Friday, September 13, 2013

Elijah's Question and Floods in Colorado

Our Daily Office lectionary today included I Kings 18:20-40. This is the story of Elijah and the 450 prophets of Baal, with both Elijah and the prophets of Baal preparing a sacrifice and asking their respective deities to send down the fire to burn the sacrifice. Elijah sets up the reason for the test this way:
 Elijah then came near to all the people, and said, ‘How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.’ 
In other words, Elijah tells them to decide. It’s not possible to worship the Lord and to worship Baal. Elijah is calling for the people to be of one mind instead of two; he is calling them to wholeness, to integrity of word, thought, and action.

Even before I began this morning’s Daily Office reading the terrible flooding along the Front Range in our neighboring state of Colorado was on my mind, and it remained in my thoughts and prayers all day. Throughout the day, I followed stories of rescues and read information about where the flooding was the worst and which roads were closed. The more I heard and read, the more I realized how exceptional this event has been. (See Colorado Flash Flooding: How It Happened, How Unusual? from The Weather Channel for a report of some of its exceptional characteristics.) Not only was there an extraordinary amount of rain produced from an extraordinary amount of moisture in the atmosphere, but the scope of the flooding, the area covered and the number of places affected, distinguishes this from other major floods that have occurred in the region.

Climate scientists had predicted just this sort of scenario as global warming increases:
prolonged periods of heat and drought alternating with heavy precipitation events. Warmer winters have allowed bark beetles to thrive and kill pine trees. With large areas of dead trees coupled with drought and high temperatures, wildfires have left mountainsides bare in several places. Then when record-breaking rainfalls come along, the flooding and its damage are exacerbated by the lack of vegetation.

A post from Subhankar Banerjee (author of Arctic Voices) recalls an outdoor art installation in Boulder six years ago called "Connect the Dots: Mapping the Highwater Hazards and History of Boulder Creek." The installation used blue discs to mark the level of a 500-year flood, and it was part of an art exhibition called “Weather Report: Art and Climate Change”. The intention of the blue dots was to make the warning about future floods less abstract, to take the warning of future levels of flooding outside of people’s previous experience and make the warning more real.

People reading along with the Diocese of Nebraska’s 2013 Bible Challenge are reading Jeremiah right now. The idea of the Connect the Dots exhibit is similar to the sorts of concrete – and often dramatic – actions that God asked Jeremiah and other prophets to do in order to make their prophetic words more concrete and less abstract. (In Jeremiah 19, for example, God has Jeremiah break an earthenware jug to illustrate how God would break the people and the city.)

When the predicted effects of continuing climate change are too abstract, many people find it easy to be of two minds. It’s easy to recognize on a purely intellectual, abstract level what scientists predict as the Earth continues to warm and yet to live our daily lives as if nothing at all has changed. The more real those effects get, though, the more easily we should be able to respond in ways consistent with what we already know. Right now, it seems that most Americans know that global warming is happening, and yet we don’t seem to know this in a way that makes any difference. In most of our personal and political conversations, in our planning for the future, and in the ways we choose to live, we act and talk as if we live on a planet with a stable climate. We know and yet we don’t know.

Along with Elijah’s question, “How long will you go limping with two different opinions?” our Daily Office lectionary brought us John the Baptist (Matthew 3:1-12) exhorting the people to “Bear fruit worthy of repentance”, to act in ways that reflect who they say they are and what they say they believe. Like Elijah, John the Baptist is concerned with what we say we believe and who we say we are being consistent with who we show ourselves to be in our choices and actions.

At the end of his post, Subhankar Banerjee writes:

The Weather Report: Art and Climate Change exhibition, which happened in 2007, visually gave warnings about a deadly flood in the Boulder Creek. Six years have passed. America is yet to take any meaningful action on climate change. Will the death and devastation from this week's flood in Colorado simply pass us by as a mere spectacle?
How long will we go limping with two different opinions?

We pray for all those dealing with the flooding in Colorado. We pray for those who mourn loved ones who have died and for those who have suffered losses of property. We pray for protection and strength for those who are risking their own safety to help others, and for those who are most vulnerable.

Almighty God, in giving us dominion over things on earth you made us fellow workers in your creation: Give us wisdom and reverence so to use the resources of nature, that no one may suffer from our abuse of them, and that generations yet to come may continue to praise you for your bounty; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Collect For the Conservation of Natural Resources (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 827)