Saturday, April 8, 2017

Praying the Earth's News: April 8, 2017

We began this Lenten series of Praying the Earth’s News posts reflecting on repentance and on the Litany of Penitence from the Book of Common Prayer. As we begin Holy Week, we look at some of the earth’s news of the week and revisit the place of repentance as we become more aware of “catastrophic climate disruption”. 

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 suffering from famine and disease resulting from the drought in eastern Africa.  According to Voice of America, three hundred new cases of cholera and dozens of deaths are being reported every day in Somalia. The incidence of cholera is expected to increase greatly with the arrival of the rainy season. VOA reports that “more than six million Somalis, half the population, need food, water and medical assistance.”

Climate stability, and the wisdom to act now to prevent disaster. New research published this week makes the immediacy of the choice between cutting greenhouse gas emissions and “pushing the climate outside the bounds that have allowed civilization to thrive” clear. If we don’t change course, by the middle of this century — which is fast approaching — the atmosphere could reach a state “unseen in 50 million years”. When this atmospheric state was last seen, writes Brian Kahn, “temperatures were up to 18 degrees F (10 degrees C) warmer, ice was nowhere to be seen and oceans were dramatically higher than they are now.” 

Climate refugees. The Guardian reported this week on former US Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Sherri Goodman’s analysis of the impact of climate change as a “threat multiplier” for security, igniting conflict and contributing to new waves of “mass forced migration” from areas such as the  Pacific islands, Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan. Ben Doherty quotes Goodman talking about the role of climate disruption in the situation in Syria:

From 2006 to 2010, 60% of Syria had its worst long-term drought and crop failures since civilization began. About 800,000 people in rural areas lost their livelihood by 2009. Three million people were driven into extreme poverty, and 1.5 million migrated to cities.

The courage to repent. Writing in the National Catholic Reporter, Fr. John Surette argues that we are approaching a “planetary precipice”, and that our best response — “the smartest and holist thing to do” — is to repent. He emphasizes that repentance means a “total change in direction”. Fr. Surette encourages us to ask ourselves these questions as we finish Lent: “Do we want to repent? Do we have the courage to make that 180-degree turn? What will humans choose to do?” (Fr. Surette’s article Climate change is the prophetic call to repentance of our time. is well worth reading as Holy Week begins.)

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)




Saturday, April 1, 2017

Praying the Earth's News and Taking Off Our Grave Clothes: April 1, 2017

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)

The earth’s news this week included what is becoming an all-too-familiar set of stories about extreme weather, climbing levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide and methane to of along with rising global temperatures and sea levels, and particular local struggles for environmental justice. 

This week, however, brought unusual news for us in the United States, and since the laws of science aren’t bound by our geo-political boundaries, this U.S. news brings new concern to the whole world. This week our national political will resulted not in the usual too-little-too-late mode of steps toward addressing climate change, but in an attempt to take giant steps backwards in our fight for climate stability. That attempt took the form of an Executive Order intended to dismantle the Clean Power Plan. This action signals a breathtaking disregard for the reality of climate change and its effects. That disregard also signals to other countries that the United States intends to continue to be a leading global polluter, and that our political leaders don’t intend to assert global leadership in mitigating global warming. 

Hope lies in the fact that legal challenges will at least delay and at best prevent the implementation of this Executive Order. Hope also lies in the economics of energy, where wind and solar energy compete with fossil fuel energy. But those hopes don’t erase the fact that the choices of the American people have resulted in a very real threat to the entire planet.

Tomorrow’s Gospel is the raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-45). The New Revised Standard Version translates Jesus’s instructions in Verse 44 as “Unbind him, and let him go”, while the New International versions says “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” We bind ourselves up, wrapping ourselves in grave clothes, when we numb ourselves to realities we would rather not face. We wrap ourselves in grave clothes when we pretend that something that is glaringly out of the ordinary is normal. Perhaps we ignore a worrisome physical symptom in ourselves, something that should be brought to a doctor’s attention, because we don’t want to deal with what the doctor might tell us. That sort of normalization of something aberrant isn’t life-giving.

It seemed to me this week in planning this post that normalizing the turn we have taken as a nation with regards to environmental degradation would be a way of binding ourselves up comfortably in our own grave clothes. Prayers of repentance might be a good way to mark our understanding of the gravity of our situation. Actions — even something as simple as naming the reality of climate change and our negligence in addressing it — will help to unbind us and let us truly live.

Almighty God, who created us in your own image: Grant us grace fearlessly to contend against evil and to make no peace with oppression; and, that we may reverently use our freedom, help us to employ it in the maintenance of justice in our communities and among the nations, to the glory of you holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and fore ever. Amen.
Collect for Social Justice, Rite Two (The Book of Common Prayer)

Please pray for:

The will to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Atmospheric carbon dioxide needs to be measuring around 350 ppm for climate stability. The March 30 reading at the Mauna Loa observatory was was 409.39 ppm.

Our political leaders.   

Those who have died in mudslides in Colombia this weekend, and those who survived and are dealing with the mudslides and floods. As of this writing, at least 112 people have died in the mudslides.

Pipeline fighters in the Great Plains. Both the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Keystone XL pipeline have been revived under the new administration. These pipelines not only would contribute to the burning of fossil fuels and threaten to pollute water sources and disturb prairie ecosystems, but the locations of the pipelines continue to raise justice issues for indigenous people and ranchers and farmers living along the routes of these pipelines. 

O God, you have bound us together in a common life. Help us, in the midst of our struggles for justice and truth, to confront one another without hatred or bitterness, and to work together with mutual forbearance and respect; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. Prayer In Times of Conflict (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 824)

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 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)