Saturday, September 29, 2012

Little Gods: "We get our wealth from this business."

Part of today’s lesson from Acts (Acts 19:21-41) has echoed throughout the day as I've caught up with the news, especially about the news about the protests in Texas where TransCanada has begun building the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline.

In this passage from Acts, Demetrius, a silversmith who made silver shrines (evidently miniatures) of Artemis gathered his artisans and others who made and sold gods and riled them up, saying:
Men, you know that we get our wealth from this business. You also see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost the whole of Asia this Paul has persuaded and drawn away a considerable number of people by saying that gods made with hands are not gods. 
Then Demetrius suggested that Paul’s words might very well cause people to disrespect the temple of Artemis, depriving her “of the majesty that brought all Asia and the world to worship her.” This caused a riot that went on for hours until the town clerk persuaded the crowd to settle this in their regular assembly so they would not be charged with rioting.

Paul was right, of course: gods made with hands are not gods! Given a choice between gods made with human hands and the Living God Paul worshiped, the only wise choice is God. There is only one God, even when making smaller gods and keeping a temple to a false god create wealth.

One reason it’s so hard to address environmental issues in our nation is the power of the fossil fuel industry. The executives of these corporations get their wealth from this business, and use of cleaner sources of energy such as wind and solar energy threaten their profits. Given a choice between energy from fossil fuels that creates the carbon emissions that have contributed greatly to our climate crisis and cleaner energy that can help keep our planet livable, the only wise choice is clean energy. But those profiting from fossil fuels choose wealth over life.

In Texas, protesters have been trying to stop construction of the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline. Unlike the resistance in Nebraska which is largely based on local – and very legitimate – concerns about the land and water in our own state, many of these protesters are concerned with the effects of the entire project, from the pollution and forest destruction where the tar sands are mined in Canada to the environmental dangers along the pipeline route to the vast amounts of carbon that will be released if the tar sands are refined and burned.

Among the protesters this week have been tree sitters – people sitting in trees that TransCanada is clearing for the pipeline. To help protect the people in the trees, two protesters on Wednesday locked themselves to logging equipment. Bill McKibben wrote about it in the Huffington Post. (See TransCanada Turns Sadistic in Texas:Keystone XL Protestors Tased and Pepper Sprayed ) Reading the reports about what the police called in allegedly did to the protesters is very difficult: chokeholds, pepper spray, and tasers.

Violence against environmental activists in other parts of the world has been on the increase. In June, the group Global Witness reported that over the past decade, 711 activists, journalists, and community members defending land and forests had been killed. In 2011, the total was 106 people.

When wealthy industries are threatened by people advocating for care of the earth, their reaction is often to bully the activists in some way, sometimes to the point of death. Like the makers and sellers of little gods in Ephesus inciting the crowd to riot against the Christians, those whose god is profit use violence against those speaking their truth about caring for God’s creation and defending the living things that depend on climate stability.
O God, our Father, whose Son forgave his enemies while he was suffering shame and death: Strengthen those who suffer for the sake of conscience; when they are accused, save them from speaking in hate; when they are rejected, save them from bitterness; when they are imprisoned, save them from despair; and to us your servants, give grace to respect their witness and to discern the truth, that our society may be cleansed and strengthened. This we ask for the sake of Jesus Christ, our merciful and righteous Judge. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, p. 823)

Thursday, September 27, 2012

News for the Poor

[Jesus] stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
   because he has anointed me
     to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
   and recovery of sight to the blind,
     to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ (Luke 4:16b-21)

With the publication this week of the 2nd edition of the Climate Vulnerability Monitor and concern about food prices rising because of the effects of extreme weather on food production, today’s Gospel lesson gives us a lens for hearing this news about the negative effects of climate change that are affecting the poorest people in the world first and worst.

After reading Isaiah’s words about bringing good news to the poor, Jesus says the scripture has been fulfilled in his speaking the words of the prophet. The prophetic message that God’s promise is to bring good news to the poor, freedom to captives and oppressed people, and healing of all kinds is fulfilled in the life of Christ.

The news in the Climate Vulnerability Monitor is not good news for the poor. It’s not good news for anyone, but especially not for people who don’t have much in the first place. In the summary of the study’s findings  is the statement “Climate injustice is extreme”. Another of the findings sheds light on what this injustice means in terms of human life: failure to act to stop climate change could cause more than 100 million deaths between now and 2030. More than 100 million deaths in the next eighteen years!

Oxfam International has prepared a report called Extreme Weather, Extreme Prices: The costs of feeding a warming world . The report talks about the effects of extreme weather caused by global warming on food production and food prices. Here in the United States, we are seeing the effects of this year’s drought on food prices. This report models the impacts of extreme weather events on the prices of key international staple crops in the year 2030. The report summary states that “our failure to slash greenhouse gas emissions presents a future of greater food price volatility, with severe consequences for the precarious lives and livelihoods of people living in poverty.” More bad news for the poor!

If Christ brought good news to the poor and if the Church is the Body of Christ, the Church is called to advocate for significant action to mitigate climate change beginning now. If we remain silent and complacent while millions of people die from the effects of climate change, we can no longer claim to have any good news to share.