Thursday, February 10, 2011

More For the Children

(In which we adult camels approach the eye of the needle)

Back in October, 2009, I posted a piece called Hackberry Tree Parable about today’s Daily Office reading from Mark (Mark 10:17-31), which was the Gospel lesson for the coming Sunday lectionary. This was a story about some sort of big bird of prey crashing down through the branches of our hackberry tree holding onto a struggling squirrel. Finally, by letting go of the squirrel, the bird was able to right itself and soar away. Seeing that little drama while thinking about the rich man who went away grieving when Jesus told him the way to inherit eternal life was for him to sell everything he had, give the money to the poor, and follow Jesus, I wrote this:

Birds of prey most often succeed in hunting the weakest animals, the most vulnerable. The squirrel this one chose wasn’t as weak as it appeared evidently, and gave the bird a great deal of trouble. What’s interesting in light of the Gospel story is that it wasn’t just in letting go of something that the bird was able to fly freely again, but in letting go of the smaller, weaker creature on which it was preying. This little drama as it relates to the Gospel lesson wasn’t only about the raptor and its need to let go of a difficult weight, but about the squirrel and its desire to survive. The Gospel story isn’t only about us and our need to be detached from things that get in the way of discipleship; it’s also about those who have less power, wealth, and strength but about whom Christ cares very much. We aren’t truly free of the things that weigh us down until we join Christ in caring for and about the poor and vulnerable. It isn’t enough to go off and take a vow of poverty and simplify our lives; true discipleship involves noticing and caring for people who have to worry more about not having enough than about having too much.

Yesterday’s Gospel reading, the passage immediately before this in Mark, was about Jesus blessing the children. No matter where they live, young children are among the vulnerable because of their lack of power. Given the facts about global warming and climate change, we know we need to let go of some of our habits and comforts to make any sort of decent life for the children being born today.

I’ve often wondered about the man in today’s Gospel lesson. What happened after he recovered from the shock of what Jesus had said to him; what did he do after he went away grieving? Did he continue to live as he had, knowing at least somewhere in the back of his mind that he wasn’t living the way God called him to live, or did he indeed sell his possessions, give the money to the poor, and go follow Jesus?

And, not so much out of curiosity as out of existential angst, I wonder about us. What do we do after the shock of realizing what science tells us about the future of our planet if we don’t dramatically and immediately cut back on our emissions of greenhouse gases? What do we do after grieving for the world we have known and asking God to forgive us for what we have done to God’s creation? Does our generation continue living as we have, vaguely knowing we aren’t doing what God would have us do, but unwilling or unable to let go of our privilege and comfort so that today’s children and their children might live? Or do we change our habits and public policies, gladly letting go of some of those privileges and comforts so that we can follow the example of Jesus and recognize that the decisions we make now are having an impact on children, those vulnerable ones who don’t get to make the decisions that are determining their future?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

For the Children

The Daily Office Gospel reading for Wednesday (Mark 10:1-16) includes the story of Jesus blessing the children. Jesus made it plain that even if the children didn’t have much importance to others, they were important to him. By his example of not allowing the disciples to keep the children at arm’s length from him, Jesus teaches us the importance of seeing children as individuals in need of love and protection, not as abstractions.

I’ve just begun reading a new book by Mark Hertsgaard, Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth. While many books have been written about dealing with climate change, this one has a depth to it that is helpful to those of us looking at the environment through a spiritual lens. I’ve been thinking the past year about our culture’s denial of the realities of climate change and our seeming inability to begin looking at what is happening and how we might best deal with it. This book articulates very well some of the issues involved in all of this.

Hot brings home the reality of our warming climate through a father’s passion for his own daughter’s future. Mark Hertsgaard had reported on the plight of children in other countries before his own daughter’s birth, but realized after she was born that he had been able to keep an emotional distance from the stories of these children that parents don’t have.

Reviewing Hot in the New York Times, Wen Stephenson writes that this book “raises the emotional stakes while keeping a clear head.” Stephenson then says: “This was the first book on climate change that not only frightened me — plenty have done that — but also broke my heart.” Perhaps our hearts need to be broken before we can bring ourselves out of denial and get to the place where we can help one another cope with this changing world.

In the Prologue to the book (which is available here through Google books), Mark Hertsgaard talks about the moment when his view of the world changed, when the issues of climate change became so real to him that he knew he had to find out all he could and work on figuring out how people can live through the period of climate change we have now entered. The shift came in 2005 when Hertsgaard was a new father of a baby girl. He interviewed David King, a prominent British climate scientist, who talked about climate change not as something in the future that we might possibly yet avoid, but as something that had already begun unfolding. Even if our greenhouse gas emissions were cut drastically and immediately, there would still be global warming for many years as a result of the processes that had already begun. After the interview, Hertsgaard realized that the time period they had been discussing was his daughter’s lifetime, that this warmer, more difficult world was the world in which his little girl would grow up and live her life.

Hot not only takes a realistic look at where we are now, but looks with hope at things we can do – and that some people and governments are already doing – to make the best of the future. Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth is not a religious environmental book, but its compassion for our children and its elements of hope speak to people of faith.