Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Gospel Echoes in God's Beloved World: Truth-Telling

A benefit of reading the lessons from The Daily Office lectionary first thing in the morning is that those passages from Scripture often give an amazingly fitting framework to the rest of the day. Today was one of those days when the themes of the Gospel lesson helped reveal a pattern in things that came up during the day, especially issues related to the environment.

The Gospel lesson today was John 3:16-21:

 ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
 ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.’

God’s love for the world and God’s lack of condemnation for the world are clear themes here. I’m drawn in this passage to the idea that we make our own mess when we love “darkness” – evil – more than the good light. What we do in the light is visible to all; when we choose evil, we try to hide our actions from others and even from ourselves. Looking at this passage with others later in the morning, we talked about transparency and truth-telling.

During the course of the morning, I did some checking on the story of the contaminated water supply in and around Charleston, West Virginia. While residents are being told the water is now safe for most people to drink – pregnant women and children being the exceptions – there are reports that the smell of the contaminant is still present in the water and many people are wary of drinking it or using it for washing dishes and themselves. Straight answers are hard to come by.

I saw the usual stories about climate change: a draft UN report says that delay in acting on climate change has brought us to the point where “another 15 years of failure to limit carbon emissions could make the problem virtually impossible to solve with current technologies”; a drought emergency exists in California, possibly the worst drought since record-keeping began there; Australia began 2014 with the continuation of an extreme heatwave. I wondered again how we can know these things and continue to live as if nothing is happening.

I’ve been reading Verna Dozier’s The Dream of God: A Call to Return. As I took a break to read a bit more of it and looked at my notes, I noticed this passage that clicked with everything else:

Again and again God calls us to return. I think the calling still goes on today, but I believe the Christian church has distorted the call, narrowed it from a call to transform the world to a call to save the souls of individuals who hear and heed a specific message, narrowed it from a present possibility to a future fulfillment.

Today’s reading from John is one those passages that is often taken to be solely about individual salvation, about hearing and heeding a specific message, despite John’s clarity that this is about God’s love for the entire world and about the way that belief in Christ changes the way we act in the world, moving us from darkness into light.

Two recent New York Times stories that came to my attention later in the day echoed the themes of God’s call to live in the light, to choose to respond to God’s love by living in truth.

Nicholas Kristof reports on the results of an invitation for readers to suggest “neglected topics” that reporters have failed to cover sufficiently. The winner was the topic of climate change. Kristof observes that “You would think that we would be more attentive, with the federal government a few days ago declaring parts of 11 states disaster areas because of long-term drought. More than 60 percent of California is now in extreme drought.” He goes on to build a good case for us to start learning about, thinking about, and responding to what scientists know about climate change. He builds a case for bringing the topic into the light.

Skillful politicians and the powerful people who influence them have succeeded in sowing doubt where there is scientific certainty, of making it appear that there are two sides to the issue of climate change when there is in fact only one side with any sort of credibility. We shrug and take this as “politics as usual”, but it is in fact indicative of a spiritual failing among political and business leaders, reporters, and citizens who fail to question the falsehoods we are offered. The practice of Christianity and the unquestioning acceptance of lies are incompatible.

On Sunday, climate scientist Michael Mann’s piece If You See Something, Say Something argued that the crisis is at a point where climate scientists have a duty to enter public policy discussions and make clear what is at stake. He asks:

How will history judge us if we watch the threat unfold before our eyes, but fail to communicate the urgency of acting to avert potential disaster? How would I explain to the future children of my 8-year-old daughter that their grandfather saw the threat, but didn’t speak up in time?

Yes, it’s past time for reporters and scientists to end their silence. It’s also time for those of us who are Christians to honor the God who created and loves the world. It’s time for us to set aside our excuses for keeping ourselves in the dark about topics that are sometimes hard to understand and emotionally hard to accept; it’s time for us to accept Christ’s offer of true life and follow him into the light.

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