Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Joy: Day 7

Joy to the world! The Lord is come: let earth receive her king;
Let every heart prepare him room, and heaven and nature sing.

With “Joy to the world” in our hearts and minds, I invite you to join me in looking each of these twelve days of Christmas for instances of the joy that runs through all of creation, especially through experiencing the beauty and wonder of God’s world.

Even this…

 …a  little bit of tumbleweed, a plain thing on the ground somehow mirroring the shape of stars we create to suggest the Christmas or Epiphany star, carries joy with it.

New research reported today suggests that global warming will be at the higher end of the range of predictions rather than the lower end. This means that we can expect global temperatures to rise by at least 4° C (about 7.2° F.) by the end of this century. [See Climate Change Worse Than We Thought, Likely To Be ‘Catastrophic Rather Than Simply Dangerous’] Worst of all, this research will no doubt go largely unnoticed in the media and by those who form public policies, giving ignorance of our peril the power to keep us from any significant action to mitigate the rise in global temperatures.

The possibility of a 4° degree C rise by 2100  is not news, but increased certainty of the severity of global warming is newly sobering. Every living thing seems more precious in light of this reminder of the fragility of our biosphere at this point in history. Something like this tumbleweed suddenly is precious because it has a place in an ecosystem that we are losing rapidly. Little things can bring great joy under these circumstances, but that joy is mixed with great grief.

Joy to the world! The Savior reigns; let us our songs employ, while fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains, repeat the sounding joy.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Joy: Day 6

Joy to the world! The Lord is come: let earth receive her king;
Let every heart prepare him room, and heaven and nature sing.

With “Joy to the world” in our hearts and minds, I invite you to join me in looking each of these twelve days for instances of the joy that runs through all of creation, especially through experiencing the beauty and wonder of God’s world.

 We were on the road today, driving west from clouds and cold in Omaha into sunnier skies and warmer temperatures as we neared home. There were many images of joy: the initial glimpse of distant brightness, the increasing brightness and finally real sunshine as we moved toward the light, hawks gliding in the sky, the Platte River in various stages of freezing and thawing.

When I got home, though, I went outside to experiment with a new camera lens and looked at the small details of several familiar things – rocks, a bit of moss, and this sprig of lavender, beautiful in its details and in its smell even in this dormant stage. Seeing familiar things in a new way is a joy. Perennials and shrubs become old friends when they have been in a garden a few years, and it’s a special joy to really look at them and see them in a new way.

Joy to the world! The Savior reigns; let us our songs employ, while fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains, repeat the sounding joy.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Joy: Day 5

Joy to the world! The Lord is come: let earth receive her king;
Let every heart prepare him room, and heaven and nature sing.

With “Joy to the world” in our hearts and minds, I invite you to join me in looking each of these twelve days for instances of the joy that runs through all of creation, especially through experiencing the beauty and wonder of God’s world.

Our little corner of the world was very cold today. Last night we listened to the wind whistle and saw a couple of big Christmas ball decorations roll down the street, pushed by the wind. By morning, the wind was less fierce, but the temperature was still in the single digits with a fairly good wind chill effect still going on. But along with the cold came another clear blue sky. Even though the low-angled winter sun doesn’t do a lot to actually raise the temperature, it helped some and it certainly made everything seem warmer and brighter.

Especially on this Sunday where our Gospel lesson talked about the light shining in the darkness, sunbeams represent the joy in creation.

Joy to the world! The Savior reigns; let us our songs employ, while fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains, repeat the sounding joy.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Joy: Day 4

Joy to the world! The Lord is come: let earth receive her king;
Let every heart prepare him room, and heaven and nature sing.

With “Joy to the world” in our hearts and minds, I invite you to join me in looking each of these twelve days of Christmas for instances of the joy that runs through all of creation, especially through experiencing the beauty and wonder of God’s world.

 Today was another unusually warm one, with temperatures in the upper 50’s. What snow we had is gone, and ice continued to melt. While the fields and pastures are their usual winter browns and grays, the dominant color in the Nebraska landscape as we drove east today was blue: blue sky all around, occasionally reflected in rivers, ponds, and streams where enough melting has taken place for open water to match the blue of the sky.

This evening the wind has shifted to the northwest, and the weather forecast says that our warm days are coming to an abrupt end overnight. There was joy in the break from the seasonal “bleak midwinter”. There will also be some joy in temperatures closer to the norm for this time of year, a return to those wintry days that will make the spring that much sweeter.

Joy to the world! The Savior reigns; let us our songs employ, while fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains, repeat the sounding joy.

Holy Innocents

Today is the Feast of the Holy Innocents. Below is a reposted reflection on the day from last year. Children remain especially vulnerable to the impacts of pollution and climate change. The future of every child in the world is threatened by climate change, and we continue to place a low priority on addressing that threat. Last year's reflection ended with a video of the The Coventry Carol in honor of the innocents who died in Typhoon Sendong in the Philippines in 2011. This year I've shared another video of The Coventry Carol to honor the innocents who died this year in Typhoon Haiyan and in wildfires, floods, tornadoes and hurricanes and other extreme weather events this year.

We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod. Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.  Collect for Holy Innocents, Book of Common Prayer, p. 238

Pollution and the effects of climate change impact children especially hard. Pollutants generally do more damage to developing bodies; dehydration from diarrheal diseases caused by lack of clean water is especially dangerous for infants and young children. According to World Health Organization information about climate change and health, “children – in particular, children living in poor countries – are among the most vulnerable to the resulting health risks” from climate change”. Among these risks are extreme heat, malnutrition, lack of clean water, impacts of natural disasters, and increasing risk of diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, and diarrheal diseases.

Today the church remembers the Holy Innocents, the children who died when Herod ordered the slaughter of all children who were two years old or younger (Matthew 2: 13-23). Augustine of Hippo called these children “buds, killed by the frost of persecution the moment they showed themselves.”

As air and water pollution and climate change take their toll of young lives, many children in our world never get a chance to be more than buds, buds killed in this case by the frost of the world’s indifference the moment they showed themselves.

The people with power in this world – the political leaders, the economically comfortable, the corporate heads – differ from Herod, of course. Their intention isn’t to cause the death of thousands of children; their intention instead is to maintain political power by not addressing a difficult problem, or to ignore the effects of climate change so that we can continue enjoying the sorts of comforts and conveniences to which we are accustomed, or to make a profit producing, selling, or investing in fossil fuels. Children are the collateral damage of our failure to control pollution and address climate change. There is no intention to harm, but instead of an intention to protect children, there is indifference and denial.

When we look the other way and refuse to acknowledge what is happening as a result of our failure to control pollution and address climate change, we aren’t really all that different from Herod. And the grief of the mothers of today’s innocent victims is no different from the grief of the mothers of Bethlehem some two thousand years ago.

Here is the Coventry Carol in honor of all the innocents killed by greed and indifference:

Friday, December 27, 2013

Joy: Day 3

Joy to the world! The Lord is come: let earth receive her king;
Let every heart prepare him room, and heaven and nature sing.

With “Joy to the world” in our hearts and minds, I invite you to join me in looking each of these twelve days for instances of the joy that runs through all of creation, especially through experiencing the beauty and wonder of God’s world.

Temperatures above 50 degrees today in our part of Nebraska along with a good dose of midday sun helped it feel very comfortable outside despite a fairly good breeze. In the afternoon, we walked at a lake where whatever ice had formed earlier was melting. Leaves that had been caught in the top of the ice when it had frozen had absorbed enough heat from the sun to begin melting the ice around each leaf.

It’s such an elegantly simple example of something all of us who have lived with ice and snow know, that darker surfaces absorb heat from the sun and speed the thawing of ice and snow around them. This is why the melting of Arctic ice has produced a feedback loop that has accelerated the melting: as ice melts, open water is exposed. The open water absorbs heat from the sun that would be reflected by ice. As more heat is absorbed, the melting of the ice is accelerated.

There’s some joy in knowing that we understand a lot about the science of climate change. Should the powers that be ever decide to do something significant to mitigate climate change, scientists can help to maximize that effort. But the beauty of each little depression slowly growing as the sun shone was the surest and most immediate joy, wonder enough for today.

Joy to the world! The Savior reigns; let us our songs employ, while fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains, repeat the sounding joy.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas Joy: Days 1 and 2

Joy to the world! The Lord is come: let earth receive her king;
Let every heart prepare him room, and heaven and nature sing.

Christmas, the Feast of the Incarnation, is a joyous remembrance of the Word made flesh. Christ is born in the world! The creation of God the Creator becomes the holy dwelling place of the Incarnate God, affirming that while God transcends all of creation, God is not removed from creation. God chooses to be among us, and all of creation sings with joy!

With “Joy to the world” in our hearts and minds, I invite you to join me in looking each of these twelve days for instances of the joy that runs through all of creation, especially through experiencing the beauty and wonder of God’s world.

Here are some of the joys I've experienced the first two days of Christmas.

Christmas Day: We gather green things and flowers to decorate our churches and homes at Christmas. This time of year in the cold parts of the world, flowers bring great joy to us. Church of the Resurrection in Omaha used poinsettias on the altar and a symbolic star above it all to bring some of the joy of the outside world into our sanctuary for Christmas Eve. At home, a gift of flowers brought us the joy of color and beautiful smells.

Second Day of Christmas: Mild weather in our part of Nebraska today made it easy to notice bits of green among the browns and grays that dominate our December landscape. A close-up of an ivy leaf shows a creamy white color and a surprisingly bright rose-colored stripe along with the green. This same ivy on our walls provides shelter for some hardy wrens that have been singing on sunny winter mornings.

Joy to the world! The Savior reigns; let us our songs employ, while fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains, repeat the sounding joy.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Advent IV: Deeper Traditions

 This reflection for the Fourth Sunday of Advent is a revision of a post from December 18, 2010 that was written after the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change held in Cancun that year. It also referenced the 2010 Climate Vulnerability Monitor, which remains a good resource to help in understanding the effects of climate change on various parts of the world.

Matthew’s account of the birth of Jesus (Matthew 1:18-25) tells the extraordinary story not only of Mary’s pregnancy and the birth of Jesus, but of Joseph’s reaction to the news. Joseph’s righteous response to Mary’s pregnancy was as plan to dismiss her quietly and shield her from public disgrace; such a reaction was enough out of the ordinary to warrant comment from Matthew. Then Matthew reveals the most unexpected piece of Joseph’s story: in a dream, an angel spoke to him, and when he woke up, Joseph did as the angel commanded him.

The nativity story is Good News; it’s a story of something new and different, a story of new life coming into the world on a very deep level.

Despite our celebration of the newness of the birth of Jesus, we tend to cling to traditions, often more so at Christmas than at other times of year. Every year, self-help writers encourage people to let go of traditions that have become burdensome in some ways – a big holiday dinner or party, for example, that has become more work and expense than the hosts can bear -- and try something new that is more life-giving.

Thinking about our environmental footprint at Christmas involves thinking about our traditions on a deeper level. Choices about which gifts to buy, how (or whether) to wrap them, travel plans, food, decorations, all involve examining customs or traditions and considering changing them because we want something that matters more to us: a sustainable future, life.

The environmental challenges we face year-round call for us to examine our daily customs and traditions, our entire way of life, and find other ways to live that make new life possible. They call for us to let go of things that have become burdensome to all living things and try something new that is more life-giving. They call us to move from traditions on the level of familiar customs to traditions on the level of our most essential values.

This blog’s post for Advent III talked about visions of hope and about some signs of change that support us 
in our hope, from the shutdown of some big coal-fired power plants to the little wind- and solar-powered “energy barn” built in the path of the Keystone XL pipeline here in Nebraska. While these things alone don’t put much of a dent in global warming, they are a start, and they do give us hope that bigger things can done that could significantly mitigate global warming.

Doing something is preferable to doing nothing, and signs of hope are something to celebrate, but some welcomed steps in the right direction aren’t the same thing as justice, especially not justice as described by the prophets. For the people on islands that are threatened by sea level rise, for people trying to raise enough food to survive in places where the traditional planting and harvest dates no longer are reliable, or for people who have lost homes or loved ones to severe weather events, changes on a much deeper scale is needed. What counts as a successful nod to the climate crisis in the political world, or what we might see as a success because it gives some small glimmer of hope in the darkness, isn't necessarily success according to the standards of the prophets.

Real justice calls us to change our way of life so deeply that the earth, worn down like the poor by our greed and selfishness, can be renewed and restored. These sorts of deep changes require an essential spiritual component that our deepest traditions can provide if we will tap into them. These sorts of deep changes are embedded in the story of the birth of Jesus, the story we prepare to celebrate this week. If we stop and listen to Matthew’s account of the birth, letting the story reach our hearts as well as our ears, we may find ourselves prepared to embrace those deep changes with gladness. We may find Good News, a story of new life coming into the world on a very deep level.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Unholy Silence

The noon Eucharist at Trinity Cathedral in Omaha today used the propers for 19th-century abolitionists William Lloyd Garrison and Maria Stewart. Shortly before going to the chapel for Eucharist, I read a disturbing piece by Kieran Cooke, Reigniting the climate change debate, about climate change communication. Among studies it referenced was a Yale University survey that found that “only 8% of respondents said they communicated publicly about climate change, while nearly 70% said they rarely or never spoke about it.”

What really struck me about this piece, though, was an account of George Marshall’s description of his efforts to engage people in conversation about global warming. Marshall is a co-founder of the Climate Outreach and Information Network (COIN) in the UK, an organization that specializes in climate change communication. Marshall says he always tries to introduce the topic casually --  “after all,” he says, “no one wants to find themselves sitting next to a zealot on a long-distance train journey.” He continues:

 But I need not worry because, however I say it, the result is almost always the same: the words collapse, sink and die in mid-air and the conversation suddenly changes course…it’s like an invisible force field that you only discover when you barge right into it. Few people ever do, because, without having ever been told, they have somehow learned that this topic is out of bounds.

I know this experience very well. It does seem that global warming /climate change has become something one does not discuss in polite company. [i]How is it that the issue that will have the most impact on human life in the 21st century has become unmentionable in polite company? And how do we respond? Do we keep our silence because speaking about climate change makes people uncomfortable, or do we ignore the social taboo and speak plainly because our very lives depend on our thinking about climate change and talking about climate change and figuring out how best to live given its reality?

With this on my mind, when Dean Loya shared the stories of William Lloyd Garrison and Maria Stewart finding ways to communicate the urgency of the need to end slavery in the United States, their words resonated with me. Evidently William Lloyd Garrison was criticized for being too “severe” in his language; it seems he was expected to be politely moderate about ending human slavery. The Lectionary website shares this quotation from the first issue of Garrison’s anti-slavery newspaper The Liberator:

I am aware that many object to the severity of my language; but is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or to speak, or write, with moderation. No! no! Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; – but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest – I will not equivocate – I will not excuse – I will not retreat a single inch – AND I WILL BE HEARD. The apathy of the people is enough to make every statue leap from its pedestal, and to hasten the resurrection of the dead.

Like slavery, climate change is an issue that impacts too many human lives too terribly for us to sit by quietly and allow it to happen. What will the people still living at the end of this century think if they have a way of knowing that politeness kept us from doing what we could have done? And how are we the Body of Christ if we allow politeness to trump alleviation of human suffering and the deaths of entire species of animals and plants?

[i] Holiday social tip: Unless you really want to know what work engages the people you meet at holiday parties, don’t ask. Some of us are engaged in some form of climate activism, and if the conversation dies the moment we reveal what it is that we do, it’s hard to keep up social chit-chat. Similarly, if an intelligent observation about what’s making our weather so strange this winter is something you would find socially embarrassing, don’t wonder aloud about what the cause might be, as there might be someone at the party who knows the answer.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Advent 3: Visions of Hope

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God. Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.” (Isaiah 35:1-4)

Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. (Matthew 11:4-5)

Each week seems to bring new information about climate change, its effects, and the pace at which those effects are unfolding. How hopeless is it?

This week’s climate news included a report of a research project by a US Navy scientist that predicts an ice-free Arctic Sea by fall of 2016 (plus or minus three years -- which means sometime between now and 2019). How hopeless is it?

We know we have passed the point where lowering our emissions of greenhouse gases can prevent global warming. The warming that has already taken place has set feedback loops in motion that will cause some level of warming to continue even if we suddenly do the politically improbable and manage to lower the level of greenhouse gas emissions by a significant amount. The aim now is mitigation: lessening global warming and its effects as much as possible given the physical and chemical reality of our situation. 

Sign on the way to church last Sunday
Our lesson from Isaiah (Isaiah 35:1-10) for the Third Sunday in Advent describes a beautiful time when all of nature is full of joy, when flowers bloom in the desert and God’s unmistakable presence fills the world. It describes not a picture of what is but a vision of God’s possibilities. The prophetic visions of Scripture came to men and women well aware of the realities of their times and places. There are words of warning as well as words of promise. The visions were not a denial of reality; instead, they were rooted in that reality, a reality that the prophets saw more clearly than those around them. The prophetic visions provided a dream of new possibilities and an ideal by which to measure the present reality. The prophetic visions were an opening up of a new reality that could begin to unfold if people radically changed their way of life and returned to true worship that would remove the internal and external barriers to the unfolding of the vision.

While visions of hope are hard to find in climate science reports that document an accelerating warming and predict catastrophic results if we remain on our current path of greenhouse gas emissions, there are signs of change. In Jesus’ time and place, there was plenty of sickness, poverty, and oppression even though Jesus was healing. John the Baptist asks whether Jesus is the one they've been waiting for or if there is another. Jesus says (Matthew 11:4), “Go and tell John what you hear and see”, and lists signs of hope. We can look at signs of something changing – e.g. several coal-fired power plants shut down various places including Massachusetts and Chicago, solar energy use on the increase worldwide, decreasing use of automobiles in younger Americans, the wind- and solar-powered barn built in the path of the Keystone XL pipeline here in Nebraska. These things alone aren't enough to prevent catastrophic warming, but they may be signs of bigger changes that are coming to be.

This Third Sunday of Advent there is hope. We don’t know what shape hope takes in our generation. Authentic hope is not naïve; hope doesn't say everything will be fine, and it certainly doesn't say that everything will be just the way it was before humankind spewed enough greenhouse gases into the atmosphere to warm the planet to the point where feedback loops accelerate the warming.

Our hope means that we know that God is with us and God is faithful. It means that there is a bigger picture we simply cannot see from our little corner of the universe and our tiny point in history. It means that there are visions of what might be that we might be able to see if we turn away from our accustomed way of living and open ourselves to something new. As we are reminded especially during Advent, hope means God is with us no matter what.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Protecting our children and nature: fruit worthy of repentance

Advent 2

For the Second Week of Advent, two very different but related texts can help us be better prepared to celebrate the birth of Jesus and to receive Christ in our hearts at Christmas.

The first text is this week’s Gospel lesson from Matthew 3:1-12 about John the Baptist appearing in the wilderness and proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

The second text is a new report from eighteen of the world’s top climate scientists entitled Assessing ‘‘Dangerous Climate Change’’: Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature. This report is well worth reading in its entirety, but there is also a summary  available. The summary explains that the paper “was initiated to provide the scientific basis for legal actions against national and state governments for not doing their job of protecting the rights of young people and future generations.” In doing so, it also helps lay the groundwork for a moral argument against our complacency as some of the wealthier people on the planet in the early part of the 21st century.

The paper argues that the 2° C warming that world climate forums have talked about as a limit that would prevent catastrophic climate change is too high a limit. (It should also be noted that several scientists think we are already on track to surpass that limit because of amplifying feedbacks.) This paper argues that 2° C warming creates instability that makes it impossible to stay at the two degree limit; two degrees of warming creates “slow feedbacks” that eventually lead to 3-4° C of warming. A simple example of feedback is the melting of the Arctic sea ice. Ice and snow reflect fairly large amounts of sunlight. When the ice melts, there is more open water and less ice, which means more sunlight is absorbed, which leads to more warming. This of course leads to further melting, which leads to further warming, and so forth. They argue that reducing global carbon emissions to 350 ppm by the end of the century can keep us within a warming limit that prevents catastrophe. And they note that “there is still opportunity for humanity to exercise free will”.

I love the beauty of our worship at Christmas, and I love the beauty and wonder of the Advent season that leads up to our great celebration of the Feast of the Incarnation. But my heart hurts when I realize how far from the mark of following Christ we can be when we focus more on the form and aesthetics of our worship than we do on our call to follow Christ. In this Sunday’s Gospel, John the Baptist says that it doesn’t matter if people are good religious folks – children of Abraham – if their lives don’t show it. “Bear fruit worthy of repentance” says John.

I hope that as we gather in churches on Christmas Eve that somewhere in a homily or in the prayers we name the reality and urgency of climate change. I hope that when we think about and speak about the Incarnation that we appreciate the depth of that mystery by looking at the reality of our world where God has chosen to come and dwell with us. I hope that as we prepare for the birth of the Holy Child and then celebrate the birth, and as we prepare to enjoy and delight the children we know and love, that we care enough about both the Christ-child and our own children to bear fruit worthy of repentance and work as hard as we can to stop the burning of fossil fuels and be willing to change the way we do things so that future generations might live.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Sign of the Sea Stars

Advent 1

The sea stars are dying, and awareness of the plight of the animals we less accurately but more commonly call “starfish” is growing just as we begin the Advent season.

With many Christmas decorations up even before Thanksgiving, Christmas stars are all around us as Advent begins. In our liturgical year, though, the Christmas star won’t appear until The Feast of the Epiphany (January 6), when we hear the story (in Matthew 2:1-12) about the wise men following the star to Bethlehem to find the new King.

Our Advent readings are about waiting and watching, and they have much to teach us about how to be faithful in this century when our greatest collective challenges are climate change and its effects along with other environmental challenges. Surely an awareness of what is happening to Earth’s atmosphere, oceans, and ecosystems is an essential part of discipleship if we are continue to be the Body of Christ in this century’s world.

The plan for this First Sunday of Advent reflection was to elaborate on how we might watch and wait and witness to what is happening. But awareness of the new sign of the dying sea stars calls for a slightly different reflection this week. These stars call us to pay attention now, to care now, to speak and act, to bear witness, now.

The Washington Post reported on November 22 that Sea stars are wasting away in larger numbers on a wider scale in two oceans. This article says that neither the cause nor the probably impact on ecosystems is known. Cornell University Professor Drew Harvell, who studies marine diseases, says that events like this are “sentinels of change” and need our attention. On November 5, Time magazine published an article about the sea stars called Falling Stars: Starfish Dying from ‘Disintegrating’ Disease. This article emphasizes how unusual it is to have more than one species of sea star affected and to be seeing this disease over a wide geographic area, with one scientist saying that it looks like “millions and millions” of starfish might be affected.

And what does any of this have to do with Advent or the church? The dying of the sea stars seems to be another one of those environmental events in recent years that has never been seen before on this scale. Whether the cause is related to pollution, ocean acidification or warming, radiation, or some other cause, whatever affects these living things affects us all. We are called to care for one another, to love one another, and so we care for human life and for the lives of all the other living things with whom we share this planet.

The church is also in the business of wonder, especially as we go through Advent in preparation for Christmas. The loss of sea stars is a loss of a source of wonder and joy, surely a concern for Christians who are about to celebrate the Feast of the Incarnation.

What can we do about it? What can Christians who live far from the ocean and have no training in marine biology or ecology do? We can witness. We can pay attention, ask questions, talk about it, write about it. We can learn more about it and see what connection this might have to our own habits of consumption or activity, and then figure out what changes we might make in our own lives or our collective life. We can care enough to carry an awareness of the death of the sea stars with us, to pray for our oceans and the creatures who live there, to be conscious. We can talk about this and other seldom mentioned environmental concerns in meetings, in sermons, at social gatherings.

Perhaps most importantly, we can follow the exhortation found in both the Epistle and Gospel lessons for Advent 1 and be awake. There is a lot going on this time of year to lull us to a sort of half-sleep. Consumerism is hyped up, there are all sorts of entertainments from special sports events to movies and television specials and parties, and the dark and cold make all of these things an easy focus for us. Presents and entertainment are all fine so long as we can stay awake. Staying awake when the world calls us to numb ourselves to what is happening is the spiritual challenge of Advent. 

The sign of the sea star this Advent can lead us to better follow the Epiphany star that is a sign of Christ’s manifestation to the whole world. If we keep the sea stars in mind, we may be better prepared to be the Body of Christ in today’s world.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving: Gratitude with Eyes Open

Thanksgiving Day in and of itself is a celebration of a spiritual response to everything in God’s creation that gives us life and joy. Despite the considerable cultural and commercial baggage it has picked up over the years, at its heart an annual day set aside for an entire nation to express gratitude is a great spiritual gift. Whether by design or by accident, this national holiday calls us to an essential spiritual practice. Some years our hearts are full of joy on the fourth Thursday of November and the gratitude comes easily; other years it falls at a less joyful point of our lives and we have to be very intentional to discover what can move us to gratitude even when we are caught up in grief or troubles. Giving thanks when things are going well and life is a delight is important, but developing the habit of giving thanks in more difficult times is a great spiritual gift to ourselves and those around us.

While an annual call to give thanks is good, a daily practice of gratitude can transform our lives. The simple daily habit of naming five or ten things for which we are grateful changes us over time. The practice of gratitude requires us to notice bits of goodness, joy, or hope even in times when we might overlook those little bits. That noticing makes the dark times less dark and lets in a little light just when we need it most.

For people who pay attention to climate change and pollution and their effects on living things, there is plenty to tempt us to despair. Yet those who grieve the passing of species and ecosystems most deeply are those who have loved these most deeply. Even as we grieve and wonder how best to live in this changing world, we continue to notice and treasure the gifts of God’s creation: the sky, the earth itself, the seas and lakes and rivers, and all the animals and plants that fill them. The living things whose increasing fragility we grieve the most are the very things that allow a glimpse of goodness, joy, or hope that can save us from our own despair. A daily practice of gratitude opens our hearts in a way that inoculates us against paralyzing despair.

Both the cultivation of grateful hearts and the cultivation of awareness of our environmental problems are key practices for Christians at this point in history. Seeing and naming the world’s brokenness in terms of injustice, poverty, and hatred has always been an essential part of living the Christian life with integrity, and these aspects of the world’s brokenness in this century are intertwined with environmental degradation and the impacts of climate change. Accordingly, looking as fully as possible at the reality of our warming planet, a reality that can be difficult to acknowledge and perhaps impossible for us to fully comprehend, is an essential task for Christians today. But the practice of gratitude, the practice of intentionally looking for and recognizing the things both great and small that continue to bring us life and joy, is equally essential to the Christian life. Gratitude keeps us from being consumed with despair, but at the same time it keeps us from denying the value of what is being lost. We continue to love creation even as we grieve the loss of so much of what we loved; we continue to grieve loss after loss even as we continue to be grateful for all that we have loved. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Climate Update and Questions for the Church

Environmental Summary: Introduction

Both locally and globally, the church’s work and welfare is bound up with environmental stability. As part of my work in the area of environmental stewardship, I send periodic summaries or updates to Bishop Barker to help him stay informed about what is happening with the environment, and particularly what is unfolding in the world of climate science. We are sharing this summary more widely as there has been lots of new information recently that will continue to have big impacts on things such as food production, health, the world economy, and the spiritual needs of people in the 21st century.

The original document from October 28, which begins below, includes information from the first part of the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report around the physical basis for climate change. Since then, information from the upcoming second part of the report about the predicted impacts of climate change was leaked and shared in a November 1 New York Times article with the headline Climate Change Seen Posing Risk to Food Supplies. The article says that the second part of the report will tell us that food supplies are expected to decrease by 2% each remaining decade of this century. Elizabeth Kolbert posted Is It Too Late to Prepare for Climate Change? in response to the leaked information, writing: “The force of the report comes simply from assembling all the data in one place; the summary reads like a laundry list of the apocalypse—flood, drought, disease, starvation.” She goes on to talk about the even more dire impacts for non-human species of animals and plants. (Our lives are of course inextricably bound up with theirs, so these are indirectly dire impacts for humankind as well.)
Then Typhoon Haiyan came along and devastated the Philippines. Its wind speed at landfall was 195 mph, the strongest winds at landfall ever recorded. We can’t say what influence global warming does or does not have on any particular storm, but we do know that the overall pattern of severe weather is changing and that global warming provides the conditions in the oceans and the atmosphere that are known to amplify severe storms. At the UN climate conference now meeting in Warsaw, Philippine representative Yeb Sano gave an emotional plea to “stop the madness”. Knowing that people at home had no food after the storm, he vowed to fast during the climate talks until significant progress is made to help the nations most immediately vulnerable to the effects of climate change. 

October 28 summary
September was the 343rd consecutive month with global temperatures warmer than the twentieth century average.

Two reports in recent weeks have given us updated information about climate change and predictions for the future.

IPCC Fifth Assessment Report
The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) 5th Assessment Report for the group of scientists looking at the physical science basis for climate change got a lot of popular press for saying that there is a very high probability (approaching certainty) that climate change is for the most part the result of human activity. The version of the report published for policymakers is found here.

But there are other things worth the attention of non-scientists. One is the mention for the first time of geoengineering as a possible way to prevent catastrophic warming now that certain tipping points have either been reached or are soon to be reached. Along with the unknowns about the long-term effects of geoengineering – either finding a way to remove significant amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and sequester it or “solar radiation management” (constructing ways of reflecting enough sunlight away from the earth to cool the planet) -- this addition is noteworthy because it signals something about the critical nature of climate change at this point. Enough feedback loops are in play that even if governments and industries were inclined to make huge cutbacks in greenhouse gas emissions, there would still be some degree of temperature rise. And the political reality is that those cutbacks in emissions to any truly significant degree are not in the works.

Some other key findings were summarized well in Mother Jones magazine in an earlier article entitled 5 Terrifying Statements in the Leaked Climate Report.  The five, which the article discusses in some detail, are these:
·         We're on course to change the planet in a way "unprecedented in hundreds to thousands of years.
·         Ocean acidification is "virtually certain" to increase. 
·         Long-term, sea level rise could be 5 to 10 meters. 
·         This also implies a substantial melting of the Greenland ice sheet.
·         Much of the carbon we've emitted will stay in the atmosphere for a millennium…even after we've stopped emitting it. 

One more thing to note about the IPCC report is that their findings are very conservative as the work is done by reaching consensus among scientists. Many individual scientists see things deteriorating more rapidly and more severely than the IPCC report indicates.

“The projected timing of climate departure from recent variability”:  Within a generation, sooner for the tropics

Camilo Mora and others from the University of Hawai’i published a report in the October 10 issue of Nature that predicts when various locations in the world will reach the point of climate departure from recent variability – i.e. when the average temperature of that location’s coolest year will be greater than the average temperature of its hottest year for the period from 1860 to 2005. In the University of Hawai’i press release about the report, Camilo Mora says: “The results shocked us. Regardless of the scenario, changes will be coming soon. Within my generation, whatever climate we were used to will be a thing of the past.”

This graphic from The Washington Post shows expected dates of this big change for several cities. If little changes, the average year for climate departure overall will be 2047 (yes, only 34 years from now); if greenhouse gas emissions were to be stabilized, the average year becomes 2069. Of particular concern to us in the Diocese of Nebraska given our companion dioceses in the Dominican Republic and South Sudan, tropical areas are expected to experience this change within the next decade. Chicago has a date of 2052 without mitigation and 2081 with stabilization of emissions.

With “business as usual”


With mitigation:

There is debate among environmentalists about exactly how dire all of this is: do we face a very changed world that still supports human life, or are we looking at total human extinction? (Guy McPherson is a scientist who thinks the most recent evidence points to the latter. While I’m not yet convinced, his moving reflection on how we live that is the second half of this short video (starting around 2:17) can really speak to either option.) 

That we are even asking the question, though, is certainly cause for theological reflection that may help the church be an effective pastoral presence as the reality of climate change breaks through to increasing numbers of people.

Effects on people living in poverty

The Yale Environment 360 Digest reports on a study by the U.K.’s Overseas Development Institute that says that increased extreme weather events will make poverty worse in parts of the world that already are among the poorest. The study suggests that aid money should be spent on reducing the risks to people from extreme weather events instead of only on humanitarian relief after a disaster.

As the church looks at ways to respond to the challenges of climate change, this sort of study should be useful.

And lest we think the phenomena of climate refuges and of climate change affecting the poorest people first and worst are things that happen only in other countries, the Huffington Post ran Life on the Edge of Climate Change this week. The author, Babs Roaming Buffalo Bagwell, is the senior public relations and media liaison for The Isle de Jean Charles Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indians. She describes how climate change affects her community every day, writing: Some may be ignoring this reality, but we don't have that luxury. When the water's edge is at your doorstep, sea level rise and extreme rainstorms aren't political, they're personal.

What do we have for this? And what/how do we teach our children?

At our Annual Council Eucharist, Bishop Barker brought our environmental reality into the homily: “We are in fact living in a moment of unprecedented challenge and change for humankind.  We are hastening towards global environmental disaster.  In the lifetime of the youngest people now dwelling on earth, everything changes.” Bishop Barker’s question from the show The Book of Mormon – “What do you have for this?” – is a question that we might ask repeatedly as we learn about climate change and reflect on the church’s response to this most urgent and global issue.

As I was writing this summary, Wendy Bell, a Unitarian minister I met at the Climate Reality Leadership Training this summer, posted on Facebook that she had just read the most pessimistic climate report she had yet seen. A little later, she posted this question:

Ministers: If you had been a chaplain on the Titanic, how might you have understood your role? DRE's [Directors of Religious Education]: What would you have taught the children?

What are our roles as ministers – lay or ordained – in the Episcopal Church? How do we best live as the Body of Christ in a world that is in big trouble that is so seldom acknowledged? To use Walter Brueggemann’s term, how do we break through the numbness? And what do we do then?

And in light of what we know we can expect in their lifetimes, what do we teach the children? The latter is a huge question for the church that is seldom if ever discussed. What can we teach them about God and the world and their relationship with Christ and with one another that can prepare them for today’s world and for whatever the remainder of this century brings? How do we best model and teach the classic Christian disciplines of prayer, study, and love for God and one another so that our children are well-equipped spiritually to be the Body of Christ in a changed and changing world?

In many ways, it’s no different from what we’ve always done, preparing our children for whatever life might bring them. At this point of human history, though, when we know how fragile the future is for everyone (and when the adults in leadership positions are doing so little to ensure their future), it seems to be especially important to equip our children with the spiritual practices, traditions, and knowledge that will help them develop spiritually resilience that can last throughout their lifetimes.

Friday, October 25, 2013

No Bird Sang: Murmurations, Broken Oceans, and Hope

Out in the open Nebraska countryside in October, clouds of birds are easy to follow. I've been marveling at how big groups come together and fly one way and then another with each member of the flock synchronized with the others. When the birds are starlings – as the groups I see forming near cornfields often are -- these groups are called ‘murmurations’.

This video of some huge murmurations, shot over the River Shannon in Ireland, shows the same sorts of dramatic turns and formations I’ve been marveling at in Nebraska:

Many of us are fascinated by birds. Their behavior, their songs and calls, their colors and forms bring delight and wonder. One of the joys of winter, when there are so few signs of living things in the landscape, are birds that appear at feeders and other protected places. An early flock of robins in a still snowy yard is a delight of early spring.

 Last week the Newcastle (Australia) Herald online ran The ocean is broken by Greg Ray. Ray reports on yachtsman Ivan Macfadyen’s journey from Melbourne to Osaka, and then on to San Francisco via Hawai’i. MacFayden said that when he had sailed from Melbourne to Osaka ten years earlier, he and his crew caught a good-sized fish each of the 28 days of the journey; this year, they caught only two the entire time. But what struck me most was this:

 No fish. No birds. Hardly a sign of life at all.
"In years gone by I'd gotten used to all the birds and their noises," he said.
"They'd be following the boat, sometimes resting on the mast before taking off again. You'd see flocks of them wheeling over the surface of the sea in the distance, feeding on pilchards."
But in March and April this year, only silence and desolation surrounded his boat, Funnel Web, as it sped across the surface of a haunted ocean.

No birds, only “silence and desolation”. The “brokenness” of the ocean described in this article is from a combination of overfishing, plastic pollution and other debris, and the effects of climate change. The silence is ominous, a sign not only of the damage done to the oceans but of the damage being done to our entire biosphere.

The absence of “all the birds and their noises” reminded me of “And no bird sang”, something the choir at St. Stephen’s in Grand Island has sung several times for Holy Week services.

 The belief that faith communities can bring an authentic voice of hope into discussions about the environment is something I've affirmed in this blog several times. Our voice of hope is authentic because it is the sort of hope that acknowledges the reality of desolation and despair. It is a hope that rests not on denial but on a willingness to be present and aware in deep ways. It is not a hope that says “Everything will be okay” when it won’t be, but a hope that we can find meaning and humanity and experience the love of Christ even when our hearts are broken because the birds are disappearing. It’s a hope that knows that new life can come from death. And it’s the sort of hope that will keep us doing our best for the birds, ourselves, and all living things no matter how dire things look.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Breaking Our Silence

Proper 23C: Luke 17:11-19

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean.Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

Jesus healed ten lepers in a sort of border region between Samaria and Galilee. Only a “foreigner”, only the one outside Jesus’ faith community, returned to thank Jesus. As he returned to thank Jesus, he praised God “with a loud voice”, keeping neither his praise nor his gratitude to himself. The other nine were silent.

Did the ritual of showing themselves to the priest in order to have the healing verified somehow take the place of praise and gratitude for the other nine? We have no way of knowing what was in their hearts. They may have been praising God and feeling grateful in their hearts, but outwardly they were silent.

Does it surprise us that the outsider, the foreigner, is the only one who grasps what has happened to him and responds appropriately? Perhaps not if we consider the situation in many churches today, where rituals are observed well but there is silence around the reality of the world around us and our lives outside the church walls. This passage reminded me of something I’ve observed in several Episcopal parishes in recent years.

Those of us who know our fellow worshipers know that many people who come to church care deeply about what is happening in the world, but a stranger might never guess it if they visit on a Sunday morning, where there may be a full hour with no mention of anything outside of the church and its members. And it’s not that nothing has been happening in the world worthy of being mentioned. In the world of weather and climate alone there is plenty to get our attention.

In the past month we saw terrible floods in Colorado, a record-breaking snowstorm in South Dakota that killed many cattle, and tornadoes in Nebraska. The IPCC 5th Assessment Report came out, full of sobering information about the state of climate change on our planet its implications for the years ahead.

A new study was in the news this week. Led by Camilo Mora from the University of Hawaii, this study predicts the years of “climate departure” for several places around the world assuming “business as usual”, i.e. no significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. (See a map and list of cities here. Chicago’s predicted year for climate departure is around 2052, 39 years from now. Phoenix is 2043, only 30 years down the road.) “Climate departure” refers to the point when the coldest years are warmer than the warmest years from 1860 to 2005. So after 2052, the coldest years in Chicago should be warmer than any of the warmest years recorded up to 2005. Places in the tropics will reach this point first. For example, Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic is predicted to reach climate departure very soon, around 2026. As we have known for a long time, the places that will be impacted first are the ones least responsible for climate change and often places with less means to respond to climate change than wealthier nations.

It’s quite possible that people staying home on Sunday morning and reading the newspaper or watching the Sunday morning news shows may have more of an idea of what is happening and, as a result, more concern for those suffering, than those who have been to church on Sunday morning. But we have several opportunities to connect what we do in church with the urgent needs of the world. Victims of the storms in Colorado, South Dakota, and Nebraska – or this week, those who live in the path of Cyclone Phailin, a huge cyclone that has made landfall in India – might be remembered in our prayers. A spoken or written announcement can suggest ways to contribute to relief organizations such as Episcopal Relief and Development or help in some other way. Preachers can acknowledge what is happening in the world and help us see the connections to what we learn from Scripture.

But sometimes we get to the end of an hour of worship and even the coffee hour conversations and realize on reflection that nothing was said that couldn’t have been said ten years ago. This may be comforting on some level – nothing ever changes – but also suggests that like the nine who kept silent, we churchgoers can become so accustomed to our changeless rituals that we become less able to connect with Christ and bring Christ into our lives than are those outside our walls.

I wonder how authentic our praise of God is if we can’t acknowledge the needs of the world in our worship. I wonder how deeply we trust God if we don’t express our greatest fears out loud in our churches. Do we trust God with a global crisis that seems too big for us to understand? And I wonder if we are really praising God, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, if we choose to ignore what is happening to God’s creation.

Breaking our silence so that our praise is heard in the world and the needs of the world are heard in our churches puts us in the blessed company of the “foreigner” who turned to Christ and responded appropriately.

Friday, October 4, 2013

St. Francis Day: “What did you do once you knew?”

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene,
and every kind of weather through which
You give sustenance to Your creatures.

As we remember St. Francis today in Nebraska, Brother Wind is very much in evidence, from the winter storm winds in the northwest to the aftermath of last night’s tornadoes in the southeast and everywhere in between. Meteorologists tell us that we have had an unusual weather pattern for early October, and as I sit on my porch in south central Nebraska writing this, it feels more like early September than early October. I know this warmth will be short-lived, though, as those cold winds out of the northwest will get here soon. I also know that unusual weather patterns with more severe storms dumping heavy precipitation are what climate scientists have predicted as global temperatures warm, the Arctic ice melts, and the Earth changes in very significant ways. Yesterday our area got a record amount of rainfall for a day in October. The Platte River was already bank full with water from the September rains in Colorado, resulting in the countryside looked in many ways more like it does during a spring thaw than in a more typical October.

Skiers are excited about the early and plentiful snows in parts of the Rockies. Farmers always welcome moisture for the soil, but would prefer dry conditions as the harvest season progresses. Some football fans will welcome cooler temperatures in Lincoln tomorrow, while others will be unhappy if the wind makes tailgating difficult or a cold wind brings discomfort. From what we know of St. Francis, I suspect he would rejoice in the snow, the storms, the wind, the rain, and whatever else he experienced in God’s creation. We celebrate his compassion for animals, bringing pets and farm animals to churches for a blessing on this day, but of course his compassion extended much farther than the animal kingdom.

Most notably, Francis had compassion for poor people. Born into comfortable circumstances, he left all of that to live as poor people lived. Today we might say he stood in solidarity with the poor. His compassion extended to all living things: people, plants, water, the wind, the sun, moon, and stars. His compassion even extended to death itself, part of the great web and cycles of life.

His compassion which flowed out of his love for Christ was evident in his loving restoration of ruined churches and in his creation of the first crèche to make the story of the Nativity more accessible to people. He did not neglect worship, and his attention to the words of Christ in the Gospel guided his heart and his mind. But he also did not neglect action in the world.

Francis was never ordained as a priest, but served the Church as a deacon. Our understanding of deacons today is that our attention to the Gospel and our love of Christ result at least as much in service in the wider world as in service within the institution of the Church. As Francis understood, when the Gospel works long enough on someone’s heart and mind, the natural result is compassion that extends in an ever-widening circle.

The great work for Christians today is to extend that circle of compassion not only in wider and wider circles in our present world, and also to extend that circle to future generations. The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) Fifth Assessment Report , released at the end of September, is clear about the significant negative consequences of unmitigated global warming on today's children and those who come after them, and it is also clear that we can indeed mitigate the consequences if we care enough to make the necessary changes now. Compassion says that if we see a big problem for future generations and can do something ourselves right now to prevent suffering 20, 50, 100, or 200 years from now, we should do it.

Poet Drew Dellinger recites an excerpt from his poem Hieroglyphic Stairway that is a good place to begin prayerful reflection on this St. Francis Day:

If people fifty years from now asked, how would we answer the question "What did you do once you knew?"

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Magnitude: God, Wonders of the World, and Hearts to Care

The discovery of three big geographical features – a canyon, a volcano, and a cave – have been in the news in the past month, opening more of the wonder of the world to us.

We care for the Earth because of our love of God and because of our love for God’s creation. The more grounded we are in wonder at the world around us, the deeper our commitment to caring for creation. There is plenty of recent bad news about climate change and its effects, but there has also been recent news about the wonder in the world.

In addition, the size of all three of these wonders helps us better think about the magnitude of God and helps us imagine the scale of the ecological crisis we face this century. Most importantly, such wonders can open our minds and hearts to care about our world.

The canyon, which lies under a mile of ice in Greenland, is at least 460 miles long and as deep as 2,600 feet, making it longer than the Grand Canyon and similar in depth to it. A news release from NASA explains that data from NASA’s Operation IceBridge helped scientists discover the canyon. 

Nature reported the discovery of the largest single volcano on Earth, a “650-kilometre-wide beast the size of the British Isles lurking beneath the waters of the northwest Pacific Ocean.” The existence of a large structure in this location has been known for quite awhile, but geophysicists only recently discovered that it is a single volcano with a single vent. It rivals the size of the Olympus Mons in Mars, which was formerly thought to be the biggest volcano in our solar system. William Sager, a marine geologist at the University of Houston, suggests that further wonders might be discovered as scientists are able to do more research:

Because ship time is at a premium, the study is one of the first to peer at the internal geometry of these massive underwater mountains. It is possible that other megavolcanoes are waiting to be discovered. “There may be bigger ones out there,” says Sager.

Perhaps the most beautiful of these three recent discoveries, the Son Doong cave in Vietnam was first explored in 2009. An entrance to the cave was discovered in 1991, but the steep drop into the cave discouraged exploration. A recent Huffington Post article announcing the opening of the cave for tours says that the cave is “over 5.5 miles long, has a jungle and river, and could fit a 40-story skyscraper within its walls.” The jungle that grew inside the cave when part of the roof collapsed and let in sunlight makes this cave as wondrous as does its size. Click on the article link to see photos from inside the cave, and take a look at this clip from the BBC’s “How to Grow a Planet” filmed in the jungle: 

No matter how many photos or videos we see of canyons or oceans or any other large geographical wonder, and no matter how many comparisons we are given (e.g. fitting a 40-story skyscraper inside the cave), nothing quite prepares us for the felt reality of the size of these things when we stand on the rim of a canyon or the edge of an ocean. Words and two-dimensional images can’t convey their magnitude.

Scripture tells us repeatedly that we cannot grasp the magnitude and majesty of God, but because experiences of God and fleeting moments of the felt reality of God compel people to try to describe the indescribable, Scripture also offers descriptions and comparisons to what we do know. (See Psalm 92, for example.) Even though we cannot begin to comprehend God's greatness, we need such passages to remind us of that fact and to help us remember who it is that we worship. When we get absorbed in a comfortable routine of worship and church activities, the familiarity and attention to minutiae can lead us to think of God as something much smaller than God is, as someone closer to our own size and abilities.

It’s good for our souls to stretch our imaginations and concepts from time to time and intentionally focus on the size and wonder of the universe and on the size and wonder of the Creator. Paying attention to some of the wonders in God’s creation on earth, like these recent discoveries, can help us with that exercise.

In turn, gaining perspective on the magnitude of God and the universe and some of the wonders right here on earth gives us the imaginative capacity to begin to understand what climate scientists are telling us about the future and how different it will be because of global warming. It gives us some idea of the scale of what is at stake.

In the end, time and energy spent enjoying the wonders of God’s creation are inseparable from time and energy spent on actively caring for the Earth. Exercising our capacity to wonder and to contemplate the magnitude of creation and the Creator helps us better grasp the magnitude of what we face this century if we continue on the course we are on now. It also keeps us deeply connected to the rest of creation and fills us with enough love to care about our world.