Friday, March 26, 2010

Seasons: Loving our Neighbors

Thursday was the sort of early spring day we in Nebraska have been awaiting all winter. The sun was shining, the wind wasn’t particularly high, we could see bits of color where crocuses and snowdrops were starting to bloom, and birds were singing. The Earth calendar says it’s now officially spring; the church calendar says it’s still in the Lenten season that started back in snowy February. And despite the warmth of the late March sun, the air is still cool and there’s another chilly rain coming, reminding us that it’s still very early in the spring. I heard someone this week remark that though spring is now here, she wouldn’t feel as if we were fully in springtime until Easter; once Easter arrives, we know that spring is really here and the heaviest winter clothes can be put away for several months.

My family and I lived in New Zealand for four years before moving to south central Nebraska. With southern hemisphere seasons the opposite of ours, The Earth seasons and liturgical seasons are easily separated there; the Lenten journey begins in late summer and ends with an autumnal Easter. It’s easy for us in Nebraska to forget that our liturgical calendar that arranges the church seasons in close order with the Earth seasons in the temperate part of the northern hemisphere doesn’t work the same way for people in other parts of the world. Our own immediate weather and our own immediate liturgical experience are what we know most easily, but we need to look beyond them to begin to understand the experience of people in other places.

As Easter approaches, even this early northern hemisphere spring, this not-quite-fully-arrived spring, is a great contrast to the cold and snowy winter we had this year. Stu Ostro, Senior Meteorologist for The Weather Channel, said that the best word to sum up this winter in the United States is ‘relentless’ -- one storm after another, one cold front after another. In a recent blog post, he gives a good overview of this winter and talks about the various climatological factors that came together to bring us so much snow and cold. He gives a fairly detailed look at the role of El Nino, both in the ways in which this was a typical El Nino year and the interactions with other factors that made it atypical in some ways. There’s a good discussion of the NAO (North Atlantic Oscillation) and the AO (Arctic Oscillation), both blocking patterns that bring Arctic air much farther south than normal. These factors this year gave us more cold farther south than usual in the United States, while Canada had a warmer than normal year, witnessed by many of us when we saw the snow conditions in Vancouver during the Winter Olympics. Finally, he talks about the role of climate change in all of this, noting that as our atmosphere warms, we can expect “increased precipitation extremes”.

Canada wasn’t the only place warmer than normal the past few months. In the southern hemisphere, for example, Western Australia sweltered through its hottest summer on record

A draft paper from NASA concludes that “global temperature continued to rise rapidly in the past decade, despite large year-to-year fluctuations associated with the El Nino-La Nina cycle of tropical ocean temperature,” and it predicts that a new record twelve-month global temperature will be set in 2010. In the Climate Progress blog, Joe Romm, quoting extensively from an e-mail message from climate scientist James Hansen, summarized some of the main points  for folks who don’t want to wade through the entire paper. As in Stu Ostro’s post, there is consideration of how various factors interact to determine both particular weather events and overall climate trends.

As Christians, we are called to love our neighbors; in this global village in which we all now live, loving our neighbors means caring about people all over the world as well as those who live in our own neighborhood, city, or state. Most of us are sympathetic to people in need in other parts of the world. We responded with great generosity to the survivors of the earthquake in Haiti, for example, and we are interested in knowing how the relief effort is going and what else we might do to help.

In the same way, it’s important for us to understand not only our own immediate weather and the personal and economic effects it has, but for us to be aware of the global climate and how that affects our global neighbors as well as ourselves. This week, a tiny island that was claimed by both India and Bangladesh disappeared , covered by the rising ocean. This island was not inhabited, but other nearby islands – and, very significantly, the coastal areas of Bangladesh – are. What lies ahead for these global neighbors?

As the Lenten season concludes with Holy Week, we might spend some time considering the global climate. Where are we headed, and what does it mean for ourselves and our neighbors? At this time, how can we best follow Christ, who taught us that in serving others we serve him? Looking past our own immediate experience of Earth seasons to enter into the experience of our liturgical season will help us first to look at the challenges our global neighbors face, and then to enter into the fullness of Easter and the fullness of spring with renewed hearts centered on serving Christ through serving our neighbors.