Tag Archive | Eco-theology

Advent, Anticipation … and Climate Change

Advent, Anticipation … and Climate Change
David R. Weiss – December 11, 2018
The Gospel in Transition #2 – Subscribe at www.davidrweiss.com

As a child Advent taught me the meaning of anticipation.

Yes, presents were part of that—though far from the whole of it. I remember the excitement that my siblings and I shared when the Sears and Penney’s Christmas catalogs arrived. But more than this, Advent meant evening family devotions: with each child taking a turn reading the message, lighting the candles on our family Advent wreath, or extinguishing them afterwards. It meant Saturday practice for the Sunday school Christmas Eve pageant. Each year we went out to a local tree farm to find, then tag, our chosen Christmas tree, and—during Advent—we went back to cut it down, bring it home, and trim it with favorite ornaments, decorating the rest of the house as well.

I particularly recall Pastor Knappe explaining that, because several of the prayers of the day during Advent begin with the phrase “Stir up, O God …”, these prayers always reminded him that Advent was time to stir up the batter for Christmas cookies. And, sure enough, my Advent didmean not just stirring the batter with my Mom but also smelling the Christmas cookies as they baked.

Years later in seminary—courtesy a talk by Jürgen Moltmann—I came to understand the full power intended in the word Advent: that Christmas comes to us. Although the calendar suggests wemarch toward Christmas, the theological truth of incarnation is that what happens in Christmas is not the sum of ouractions but the sum of God’s.

Thus, Advent is less “preparation” (as though our deeds “make” Christmas happen) than holy waiting, reverent anticipation of what comes to us from beyond our reach.

It’s disorienting, counterintuitive, and uncomfortably insightful to consider climate change from the vantage of Advent. The climate change we’re currently experiencing unquestionably has been made by our deeds. Beginning around 1850 and accelerating dramatically since 1950, we’ve been loading the atmosphere with carbon dioxide and other greenhouses gasses, largely through the use of fossil fuels. Unlike Christmas, then, the approach of climate change IS the direct result of human activity.

But, while the cause-effect link between human industrial activity, greenhouse gas emissions, and climate change is supremely clear at the scientific level, it’s much less clear on the experiential level. Sure, we occasionally see factories belching smoke, but the exhaust coming out of my car is barely visible and yet adds to the 28% of emissions that come from transportation. The CD player filling my home with Christmas music, the LED Christmas lights on my tree, the street lights lining my street, and the brightly lit malls and skyscrapers give off no green houses gases at all … except that generating the electricity needed to power them all accounts for another 28% of emissions. Unlike cookie-baking, present-wrapping, or tree-decorating, there is no obvious and immediate link between our daily choices and our warming planet.

Moreover, the time lag between what we put in the atmosphere by way of emissions and when we experience those emissions aschanging climate is large enough that it escapes our logic. How can gasses given off when I was a child be impacting the weather events I experience today? Perhaps most unsettling of all, we can barely imagine the cascading consequences as changing climate impacts multiply each other, creating feedback loops that drive both the speed and the extent of climate change. Admittedly, the models here are uncertain—testament to the complexity of these relationships, but not to the consensus that feedbacks loop will escalate the stakes considerably.

This is where we are today. An atmosphere recklessly and relentlessly loaded with carbon for more than a century. Wound up like a tightly coiled spring. The extreme weather eventswe notice today—storms, heat waves, droughts, floods, wildfires—are noteworthy not because we have them, but because we’re having them so frequently and so fiercely. But this is hardly “Christmas” yet as far as climate change goes. The full force of the carbon already loaded … hasn’t even begun to be felt.

And this is where climate change becomes too muchlike Christmas. Because even if we stopped adding more emissions tomorrow—both a technological and political impossibility—there is very little we can do to unwind the spring. (Yes, there are nascent—not yet practical—technologies for pulling carbon out of the atmosphere, but to imagine they’ll come on line in a cost effective way in time to significantly lessen the tension in a spring more tightly coiled each and every day, well, hopeful as that sounds, it’ll be about as effective as Scrooge’s “Bah Humbug” was in delaying the coming of Christmas.)

We are in Advent for climate change. There is indeed plentywe can do to “brace” ourselves, to increase our resilience: break habits, learn skills, link arms and weave the communal networks that can support us as climate change unravels many of the networks we’ve come to take for granted. Still, just like Christmas, there is nothing we can do to actually prevent its arrival.

I don’t “celebrate” that. Not by a long shot. Nonetheless, it’s time to embrace a long season of Advent for climate change. For there is a manner of anticipation that can seed hope in this unfamiliar season. Advent is a season that reminds us: we know (or we used to know—and can remember if we set ourselves to the task) what it is like to prepare-by-waiting for the arrival of something that comes unbidden to our world. And that posture—if we can reclaim it—may be a life-saving posture for ourselves and for our children.

The images coexist uneasily. Climate change as a type of Christmas? Advent as holy longing; now Advent as near-holy dread? On this one point they coalesce: central (for Christians) to both Christmas and climate change is the whispered presence of Emmanuel—God with us.

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The Gospel in Transition by David R. Weiss is a year of reflections on facing climate change, finding hope, and the alchemy of Christian community. My weekly blog posts will consider climate change, Transition, and faith—using biblical images, liturgical seasons, science, and theology, as conversation partners. Writing in a voice a bit too restless to call “devotional”; my aim is to be insightfully evocative and usefully provocative. I’d be delighted to have you join me on this journey. In fact, I hope you’ll subscribe (go to the top right sidebar!). Thanks for reading and see you next week!.

PS: I’ll be launching a Patreon site soon to help fund my work in this area. I hope you’ll invest in my thinking and writing. Watch for details soon.

 

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The Gospel in Transition

The Gospel in Transition – A Year of Weekly Reflections on Facing Climate Change, Finding Hope, and the Alchemy of Christian Community
David R. Weiss, December 3, 2018

It was just an innocent-looking list of years, but it turned my life upside down.

Sitting on the sofa or at the dining table, flipping through the newspaper, I’d seen plenty of headlines about climate change. I’d scan the stories. Catch an unsettling scenario here … a frightening-looking chart there. I suppose I knew just enough to know I didn’t really want to know more.

Full disclosure: twenty-two years ago (in November 1996, to be exact) I actually made my first academic presentation[1] as a Ph.D. student—on the fragility of our eco-system. A year-and-a-half later (April 1998) I gave a public talk[2] at Notre Dame’s Earth Day celebration in which I first addressed global warming. So climate change has been on my radar for a couple decades. However, alongside that interest, I was also finding my voice in support of a faith-based welcome to LGBTQ persons, and, in the Fall of 1998, a whole cascade of circumstances led me to focus—in my teaching, writing, and activism—on LGBTQ theology and welcome for nearly the next twenty years. Ecology was present in my personal ethics and climate change was there in the background of my awareness. But my best energy (fruitfully so) was invested elsewhere.

But about this list of years. Sparked by some news article in the spring of 2016 I googled “hottest years on record” and up popped a list that showed the 16 warmest years since 1880.[3] The list used 1880 as its starting point because that’s the first year we had enough accurate temperate records from across the globe to calculate an accurate global surface temperature. And since then we’ve been keeping really precise records. They were listed—these sixteen hottest years—in order of heat, so they looked like a pretty random set of years.

But when I looked closer I saw that, from 1880-2015, out of the last 136 years—all sixteen of the hottest ones occurred during my daughter’s lifetime—in fact, since she was just a toddler. Today she’s 22, and all eighteen of the hottest years on record have been since she turned two. She’s growing up on an altogether different planet than I did.

Now: not knowing … not acting … is NOT AN OPTION. Now Susanna’s face—is the face of climate change for me. Susanna’s future—is the shape of my work for the coming years. And I wrestle, like Jacob with the angel, determined that I will not let go until I receive a blessing of some sort that I can pass on … to help Susanna—and so many others—find a way forward on this strange new planet.

Hence, this blog. It’s only one small piece of that work, but it’s a place where I can offer others (that’s you!) a weekly glimpse at my thinking as it unfolds.

Addressing climate change will require responses from multiple arenas. Science, technology, public policy, news media, industry-business, arts, local communities, individuals—acting as both consumers and citizens, and more. My particular entry point is theology. That might seem far removed from the dynamics of a warming planet, but I suggest otherwise. The way we think about God impacts—often decisively—the way we think about ourselves. It establishes the points on our moral compass and grounds our conviction in making hard choices. Theology (and faith) tethers us to Something Bigger than ourselves as we plumb the coming tumult.

Tumult. I do not choose the word lightly. As I have read more and more about climate change over the past three years my alarm has grown and my hope has been schooled in humility. The news reports[4] this fall are perhaps most sobering because they represent “committee voices,” which, by their nature tend to be moderate in their tone, and even these moderate voices now report predictions and conclusions that sit at the edge of panic.

We may well survive this tumult. But we aren’t going to escape it. And the longer we focus on the most optimistic possibilities—as though we can still avert what will be the unmaking of the world as we know it, the more likely we are to be entirely unprepared when the worst of climate change hits. I am not without hope. But this blog and my work are rooted in my dawning awareness that only by acknowledging the depth of the crisis upon us can we take measure of the means that will serve us well in the days ahead.

For me, one source of hope is the Transition Town Movement.[5] Born a little over a decade ago in Ireland, Transition Towns use permaculture principles,[6] coupled with clear contextual commitment to dramatically reduce carbon emissions and simultaneously restore the strength of local communities: both economically and socially (and, I would add, spiritually). That’s an overly broad sweep, but over the coming year I’ll unpack these ideas further.

Right now it’s sufficient to say I find “gospel in transition”—and moving in both directions. I believe there is “good news” for this present moment in the Transition Town Movement. But I also believe that a host of fundamental principles and practices of transition resonate deeply with of the roots of vital Christian community. In other words, there is also Gospel hiding, as it were, in transition. Which is why I want to use this blog as a place to explore these resonances.[7] If the church aspires to be the church—the called and faithful people of God—in the midst of climate change, then listening to, learning from, and contributing toward the Transition Town Movement is an exercise of discipleship.

Finally, alchemy. Climate change will require more character, more conviction, more courage than perhaps any other socio-historical event since the Black Death of medieval Europe and Asia. If we are not scared, we are foolish. BUT—by choosing to make a regular practice of intentional communal acts of practical kindness, self-education, skill-sharing, localized-rootedness, and resilience-building we can transform fear and isolation into courage and hope. That’s the alchemy of Christian community. It is—absolutely—accessible in a host of other communities. It is not specifically Christian. But for those of us who express our faith through Christianity, there is an alchemy entirely ours. One that lifts up and embodies the best of Christian theology. And that’s where we’ll find hope.

My weekly blog posts will consider climate change, Transition, and faith—using biblical images, liturgical seasons, science, and theology, as conversation partners. Writing in a voice a bit too restless to call “devotional”; my aim is to be insightfully evocative and usefully provocative. I’d be delighted to have you join me on this journey. In fact, I hope you’ll subscribe (go to the top right sidebar!). See you next week!

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The Gospel in Transition by David R. Weiss is a year of weekly reflections on facing climate change, finding hope, and the alchemy of Christian community. I’ll be launching a Patreon site soon to help fund my work in this area. Thanks for reading.

 

 

[1]“Beyond Ecological Security: Intimacy and Risk. Imago Deias a Theological Resource for a More Creative Encounter with the Earth,” David R. Weiss. Presented at The Wisconsin Institute, Ripon College, November 1, 1996

[2]“Consuming the Earth In Search of Our Worth,” David R. Weiss. Earth Day Talk at the University of Notre Dame, April 18, 1998

[3]https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/global/201513

[4]http://nymag.com/intelligencer/amp/2018/10/un-says-climate-genocide-coming-but-its-worse-than-that.html

[5]http://transitionus.org/home

[6]https://permacultureprinciples.com

[7]My thinking will be plenty original, but these two texts have been a helpful entry point for me. The Transition Movement for Churches: A Prophetic Imperative for Today, Timothy Gorridge & Rosie Beckham. London: Canterbury Press Norwich, 2013. Rising to the Challenge: The Transition Movement and People of Faith, Ruah Swennerfelt. Quaker Institute for the Future, 2016.

 

Earth-Honoring Faith: A to Z

I’ve just completed a two-week workshop on Earth-Honoring Faith at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico. I’ve written a series of short reflections on my experience here.

You can read them in this long blog post or download them in this pdf: Earth-Honoring Faith A to Z.

 

From A to Z – an Abecedary Journal of Reflections & Insights during the Earth-Honoring Faith Workshop at Ghost Ranch, July 2-8, 2017

David R. Weiss

A short note to those reading this “from the outside.” The Earth-Honoring Faith—Journey of the Universe workshop was the last of a ten-year series of EHF workshops curated by Larry Rasmussen at Ghost Ranch. Each workshop had a slightly different entry point (this year it was the film/book, Journey of the Universe) into conversation and reflection about how to midwife an “earth-honoring faith” in Christianity (but also in other faith traditions), one cognizant of current science, committed to addressing climate change, and able to foster a renewed mutuality with Earth and beyond.

Our incredible faculty for the week were:

  • Larry Rasmussen, Reinhold Neibuhr Professor Emeritus, Union Theological Seminary. He is author of many books and articles on Eco-Ethics including Earth-Honoring Faith: Religious Ethics in a New Key.
  • Mary Evelyn Tucker, Senior Lecturer & Research Scholar at Yale University in the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, the Divinity School, and the Department of Religious Studies. A specialist in Asian religions, she is co-author (with Brian Swimme) of Journey of the Universe, and carries out multiple projects with her husband, John Grim.
  • John Grim, Senior Lecturer & Research Scholar at Yale University in the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, the Divinity School, and the Department of Religious Studies. A specialist in Native American & indigenous religions, he is co-director (with Mary Evelyn Tucker) of the Forum on Religion & Ecology at Yale, co-author of Ecology and Religion, and co-director/co-editor of the Harvard conference/book series, World Religions and Ecology.
  • Bill Brown, William Marcellus McPheeters Professor of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary. Bill has written extensively on biblical perspectives of creation, including The Seven Pillars of Creation: Bible, Science, and the Ecology of Wonder and Sacred Sense.
  • Betty Holley, Professor of Environmental Ethics & African American Religious Studies at Payne Seminary and a presiding Elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
  • Julianne Lutz Warren, Fellow at the Center for Humans & Nature with a Ph.D. in conservation ecology. She is author of Aldo Leopold’s Odyssey, an intellectual biography of his land ethic.

 

Each day at Ghost Ranch I set aside time in the afternoon and evening—often outside the Welcome Center until midnight—processing my thoughts from the day. Some are personal insights, most are drawn from the day’s presentations. They’re still largely unedited. And I didn’t write them in alphabetical order, but once I’d written the first couple (Night and Motion) I saw a pattern worth pursuing, and I followed it until I filled out the whole alphabet. I have so much more I could write about—and will. But this collection will be a seed packet. Who knows what will sprout from it?

Of course—these are MY reflections. They can’t begin to speak to the whole experience, but they offer a glimpse of mine.

 

Foreword – a reflection on my way to Ghost Ranch

Driving from Albuquerque to Santa Fe I find myself swallowed—no, embraced—by landscape that is at once foreign and familiar. I don’t know this land. Not on the outside. I’ve only been a tourist here on a few brief occasions. But it seems as if this land knows me … as if, on the inside we are already well-acquainted.

Yes, there is a sparse stunning beauty on the horizon. The mountains, if not quite majestic are more than respectable. But it’s the close-up landscape that greets me like a friend. The scraggly land that only rarely—here and there, now and then—bursts into vibrant green. More often the land waits, unapologetically, between a dry brown and a windy tan, with only the barest hint of faded green. Like me.

This land echoes my inner landscape so well it is impossible not to feel instinctively at home, affirmed by the ground under my feet. It’s good to be here.

A is for Alchemy. In centuries past (likely still in some minds today) alchemy names the proto-scientific ambition that sought to transmute some common substance (usually some cheap metal) into something far more precious—often gold. Today we see it most often as a fool’s errand although the sincere diligence of its most ardent practitioners laid important groundwork for chemistry and pharmacy.

What I am learning this week is that while alchemy may well lie beyond the reach and patience of humanity, it is standard practice in the universe. From the Big Bang through supernovae and evolving life forms, alchemy is what the universe does. Starting with just quarks and leptons it fashioned hydrogen—and from there stars, planets, all the elements, oceans, plants, dinosaurs, and us.

It may overstate it to say the universe is consciously purposive. But is has been relentlessly creative and expansively expressive over its billions of year. Perhaps our place is not to play alchemist but to observe this alchemy already at play, to pursue an appreciative understanding, a posture of wonder, awe, gratitude.

 

B is for Bird. No happy tale, this one. Several years back the American Museum of Natural History was hiring an ornithologist (a bird expert). One of the most prestigious positions for an ornithologist in the world, the candidates were numerous and all top tier. When the search had been narrowed down to the final six candidates, each was invited to make a presentation on the bird that was the focus of their research.

At that point a sobering realization emerged. Of the six candidates, FOUR of them were studying birds that had gone extinct during the course of the researcher’s study. Life evaporating before their very eyes.

We aren’t perched on the edge of an extinction event; we have begun the cascade down the hill. As a direct result of this ominous intersection of human expertise and species extinction, the Museum added a dimension to their exhibits that treats the spiritual-religious facet of species loss, recognizing that this isn’t simply an historical event; it’s an existential one.

 

C is for Center. Our best science used to regard Earth as the center of all that is (which at the time wasn’t even the universe). Then Earth was displaced by the Sun (cause for no small bit of theological drama), but we still claimed the Sun-centered solar system as the center. Then we learned about not just stars but whole galaxies. And we discovered to our existential angst that we’re actually located in an outer arm of the Milky Way galaxy, swirling around its center, while floating in (what we thought was) a static universe. Now we know the universe itself is dynamic: in constant motion, still expanding from that initial Big Bang nearly 14 billion years ago.

Here’s the scale: current best estimates are 100 billion or more stars in each galaxy—and likely as least one trillion galaxies in the universe. These galaxies are gathered in groups (of perhaps several dozen) that revolve around a center in their midst. These groups of galaxies revolve around yet another center in a cluster of galaxies (hundreds, perhaps thousands of galaxies to a cluster). And these clusters revolve around yet another center in superclusters of galaxies (comprising millions of galaxies at a time).

Here’s where it bends your mind. The center of our supercluster is a massive star at the center of the Virgo Cluster. Mathematical calculations confirm this star as “the” center of cosmic expansion. Everything is rushing away from this point. EXCEPT our best science right now says that every other supercluster (and there are millions of them) also has an exact center of cosmic expansion. There are millions of centers, all legitimately claiming with mathematical certainty and the gravitational pull to prove it, that THEY at the center of this universe. Boom. Mind blown. We can’t think that way for long.

But what if the same is true of religions? What if truth is not Christocentric or Judeo-Christian-centric or Abrahamic-centric? What if at the heart of all religions is a truth irreducible to others? What if, in our one universe, there are multiple centers of religious truth? Science (almost gleefully) bends our minds to tell us the truth of multiple cosmic centers. Would we expect spiritual truth to be any less challenging?

D is for DNA. Life’s evolved means of preserving the memory of its successes. Pythagoras’ greatest insight was his conviction that the essence, the ground of reality was not water, air, fire, but … number. Where many of us see only confusing equations, he saw sheer beauty in the endless array of precise mathematical patterns (including the theorem that bears his name).

But he couldn’t have known the extent to which he was right, not simply about abstract equations or the laws of physics or the exacting relationships that make for visual or auditory art, but about life itself. In DNA life codes its accomplishments in patterns. Meaning it doesn’t need to pass on each finished molecule from one generation to the next. It simply passes forward the genetic memory, the blueprint, so that each new generation can build on the last (occasionally improvising through mutations).

Most astonishingly if you think about it, through evolution DNA has “taken flight.” To some extent among animals who teach the use of tools, but especially among humans, with the development of symbol and language, life’s memory is no longer bound by genetic code. Through cultural tradition, religious heritage, the arts and humanities, and through scientific knowledge, we have “externalized” DNA.

Though hardly without risk. Our increased awareness, our self-consciousness, allows us to more actively “partner” with DNA than any other creature can. We help fashion the next generation by what we encode in rituals, books, and more. But whether by abusive eugenics, racist science, bigoted religion, or oppressive culture, sometimes what we pass forward is precisely what life would prefer to forget: dysfunctional hatreds that are hardly the fittest for survival. We have yet to learn how to consistently shape ourselves through wisdom.

 

E is for Earth. Every one of the speakers here refers to our planet as Earth. Not “the earth”; simply Earth as a name. It’s a rhetorical move I intentionally made in my own eco-speaking at churches over the past year, but I wasn’t aware of others doing the same. I do it to personalize the planet, to refuse to make language reduce this life-giving orb to an “It.” Following Martin Buber’s wisdom, calling Earth by name bestows a Thou-ness to the planet. (BUT—it’s a thou-ness that science increasingly suggests is less ours to bestow than to acknowledge.)

Tonight I recall words spoken this morning commemorating Rina Swentzell, a Pueblo wise woman and former teacher in this course who died not quite two years ago. Rina married an Anglo man and one of her daughters, Athena, spoke about how difficult it was growing up in the pueblo with features that followed her father’s Anglo heritage far more than her siblings. Just shy of outcast, she was consistently “edge-cast,” regarded as “less than” by many outside her immediate family. Athena said it was a tortuous childhood, yearning to belong, yet recognizing that belonging rests in the chosen embrace by others … in her case an embrace largely withheld. Until her mother told her as a young adult, “No, you don’t belong to the people. They do not choose whether you belong. You belong to Earth, and each day she upholds your feet, she is embracing you. You always belong.

Here, too, Earth not only stands before us as Thou. Indeed, her grace is that she “thou”-s us unconditionally and irrevocably. We are because she claims us as hers.

 

F is for Fusion & G is for Gravity. That these letters fall right next to each other in the alphabet is both convenient and appropriate. A bit like yin and yang, fusion and gravity represent forces that can hold each other in check and that provide the creative tension in which the universe unfolds.

Consider: it is gravity, driven by unimaginable mass, that presses elemental particles together until fusion occurs, ultimately pressing hydrogen into helium, generating the explosive energy of a star. But that explosive energy, rather than simply exhausting itself, is captured again by gravity, triggering another cycle of fusion. A star’s life is an explosion caught in suspended animation—with an emphasis on both words. It isn’t a frozen explosion, it’s an ongoing explosion that never dissipates (well, at least not for billions of years).

Two side comments. Gravity, the physical force of attraction between all things that have mass, might be analogous to love, the emotional force of attraction that pulls persons together. I often remark that I have a “blended” family, since Margaret and I “blended” our children together when we married. But I’ve heard two people here describe themselves as being from “fusion” families—a notion I like because it acknowledges what I’ve known to be true: when families, like elemental particles, are fused together by love, something more than the mere sum of parts results. Something altogether new—with a burst of transformative energy to boot.

 

H is for Hope. But we begin with hevel, the Hebrew word that opens the Book of Ecclesiastes. Often rendered as “vanity” (“Vanity of vanities, all is vanity”), it’s a wispy word with lots of nuance. Other options: futility, absurdity, passing away, vaporous. One German commentator proposes Scheisse. It’s just the way life is: hevel happens.

Hevel speaks a real truth. Shit does happen. Our best hopes evaporate. Our dreams prove futile. These are undeniable aspects of human life. Absurdity makes a strong case for having the final word. Regarding climate change, hevel might ask, “What did you expect? Have you not been following human history? It’s populated by people with hevel for brains!”

But we need hope. So, consider hope a trustworthy hunger. How do we know it’s trustworthy? I’ll guess because it’s bound up with the memory of stars—the whole saga of the universe—woven into our psyches. We remain part of creation’s book, even if we’re no longer paying attention to the story. The story still claims us. I recall, playfully but purposefully, Winnie the Pooh and his honey pot. When Pooh gets lost in the woods, he follows the “rumbly in his tumbly”—his own trustworthy hunger—home to his honey pot. For us, the hunger to be at home on earth is trustworthy as hope comes. (I also believe religious traditions offer hope through their varied stories, symbols, and rituals. Personally, I see these as distinct doorways into the primal universal hope described above. My greatest “fluency” in is Christian hope, but I don’t regard it as more “true” than that of other traditions … or that of sheer scientific wonder. And some religious hope may be less earth-friendly than others.)

One caveat as we follow our hunger home. The more we re-member ourselves into the universe story, the more we’ll grieve for the pages we’ve ripped from the book (see “V is for Voices”). This grief is not disempowering, though it may be overwhelming. It represents the muted joy of getting closer to home.

Hevel happens, and is wont to revel in its happening. But hope—watered by tears—will have the last word. Because, finally, this story rests on perspective far larger and longer than ours. Be hungry. Go home.

 

I is for Intuition. How else to name the deep insights harbored in the sacred stories of indigenous peoples? (Plus, it was the word chosen by one of the Native women at our workshop.) I’m not concerned with the scientific “accuracy” of these many tales—and, I daresay, those who first told them weren’t either! Rather, these stories offered up the holy intuitions of those sages and seers in varied cultures whose vision outpaced science by centuries. Whose tales told truths far more fecund than mere facts. They tethered the people to the ground and sea, to the moon and stars, to the plants and animals, to the seasons of nature and the cycles of life. They didn’t imagine this web of life. No, they perceived its objective reality through the wisdom of their hearts. They saw our interconnections—often all the way to the stars—and simply spun tales so that others could hear the drama they intuitively knew.

I’m honestly not sure that modern ears (attuned to contemporary science and/or contemporary religion) can easily or fully “hear” what these indigenous traditions say today. The gaps in worldview are so great, it’s almost like trying to interpret a whale song. Such songs undeniably carry rich meaning, but rely on a “grammar” and “syntax” that we have yet to fathom. Regarding intuition, our contemporary minds have invested so much energy in linear-logical thought that we may well have rendered them incapable of hearing other tones. In which case, respectful listening to what we cannot hear may be the best we can do. And that virtue alone may help us hear.

J is for Journey. Of course. That’s the theme of the workshop: Journey of the Universe. In a nutshell, the point (the power!) of this unassuming phrase is that, far from being a static backdrop against our lives, the universe itself is an unfolding story—a drama, in which we have a role. This ought to humble us: we are, after all, players in a cast that includes supernovae and black holes—forces beyond anything we can conceive of. But it also ought to inspire us: we are the fruit of a story fourteen billion chapters in the making—and not one chapter is dispensable to our being here. It’s taken everything the universe has in it to reach this point where we step onto the stage. Whoa.

Sadly, we’ve assumed our role is to plunder our corner (read: planet) of the universe. Driven, I’d argue, by existential insecurity and a patriarchal order that equates dignity with dominance, we’ve invested deeply—and across centuries, perhaps millennia—in a project destined to be our death if we cannot find another role.

I recall the words of early feminist theologian Nelle Morton who said to her sisters, lest they be wearied by their own arduous journey toward gender justice, “the journey is home.” From Big Bang to first stars to our galaxy, our Sun, our Earth, we dwell within story upon story upon story. An endless cascade of journeys, one nested inside the other. Our role—uniquely ours because of our capacity for culture—is to be troubadours of the journey. To learn the stories as best we can and to find our place within them, offering songs (whether scientific, religious, philosophical, or artistic) that honor the journey we’re on.

 

K is for King. Today Betty Holley’s presentation on Martin Luther King, Jr. helped us see the profoundly creative connections between “King and the Cosmos.” Although understandably best known for his leadership in the civil rights movement, Betty showed how wholistic King’s vision of a truly universal justice was. It’s possible we prefer to keep King’s reach bound by race for our own comfort, but his words and wisdom touched on economics and militarization, indigenous rights and ecological concerns.

Far beyond the claim (itself resoundingly important[!]—though also historically conditioned) that “all men are brothers,” King also declared “all LIFE is inter-related,” comprising “an inescapable network of mutuality … a single garment of destiny.”

Moreover, his capacity to move the conscience of the nation on civil rights helped inspire the environmental movement—and the environmental justice movement (the wing of environmental activism focused also on racial justice). As Betty read through the Principles of Environmental Justice drafted in October 1991, the echo of King’s wholistic vision of justice, now embraced and developed by others, stilled the room in awe.

For me, it was a revelatory affirmation of what liberation theologians call the epistemological privilege of the poor: the clarity of vision that is uniquely accessible to those on the underside of systemic injustice. Suffering does not guarantee insight, but privilege almost always insures ignorance. And in this document, suffering’s voice is crystal clear. (http://www.ejnet.org/ej/principles.html)

 

L is for Light. I’m a poet: I listen for evocative connections; I take delight in the suggestive. So listen to this. If a tree falls in a forest and no one’s there to hear, does it make a sound? I’d say, No. It’s sending out a puff of waves, but if there are no ears to hear them, it just vibrations moving through air.

God said, “Let there be light.” Did anyone hear that? God doesn’t have physical ears, and there were no humans and no animals around to pick up those “spoken” vibrations. I know, it’s all myth. I agree. But play along. Listen for the delight.

The Milky Way is a galaxy with a spiral structure. When scientists first noted its spiral “arms,” they thought the arms were comprised of matter swirling around the galaxy’s center. Now they understand that the spirals are caused by gravitational waves pulsing outward through the galaxy. Think waves of powerful attraction, waves of love.

Imagine the vibrations of God’s breath saying “Let there be light,” despite there being no ears to hear the words. Only silent vibrations pulsing outward. But as these words-waves move they pull gas clouds together with such force (love) that they IGNITE into massive stars—“Light!”—and burn for millions of years until they’re expended and the waves-words pulse further outward igniting more stars along the way. We SEE Genesis 1:3 occurring in the spiral arms of galaxies, the universe responding to God’s soundless-but-brilliant call for light.

 

M is for Motion. We started the morning 250 million years ago up on the mesa. The ground exposed under our feet used to host a jungle populated by dinosaurs. Part of Pangea back then (the great singular land mass before our current continents went their own ways) this ground was equatorial at the time. Like me, it traversed a thousand miles or more to get here this morning. Now some cosmic dance places us as partners. Here. Today.

Later on—the layers in the exposed mountains tell the story—this land was all sand dunes. Dried out by a mountain range, itself long since expired, that stopped all the rain on the western slopes. And millions of years after that, it was a large inland sea. Jungle, dunes, seabed. These are my neighbors in this place across time. And they have graciously welcomed me to the neighborhood.

 

N is for Night. Sunday night—my first night here. When have I known the comfort of such dark? When has silence been such an intimate companion? Too rarely, for sure.

My roommate headed to bed shortly after nine. I showered, gathered my things and headed to the library, where I read and reviewed notes for tomorrow’s conversation. From 9:30-10:30 I was alone … then the high school and/or college kids came. Hardly noisy, but the stillness was gone. By 11 I finished my work and had my phone & laptop fully charged. I made my way, clothed in darkness, to the Welcome Center where the rock patio stills holds a bit of the day’s warmth, and I have been sitting in the dark wrapped in nothing but stillness. No voices. No cars. No media. The lazy chirp of crickets at most.

I don’t imagine I could live like this daily. I know I could. In this expanse the voices that clamor inside me don’t feel so much urge to run amok seeking attention. They quiet down and organize themselves into something like a lilting symphony. A soothing melody with myriad variations that rolls like a lazy—friendly—river behind my thoughts without disrupting them.

I was made for silence. Sure, I am head over heels in love with words. But apart from silence, they become unruly noise. In the stillness they unfold themselves with the patience of leaves. It is such joy.

And this: whoever taught us to be afraid of the dark did so to keep us from learning the liberating wisdom that lies beyond sight. (Yes, I know there are things to fear in the dark, though no less fearsome things operate in broad daylight if we’re honest.) But darkness carries a beauty deeper than eyes can see. Not simply that it compels us to look inward—but that it reminds us, sometimes, simply to stop looking at all.

 

O is for O’Keeffe. Georgia O’Keeffe, of course. The famous artist stumbled upon Ghost Ranch in 1934, first spending summers here in a rented cottage, eventually managing to buy the house and a few acres of land. She spent her summers here exploring the terrain on foot and then capturing it on canvas. A loner all her life, she sought isolation on the Ranch and only uneasily fashioned alliances with the other residents. When she could no longer live at the ranch, she retired to Santa Fe, eschewing social contact to the end, declaring, “I find people very difficult.” Me, too.

I need to add—and quickly—that there are plenty of people I love: Margaret, my six kids, nine grandchildren, parents, siblings, and plenty of other family and friends to make a short working list.

But the truth is, my best gifts, my deepest joys and strongest sense of purpose, unfold mostly in solitude … and tend to wither in its absence. I might well fall prey to despair were I not tethered to others, but I need to cultivate space—especially in the form of time and solitude—for my best self to come forward more consistently. I want more “social balance” than Ms. O’Keeffe chose, but no less honesty. So, although I don’t say if very often, here it is: I find people very difficult. J

 

P is for play. Longer recess may have begun as a genetic mutation that lengthened our childhood, humanizing us in two distinctive ways. We see “play” in the young of many mammals—it carries an essential role in building the skills that equip them to successfully navigate their world. But as childhood lengthened dramatically for our earliest human ancestors, they spent successively more and more time “at recess.”

First, this meant their brains had significantly more time to mature while still young, tutored by play in ways that stretched and deepened cognitive development beyond anything the animal kingdom had ever seen. Second, one “by-product” of play that followed us into adulthood is doing things that bring delight as an end in themselves. Thus, sport, art, literature, music, dance are all instances of “play” polished to a fine point. Indeed, the freedom we experience as beings with a sense of choice is also a form of play carried forward into adulthood.

Ironically, under this hypothesis, we stand—in truth—not simply on the shoulders of our wisest elders, but equally on the giggles of those mischievous children in our distant past.

Carrying this notion one step further, many development theorists (I’m thinking particularly of James Fowler) posit a stage of post-conventional awareness in which adults—those who reach it anyway—experience a second naiveté, an ability to relish wonder and complexity with joy that is play in its richest form. Unfortunately, modern society—from education to market to employer to parish—all conspire to halt our development shy of post-conventional maturity. Today, more than ever, if we hope to bequeath a breathing planet to a next generation of children, we adults must remember how to link the knowledge we have to the wisdom of play.

 

Q is for Quest. I am my own worst critic. (That’s sheer assumption—maybe people say worse things about me behind my back than I imagine. I just know the critical voices in my head can be severe, even savage.) Blessed with many gifts, I rarely manage to bring them together with focus. Despite my plentiful passion, my days are usually defined more by distraction than determination, shaped more by my anxieties than my aspirations.

I’ll be honest. My “quest” in coming here was fundamentally to disrupt the distracting rhythms of my life sufficiently to re-center myself. Yes, “earth-honoring faith” is a central passion for me, and cultivating some contacts and deepening my understanding will be helpful. But I needed something more than another academic conference. I needed a setting that invited personal transformation as much as professional development. Ghost Ranch has been that for me. (And—holy shit!—I still have eight more days here!)

Maybe next week, after the workshop is over and I’m here as part of the Adult Service Corps (read: free labor for five hours/day), I’ll take in the museums and a few hikes. This week—maybe you’ve noticed—I’m writing. Processing each day’s ideas a bit, although I barely scratch the surface of all there is to think about. Most importantly, I am daily re-making myself. Giving words and silence the place they need in order for determination, focus, and joy to blossom in my life. (But see “V is for Voices”; this joy is both gracious gift to my soul and anchor for soul-rending grief.)

This is heart-work for me. Remembering who I am and what I need. Tending the desert in my soul. I came to the right place, surrounded by the right people, to do this work. And I’m determined to carry a well-tended desert back with me to the land of ten thousand lakes.

R is for Religious. I won’t argue if you’re skeptical. Religious traditions have done their damned best to stain their own image. They’re too often pressed into the service of top-down power and hierarchy. Wielded as cultural weapons rather than serving as wombs for wonder, they are—without question—ambiguous at best.

And yet, how else to stand before a world—from the terrain our eyes meet to the stars rushing away to ancient days beyond our gaze—a world “charged with the grandeur of God” (Gerard Manley Hopkins)? Go ahead and replace God with Mystery or Allure. Reduce it to a capital-G Grandeur, and put the period right there, if you wish. The bottom line is that, given our sensuous perception and given the world’s sheer Isness, our fundamental response should begin with wonder and awe.

And religious (keeping organized and institutionalized religion at arm’s length) is the human posture that allows wonder to wind its way like ivy around our lives. It invites awe to grow in our souls. Finally, being religious is not about believing in God or practicing strict rituals. It is about meeting the world with a deep bow of boundless gratitude. Now go practice.

 

S is for Stardust. It sounds fanciful to say, but it’s true, we carry stardust in our hearts. The iron that reddens our blood was born in stars. Indeed, all the elements that comprise this planet, from rocks to plants to animals—all of this is made from stardust. But we alone know this.

The Earth Charter, which we reviewed today, is glorious in its aspirational vision for our life together. It’s like a moral murmuration (see W is for Whirlpool): a glimpse of human lives moving in full alignment in a pattern of justice. It’s what moral consciousness looks like under the right conditions so that universal self-organizing dynamics can emerge.

It’s also a long way from aspirational charter to actual change. I get that. But stardust! In its powerful Preamble, the Earth Charter summons us, both individually and collectively, to a life geared toward “being more rather than having more.” That change needs to happen (and quickly, because the time is short!) in our lives, our communities, our common commitments, our governments, our actions of resistance and hope. But it begins in how we see ourselves. It begins in our hearts—the very stardust core of our being.

We are stars come to life. It’s time for us to trace our genealogy back to the beginning. To find our place in a proud family, where our ancestors truly shine down on us each night. A family where it is already an honor, already enough, simply to be.

 

T is for Touch. This is perhaps THE challenge of “earth-honoring faith.” Yes, we need to grasp the basics of the science, both cosmology and climate change. And, yes, we need to reckon soberly with the implications of our present economic-industrial inertia for our livelihood on the planet—and the livelihood of our fellow fauna and flora. But we need more than this.

We need to touch hearts. The stark numbers are essential, but they don’t tell the whole story. In fact, for most people, numbers don’t tell stories at all. Which is exactly why religion (and arts of every kind) have a crucial role to play here. We must move people to grief, to hope, to imagine, to resolve, to resist, to renew. Our knowledge must find expression in stories that can touch.

 

U is for Us. Though likely not the “us” to which your mind races. I’m thinking of the “us” in Gen 1:26. “Then God said, ‘Let us make human beings …’” Many have wondered or argued at length over this “us.” Some say it’s simply an instance of “the royal ‘we,’” as when a monarch speaks on behalf of the whole realm. Others believe it shows God speaking to the angels. And still others hold that it reflects an early intimation of the Trinity. I don’t really care, but I’m going to cast my vote for a yet more evocative reading.

Genesis tells us, “God said, ‘Let the earth put forth vegetation …’” creatures …’” and “God said, ‘Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures …’” and “God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth living creatures …’” (1:11, 20, 24) I don’t imagine for a minute that the author of Genesis is making scientific or historical claims. He’s spinning a tale that will orient his people meaningfully in the world in which they dwell. But it does seem significant that he portrays a God who works with creation in creative partnership.

So, given what we know today of life’s unfolding course, why not read the “us” as God turning to the entire animal kingdom (all brought forth in the immediately preceding verses), and saying to them with a grand evolutionary invitation, “Now, let us—all of you creatures—let us together make human beings in our image … so that they carry within themselves both the seeds of creaturely roots and the aspirations of God.”

 

V is for Voices. A whole symphony of them. Silent. Silenced. Tonight we listened to audio recordings of birdsongs of five birds gone extinct in the past century. I was wholly unprepared. These songs were instances of aural beauty that will. Never. Be. Sung. Again.

We heard them tonight. Though not resurrected. Still fully dead. Songs from beyond the grave. As I listened a macabre scene played out in my head against my own wishes. I imagined myself plucking each bird, feather by feather, until I took each brutally bared body and twisted the neck to stop the song. Forever.

Julianne Warren’s presentation was as exquisitely poignant as anything I’ve experienced. Teary-eyed and breathless, I scrawled in my notebook, “Oh————you ripped a hole in my soul! I did not know how to feel such grief. Only that I needed to. And you led me there. What a strange thing to say ‘thank you’ for.”

I know, I’m not to blame. But my “innocence” does those birds no good. And I have my own strong intuition that hope is something sown deep in the soil of our souls, where it requires the salty water of tears before it sprouts. Tonight I watered hope.

 

W is for Whirlpool. This patterning effect occurring with water is emblematic of the self-organizing dynamics at work within the universe. Seemingly present at all levels of matter and perhaps responsible for producing the spark of life itself, these dynamics are manifest when matter—even at a very simple chemical level, encounters conditions that lead it to organize itself spontaneously (and without any outside direction) into a patterned and persisting order. From crystalline structures to nanoparticles, from whirlpools in water to murmurations by starlings, we see a universal tendency to resist entropy (the tendency toward disorder and chaos) with creative pattern.

Hardly inevitable unless the conditions are right, self-organizing dynamics might offer a clue to human morality. My own flight of fancy here (still refining it): is it possible that ethical principles like justice, compassion, altruism, mutuality and so forth are the “moral whirlpools” that appear in human consciousness—under the right conditions? Might they represent consciousness intuitively organizing itself for life-giving purposes.

Within matter, self-organizing dynamics arise only when the physical conditions are right—temperature, pressure, etc. Otherwise entropy holds sway. So … are there conditions—physical, social, spiritual—that are prerequisite to the emergence of life-giving morality? I suspect so. And it feels rather pressing to discern them before entropic morality (principles, to be sure, but ones “guiding” life toward chaos) wins the day … at least in this corner of the universe.

 

X is for X, X + 1. I know, it seems like I’m reaching here, but wait until you see where I’m going. This morning we looked at Proverbs 30:18-19 as a text showing the biblical declaration of wonder for creation. It’s an example of “graded numerical parallelism.” What does THAT mean? Glad you asked. Simply put, as Bill Brown, our speaker, explained, the first clause speaks of X number of things, and the next one makes the same clam regarding X + 1. J

Here’s the verses:

Three things are too wonderful for me; four I do not understand:

the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a snake on a rock,

the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of one lover with another.

And here’s the wonder. The poem declares its awe for creation by exclaiming in wonder at the mystery manifest in natures three great domains—no, four. The way a bird moves across the sky, the way a snake moves across the ground, the way a ship moves across the waters—and, most especially, the way love moves across human hearts.

A simple poem, astonishing in its exquisite reach for wonder, made clear by x, x + 1.

 

Y is for You. Yes, you. It’s the penultimate letter in the alphabet, but I’ve saved writing this reflection until the very end. In Journey to the Universe (p. 122), Mary Evelyn Tucker & Brian Swimme describe the existential restlessness that marks humanity: “Other species found their biome and settled into it, but nothing has seemed to satisfy us fully. Every place we went we felt we were at home, yet not at home.” They go on to suggest that perhaps our vocation is to so immerse ourselves in the wonder of this entire place—from Earth to space—that “we become the human form of the universe,” and that perhaps only then will we find ourselves at home on Earth.

I agree. But my mind is still pondering the phrase “other species found …”, and I hear “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but …” (Luke 9:58)—which, of course, is Jesus talking about himself. And I can’t help but wonder, Were we mistaken in thinking he was talking only about himself? We (Christians, at least!) are eager to maintain Jesus’ monopoly on messianic status … as though that’s the highest honor we can accord him. But what if that “honor” undermines his entire message? (I’m just asking.)

But I am really asking. What if Jesus was actually modeling messiah—for all of us? As our universal vocation. What if incarnation is our common calling? What if being a Cosmic Christ—someone chosen by God … by the Universe … smeared with oil (anointed) … selected by evolution … seeded by stardust … to be representative of Love—what is THIS is my destiny—and yours? Yes, you.

 

Z is for Zest. Specifically, “zest for life,” a favorite phrase of Teilhard de Chardin. But “favorite” misstates it. For de Chardin, the Jesuit paleontologist and theological cosmologist, zest for life names the quality of the human spirit on which our survival depends. It is the perseverance to survive against all odds, the determination to get up again, and again, to press forward. But it is not Sisyphean fatalism or stoic resignation. Zest for life involves taking stark account of the situation in front of you, assuming full responsibility for the weight your choices carry for tomorrow, and drawing deeply on the subterranean spring of joy that feeds the soul … not with happiness but with something far grittier: zest for life.

Whether you conceive of this zest as fed by God or by Nature or by Human Spirit writ large, this zest—think faith in its most visceral expression—is quite likely what will determine whether tomorrow dawns on a world that includes us, or one in which our memory fades to extinction. So, here’s to Zest!

*          *          *

David R. Weiss

drw59mn@gmail.com

 

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.

*            *                 *

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.”

On Prayer, Presence, Pipelines, and Provocations

On Prayer, Presence, Pipelines, and Provocations
David R. Weiss, August 25, 2016

Yes Magazine Standing RockYou know that feeling you get while the wind howls outside your window during a winter storm? That feeling of being so close … to so much power. It almost takes your breath away. That’s how I feel when I dare to add a petition of my own in the “open time” during our prayers of the church on Sunday morning.

This is not mere nerves. As a teacher and frequent guest lecturer, I do public speaking all the time. So a one-minute prayer from my church pew is hardly cause for a racing heart.

It’s also a bit strange since I find most of the prayers fairly … tepid. That’s probably just me. “Lord, in your mercy.” “Hear our prayer.” The words conclude each petition with a reverent monotone. I’m sure the church means well, but I often feel when we pray as a whole church that we mouth the words almost by rote, barely aware of what we pray for—and with absolutely no recognition that in this moment we are so close to such raw power.

Maybe everybody else gets that, but most of the time it’s lost on me. Until I choose to pray myself. Then, in the moments before I open my mouth, I sense just how much Sheer Possibility is right there.

Sheer Possibility. Raw Power. Howling Wind. I don’t know how to speak of it very clearly, but I sense it unmistakably right down to my bones. My hearts races, my breath catches, my muscles tighten. I even catch whispers of a voice inside me seeming to ask, incredulously, “Are you really going to do this? Pray? Here? Now? Do you dare?

All I know in this moment is that I am swallowed by Presence. I don’t imagine a “big person” or “superhuman” God up in heaven listening to each prayer and holding up a red or green card in response. I don’t think of God or prayer like that. And, if there is a cause-effect dynamic to prayer, it is surely NOT that direct.

C.S. Lewis captures something of this in the Narnia Chronicles. There’s a scene in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, when the Beavers are telling the children about Aslan, the Lion who is the Christ-figure in the tale. One of the children asks, hopefully, whether Aslan is a tame Lion. But the Beaver responds abruptly, “Of course not! But he’s good.” The point is that Goodness has nothing to do with being tame.

The same is true of the Power into whose Presence we come during communal prayer. (I suppose this is true during personal prayer as well, but my awareness of it is most acute during petitions voiced in the midst of a gathered community. Whatever happens in this moment, it means daring to step into the rush of a Howling Wind. And who knows where that Wind will carry our words—or our lives—from there? This Windy Presence may be infinitely Good, but it is least of all tame.

Well, I stepped to the edge and I prayed this:

O God at the beginning of creation your spirit moved over the face of the deep; at the baptismal font your grace splashes wet over us today; and in your New Jerusalem the River of Life flows for all people.

Stand now with your children at the Sacred Stone Spirit Camp in North Dakota, as they protect the living waters of the Missouri River from the perils of the Dakota Access Pipeline. And stir us, O God. Make us restless in our souls. Put conviction in our words and resolve in our actions. For truly the earth is yours and the life-giving waters of the Missouri River—of every river—are meant for the wellbeing of communities not corporations.

Strengthen the prophets you have raised up in these days among the Sioux Nation. Open our ears and our hearts to their witness … before it is too late. God of living water—

(and the people responded, “Hear our prayer.”)

I had to wrestle the words out, each phrase chosen for its provocative power, but still seeming reluctant to find speech. Prayer isn’t about word choice, per se. But in community it is important to set your prayer within the recognizable story of your people. Especially if your prayer runs contrary to the national interest. If your prayer aims to challenge the powers and principalities whose (corporate) plans count on timid Christians to keep to the sidelines, in both their liturgy and their lives.

So I couched my prayer in the story of God’s relationship to water, past, present, and future: in the beginning, in baptism, and in the New Jerusalem. And lest Energy Transfer Partners (the corporation involved), the State of North Dakota, or the Army Corps of Engineers forget, God has a vested interest in water that takes sacred priority over the profits promised (some would say falsely) by this pipeline.

Because naming matters, I named the Native peoples gathered at the Sacred Stone Spirit Camp as God’s children—and therefore kin to us. I said out loud—because bringing truth to speech is often the first step in acting on it—that the earth is God’s and that it’s life-giving waters are intended foremost to give life … to people as well as to flora and fauna. And such God-given intent cannot be ruled void simply because pipeline permits are granted.

Finally, I named those gathered (and for the first time in 140 years, those gathered included representative of all Seven Council Fires of the Sioux Nation) prophets. For truly, not only on behalf of the peoples and their land, but also on behalf of the living God, they call on us to turn back from our litany of deeds that despoil the earth.

Having prayed, I settled—unsettled—back into my seat. Speaking truth is a good thing. Doing Stand with Standing Rocktruth is better. Today, about 500 miles to the northwest of St. Paul, a growing band of largely Native but also some non-Native people have decided this is their moment to do truth. I’m unsettled enough to know my moment is coming. Maybe yours is, too.

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To learn more about the prophetic witness at the Sacred Stone Spirit Camp here are a few selected articles: David Archambault II, the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe; Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org and a leading environmental scholar-activist; Mark Trahant, a Native American journalist; and a statement by Elders and Leaders at the camp itself.

 

 

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.”

The promise of a vulnerable God in a time of climate change

Apocalypse Now IMAGE

 

 

Intended for intimacy: The promise of a vulnerable God in a time of climate change

David R. Weiss at Buffalo United Methodist Church, June 12, 2016

Lessons:

Genesis 1:26-28 – Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”

Matthew 5:48 – [Jesus said,] “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

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NOTE: This sermon doesn’t feel “done” yet; but Sunday came before before I had time to really polish it up, so this is how I presented it on Sunday. This stuff really weighs on me these days. In the second service my voice broke during the recitation of years. After both services many people came up, SQUEEZED my hand, and said “Thank you,” with a mutual sense of urgency. So I have to believe it’s worth sharing, even in an unpolished form.

My sermon this morning has five parts.

Part 1: Apocalypse

A short story about parents, children, and grandchildren.

It’s not my parents’ world anymore. They’re still alive. Dad turns 80 this fall; Mom is two years ahead of him. But this is no longer the world they grew up in. It’s barely my world anymore for that matter.

People my age and older, we live on a different planet today than the one we were born on. And the future generations—our children and grandchildren and beyond—are counting on us to make new choices for this new planet.

My daughter, Susanna, meanwhile, was born into a world altogether different than the one my parents knew. Let this sink in: within Susanna’s lifetime—in fact just since she was a toddler in 1998, she has lived through ALL SIXTEEN of the hottest years on this planet since 1880.

Why 1880? Because 1880 marks the year when we finally had accurate temperatures reports from a sufficiently wide range of global locations to be able to calculate an average surface temperature for the entire globe. Prior to 1880 there are a variety of ways to make rough estimates, but since then we’ve kept extremely precise records.

And according to those records, out of the past 136 years, every one of the hottest sixteen years has happened during her lifetime. Let me read them off for you, because you need to FEEL the weight of this heat. My daughter Susanna was born in 1996. The hottest 16 years since 1880 have been 1998, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015. By the end of this year, she will—no doubt—add 2016 to her collection.

If there’s anyone here this morning who is 16 years old, you have this dubious distinction: over your lifetime alone you have lived on a fundamentally hotter Earth than anyone older than youliving anywhere on the planet. Congratulations.

Finally, I have eight grandchildren; the two youngest are Eli and John. They’re both just over two years old. Last spring as they were still learning to talk—in May 2015—to be specific, they experienced the hottest May recorded on the planet since 1880. And then the hottest June and July, followed by the hottest August, September, October, November, December, January, February, March, and April. For twelve consecutive months—almost half of their young lives—they lived month to month through the hottest months experienced by anyone alive today. My grandchildren. And yours.

It is a different planet that we dwell on today. And the well-being of those who come after us hinges—perhaps more than at any point in this planet’s four-billion years—on choices made by those of us alive today.

“Apocalypse” is a Greek word … and it’s come to mean “the end of the world,” but biblically it meant the ending of one world—and the beginning of another, usually connected to the fall of an empire. It meant, for better or for worse, “the end of the world AS WE KNOW IT.”

Today we are living through an Apocalypse. The world that we will bequeath to our children is not the world we were born into. That world IS NO MORE.

What happened? That’s a story for someone else to tell, someone with more science under their belt than I have. But I can give you three telling signposts. My dad was born in 1936. Just in his lifetime 98% of all the oil ever pumped and burned by humans was pumped and burned. 98% percent in the last 80 years. My son was born in 1987. In his lifetime, just the past 29 years, more than half of all the greenhouse gasses generated by human activity have sailed upward into the atmosphere. As for me, I was born in 1959. Over the course of my 56 years, of all the “stuff”—from stone implements to crops, from clothing to processed foods, from jewelry to high tech gadgets—of all the stuff that has been fashioned for and consumed by humans over the approximately 10,000 years of human civilization, HALF of that stuff, ONE-HALF of 10,000 years of stuff has been produced and consumed in my lifetime. If Earth were a candle, it would be only too accurate to say that lately we’ve been burning the wick at both ends. Is it any wonder it’s getting a whole lot hotter in between?

The evidence for climate change is overwhelming by now. And 97% of the climate scientists agree, not only that climate change is real, but that it is being driven, at least in part, by human activity. I’m not here to convince you of this. I’m here to help you ask one of the most pressing theological questions of our time in light of this, “What now?”

How do we think of God? How do we think of ourselves? How do we act—as individuals and as communities of faith—in a time of climate change … in a time of apocalypse?

Part 2: Cosmology

Some 2500 years ago an unnamed Hebrew writer wrote the creation tale we read from this morning. He did so while the Hebrew people were living in exile—as refugees in Babylon—and that context matters.

Creation stories are cosmologies. They are stories about our origins, always told against the backdrop of a specific context, and primarily focused on telling us who we are, where we fit, and why we’re here.

This creation story, with its carefully ordered rhythm of days is crafted for a people whose lives have been swept over by chaos. This creation story, with its portrait of God who needs only speak and the entire universe comes into being, is offered to a people with no voice in their own future any longer: they have lost their Temple, their king, their land, likely even their hope. And this creation story, with its audacious suggestion that those who hear it bear the very image of God and are destined for dominion, was first told to a people brutalized by war, reduced to rags, and eking out an existence while haunted by anxiety.

In other words, this creation story was woven for people who found themselves on the far side of a world-ending apocalypse. And it speaks it hope into that nothingness.

That context is the first clue that what the declaration of “dominion” meant, it was not addressed to multinational corporations, to the billionaire class, not even to the average First World American. Any of whom might mistakenly hear in that word a blank check to do whatever their own power allows them to.

NO. Dominion was a promise made to refugees who had nothing, least of all the military-industrial-economic-technological power to damage the planet. Remember that. Until you have nothing, you may not be in a place to understand what the biblical promise of dominion is even talking about.

But first, this notion of imago Dei—Latin for being “in the image of God.” It’s a pretty lofty claim. But, again, I want you to remember the context, because these are NOT cheap words. They are unimaginably priceless. I’m going to give you a searing mental image to put them in context.

Do you recall from last summer the tragic image of that 3-year-old Syrian boy drowned on the beach? His brother and mother also drowned. They were in a fifteen-foot boat trying to cross a section of the Aegean Seas in choppy water. Like the first audience of this creation tale, they were refugees. Now imagine yourself a refugee, huddled in that boat, and then you hear someone huddled alongside you says:

Remember, dear ones, “God said, ‘Let us make adam – earth creatures – in our image, according to our likeness …’ So God created them – human beings – in God’s image, in the image of God, the Holy One created them; male and female God created them.” AND THAT, DEAR ONES, IS WHO YOU ARE.

If you’re a refugee in that boat hearing those words, they might offer you a bit of precious dignity, maybe a dose of much needed hope or faith, but they’re not likely to go to your head with full-blown case of arrogance or ego.

In a moment I’ll say more about what it means—in practice—to be imago Dei. For now it’s enough to realize that it has nothing to do with patting ourselves on the back for having produced, purchased, and piled up so much stuff. Nothing to do with having built an empire, conquered other peoples, or clear-cut forests … just because we could. It is, rather, the quiet reminder that when we have and are nothing, even then we are imago Dei.

About “dominion”— Then God said, “Let the adam – the human beings – have dominion over the fish, the birds, the cattle, all the wild animals, every creeping thing and every living thing that moves upon the earth.”

We hear “dominate.” So most of the time we presume that we exercise our God-given “dominion” when we dominate the earth and its creatures. But nothing could be further from the truth. “Dominion” appears elsewhere in the Bible, and its use in other settings can guide us in what it means here.

Dominion is what kings model. But only at their best. No bad king in the Bible is ever described as exercising dominion. They exercise tyranny. That’s when you dominate others for your own benefit. When you press the land beyond its capacity. When your greed is boundless. That’s tyranny.

Dominion is used only to describe kings who use their power appropriately. So that widows and orphans are cared for, so that the needy find relief from their oppressors, so that both fields and livestock receive their due rest. When the web of life reflected in the rhythm of Sabbath, and the ideals of justice embedded in the Ten Commandments and echoed endlessly by the prophets, when these things are modeled, THEN there is dominion.

Part Two is “Cosmology.”

Who are we? Images of God, reflections of the Holy One. We could not wish to be more than this—and we are not less than this, even when we are nothing.

Where do we fit? Within. Not on top. Adam from adamah. Earth creatures. Human beings. Words … made flesh. The iron in our blood was born in the stars. So we are stardust incarnate. Not on top. Within.

Why are we here? To exercise dominion. And while history remembers best the kings that model dominion, it doesn’t require a crown to exercise it. Micah 6:8 captures dominion perfectly: to do justice, to pursue mercy, to walk humbly with God. That’s why we’re here. Every one of us: to do justice, to pursue mercy, to walk humbly with God.

Part 3: Perfection

Then, as though justice, mercy, and humility weren’t a high enough bar, Jesus comes along and says, “Be perfect, therefore, as God in heaven is perfect.”

Of course, as with any time when there’s multiple languages involved, it’s more complicated than that. The Greek word lurking behind “perfect” is telew, and while one of its meaning is “perfect,” other shades of meaning might be more helpful. We get our word teleology from telew, the study of the ends or goals of actions. telew also can refer to a quality of wholeness or healthiness. And telew can mean finished or completed. All of these fill out the notion of perfection.

As though Jesus hopes that we’ll hear him exhorting us, “Strive to be perfect, pursue wholeness and completeness, be focused steadfastly on your goals of justice, mercy, and humility, for when you do these ways you are acting in the image of God.”

In fact, when Luke records his version of these remarks, he has Jesus say it a little differently: “Be compassionate—as God in heaven is compassionate.”

We don’t know which version is closer to Jesus’ actual words. It’s likely that Jesus used different expressions on different occasions. In any case, when Luke arranges his story of Jesus, he offers up compassion as the perfection of God.

Part 4: A Vulnerable God

The heart of compassion is the capacity (and the willingness) to be impacted by the joys—and, more importantly, by the sorrows—of others.

Both biblical testaments, the one written by our Jewish cousins and the one written in witness to Jesus, portray a vulnerable God. And this vulnerability is perhaps both the most overlooked—and today the most needed—aspect of God.

We tend to identify God most closely with power. We assume that what makes God “God” more than anything else is sheer power. And while I don’t want to dismiss God’s power as unimportant, I suspect it is our own lust for power that drives the assumption that—of course—God must be all-powerful. Because if we could choose, we’d choose power for ourselves.

But in the biblical story, while God certainly exercises power, God chooses vulnerability again and again. Look at the company God keeps: second-born sons, enslaved people, slow-tongued leaders, women, Gentiles, and awkwardly outcast prophets. These are not choices made by someone betting on the conventional wisdom for success. These are not the companions you choose if you want to make sure the odds are always on your side.

These choices leave God open to a depth of emotion that we rarely connect with divinity: in particular God feels anguish at the suffering of the Hebrews in Egypt; God feels betrayal by their infidelity; God feels sorrow at their exile in Babylon; God even feels compassion for the Ninevites in the Book of Jonah. It would overstate it to call God an emotional wreck, but the God of the Hebrew Bible chooses to be whole not by avoiding vulnerability but by embracing it.

In the gospels Jesus continues that pattern. You might say, he incarnates it. Of course, it culminates on the cross, where the vulnerability of both Jesus and God reaches a crescendo, but it is at the very heart of his ministry. In daring to touch lepers and others whose illness has set them apart, Jesus’ healings begin by stepping into the vulnerability of others. In choosing to eat with outcasts in a society where your table companions were carefully monitored and could cost you your reputation, Jesus’ mealtimes are always choices to be vulnerable. In calling us to love our enemies, to meet them with creative nonviolence rather than outright force, Jesus’ approach to social change is to become vulnerable. And in using his parables about the “kingdom of God,” to turn our notions of kingship inside out and upside down, Jesus’ seeks to invite us to imagine a very different way of being imago Dei.

And then Jesus speaks directly to us: Therefore YOU are called to be perfectly focused on justice and mercy, to be compassionate, to be vulnerable. For this is how God has chosen to be. And you, my friends, you are made in the image of that vulnerable God.

Part Five: Intended for Intimacy

At last, we return to our initial question: “What now?”

As we face the prospects of life on this fundamentally different planet, as part of an ecosystem that we have heated in ways that will ripple—and rip—through creation’s very fabric, how do we think of God? How do we think of ourselves? How do we act—as individuals and as communities of faith—in a time of climate change?

I believe we begin by remembering that we were created in the image of a vulnerable God. From Eden onward, although we have often forgotten it, we were intended for intimacy.

If there is a path forward for us, as people of faith, as inhabitants of a finite and fairly fragile planet, it is by way of intimacy: with each other, with our companion creatures, and with the earth. We are humus being, with stardust in our veins and the breath of God in our lungs.

We have a kinship with creation that we have not yet fully acknowledged, but it has been true for as long as long human beings have been. Science tells us that we live thanks to the countless creatures with whom we share an unimaginable intimacy. Well, not quite countless, but truly unimaginable. As I preach today, my relatively healthy human body is home to approximately 100 trillion microbes. These are tiny critters that are NOT ME. They live in and on me, assisting my digestion and immune system, but sometimes just making me their home and keeping me company without ever making me sick. 100 trillion of them.

That’s rather unimaginable. How many is 100 trillion? Well, if I were to thank each of them for keeping me healthy or just for keeping me company, and I were to thank one microbe per second—so sixty thank you’s each minute, 3600 thank you’s every hour. If I did this nonstop it would take me three million years to say thank you. An unimaginable number of microbes to whom I owe equally unimaginable gratitude.

While I’m obviously bigger than all of them put together, the total number of individual cells that these intimate neighbors of mine have outnumber my own human body cells ten to one. Right here, standing in front of you, there are ten times as many cells that are not David as cells that are David. If we could somehow separate them all out, these microbes would weigh somewhat more than a 5# bag of flour. That’s a lot of “not me” that is interwoven with me. I am my own ecosystem. And so are you.

Both theologically and scientifically we are intended for intimacy.

So, to conclude . . .

This apocalypse is real—and it is upon us. Honestly, I fear that the planet we have fashioned for our children and grandchildren is already becoming far less hospitable than the one that we grew up on. As a result, there are some stark choices awaiting us, and we will need to listen carefully to the politically unpopular insights of the scientific community to learn what is required to live sustainably on a finite planet.

I’m as anxious for hope as the next person, but right now I’m convinced that anguish is our most faithful response to climate change. And I can’t fast forward to hope just because I’d rather be there.

To be imago Dei in this moment of apocalypse is to embrace vulnerability. To truly feel the anguish of ecosystems irreparably damaged and of species lost to extinction because of human activity.

That anguish may be the only emotion deep enough to stir us, first to repentance—and then to hope. Besides reckoning the harm we have done to creation, that anguish may also be the only response authentic enough that it allows us to grieve for creation as our own kin. To grieve at a depth that begins to restore the intimacy for which we have always been intended.

There IS hope. Perhaps even in the midst of anguish. Surely in the renewal of intimacy. And always in the company of a vulnerable God.

May it be so. Amen.

*     *     *

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.”

On Seeing by Faith: The Journey Ahead

This is the last in a series of five Wednesday evening Lenten reflections I’ve been invited to offer at Grace Lutheran Church in Eau Claire as I accompany them in a congregational journey toward a deeper embrace of creation and a faith-based response to climate change. Later this spring I’ll offer several public lectures hosted by Grace. The text for each reflection is my own choosing, drawn from Luke’s “journey” material.

5 Lent week 5 TEXT

Lenten Reflection for Wednesday, March 16, 2016
Grace Lutheran Church, Eau Claire, Wisconsin

On Seeing by Faith: The Journey Ahead
David R. Weiss

Luke 18:35-43 (NRSV) – Jesus Heals a Blind Beggar Near Jericho – As he approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard a crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” Then he shouted, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Those who were in front sternly ordered him to be quiet; but he shouted even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and ordered the man to be brought to him; and when he came near, he asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you whole.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him, glorifying God; and all the people, when they saw it, praised God.

*       *       *

 In just four more days Jesus reaches Jerusalem where he’ll make a triumphant entry on Palm Sunday … followed five days later by a crucifixion. He’s getting close to the end of his journey.

We’re still only at the beginning of ours.

But first, about the miracle in our text tonight—

I’m not going to weigh in on whether this man’s blindness was caused by psychic trauma, illness, or injury. And I’m not going to speculate on whether Jesus restored his sight by somehow healing the trauma, marshaling his own energy to overcome the illness, or breaking outright the laws of nature to make a brand new eye.

Luke isn’t concerned with those things either. But he does mention several things that should matter to us. First, the crowd tries to silence the beggar. They don’t view blindness as anything Jesus is concerned about—at least not the blindness of beggars. Second, he doesn’t let that stop him; he shouts all the louder until he’s heard. Third, Jesus tells him that his sight has been restored by his faith: he is “seeing by faith.” And, fourth, he responds by glorifying God.

Luke’s message is pretty clear: Don’t be deterred by the voices around you. Turning to Jesus in faith lets you see. In fact, this message is made all the more clear by the episodes he places on either side of this passage.

Right before this text (and for the third time on his journey) Jesus tells his disciples that in Jerusalem he will be handed over, mistreated, flogged, and killed. He also tells them that he will be raised again on the third day, but they can’t imagine any of this—least of all the killing—so they are hardly comforted by the promise of rising. Luke sums up their response emphatically, in three distinct phrases in the verse right before our text begins: “The disciples understood nothing he said … its meaning was hidden from them … and they did not grasp it at all.”

Lacking faith, they could not see the way forward. All the voices of expectation in their minds (and in their culture) said that if Jesus was the messiah, God’s anointed one, then only success could await him. Only victory. They could not imagine that being in the company of Jesus might mean being vulnerable. They were blind.

Right after our text Luke offers the well-known story of Zacchaeus, the rich tax collector who desperately wanted to see Jesus, but could not because he was too short. After he climbed a tree to get a better view, Jesus calls him down and dines in his house. The crowds grumble—maybe the same crowds who thought Jesus had no time for blind beggars?—because Jesus should have known that Zacchaeus was wealthy only because he cheated people out of their taxes. But Jesus knows something more, because after they dine Zacchaeus is able to see far more than just Jesus. He sees, perhaps for the first time in his life, the poor. He pledges out loud to repay anyone he cheated—fourfold—and to give half of his possessions to the poor. Is not this as amazing a miracle as restoring a beggar’s sight?!

In both passages Luke uses the same Greek word to describe what happens. Jesus says to the blind beggar, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you whole—or has saved you—or has healed you.” When Jesus hears Zacchaeus’ declaration based on his newfound moral clarity—his own restored sight, if you will—Jesus says, “Today salvation—or healing—or wholeness has come to this household.”

So what we really have here is a three-step set of intertwined passages that tell us something together:

If you can’t imagine becoming vulnerable, you can’t hear what Jesus is saying, no matter how clearly it’s spelled out.

But when you manage to tune out all the other voices and simply turn to Jesus in faith, you gain your sight and you can glorify God.

And when the sight you gain is moral vision you glorify God by doing justice and by attending to the poor.

Luke isn’t simply recording events. He’s crafting a story. He’s arranging these tales to help us see by faith.

*         *         *

So now for us.

We’ve been accompanying Jesus on his journey to Jerusalem these past five weeks. Some of us in here have been accompanying him on that journey for five decades—or longer. We know where that journey leads; both to the cross … and to the empty tomb.

But this other journey we’re on today, this mis-adventure on a changing planet, we’re only just beginning this journey, and we don’t know yet where it will take us.

I told you two weeks ago that all 16 of the warmest years on record have occurred in less than the span of my daughter’s 20 years on the planet. (She turned 20 today – so Happy Birthday, Susanna.) And I mentioned that 2016 is starting out even warmer.

Consider this. Not unlike Jesus’ words predicting what would happen to him when they reached Jerusalem, the data coming in on 2016 is alarming. Just Monday—just two days ago, right smack in the middle of Lent—NASA released its latest report: January 2016 was a full 2 degrees warmer than the global average established over a 30-year baseline period (1951-1980). It was a new record. It was the first time in modern global temperature tracking (that is, since 1880) that any month had been warmer than the average by 2 full degrees.

Until February. You see, February, rather than dropping back a bit … or rather than simply remaining as warm as record-setting January, well, February set it’s own new record. It rose another half-degree—in a single month—across the entire planet. A planet now 2½ degrees warmer by average than it has ever been in the last 135 years.

Monthly global surface temperatures (land & ocean) from NASA for the period 1880 to February 2016, expressed in departures from the 1951-1980 average. The red line shows the 12-month running average. (Image credit: Stephan Okhuijsen, www.datagraver.com/case/world-temperature-anomalies-for-februari-2016)

Monthly global surface temperatures (land & ocean) from NASA for the period 1880 to February 2016, expressed in departures from the 1951-1980 average. The red line shows the 12-month running average. (Image credit: Stephan Okhuijsen, http://www.datagraver.com/case/world-temperature-anomalies-for-februari-2016)

Do you recall Luke’s description of the disciples’ response to Jesus’ words? “They understood nothing he said … its meaning was hidden from them … and they did not grasp it at all.”

This is our predicament. Amid the expectations of our culture, we cannot imagine a tomorrow in which the planet itself—human society for sure, and a multitude of animals and eco-systems—experiences a veritable crucifixion. But recall Luke’s three-step story:

If you can’t imagine becoming vulnerable, you can’t hear what’s being said, no matter how clearly it’s spelled out.

But when you do manage to tune out all the other voices and simply turn to Jesus in faith, you gain your sight and you can glorify God.

And when the sight you gain is moral vision you glorify God by doing justice and by attending to the poor.

What does it mean to “see by faith” on a now rapidly warming planet? I can’t spell it all out. I don’t know myself. But I’ll offer three strong convictions, based on our confession of a Trinitarian God:

Seeing by faith means confessing that all of God’s creation deserves our respect and care.

Seeing by faith means recognizing that God—both before and after Jesus, but especially in Jesus—enters history to keep us company. And that God’s company leads us into not away from vulnerability.

Seeing by faith means that, as we are transformed by the Holy Spirit (think: “saved,” “made whole”), we respond here and now by acting with justice for a hurting planet. By changing those behaviors that threaten to cheat future generations out of their planet. By using the wealth that is ours—the science, technology, and wisdom that we have—to tend to the need of the poor, whether those “poor” be fellow citizens of the world, fellow creatures, or the eco-systems on which we all depend for life.

It’s now just seven months since Pr. Dean first asked me to consider being with you this year—and only seven weeks since I began this journey in earnest myself. Almost every word I’ve shared, every image I’ve offered, every connection I’ve made is as new to me as to you. I’m still only at the beginning of this journey.

I hope it’s a journey on which you’ll join me. Not because I know the way, but because I’m convinced that this is a journey which must be traveled. And a journey on which—if we travel together, and if we travel by faith—we will find ourselves in the company of Jesus. Amen.

*         *         *

WEEK FIVE – Questions for reflection & conversation:

  1. I suggest that, both for Luke and for us, restored sight has to do with a willingness to become vulnerable and to attend to the poor. Was it helpful to see how these passages fit together—and how they speak to us today?
  2. We tend to hear “salvation” as about what happens after we die, but in Greek the word just as likely describes health and wholeness before we die. What difference does this make?
  3. I refer to some pretty scary weather data—and then link it to Jesus’ passion predictions. How did that strike you?
  4. What in my “triune” proposal for “seeing by faith” was insightful, unsettling, or empowering?
  5. What else struck you in tonight’s reflection?
  6. WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

http://www.davidrweiss.com / drw59mn@gmail.com