Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Salt, light, and the point of no return

 ‘You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. (Matthew 5:13)

This report is a tale of two futures - one of inaction and degradation of our environment, our economies, and our social fabric. The other, to seize the moment and the opportunities for managing climate change risks and making transformational change that catalyzes more adaptive and resilient societies where new technologies and ways of living open the door to a myriad of health, prosperity and job-generating benefits. The path of tomorrow is undoubtedly determined by our choices today. We must decide which path to follow. (Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, discussing the IPCC impacts report)

A convergence of reports, increased news coverage, and severe weather events in the past few weeks have helped more and more people realize that climate change is real, it is now, and it is a topic that will be gaining more and more of our attention for the rest of our lives.

In the past month and a half, a convergence of reports, increased news coverage, and severe weather events have increased public awareness of climate change. The IPCC reports on the impacts of climate change and mitigation of climate change were followed in the United States by the National Climate Assessment. The National Climate Assessment includes regional summaries (see the Great Plains here), allowing us not only to think globally about climate change but also to begin seeing what to expect closer to home. Meanwhile, a combination of severe storm and tornado outbreaks, exceptionally heavy rainfall in some parts of the United States, ongoing drought conditions, and early heat waves and fires in some parts of the southwest have reminded us of what we can expect now that, in the words of Don Wuebbles, coordinating lead author of the National Climate Assessment report, “the old normal is broken”.

Yesterday’s reports of the irreversible collapse of West Antarctica’s ice sheet and what that means for sea level rise beginning this century underlined the urgency and importance of what these recent reports have said. Here is NASA scientist Tom Wagner on the PBS NewsHour telling about the research and what it means:

 The impact of this is huge. As Tom Wagner noted, 1.5 feet of sea level rise displaces 11 million people in Bangladesh alone. Most of the world’s large cities are built around ports.

Does this mean anything for the church? What might people who follow Christ do with this new information and this new normal?

The Daily Office Gospel lesson for today (Matthew 5: 11-16) tells us that we are the salt of the earth; it also tells us that if we have lost our “saltiness”, if we are instead bland and of no consequence to those around us, we may as well be thrown out. In other words, if the church fails to respond to these huge changes taking place in our world this century, we may as well close our doors. Jesus goes on to remind us that lights are meant to shine, not to be hidden. Christians are about letting our light shine.

UN climate secretary Christiana Figueres says the world in general is at a point where we can choose either inaction and the consequences of further degradation of our environment, economies, and social fabric, or transformational change. The church’s response needs to begin with an acknowledgement of the crisis and with bringing it into our conversations and preaching and prayers. What we need to be about, though, if we are to remain the salt of the earth and let our light shine is the business of transformational change. All the business of reimagining the church and sorting out our core values and beliefs from traditions that may keep us from going where Christ would lead us this century is essential business now.

What does the church have to offer that can serve as a beacon in this century? What does the church continue to keep that prevents us from responding to climate change and its impacts the way Christ would have us respond? How do we let our little light shine?