Open Letter to St. Kate’s Adjunct Faculty

Dear St. Kate’s adjunct faculty—

I write to you as co-steward of Hamline’s Adjunct Faculty Union, SEIU Local 284.

I know you recently received ballots for your union election. You may have already marked and mailed your ballot. I’m writing to those of you still contemplating your vote. I hope it’s YES.

I’ve been an adjunct instructor of religion at Hamline since 2004. I’ve also taught as an adjunct at Augsburg (2002-2005) and St. Kate’s (2003-2009). From spring 2014 to the present I’ve been involved in organizing, bargaining, and serving as a steward for Hamline’s union.

From that vantage point, the first thing that struck me in reading the information about “unionization efforts” on the university website and the President’s personal appeal to you is how frightfully scared St. Kate’s is of the prospect of a union.

They’ve given you several of the gains we had to bargain hard for (such as a significant pay increase). But that’s precisely because we unionized and bargained for them right next door. The improvements you’ve seen at St. Kate’s (pay, parking, office space, committee) are an effort to stop the union process. Having taught as an adjunct for fifteen years in the Twin Cities, I can say from experience: our pay was flat, our concerns largely ignored, our voices virtually invisible until unionization began. This is true even of Macalester and St. Thomas. The gains they experienced came because of their union rumblingsand because of our union success.

Why would St. Kate’s be so determined to avoid a union that they’d even start offering you union-style improvements without one? Simply put: to avoid sharing power with you, which is the sine qua none of a just relationship. They hope to take the edge off your discontent while keeping you as far as possible from becoming a collective voice that can shape your own future. Gains that come as charity are always controlled by others—and can always be withdrawn. A union makes you a full partner in the venture of creating conditions of justice for your teaching—conditions that empower you vocationally and that support the most effective teaching that you can do … ultimately, conditions that support the best learning opportunities for your students.

I don’t say this to “attack” St. Kate’s. It is, quite simply, the way power operates in most spheres, and it’s endemic in higher education today. Given the escalating power differentials between university administration and faculty of all levels, unionized faculty offer perhaps the best protection for a vital culture of education—because unions provide those doing the teaching with a measure of power to balance out the priorities of those counting the dollars and the numbers. It’s not that dollars and numbers don’t matter. It’s that increasingly they drive everything. If you unionize, you not only claim a measure of power for yourselves and your vocation, you also help protect the power of fulltime faculty because you insure that adjuncts are no longer an exploitable resource that can be played off against fulltime positions. See the AAUP’s One Faculty statement on this on depth of fulltime faculty solidarity with us.

I also want to respond to the President’s most recent direct appeal to you.

It’s no doubt true that you’ll make the best progress at St. Kate’s by working together with administrators. Absolutely. But unionizing won’t “get in the way” of that—unless the university chooses to vindictively “punish” you once you unionize. Rather, a union empowers you to pursue that progress together with the university on terms that insure your gains are preserved and your future goals are set by your collective voice, not by the administration.

I heard the claim that SEIU is not the right union for adjunct faculty often at Hamline, too. It is, in fact, a thinly veiled attempt at the “politics of division,” suggesting that we should feel “better than” the “mere” service workers that comprise most of SEIU’s members. Coming from the president of a university steeped in the Catholic tradition of deep respect for the dignity of all labor, this is an appeal to your lesser instincts. I’ll counter by noting three things.

First, the transience and relative isolation that are hallmarks of adjunct teaching have also made us easy targets to exploit over the past decades. SEIU has a vibrant successful history of organizing workers who labor under conditions that make them easy targets to exploit.

Second, SEIU’s vision statement says, “We are members united by the belief in the dignity and worth of workers and the services they provide and dedicated to improving the lives of workers and their families and creating a more just and humane society.” (seiu.org) That mission aligns so closely with St. Kate’s they ought to be pleased you’re working with SEIU.

Third, later this summer, through SEIU’s Faculty Forward Congress, I’ll travel to DC to join unionized adjunct faculty and graduate instructors from across the U.S. in laying further groundwork for the labor movement in higher education. Unionization is just coming to adjunct faculty, and SEIU is among the unions leading this work. Yes, they still have plenty to learn, but they are committed to doing this work right and doing it well—and to bringing our voices into the leadership of that work. I am one of those voices.

While it’s true that any union contract expresses an “agreement” between you and your employer, so long as both St. Kate’s and the union are focused on pursuing conditions under which teaching flourishes, vocations are supported, and justice is done, then agreement will happen. In fact, the only conditions under which the president’s claim, “union representation guarantees you nothing,” is true is if the president is committed in advance to obstruct agreement with a union. And, frankly, that’s all the more reason to unionize, in order to insure that you have the power to actually fashion and choose agreement rather than merely submit to it.

As a lead organizer, negotiator, and now co-steward of the Hamline union—and with two decades of teaching religion as my primary vocation—I’m honestly weary of hearing the union portrayed as some “third party.” It’s not. The union is YOU. It’s your voice. Your energy. Your goals. Yes, there are SEIU staff to support you, but I attest personally that at Hamline adjunct faculty leaders had final say—and exercised it—in every single decision we made. Staff from the union local advised us, shared resources, and assisted us throughout the organizing and bargaining process. I hope President Roloff doesn’t view the AAUP, in which many fulltime faculty maintain membership, as a “third party” nuisance at St. Kate’s. As an organization SEIU fulfills a similar role for adjunct faculty. Be very clear: an Adjunct Faculty Union at St. Kate’s will be 100% comprised of and led by adjunct faculty from St. Kate’s. It’s simply untrue to call the union a third party; it’s YOU.

Having taught at St. Kate’s for six years and worked in campus ministry there for three years as well, I know the school has the long legacy of fostering justice. I find it disappointing that the president cannot imagine a unionized—that is, an empowered-for-partnership—adjunct faculty as an opportunity to extend that legacy into tomorrow.

Hamline shares similarly deep roots of social justice, and our administration has also found it difficult at times to meet us on terms of true collaboration. But we are in this for the long haul. We know that anytime unequal power relationships are disrupted—as unionizing does—some folks, especially those who find themselves needing to share power they’d prefer to hold unilaterally, react with anxiety and even anger. We’ve felt both at Hamline. But we’ve also seen progress; we’ve also won respect. And we remain confident that a brighter future is built by justice than by charity. It’s in our tradition as much as it’s in yours. We are reminding our respective administrations in practice of the ideals to which they are committed too often only in theory.

When you unionize, you’ll join Augsburg and Hamline in establishing unions at three of the five historic ACTC schools. At that point, we achieve a critical mass that allows us not only to pursue goals that strengthen our teaching on our respective campuses, we gain the leverage to partner across campuses, strengthening the position of our adjunct peers and our fulltime colleagues throughout the Twin Cities. Quite beyond simply improving our own working and teaching conditions (which are also our students’ learning conditions!), with critical mass we have the opportunity to help reset the priorities in higher education so that education rather than economics is the animating factor in our vision.

Ironically, you could read all of St. Kate’s “official” information on unionization on the website and learn that Macalester and St. Thomas (both mentioned by name) made the “right” choice in the administration’s eyes. But you won’t see Augsburg and Hamline—whose adjunct faculty have unionized—mentioned anywhere. There’s acknowledgement of certain “higher education systems” that did unionize, but we’re left un-named because we made the “wrong” choice. It’s a dismissive, almost insulting rhetorical move by a university dedicated to educating women, who’ve often been similarly strategically erased and unnamed by those who found their pursuit of dignity inconvenient. It’s a very telling move on the part of your administration.

No, I don’t think unions are perfect (neither are universities). Indeed, I’ve challenged some of SEIU’s ideas when I felt they were the wrong fit for Hamline or for higher education. But amid the forces at play in higher education today, being unionized is your best chance to become a full partner in shaping the campus ecology at St. Kate’s. Yes, a union will preserve and strengthen your own economic position and benefits, but more importantly it does so for the generations of adjuncts who will come after you, and most importantly it positions you to model active engaged social justice at Kate’s. And that strengthen the entire university, both academically and culturally.

I hope you vote YES. There is exciting work to do in higher education in the Twin Cities, and I’ll be glad to be a partner in doing that work with you.

Collegially yours,

David Weiss

Steward, Hamline University Adjunct Faculty union

 

Eight Minutes of Friendship

Eight Minutes of Friendship

David R. Weiss – May 9, 2017

I met Sue in 2014 when she was already 80 years old. The first time I delivered groceries to her in her apartment in a subsidized senior hi-rise she commented about an article in the latest issue of The Nation. I was hooked.

Over the next two years I delivered her groceries once or twice a month. We soon discovered we both followed politics, both supported unions (in fact, we’d both worked to organize unions although in quite different eras), both felt passion for social justice, both had idiosyncratic but deep spiritual leanings. We both wrote poetry and essays, and eventually we traded a few of our pieces back and forth.

That’s how came to know each other … about eight minutes at a time. Which was about how long it took me to unload her groceries, help her put the cold items away, and settle up the bill. I suspect we did that thirty-some times over the next two years, until last July when my route was changed.

The last time I saw Sue was at an adult forum I presented at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church on Sexual Ethics in September 2016. She lived in the Trinity apartments right next to the church and so had made Holy Trinity her church home as well. She was moving slowly but beaming from the back of the room that day.

Afterwards she sent me a handwritten thank you for my presentation and a copy of her latest writing: an essay in which she argued against using third-person plural pronouns (they/them) as gender-neutral singular pronouns (either for God or for individual persons). Such a move violated her profound sense of language, where aesthetics and grammar blend seamlessly. Instead, she posed her own set of gender-neutral pronouns.

Motivated in part by the memory of a high school friend who committed suicide some six decades earlier because of anguish over a mismatch in gender, here was Sue at 82 still stretching her mind to stretch the English language to stretch our world in the direction of justice. Her mind was as exacting as her heart was generous as her spirit was deep.

She died Friday morning following complications from a cancer surgery. Roberta, a close friend of Sue who happened to know me as well, notified me of Sue’s death. When she was helping the family sort through Sue’s apartment she found an envelope where Sue had collected all the various writings I had shared with her. And the list of relatives and longtime friends scattered far and wide who should be notified on her death. My name was on that list.

I wept as I read Roberta’s message. Less for grief at Sue’s passing than for grace. Mostly, we have NO IDEA the lives we touch. Sure, sometimes we sense it indistinctly, but truly we don’t fully reckon the grace that escapes us when we’re not looking. When we’re simply being. Present. And somehow God settles into those gaps of real presence between us and weaves silken threads strong enough to anchor the cosmos.

Tomorrow I expect I’ll have just enough time after I clock out from my Tuesday deliveries to make it to Sue’s memorial service. I’ll still be wearing my work uniform, making one last delivery: this time bringing my final respects.

I understand we’ll be singing one of Sue’s poems set to a familiar hymn tune. I’ll do my best to sing along, but—even though we only ever shared eight minutes of friendship—I expect I’ll be bawling with emotion. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

The Outing of Ellen – 20th Anniversary

NOTE: Written 20 years ago, this was my first foray into “public theology”—actually written as an “audition” column when I applied to become a regular columnist for the Observer, the Notre Dame student newspaper. I wrote a bi-weekly column for the Observer in 1997-98, my last year in graduate year. Besides being immensely rewarding, the joy of this type of writing altogether reshaped my sense of vocation. Thanks, Ellen!

“The outing of Ellen: why all the fuss?”
David R. Weiss, April 30, 1997

Just a few hours from now the seismic culture counters will go haywire as the first lead character in a prime-time TV series comes out of the closet in homes all across America. Needless to say, there’s been a bit of a fuss made over this. Some folks plan to boycott the show, the advertisers, even the station; at least one ABC affiliate has declined to air the episode. Many who have welcomed Ellen into their living room quite readily over the past few years will now feel compelled to turn off this woman whose no longer hidden life so turns them off. Others hail this episode as a liberating event, and not just for gays and lesbians. There are plans to celebrate with “Ellen” parties, champagne toasts, and doubtless much more.

I must confess I’m not an Ellen devotee. I have seen an episode or two, but I was never captivated by the subtle charm of the show; and, judging from its relatively mediocre ratings, neither have many others. So, why all the fuss? Is there really something so significant in a somewhat nerdy, somewhat funny, but all in all rather ordinary woman declaring herself lesbian on national TV? I say, yes, precisely because of that last sentence.

Most of us, myself included, have been raised with rather demonized notions of homosexuals. Perverts, queers, effeminate, butch, dyke, intrinsically disordered–and a host of other appellations that would be starred out in this newspaper. They’re the sort of folks that send shivers up your spine and make your stomach feel queasy. Like the recent photo in the South Bend Tribune of a cow with two faces emerging side by side from the same head. Homosexuals are NOT normal.

Please let us believe that.

If you want to put a lesbian on prime-time TV, at least make her butch, put her on a bike (preferably a Harley), and dress her in leather and chains. But don’t suggest that being lesbian (or gay) is so . . . almost boringly normal. I mean, Ellen, aside from whatever she does between the sheets (or in her own imagination) seems just too much like me to write off as “intrinsically disordered” or “unnatural.” Her days, her life, are filled with all the same foibles that mark my own. The jams she gets herself into are not all that different from the corners I’ve painted myself into from time to time. And the simple fact that most viewers have seemed not to notice her (until now) is also a bit like my own experience in the world.

So maybe, just maybe, the fuss over Ellen’s outing is driven less by the fact that she’s lesbian than by the concern that she isn’t “lesbian” enough to reinforce our own stereotypes of how different and revolting lesbians ought to appear. Maybe there’s something in Ellen’s ordinariness that calls into question—and at a level hard to defend against—the familiar labels that have always worked to keep homosexuals in their place in our minds.

I may or may not watch Ellen tonight. I imagine I’ll jump on the cultural bandwagon—although I’ll watch it on tape after bedtime stories with my son are over (not that he wouldn’t be allowed to watch it himself, but right now he’s far more taken with the adventures of our current bedtime tale, “Maniac Magee,” than Ellen). But I don’t expect any big surprises myself. Homosexuals became human for me sometime ago. Maybe it was Dale’s wry humor; or Dick’s ability to imitate Kermit the Frog (or his inability to laugh in any other way than like a Canadian goose); or Kathi’s uncommon passion for poetry and literature; or Ken’s inability to leave the soap bar somewhere so that the shower spray didn’t melt it away. In any case, I’ve had too many gay and lesbian friends who have been at once so uniquely and ordinarily human that my capacity to consider their sex lives “intrinsically disordered” withered a long time back.

Sure, some folks will respond by saying that I’m confusing apples with oranges, sinners with sins. That you can’t argue from the ordinariness of the rest of their lives to justify their sexual desires and actions. Fair enough. But, at the very least, that ordinariness humanizes them. It suggests that they deserve neither our demonized fears nor our patronizing pity: they deserve our company, our respect, and our ears to hear from them who they are. That’s a conversation yet to happen on much of this campus and throughout much of this country. If a somewhat nerdy, somewhat funny, lead character on a prime time TV show nudges us in that direction, well, then I’ll tune in for that. The Spirit blows where the Spirit wills; Ellen wouldn’t be the first woman of questionable cultural standing to become part of God’s divine whimsy. And I don’t imagine she’ll be the last. Happy viewing!

*       *       *
David R. Weiss is the author of When God Was a Little Girl, a playfully profound and slyly subversive children’s picture book (Beaver’s Pond Press, 2013; www.WhenGodWasaLittleGirl.com) as well as To the Tune of a Welcoming God: Lyrical reflections on sexuality, spirituality and the wideness of God’s welcome (2008, Langdon Street Press). A theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, David is committed to doing “public theology” around issues of sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. He lives in St. Paul and speaks on college campuses and at church and community events. You can reach him at drw59mn@gmail.com and read more at www.ToTheTune.com where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.”

Keeping Homegrown Worker Justice Legal in Minnesota

Keeping Homegrown Worker Justice Legal in Minnesota

David R. Weiss, February 6, 2017

Last year, in response to years of unsuccessful efforts to address issues of worker uptakejustice at the state level, local communities moved forward on their own. A coalition of labor, faith, and community groups, along with more than a handful of business owners pushed hard in both Minneapolis and Saint Paul, leading to local ordinances that mandate earned sick and safe time for employees in these cities. The process was arduous and there were inevitable yet disappointing compromises along the way. Still, in both cities workers saw at least some justice coming just around the corner (both ordinance would go into effect beginning July 1, 2017).

But early in this legislative session bills were introduced in both the House and Senate that seek to “preempt” any local mandates that try to raise wages or benefits above state minimums. The bills (House File 600 and Senate File 580) reflect ALEC’s (American Legislative Exchange Council) conservative anti-worker agenda (and ALEC’s wording) and are being driven by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, other large business lobbyists, and a handful of vocal small business owners. They would not only ban laws like those passed in the Twin Cities, they would even undo the ones passed in 2016 by being retroactive to the start of last year. You can find a local new story about the bill here.

So the same groups that organized last year to push for local justice in the Twin Cities have come together again at the Capitol to speak truth to those in power. It is an oddly fulfilling and frustrating task. I testified at both a House committee hearing last Thursday and a Senate committee hearing today. Both times the galleries were packed — 300+ citizens in attendance, with voices opposed and bodies opposed outnumbering the bill supporters several times over. And both times the respective committee vote ran exactly along party line, moving the bills forward in each body. It seems certain that Governor Dayton will veto the bill even if it passes in floor votes in the House and Senate. But it remains a bit sobering to hear the impassioned calls for justice (and even for commonsense) that simply fall away when the votes are taken.

In any case, I testified at both hearings.

This was my testimony on Thursday in front of the House Jobs Committee. I had three minutes to speak.

(NOTE: you can see my testimony in this committee at the 46:30 mark in this video. It’s in the third hour of the hearing; this is part 2 of the videotape; I can’y imagine you want to see the whole thing, but if you do, part 1 is this video.)

My name is David Weiss. I’m Lutheran and I’m here with ISAIAH. Like many Minnesotans, I work several part-time jobs. And every penny counts.

For one job I deliver groceries in the Metro area. Last year, on the rare day I called in sick I lost $100 in wages. For me, that’s $100 of food, utilities, car repairs. It cost me dearly to call in sick. But not just me. I deliver groceries—to senior citizens. Many face their own health challenges. I’m often their main source of groceries. For some, I’m their only source.

Without paid sick time, when I got sick, I either gambled with my bills … or with my health, my clients’ health, and our community’s health. That changed last fall when my employer, a non-profit based in Roseville, added a sick-time benefit for part-time employees. The local initiatives in Minneapolis and Saint Paul helped start that conversation. Last October, when one of my grandchildren gave me Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease, I became the first part-time employee in my workplace to benefit from sick pay, keeping my paycheck whole—and my clients healthy.

Through House File 600 powerful corporate interests hope to keep the bar for worker pay and benefits as low as possible statewide—even blocking local improvements that just passed last year.

But democracy works best at the local level. Social progress almost always begins locally. It’s where human dignity flourishes most, because locally it carries the face of our neighbors. It’s where businesses, sometimes eagerly, sometimes reluctantly, come to see that the claims of social justice are part of the cost of doing business in a just society.

Local governments, from the Twin Cities to Minnesota’s smallest towns, deserve the right to improve the well-being of the workers in their communities. That progress has started. And there are workers in every one of your districts who hope it reaches them soon. House File 600 is an attempt to preempt that justice. Don’t let that happen. Thank you.

Today, I had just 90 seconds (!) to address the Senate Jobs Committee. Here’s what I said:

(Note: you can see my testimony at the 1:09 mark — 1 hour, 9 minute — in this video.)

My name is David Weiss. I’m Lutheran and I’m here with ISAIAH.

Local initiatives matter. I get earned sick time today because my employer recently added that part-time benefit in response to the local initiatives in 2016. So this is personal.

But the bigger issue for me is justice. The racial gaps in Minnesota on household income, home ownership, and poverty are among the worst in the nation. Since the majority of Minnesotans of color live in the Twin Cities, the 2016 initiatives put these “Minnesotans first” … precisely where disparities are worst. In seeking to preempt local initiatives, this bill seeks to preempt social justice.

The plain truth is that the only real “uniformity” this bill maintains is keeping wages and benefits as uniformly low as possible for as long as possible — in a state where our racial disparities are not simply an embarrassing statistic but an obscene injustice to the people of color who call Minnesota home.

Senate File 580 takes aim at the well-being of those who are essential to the well-being of our state — even though they are often the most invisible members of our workforce and the most marginal members of our society.

In the words of the prophet Isaiah, this bill is about grinding the face of the poor.

That is not my Minnesota. I hope it’s not yours either. Thank you for your time.

To my Minnesota readers: Please contact your state representatives and senators and let them now you support the right of local communities to seek worker justice and that you OPPOSE House File 600 and Senate File 580.

This entry was posted on February 10, 2017. 1 Comment

An Open Letter to Minnesota’s ELCA Bishops

NOTE: On Sunday afternoon I emailed this letter to all six of Minnesota’s ELCA bishops, along with a brief introductory note in which I state, “I am deeply concerned that the President is leading us into an era in which he will intentionally escalate xenophobic fear in order to make possible deep and damaging changes to our institutions and to the social fabric of our society. The church cannot be caught flat-footed in this moment. It cannot take a cautious “wait and see” approach. I know the situation regarding the order on refugees and immigrants is dynamic and may change between the time I send and you read this message. Nevertheless, I ask you to take my words to heart and consider together how you will choose to exercise leadership for Minnesota Lutherans in which is quickly becoming a national crisis of civility and Christian conscience. I believe that some statement of public witness that includes both a clear pronouncement that the administration’s intended treatment of refugees and immigrants is unequivocally unchristian—and a clear pronouncement that you WILL lead your church into direct confrontation with an administration if it tries to compel your members to betray their faith for sake of country—is essential.”

 

An Open Letter to Minnesota’s ELCA Bishops

On this Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
January 29, 2017
“What does the LORD require of you, except this, that you do justice,
that you show mercy, and that you walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8

Dear friends in Christ,

As I write these words, Muslims, immigrants, and especially refugees, tremble in fear.

While the President has done many things in his first week in office that Christians might take issue with, his executive order this past Friday banning refugees along with immigrants from certain countries is jarring in its immediacy.

As Lutherans we affirm with evangelical zeal that God’s work happens through our hands. Here in Minnesota we Lutherans have set the standard for using our hands to provide human hospitality and institutional resources of welcome to the immigrant and refugee communities that make Minnesota their home. Even as we struggle (with little success) to deepen the diversity in our congregations, we have at least continued to excel in our active witness of welcome to immigrants and refugees.

But the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service calls the President’s recent order “a drastic contradiction of what it means to be an American” in that it “completely disregards the values on which our country was founded.” In fact, the LIRS, hardly a voice on the leftwing fringe, goes so far as to name this executive order “reprehensible.” (lirs.org, January 27, 2017)

More than this, for Christians, it is unconscionable. It asks us to violate our conscience.

The witness of our Hebrew forebears is unequivocal: “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. You shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 19:33-34)

The declaration of Jesus is equally clear: “I was a stranger and you welcomed (or did not) welcome me … just as you did it (or did not do it) to the least of these.” (Matthew 25: 35, 40, 43, 45)

And the pledges we make in baptism reveal the stark death-to-life transformation that sits at the heart of our faith. “I renounce the devil and all the forces that defy God. I renounce the powers of this world that rebel against God. And I renounce the ways of sin that draw me from God.” (ELW, p. 229, Holy Baptism)

Thus, to be ordered to participate in the detention and/or deportation of refugees or lawful “aliens” (the word used in both the President’s order and the biblical text) will place Christians who work in U.S. Immigration, Homeland Security, or other agencies directed to execute this order, in a position that requires them to contradict their faith. To borrow the powerful image from Shusaku Endo’s Silence, they will be forced to trample on the face of Christ.

We—all of us—are ever tempted to be moderate in our response to evil. We prefer to wait and see. We’d rather defer to the courts (whose current stay is only temporary and in no way removes the contradiction to personal faith). We hope for the best. We’re content to pray.

However, in this moment, on this Sunday as we hear both the words of Micah and the Beatitudes, it seems critical to hear also the pained words of Martin Niemöller, penned not in a flight of heroic wisdom, but with regret for not having acted boldly … in the first moment.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

We each have a responsibility in this moment. And lest it become the first moment in a litany like Niemöller’s it is essential that we respond fully. And now. Because you are leaders, your foremost responsibility is to lead. I invite … encourage … implore you to lead in this moment in this way.

Confer with each other and then declare, publicly and in unison:

  • that President Trump’s executive order suspending the arrival of refugees, limiting the free movement of lawful aliens, and directing the detention and possible deportation of these persons is contrary to Christian faith;
  • that, as Lutherans we understand the promises we make in baptism to be both lifelong and communal;
  • and that therefore, in the state of Minnesota, any Lutheran whose job compels them to participate in this blatantly unchristian task—and who refuses to comply—these persons will have the full legal, financial, and spiritual support of Minnesota’s six ELCA synods.

(There are many more actions to which we may be called, some of which may ultimately be more useful and strategic. But the integrity of our baptismal pledges—and the authenticity of our pastoral-prophetic posture requires at least this much. And swiftly. Similarly, I’d be delighted to see such a declaration spread across the ELCA nationally and across other denominations as well. But it makes sense—perhaps it is the Spirit’s leading from our particular past into our present—that it begin here in Minnesota. On Monday.)

May the unrest you feel in your souls lead you to prayerful discernment, to courageous leadership, and to holy witness for the upbuilding of Christ’s church.

Yours in Christ,
David Robert Weiss
Saint Paul, MN

cc:
Bishop Thomas Aitken, Northeast Minnesota Synod, ELCA, thomas.aitken@nemnsynod.org
Bishop Jon Anderson, Southwest Minnesota Synod, ELCA, jon.anderson@swmnelca.org
Bishop Steven Delzer, Southeast Minnesota Synod, ELCA, delzer@semnsynod.org
Bishop Patricia Lull, Saint Paul Area Synod, ELCA, patricia.lull@spas-elca.org
Bishop Ann Svennungsen, Minneapolis Area Synod, ELCA, a.svennungsen@mpls-synod.org
Bishop Larry Wohlrabe, Northwest Minnesota Synod, ELCA, wohlrabe@cord.edu

Thank you, Sue Wolfe.

Thank you, Sue Wolfe. A fond remembrance of the woman who told me to shut up.
By David R. Weiss – December 16, 2016

Yesterday morning Sue Wolfe died. Just one month after a precipitous encounter with cancer. She was just 61. The ache in my heart is not grief—that belongs to those closer to her in recent years. My ache is for the debt of gratitude I still owe her and that I’ll spend the rest of my life repaying.

I met Sue in 1982 during my first year at Wartburg Seminary. Sue was three years sue-wolfe-youngahead of me. I don’t recall exactly how we met—friendships across classes several years apart didn’t happen easily. But Sue took me under her wing, and to a wide-eyed first year student hers seemed like a mighty wing indeed. She could be bombastic for God. For justice. For gospel. I feared her about as much as I admired her—which was a lot.

I say without reservation—this is my testimony—that no professor, no other classmate so profoundly shaped my theological education or my vocation as did Sue Wolfe. Because she told me, with searing grace, “David you have to shut the fuck up.” Some of us need our gospel spelled out with four-letter words. In 1982 that was me.

I was far from a college activist, but I arrived at Wartburg Seminary holding liberal ideals … as I sat in my intellectual armchair, from where I safely engaged, dissected, and rearranged my world.

In the second semester (so Sue and I had maybe six months of trust built between us) we were both in a short seminar on “Men and Women in Church and Society.” It’s possible Sue had encouraged me to sign up for it. Here’s how I described my own “burning bush” moment in a piece I wrote in 1999:

At some point I opened my mouth in this class of mostly 2nd and 4th year students, and shared some (in retrospect) inane thoughts about how “in favor” of women I was and so on, utterly oblivious to the rising rage in the room. It was one of my closest friends, a 4th year student, Sue Wolfe, who exploded first. All fall Sue had taken me under her wing. Now this woman, to whom I would’ve gladly entrusted my life, rose up (she was small in neither stature nor presence) like a divine mother bear protecting her cubs (Hosea 13:8), and said to me, “David, what the hell do you know about our pain and our struggle? Do you think we give a damn about your warm fuzzy pro-women sentiments? You don’t walk into a class like this and talk, you sit down, you shut the fuck up, and you listen.” I stopped just short of soiling myself … and I did keep quiet and just listen.

For a long time.

Eventually, I became a feminist … after listening. I became an ardent ally for LGBTQ persons … after listening. I became a supporter of Black Lives Matter … after listening. I spent the rest of my theological education—two more years at Wartburg and six years of graduate study at Notre Dame—measuring the voices in the canon by listening to voices at the edges. In large part thanks to Sue Wolfe.

Sue and I didn’t stay in frequent contact after seminary, but years later, when she heard I’d left a violent marriage—with my emotions and finances both exhausted—she was the first person who reached out to me, with generous words and a generous check. We last saw each other in 2009 at the ELCA Assembly when we toasted the church’s decision to honor the wideness of God’s welcome to LGBTQ persons. She was one of the very first to buy my children’s book, When God Was a Little Girl, when it came out. Three copies for the three children in her parish. Her message to me at the time (December 2013) concluded, “You know, I have always been a fan of your work!” Well, at least after I learned to shut up and listen.

More than any other person, Sue’s fierce love for me—and for my hearing—brought me face to face, life to life, with the persons and places where gospel happens. Not always, but sometimes “Shut the fuck up” is the first word the gospel utters. And it was my good fortune that Sue Wolfe spoke such gospel to me. Godspeed, Sue. I’m still listening.sue-wolfe

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David R. Weiss is the author of When God Was a Little Girl, a playfully profound and slyly subversive children’s picture book (Beaver’s Pond Press, 2013; www.WhenGodWasaLittleGirl.com) as well as To the Tune of a Welcoming God: Lyrical reflections on sexuality, spirituality and the wideness of God’s welcome (2008, Langdon Street Press). A theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, David is committed to doing “public theology” around issues of sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. He lives in St. Paul and speaks on college campuses and at church and community events. You can reach him at drw59mn@gmail.com and read more at www.ToTheTune.com where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.”

This entry was posted on December 17, 2016. 2 Comments

Prophetic: Faith as Resistance

at-home-topAT HOME ON EARTH: Christian Spirituality in a Time of Climate Change
PART THREE – Prophetic: Faith as Resistance (pdf here)
David R. Weiss – October 30, 2016

[NOTE: This lecture series has had a bit of a built-in challenge. Three inter-related talks, but in three different venues, and spaced out over a seven week period. I’ve had about 300 total people attend, but only a small handful of folks have attended all three. So lectures two and three have needed to include lots of “echoes” back to earlier talks to keep everyone together. Over the winter, I’ll hope to integrate all three talks into one longer text without all the repetitions. Until then, you get them piecemeal and with repeats. Oh well.]

In Deuteronomy 30 (verse 19), Moses addresses the people of Israel before they cross over into the Promised Land. He says, “I call heaven and earth as witnesses today—to see that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life so that you and your children and your children’s children may live. Hold fast to God, so that your days may be long and well on the soil where God has set you.”

Both Matthew (16:3) and Luke (12:56) record Jesus’ exasperated words to the crowds following him—always at a safe distance: “When you see clouds developing in the west, you understand that rain is coming. When you feel the south wind blowing, you know that scorching heat will follow. You even read the color of the sky to know whether it will be fair or stormy. How is it that you fail to read the signs of the times?

For Jesus, the “signs of the times” meant the in-breaking of God’s kin-dom that was occurring in his own preaching and ministry. For us, the images Jesus chose collapse on top of each other. The signs of the times we fail to read—and which call out desperately for the in-breaking of God’s kin-dom here and now—have precisely to do with the weather. More accurately with the climate, and our reluctance to read in that data “signs of the times” to which we must respond.

Choose life. Because it must be chosen. And both heaven and earth—metaphorically for Moses, but rather literally for us—wait to bear witness. To see whether we read the signs of the times. To see whether we choose life. The well-being of our children, and our children’s children, rests on our choice. And the in-breaking of God’s kin-dom continues, calling us to respond in faithful discipleship still today.

One last scene, perhaps apocryphal, but treasured in our Lutheran heritage nonetheless. Late at night on October 31st, anticipating the congregation that would assemble for an All Saints Mass the following morning, a young monk in his mid-thirties raises a mallet to pound the nail that will post a copy of his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church—499 years ago. That monk, Martin Luther, having read the signs of the times in his day, responded with a call to the church to “choose life” by a renewed fidelity to a message of grace, beginning what we now know as the Reformation. His example of passionate faith, bold conviction, and decisive action is worth more than simply remembering as we commence a 500th anniversary celebration. We’ll need to repeat it ourselves if we hope to choose life today.

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I’ve arranged these talks around a central affirmation, followed by a question with three distinct responses. The affirmation is that we are AT HOME ON EARTH. Though we have too rarely acted like it, this beautiful, precious, abundant, finite, fragile planet is our home.

Right now, because of our own actions, our home is becoming inhospitably hot. So the question arises: What form does Christian spirituality take in a time of climate change?

The threefold response is this: Christian spirituality in a time of climate change will be apocalyptic, evangelical, and prophetic. I’ve devoted one talk to each response so far, leaving “prophetic” for tonight. But I see now how this has implied more distinction between the responses than is true. Really, this is one response with multiple dimensions to it, a response best-named, though with awkward precision, by a compound hyphenated word. This spirituality is apocalyptic (dash)evangelical(dash)prophetic all-at-once.

Despite being a mouthful, this holds critical insight because each dimension necessarily feeds into and supports the others. It isn’t a linear progression, as though we focus first on one, then check it off as “done” and turn to the next. No. You might think of this as “origami spirituality.” Many of you are familiar, no doubt, with the Japanese art of paper-folding. An origami sculpture becomes “real”—it assumes its three-dimensional shape only as the individual folds, made one at a time, move together. If a fold is missing, the movement can’t happen.

Christian spirituality in a time of climate change will require distinct folds that are apocalyptic, evangelical, and prophetic. Yet only as all the folds work together, each making its own contribution to an apocalyptic-evangelical-prophetic spirituality, does the spirituality itself come to life.

Tonight my focus is on the prophetic dimension, but I’ll be showing how this dimension interacts with the other two.

There is also fourth dimension to this spirituality worth noting up front. Not so much a theological dimension as a matter of “scope.” Christian spirituality in a time of climate change will also be individual, communal, and public. As it takes on life, this spirituality will engage us in all its dimensions individually (speaking to each of our minds, moving each of our hearts, affecting each of our personal choices), and communally (as people of faith gathered together for worship, prayer, fellowship, or action), and publically (as participants in politics, as shapers of public policy, as citizens willing to speak truth to those who place profits before the planet’s wellbeing). I’ll acknowledge these differing scopes along the way as well.

So, prophetic. This dimension is about truth-telling. In popular culture “prophetic” is often cast as “predicting the future,” but biblical-speaking, the prophetic task is primarily about naming the present with dramatic clarity that creates openings for us to make the choices necessary to move us toward a life-giving future.

This truth-telling takes on different tones in different contexts. Indeed, it will have a different tone as it supports the differing dimensions of apocalyptic lament, evangelical hope, and prophetic resistance. Looking to the Bible can help us see these differing tones.

At times for the Hebrew prophets this meant finding language that could cut through the quiet denial in Israel’s life as they drifted toward disaster. The prophets sought imagery potent enough to rouse the people to lament, to invite, even compel them to feel the impending anguish of their decades long infidelity to God and indifference to the claim of justice on their lives. Not likely to be nominated for any congeniality awards, these prophets knew that the only path forward went directly through anguish, grief, lament, and repentance.

This prophetic tone has a place in our spirituality today. In my first talk, I introduced the apocalyptic world-ending character of climate change. The enormity of this threat is so great that we’ll do almost anything to minimize it, rationalize it, look away from it, outright deny it.

When I listed off, one by one, the sixteen hottest years on record since 1880—and noted that each of those years fell during my own daughter’s 20-year lifetime—that’s prophetic imagery. The numbers move through your ears into your brain and swiftly into your gut, because you also have (or know) children or grandchildren twenty and under. And that image links necessary emotion feeling to reluctant intellect awareness.

In my last talk, I offered the image of a guardrail, keeping us safe as we drive along a highway that skirts the edge of a rocky ravine. Most climate scientists agree that if the planet warms by more than 2 degrees Celsius—and it’s already warmed by one full degree in the past century—the challenges to human society will be significant. From heat waves and more extreme storm events, to crop failure and coastal flooding, once we warm past 2 degrees we we’ll feel the heat in ways well beyond the temperature itself. So climate scientists argue that a 2-degree guardrail is critical. And most climate scientists agree that what I described as a 1.5-degree “rumble strip” that wakes us with a jolt before hitting the guardrail is an even better idea … but maybe be problematic in some alarming ways.

Because, as I explained, even if—starting immediately—we were to use only the oil and gas coming from currently operating oil and fields—and burned NO MORE COAL at all—this alone will push us right past that 1.5 degree rumble strip. Add in the coal coming out of mines already operating, and we’ll plow right through that 2-degree guardrail. This is with no new drilling. No new mines. That’s an apocalyptic scenario. And that analogy of guardrail and rumble strip is an attempt at prophetic language that grabs you and forces you to feel the jolt of that rumble strip right now.

I mentioned that our planet is now hotter than it has been at any point in the last 10,000 years. Hotter than at any point during the entire history of human civilization—and thanks specifically to industrial human activity, it’s heating up at a rate that’s at least TEN TIMES faster than anything seen during those 10,000 years.

I observed that under the much-heralded Paris Agreement on reducing greenhouse gases—due to go into force in early November—even if every one of the 195 nations meets their pledged reduction, the planet will still warm by 2.7 degrees Celsius by the end of this century (during my grandchildren’s lifetime), approaching the 3-degree mark beyond which climate scientists say we enter a realm of global warming that is likely “incompatible with an organized global community.”

Meanwhile, the last time so much carbon was released into the atmosphere was well before the industrial revolution. It was about 56 million years ago—long before humans had to deal with the accompanying temperature rise. This time, however, because we’re releasing carbon at ten times the rate that occurred 56 million years ago, the capacity of ecosystems—of plants and animals (and humans) to adapt is much, much less. And we’ve grabbed all of creation and put it on this roller coaster with us.

The situation is potentially so apocalyptic that it’s barely comprehensible in its dread. Which is why one task of a prophetic spirituality is finding ways to wake people up.

Borrowing words from Jeremiah (6:14), there will be a tendency for people—all of us—to want to heal the wounds of Earth too lightly, downplaying the full extent of damage done. To say “peace, peace, when there is no peace,” to gather on Sunday mornings and, in effect, simply chant, “this is the temple of the Lord, this is the temple of the Lord” (7:4), as though our sanctuary is beyond the reach of the coming heat.

As I argued in my earlier talks, as the depth of this crisis—and our complicity in creating it—sinks in, we’ll almost surely be paralyzed by fear and guilt, or we’ll want to do something, anything. Because if we can busy ourselves with doing, we can distract ourselves from feeling the deep grief and lament that is the only way forward. So another facet of the prophetic imagination is to hold us in grief and lament until we can plumb the bottom of this anguish.

There are plenty of articles, books, speakers, and films that can offer a beginning point in this journey. Leonardo DiCaprio’s new documentary on climate change, titled Before the Flood, has just premiered on the National Geographic channel. In fact, National Geographic is letting you stream it for free anytime this coming week because they view it as so important. Personally, I’d suggest watching it in small groups rather than alone, because I gather the film is intended in its own way to leave you reeling with the reality of climate change. This journey will not be for the faint of heart—except that it this journey includes all of us, so what matters most is that we make it together.

But more than simply educating ourselves, we need to process this grief using the tools of our faith.

Each year, soon after Christmas, we recall the slaughter of the holy innocents by Herod. We hear Matthew (2:18) echo Jeremiah’s image (31:15) of Rachel, weeping for her children. This year, dare we imagine the poor imperiled by climate change, the many creatures and plants likely to disappear forever—dare we allow these to be the focus of Rachel’s tears today?

Jeremiah (29:5) tells the refugees heading into exile, “Go ahead, build homes and plant gardens in the land where you are going … because you aren’t coming back anytime soon.” Can we hear in those words of such thin hope, words that may be all we can say to those who will be relocated by climate change in the decades just ahead?

Jesus wept for Jerusalem (Luke 19:41), for having ignored prophet after prophet, for having never learned the things that make for peace. Dare we now hear in Jesus’ tears, weeping that is for us, that we have ignored prophet after prophet, that we have not learned the things that make for peace with creation?

At what point should our baptismal prayers—or the art around our baptismal fonts—begin to reflect the undeniable kinship between this “holy” water and the melting glaciers, the dying oceans, and the rising floodwaters around the globe. How does the wetness of gracious promise traced on our foreheads, connect us just as truly to the profound grief of water across the world? I don’t know, but this is what prophetic spirituality means—to seek connections to the images that already have power in our imagination, and bring them to bear on the needs of this moment.

There is a host of imagery related to lament, grief, and repentance in our biblical and historical traditions. It’s already present in our worship in psalms, prayers, hymns, and rituals, but now we’ll need to re-imagine them with a suffering planet—and all its inhabitants—in mind. We’ll need, reverently, soberly, creatively, to write new prayers, psalms, and hymns, and create new rituals that will guide us through this grieving. We may well need to host potlucks where we come together to name, honor, and grieve the loss of planetary habitats and creatures. If the monarch butterfly goes extinct, it may well be appropriate to create memory boards in churches across the country, and invite people to come and share a memory of a monarch, and then grieve that we did not act sooner on its behalf.

Some of this will happen at the personal level, but much of it will be communal work that we do as congregations or as small groups within congregations. It’s simply too daunting to take on by ourselves. But within our communities of faith, it cannot rest on our pastors. It’s too much for them alone. This is shared ministry, and we’ll need to read and write and weep and pray and create these rituals together. If ever there was a need for a priesthood of all believers, it’s today.

And, occasionally, we’ll venture out into public spaces with our grief, because everyone on the planet is going to be impacted by climate change. Not just Christians, not just believers. We’ll model for others that eco-grief is possible, perhaps at the riverbank or on farmland or in the town square. And we’ll bear prophetic witness to our recognition that grief is the only first step forward.

At the same time, we must also listen to and learn from others. There are secular activists and persons in other faith traditions working at this just as fervently as us. So while we should be driven to share our insights, we must never presume that we alone have something to share.

There is a second tone to prophetic truth-telling, which is to assist in the evangelical task of summoning hope. This doesn’t exactly follow after grief, because it sustains us in grief. But it doesn’t precede grief either, because until we begin to feel the full depth grief, we have no inkling of how much we need this hope. And ultimately, this hope carries within it the seeds of resistance, to which we’ll turn last.

The Hebrew prophets demonstrate this tone of prophetic speech when they mine Israel’s memory and imagination to offer a message that speaks the newness of which God is ever capable. In the depths of the Babylonian Exile, the prophet Ezekiel received his vision of dry bones, brought back to life, to tell the refugees that even when it seemed like no future was possible, God could make a new future for them. Likewise, two later prophets, carrying on the tradition of Isaiah but speaking on the far side of catastrophe, tell the people that God will do a new thing (43:19), and that there will come a time when the barren one will sing (54:1) because a future will open up … although only after an entire generation in exile.

Our spirituality will need to display this tone of prophetic voice, too. I explored this in my second talk, under the theme evangelical hope. We must offer a word of good news, in part to sustain us as we feel the full weight of grief. In part to see even dimly the possibility of a future in the midst of a present that may well seem like an exile on a biblical scale. And in part to proclaim a “real-as-Reformation” word of radical grace to us—a word that is likely our only hope for survival as a species.

I described in that talk how it will be important for us to remember who God is. That God—who the prophets dared to name Emmanuel, “God-With-Us”—has promised to be with us in deep solidarity through whatever we must endure. I recalled the banishment from Eden, the generations of slavery in Egypt, and the Exile as moments where we see that God’s promise is true. I also acknowledged that it’s more comforting to assert this truth for others, than to realize that this time it’s about us. It’s our turn to be accompanied by holy hope in a time of apocalyptic upheaval … which feels a bit less reassuring, because now it comes with the upheaval as well as the hope.

I suggested it may be just as important to remember not only that God is with us, but how God is with us: primarily by way of vulnerability. It matters because it would be fair to say that the vast majority of our climate crisis is the result of our centuries long quest for control over nature rather than for harmony with nature. Having imaged God as absolute power, we’ve tried to echo that ourselves—with devastating consequences, not only for us, but also for the whole web of life.

Yet both the Hebrew Bible’s story about God and also the gospel accounts of Jesus show us the surprising truth that wholeness comes not by avoiding vulnerability, but by embracing it. So, part of what we must learn from this prophetic voice of hope is a new way of being human as we discover that the God who keeps us company even now is a vulnerable God. And it is past time for our humanity to reflect this.

Another task of this prophetic tone of hope to find language and imagery to help us remember who we are. One simple but profound way of doing this is learning to think of ourselves as humus beings. The original Hebrew in the Genesis creation tale (2:8) tells us that God formed an adam from the adamah, literally that God fashioned an earthling from the earth, or a humus being from the humus.

It’s a small wordplay, but it carries an etymological—and ecological—truth about our profound kinship to the ground. It reminds us that, from Eden onward, we were intended for intimacy: humus beings, commissioned by God to tend the humus, to be caretakers of the Garden to which we are indelibly linked.

I’ve noted that my body (and yours) only achieves its living humanity by existing in concert with some 100 trillion microbes that make me their home. That may be a scientific fact, but it’s also a prophetically hopeful image because it declares a kinship with creation that we have not yet fully acknowledged, but which has been true for as long as long human beings have been. We don’t exist apart from creation—we never have. From that first mythic moment when we were drawn from the humus, we have carried within us a whole ecosystem, even as “we live and move and have our being” within a larger ecosystem as well.

Acknowledging this kinship may allow us to grieve for the rest of creation as for our kin, to grieve at the depth that may ready us for repentance and resistance. I’m convinced that if there is any path forward for us, as people of faith, as inhabitants of a finite and fragile planet, it is by way of intimacy: with each other, with our companion creatures, and with the earth.

Tonight I want to add two further thoughts to these.

First, I suggest we expand our thinking about incarnation to an ecological level. When we say that in Jesus God took on flesh, then, like me, like you, God took on flesh with the assistance of 100 trillion microbes. And suddenly “incarnation” isn’t about God becoming “human,” but about God dwelling in the midst of all creation. No less than any of us, Jesus’ humanity is interwoven with the cosmos. The iron that reddened his blood was first formed in the stars. The water that comprised over half his body weight had been here on Earth for over 4 billion years ago. When John 3:16 says “God so loved the world,” it uses the Greek word cosmos, meaning the whole of creation. We have tended, perhaps selfishly, to presume that, of course, God loves us humans best of all. But just maybe a vulnerable God loved the stardust and the iron, the water and the trillions of microbes, just as much as us.

And perhaps it’s time for our psalms and songs, our art and ethics to recognize that it’s neither scientifically accurate nor theologically wise to narrow down incarnation to humanity.

Second, I want to propose that, as one habit of our newly claimed intimacy with all things created, we move to a first name basis with our home planet. Without going so far as to declare she is a living being (though even some scientists suggest she acts like one in certain aspects), let’s drop the “the,” that we so casually add to Earth. I would never say of my wife, “I love ‘the’ Margaret.” No, I love Margaret. To insert a “the” sets up an impersonal distance that is immediately obvious when we’re talking about a person, but slips through unnoticed when we’re talking about our own planet.

I’m not sure why this is. We don’t say “the Mars,” or “the Saturn,” but we too easily say, “the Earth.” Now listen to the difference it makes when I say, “I live on Earth. I care for Earth. I hope my children know Earth. I want Earth and all her companion creatures to thrive. There is an undeniable personal character to this speech, an intimacy that comes with these words. A recognition, so eloquently phrased by Martin Buber—and so quickly lost with the use of “the”—that we are most human when we meet Earth as Thou.

This tone of prophetic voice is essential to Christian Spirituality in a time of climate change. The dance between apocalyptic grief and evangelical hope will last for decades … likely for the rest of our lives. Even if in this very moment we altered all the damaging behaviors we engage in, Earth’s wounds run so deep, and the inertia of our wounding is so great, that it would be generations before we actually reversed course.

Which is to say, we have some time to figure out this tone of prophetic speech. I’ve offered some suggestions here, but as I said last time, this isn’t only my grief, it’s ours; it isn’t only my hope, it’s ours. As a church we’ll need to imagine together how to embody our lament and how to sustain our hope. I only say tonight that it can and must be done. The whole world, which God so loved, is counting on us.

Finally, we come to the third tone of prophetic speech, the tone where words grow legs and walk. I’ve named it on past occasions as resistance—and have suggested that, perhaps surprisingly, it includes repentance among its deeds. Resistance flows from anguish and hope, but it has its own set of folds in our “origami spirituality,” so it deserves a description of its own as well.

We see this prophetic speech in the Hebrew prophets when Moses (Ex. 9:1) says to Pharaoh, “Let me people go.” We see it when Elijah (1 Kings 18) challenges the prophets of Baal to an outdoor barbeque contest to demonstrate the Yahweh alone is God. We see it when Jeremiah faces down King Jehoiakim (Jer. 22:13-16), chastising him for his opulent palace built with forced labor and for the rampant injustice under his rule. He concludes by asking, “Do you think you are a king because you compete in cedar? Did not your father eat and drink and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. Your father judged the cause of the poor and needy. Is not this to know me? says the LORD.”

This is the prophetic speech of resistance. It announces God’s liberatory activity. It makes clear that God alone is God. And it speaks truth to power.

One way to conceive of this tone of the prophetic is to call it “oppositional”: it aims to counter something. It’s also present in Jesus’ ministry. Throughout his encounters with religious leaders and culminating in his cleansing of the Temple, Jesus challenges and then symbolically dismantles the religious economy of his day, which tried to sell access to God and played people against one another. But resistance is just as present in his parables, healings, and table fellowship, where he counters the system that is and dares to model a very different way of being community.

I’m tempted to say we’ll need this tone of prophetic speech most of all, because it “gets things done,” but that’s just my own impatience to do speaking up. The truth is, separated from lament or hope, even this powerful speech will end being little more than busy noise. Each fold in the paper is essential; none is truly functional without the others. I see a several particular roles for prophetic resistance.

The first is to ground our repentance. As I alluded in my last talk, repentance belongs here, rather than simply as an offshoot of lament, because, in a culture with coordinated forces that are hell-bent on destroying the ecosystem, acts of repentance are indeed acts of resistance.

Recall Paul’s ominous declaration (Eph. 6:12) that in our struggle to be faithful, we contend not merely with flesh and blood—not merely with the frailties and temptations of our own humanity, nor merely with the controlling obstructions of others—but against “principalities and powers.” Though originally read reflecting a worldview that saw human activity beset by demonic influences, contemporary scholars (Jaques Ellul, William Stringfellow, John Howard Yoder, and Walter Wink among others) suggest that Paul has made a much more sophisticated and insightful observation here. They see Paul calling attention to the our capacity to set up empires that establish whole systems with an inertia that is greater than any individual person—an inertia that seemingly takes on a life of its own. Not a consciousness, per se, but an institutionalized energy that can will forward a set of assumptions that can have dehumanizing, inhuman consequences.

As such, “principalities and powers” names the constellation of market forces that drive the insatiable and idolatrous pursuit of stuff that has crept into the entirety of our lives. We must find ways to resist this, actively and decisively. It’s really only been in the last 100 years that advertisers have stopped trying to sell us things based on their material qualities. Advertising, as we’ve known it our entire lives, but only recently in human society, has paired products with desired social values to sell them. So we buy cars or beer or jeans or perfume in order to “buy” the happiness, sexiness, friendship, success that advertisers pair it with. Of course, you can’t buy any of those things. But advertising has so colonized our social world that it shapes the way we process our desires. It creates in us a seamless sense of reason and feeling that stuff brings meaning.

And it’s done that for a century now. Which means that while advertisers have told us we need to consume the planet in order to find meaning, that lesson was mediated to us through the habits of our parents. This is insidious. Because it means we learned these habits that are so hurtful to the planet from people we loved and trusted. This will make it all the harder to unlearn them. My parents never taught me to destroy the planet, but they modeled an innocent but so very costly disregard for the way that stuff exacts a toll on Earth because of the principalities at work in the marketplace.

We absolutely must break our addiction to consumption, because it’s killing Earth right now. But we won’t be able to resist the powers and principalities that drive this addiction on our own. We will need, church by church, to establish small groups of mutual support in which w examine the patterns in our lives that are manipulated by forces that could care less about a livable planet. There are resources that can help us do this, but this type of awkward, uncomfortable engagement with one another is simply non-negotiable. Either we do it, or by our lack of doing it, we tell our children and our grandchildren that the stuff we love means more to us than their future. We cannot love both.

I said earlier tonight that part of the prophetic work of hope is to proclaim a “real-as-Reformation” word of radical grace to us—a word that is likely our only hope for survival as a species. I say that because of this challenge right here. Hearing from the church, from our pastors and the rest of our faith companions, the gracious word of God’s claim on each of us as beloved child—exactly as we are, without need of any “stuff” at all—that word alone, become real in our lives, is perhaps the only power sufficient to break the spell of stuff over our lives. That may be the most important thing you hear tonight: the Lutheran-Christian declaration of grace may be the only power sufficient to unbind us from our addiction to stuff. (To be clear: I am convinced that other traditions also bear transformative truths that can break the spell of us, but in our tradition this is that word.)

Alongside this, we need to prophetically resist the other lifestyle choices that drive fossil fuel use. These range from diet to transportation to residential and office building to city planning and more. They’re less about the stuff we accumulate than about the conveniences and preferences that we assume have no cost greater than our own wallet. They do. They have—for generations. And these choices, too, are foreclosing the future for our grandchildren, not to mention for other species and habitats. So we need to gather to ask the hard questions about the ecological cost of the meat we eat, the fertilizer we spread, the cars we drive, the roads we build, and more. And to ask them, framed by lament, steadied by hope, and steeled by a resolve to be faithful in our resistance to the powers that abide in cultural and corporate systems, powers that pull us into choices directly counter to God’s love for this world.

Both of these prophetic actions, breaking our addiction to stuff and changing the choices of convenience and preference in our lives, will involve personal decisions best shaped and supported by our communities. But beyond this, they will also ask us to step into the public sphere and reshape the policies and the practices that continue to act as though Earth is ours to exploit until she dies.

All day long today there have been international vigils happening to lift up in prayer those injured and arrested at Standing Rock in their effort to protect the water that nourishes their tribe, the same water that is life for all of us. There are multiple sides to this conflict, but assuredly this type of prophetic confrontation is in our future, too, if we wish to honor Earth as the recipient of God’s love, and if we wish to face our children’s children with integrity at the end of our lives. This struggle is not simply for our soul. It is for our soil and our air and our water. It is for Earth’s sake as much as for our own. And in it we contend not merely against flesh and blood, but against powers and principalities. So it will be public, political, and very personal before it’s over.

Finally, in this hard work, relishing community, joy and wonder will also become prophetic acts of resistance. Once

we are secure in our faith—graced with a sense of worth given by God, affirmed by one another so that we can break our addiction to stuff and to other choices that harm the planet—we will discover that the way to truly feed our souls, to truly seek out meaning, is through moments of genuine community, deep joy, and rapt wonder. And against the principalities and powers that want to measure meaning in money and status, in power and stuff, it will be an act of daring resistance to choose otherwise … and to offer that choice to others as well.

As we make these choices, exercising this tone of prophetic speech, we’ll find that even amidst the lament on a warming planet there will be joy and laughter. Even during the upheaval in economies and ecosystems, new communities can be made. And even on those days when climate change seems to have done its worst, if we have renewed ourselves within and without, there will be occasions for wonder. Not an abundance perhaps, but enough.

Some scholars say that when Jesus instructs us to pray for “daily bread,” he means “bread sufficient for the day”—never a surplus, simply enough. It’s a petition profoundly pertinent to the challenges we face today. In a time of climate change, this simple petition within the Lord’s prayer might become a regular moment of prophetic speech on Sunday morning.

It seems like we have so much to do. And as though it is so late in the day, and we’ve missed years and decades and generations of opportunities to start sooner. That’s all true.

But the moment that we have is right now.

Climate change is upon us, and if we intend to be faithful to God, to one another, and to Earth and all her creatures, we’ll seize this moment without delay. We’ll fashion a spirituality that is apocalyptic and enables us to truly lament. We’ll fashion a spirituality that is evangelical and anchors us in hope. We’ll fashion a spirituality that is prophetic and empowers us to repent and to resist. We’ll commit to these things as individuals and as communities, and we’ll carry them over into the public sphere as well.

It is a lot to do. And there is a lot at stake. But we’re not alone. The God who fashioned us out of humus, who wove our being right into the rest of creation, that God is here with us. And besides God, we are here in the good company of Earth and all her wondrous flora and fauna. We are indeed AT HOME ON EARTH. It’s time to tend the garden.

Thank you.

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David R. Weiss is the author of When God Was a Little Girl, a playfully profound and slyly subversive children’s picture book (Beaver’s Pond Press, 2013; www.WhenGodWasaLittleGirl.com) as well as To the Tune of a Welcoming God: Lyrical reflections on sexuality, spirituality and the wideness of God’s welcome (2008, Langdon Street Press). A theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, David is committed to doing “public theology” around issues of sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. He lives in St. Paul and speaks on college campuses and at church and community events. You can reach him at drw59mn@gmail.com and read more at www.ToTheTune.com where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.”