Saturday, December 31, 2011

Joy to the World: Seventh Day

Joy to the world! The Lord is come: let earth receive her king;
Let every heart prepare him room, and heaven and nature sing.

With “Joy to the world” in my heart and mind, I’m looking each of these twelve days of Christmas for the beauty and wonder in God’s world, for instances of the joy that runs through all of creation.

It’s been warm here. While I actually enjoy wintry weather, and while I’m a big fan of long spells of seasonable temperatures that might indicate that our climate is still fundamentally stable, there is always joy in seeing new growth.

This is what I found in the patch of mint on the south side of our house: a little bit of green, a few new leaves growing among the dead stalks of last summer’s plants.

One of our Easter hymns, “Now the green blade riseth” (Hymn 204), is set to the tune of the Christmas carol Noel Nouvelet. The last verse is this:

When our hearts are wintry, grieving, or in pain,
Thy touch can call us back to life again,
Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been:
Love is come again like wheat that springeth green.

Here’s the King’s College Choir from Cambridge singing Noel Nouvelet:

Friday, December 30, 2011

Joy to the World: Sixth Day

Joy to the world! The Lord is come: let earth receive her king;
Let every heart prepare him room, and heaven and nature sing.

With “Joy to the world” in my heart and mind, I’m looking each of these twelve days of Christmas for the beauty and wonder in God’s world, for instances of the joy that runs through all of creation.

 During a conversation with my spiritual director this evening, I happened to look over at the window just as the sun was setting and saw this sky.  We were both amazed at the colors: red, purple, and blue. We wondered at the beauty of the sky; the joy was in the surprise of looking up at just the right moment to see such beauty, and in having another person with which to share it.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Joy to the World: Fifth Day

Joy to the world! The Lord is come: let earth receive her king;
Let every heart prepare him room, and heaven and nature sing.

With “Joy to the world” in my heart and mind, I’m looking each of these twelve days of Christmas for the beauty and wonder in God’s world, for instances of the joy that runs through all of creation.

Today was unusually warm for December 29 in Nebraska. Early this morning I thought I heard doves cooing, something I don’t hear most winter mornings, though the sound was so faint that I wasn’t sure that it was doves. Around 9:30 the sun got just high enough in the sky to really light up the room I was in, a definite moment of joy! I stepped outside to take a look at the sky and the sunlight, and noticed this pair sitting at the top of a spruce tree where doves often sat this summer and fall.

Later in the afternoon, while I was sitting at a window looking at the photos from the morning and writing, I saw a dove landing at the top of the same tree. It looked white in the sunlight, and landed in a way that made it look just like a dove ornament we used to have on our Christmas tree.  When I got outside to snap a picture, I heard it calling, and the second dove appeared. Double joy on the fifth day of Christmas!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Joy to the World: Fourth Day

Joy to the world! The Lord is come: let earth receive her king;
Let every heart prepare him room, and heaven and nature sing.

With “Joy to the world” in my heart and mind, I’m looking each of these twelve days of Christmas for the beauty and wonder in God’s world, for instances of the joy that runs through all of creation.

The rivers in south central Nebraska are running freely as the year ends. I stopped today and listened to the sound of the river and watched the water flow. With the sun shining on it, this was a place to find joy.

Joy to the world! the Savior reigns; let us our songs employ,
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains, repeat the sounding joy.

Holy Innocents: The Most Vulnerable

Today the church remembers the Holy Innocents, the children who died when Herod ordered the slaughter of all children who were two years old or younger (Matthew 2: 13-23)  .  According to Lesser Feasts and Fasts, Augustine of Hippo called these children “buds, killed by the frost of persecution the moment they showed themselves.”

As climate change takes its toll with extreme weather, flooding, famine, and the spread of tropical diseases, many children in our world have their lives cut very short, buds killed in this case by the frost of the world’s indifference the moment they showed themselves. MediaGlobal reports that children are the people most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, citing a recent Climate Vulnerability Monitor report that says that 99 per cent of climate change deaths occur in developing countries, and that of those deaths, over 80 per cent are children. Children are especially vulnerable to climate change because they are more vulnerable to malnutrition, cholera, diarrheal disease, dengue, and malaria.

Last summer, Josette Sheeran, executive director of the UN World Food Program, said that the famine in East Africa was “the children’s famine” because “the ones who are the weakest are the children and those are the ones we're seeing are the least likely to make it.” This famine was caused by a severe drought and exacerbated by the political situation.   The U.S. estimated at the beginning of Augustof this year that 29,000 Somali children under the age of five had died in the past three months; at the same time the U.N. said that 640,000 Somali children were “acutely malnourished”.

The people with power in this world – the political leaders, the economically comfortable, the corporate heads – differ from Herod, of course. No one intends to cause the death of thousands of children; the objective is to maintain political power by not addressing a difficult problem, or to ignore the effects of climate change so that we can continue enjoying the sorts of comforts and conveniences to which we are accustomed, or to make a huge profit producing and selling carbon intensive energy resources or something dependent on them. Children are the collateral damage of our failure to address climate change, just as children are so often the collateral damage of wars.

But even Herod himself didn’t care one way or the other about the children who were slaughtered. His objective was to eliminate one child; the others were collateral damage to his cause. When we look the other way and refuse to acknowledge what is happening as a result of our failure to address climate change, we aren’t really all that different from Herod. And the grief of the mothers of today’s innocent victims is no different from the grief of the mothers of Bethlehem or the grief of Rachel.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Joy to the World: Third Day

Joy to the world! The Lord is come: let earth receive her king;
Let every heart prepare him room, and heaven and nature sing.

With “Joy to the world” in my heart and mind, I’m looking each of these twelve days of Christmas for the beauty and wonder in God’s world, for instances of the joy that runs through all of creation. (See yesterday's post .)

Today I found ducks making a joyful noise on a partially frozen lake. There are usually plenty of mallards around this park in the winter. Today I was pleased to see a couple of wood ducks among them. The ducks were active today: flying, splashing, and swimming around, then resting on the ice along the open water. 

Monday, December 26, 2011

Joy to the World!

Let heaven and nature sing…

Joy to the world! The Lord is come: let earth receive her king;
Let every heart prepare him room, and heaven and nature sing.
(Hymn 100)

The beautiful skies of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in Nebraska echoed our joy in the celebration of the birth of Christ, the Incarnation of God come to live among us. The Christmas Eve sunset, the stars in a clear sky on Christmas Eve, and the abundant sunshine on Christmas Day gave us light during the darkest time of the year, helping us to understand John’s Gospel (John 1:5): “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

We Episcopalians celebrate Christmas for twelve days. With “Joy to the world” in my heart and mind, I’m looking each of these twelve days for the beauty and wonder in God’s world, for instances of the joy that runs through all of creation. During a walk today, I was surprised by a hawk that flew out of a nearby tree and glided on the steady southwest breeze.

Our Christmas Gospel from John (John 1:1-14) begins by articulating the connections among God’s creation of the world, Christ, life, and light:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
The wonders of the world around us not only help us stay connected to joy; they also remind us that God is God, the creator and sustainer of all that is in the entire universe.

He rules the world with truth and grace, and make the nations prove
The glories of his righteousness, and wonders of his love.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

How Can This Be?

Fourth Week of Advent
The Gospel reading for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Luke1:26-38, is also one of the readings in today’s Daily Office lectionary. This passage, the story of the Annunciation, bears repeating well! There is great mystery in this holy conversation between the angel Gabriel and Mary; there’s a mystery in the sense of knowledge beyond our capacity to reason in the beginning of the Incarnation, and there’s mystery in the sense of something we simply don’t know with certainty when we consider the different ways in which we might read Mary’s responses to Gabriel’s words.

Mary asks, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”  This is sometimes interpreted as Mary asking a question about the mechanics of Jesus’ conception, but given the rest of the conversation, considering this a sort of “That’s interesting; how will this work?” question doesn’t quite fit. Perhaps it’s more of an exclamation of wonder. We ask/exclaim “How can this be?” when we see or experience all sorts of things we don’t understand. That exclamation doesn’t mean we necessarily expect to receive an answer, or even that we think an answer is possible. It means that we have met up with something we recognize as being beyond our comprehension. We might say “How can this be?” when we receive very joyful news or when we are taking in a landscape of exceptional beauty; we might also ask “How can this be?” when we receive bad news or witness a catastrophe.

People who write about climate science have been sharing recent news about methane bubbling up through the thawing permafrost in the Arctic, releasing into the atmosphere carbon that has been buried for 30,000 years. The thawing of the permafrost is the result of global warming; the effect of the methane being released is expected to be increased and accelerated warming. As noted in an article in the New York Times  about the scientists studying what is happening as the permafrost melts, “in the minds of most experts, the chief worry is not that the carbon in the permafrost will break down quickly… but that once the decomposition starts, it will be impossible to stop.”

In recent weeks, we have seen a report from the International Energy Agency telling us that we have five years to begin addressing climate change in a significant way before it becomes irreversible; we have seen the climate summit in Durban fail to put anything in place to do that work within the next five years; we have started becoming aware of the extent of the carbon being released as the permafrost melts. The past month we in the church have been observing Advent, preparing our hearts to meet Christ anew. As Christmas approaches, Christians who are aware of what is happening to our environment are preparing for our celebration of God coming to live among us while painfully aware of what we have done and continue to do to the world in which Christ was born. We have simultaneously the hope of Advent, the discouragement of knowing what is unfolding around us, and the despair of the silence that all too often is the reaction to this news.

A reflection by Christina Villa  published yesterday on the United Church of Christ website looks at those times when personal loss leads us to say with regret that Christmas “will be different this year”. For people who have been directly affected by the storms, floods, droughts, and fires associated with climate change, Christmas will indeed be different this year; for others of us, the simple awareness that the security of climate stability is ending gives a different feeling to Christmas this year. Christina Villa concludes that those years when loss or hardship makes Christmas feel different can be years when we understand something of the deeper meaning of Christmas:

Christmas is about the coming of love and light into the world, which we would not need to celebrate if life were free of loss and darkness.  That's what makes Christmas a serious holiday. It's not all tinsel and eggnog. Jesus, a messiah bringing love and light into the world, was also "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief," says Isaiah, putting it mildly. The serious mystery of Christmas is God's answer to the losses we accumulate, the best answer we have and the very one we need. 

I read about the melting permafrost and ask, “How can this be?” If this is a question about the mechanics of it all, scientists can give me the answer: The carbon released by the burning of fossil fuels has raised that earth’s temperature enough to allow the melting of the permafrost. But if it’s an exclamation to indicate that the full implication of what is unfolding is beyond my comprehension, then Christmas is exactly what I need. When we meet something like this, we don’t need Christmas as a pleasant distraction. (I suspect if we look to the celebration of Christmas as a pleasant distraction to get our minds off our worries, we will come up empty.) We do need Christmas as the answer, as the opportunity for a deep encounter with love and light in a world where we sometimes run into greed and darkness.

Mary put her trust in what God was doing even though she couldn’t understand the mystery of it all. Trusting God didn’t keep her from the sorrow of seeing her son on the cross, but it allowed her to witness the joy of Easter. Trusting God won’t keep us from the very real consequences of our actions, but it can help us walk through this with meaning and hope.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


Durban climate talks

This is the nativity scene my great-grandmother bought piece by piece at a dime store sometime before 1950. A couple of things have been replaced over the years; a palm tree made of some sort of mystery material totally disintegrated after a couple of years of summer storage in Nebraska.  It is obviously worn; with its yellow sheep and Mary’s numerous chips, it’s not as beautiful as the nativity sets I see in other people’s homes, but it has a lot of meaning for me. As long as I can remember, I have helped set this up sometime during Advent. We keep the baby Jesus elsewhere until Christmas Eve, when we place a small spray from the Christmas tree in the manger and lay the baby there.

Advent is a time of active waiting. We set up our nativity scene and wait for the arrival of the baby. We engage in spiritual disciplines – special readings or intentional quiet time or prayer walks – to help make our hearts ready for a true celebration of the Incarnation.

Today we hope to go out and find a Christmas tree. Today is supposed to be all about getting the room ready for the tree, bringing the tree home and setting it up, and beginning to decorate it. We will probably get this done, but the start of all of this has been delayed because of the news coming from the climate talks in Durban.

The climate talks are basically in overtime. The Green Sprouts Wednesday post, Trampling on the Needy, talked about the disconnect between the United States proposal and the extent and timing of the need to address carbon emissions and climate mitigation in a significant way.

Exactly what is being proposed as the conference has gone into extra time isn’t clear at this point. Here is what we do know: unless something of real significance comes out of this, unless the nations of the world agree to do whatever we need to do in the next five years to assure climate stability, we will have gone past the tipping point and unleashed unthinkable consequences for the living things on our planet.

It’s very odd to be carrying on traditional Christmas preparations knowing that the fate of current and future generations – and the sort of world in which I enter old age – hangs on what is happening in a roomful of people in Durban today. People are suffering right now from climate change, and inaction will make things much worse. Here is a list of the “topeight climate disasters during the Durban climate talks” from Think Progress.

Today we can actively wait on the outcome of these very important talks. Please take some time today to pray for the climate negotiators and those whose lives will be most immediately affected by what they decide, including the people of Africa and of the world’s island nations. News and links to ways to take action are available easily on the internet. One site is . On Twitter, #COP17 can keep you informed.

Our Advent waiting isn’t just waiting for our Christmas celebration. It’s waiting and actively preparing for the coming of the reign of Christ. As I go about my Advent preparations, I’m thinking of what all of this will be like for me in twenty years, what it will be like for those who will be living on this planet long after I am gone. How will their Christmas celebrations look? What will their everyday lives be like? What am I and others of my generation leaving them other than some dime store figurines and traditions that need to be enfleshed by Christian compassion now if they are to have any meaning in years to come?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Trampling on the Needy

2020 Climate Treaty Proposal

Today’s Daily Office lesson from Amos (Amos 8:1-14) is an appropriate prophetic passage to respond to the news coming from the UN climate talks in Durban, South Africa. Some of us have been praying for this meeting , along with praying that our own hearts be open so that we can see the needs in the world around us and respond to them.

Much depends on the nations of the world figuring out a way for us to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate the damage already done. The Jesuit magazine America has an excellent article Climate Change: A Life Issue  that looks at climate change, its very real effects on people in the world today, and its expected effects in the future:
In 2009, a study conducted by the Global Humanitarian Forum found that climate change was already responsible for 300,000 deaths a year, the suffering of 325 million people, and economic losses of over $100 billion. Over 90 percent of those persons most severely affected were from developing countries that have contributed least to global carbon emissions. In the coming decades, climate change can bring deadly famine, displacement and disease to large sectors of the human population and spawn mass extinctions of other species. In the long term, the climate could change so radically that the earth could no longer support human civilization. In this sense, caring for the climate and the biosphere is a paramount pro-life issue.
At the conference in Durban, the United States has proposed that a new climate treaty be negotiated that would take effect in 2020.  Jamie Henn of writes:
This isn’t just a delay, it’s a death sentence. Scientists have stated over and over that in order to avoid catastrophic climate change, emissions must peak by 2015 or 2020 at the absolute latest. (For a closer look at the scientific reasoning, read David Roberts.)It is especially callous and cold-hearted for the U.S. to be pushing the 2020 timeline here in Durban. Africa is already seeing the devastating impacts of the climate crisis, from the deadly drought still ravaging the Horn of Africa to terrible flooding, including here in Durban where heavy rains killed at least eight people just last week.

At the beginning of the meeting in Durban, Oxfam wrote a media briefing Extreme weather endangers food security: 2010-11: A grim foretaste of future suffering and hunger?.  This briefing outlines the relationship between the extreme weather events resulting from global warming and hunger.

“Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land,” writes Amos. Continuing, he describes the consequences God will send in response to callous disregard for the needy, including consequences for the earth itself. The response to our callous disregard for the needy is unfolding according to the laws of physics and chemistry. Our planet continues to warm, and while it is affecting the poorest people in the world first and worst, we will be affected by it also.

Please pray for a better outcome from this meeting. Pray for those suffering from the callous disregard of those with money and power. Pray for us to be able to see what is happening in the world around us. If prayer leads you to a desire to act, there is a petition to President Obama and our climate negotiators to sign here . The conference ends in two days.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Second Advent and First Snow

We had the first snowfall of the season for this part of Nebraska today. I’d been thinking about the lectionary texts for the second Sunday of Advent, especially Isaiah 40:1-11 and Mark 1:1-8, and thinking about the geography of these texts: Why is the wilderness the place to prepare the way of the Lord? Why is John baptizing and preaching in the wilderness instead of in Jerusalem?

When we go into the wilderness, we leave behind the comforts of home and deliberately place ourselves somewhere where we might have new experiences and see things in a new way. Perhaps people report having profound spiritual experiences in wild areas not only because of the beauty and wonder we find there; it could also have a lot to do with leaving behind familiar things that get so much of a hold on us that they keep us from growing.

The first snowfall of the season brings a bit of the wild into our familiar routines. Plans get changed. Errands that seemed important suddenly seem less essential. Having to let go of some of our expectations for the day can be frustrating, but it can also be freeing. We find time to go out and clear a sidewalk and feel the snow on our faces, or we stay in and do some baking or work on a project that’s gotten crowded out by other things, or we simply look out on the snow and take in the beauty.

Our reluctance to let go of a way of living that has become so comfortable for us that we can’t imagine living any other way can keep us from being better stewards of the environment. Letting go of our expectations around energy sources, modes of transportation, consumer habits, ways of growing, processing, and packaging food, and a myriad of other activities may be frustrating and difficult for some people, but it will also free us to live richer lives that allow us to care for God’s creation and make a sustainable and healthy life possible for more of God’s children.

St.Francis cloaked in snow

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Advent 1

From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. (Mark 13: 28-31)

I took this picture of a budding tree in northeast Ohio the day after Thanksgiving. When the natural signs on which we rely get off track with shifts in the climate, we can’t use them to tell us about the seasons, to indicate what comes next. The effects of these seasonal cues becoming unreliable can be significant; the Associate Press today published an article by Gillian Gotora (Climate change hits Africa's poorest farmers) that describes the difficulties of figuring out when to plant crops as rainfall patterns change.

We do know, though, where we are in the liturgical year. The lighting of the first candle on our Advent wreaths, the lessons we read, and the hymns we sing tell us that Advent is here. We start off a new liturgical year preparing ourselves to recognize and live into the wonder of the Incarnation, of God coming to live among us on earth.

To help us stay anchored in the season of Advent, the diocese has provided a link to an Advent calendar. (See it here.) Some of the suggested activities to accompany the Scripture verses will get us outdoors to see some of the wonder of creation. Earth Ministry offers a Self-Sustaining Advent Calendar  that focuses on activities to strengthen our relationships with family and friends and nature.

The Advent Conspiracy has a similar focus, encouraging us to “worship fully, spend less, give more, and love all”. Here’s their video, which may help us think about how we want to walk through Advent this year:

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving: Falling In Love Again

A day set aside to give thanks is splendid. The significance of the day deepens when we use it to commit ourselves to a regular practice of gratitude. Thinking of a few things every day for which we are grateful and giving thanks for those things is a powerful spiritual force when practiced regularly over time. It opens our hearts to be more responsive to others, more compassionate, and more aware of God’s presence in our world and our own lives. We are grateful for things that we love; feeling gratitude for something is like falling in love with it to at least some degree.

Gratitude is intertwined with love, hope, and faith, all essential elements of a spirituality that results in and supports an ethic of environmental stewardship. When we are grateful for the land, waters, plants, and animals and for our sisters and brothers with whom we share this planet, we are in compassionate relationship with the world around us.  The more we know the natural world around us, the more likely we are to fall in love with it and care for it.  A regular practice of gratitude helps us fall in love with the wonders of creation over and over again, deepening our love for and relationship with God’s creation each time we give thanks for some part of it.  As our love for God’s creation deepens, our love for the Creator deepens as well.

As children, some of us could hardly wait for the Thanksgiving dinner to be over so we could go outside and play.  Finding some time to get outdoors, even for a few minutes, and give thanks for what we find there brings joy to adults as well as children. May Thanksgiving joy be yours!

O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us, With ever joyful hearts and bless├Ęd peace to cheer us; And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed; And free us from all ills, in this world and the next! ("Now thank we all our God")

Monday, November 21, 2011

Praying the News: November 21 2001

Praying the News offers a way of lifting up people and situations to God and inviting others to do the same. We listen as well as speak in prayer, sometimes gaining wisdom or insight in difficult 

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:

Coastal cities planning for the 2020’s and beyond.  A report commissioned by the state of New York’s energy research agency was released this week. (See this Associated Press story.) The report, written by fifty scientists, describes expected changes in climate and their expected effects on New York state so that New York can be prepared to minimize negative impacts and maximize positive impacts. With sea level rising up to ten inches by the mid-2020’s around Long Island and Manhattan, storm surges could flood airports, subway tunnels, and the financial district. New York and other coastal cities need wisdom and courage to look ahead and plan for rising sea levels

Fort Chipewyan in Alberta and all communities around the world that suffer health and social stresses from mining.  Last Thursday’s post Seeing and Serving Christ mentioned how the health and culture of the people of Fort Chipewyan have been affected by pollution from tar sands mining. That post referenced this soberingphoto essay  from This magazine. People in communities near large-scale mining operations suffering ill-effects from pollution is not unique to this situation, of course. Appalachian communities in areas where mountaintop removal is practiced, for example, are subject to negative impacts to their health and safety .  

The rapidly warming Arctic region. While the IPCC predicts that Arctic Sea ice will completely melt in summers sometime in the 2030’s, a study by Prof. Peter Wadhams of Cambridge University says that the ice could be gone as soon as 2015 – four years from now. Whichever estimate is correct, the ice is melting rapidly, with huge consequences for the Arctic ecosystem with such drastic changes in habitat. This includes consequences for people living in the Arctic region.

Participants in the COP-17 climate summit in Durban.  A call has gone out for Anglicans to pray for the 17th Congress of the Parties (COP-17) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change as they meet in Durban, South Africa, beginning next week. Episcopal News Service reports:
Despite 17 years of negotiations to cut warming emissions, current global pledges to cut emissions leave Earth on track for between 2.5 and 4 degrees of warming, widely agreed to be catastrophic," the Rev. Canon Rachel Mash, environmental coordinator of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa and member of the Anglican Communion Environmental Network, said in an Anglican Communion News Service release.
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, November 17, 2011

Seeing and Serving Christ

Proper 29A

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Proper 29 Collect, The Book of Common Prayer, p. 236

This last Sunday of the lectionary year focuses on Christ as King of kings and on God’s restoration of all things through Christ.  The Gospel text, Matthew 25:31-46, first identifies Christ with a king sitting on “the throne of his glory”. As Jesus describes what the king will do, however, we find Christ also identified with the people in greatest need who are most likely to be ignored, the opposite of a king seated in glory: “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

The meaning of this is plain: When we see people in need and do what we can to meet their needs, we see and serve Christ. When we fail to see those in need, or see them and ignore their needs, we fail to see and serve Christ.

We know that in today’s global community, despite our access to information from all over the world, those most affected by pollution and climate change are often ignored and virtually unseen by people in other places.

Because of concern about our own water and land, Nebraskans now know about the Alberta tar sands. What many of us do not know, however, are the effects of the pollution from the mining of the tar sands on people living downstream from it. This magazine recently published a photo essay about the community of Fort Chipewyan and how the health and culture of the people there have been affected by tar sands mining.

UNICEF released a report on Monday called Children and Climate Change: Children’sVulnerabilities to Climate Change and Disaster Impacts in East Asia and the Pacific. The report describes ways in which children, because of their developing bodies and immune systems and their place in society, are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. It describes the direct impacts from storms and higher temperatures; the increase in diseases such as cholera, diarrheal disease, dengue, and malaria; and psychological, educational, and nutritional impacts of climate change. Here also, the situations described are nearly unknown and/or ignored by people in our part of the world, but the report stresses that they are very real to the children in that part of the world.

These are only two examples of situations in which we fail to see those in need or see them and ignore their needs, thus failing to see and serve Christ. Our Sunday lessons remind us that Christ is King of kings but is also identified with the poorest of the poor. To forget either – that Christ is the ultimate authority or that Christ is found among those people we easily ignore – leads us to all sorts of moral and theological error and weakens the church’s ability to serve God’s children.

This Sunday's passage from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (Ephesians 1:15-23) says that the church is the body of Christ. If the church serves as the body of Christ, we must be about the work of reconciliation and restoration, which dovetails with the work of seeing and serving those in need.  Working towards the restoration of all things in creation, including eliminating pollution and curbing global warming, would do a lot towards making clean water, ample and healthy food, and healing available to all of God’s children. If we are the authentic church, the body of Christ, we will be about this work, seeing and serving the poorest of the poor in the name of the King of kings.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Praying the News: November 13 2011

Praying the News has become a regular feature of the Green Sprouts blog, a way of lifting up people and situations to God and inviting readers to do the same. Prayer is not a substitute for action; neither is action a substitute for prayer. Each is strengthened by the other.

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:

Wise leaders.  With this week’s IEA report stating that “the door is closing” on the opportunity to hold global warming to 2°C (see Numbering Our Days: Five Years ), we need wise leaders more than ever. Speaking at a gathering at the UK’s Royal Society to discuss the ecological impacts of climate change, Jo Philips, the Head of Climate Change Adaptation at WWF-UK said: “Current limited global ambition means that children around us today could be living through this ‘worst case scenario’. We have to take responsibility now. We know what we have to do and we have the solutions – we now need the leadership and commitment necessary to tackle this global problem before it is too late.”

The Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF). The CVF is a group of nations that already are heavily affected by climate change. They are meeting now in Dhaka, Bangladesh, to prepare for the upcoming COP17 conference in Durban, South Africa. Of special concern is the understanding that the less vulnerable (and more powerful) nations at COP17 are discussing proposing an international agreement that would begin in 2017 , after the five-year door of opportunity has closed.

Climate justice for Africa and poor people around the world. With the COP17 meeting in South Africa, leaders from Africa – including Archbishop Desmond Tutu – have created the “Have Faith – Act Now” campaign to advocate for climate justice. Pray for their voices to be heard.

Protection for those affected by severe weather and sound understanding. Last week’s severe weather included a big storm in Alaska and unusually strong November tornadoes in Oklahoma. As of November 4, the U.S. this year had already set a record with fourteen billion-dollar weather disasters. Pray that as extreme weather events become more common and more severe that we receive and are able to understand honest information about the relationship of these events to climate change.

With thanksgiving for the decision to have a more careful review of the environmental effects of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Pray for wisdom and courage for those making the final decision about the pipeline, and pray for the people who worked hard to make our officials aware of the concerns around this project.

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)

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Numbering Our Days: Five Years

Proper 28A: Psalm 90

So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom. (Psalm 90:12)

Psalm 90 contrasts the greatness and eternity of God to our fragile and finite lives with the hope expressed that we might learn to “number our days” – to be aware of our finite human condition – so that we become truly wise, gaining wisdom in our hearts. This is the psalm that reminds us that a thousand years are like yesterday in God’s sight, or like a watch in the night. Before the mountains or the land or the earth itself existed, God existed.

We take a smaller view of things most of the time, losing the perspective of this psalm; survival demands that we pay attention to our essential and immediate needs before other things, and that habit of mind then extends to less essential things. But when our essential needs are met, we can step back and get some perspective on our place in the universe and in time. 

The more we can keep hold of that perspective, the more that we realize that the world does not in fact revolve around any one of us, the wiser we become. God cares for each one of us and knows the number of hairs on each of our heads, but we are wise if we can occasionally look outside of ourselves and think about something other than our hair or wealth or comfort.

This was a heavy news week across the board. In environmental news, yesterday’s news about the Keystone XL pipeline project being delayed – and perhaps eventually stopped -- and the underlying message that the voices of Nebraskans concerned about our land and water had been heard was big news here. However, big though that story was for our state, our nation, and our planet – and it is a very big story indeed! – there is another story that got much less attention among the general public but is very important for everyone.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) released their 2011 World Energy Outlook (WEO-11) report this week. (See the executivesummary of the report here.) Among all the analysis of current energy sources, expected trends, and discussion of resources and expected energy needs as the earth’s population grows is this:
We cannot afford to delay further action to tackle climate change if the long-term target of limiting the global average temperature increase to 2°C …is to be achieved at reasonable cost.
The report says that we have five years to turn things around and prevent irreversible climate change. There have been some “steps in the right direction, but the door to 2°C is closing”. Five years – a very short amount of time even in our eyes.

What will we do in the next five years? What will be the priorities of our political and business leaders, and what priorities will we ask them to adopt? Will we in the church pray and work to preserve God’s creation and defend the people hurt first and worst by climate change, or squabble over our own internal affairs and wonder why people don’t seem to be interested in joining us? 

The past five years were critical to climate change, as were the past twenty as we really came to understand what was happening, but too little has been done to make a difference in outcome. We have been so much in denial that we have allowed our leaders and policymakers to delay taking significant action to address climate change.  The next five years are our last chance to get it right.

The WEO-11 report says:
Delaying action is a false economy: for every $1 of investment in cleaner technology that is avoided in the power sector before 2020, an additional $4.30 would need to be spent after 2020 to compensate for the increased emissions.
 In other words, delaying action is foolish, while doing what needs to be done would be wise. Given what is at stake, failing to get serious about climate change is totally irrational and morally indefensible.

So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Praying the News: November 5 2011

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 cocreation, 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)
When we approach our prayers for the news about the earth in this way, we pray in a spirit of hope and with a commitment to do the work God gives us to do. In that spirit, here are particular topics for prayer from this week’s news.

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 special sessionof the Nebraska Unicameral. The purpose of the special session is “to find a legal and constitutional solution to the siting of oil pipelines within the state”. The immediate issue that resulted in the decision to hold a special session is, of course, the proposal for the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline to cross through Nebraska’s Sandhills region. (See also Praying the News: Keystone XL Pipeline.)

The approaching UN climate conference (COP17) in Durban, South Africa.  As BBC environment correspondent, Richard Black, puts it: “The task, as always, will be to find enough common ground for an outcome that takes the global community of nations forwards, if only by a few steps, rather than backwards. Such steps as there may be are likely to be small ones.” Pray for progress; pray for those involved in the conference and those they represent to remain aware of the reality of the consequences of climate change on people and other living things.

Gulf oil spill cleanup workers.  Health problems linger for people who were hired to help with cleanup from the Gulf oil spill. Pray for these people and for justice to allow them full access to continuing healthcare and fair compensation.

The people of island nations, including Tuvalu. The 42-nation Association of Small Island States (AOSIS) says that proposals to delay a significant international climate agreement until 2018 or 2020 are “both environmentally reckless and politically irresponsible”. (See Island states slamwait on climate action.)  Remember especially the people of Tuvalu and Archbishop Halapua’s requests for prayers and action. (See this report from the Anglican News Service and the Green Sprouts November 3 post .)

Wisdom and compassion for us all as catastrophic weather events occur more often. The Associated Press reports that a draft of an upcoming report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts more floods, more heat waves, and more droughts in coming years.

Along with praying for these particular needs, we might 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, November 3, 2011

Let Justice Roll Down Like Waters

Proper 27A

Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5:24)

Environmental issues become justice issues when people who have contributed little or nothing to environmental degradation end up suffering from its harmful effects. This Sunday’s reading from Amos (Amos 5:18-24 ) uses water images to talk about justice and righteousness. Given that many environmental justice issues have to do with water in some form – water pollution, too little water in droughts caused by climate change, too much water in floods caused by increasingly heavy rain- and snowfalls (also the result of climate change) – Amos’s words seem especially well suited for the 21st century

The words “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream”  are an especially good fit for an article posted this week  by the Anglican Communion News Service about the situation in Tuvalu.  (See Loving Our Neighbors in 2011 , Part 2 of 3, from Oct 21.)  Tuvalu is experiencing a severe drought, and because sea-level rise is making the water in the island nation’s wells salty, there is a severe water shortage. The people of Tuvalu have contribute little to the accumulation of greenhouse gases that cause global warming and sea level rise, but are suffering terribly from the effects of what those of us in industrialized nations have done and continue to make worse through our failure to address climate change in any significant way.

The Anglican Communion News Service reports on Anglican Archbishop Winston Halapua’s visit to Tuvalu. Archbishop Halapua said, “What I have seen is the reality of the sea rising,” and that this “is the biggest possible issue”.  Along with making the well water undrinkable, sea level rise and the resulting increased salinization has poisoned the roots of banana, breadfruit, and coconut trees, dietary staples in Tuvalu and other Pacific island nations.

Archbishop Halapua asks for prayer and action: action in the form of relief aid for the people of Tuvalu and in the form of our becoming more aware of climate change “and its impact on marginalized people”, and prayer because the problems of climate change, sea level rise, and the effects on islands and coastal areas are something bigger than and different from anything we have ever faced before.

The church’s gift of prayer is a greater gift than many non-believers -- and perhaps even many nominal believers -- can guess. As we begin to understand the enormity of what we face this century and beyond, prayer gives us a way to sit with our fear, our awareness of the work to be done, and our grief; to hold these up before God; and to process all of this in a way that allows us to function well and do what we can to alleviate suffering and continue to live meaningful lives with some sort of hope. Prayer is not asking God to magically make a bad situation go away; it is a way to receive what we need to go forward and serve in the name of Christ.

And so along with our aid and our paying attention to climate change, Archbishop Halapua asks for our prayers:

We need to pray. We need to say very, very clearly to the church that we need to pray because this is something way beyond us. We need to pray that we will be empowered to speak clearly to our elected agents in government who make decisions about climate change.

Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Praying the News

Every day there are news stories about suffering caused by pollution or climate change. Some of these items are highlighted in posts on this blog, but many of them don’t get mentioned. I’m sharing some examples in this post and asking for prayers for the people in these situations.

The practice of praying the news was explored in an earlier post (Praying the News: Keystone XLPipeline).  For today’s post, I’m suggesting a couple of prayers from The Book of Common Prayer to frame the prayers for these particular concerns. These concerns are all related to climate change; a brief explanation with links to news stories is included for each concern in the prayer list. If others find meaning in praying the news, I’ll be posting something similar fairly regularly.

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 affected by floods in Thailand.  At least 381 peoplehave been killed in the worst flooding in Thailand in half a century. With the loss of rice crops, global rice prices are expected to rise, creating more hardship down the road. According to CNN, relief agencies describe a “humanitarian crisis”, with concern about water- and insect-borne diseases as well as those people in isolated areas who have been cut off for weeks without food or aid or any kind.

People in U.S. coastal areas making difficult decisions as sea levels rise.  Communities in coastal areas of the United States are considering the options as the reality of sea level rise is recognized. In south Florida, there are concerns about water supplies and existing storm drainage systems. This post from Cape Cod’s Climatide blog talks about the need to make some hard decisions soon, and people’s reluctance to do so because public officials haven’t wanted to take on the issue of sea level rise and thus give the false impression that it can’t be all that serious.

People of the Navajo Nation.  Sand dunes in the Navajo Nation are moving, a sign of the increasing aridity of the Southwest. USGS geologist Dr. Margaret Hiza Redsteer’s study of these changes “points up the vulnerability of indigenous people who live on land she calls ‘just on the edge of being habitable.’ “ Dr. Redsteer says: “The annual moisture here has historically been just enough to get by. When there is even a small change, there is a huge effect.”

People in the American Northeast who have lost power or suffered injuries or loss of property in this weekend’s record snowstorm.  Read The WeatherChannel’s account of injuries and damages. Weather Underground’s Dr. Jeff Masters puts this storm in historic perspective and discusses its connection to climate change.

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)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Loving Our Neighbors in 2011

Part 3 of 3. Gospel for Proper 25A.

Climate change caused by global warming is already causing hardship and sometimes catastrophe for people in many parts of the world. Loving our neighbors entails doing what we can to relieve and prevent suffering. So, we should be concerned and willing to speak and act to reduce global warming and help those most immediately affected by climate change.

The good news is that the church is not completely silent about the climate crisis. The pastoral teaching on the environment released recently by the House of Bishops describes the reality of the crisis and calls us to action. Along with calling us to the work of environmental justice, good stewardship practices, and advocacy, it calls us to spiritual practices of repentance, fasting, Sabbath keeping, and Christ-centered mindfulness. (See the HOB teaching here and the September 22 Green Sprouts post about it here .) However, despite this call from our bishops and similar calls from others in the church, for the most part this work has not become a priority issue for most Episcopalians. With few exceptions, it’s not what we talk about in terms of parish or diocesan mission.

Perhaps so many people act as if they don’t realize what is happening because poor media coverage has succeeded in keeping many people uninformed; perhaps they really don’t know on any level what is happening. If that is the case, then one way we can love our neighbors is to talk about what is happening, bring it into conversations, and advocate with our leadership in the church and in government to give priority to concerns about climate change.

Another possibility is that we don’t talk about it because facing a steadily unfolding catastrophe on a truly global scale is so new to human experience that it requires new ways of thinking. Some have suggested that new language would help us better think about and talk about climate change and its effects.

When Words Fail: Does a Warming World Need a New Vocabulary? describes the work of Australian philosopher Glenn Albrecht. The author of this article, Marilyn Ostrander, says:
The words he creates are based on his research on how we feel about the places we live. His work maps out the rocky emotional landscape we will have to navigate as the planet heats up, suggesting ways we can overcome paralytic fear about climate change and find sources of joy and hope. 
One of Glenn Albrecht’s words is ‘solastalgia’. In a January, 2010 article in the New York Times Magazine, Daniel B. Smith explains that the word is “a combination of the Latin word solacium (comfort) and the Greek root –algia (pain). Albrecht defined described solastalgia as “the pain experienced when there is recognition that the place where one resides and that one loves is under immediate assault . . . a form of homesickness one gets when one is still at ‘home.’ ” 

Solastalgia describes the emotions of people whose surroundings have been changed by a natural disaster or environmental degradation – the changes in the Athabasca region where the tar sands are mined would be one example of the latter. But it also describes the emotions of more and more people around the world as climate change brings changes in our surroundings that may be glaringly apparent (like the water situation in Tokelau and Tuvalu) or more subtle (like changes in bird and animal migrations or growing conditions for plants).

If nothing else, the fact that people are thinking about the possibility of needing new words to describe what we are facing indicates some of the difficulty we have grasping the situation.

I’ve heard people say that they don’t think or talk about climate change caused by global warming because it’s too emotionally difficult to do so. The situation seems hopeless. Avoiding a situation because it seems hopeless is not really an option for Christians; in bringing the Gospel to the world, Christians bring hope to the world. Engaging in the spiritual disciplines outlined by the House of Bishops may help us find hope and see what that looks like in this situation so that we might bring hope to others.

Along with those practices, the simple practice of gratitude can help keep our hearts open and hopeful. Spending time outdoors paying attention to the wonder and beauty around us gives an opportunity for gratitude as well as reminding us of how emotionally and spiritually important the earth and its wonders are to us.

Today’s collect is a wonderful prayer for us as we search for ways to obey Christ’s commandment to love our global neighbors (and ourselves):
Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain what you promise, make us love what you command; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who live and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, on God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Loving Our Neighbors in 2011

Part 2 of 3. Gospel for Proper 25A.

This is the second of three posts looking at what loving our neighbors requires when we live in a global community and climate change is already bringing hardship to many parts of the world.

A necessary step to loving our neighbors today is to care enough to know what is happening to other people in other places and to have enough curiosity to wonder why.  Indifference and apathy are incompatible with compassion.

Here is a sampling of a few of the things happening in our world now:

·         The drought and famine in East Africa (see Eastern Africa: Drought and Famine posts from July) continues. In a recent article in Nature entitled We thought trouble was coming, Chris Funk explains how the Climate Hazard Group from UC Santa Barbara forecast the drought. One of the factors they had considered in making the prediction was warming in the Indian Ocean as a result of climate change. Warming in the Indian Ocean had been observed to be linked to drying of spring rains in East Africa. La Nina effects, intensified by global warming, had dried the autumn rains in 2010. Funk reports that with the severity of this crisis, 11.5 million people across East Africa need emergency assistance.

·         Along with the floods in Mexico, Central America, and Haiti mentioned in the previous post in this series, flooding is threatening Thailand’s capital city, Bangkok, and has already flooded much of Thailand. A Reuters story today reports that flooding has killed at least 342 people in Thailand since July, and 247 people in Cambodia.  As a result of torrential rains since Wednesday at least 100 bodies were found near the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar and 100 more people are missing.

·         The Pacific island nations of Tokelau and Tuvalu have been dealing with severe water shortages, the result of lack of rainfall (expected to continue because of an intensified La Nina pattern) along with increased salinization of the islands’ water supplies because of sea level rise. Emergency water supplies and additional desalinization equipment from other Pacific nations have brought assistance in the crisis. The New York Times online this week carried a photo essay from Tuvalu. A related article, As Danger Laps at Its Shores, Tuvalu Pleads for Action, tells about how climate change is affecting people there now – their diet, soil, water supplies, and health all are affected -- and how they might cope in the future. Current projections are that Tuvalu will be uninhabitable within fifty years.

·         Monday’s dust storm in Lubbock, Texas, the result of the ongoing drought there, featured an 8000 foot dust cloud traveling at 70 mph. (See Texas dust storm, biggest in U.S. in decades, turns sky red and black.)
·         Here’s the view from a window during the storm:

·         The economic effects of this drought are very serious. A sobering forecast from NASA climatologist James Hansen says that “If we stay on with business as usual, the southern U.S. will become almost uninhabitable” within this century. The social and economic upheaval if this prediction holds will be enormous.

·         Jeff Goodell’s Rolling Stone article ClimateChange and the End of Australia suggests that if we want to see what is in store for us, we might look at what is happening already in Australia, where “rivers are drying up, reefs are dying, and fires and floods are ravaging the continent.” Goodell ends his story with this:
We walk for a while, watching all the happy people strolling along the boardwalk and drinking wine in cafes and surfing the waves. The sun is shining, and everything is lovely. Too bad that it all has to go.

These are all big events or well-known situations, yet they aren’t part of what most of us hear about or think about from day to day, and they aren’t part of most of our conversations in the church about our mission in the world.  The need to expand our ability to provide disaster relief is obvious. Paying attention to what is happening now helps us to see why we need to work now at mitigating climate change, lessening its extremes in future years. The more we know about how people are suffering now and will suffer in the future, the easier it becomes for us to lessen our carbon footprints as individuals and as a church and to advocate for policies that will reduce carbon emissions. And if you’ve read this far, it may be obvious that as we confront this crisis, we will require spiritual resources and care for ourselves as well as others.

What keeps us from having the conversations we need to have and from doing the work that the church should be doing to serve God’s people and care for God’s creation now and in the years to come?