Sunday, March 28, 2021

Coming in the Name of the Lord: Thoughts on the Church's Unique Work in the Climate Crisis

 Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Mark 11:9)



At the end of this Palm Sunday morning, I joined a Zoom conversation with some members of First Congregational UCC in Hastings, Nebraska, at the end of their Lenten series about creation care. Their service included a sermon I had recorded earlier in the week. I’ve adapted the manuscript for that sermon here in order to share some of my current thinking about the wider church’s potential to respond in significant ways to the climate crisis.


It’s heartening to see more and more churches considering how this relatively new challenge of climate change fits into the work churches have traditionally done, work like serving people in need, providing Christian formation for our children, and, most of all, the essential work of discipleship, the work of worship, prayer, and study. In recent years, creation care has become an integral part of the social justice work in many churches.


While churches in the United States have a history of connecting an appreciation of nature with respect for God the Creator, especially through summer camps and occasional outdoor worship in the summer, our history of advocacy around policies regulating clean air and water is very limited. This is relatively new work for the church, and we have had to find our way forward while being pulled backward by a fairly recent narrative claiming that environmental efforts are a political hot potato best avoided, that a desire to keep our levels of pollution and our levels of climate change within the range that allows life as we know it to be sustained is, rather than an urgent concern for everyone on the planet, some sort of side issue that is either supported or opposed according to political affiliations. 


Unlike the sorts of social issues with which the church has historically engaged, climate change comes with an urgency dictated not by the limits of our energy and compassion, which too often have served to slow our efforts, but rather by the limits set by the laws of physics and chemistry, which should serve to accelerate our efforts. And so at the same time the narrative about care for the environment being a trivial political issue was pulling us back, the reality of how rapidly climate change is unfolding and what its effects actually look like has demanded we move ahead more quickly than many leaders in faith communities or in other sorts of institutions found comfortable or even doable. 


We are used to the church engaging in social issues very deliberately. We like to take small steps, doing just enough to stay engaged with an issue while not offending those who aren’t ready for change, and not putting too much time and effort into something many churchgoers see as an unnecessary extra. But because of those pesky natural laws, the luxury of making this work more palatable by advocating for small, incremental changes over many years is not available to us. As this congregation’s Lenten focus on creation care drew to an end, it was wonderful to learn about the efforts of this particular congregation.


We began Holy Week today with Palm Sunday. The Romans in Jesus’s time would process into the cities in their Empire with great pomp, especially after a military victory, the arriving dignitary accompanied by soldiers. Jesus arrives in Jerusalem armed with a heart of compassion and unconditional love, armed with the truth, grounded in prayer, and with deep discernment of God’s will in the week ahead. He is riding not on a warhorse but on a colt, a pile of cloaks for a saddle. More cloaks and leafy tree branches cover the road in front of him, serving both to keep the dust down and to show respect for this humble-looking man who arrives on a colt. And the people who walk ahead of Jesus and behind him are shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”


Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord, the one the crowd knows is from God. Christians — at our best — come in the name of the Lord, and groups of Christians who go to serve somewhere, perhaps on a mission trip to another country or somewhere in their own community to serve people in need do so in the name of Jesus Christ. Jesus entering Jerusalem, however, was the perfection of what it means to come in the name of the Lord: perfectly loving, perfectly faithful.


When we show up in the name of the Lord, we present ourselves to the world as followers of Jesus, as people trying to follow his perfect example as best as our imperfect selves can. 


This congregation learned a lot in recent weeks about creation care and climate change and ways we can best respond to it, and many of us in the church have learned enough in recent years to be able to give some meaningful thought to the direction in which we wish to proceed. What’s next? The images and story of Palm Sunday, of Jesus coming into Jerusalem in the name of the Lord, might point us in a direction for the church’s response to climate change. What does it mean for us to come in the name of the Lord at this point in human history?


Palm Sunday show us Jesus entering Jerusalem in a way that is both significant and humble, a way that makes us aware of his authority and power while also reminding us that it’s a mistake to confuse his authority and power with that of the secular officials. Jesus’s authority comes not from military and political structures but from God. It’s both easily ignored and discounted by the secular authorities and also more powerful than the secular authorities can imagine. 


Some reading this may still be wondering about whether the church should direct time and resources toward responding to climate change, while others may be wondering about how the church might best continue that work.


Why should Christians care about climate change? Jesus’s power is love. The reason the church has always cared for people in need is because Jesus taught us to follow his way of love. Climate change is destroying people’s homes and well-being, from Pacific islands made uninhabitable by rising sea levels to Arctic villages built on permafrost whose foundations — and traditional ways of hunting and fishing — cannot hold as the ice melts; from the bitter cold that caused suffering and death in Texas just last month to the floods in Sydney, Australia, this week, as homes were washed away, thousands of people were evacuated from flooded areas, and spiders and snakes swarmed into homes to escape the floodwaters. As I write this post on Sunday evening, I’m seeing news of heavy rains and very destructive flooding in Nashville, Tennessee. 


Here in Nebraska, we may feel secure for the moment, far from seacoasts and experienced in dealing with all sorts of weather, but even if we live somewhere where we feel secure for at least the short-term, we cannot follow Jesus and ignore the suffering of our sisters and brothers. 


We should care about the integrity of God’s creation because God created all that is out of love. If we love God, we should love the gift of life and all that sustains it that God gave us.


What, then, can we do? There are so many wonderful ways we can practice better stewardship of our resources in our churches and our homes, and most of us are familiar with at least enough of these to begin putting some into practice if we haven’t already done so. Good and useful as it is to put some of these suggestions into practice, we need much more than solid individual stewardship to get us to a point of feeling more certain of a sustainable future. Advocacy — being in touch with our elected officials at all levels of government to encourage them to support legislation and policies to help improve the environment and mitigate climate change — is another area where we might put some time and energy. 


However, this Palm Sunday and Holy Week, I hope we can do something more, something bigger that only the church can do. Anyone can adopt better stewardship practices and advocate for better energy and environmental policies — and we need a lot of anyones to do just those things — but there is something more that only we as followers of Jesus can do.


We are truly in a time of  environmental crisis, of climate crisis, that’s happening along with and that intersects with other crises that also need attention. In this time of crisis, I believe that the church, the body of the followers of Jesus, is called to do something more than (and perhaps different from) what environmental organizations ask of us when they come to the church hoping we can help promote their efforts: 


We are called to deep prayer, acknowledging and offering to God our most terrifying truths about climate change and everything connected with it, and listening for God’s response.


We are called to proclaim God’s sovereignty over all of creation, to grow in our love for God’s creation and our ability to find God through the wonders around us, and to teach our children and others to love and respect and find joy in what God has made.


We are called to give voice to grief and lament, to help ourselves and our neighbors acknowledge the losses of human lives, of plant and animal species, and of places. The church knows how to help people process grief. We may not often acknowledge it, but there is grief not only about the incomprehensible losses of lives, income, and family celebrations from this pandemic we are still enduring, but also about the even bigger losses unfolding from climate change. But once we have given voice to our grief and lament, we are called to our most unique task.


We are called to proclaim hope through our faith in the resurrection. We are Easter people; we preach hope and believe in hope even when everything looks hopeless. The hope we are called to proclaim isn’t a false hope. It’s not thinking that everything will magically turn out all right in the end. Hoping for everything to stay as it is, as we’ve known it, is false hope at this point. 


But we can hope for something good that we can’t even imagine. As Paul wrote in his Letter to the Romans, “hope that is seen is not hope, for who hopes for what is seen?” It’s what the philosopher Jonathan Lear terms “radical hope” — a sort of hope beyond hope. As Easter people, we live in radical hope. As followers of Jesus, we share that with the world.


Discarding the word ‘radical’ for the moment in favor of the perhaps less loaded word ‘deep’, I see the church’s call at this time as a call to deep prayer, deep discipleship, deep grief, deep faith, and deep hope, It’s a time for us to look beyond the institutional church and return to our ancient roots in the life and teaching of Jesus. 


What we in the church can offer during this time of environmental crisis is exactly what the followers of Jesus, from those who threw their cloaks down on that dusty road to all of us, have always had to offer: our prayers, our compassion, our hope, and ourselves, all sustained by our faith in the Easter promise of resurrection.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Praying the News

April 2, 2020

One way to stay grounded in God while reading or hearing the reports about the spread of COVID-19 is to pray as we process the news. This week we pray for the sick, those who have died and those who mourn, those who care for coronavirus patients, prisoners, those who are working in necessary occupations, and those without work, ever mindful of the connections among us and our global siblings and among we humans and everything else in creation.

O most mighty and merciful God, in this time of grievous sickness, we flee unto thee for succour. Deliver us, we beseech thee, from our peril; give strength and skill to all those who minister to the sick; prosper the means made use of for their cure; and grant that, perceiving how frail and uncertain our life is we may apply our hearts unto that heavenly wisdom which leadeth to eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. Prayer In Time of Great Sickness and Mortality (The Book of Common Prayer 1928, p. 45)

Please pray especially this week:

For coronavirus patients in our own communities and around the world, and for everyone dealing with the effects of COVID-19. More than 215,000 Americans are known to have had the coronavirus as of Wednesday, April 1. According to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services data dashboard for COVID-19, 214 Nebraskans have now tested positive for the coronavirus. 

O God, the strength of the weak and the comfort of sufferers: Mercifully accept our prayers, and great to your servants who are ill the help of your power, that their sickness may be turned into health, and our sorrow into joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.Prayer for Recovery from Sickness (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 458)

For those who have died from COVID-19, and those who loved them. A week ago, we had passed 1000 coronavirus deaths in the United States. This week on Wednesday, April 1, more than 1000 Americans died on that day from COVID-19. As of Wednesday evening, there had been more than 5000 coronavirus deaths in the United States. Four Nebraskans have died of the disease.

Almighty God Father of mercies and giver of comfort: Deal graciously, we pray, with all who mourn; that casting all their care on you, they may know the consolation of your love; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.(From The Burial of the Dead II, The Book of Common Prayer, p. 505)

For medical professionals and other healthcare workers caring for coronavirus patients or preparing for a possible wave of hospitalizations in their communities. 

Sanctify, O Lord, those whose you have called to the study and practice of the art of healing, and to the prevention of disease and pain. Strengthen them by your life-giving Spirit, that by their ministries the health of the community may be promoted and your creation glorified, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.Prayer for Doctors and Nurses, (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 460)

For prisoners and others confined to crowded and unsanitary spaces. There has been growing concern for prisoners and the effects of the spread of disease within prisons to surrounding communities. Some places are beginning to release nonviolent prisoners. 

Lord Jesus, for our sake you were condemned as a criminal: Visit our jails and prisons with your pity and judgment. Remember all prisoners, and bring the guilty to repentance and amendment of life according to your will, and give them hope for their future. When any are held unjustly, bring them release; forgive us, and teach us to improve our justice. Remember those who work in these institutions; keep them humane and compassionate; and save them from becomingbrutal or callous. And since what we do for those in prison, O Lord, we do for you, constrain us to improve their lot. All this we ask for your mercy's sake. Amen.Prayer for Prisons and Correctional Institutions, (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 826)

For those are working in necessary occupations and those who are without work. We pray in gratitude for people working in grocery stores, pharmacies, child care centers, transportation, and other occupations that meet our basic needs while many of us are able to stay home. We also pray for those who have suddenly lost their jobs because of the pandemic. 

Almighty God, you have so linked our lives one with another that all we do affects, for good or ill, all other lives: So guide us in the work we do, that we may do it not for self alone, but for the common good: and, as we seek a proper return for our own labor, make us mindful of the rightful aspirations of other workers, and arouse our concern for those who are out fo work; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.Collect for Labor Day, (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 261)


As we pray for others, let us pray for our own hearts to be open so we can see the needs in the world around us and gladly respond to those needs. As springtime arrives even during this pandemic, pray that we find refreshment and inspiration in the beauty of God’s creation:

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



Thursday, March 26, 2020

Praying the News

March 26, 2020

One way to stay grounded in God while reading or hearing the reports about the spread of COVID-19 is to pray as we process the news. This week we pray for the sick, those who have died and those who mourn, those who care for coronavirus patients, journalists, and those who are alone, every mindful of the connections among us and our global siblings and among we humans and everything else in creation.

O most mighty and merciful God, in this time of grievous sickness, we flee unto thee for succour. Deliver us, we beseech thee, from our peril; give strength and skill to all those who minister to the sick; prosper the means made use of for their cure; and grant that, perceiving how frail and uncertain our life is we may apply our hearts unto that heavenly wisdom which leadeth to eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. Prayer In Time of Great Sickness and Mortality (The Book of Common Prayer 1928, p. 45)

Please pray especially this week:

For coronavirus patients in our own communities and around the world, and for everyone dealing with the effects of COVID-19. 

Six more cases were identified in Nebraska on Wednesday. Local news sources have begun updating information for our communities regularly. Earlier this week, the United States had more than 55,000 cases. The Centers for Disease Control updates the numbers for the United States daily, while the World Health Organization provides updates from around the world. Of course, the numbers alone can’t convey the severity of the disease or its effects on patients and their families and communities.

O God, the strength of the weak and the comfort of sufferers: Mercifully accept our prayers, and great to your servants who are ill the help of your power, that their sickness may be turned into health, and our sorrow into joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.Prayer for Recovery from Sickness (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 458)

For those who have died from COVID-19, and those who loved them.

The United States has now had more than 1000 deaths known to be from this virus. 

Almighty God Father of mercies and giver of comfort: Deal graciously, we pray, with all who mourn; that casting all their care on you, they may know the consolation of your love; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.(From The Burial of the Dead II, The Book of Common Prayer, p. 505)

For medical professionals and other healthcare workers caring for coronavirus patients or preparing for a possible wave of hospitalizations in their communities. 

Read about the experience of the medical staff at one Brooklyn Hospital to get a sense of the huge challenges they face when coronavirus cases surge. The health workers in the emergency department at this hospital are beginning their morning shift with prayer, and we can pray with them and all the other medical professionals, hospital workers, and first responders putting themselves in harm’s way to care for others.

Sanctify, O Lord, those whose you have called to the study and practice of the art of healing, and to the prevention of disease and pain. Strengthen them by your life-giving Spirit, that by their ministries the health of the community may be promoted and your creation glorified, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.Prayer for Doctors and Nurses, (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 460)

For journalists who go out to gather news to keep us informed.

As journalists interview government authorities, medical personnel, and people in places most affected by the coronavirus, they expose themselves to potential infection. In a democracy, their work is crucial especially when the decisions of those in power carry the power of life and death as directly as they do in a public health crisis. 

Almighty God, you proclaim your truth in every age by many voices: Direct, in our time, we pray, those who speak where many listen and write what many read; that they may do their part in making the heart of this people wise its mind sound and its will righteous; to the honor of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.Prayer For those who Influence Public Opinion, (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 827)

For those are alone. 

More people than usual are alone and feeling lonely as care facilities bar visitors, older people are advised not to visit with grandchildren and adult children who are unable to practice social isolation, public worship is suspended, and friends cannot gather. Along with our phone calls and notes to people who are alone, we can assure them of our prayers.

Almighty God, whose Son had nowhere to lay his head: Grant that those who live alone may not be lonely in their solitude, but that, following in his steps, they may find fulfillment in loving you and their neighbors; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.Prayer For Those Who Live Alone, (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 829)

As we pray for others, let us pray for our own hearts to be open so we can see the needs in the world around us and gladly respond to those needs. As springtime arrives even during this pandemic, pray that we find refreshment and inspiration in the beauty of God’s creation:

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)








Friday, March 20, 2020

Praying the News

March 20, 2020

Ecosystems are by definition infused and intertwined with all the living things included in those systems.This year, the introduction of a new virus into humans has resulted in a major shift by causing a rise in human illness and mortality along with a rapid modification of several of our habits and activities in response to this threat. 

The interconnectedness of all people and of all living things on our planet has perhaps never before been so acutely understood as it is now. Acting as if care of creation and care of all the other things we hold dear are separate concerns has always been based on false assumptions that humans could somehow opt out of a world created to follow natural laws. (Our failure to reduce carbon emissions despite all we know about the physics of global warming illustrates the folly of these false assumptions.) Now more than ever we need to break out of the categorical boundaries that so often dominate our thinking and be aware of the whole of creation and our part in it (not our part apart from it). 

During the coming weeks and months of this pandemic, I’m renewing the Praying the Earth’s News posts that were a regular feature of this blog for a couple of years, paying particular attention to the connections among us and our global siblings and among we humans and everything else in creation.

O most mighty and merciful God, in this time of grievous sickness, we flee unto thee for succour. Deliver us, we beseech thee, from our peril; give strength and skill to all those who minister to the sick; prosper the means made use of for their cure; and grant that, perceiving how frail and uncertain our life is we may apply our hearts unto that heavenly wisdom which leadeth to eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. Prayer In Time of Great Sickness and Mortality (The Book of Common Prayer 1928, p. 45)

Please pray especially this week for:

Coronavirus patients in our own communities and around the world, and for everyone dealing with the effects of COVID-19.  This map from the Our World in Data  coronavirus website shows the spread of the disease from its beginning to early this week.  



The Centers for Disease Control website cdc.gov provides lots of useful information about the coronavirus, including this page with updates about the number of cases in each state. 

O God, the strength of the weak and the comfort of sufferers: Mercifully accept our prayers, and great to your servants who are ill the help of your power, that their sickness may be turned into health, and our sorrow into joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.Prayer for Recovery from Sickness (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 458)

Healthcare workers caring for coronavirus patients or preparing for a wave of hospitalizations in their communities. This story about the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha gives a look at what hospitals across our diocese are facing on some scale. All of our doctors, nurses, other healthcare workers, members of hospital staffs, and first responders will be working long hours under unprecedented conditions. 

Sanctify, O Lord, those whose you have called to the study and practice of the art of healing, and to the prevention of disease and pain. Strengthen them by your life-giving Spirit, that by their ministries the health of the community may be promoted and your creation glorified, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.Prayer for Doctors and Nurses, (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 460)

People who are unemployed or losing businesses or customers because of the pandemic.  Most of us have observed some piece of the economic impact either personally or somewhere in our communities. Here’s an overview of the wider socio-economic impact.

Heavenly Father, we remember before you those who suffer want and anxiety from lack of work. Guide the people of this land so to use our public and private wealth that all may find suitable and fulfilling employment, and receive just payment for their labor; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.Prayer For the Unemployed (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 824)

For the church as we find new ways to be the church and serve those in need. The Diocese of Nebraska is maintaining a list of remote resources https://www.episcopal-ne.org/remote.html offering alternative ways to worship and pray together during this time when we cannot gather in person. Several parishes are finding creative ways to continue their usual outreach ministries while maintaining social distancing, while this article from Wirecutter suggests five ways to help our communities at this time.

Everliving God, whose will it is that all should come to you through your Son Jesus Christ: Inspire our witness to him, that all may know the power of his forgiveness and the hope of his resurrection; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.Prayer for the Mission of the Church (The Book of Common Prayer, pp. 816-817)

As we pray for others, let us pray for our own hearts to be open so we can see the needs in the world around us and gladly respond to those needs. As springtime arrives even during this pandemic, pray that we find refreshment and inspiration in the beauty of God’s creation:

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)










Thursday, January 2, 2020

Australia: Prayer and Action and Apocalypse

The new year has begun with news of the growing Australian wildfires, with thousands of people fleeing the fires and heading to beaches for safety and evacuation and an estimated 480 million animals dying in the fires so far. Headlines about the fires in recent days have described the fires as ‘apocalyptic’; The Times of London on December 31 said “Thousands trapped on Australian beaches by ‘apocalyptic’ fires”, while a New York Times article  bears the headline “Apocalyptic Scenes in Australia as Fires Turn Skies Blood Red”. 

While it’s understood that this use of the term ‘apocalyptic’ does not line up formally with the theological sense of the term, it’s an apt word for what is happening in Australia for the people whose world as they have known it does seem to have come to an end. When your home, your land, the familiar plants and animals are all gone, it feels like the end of the world, and it is certainly the end of a way of life in a place that is forever changed. These fires have taken hold at the end of the hottest year in Australian history, with the average 2019 temperature 1.52 degrees C hotter than the long-term average temperature. Australia is experiencing the effects of climate change on a big scale. 

Maybe we need a new term for this sort of “apocalypse”. Instead of talking about the “end times”, we could talk about “death times” or a time of loss on a scale most of us can’t imagine. It is not only the death of individuals, both human and non-human, that makes us reach for the language of apocalypse to describe it, but also the threat of losing entire species as bigger areas come under threat on a continent that is known for its unique fauna and flora. 

How can we in the Church respond to a climate-fueled tragedy of this scale? As with any loss, we can acknowledge it and talk about it, making it clear that we do see what is happening to a nation that is one of our closest allies. Many Americans seem only vaguely aware of what is unfolding in Australia as 2020 begins. Ignoring the suffering there goes against the command to love our neighbors; moreover, not learning from this tragedy and continuing to let climate change accelerate at a rapid pace puts others — and at some point, ourselves — in danger of other large-scale losses.

The Episcopal Church’s online resources for Creation Care  include some practical, close-to-home actions we can take. These resources are a great starting point, especially commendable for helping us to think more intentionally about caring for God’s creation. Yet we know that even our best efforts at stewardship and conservation as individuals and parishes, while good and worthwhile, aren’t enough to make enough of a difference.  

What then should we do once we have seen and acknowledged the damage not only of the fires in Australia but of the past year’s fires in California, the losses here in Nebraska and so many other places around the world from flooding, the end of traditional ways of living as permafrost melts in the Arctic and sea level rise threatens island nations? 

The temptation is to do nothing in the face of such a great threat because our efforts seem so small and futile. However, the Gospel lesson for today’s Daily Office holds a different suggestion for us. The lesson is John’s version of the feeding of the five thousand (John 6:1-14). In John’s telling of the story, Jesus asks Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” Philip responds by saying that the challenge is too great. In saying “six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little”, Philip basically says that the problem is too big for them to address. Then Andrew says, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish.” Andrew immediately adds, as if to show that he understands the impossibility of feeding all these people, “But what are they among so many people?” What I love about John’s version of the story is imagining the boy calling Andrew’s attention to what he has to offer. When small children hear that someone needs help, they are often eager to offer their help even when the adults in the room think that the child has nothing significant to offer. I imagine this boy overhearing the conversation about finding food for all these people and saying, “Look! I have some barley loaves and two fish. You can have those to help feed the people!” 

While Philip and Andrew made it clear that they were too sophisticated to take the boy’s offer seriously, the fact that the child offered what he had made all the difference. It was all that Jesus needed. This suggests that rather than do nothing about climate change because nothing we can do seems big enough, we should instead humbly offer what we have: our ability to stay informed and talk about what is happening, our acts of stewardship and conservation, our phone calls and letters to elected officials, our ability to organize or attend meetings and rallies and marches to call attention to climate change and call for significant policy changes to address it, and our prayers. I’ve seen several poignant requests for our prayers from Australians via social media this past week. We may feel like our prayers are insignificant — and there has been some public shaming of people who offer “thoughts and prayers” when more seems to be in order — but some of the people in the middle of these fires want us to offer them anyway. 

Our prayers and our actions seem so small, but we don’t know how they will be used, how they will combine with the efforts of others, how we might eventually change the hearts of the people with the power to make the large-scale societal changes that can mitigate these disasters in the long-term. 


Please pray for Australia, for its people, plants, and animals, and for our global climate. And please act in accordance with these prayers, offering in faith whatever actions each of us can offer. 

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Compassion and Climate Chaos

Lent 3C: Suffering and Blame

In a post at the beginning of Lent, I shared my plan to read David Wallace-Wells’s book The Uninhabitable Earth alongside our daily lectionary readings and Lenten prayers. This being the Lenten wilderness, I didn’t know what I might encounter along the way since by definition the wilderness has no set paths to follow and no guarantees of what we might find. Along with other Nebraskans, not long into Lent I found myself in unfamiliar territory.

On Thursday, March 14 in Nebraska, blizzard conditions followed heavy rains as air pressure dropped in a “bomb cyclone” event. With the ground still frozen hard and more snowpack than usual melting, rivers and creeks flooded and huge chunks of ice got pushed into areas near waterways, resulting in great destruction in both rural areas and towns. Roads and bridges were badly damaged or destroyed, making areas already cut off by floodwaters even more isolated from aid. 

In the days since, we Nebraskans have greatly appreciated the assurance of prayers from people in other places, just as we have appreciated all sorts of practical help, such as money to help with flood relief, farmers from other states bringing hay to feed Nebraska livestock, and skilled volunteers simply showing up to help. And Nebraskans have been helping their neighbors and encouraging each other as communities begin the process of clean-up and rebuilding. Among the shock and sorrow at the losses resulting from the floods, the compassion people have given to other people and to animals has been a bright light showing the way forward and drawing us together. 

However, compassion has not been a universal reaction to our suffering. In this Sunday’s Gospel reading (Luke 13:1-9), 
Jesus is asked whether people who died in terrible ways were worse sinners than others; in other words, Jesus is asked whether people who experience unusual suffering somehow especially deserve their suffering. Today we might ask, do bad things really happen to good people? (Yes, they do.) Yet even if we know perfectly well that terrible things can happen to people who personify faith and kindness and moral goodness, we still in our culture — perhaps especially in our recent history — have a tendency to look for someone to blame when things go wrong. When we assume someone is to blame, and especially when we make an assumption, conscious or unconscious, that the someone who is to blame is probably the very person who is suffering, compassion dwindles. 

Jesus’s answer to this question about sinners getting what they deserve is basically that we are all sinners, all in need of repentance. If bad things happen only to people who have sinned, we are all in trouble. 

We know that the more our planet warms, the more extreme weather events we will have as a result of climate chaos. Spring flooding is not atypical in this part of the United States, but floods of this magnitude are atypical. (See, for example, the article Climate change’s fingerprints are on U.S. Midwest floods: scientist from Reuters.)   It is fair to say, then, that our failure to stop climate change when we could have done so or our failure to mitigate climate change now that it is upon us contributed to this disaster. If we are invested in the blame game more than we are invested in Jesus’s Way of Love, it’s an easy step to go from acknowledging our collective failure to looking for specific people to blame for that failure and hoping to see them suffer.

Those of us who made the mistake of reading the comments on articles about the destruction here in Nebraska learned that while many people in other places had a compassionate response to our suffering, many others had no compassion for Nebraskans because we have elected political leaders who refuse to do anything to address climate change. The general tenor of these comments was that the writer didn’t feel sorry for us at all because we had brought this all on ourselves by electing the wrong sorts of people, that we got just what we deserved. (On top of being mean-spirited, these comments seemed to me especially ill-conceived given the obvious contribution of Nebraskans to stopping the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.)

Our world needs people whose first impulse is compassion rather than placing blame; as we experience more and more of the results of climate chaos, our world needs Jesus’s Way of Love perhaps more than ever before. The basic foundations of human civilization are endangered by climate instability. Such a critical point of history requires us to demonstrate the best human values and to resist the temptation to divide further into warring factions. Hope for our world in an era of environmental collapse depends on compassion for one another. That compassion, that ability to care, will, I think, yield our best outcome in generating the political will to act to mitigate climate change as well the best outcome in responding to what David Wallace-Wells calls the “cascades” of challenges and disasters resulting from climate chaos. 

Do we need to elect leaders who make addressing global warming a high priority? Yes, we do. Should people and animals who live in places that don’t elect such leaders — and right now that would be most of the United States since it’s pretty obvious from looking at legislative records and listening to campaign rhetoric that few of our leaders of either major party see climate change as a top priority or have any grasp of the size of the challenge before us — be left to suffer on their own when floods, tornadoes, droughts, or wildfires happen? No. For Christians, such a lack of compassion would simply be against everything that Jesus taught. We don’t require a moral litmus test in order for people to access basic necessities. 

And for anyone, even those who live by an “eye for an eye” blame game ethics, the ethics of blame and self-righteousness makes no sense since we don’t (at least at the moment) live in a country in which the red people all live in one place and the blue people all live in another place — not that political affiliation really tells you anything about any given individual’s concern about climate change.  

Jesus answered a question about why he made a practice of sitting down to eat with known sinners by saying, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’” (Matthew 9:13) Now in this era of climate chaos we still need to learn what it means to show mercy to people in need rather than demanding moral purity. 

The Diocese of Nebraska has published a suggested list of links to agencies accepting monetary donations for flood relief along with thanksgiving for your prayers:





Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Lenten Wilderness: The Uninhabitable Earth

The Uninhabitable Earth: Life after Warming, published two weeks ago, will help to shape my Lenten experience this year. In turn, I suspect my observance of Lent will color my reading of David Wallace-Wells’s blunt and lucid account of the present reality of climate change. My intention during Lent is to figure out every day what to give up or let go of to ensure time for a close reading of a chunk of this book along with a close reading of the Daily Office readings for that day and plenty of time for prayer. 

“It is worse, much worse, than you think,” reads the first sentence of The Uninhabitable Earth

“We confess to you, Lord, all our past unfaithfulness: the pride, hypocrisy, and impatience of our lives.” We pray this confession in our Litany of Penitence as one of many particular faults. All of the sins we confess on Ash Wednesday have some bearing on the particular sin that most directly speaks to the subject of The Uninhabitable Earth
For our waste and pollution of your creation, and our lack of concern for those who come after us,Accept our repentance, Lord. 
Yesterday’s familiar Daily Office reading from John’s Gospel (John 1:1-18) reminded us of the reality of the Incarnation, the Word that came to live among us in our world of earth, air, fire, and water. While some forms of piety emphasize a heaven / earth dualism during Lent, the reality of our faith and of our lives is that we are part of the world God created and pronounced good, the same world so deeply loved by God that Jesus, God Incarnate, came to dwell here with us. Whether we can understand it, and even if we deny it, the laws of chemistry and physics and our past and present actions are resulting in big changes that have forever changed life on our planet. And whether we can understand it, and even if we deny it, God’s love for us and for all of creation, the love that we know through Jesus’s love, is with us as we respond to the huge challenges we face. 

I’ve chosen to read The Uninhabitable Earth not despite the psychological and spiritual challenge of looking squarely at our present situation on this planet, but because of the enormity of that challenge. The temptation to look away is a true temptation, a temptation to sin. Our failure to acknowledge climate change as the central issue of our time — our practice of willful ignorance, of ignoring the very warm elephant in the room as we allow ourselves to be distracted by all sorts of craziness along with all sorts of other serious concerns that will only worsen as Earth’s temperatures soar — is more than an oversight. Our willful ignorance that results in human suffering and species extinction is a sin, and the only way to repent of willful ignorance is to seek knowledge. 

I have no idea what I’ll encounter in the practice of reflecting on this latest summary of our perilous condition alongside our daily lectionary readings and Lenten prayers, but when any of us chooses a serious Lenten discipline, we have no idea what we will encounter in our chosen wilderness. By definition, the wilderness has no set paths to follow, no guarantees of what we will find. 

In this age of global warming, we are all in the wilderness, all lost whether or not we realize it.  Choosing a forty day interior wilderness journey that acknowledges our material situation seems appropriate to me this year. I’ll post some reports along the way if I find something worth sharing.