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? 

Loving Our Neighbors in 2011

Part 1 of 3. Gospel for Proper 25A.

34When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37He said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38This is the greatest and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:34-40)

Faithfully loving God and our neighbors has been a challenge for Christ’s followers ever since he said these words. In the 21st century we have two comparatively recent circumstances to take into account in attempting to follow these commandments.

First, we live in a truly global community. Increased travel and communications, and especially the sorts of communications and relationship building possible through the internet, have brought us to a very different understanding of what it means to love our neighbors. When a newsworthy event happens anywhere in the world, we know about it immediately. When there is some sort of disaster, the world can respond immediately.

Second, our climate is changing rapidly and significantly. A warmer global atmosphere holds more moisture. This means there is less moderate precipitation; instead, there are at the same time both areas hit by heavy precipitation and areas of drought. Sea levels are rising, the ocean is becoming more acid, and coral reefs are dying. Changing temperatures bring changes in insect and disease patterns.

Just this week, exceptionally heavy rains from Hurricane Jova and a tropical depression hit Mexico, parts of Central America, and southern Haiti, affecting around 100,000 people.  The Episcopal News Service reports on the flooding in El Salvador, which Anglican Bishop of El Salvador Martin Barahona has described as “a catastrophe unparalleled by other disasters” in El Salvador’s recent history.Episcopal Relief and Development reports:

In El Salvador, the hardest hit country, the Lempa and Grande rivers overflowed onto already-saturated ground. The severe flooding that resulted has killed more than 30 people and destroyed more than 18,000 homes. An estimated 65 people have also died in Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Costa Rica.

This is one example of the way increased precipitation can affect our neighbors. The church in El Salvador and Episcopal Relief and Development are responding in the name of Christ by helping people who have lost their homes. As we will see in tomorrow’s post, this flooding is one of many climate-related events affecting people right now. Every day we fail to address climate change, the chance of these sorts of disasters affecting more and more people increases.

In the introduction to Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril, authors Kathleen Dean Moore and Michael P. Nelson describe a typical suburban autumn evening with people outdoors doing common things: a teenager driving a car, a little girl playing, someone using a leaf blower. After describing the scene, they say:

The scene feels odd, almost fictional, the way life goes on. It seems almost as if we were watching a herd of dinosaurs grazing on giant fern-trees, oblivious to the shadow of the asteroid that will strike Earth and forever change the conditions under which they will live – or die.

For some reason, even though we know what is happening in our world and know that we have very little time to change the way we do things so that the changes future generations face might be more bearable, life goes on pretty much unchanged. It’s as if we don’t realize what is happening or don't care.

Even those of us who care passionately and are intentional about keeping up with the issues of global warming and climate change find it easy to slip into acting and speaking as if nothing is changing. In a poem entitled Warsaw on the Eve of My Departure[i], poet Aaron Zeitlin wrote about the days before he left Warsaw in another situation where reality was difficult to grasp, knowing that the time for Jews living in Warsaw was short. He wrote: Everything that you own and that you see / a desolate darkness will soon envelope. / A voice tells you so, but you forget…You do and do not feel from day to day how final is / the city. In a similar way, as accelerated and increased climate change approaches, we both do and do not know what is coming; we both do and do not feel the finality of the changes taking place on our planet.

In the next couple of posts on this blog, we will look at the climate change situation and how it affects our neighbors near and far, some of the questions this raises for Christians and the institutional church in particular, and the question of how to talk about what is happening in a meaningful way.  The larger question asks what keeps us from doing the work we need to do to ensure our survival and that of our neighbors.

I’m suggesting that the time has come to make sure that the reality of climate change becomes part of our conversation any time we in the church plan for the future and talk about doing ministry. To avoid the topic intentionally for fear of upsetting people, or to let it slip out of our minds, or even to give it a quick nod before turning to our usual business is to ignore our neighbors and to deceive ourselves if we think our own lives as individuals and as a church will continue in familiar ways for many more years.

We need to talk now about mitigation of climate change, considering where and how we might decrease our carbon footprint as the church and how to help individuals learn good environmental stewardship. We can figure out how to gear up to provide disaster relief as the frequency and severity of floods, fires, droughts, and storms increase.  And the church especially needs to be thinking about how to meet people’s spiritual needs as the crisis becomes harder to ignore and people cope with a crisis different from any other in human history. What spiritual practices will be helpful? What language will we use to talk about it?  How do we stay faithful and find meaning in the years to come?

[i] Zeitlin, Aaron. Poems of the Holocaust and Poems of Faith, ed. and trans. By Morris M. Faierstein. iUniverse: 2007, p. 1.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Clergy opposed to Keystone XL pipeline

Realizing that our reasons for opposing construction of the Keystone XL pipeline rested on Christ's commandment to love God and our neighbors, and thinking that this viewpoint should be part of the wider discussion about this issue, Fr. Don Huber and I wrote this statement and sent it around to other clergy in the Diocese of Nebraska that we thought might have an interest in the issue. It has been published in the Lincoln Journal Star, the Grand Island Independent, and the Alliance Times Herald.

As clergy of the Episcopal Church in Nebraska, we oppose construction of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline which would transport bitumen from the Athabasca Tar Sands to refineries in Texas. Our concerns about this project are rooted in Christ’s commandment to love our neighbors and in our belief that creation care is a foundation of local and global love of others, ourselves and our creator.

The commandment to love our neighbors requires considering the effects of our actions on others and on ourselves. Scripture calls us to be the tillers and caretakers of the earth, the stewards of creation. Our tradition as articulated in The Book of Common Prayer teaches us that we are fellow workers in God’s creation, that we need to use the resources of nature wisely and reverently so that generations yet to come may have life, breath and cause to continue praising God for the bounteous gifts of creation. Using our resources wisely and reverently means acknowledging and remembering that they come from God and that our use of them is not solely for our own immediate gain, but for the good of all of creation.

The mining of the Athabasca Tar Sands has already brought disaster to the First Nations people who have lived along the Athabasca River for generations. Reduced river flow and contamination of the water and land has impacted fishing and hunting and people’s health. The area being mined is in the Boreal Forest, a fragile and essential habitat for migratory birds and an ecosystem whose continued ability to function as the largest carbon storage area on earth is essential to mitigation of global warming which causes climate change.

Globally the impact of processing and burning the oil extracted from the Athabasca Tar Sands will further accelerate climate change. The world is already experiencing violent storms, record heat, flooding and droughts as greenhouse gas emissions have reached a critical level. Surely a project that would accelerate greenhouse gas emissions and the resulting acceleration of global warming does not serve God and God’s purposes for humankind and the rest of creation.

As Nebraskans and others voice our thoughts on the pipeline to the United States State Department, the political question being asked is: Is the proposed pipeline in the national interest? This is an important question, but we believe that we have a greater obligation to ask some moral questions. The moral questions go further than the political question, asking: Does the proposed pipeline harm or hurt humanity as a whole? Is building it consistent with the wise and reverent use of creation? If we as a people and a nation agree to the building of this pipeline, will we be acting as good stewards of creation? We believe the answer to these moral questions is no. We believe we cannot further endanger the earth’s precious fresh water reserves; we cannot further endanger water which supports the crops that feed our nation and the world; we cannot feed our greedy desire for cheap oil at the expense of our and others’ health and food and our children’s future.

Locally, the possibility of a pipeline leak over the Ogallala Aquifer risks devastating consequences for people over a vast area of our state who depend on the aquifer for drinking water. This concern is well-founded because of the history of leaks in such pipelines and is shared by us, our Governor and our Senators. A foreign company coming into our state and appropriating land to build this pipeline that endangers the people of the state is a great injustice to those who depend on the land and water for their livelihoods and their very lives. It is at its best risky business and at its worst morally reprehensible.

The Keystone XL pipeline will provide some immediate gain for some people. We must conclude, though, that while in the short-run it may serve financial gain for a few, it doesn’t serve the long term health and well being of humanity and creation. Given this choice, we oppose the granting of a permit for construction of the Keystone XL pipeline and call on others to join us in choosing life and health.


These are the names of the sponsors as listed on October 5:

Deacon Betsy Blake Bennett, St. Stephen’s, Grand Island

The Rev. Don Huber, St. Matthew’s, Alliance and Calvary, Hyannis

Deacon John Adam, St. Matthew’s, Alliance and Calvary, Hyannis

The Rev. Scott Barker, Episcopal Diocese of Nebraska

The Rev. Carol Ann Bullard, Holy Apostles, Mitchell

The Rev. Jason Emerson, Church of the Resurrection, Omaha

The Rev. William Graham, St. Mary’s – Holly, Rushville and St. Joseph’s, Mullen

Deacon Christine Grosh, Trinity Memorial Church, Crete

Deacon Cheryl Harris, St. Matthew's Church, Alliance and Calvary, Hyannis

Deacon Nancy W. Huston, St. Martha’s Church, Papillion

Deacon Colleen Lewis, St. Luke’s, Kearney

The Rev. Gretchen R. Naugle, Episcopal Diocese of Nebraska

The Rev. Jeffrey S.F. Nelson, Church of Our Savior, North Platte

The Rev. Larry Parrish, St. Thomas, Falls City

The Rev. Dr. Charles A. Peek, St. Stephen’s, Grand Island

The Rev. Chris Plantz, St. Hilda’s, Kimball; St. Paul’s, Ogallala; St. George’s, Oshkosh; Good Shepherd, Harrisburg

Deacon Kim Roberts, St Martin of Tours, Omaha

The Rev. Ellie Thober, Grace Church, Columbus

The Rev. Ruth Tomlinson, St. David's, Lincoln

Archdeacon James Visger, Episcopal Diocese of Nebraska

The Rev. Judi A. Yeates, Episcopal Diocese of Nebraska