Thursday, March 23, 2017

Praying the Earth's News: March 23, 2017

We pray this week for people affected by floods and fires that have been made worse by warmer global temperatures, and we pray for our planet and the future of the human race as warming takes us into “uncharted territory”.

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 Peru affected by severe flooding.  Unusually intense rainfall — “the deadliest downpours in decades” according to this story from Reuters — has resulted in severe flooding in Peru. More than sixty people have died, and the rains and flooding are expected to continue. 

People affected by wildfires in the Great Plains. Fires in the Great Plains have contributed to a “furious start” to the wildfire season in the United States. Dry conditions and very warm late winter temperatures contributed to the fires. Ranchers lost cattle to the fires, leading ranchers to call the fires “our hurricane Katrina”. Here in Nebraska this week, a wildfire near Lake Mcconaughy burned 800 acres and destroyed eight homes.

The earth as we enter “uncharted territory”. The Guardian reports on a World Meteorological Association report on the 2016 global climate, which reports that we have reached a level of warming that takes the planet into “uncharted territory”. NASA reported that on March 7 sea ice extent at both poles reached record lows. The need for action on climate change has never been clearer, but political prospects for such action in the United States at least look slim.

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 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)


Friday, March 17, 2017

Praying the Earth's News: March 17, 2017

Americans have many justice issues before us that call people of faith to prayer and action. We may be tempted to ignore what is unfolding with regards to the climate and environment and focus our attention instead on issues that seem at least slightly more manageable and more immediate. Yet even as we struggle to understand environmental issues and how best to fit meaningful action on climate and pollution with the other issues calling for our attention, our prayers for situations that seem beyond our abilities of comprehension and action can help us to find wisdom and see how best to act.

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:

Coral reefs, especially the Great Barrier Reef. Bleaching has hit large sections of the Great Barrier Reef for the second year in a row. Global warming means warmer ocean temperatures, and when the oceans get too warm, bleaching occurs. Scientists now consider large sections of the reef dead

People and other living things dealing with extreme air pollution. Changes in weather patterns caused by Arctic warming have been found to contribute to stagnant air that exacerbates air pollution. Since greenhouse gases cause global warming which is now changing weather patterns, addressing extreme pollution events requires a reduction in greenhouse gases as well as a reduction in other air pollutants.

The will to significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Carbon dioxide levels rose sharply for the second year in a row, making the two year increase in greenhouse gases between 2015 and 2017 “unprecedented” in the Mauna Loa Baseline Atmospheric  Observatory’s 59 year records. Carbon dioxide is a major greenhouse gas. 

Environmental justice advocates. Last week’s Native Nations Rise march in Washington, D.C. continued the effort to keep the Dakota Access Pipeline from being completed on a route that the Standing Rock Sioux tribe says threatens its drinking water and crosses sacred lands. A Peoples Climate March is being planned for April 29 to bring attention to the connections between climate change and other justice issues. 

As we pray for others, we might also 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:

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 10, 2017

Praying the Earth's News: March 10, 2017

This week’s prayers follow a week in which Nebraskans saw early signs of spring, high winds, and Sandhill cranes in abundance.

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 Arctic ecosystem.  The instability of the Arctic sea ice and its diminishment as a result of global warming means loss of habitat for both larger animals and for the algae that form the base of the Arctic food chain. Combined with other pressures from climate change, the Arctic’s indigenous species are threatened. 

People suffering and dying from extreme drought conditions in Africa. Along with the obvious effects on agriculture and people dying from malnutrition, this past week at least 110 people — mostly women and children — died in just 48 hours in one region of Somalia from waterborne diseases. People are so desperate for water that they use whatever water they can access, even if it carries diseases. 

Wisdom for the world’s leaders. In the United States, key leaders (including the new head of the EPA, Scott Pruitt), claim to deny the reality of what scientists know about climate change. The targets that the world’s leaders decided on under the 2015 Paris agreement, while a good start toward addressing climate change, are not sufficient to prevent an ice-free Arctic and its effects on the rest of the planet in coming years. Leaders with an understanding of the basic science of climate change coupled with bold and decisive action to mitigate the crisis are necessary to our survival. 

Thanksgiving for the wonder of the Sandhill crane migration.
We in Nebraska are blessed with the annual wonder of the sounds and sights of thousands of Sandhill cranes (see Sandhill crane counts report for this week’s count) pausing along the Platte River during their migration north. 

We give you thanks, most gracious God, for the beauty of earth and sky and sea; for the richness of mountains, plains, and rivers; for the songs of birds and the loveliness of flowers. We praise you for these good gifts, and pray that we may safeguard them for our posterity. Grant that we may continue to grow in our grateful enjoyment of your abundant creation, to the honor and glory of your Name, now and for ever. Amen.
Thanksgiving For the Beauty of the Earth (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 840)

As we pray for others, we might also 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:

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 2, 2017

Praying the Earth's News: March 2, 2017

In the belief that prayer in itself is a creative act that can effect change, we pray this week for climate refugees, bees, seasonable weather, and our national political will.

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:

Climate refugees. Climate change fuels natural disasters like floods and droughts. Given the rate of climate change, the world’s refugees include people who have been dislocated by such disasters or the food insecurity and political unrest resulting from such pressures.   The UN Refugee Agency, UNCHR, has photo stories of some of the people who have had to leave their homes. 

Bees. Reuters reports that “More than 700 of the 4,000 native bee species in North America and Hawaii are believed to be inching toward extinction due to increased pesticide use leading to habitat loss.” Bees are, of course, essential to agriculture and to  sustaining biodiversity through pollinating plants in the wild. 

For seasonable weather.  We have not had “seasonable weather” in most parts of the United States this year. In Chicago, for example, there was no measurable snowfall in either January or February — a first in 146 years of record-keeping. Warmer springlike weather has been widespread this year, which brings a mixed bag of welcome relief from winter weather with long-term consequences. (The Atlantic explains What’s Dangerous About an Early Spring.)

Wisdom, courage, and foresight for our leaders. A large number of our political leaders do not publicly acknowledge or accept the fact of anthropomorphic climate change. Another segment of our leaders accept the science but don’t give addressing climate change a high priority. The proposed budget for the Environmental Protection Agency cuts programs aimed at mitigating climate change and air and water pollution. Along with prayers for our leaders, we pray for our own political will. (The prayer For Sound Government on pp. 821-822 of The Book of Common Prayer is appropriate.)

As we pray for others, we might also 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:

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)


Lent 2017: Repentance, Hope, and Praying the Earth's News

We began Lent yesterday with the Litany of Penitence (pp. 267-269, The Book of Common Prayer). We confessed our failure to love and serve, our unfaithfulness, the “pride, hypocrisy, and impatience of our lives”, our self-indulgence, our anger and envy, our dishonesty, our “intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts”, and our failures to pray, worship, and share our faith as we should. Then we asked God to accept our repentance for some specific sins, including this:

For our waste and pollution of your creation, and our lack of concern for those who come after us,
Acceptance our repentance, Lord.

In the months since the last post on this blog, much has changed in our nation politically, while the changes occurring in nature to our climate and everything in the biosphere that depends on climate stability continue to accelerate. The question that has gnawed at me for awhile now seems even more urgent: How best can people of faith acting as people of faith respond to our ecological crisis? 

Two pieces of an answer return to me every time I pray and reflect about this: hope and prayer. Certainly there are important things to do in our roles as citizens; citizen advocacy for bold policies based on the best science is a necessity if we are to get out of this century with anything resembling the world as we humans have known it up to now. But that sort of action is a moral imperative for everyone, not just for people of faith. What do we uniquely offer a world in crisis? Hope and prayer.

We Christians offer the deep hope of people who are steeped in the Easter story of resurrection. We pray the litany of penitence because we have hope that true repentance brings about real changes in us and, through us, changes in the world around us. We know that God cares for us and all of creation, and our faith in God’s care gives us hope that our efforts to mitigate climate change and pollution are not meaningless even if we don’t reach the goals we have in mind for our efforts. We have faith that God is working with us and through us and for us when we work on behalf of other people and other living things, and that same faith gives us hope for a good outcome for our best efforts. I’ll be writing more about hope in the weeks ahead as move through Lent to Easter and then from Easter to Pentecost.

Prayer, however, is the most obviously unique gift to people of faith. Our hope informs and encourages our practice of prayer, and yet we also pray at times when our hope falters. 

During Lent, look for weekly posts here for Praying the Earth’s News for the week. The news about what is unfolding can be so daunting that we are tempted to ignore it, yet even when a problem seems too big to begin to comprehend or tackle, we can pray. It certainly is preferable that our prayer be accompanied by action if possible, but that doesn’t make prayer on its own of no use while we are still finding our way to action.

Theologian Walter Wink says this about intercessory prayer:

When we pray, we are not sending a letter to a celestial White House where it is sorted among piles of others. We are engaged rather in an action of co-creation, in which one little sector of the universe rises up and becomes translucent, incandescent, a vibratory center of power that radiates the power of the universe.

History belongs to the intercessors, who believe the future into being. If this is so, then intercession, far from being an escape from action, is a means of focusing for action and of creating action. (Engaging the Powers, pp. 303-3-4)




Tuesday, October 4, 2016

St. Francis Day: Extending the Circle of Compassion

Maybe it’s just that social media has made it easier to know about what is happening in parishes across the country, but it seems like St. Francis Day is celebrated more widely than it used to be. Parishes bless pets on or near October 4, and people remember some of Francis’s words or share images of St. Francis with their friends. 
Once we get past the sentimental side of St. Francis, we see a saint who showed great compassion to poor people, giving up his own privileges to live in solidarity with the poor. While it is nearly as easy to romanticize or sentimentalize his poverty and his compassion for the poor as it is his compassion for animals, when we set aside the sentimental side, his story is very striking. Francis took Jesus’s teachings seriously, and his life shows us what following Jesus can look like.

Francis’s compassion flowed out of his love for Christ. Francis did not neglect worship, and his attention to the words of Christ in the Gospel guided his heart and his mind, but he also did not neglect action in the world.  As Francis understood as a deacon, when the Gospel works long enough on someone’s heart and mind, the natural result is compassion that extends in an ever-widening circle.

The great work for Christians today is to extend that circle of compassion not only in wider and wider circles in our present world, but also to extend that circle to future generations. Compassion says that if we see the potential for living things to suffer now or 10, 20, 50, or 100 years from now, we should do whatever we can to alleviate 
that suffering.

We are told that St. Francis preached to the birds, and he is often depicted as a friend to the birds. The reality this St. Francis Day is that climate change is endangering the birds. Climate change is threatening all living things, but we are so paralyzed by this that this evening’s debate for vice-presidential candidates did not include a single question about dealing with climate change or its effects. We spend much of our lives acting as if nothing is happening. 



Bill McKibben recently wrote Recalculating the Climate Math, which very clearly explains why we have to leave fossil fuels in the ground and rapidly develop clean energy sources. Using new information from Oil Change International, McKibben’s essay argues that to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees C. “we’ll need to close all of the coal mines and some of the oil and gas fields we’re currently operating long before they’re exhausted”. 

We are nowhere near doing that. We may admire St. Francis’s compassion for the birds and for the people who stand to suffer first and worst from climate change, but our compassion is not yet great enough to overcome the fear of change that keeps us from doing what we must to address climate change in any meaningful way or even to talk about it very often.

Perhaps next St. Francis Day our churches could honor Francis by hosting serious discussions about climate change and its impacts, or by encouraging parishioners to advocate for action on climate. If we can find as much compassion for people suffering the effects of climate change and for the birds and wild animals and plants as we have for our domestic pets, we all might stand a chance of surviving this century.


Monday, July 25, 2016

How are the scallops?

The Feast of Saint James the Apostle
St. James Day is here again — time for this blog’s annual look at ocean acidification and its effects on shellfish. The concerns we had last year are still there, but one year farther into increasing carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere that produce both global warming and ocean acidification. The data from the Mauna Loa observatory shows the carbon dioxide concentration for June 2016 averaging 406.81 ppm; the concentration for June 2015 was 402.80. Scientists think that we have now passed 400 ppm permanently; it will never be near the target of 350 ppm in the lifetime of anyone now alive.

Americans are bombarded with political messages this summer as the two major parties hold their conventions. So far, very little has been said about climate change, and its evil twin of ocean acidification seems to be off the political radar screen for the media, an awful lot of politicians, and many voters. Next Sunday’s Gospel lesson (Luke 12: 13-21) warns us against greed, against the accumulation of wealth and possessions with thought for nothing else. The reality of the unsustainability of our world gets dwarfed again and again by our greed, our desire to accumulate more while ignoring — remaining ignorant of — the price we will pay and that our children and grandchildren will continue to pay.

How are the scallops and other shellfish? They are threatened by our failure to put strong controls on carbon dioxide emissions. 

The Paris talks we were anticipating at this time last year are history. The challenge now is to make the targets from these talks more than a nice ideal. The challenge is to take climate change and ocean acidification seriously and to have the will to do what we need to do to significantly and rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This St. James Day is a good time to commit ourselves to advocacy for meaningful public policy to get us — and the shellfish and other living things — a chance at a sustainable future.

Here is last year’s post for the Feast of St. James:

St. James Day and the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Since the scallop shell is a symbol for Saint James, this blog has taken the feast day in the past to look at the future for sea scallops given the increasing acidification of the world’s oceans. [See St James, Scallops, and Drought from 2012 and Feast of St. James: Scallops and their Companions from 2015.] The same carbon pollution that contributes to global warming is also increasing the acidity of the world’s oceans, changing the chemistry of shell production for scallops, oysters, clams, and other shellfish. 

So how is our fight against ocean acidification going? How are the scallops this day, this year, and how are they likely to be in the future? 

When I looked over information about ocean acidification and shellfish from the past few months, the answers to these questions did not surprise me, yet I can’t comprehend them. The scallops are not doing well, and they are likely to do worse in the future. Moreover, the economic impact of the loss of shellfish seems to be growing more apparent to more people. Yet ocean acidification is increasing, not decreasing. We know it is happening, we know a lot about the harmful effects of ocean acidification, but we haven’t done anything significant to stop it. Because we allow all sorts of short-term concerns to prevent significant action on global warming, it’s not surprising that we treat ocean acidification, its evil twin, the same way. But why do we do that? Why do we prioritize our immediate, short-term comfort and our fear of change over the preservation of life? That’s the part I don’t comprehend. 

A new report on research done jointly by NOAA, the University of Alaska, and an Alaskan shellfish hatchery indicates that without mitigation, the ocean waters they studied in Resurrection Bay may not be able to support shellfish hatcheries by 2040, only 25 years from now. Ocean acidification and warming waters also threaten the lobster industry in Maine. Another study released this year looked not only at the vulnerability of the shellfish but also at the social vulnerability of the coastal communities that will be most affected by the loss of shellfish. Several coastal states are looking at changes in policies to mitigate the effects of ocean acidification on the shellfish industry and the communities that depend on the industry economically. 

It’s all very discouraging. However, Joe Romm reported yesterday on the probable end to the global coal boom. China’s use of coal has helped fuel the coal boom, but now awareness both of the health effects of carbon pollution coupled with a growing awareness of the threat of climate change to China’s future has resulted in policy changes to transition away from coal-intensive industries in particular and energy-intensive industries in general. Joe Romm’s post suggests that China’s transition to cleaner energy sources should in turn make clean energy sources more available to developing countries. All of this makes real progress from the Paris climate talks a little more possible: “The Paris talks should also make obvious to all what the world’s top climate scientists and governments already know and have stated publicly: The world has to go to zero total carbon pollution long before 2100 and indeed as close to 2050 as possible — before actually going carbon negative.”

While the focus of the Paris talks is mitigation of climate change, a serious commitment to decreasing carbon pollution will mitigate the evil twin of ocean acidification as well. Will it be enough? Is it worth the attempt?  The Gospel lesson this Sunday morning is John 6:1-21, which includes the version of the miracle of the loaves and the fishes in which a boy offers his five loaves and two fish, an offering that seems too small to feed the crowd but ends up being sufficient. All we can do to save the shellfish and keep climate change somewhere below the catastrophic category is to offer what we have, to make the attempt and find out later whether the attempt was enough. 

We have about four months until the Paris climate talks begin. We can offer our prayers and advocate with our nation’s leaders for a truly significant commitment to phase out carbon pollution soon enough to make a real difference. And even though it's difficult to think about, we can make the effort to learn more about what is happening, talk about it, and pray and reflect on it, and then perhaps find it within ourselves to make it clear to all those in power that preserving life, including preservation of as many ocean species as possible, takes priority over our short-term concerns and our fears of change.