Thursday, December 2, 2010

Waiting in Hope (With Feathers)

Advent 2

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13)

Our God is the God of hope, and in Advent we wait in hope. Advent teaches us that even when the days seem dark, hope is as essential a part of our spirituality as are worship, repentance, and service to others.

There are signs of hope here and there with regard to the environment. People seem more aware of and accepting of alternative forms of energy; wind farms, for example, are becoming more common in our part of the country. Midlanders generally seem to be more aware of the need to recycle what we can and to use energy and water as efficiently as possible. In the work of our diocese, there seems to be an increasing sense of stewardship about the distances we travel to do our work; we more often make intentional choices about when we need to meet in person and when we can meet by telephone or video call.
On the other hand, there are less hopeful signs – the increasing rate of climate change and our increasing understanding of how short a time we have left to act , the increasing amounts of plastic in the oceans and the marine food chain, and the failure of policymakers in America (where the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming has just been eliminated) and other countries to address these issues and other environmental issues.

This year in Advent in Cancun – as last year during Advent in Copenhagen – the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is meeting. Expectations are not high for significant agreements to come out of this conference, but there is hope of progress in some areas. No doubt the liturgical calendar has nothing to do with the scheduling of these meetings, but it’s interesting that Advent has become a time when we look for signs of hope that the nations might come to address the urgent problem of climate change to a significant degree. The expectations are low, but Advent teaches us to hope.

My brother, an historian specializing in American history, reminds me that in 1850, few “reasonable” people thought slavery would end in their lifetime, and that many serious writers in the late 1950’s saw no possibility of ending racial segregation for dozens of years. In some ways, these important societal changes happened just when things seemed least hopeful.

People of faith were instrumental in the abolition movement and the civil rights movement. Hope and faith go together. I’m no historian, but I wonder if the hopeful nature of people of faith was what kept these movements going against all odds so that when the time suddenly was ripe, there were visible advocates for these causes.

I’ve noticed flocks of geese and robins this week; I suppose they are beginning their journeys a bit late after the warmth of November. Meanwhile, juncos and finches have begun coming to my feeders more frequently.  Remembering Emily Dickinson’s words – “Hope is the thing with feathers”    -- the birds are a visible reminder both of hope and of God’s beautiful and wondrous creatures whose survival, along with ours, is at stake.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Climate Conferences and the Church

The United Nations Climate Conference opened in Cancun on Monday of this week. It’s been nearly a year since the last round of climate talks in Copenhagen. This blog’s post  at the beginning of that conference talked about finding hope in the midst of despair about the very real possibility that not enough would be done about climate change soon enough to avert global catastrophe. With the disappointments of the Copenhagen talks and recent scientific reports – e.g. “World could heat up 4 degrees C in fifty years -- showing that climate change is proceeding more rapidly than predicted, the need for action has become even more urgent than it was a year ago.

Religious leaders in Scotland sent a letter to British Prime Minister David Cameron saying that the failure of western nations to help developing nations cope with climate change is a “moral outrage”  . The religious leaders have asked UK leaders to help ensure more successful talks this year in Cancun, saying that every day that passes without significant help sees lives "affected and even lost".  A World Council of Churches (WCC) delegation is in Cancun bearing the Christian message that humanity is called to care for creation and for the world’s most vulnerable people.

Frustration with the political failure in addressing climate change and its effects has led to increasing calls for grassroots action outside of the traditional political framework. In particular, some people are looking to the faith community to provide leadership as the moral dimensions of this crisis become clearer.  

An Episcopal News Service piece by The Rev. P. Joshua Griffin  tells about a gathering of Episcopalians and Anglicans to be held in San Pedro de Macoris in our companion Diocese of the Dominican Republic December 7-10. This gathering will address some of the moral questions around the intersection of poverty and climate change and begin discerning “how our church might model justice and global reconciliation given the harsh ecological realities facing our world.

And there’s the question for all of us: how do we as a church model – and communicate – justice and reconciliation for a world very much in need of leadership in addressing climate change and its effects? In a world made much more complicated by climate change, how do we live out our baptismal covenant to strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being? 

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Advent 1 Addendum

Friday’s post, “As in those days before the flood…” talked about links between today’s Gospel lesson (Matthew 24: 36-44)  and recent news about sea level rise. Today’s New York Times has an op-ed piece, “An Almanac of Extreme Weather, written by Jack Hedin, a farmer in southern Minnesota, that hits more immediately and closer to home for Nebraskans.

Mr. Hedin talks about the difficulties Midwestern farmers face as the weather becomes more severe; he especially talks about the recent changes in precipitation and increasing frequency of flooding. In the middle of the piece, he writes:

Minnesota’s state climatologist, Jim Zandlo, has concluded that no fewer than three “thousand-year rains” have occurred in the past seven years in our part of the state. And a University of Minnesota meteorologist, Mark Seeley, has found that summer storms in the region over the past two decades have been more intense and more geographically focused than at any time on record.

The weather in neighboring South Dakota was covered in another recent piece in the New York Times, “Storm Upon Storm for South Dakota from November 20.

Today’s piece about Minnesota talks about changes we can make in the Midwest to address climate change and try to preserve productive farmland for future generations. It’s a good fit with the First Sunday of Advent theme of being awake and prepared!