Saturday, April 2, 2011

Speaking of Ice... we were recently...

Warmer temperatures are finally here for the weekend, but the sort of weather we associate with springtime in Nebraska has been slow in coming. In central Nebraska earlier this week, we were coping with a combination of rain (some of it freezing), sleet, and snow. Most of us were wishing the ice would simply go away!

Springtime is beginning in the Arctic as well. According to the University of Colorado-Boulder’s National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) , the Arctic sea ice probably reached its greatest extent for this year on March 7. Before the melting began, the maximum extent of this year’s Arctic sea ice was tied for the smallest extent of ice since record-keeping began in 1979. The final analysis of the 2010-2011 winter season for Arctic sea ice will be published later this month.

This year’s maximum sea ice extent was 463,000 square miles below the 1979-2000 average. The UPI story Study: 2011 arctic ice extent is down quotes a CU-Boulder release that gives a useful picture of how big an area this is: an area slightly larger than the states of California and Texas combined.

The extent of ice coverage at the end of the summer will be watched closely. This video from the NSIDC shows the changes in Arctic sea ice coverage in September for the thirty years between 1979 and 2009.

The effects of climate change on the Arctic are huge. A team of climatologists from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and South Korea has predicted some of the impacts of climate change on the Arctic by 2099.

Many polar and subpolar regions may well be replaced by temperate regions by the end of this century. While the endangered polar bear has become the iconic representative of the expected changes, the effects of climate change on human economy, on local cultures, is of great concern. Plant and animal species and cultures are all in danger of extinction. That scientists from Nebraska and Colorado are studying the Arctic ice suggests that what is happening there has some importance to us in Nebraska.

Knowing something about what is happening in the Arctic can make us wonder how to respond to something so big and far away. The most important response we can give as Christians is to pay attention to what is happening. While it is very important for us to exercise good stewardship of our resources so that we reduce our own contributions to the carbon emissions driving global warming, it is also important for us do something less concrete: to be prayerful witnesses to what is happening. To acknowledge it, to see it, to be truth-tellers is part of our work as Christians. To remember it when we pray, when we make decisions about our own use of resources, and when we speak with other people and participate in the political process are all ways to serve as Christ’s body in the world.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Sandhill Crane Sunday

St. Stephen’s, Grand Island, incorporated the sandhill crane migration into our liturgy on Sunday, the third year of celebrating Crane Sunday. Because the crane migration peaks in mid- to late March, this Sunday falls during Lent. While it may at first seem a little unusual to have any sort of special celebration during Lent, the juxtaposition of our Lenten journey with the arrival of the cranes on their annual journey says something about the way Christians live in the world and about our incarnational theology.

Highlighting the connections between the salvation story and what is happening in this particular place at this particular time helps us pin Lent down to our lives and our world. The salvation story is easy to ignore once we leave church if it does no more than float somewhere up above our lives. When we see the ways in which it connects to our lives and our world, the Word remains enfleshed, incarnate, for us. Seeing the connection helps us understand what it means for God to come and dwell among us.

This Crane Sunday our weather in central Nebraska was still wintry. I drove to Grand Island partway in freezing rain and partway in snow, past dances of cranes that were well camouflaged with their gray plumage in the foggy fields. The origami cranes decorating the church took on extra meaning this year as we keep the people of Japan in our prayers. Our Christian education classes had made “bejeweled birds” on which the children had written their sometimes poignant hopes for renewal or new life at Easter. The reality of the salvation story for our own lives becomes more vivid with a range of particular concerns in mind, from the Japanese people on the other side of our planet to the children in our own parish, and with our gratitude for the abundance of God’s creation that we see with thousands of birds flying through the Central Flyway.

Our lessons Sunday morning included Exodus 17:1-7 and John 4:5-42, both reminding us of the importance of water, with Jesus talking about living water in the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. Sunday’s sermon on these texts can be read here.

In Sunday’s Psalm (Psalm 95), God says, “Harden not your hearts as your forebears did in the wilderness.” One way to soften our hearts so that we can receive the living water that Christ offers in abundance is to go outside and give thanks for the wonders we find there, for the cranes, the other spring birds, the sky and the rivers and even the snowflakes, sleet, and rain.