from the effects of climate change. Short term, that means keeping up with the news. Long term, it means study about climate change and about the theological underpinnings for response to widespread destruction. The prophetic books of the Bible and commentaries on the prophets is a place to start for the latter. There is more information about climate change available in the mainstream media than there was in the fairly recent past. (This increase in coverage is timely as much of the information on government websites has been removed.) In addition, some specialty websites like the climate section of Think Progress and the Climate Central site provide current information. The New York Times this week offers an interactive tool to help readers understand the concept of a carbon budget and the limits that the laws of nature place on our policy decisions about carbon pollution.

Prayers in our public worship for disaster victims and their families and the people who are helping them recover can be coupled with prayers for our planet and our nation, as these disasters are part of a bigger picture. Several prayers in The Book of Common Prayer would be appropriate — e.g. Prayer 18 For our Country (p. 820), Prayer 41 For the Conservation of Natural Resources (p. 827), and Prayer 44 For the Future of the Human Race

The Church is already behind in preparing to meet (and beginning to meet) the spiritual needs of people who are starting to grasp the reality and scope of climate change. Other organizations can advocate for sound climate policy or send aid to victims, but the Church is the institution best suited to addressing the spiritual angst of people beginning to sense the scope of the destruction we have unleashed on our planet. A great start to this work in places that haven’t begun is simply to ask the hard existential questions that arise around climate change and sit prayerfully with them. If the Church’s spiritual leaders have at least reflected on the big questions we are starting to ask, we will be in a better place to speak with others about those questions.

Finally — and perhaps most importantly if we are to address the needs of people coming to church this Sunday after hearing news of Irma’s destruction only a week after hearing news about Harvey — we can preach it. Imagine walking into a church after listening to hurricane updates on your car radio and hearing a sermon that doesn’t acknowledge that there is anything out of the ordinary going on in our nation! (This is easy to imagine, as it is an all too common experience.) Name the reality; acknowledge the disasters and acknowledge that we are experiencing the effects of extreme weather resulting from anthropogenic global warming (climate change). And offer real hope, good news. We must be real both about the situation we are in and about what hope looks like in this situation. (Perhaps our hope is that we will be faithful disciples, treating others with love and kindness in chaotic situations. Perhaps our hope is that good people might persuade our leaders to act in significant ways so that we can mitigate the worst effects of climate change, or perhaps our hope is simply in the promises of Jesus that in the midst of destruction, we will find abundant and everlasting life.) Sharing real hope — hope that acknowledges the reality of our situation — keeps us going and in no way diminishes the severity of the situation; hope is what allows us to be honest about the problem at hand. 

My plea to the church is this: don’t let us down this time. If we want to avoid dealing with hard things, if we can’t bring ourselves to talk about the true scope of physical and spiritual suffering for fear of offending people in the pews, then we should simply admit that we cannot find the compassion to give priority to the victims of these disasters now or in the future. The disasters will continue, and at some point the Church will either be seen in our communities as a place where we can bring our deepest hopes and fears — and perhaps even the place where we can best bring our deepest hopes and fears — or as a place that doesn’t care and that doesn’t matter much in a changing world. 





Saturday, August 26, 2017

Praying the Earth's News: August 26, 2017

This weekend we are watching Hurricane Harvey along the Texas coast. We offer prayers in response to this storm.

Almighty God, in giving us dominion over things on earth you made us fellow workers in your creation: Give us wisdom and reverence so to use the resources of nature, that no one may suffer from our abuse of them, and that generations yet to come may continue to praise you for your bounty; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Collect For the Conservation of Natural Resources (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 827)

Please pray for:

People in the path of Hurricane Harvey. 

The helpers and first responders working during and after the storm.  

A compassionate response from the rest of our nation. Officials predict that some areas along the Texas coast may be uninhabitable for weeks or even months. Residents of those areas will need to go someplace else, as some residents of New Orleans did after Katrina. Pray for open hearts and welcoming communities.

Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart and especially the hearts of the people of this land, that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Prayer for Social Justice (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 823)

Wisdom for our leaders to acknowledge and apply what we know about the effects of climate change on severe storms. Climate change affects the severity of storms; warmer air holds more moisture, increasing rainfall in storms, and warmer ocean waters give hurricanes more energy. [See The Relationship Between Hurricanes and Climate Change.] We have known both that anthropogenic global warming is happening and that it will have an effect on severe weather for some time, but our leaders more often than not either ignore or deny the facts. As a consequence, we are not doing what we could to mitigate the effects of climate change or to adapt to these changes, and our denial has left us less well-prepared than we could be. Pray that this storm might open our eyes to the reality before us.

O God, by whom the meek are guided in judgment, and light rises up in darkness for the godly: Grant us, in all our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what you would have us to do, that the Spirit of wisdom may save us from all false choices, and that in your light we may see light, and in your straight path may not stumble; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Prayer for Guidance (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 832)




Sunday, June 4, 2017

Praying the Earth's News: Pentecost Edition


June 4, 2017

Today against a backdrop of another week of alarming climate news, we celebrate that long ago Pentecost described in Acts (Acts 2:1-21). The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus’s followers with “a sound like the rush of a violent wind” and the sight of “divided tongues, as of fire”, and then Jesus’s followers were speaking in languages they had not known before so that they could go to the whole world and tell the Good News. 

Just as those early Christians were empowered to leave their small community of believers and go out into the world, we pray that we may be empowered to go out from our churches today and find ourselves with the words and power we need to tell the world about Jesus’s way of living. 

“O Lord, how manifold are your works!” Psalm 104, the Psalm designated for today, reminds us of the wonders of creation and that God, the Creator of everything, rejoices in all of creation. An important part of the story we share with the world — and a part that is essential for the survival of civilization — is the story of God’s love for the world and our duty to take good care of what God has made. 

We have a lot of work ahead of us. There is no time for discouragement. Pray for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Almighty God, in giving us dominion over things on earth you made us fellow workers in your creation: Give us wisdom and reverence so to use the resources of nature, that no one may suffer from our abuse of them, and that generations yet to come may continue to praise you for your bounty; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Collect For the Conservation of Natural Resources (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 827)

Please pray for:

The Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica and our response to its effects on the rest of the world. The crack in the Larsen C ice shelf has grown rapidly in recent weeks, and an iceberg the size of the state of Delaware is expected to break off very soon. According to weather.com

Though the changes are happening in the most remote part of the planet, they’re being felt thousands of miles away as ice turns to water and starts to lap against increasingly beleaguered coastal communities around the world. And the impacts will only grow more severe unless carbon pollution is reined in.

Our planet as atmospheric carbon dioxide levels in May reached an all-time monthly high. May is always the peak month for atmospheric carbon dioxide levels records at the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawai’i. Brian Kahn of Climate Central reports that this year’s average reading for May was 409.65 ppm. (The goal for climate stability is 350 ppm.) Kahn writes: 

The reading from May is well above the 407.7 ppm reading from May 2016. And it’s far above the 317.5 ppm on record for May 1958, the first May measurement on record for Mauna Loa, the gold standard for carbon dioxide measurements. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, carbon dioxide stood at roughly 280 ppm.

Lord, have mercy.

The world’s ability to mitigate the effects of climate change despite the President’s attempts to remove the United States from the Paris climate accord. Leaders of other nations, several states and major cities in the United States, and leaders of industry have vowed to work around the proposed U.S. federal withdrawal from the climate accord. Pray for courage, wisdom, and creativity for those leaders who have the vision and will to lead us in making the changes necessary for our survival. 


O God our heavenly Father, you have blessed us and given us dominion over all the earth: Increase our reverence before the mystery of life; and give us new insight into your purposes for the human race, and new wisdom and determination in making provision for its future in accordance with your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. 
Prayer for the Future of the Human Race (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 828)

As we pray for others, we might also pray for our own hearts to be broken open so we can see the needs in the world around us and gladly respond to those needs:

O heavenly Father, who has filled the world with beauty; Open our eyes to behold your gracious hand in all your works; that, rejoicing in your whole creation, we may learn to serve you with gladness; for the sake of him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Prayer for Joy in God’s Creation (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 814)