Saturday, May 25, 2013


Daily Office Reflection

Some days when I've read about the impacts climate change already has on the web of life on our planet, or when I've experienced the extreme or unseasonable weather events of “global weirding”, or when I've heard about what our political leaders and the media deem important and then compare it to the reality of what is unfolding as a result of greenhouse gas pollution, I wonder about our huge capacity for denial and inaction. Most Americans know on some level that climate change is happening and that humankind is responsible for most of the changes in global climate, but that knowledge isn't deep enough to make a difference in our lives. We continue to make long-range plans as if everything will stay the same, we continue to produce and use energy in ways we know are harmful, and we continue to accept the priorities of leaders who bury climate change way down the list of things needing our attention. The disparity between what we know and how we live is so great that it sometimes seems surreal.

Today’s Daily Office lessons bring together two themes that can speak to us in this new world of global warming and also remind us that while this new situation is on a scale we have never before known – truly global and truly life-threatening to all living things -- our often indifferent response to it and the reasons for that indifference are deeply rooted in the human spiritual condition.

The passage from Paul’s First Letter to Timothy (I Timothy 6:6-21) advises being content to have the basics like food and clothing. When we are not content and focus on getting more money to get more than the necessities, we wander away from a focus on the faith and the way of life Christ taught us. “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil,” says Paul. For those of us who already are among the wealthy in this world, people who like most Americans have much more than the basic necessities, we are “to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share.”

It’s easy to see how the love of money from the fossil fuel industry influences our political leaders and keeps us from changing our energy policies as fast and completely as we need to change them to avert the worst of global warming; it’s easy to see how certain politicians and business leaders place the love of money above the love for caring for God’s creation. It’s perhaps not so easy for some of us to see how the love of money lies at many of the excuses the rest of us make for accepting the status quo. That’s where today’s Gospel reading (Luke 14:12-24) can help.

In response to someone at a dinner party exclaiming, “Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” Jesus tells the story about the guests invited to a great banquet making excuses for not going. They are all good excuses; for each, there is something they consider more important that needs their attention. After inviting instead the people who would usually not be invited to such a gathering, and then anyone who could be compelled to go, the host says “none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.” Good things, things we all consider important, provide excuses for not tending to the best thing, ultimately resulting in a great loss for us.

We don’t do the things we might do to advocate for meaningful action on climate change because our busy lives are full of good things to do that seem more important at the moment. We don’t practice environmental stewardship as well as we might in our homes and parishes because there are other things, many of them good and important things, that take priority for us. Surely part of answering an invitation to a banquet in God’s kingdom is living now as if the essential gifts God has given us for life on this planet are worth conserving. Concern for our neighbors near and far who are already suffering from the impacts of climate change and concern for future generations (and for our own future) require us to set aside those good but nonessential things that lull us into existential denial and create the great gap between what we know and how we live. Being content with what we have and listening with honest and open hearts for our own excuses can help our willingness to act be more consistent with the knowledge we have. 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Hope at Pentecost

This Pentecost morning I preached at Grace Episcopal Church in Columbus, Nebraska, and included some thoughts about what hope might look like in the face of global warming. Here’s an excerpt:

Jesus said, “[God] will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth…Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14: 16,17, 27)

In this morning’s lesson from Romans (Romans 8:12-25), St. Paul says that “hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen?” In other words, if we know that something we desire will happen, we don’t call that knowledge hope. Hope is being mindful of the possibility of something good; it's not the knowledge that something that is definitely going to happen is going to happen. If I know that today is Pentecost, if I see it right there on the church calendar, then it would seem odd to say that I hope that today is Pentecost. I might hope that the weather will be nice on Pentecost or hope that people come to church on Pentecost, but I don’t hope that it’s Pentecost because I know that no matter what the weather or the attendance, today simply is Pentecost.

We might wonder what hope looks like in this century, especially in light of the environmental challenges before us. Last week, the level of carbon dioxide measured in the atmosphere at the Mauna Loa observatory hit 400 parts per million for the first time in human history. Scientists tell us that to prevent catastrophic warming, that level needs to be no higher than 350 parts per million. We are already seeing an increase in extreme weather – drought, storms, floods, extreme temperatures, already seeing a dramatic decrease in the volume of Arctic ice, and already seeing the effects of these things on humans and other living things. I read this week (Geoffrey Lean, The Telegraph) about two villages in Fiji that are moving uphill and inland to escape rising sea levels, leaving behind, as one official put it, the place where “they have stored their history, their genealogy and their very being”.   On the other side of the Pacific from Fiji, the villagers of Newtok, Alaska, are also preparing to move. Newtok is built on permafrost which is no longer permanent; the melting ground is now too unstable to support buildings and roads. There will in future years be fewer and fewer livable places to which we can move. We know that the changes we are already seeing will be with us long-term no matter what we do now; the challenge is to avoid the worst.

We don’t think about all of this much; we at least don’t hear as much about this in the news as we do lesser things, even trivial things.  We aren’t used to having to think about such things, and we don’t know how to think about them. Christians, though, know how to think about hope, and that makes it possible for us to hold all of this and look at it and think about it. What does hope look like now?

Hope is indeed as Paul describes it, even as the whole creation groans in suffering. Hope is what helps us have the will and the energy to do what we can; and we in turn find new hope when we work with others to turn this around, to advocate for cleaner energy sources, to break the silence from our leaders and the media that keeps us from doing what needs to be done. Hope is in the end trust in God’s goodness; it is believing that even if we cannot imagine or envision a good end to the story, God is good. We are Easter people who know that God brings life where we can see only death; we are also Pentecost people who at our best are open to receiving the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, and to acting faithfully in response to the Spirit.

Today is the birthday of the church and a day we gather in joy in the name of God: the Source of All Being, Incarnate Word, and Holy Spirit. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. Amen.

On the road to Columbus this morning