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.