For the interfaith climate movement in Massachusetts, this is a day for lament, gratitude, hope, and praise.

Lament
It’s official: Massachusetts Interfaith Coalition for Climate Action – MAICCA, for short – is suspending operations, at least for now. The news went public yesterday. After a nearly three-year run, our Leadership Team concluded, after careful reflection, conversation, and prayer, to suspend future activities of MAICCA for the time being.

“Legislative Action Day” at Grand Staircase of Boston’s State House, Nov. 10, 2015 (photo credit: Quentin Prideaux)

As we explained in our announcement:

           …(O)ur nation’s political and spiritual landscape changed profoundly in 2017. Navigating the storms has been a struggle, especially for immigrants, low-income communities, racial and gender minorities, the historically under-served, and those most vulnerable to environmental threats and climate change. To our dismay, we have watched the White House and Congress rapidly dismantling environmental protections and policies that safeguard clean air and water, public health, wilderness, and a habitable planet.

            In this tumultuous time, Pope Francis’ call to hear the “cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” has grown ever more urgent, and MAICCA has wrestled with how best to respond. The members of our leadership team have sought to discern how each of us is called to engage in the work of climate justice in this unique and difficult period of history.

            We still believe fervently that religious and spiritual communities and collective faithful action have a critical role to play in responding to the climate crisis and helping build a just and livable future for our planet and its inhabitants. 

            At the same time, our leadership team has concluded that we as individuals and as a community are in a different place than we were when we gave rise to MAICCA, and that for the time being, MAICCA may no longer be the best venue for our shared work. We have decided to suspend plans for future MAICCA campaigns and programs. For now, MAICCA is on hiatus. In acknowledging that this particular chapter of MAICCA’s existence has come to an end, we hope to open the way for new partnerships and coalitions to emerge.

Margaret Bullitt-Jonas addresses crowd at “Legislative Action Day,” Nov. 10. 2015 (photo credit: Quentin Prideaux)

Gratitude
We look back with gratitude to the many people who joined our work. And what a variety of splendid events we created and took part in! As we wrote to our members and friends in the farewell letter:

          You may have shared in spirited prayer and singing with nearly 600 people at “Answering the Call,” our launch event in Wellesley in October 2015. Less than a month later, you may have joined our Legislative Action Day, rallying on the Grand Staircase at the State House and meeting with your legislators to push for a clean and just energy future. Maybe you joined us in Boston for the “Jobs, Justice, and Climate” march and rally in December 2015, the biggest climate rally in the city’s history. Maybe you walked and prayed with us in West Roxbury in May 2016, when clergy and people of many faiths were arrested in acts of civil disobedience to protest construction of the fracked gas pipeline. Maybe you prayed with us at our interfaith gathering before the People’s Climate Movement March in Boston this past April, or participated in the Climate Justice Simulation in Jamaica Plain in May. Maybe you connected with MAICCA at one of our educational events, joined a delegation at one of MAICCA’s waves of meetings with local legislators, or read our newsletter.

            However you engaged with MAICCA, thank you for adding your voice to the growing, multi-faith movement in Massachusetts to call for solutions to the climate crisis that are rooted in racial, social, and economic justice.

Hope

Among the many things we are thankful for is the clarity that emerged in the course of discussing our future. Four members of MAICCA’s Leadership Team – Amy Benjamin, Rabbi Shoshana Meira Friedman, Lise Olney, and Evan Seitz – developed a beautiful vision of the purpose and value of interfaith climate action, which they laid out as follows:


We believe that interfaith climate action is unique and vital to this moment and to the environmental movement.

We believe that a faith-based climate organization needs to:

  • Contribute meaningfully to the goals of the climate movement,
  • Be sustainable and active over the long term, and
  • Engage in powerful faith-framed climate activism as a way of responding to the climate crisis and of transforming ourselves, our communities, and our world.
Rabbi Shoshana Meira Friedman and Minister Mariama White-Hammond speak at “Jobs, Justice & Climate,” Dec. 12, 2015, the largest climate rally in Boston’s history (photo credit: Greg Cook)

Our vision of Interfaith Climate Action has three critical components:

ACTION

  • We partner with other organizations and grow a diverse base to build power and implement campaigns to work for legislative & infrastructure progress in Massachusetts.
  • We participate/lead marches and other public actions for climate justice, winnable or not. We bring prayer, art, song, silent witness, and bold direct action to these moments.
  • We use congregations as the nodes of organizing, looking for those inspired to act and be transformed by their activism. We trust that when small groups of people take principled action, others will be inspired to join.

SACRED PURPOSE

  • Because faith calls and compels us to act, our actions are not dependent on success, but on doing the work.
  • We affirm the dignity of all human beings, and recognize the intersections between climate, the climate crises, and systems that uphold social, racial, and economic injustice.
  • We lift up a prophetic voice that puts forth a vision for climate justice beyond what is currently politically feasible.
  • We intentionally come to our activism as a mode of transforming ourselves as well as the world.
  • We lead from love, not fear or anger. We do not shy from holding the grief of confronting this moment.

WISDOM TRADITIONS

  • We each go deep into our own individual religious/spiritual traditions, through ritual and study, in order to mine the wisdom, guidance, inspiration, resilience, and lessons that we need as activists.
  • We come together across religious/spiritual traditions and cultures to learn from each other and be strengthened and nourished by each other’s traditions.
  • We enliven our traditions and we transform our spiritual and/or religious lives by enacting our faith through our activism.

Amy Benjamin tells me that the “three critical components” cited above were inspired by the work of Sid Schwartz and the New Paradigm Spiritual Communities Initiative, introduced to her by Rabbi David Jaffe and other leaders of “Kehillot” (covenantal communities) at a 2016 retreat, and now renamed: Kenissa: Communities of Meaning Network.

I hope that these three elements – actively contributing to the world’s justice, peace, and beauty; serving a sacred purpose; and drawing from the deep wisdom of our spiritual traditions – will inform and guide interfaith climate justice work in the years ahead.

I consider this vision of interfaith climate action – so charged with hope – to be a vision worthy of our trust. The vision is coming to us from the future: we can see it up ahead, we are aiming for it, and it draws us forward. In the end, MAICCA was not the vehicle to fully implement this vision, but we dare to believe that we played a part in creating the conditions that will eventually bring that vision into reality.

Joel Wool, Evan Seitz, Amy Benjamin, Reebee Girash, Fred Small, Shoshana Meira Friedman, Rachel Lewis, Lise Olney, Mariama White-Hammond, and Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, at MAICCA strategic planning day in March, 2016

Praise

Our farewell letter ended on a note of praise to God:

          We give thanks for the Spirit that led us to form MAICCA. We trust that the same Spirit is guiding us now as MAICCA’s present incarnation comes to an end. We  look forward with joy to seeing how the Spirit will guide us in the years ahead.

In this precarious and turbulent time, how does MAICCA’s stepping back invite you to step forward? How is the Spirit speaking to you? We hope that you, our friends and allies, will amplify and build on the climate justice work already being carried out within your faith tradition and that you will bring your unique gifts and leadership potential to the climate movement.

We will be standing beside you!


A sampling of climate justice groups in Massachusetts:

A sampling of climate justice initiatives in Massachusetts that spring from a particular faith tradition:

 

Like many Americans, I have been gripped by news of the disaster now unfolding along our nation’s Gulf Coast. As torrential rains bear down on Texas and Louisiana and the floods swell, people are struggling to survive and struggling to rescue family-members, neighbors, and pets. Stories of tragedy and terror, courage and loss have unfolded all week: trapped in his car, an elderly man is rescued from rising waters by a human chain; swept away in the flood, a mother, carrying her toddler on her back, is found dead, floating face down; the three-year-old girl, still clinging to her mother, is pulled to safety.

Compassion Mandala, Robert Lentz
Compassion Mandala, Robert Lentz

Stories like these pull us into prayer – grief for those who perished, anguish for those in harm’s way, gratitude for the people saving everyone they can, and a rising tide of anger and resolve: we will not stand idly by as people drown and are dislocated in extreme storms like these.

Part of a faithful response is concrete and immediate: if we live nearby and have a boat or clothes to spare, we can offer what we have. Wherever we live, if we have money to spare, we can donate to a disaster relief organization, including faith-rooted groups such as Episcopal Relief and Development and Church World Service.

Another part of a faithful response is to take a good, long look at what led to this catastrophe. Did climate change intensify the storm? The answer, say leading climate scientists, is yes. Oceans absorb some of the excess heat trapped in the air by burning fossil fuels. Unusually warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico fed the tropical storm, which took only about 48 hours to intensify from a tropical depression to a Category 4 hurricane. What might have been a run-of-the-mill hurricane turned into a monster storm. As Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research told The Atlantic, “It may have been a strong storm, and it may have caused a lot of problems anyway—but [human-caused climate change] amplifies the damage considerably.”

Climate scientist Michael E. Mann of Pennsylvania State University likewise confirmed the connections between climate change and Harvey’s destructive power. In his article entitled, “It’s a fact: climate change made Hurricane Harvey more deadly,” Mann pointed out that, while climate change did not “cause” Harvey, “Harvey was almost certainly more intense than it would have been in the absence of human-caused warming, which means stronger winds, more wind damage and a larger storm surge.”

This week, author and social activist Naomi Klein also pointed out that Harvey “didn’t come out the blue”: it was just the kind of extreme weather event that climate scientists have long been predicting. Surely now is the time, she argues, to have a serious policy debate in this country about the host of questions that Harvey raises: What kind of energy should we rely on (a question, she points out, “with jarring implications for the dominant industry in the region being hit hardest: oil and gas”)? What kind of safety net do we need to provide for the poor, the ill, and the elderly, given their vulnerability in times of disaster and given the certainty that storms like Harvey are only a harbinger of the climate-related storms that lie ahead?

Journalist Wen Stephenson is also attuned to the links between climate change and social justice. In an article with the bold headline, “Houston’s Human Catastrophe Started Long Before the Storm,” he writes: “Our unfolding climate catastrophe… is rooted in social and economic inequalities that render most vulnerable the most marginalized and powerless… Decades of neglect, inequality, and disenfranchisement – to say nothing of heedless development and a lack of flood planning tantamount to criminal negligence – mean that Houstonians of all backgrounds, but especially the poorest and most vulnerable communities, primarily communities of color, have been left utterly undefended.”

Climate change has never been only about polar bears. Stabilizing the climate is about social, racial, and economic justice, too – about treating Earth and each other with reverence and respect. How many more floods need to drown or displace our citizens and destroy our homes before we wake up to the climate crisis and take urgent steps to keep fossil fuels in the ground? How many more vulnerable communities are we willing to sacrifice in order to keep dumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and keep enriching fossil fuel industry billionaires?

Meanwhile, as Harvey brings devastation to our Gulf Coast, a record-breaking strong monsoon season in Southeast Asia has caused over 1200 deaths this summer. Thanks to Harvey, Americans are newly aware of the suffering caused by floods exacerbated by climate change. Perhaps now we can look with greater empathy at similar images coming from India, Nepal, and Bangladesh – images of other mothers wading through flooded areas, carrying their children in their arms; images of other homes destroyed and other communities cut off, with no food and clean water for days.

Western Avenue bridge, Cambridge, MA, crossing the Charles River

Perhaps now, after seeing what Harvey is doing to Houston, we can look ahead and grasp more clearly – more viscerally – what it means when scientists predict that sea level rise will flood hundreds of American cities in the near future. A new report published by The Union of Concerned Scientists shows that by the end of the century, chronic flooding – defined as flooding so unmanageable that it drives people to move away – “will be occurring from Maine to Texas and along parts of the West Coast. It will affect as many as 670 coastal communities, including Cambridge, Massachusetts; Oakland, California; Miami and St. Petersburg, Florida; and four of the five boroughs of New York City.”

Cambridge, Massachusetts? I was born and grew up there. By the end of the century? I do the arithmetic, figuring the ages of my children and grandchildren.  I imagine the social chaos, the streams of refugees, the abandoned buildings.

Will we look back on Harvey (and Katrina and Sandy) as the first in a relentless wave of storms that eventually brought down many of America’s great cities? Or will we look back on Harvey as the storm that finally got the attention of the American public and showed us the urgent need to take action on climate?

Climate change is neither distant nor abstract. It is real, present, and personal. Our country’s President denies the existence and human causes of climate change, and his environmental policies surely make matters worse, but people of faith, and people of good will, refuse to abandon the Earth entrusted to our care.

Tomorrow, on September 1, Christians will mark a World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation. Whatever your faith tradition, I invite you to join in this planet-wide pause to hold our troubled world in our hearts. I invite you to go outside and appreciate the living world around you – the trees, soil, water, birds, and clouds. I invite you to acknowledge your own grief, anger, and fear about the Earth’s unraveling web of life, and I invite you to seek the guidance, resolve, and courage that come from listening to our deepest inner wisdom, the place where Love dwells.

St. Francis: A Canticle to Creation, by Nancy Earle, smic      

For millions of Christians worldwide, September 1 marks the first day of the Season of Creation, a season dedicated to lifting up the sacredness of the natural world. Creation Season generally ends on October 4, the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the man often called the patron saint of ecology. (For resources to mark this day of prayer and the whole Creation Season, visit Creation Justice Ministries.)

Here in Massachusetts, Episcopal congregations will mark their own Season of Creation, from October 4 through the end of November. In the Diocese of Western Massachusetts, we have assembled a mass of resources to help individuals and communities of faith to mark Creation Season. I hope that you will take a look, and decide how you and your community of faith will act, advocate, learn, and pray on behalf of God’s good Earth. How will you celebrate Creation Season this year? Will you design an outdoor worship service at a place of environmental degradation? Offer prayers to bless solar panels? Preach about the climate crisis?  Carry out non-violent civil disobedience to protest a new gas pipeline? Organize a study group?

How will the extraordinary suffering and tragedy of Harvey – much of it endured beyond the reach of TV cameras and crew – strengthen your intention to become an agent of healing and hope?

 

An excerpt of this essay with published by Daily Hampshire Gazette on Sept. 5, 2017: “Columnist Margaret Bullitt-Jonas: Harvey reinforces urgency of climate-change crisis

 

 

An ecumenical statement from Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts and Massachusetts Conference, United Church of Christ, responding to the President’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord.

To download a pdf, click: An Opportunity for which the Church Was Born.

President Trump’s decision to abandon the Paris Climate Accord violates the values and vision that are basic to Christian faith. Our Judaeo-Christian heritage teaches that the Earth and its web of life are precious in God’s sight (Genesis 1-2:3), that the Earth belongs not to us but to God (Psalm 24), and that we are entrusted with loving the Earth as God loves it (Genesis 2:15). As followers of Jesus, we are committed to God’s mission of reconciling people with each other and with the whole of creation.

Withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord is a tragic mistake, and we applaud the Parliament of the World’s Religions strong condemnation of the President’s decision. We concur that this decision is scientifically, economically, medically, politically and morally wrong. With heartache we recognize the devastating toll of suffering that will be exacted by this Administration’s refusal to address the climate crisis. We are appalled by the Administration’s unwillingness to join with other nations in protecting and stabilizing the atmosphere upon which our species – and so many other forms of life – depend.

Even as we grieve the death-dealing trajectory of this decision, we rejoice that many people and institutions are taking creative steps locally, regionally, and nationally to build a more just and sustainable future. For example, we applaud the mayors of 30 American cities, governors of numerous states and leaders of hundreds of American companies who are committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

This historic moment provides Christian communities with a powerful opportunity to bear witness to the sacredness of God’s creation and the urgent call to preserve it. This is our chance to be the church. Episcopalians and other members of the Anglican Communion recognize Five Marks of Mission. The Fifth Mark is “to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.” The United Church of Christ affirms this vocation in its new mission initiative known as the three great loves, one of which is love of creation. If we listen carefully, the voice of our still-speaking God resounds above the jeers and cheers in response to Trump’s decision. God is calling our congregations and clergy to rise to the occasion and to become bold witnesses to the creative power of God.

Now is the time to bear witness to the Christ who rises from the tomb and who proclaims that life and not death will have the last word.

We call upon our congregations and clergy to embrace this moment of opportunity in three ways:

  • Accept the mantle of moral leadership

Now is the time for clergy to speak from their pulpits about the moral obligation of our
generation to protect God’s creation. Let the world know that whatever the current American administration may say or do, the Jesus movement will not back away from God’s call to protect our common home.

  • Incarnate change

Now is the time for congregations and for every person of faith to set a moral example through our own words and actions. As individuals and as communities, we can commit to making decisions of integrity in our energy choices, and to holding our leaders accountable to do the same.

  • Proclaim truth in the public square

    Now is the time for communities of faith to be bold and courageous in proclaiming truth in the public square. It is now abundantly clear that the Federal Government will not address the greatest moral challenge that the world has ever faced. It is up to us.

Let us commit to resist all expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure and demand new sources of renewable energy that are accessible to all communities. As people of faith, we can and we must change America’s understanding of the story that our generation is writing. We must begin a new story – a story that is not dependent on fossil fuel or on wealth for the few and misery for the many.

In the streets, at the State House, with our phones and emails, by committing our time, financial resources and prayers – it is up to us – we the people – to bend the moral arc of justice. And we will.

 

Faithfully yours,

The Rev. Dr. Jim Antal
Conference Minister and President
Massachusetts Conference, United Church of Christ

The Rt. Rev. Dr. Douglas John Fisher
Bishop
Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts

The Rev. Dr. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas
Missioner for Creation Care
Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts & Massachusetts Conference, United Church of Christ


For appropriate liturgical and other resources: http://april2016.uccpages.org/

This statement sprang from a discussion among The Rev. Dr. Jim Antal (Conference Minister and President, Massachusetts Conference, United Church of Christ), The Rt. Rev. Dr. Douglas John Fisher (Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts), and The Rev. Dr. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas (Missioner for Creation Care, Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts & Massachusetts Conference, United Church of Christ). We are glad to make it available to the wider Church.

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 14, 2017 Delivered by the Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas at Grace Church, Amherst, MA Acts 7:55-60 Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16 1 Peter 2:2-10 John 14:1-14

Secular or Spirit-led activism?

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” (John 14:1)

It is a joy to be with you again. I had the pleasure of serving as your Priest Associate for nine years, and it is wonderful to be back. Thank you, Tom, for inviting me to preach. I feel a bit like the apostles whom Jesus sent out to heal and preach and teach, and who returned to Jesus to report back on what they had learned and how things were going. I will spare you a long report on what I’ve been up to over the past three-and-a-half years as Missioner for Creation Care in this diocese and in the Mass. Conference of the United Church of Christ. My Website, RevivingCreation.org, will tell you anything you want to know. But I will say that this has been a lively and rewarding time of building up the God-centered, Spirit-led movement to protect the web of life and to create a more just and sustainable future. I’ve been traveling around, preaching, speaking and leading retreats, aiming to mobilize a wave of religious activism to find solutions to the climate crisis. It’s been heartening to catch glimpses of the many ways that members of this congregation share in this mission with me. Just two weeks ago I met up with four of you – along with more than 200,000 other dedicated souls – at the People’s Climate March in Washington, D.C., and many others of you took part in local events on the same day here in the Valley. Thank you for that witness.

Members of Grace Church, Amherst, at the People’s Climate March in DC: Chris & DeAnne Riddle, Lucy & John Robinson, with the Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas
Today’s Gospel – and the Gospel readings for the next two Sundays – is drawn from the section of John’s Gospel called Jesus’ “farewell discourse.” Jesus is saying goodbye to his friends, telling them that even though he will soon leave them physically, his presence and power and spirit will come to them and remain with them always. “[Jesus said,] ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also’” (John 14:1-3). I don’t know about you, but just now it is startling for me to hear “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” because naturally our hearts are troubled. On a personal level, all sorts of things may be troubling us: maybe financial worries, or a medical issue, or some conflict in an important relationship. Regarding politics, many of us are troubled by the extraordinary events now unfolding in our nation’s Capitol, from the firing of the Director of the FBI to growing concerns about Russian interference in the last election and possible collusion and cover-up by our nation’s top leaders: we may well be troubled by what looks like an assault on the institutions that maintain democracy. And we have good reason to be deeply troubled by the ongoing and accelerating attack on God’s Creation, the Earth upon which all life depends. Our current leaders seem determined to develop more coal, gas, and oil, just when we urgently need to keep fossil fuels in the ground. They likewise seem determined to ignore climate science, to shut down climate Websites, to withdraw funding for climate research, and to abandon regulations that protect our health and environment, as if ignoring the climate crisis will make it go away. Last year was the hottest year on record, crushing the record set the year before, which in turn crushed the record set the year before that. As global temperatures rise, every living system of the world is being affected and is in decline. Sea ice is melting rapidly at both poles. Land ice is melting and sliding into the sea. Tundra is thawing and releasing methane – a serious greenhouse gas. Storms are becoming more intense. The ocean is absorbing heat and excess carbon dioxide, and in just decades has become 30% more acidic. Scientists recently reported that large sections of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef have died.
At the People’s Climate March in DC: The Earth is the Lord’s
For all of us who feel anxious and unsettled in this turbulent time, today’s Gospel passage brings words of reassurance and hope. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” Here is the first great promise that Jesus makes to us this morning: our souls have a destination, a home in God. We may enter the fullness of that divine dwelling place only at the end of our lives, but anyone with sustained experience in prayer, especially contemplative prayer, knows that we’re also invited to enter that dwelling place now. God is found not just “somewhere out there,” in a distant place or time. God is found right here and now, in the intimate, unrepeatable present moment. Every ache in us, every bit of restlessness and striving, every desire that moves through us in the course of a day, is an echo of the soul’s deep hunger for communion with God. The longing for our sacred Home in God is at the root of all our other longings and desires. But how do we find that Home in God? How do we get there? Even if, strictly speaking, there is nowhere to get to, even if in some sense God is already here, already alive in our depths and in our midst, how do we discover that truth for ourselves? What is the path? What is the way? That is the question that Thomas asks Jesus. You know how Jesus answers: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). That is the second great promise that Jesus makes to us this morning: there is a way into the heart of God, and Christ is the path. Christ is the way. I am ashamed to say that Christians have too often wielded this statement as a cudgel against people of other faiths, holding it aloft like a fist: follow Jesus or else. Christians have too often interpreted this statement as Jesus speaking from his ego to our ego, as if Jesus wants to bolster the part of our selves that likes to have power, to dominate and be in control. But when Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” Jesus is not speaking from his ego to our ego. He is speaking from his soul to our soul. He is inviting us to trust him, to be devoted to him, to dedicate ourselves to following him so that we, too, are drawn, as he is drawn, into the divine life that circulates at the center of everything and that can never be destroyed. Jesus is the gateway to the great way: to a universal love in which no one is left out. So Jesus speaks to the soul and says, “I am the way, the truth and the life. I am the indwelling presence of God, the creative Wisdom of God through whom all things were made, in whom everything is knit together, and toward whom all things in heaven and on earth converge. I make my home in you and in every person, whatever he or she happens to believe, and whether he or she is aware of it or not. You can ignore me, you can deny me, you can conceal me under all the worries and pleasures of your life, but if you open yourself to me in quiet prayer – if you listen attentively to my silent love – if you practice paying attention to my presence as you go through the day – if you lean on my love and trust in my power – what amazing things you and I will do together!” (c.f. Acts 17:6). This is what distinguishes secular activists from activists who are led by faith: secular activists depend on people power, on their own power, on what human beings can accomplish by themselves. And this can be a lot! But Spirit-led activists depend on God’s power. They draw from a sacred power beyond themselves, from a source of love and strength far greater than anything they can ask for or imagine. In these troubled times, we need Spirit-led activists, people who take time to pray and to listen inwardly for the presence of the Spirit, people who resist the temptation to get so caught up in tracking the latest breaking news, the latest tweet, the latest post on social media, that we forget to tap into the wisdom that can only be found deep within, by patient listening in silence. In these troubled times, we need Spirit-led activists who step out to do what needs to be done, even if they have no assurance of success – activists who bear witness to the ongoing flow of love that God pours into our hearts through the power of the Spirit (Romans 5:5), even in a world often gripped by cruelty and fear. Thanks be to God, people of all faiths are rising up the world over to proclaim the sacredness of God’s Creation and to express our refusal to stand idly by and let the web of life be destroyed. People of faith are lobbying, and advocating, and pressing our politicians to keep fossil fuels in the ground, where they belong. People of faith are blocking the path of new fracked gas pipelines, pushing for a fair price on carbon, and working to build a clean green economy that provides decent jobs and improves public health.
The Rev. Andrea Ayvazian at the launch of Sojourner Truth School for Social Change Leadership on May 4, 2017
You never know where the Spirit will lead you. A UCC pastor and friend of mine, long-time activist Andrea Ayvazian, was recently praying as she rode a train to and from Texas, and the Spirit gave her a vision of a school that teaches people how to build the movement for eco-social justice. Thus was born the Sojourner Truth School for Social Change Leadership. Launched just this month, it offers free classes from Greenfield to Springfield on everything from how to write for social change, to how to run for office, how to prepare for non-violent civil disobedience, and how to maintain a peaceful heart. The Sojourner Truth School for Social Change Leadership is already on its way to becoming a model for how to start similar schools in cities across the country. Check it out online or pick up one of the brochures I’ve left at the door to the church. I’ll be teaching a class on spiritual resilience in a couple of weeks. I see the Spirit at work in the climate action network here in the Pioneer Valley, Climate Action Now, which is engaged in campaigns to accelerate a transition to clean, safe, renewable sources of energy, such as sun and wind. The monthly meetings of Climate Action Now begin and end with silence, prayer, or singing, and if you sign up for their weekly newsletter, you’ll be joining a vibrant local effort. The Spirit also inspired the formation of another group, the Massachusetts Interfaith Coalition for Climate Action, or “MAICCA” for short, which is bringing together Christians, Jews, Quakers, Unitarians, and people of all religious traditions to push for legislation in Massachusetts that supports climate justice.
The Rev. Mariama White-Hammond, Minister for Ecological Justice, Bethel AME Church, Boston
Here’s my last invitation. I’d love to see you on Sunday afternoon, June 11, when we hold a festive, outdoor, interfaith service in Northampton called “Prayers for the Planet: Reverence and Resistance.” We’ll have two powerful guest speakers, Rev. Mariama White-Hammond and Jay O’Hara, along with Gospel music, singing, prayers, and leaders from a range of world religions, as we join together to refresh our spirits and renew our resolve. Thank you, Grace Church, for being a sponsor of this unusual event. I hope that many of you will come. Yes, we live in troubled times, but the Jesus movement was made for times like these. If you knew that Jesus was with you, if you knew that he believes in you and in what you can accomplish, if you knew that his Spirit was guiding you, sustaining you, and giving you strength, what would you do next? What new step would you take? You may not know the answer right off the bat, but if you ask the Spirit to guide you, She will. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.”    

Suppose you deeply loved this planet and were also deeply concerned for its future. And suppose you wanted to hold an event to give voice to those feelings. What would you call it?

Let’s say it was a large, outdoor, interfaith festival of music and prayer to celebrate the Earth. Let’s say you had everything planned — a date: Sunday, June 11. A time: 2 p.m. A place: a big open tent behind Congregation B’nai Israel in Northampton.

Let’s say you had a clear vision for the event: a family-friendly gathering for everyone who loves the Earth and wants to come together for one hour to pray and sing, to acknowledge our fears and concerns about the planet’s health — especially its climate — and to strengthen our spirits as we work for a more just and sustainable future.

Let’s say you had lined up two excellent guest speakers: the mighty Rev. Mariama White-Hammond, Associate Minister for Ecological Justice at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Boston, and Jay O’Hara, the Quaker activist featured on Democracy Now!, who was arrested in 2013 when he used a lobster boat to prevent delivery of 40,000 tons of coal.

Let’s say you had attracted plenty of local talent to help lead the service: faith leaders from a variety of traditions and a diverse group of local musicians.

In fact, all of that was set up. Nearly everything was in place. Only one thing remained: deciding what to call the event. For a while, that riddle beset us, the event’s organizers. We chewed on possible names, trading ideas. Eventually, two words emerged: reverence and resistance.

Why reverence? Because we hope to cultivate in ourselves and in each other a deep respect for Earth and all its inhabitants, human and other-than-human. Because we want to remember that the land is holy, the water is holy, the air is holy and life itself is a precious gift. Because we recognize that society too often treats people (especially poor people and people of color) — and the whole natural world — as if they were objects to dominate and exploit, instead of beings with intrinsic dignity and worth. Because we live in a society that too often pretends that human beings are separate from the web of life, not accountable to any law higher than the supposed laws of economics, and without a purpose greater than grabbing for riches, status and power.

Reverence takes many forms. We are reverent when we walk the Earth mindfully, blessing it with every step. We are reverent when we pay attention to the beauty, mystery and suffering in the world around us. We are reverent when we reduce our carbon footprint, walk and bike more often, or ditch the dryer and hang our laundry on a line. We are reverent when we try to encounter each person, each creature, each moment, with sincere interest and an open heart. We are reverent when we refrain from speaking harshly or with contempt, for reverence teaches us compassion.

Reverence is a stance of the spirit and a conscious practice: We intend to honor each other and the Earth. We intend to treat each other and the world around us with kindness and respect.

Why resistance? Because people of faith have a long history of rising up against injustice and speaking out against policies and practices that oppress, abuse or cause harm. Because when we put our beliefs into action and stand in direct opposition to an unjust status quo, we follow in the footsteps of prophets and leaders of every spiritual tradition. Because we refuse to stand idly by while political powers ramp up their efforts to devastate the Earth. Because we live in a climate emergency: Unless we rapidly reduce consumption of fossil fuels and make a swift, bold transition to clean, renewable sources of energy like sun and wind, we will leave a ruined and possibly uninhabitable world to our children and their children.

Resistance takes many forms. We resist climate catastrophe when we risk arrest and take non-violent action to stop new pipelines; when we lobby for a fair and rising tax on carbon; when we urge colleges and other nonprofits to divest from fossil fuels. We resist climate catastrophe when we support our local land trusts and farms, plant trees and community gardens, and reuse, recycle, share what we have and buy less stuff. We resist climate catastrophe when we march and join rallies, engage in public fasts and prayer vigils, contact politicians, vote and even run for office ourselves — all for the sake of directing society away from the cliff of continuing business as usual and toward a more sustainable path.

Resistance is a stance of the spirit and a conscious practice: We intend to protect each other and the Earth. We intend to stand up for life over death, for love over hate.

Our planning group eventually came up with a name for the event. We’re calling it “Public Prayers for the Planet: Reverence and Resistance.” On June 11, we hope to strengthen the religious and spiritual movement to avert climate catastrophe and to protect the web of life. We hope you’ll join us.

The Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas of Northampton serves as Missioner for Creation Care in both the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts and the Mass. Conference, United Church of Christ. Her website is RevivingCreation.org.

Earth Matters, written by staff and associates of the Hitchcock Center for the Environment at 845 West St, Amherst, appears every other week. For more information go to www.hitchcockcenter.org, call 256-6006 or write to column@hitchcockcenter.org.

This article, dated Friday, May 5, appeared in Daily Hampshire Gazette on Saturday, May 6, 2017, and may be viewed here.

Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter, April 30, 2017 Delivered by the Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas at St. Columba’s Episcopal Church, Washington, D.C. 1 Peter 1:17-23 Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17 Luke 24:13-35

March for jobs, justice, and climate: Were not our hearts burning within us?

They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32)
Crowds march down Pennsylvania Avenue, carrying placards and chanting

I bring you greetings from Massachusetts, where I serve as Missioner for Creation Care in the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts and in the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ. I took a train to get to Washington, D.C., this weekend, but I feel as if I sailed here on the living waters of the Holy Spirit. I was carried here, called here, moved to come here by a power greater than myself. Like John Wesley, my heart felt “strangely warmed” and called by the Spirit to be here at this critical time in world history.

Yesterday’s historic “March for Jobs, Justice and Climate” drew me, and many of you, and something like 200,000 other people to converge on our nation’s capital to express our shared love of life and our fierce intention to fight for a habitable planet, a just society, and a healthy future for our kids. We were like a mighty river, pouring through the streets in all our variety and diversity, a wave of people standing up for life, including people who had never done anything like this before, people who had never protested in the streets, had never taken part in public witness, yet who now felt moved to connect with others and to say that now is the time for our country to change course. Now is the time for fossil fuels to stay in the ground. Where does such a beautiful wave of faith, hope, and love come from? Where does it begin? A mighty river has to begin somewhere, and if we hike upstream and follow a river back to its headwaters, we probably discover that even a great river starts as something very small – maybe nothing more than a trickle, a bit of moisture on the ground, a trace of dampness in the soil. Yet eventually that rivulet of water becomes a power to be reckoned with. A great wave of Easter hope poured like a river through the first followers of Jesus – a mighty surge of confidence that the crucified Jesus had risen from the dead, that he was alive through the power of the Spirit, and that life, and not death, would have the last word. But that great wave of hope likewise began in a very small and humble way. We learn this, for instance, in today’s Gospel story. Two dejected followers of Jesus are walking to Emmaus. This is not a big march, but a mournful amble by two people who feel lost. Cleopas and his unnamed companion – who might be his wife, but who might also represent you or me – the two of them are walking together, talking about their confusion and sorrow. The person they had loved and followed, and who had ignited their hopes, has been executed. Jesus has been handed over, condemned to death, and crucified. The powers that be have triumphed. Injustice has won the day. I wonder how deep their despair went. Along with the grief that someone they loved had been tortured and murdered, did they also wonder if they had been fools to follow him in the first place? Did his message of God’s mercy, justice, and love now seem absurd? The movement that had formed around the power of Jesus’ love, teachings, and presence seemed to have been defeated forever. The government, like unjust governments everywhere, had tried to destroy the Jesus movement by arresting and killing its leader, figuring that without its leader, the movement would lose heart and dissipate like water into sand.
Emmaus’ door, by Janet Brooks-Gerloff
  So here they were, on the road to Emmaus, two followers of Jesus feeling shocked, helpless, stuck, and sad. Sure, some women of their group had told them an astounding tale that Jesus’ tomb was empty and that they “had… seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive” (Luke 24:23) – but what did that mean, and how was that possible? I want to pause here, because it’s important that we find ourselves right here in this story, without jumping ahead. I don’t know about you, but for me, the climate crisis can evoke similar feelings of grief, helplessness and fear, for we are witnessing (and complicit in) a crucifixion of another kind, the crucifixion of Earth. 97% of climate scientists worldwide are reporting with increasing alarm that climate change is upon us. Unless we take action fast, we will leave our children a world that none of us would recognize, a world very difficult to inhabit. In a mere 200 years – just a blink in geologic time – human beings have burned so much coal, gas, and oil and released so much heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that levels of CO2 are higher than our species has ever experienced before. Last year was the hottest year on record, crushing the record set the year before, which in turn crushed the record set the year before that. As global temperatures rise, every living system of the world is affected and in decline. Sea ice is melting rapidly at both poles. Land ice is melting and sliding into the sea. Tundra is thawing and releasing methane – a dangerous greenhouse gas. Storms are becoming more intense. Droughts are spreading in some areas, extensive floods in others. The ocean is absorbing heat and excess carbon dioxide, and in just decades has become 30% more acidic. Scientists recently reported that large sections of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef have died. The climate emergency is not just a quote-unquote “environmental” problem. It’s not just about polar bears and coral. It’s about people in Southern Africa, where rains have failed, crops are withering, and starving families are “reduced to eating cactus and even rocks or ashes.” It’s about Pacific islanders whose homelands are already flooding from rising seas. It’s about impoverished people here and abroad who are hit first and hardest by a changing climate, who have the fewest resources to adapt to it, and who are the least responsible for causing it. To make matters worse, fossil fuel groups are working very hard and spending millions of dollars to keep the American public confused. The same folks who once spread doubt about the risk of smoking tobacco are now throwing their weight behind efforts to mislead the public about the reality of climate change.[1] We learned this week that a think tank known for attacking climate science is mailing out books to public school teachers across the United States, books which contend that climate scientists have not reached a consensus on the causes and the urgency of global warming – when of course they have. Given the climate emergency in which we find ourselves, and the political and corporate powers lined up to deny there’s a problem and eager to maintain business as usual, do I ever find myself walking beside Cleopas on that sorrowful road to Emmaus? You bet I do. It is easy to feel overwhelmed and to get stuck in fear or inertia, uncertain about what to do and doubtful that it’s worth doing anything, anyway, since, after all, maybe it’s too late, maybe we’re too far gone, and what difference can one person make? Paralyzed by fear, we can get caught in something like a death spiral, in what U.N. Secretary General Ban-ki Moon has denounced as a “global suicide pact.” But then something happens: “Jesus himself came near and went with them” (Luke 24:15). The Lord of life is walking beside his grieving, frightened friends. What’s so poignant and even funny about this part of the story is that the sorrowing disciples don’t recognize the stranger beside them. They even rebuke him for apparently not knowing that Jesus has just been crucified and that strange reports are circulating that he has risen from the dead. But though they are not yet aware of it, the risen Christ is with them, walking beside them, patiently listening to their sorrows. Maybe that is how our own awareness of Christ’s resurrection begins. As we pour out our grief about the climate crisis, as we pour out our protest that the web of life is unraveling, we sense that a sacred Someone is listening to us. That is how the risen Christ often comes: he draws near, he walks beside us, he listens to us – and we begin to realize that we are not alone. A divine presence and power is with us. Or maybe, like Cleopas and his companion, we begin to sense the risen Christ as we study Scripture and come to understand, as the first disciples did, that these sacred texts speak of a suffering love that the powers of this world can never destroy. But in order to come fully into our lives, it seems that the risen Christ needs to know that we actively want his presence – that we are willing to reach out and ask him to stay. That’s what happens in our Gospel story. Christ starts walking ahead of Cleopas and his companion, and going on, as if leaving them behind. They call out to him strongly, “Stay with us” (Luke 24:28-29). And this is just what he does: “He went in to stay with them” (Luke 24:29). Maybe we sense the risen Christ most vividly right here at this table, when we share in the sacrament of Communion, when we take, bless, break, and share the bread. That is when the eyes of Cleopas and his companion are opened: they recognize the risen Christ, and in that moment of recognition, he vanishes. Why does he vanish? Because the disciples have been transformed. Because they have fully taken in his presence. Because their own Christ selves have been awakened, and they are now seeing with the eyes of Christ, feeling with the heart of Christ, serving with the hands of Christ. “Were not our hearts burning within us?” (Luke 24:32), they say to each other, as they reflect on what just happened. They have received what we might call a unitive vision, an experience of union with God. They see now that their lives are filled with meaning and purpose. They know now that they belong to a sacred mystery that is larger than themselves: to a love that will never let them go. Although they are still mortal and frail, just two small people in a big, chaotic world, they understand now that they are part of a long story of salvation to which they can contribute, every moment of their lives, by choosing compassion over hate, kindness over cruelty, love over fear. This insight is a great gift. And it is also a choice and a discipline that we try to renew every day and in every aspect of our lives Tired as they are that night, the two disciples get up and head straight back to Jerusalem to share this astonishing news with their friends – only to discover, to their further amazement, that their companions have independently had the same experience: a divine love has been set loose in the world, a love that nothing, not even death, can destroy. That is the wave of Easter hope that filled the early disciples and that set them on fire to bear witness to the risen Christ and to resist the forces of death in the world around them. That wave of Easter hope fills us and carries us now – every one of us who feels impelled to join our Creator in re-weaving the web of life and in building a gentler and more just society.
After the march, many people paused at the EPA office to leave messages of rebuke (“Pruitt is getting spit roasted by oil and gas”; “Climate justice: Don’t frack with democracy”) and support (“Save the EPA”)
And so we marched yesterday, and we will keep on marching. We will lobby, we will advocate, and we will press our politicians to keep fossil fuels in the ground, where they belong. We will block the path of new fracked gas pipelines, we will push for a fair price on carbon, and we will work to build a clean green economy that provides decent jobs and improves public health. The Church was made for a time like this – a time when God is calling us to become an Easter people, to step out of despair and inertia and to join – maybe even to lead – the joyful, justice-seeking, Spirit-led, unstoppable movement to protect the world that God entrusted to our care. Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
1.Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. M. Conway, Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming; see also Ross Gelbspan, The Heat is On; and Union of Concerned Scientists’ 2007 report on ExxonMobil.
Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter, April 23, 2017 Delivered by the Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas at Christ the King-Epiphany, Wilbraham, MA Psalm 16 Acts 2:14a, 22-32 1 Peter 1:3-9 John 20:19-31

Reach out your hand

“[Jesus] said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’” (John 20:27)

I feel a special kinship with this congregation, because you are pioneers in building ecumenical relations: you’ve gathered Lutheran and Episcopal communities into one shared community of worship. I can relate to that, for I serve two denominations in one job. As Missioner for Creation Care, I serve both the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ. So let’s hear it for Christians coming together to praise the one God and to follow Jesus, wherever he leads!

Today is Earth Sunday, the day after Earth Day, the day when people across the country celebrate the blue-green planet that we call home. Today is also the Second Sunday of Easter, and, as we always do at this time of year, we hear a marvelous and mysterious story from the twentieth chapter of the Gospel of John. Jesus shows himself to the disciples on the evening of Easter Day and then returns a week later to convince the disciple we call Doubting Thomas that yes, the Risen Christ is real. “Put your finger here and see my hands,” Jesus says to Thomas, showing him the wounds. “Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” And then Thomas finds his faith, saying, “My Lord and my God.” What happens when we consider Earth Day in the light of Easter? The first thing to say is that our Easter liturgies make it abundantly clear that Christ’s death and resurrection is good news not just to human beings but also to the whole of Creation – to rivers and mountains, forests and fields, whales and sparrows and sheep. At the Great Vigil of Easter, when we mark Jesus’ passing from death to life, we start by lighting a fire in the darkness and by listening to someone chant these ancient words: Rejoice and sing now, all the round earth, bright with a glorious splendor, for darkness has been vanquished by our eternal King.    Rejoice and sing now, all the round earth! Christ is risen! Today’s Gospel story invites us to explore the good news of Christ’s resurrection by taking stock of our doubts. Doubting Thomas stands for all of us who wrestle with doubt – doubt about what Jesus accomplished on the cross, and doubt about the reality of the resurrection. Doubt is a perfect theme for Earth Day, too, for when it comes to climate change – the issue at the top of everybody’s list on Earth Day – we hear a lot about doubt. Is climate change real? Is it serious? Is human activity responsible for most of it? Some folks outright deny the reality of climate change; others are on the fence and don’t know what to believe, assuming that scientists have not reached a consensus on the reality and causes of global warming. Fossil fuel groups are working very hard and spending millions of dollars to keep the American public doubtful and confused. The same folks who once spread doubt about the risk of smoking tobacco are now throwing their weight behind efforts to mislead the public about the reality of climate change.[1] Some groups are even trying to spread doubt about the validity of science itself, doubt about the value of scientific research and scientific fact. Next they will be questioning the validity of gravity! It’s no wonder that Marches for Science filled the streets on Earth Day yesterday in more than 600 cities on six continents! Now, I don’t know you, but I’m going to assume that all of us here understand the value of science and the scientific process. I also assume that most of us are not climate skeptics; most of us do not deny outright the conclusions of science. But when it comes to climate change, most of us probably do engage in a kind of everyday doubt and denial. Thinking about climate change can make us feel anxious or overwhelmed, so it’s tempting to change the subject and focus on more manageable things. It’s hard to face facts squarely. It’s hard to absorb the fact that the science is settled and that the debate about climate change is over. 97% of climate scientists worldwide are telling us with increasing alarm that climate change is already upon us. In just 200 years – a blink in geologic time – human beings have burned so much coal, gas, and oil and released so much heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are higher than our species has ever experienced before. Last year was the hottest year on record, crushing the record set the year before, which in turn crushed the record set the year before that. As global temperatures rise, every living system of the world is affected and in decline. Sea ice is melting rapidly at both poles. Land ice is melting and sliding into the sea. Tundra is thawing and releasing methane – a serious greenhouse gas. Storms are becoming more intense. Droughts are spreading in some areas, extensive floods in others. The ocean is absorbing heat and excess carbon dioxide, and in just decades has become 30% more acidic. Scientists recently reported that large sections of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef have died. The climate emergency is not just a quote-unquote “environmental” problem. It’s not just about polar bears and coral. It’s about people in Southern Africa, where rains have failed, crops are withering, and starving families are “reduced to eating cactus and even rocks or ashes.” It’s about Pacific islanders whose homelands are already flooding from rising seas. It’s about impoverished people here and abroad who are hit first and hardest by a changing climate, who have the fewest resources to adapt to it, and who are the least responsible for causing it.
“The Incredulity of St. Thomas,” Caravaggio, 1601-1602, Sanssouci, Potsdam, Neues Palais
So when I hear Jesus say to Doubting Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe,” I hear Jesus inviting Thomas – and us – to face the truth of crucifixion. We might wish away the reality of the violence and the wounds. We might wish very ardently that none of this wounding of our dear planet were happening, that we weren’t seeing dying coral and melting icecaps, rising seas and increasing numbers of refugees. But it is happening, and just as on Good Friday the disciples couldn’t pretend that Christ’s wounds on the cross weren’t real, so we, too, can’t pretend that the wounds to God’s Creation aren’t real. Yet because of Christ’s crucifixion, we know that God is with us in our suffering and in the planet’s suffering. And because of Christ’s resurrection, we also know that death does not have to be the end of the story. “When it was evening of Easter day, the first day of the week,” Jesus comes and stands among his disciples and says, “‘Peace be with you’” (John 20:19). Can you feel the impact of that moment? The Risen Christ comes to his guilty, worried, frightened friends and says “Peace be with you.” He gives them peace. Forgiveness. Acceptance. However much they’ve abandoned and denied him, he loves them and is with them still. In fact, in this one short passage Jesus says “Peace be with you” three times, as if the disciples need to hear that message again and again – partly in order to undo Peter’s three-fold denial, but also so that all of them – and all of us – will experience that forgiveness deep in our bones. Maybe that moment marks the beginning of our own resurrected life: the moment we hear and take in how much God loves us and how completely we are forgiven, no matter what we have done. Humans are dismantling the web of life that God gave us as a free gift to love and to steward – and yet, somehow, somehow, we are forgiven. From that place of being forgiven, we can change course and begin to live in a dramatically different way. So it is not only peace that Jesus gives to his disciples. He also sends them on a mission. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you,” he says, breathing into them the Holy Spirit, the same creative wind and energy that moved across the face of deep at the very beginning of creation. Jesus not only shares in our suffering, he not only loves and forgives us – he also sends us out to bear witness to the resurrection, to the wild, holy, and completely unexpected fact that through the grace and power of God, life – not death – will have the last word. Through the power of the Risen Christ, we are sent out to be healers of the Earth, sent out to take our place in the great work of healing the wounds of Creation, sent out to restore the web of life upon which we, and all creatures, depend. What can we do? We can educate ourselves about the climate crisis. We can recycle more, drive less, and quit using bottled water. Maybe we can eat local, organic foods and support our local farms and land trusts. We can install insulation, turn down the heat, and turn out lights when we leave the room. I hope you’ll consider forming a Green Team or Creation Care Committee in this church, so that you can support each other in the urgent effort to live more lightly on God’s good Earth. As individuals and congregations we can and should do everything we can, but the scope and speed of the climate crisis require action on a much broader scale, too. We need to join with others and make it politically possible to do what is scientifically necessary. Thanks be to God, people of all faiths are rising up the world over to proclaim the sacredness of God’s Creation and to express our refusal to stand idly by and let the web of life be destroyed! Right here in Massachusetts we have a strong grassroots climate action network, 350Mass for a Better Future, which has groups (“nodes”) across the state. When you sign up for the weekly newsletter, you’ll be hooked into a vibrant local effort. I’m also part of a new group, Massachusetts Interfaith Coalition for Climate Action, or “MAICCA” for short, which is bringing together Christians, Jews, Quakers, Unitarians, and people of all religious traditions to push for legislation in Massachusetts that supports climate justice. Together we are fighting to keep fossil fuels in the ground and to accelerate a transition to clean, safe, renewable sources of energy, such as sun and wind, that are accessible to everyone, including low-income and marginalized communities. I’ve put sign-ups at the back of the church for 350Mass for a Better Future and for MAICCA. Meanwhile a big climate march will be held next Saturday, April 29, in our nation’s capital. On the same day as this historic march in Washington, D.C., sister marches will spring up all over the country, including nearby cities like Springfield, Greenfield, and Boston. I hope you’ll grab a church banner and take your place in a local climate march, or that you will join me and other folks from the Diocese in heading down to Washington. If you go to PeoplesClimate.org, you can get all the details. I give thanks that Christians of every denomination, and people of every faith tradition, are drawing together to proclaim with one voice that the Earth is sacred and that we intend to work together – boldly, lovingly, and without delay – to protect it from further harm. I am grateful for Doubting Thomas, for he gives voice to our doubt – doubt that we can prevent catastrophic climate change, doubt that we can make a difference, doubt that resurrection is even possible. But just as Jesus invited Thomas to move past his doubts, so, too, Jesus invites us to receive the power of his forgiveness and the gift of his energizing Spirit. Today at the Eucharist we will stretch out our hands to receive the body and blood of Christ, just as Thomas stretched out his hands to touch Christ’s wounded hands and side. There is so much healing that we can do, so much power-to-reconcile that God has given to us, so much life that we can help to bring forth. “Reach out your hand,” I hear Jesus saying to us today. “Do not doubt but believe. Step through your doubt and receive the Holy Spirit who shows you the path of life and who gives you strength to heal our precious, ailing planet Earth.
1. Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. M. Conway, Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming; see also Ross Gelbspan, The Heat is On; and Union of Concerned Scientists’ 2007 report on ExxonMobil. &nbsp

Today is Earth Day, and along with millions of people around the world, I am praying for our blue-green planet, our common home. As part of Amherst Cinema’s “Science on Screen” film series, I recently gave a short talk before the screening of Leonardo DiCaprio’s film, Before The Flood.  I and the other guest speaker, Professor Scott Jackson of Kestrel Land Trust, were asked to speak briefly about the roles that land conservation, faith communities, and individual action can play in fighting climate change. Below is the text on which I based my remarks.

I am grateful to have a few minutes to speak about the spiritual and moral call to heal and protect the Earth, and about the approach that communities of faith are taking as they become aware of the climate crisis.

I use the word “crisis” very deliberately, because despite the current unwillingness at top levels of government to admit the accuracy or relevance of climate science, the facts are clear and beyond reasonable dispute. Climate change is real. In just a century or two, a blink in geologic time, human beings have extracted and burned so much coal, gas, and oil and released so much carbon and other emissions into the air that we’ve altered the chemistry of the global atmosphere. With an average rise in global temperature of just one degree, and with more warming on the way, we are already seeing a cascade of effects, including rising seas, melting glaciers, acidifying oceans, massive droughts and floods, and dying coral. Scientists are usually known for staying calmly detached and objective, but they are now using words in public like “shocking” and “alarming,” and they are beginning to speak openly about their fear and grief.

The movie we’re about to watch together, BEFORE THE FLOOD, reminds me of the ancient story of Noah, the mythic figure in the Bible who was divinely inspired to understand that a wave of cataclysmic change was coming upon the Earth and that he was called to respond boldly – to do everything in his power to be of service and to save the life around him. You know the story: he built an ark, he invited in the animals, two by two, and he saved life on Earth from the flood.

Several months ago columnist Thomas Friedman wrote an article in the New York Times entitled, “We’re All Noah Now.” He wrote: “… we are bumping up against and piercing planetary boundaries – on forests, oceans, ice melt, species extinctions and temperature – from which Mother Nature will not be able to recover… In short, we and our kids are rapidly becoming the Noah generation, charged with saving the last pairs.”

The story of Noah is the story of every person who takes a keen look at the world, listens inwardly to the wisdom of his or her deepest spirit, and responds by taking action on behalf of others.

In a time of climate crisis, I want to give you two words that characterize people of faith, people like Noah: reverence and resistance.

Why reverence? Because we hope to cultivate in ourselves and in each other a deep respect for Earth and all its inhabitants, human and other-than-human. Because we want to remember that the land is holy, the water is holy, the air is holy, and life itself is a precious gift. Because we recognize that society too often treats people – especially poor people and people of color – and the whole natural world as if they were objects to dominate and exploit, instead of beings with intrinsic dignity and worth. Because we live in a society that too often pretends that human beings are separate from the web of life, not accountable to a law higher than the supposed laws of economics, and without a purpose greater than grabbing for riches, status, and power.

Reverence takes many forms. We are reverent when we walk the Earth mindfully, blessing it with every step. We are reverent when we pay attention to the beauty, mystery, and suffering in the world around us. We are reverent when we reduce our carbon footprint, walk and bike more often, or ditch the dryer and hang our laundry on a line. We are reverent when we try to encounter each person, each creature, each moment, with sincere interest and an open heart. We are reverent when we refrain from speaking harshly or with contempt, for reverence teaches us compassion.

Reverence is a stance of the spirit and a conscious practice: we intend to honor each other and the Earth. We intend to treat each other and the world around us with kindness and respect.

Why resistance? Because people of faith have a long history of rising up against injustice and speaking out against policies and practices that oppress, abuse, or cause harm. Because when we put our faith into action and stand in direct opposition to an unjust status quo, we follow in the footsteps of prophets and leaders of every religious tradition. Because we refuse to stand idly by while political powers ramp up their efforts to devastate the Earth. Because we live in a climate emergency: unless we rapidly reduce consumption of fossil fuels and make a swift, bold transition to clean, renewable sources of energy like sun and wind, we will leave a ruined and possibly uninhabitable world to our children and their children.

Resistance takes many forms. We resist climate catastrophe when we risk arrest and take non-violent action to stop new pipelines; when we lobby for a fair and rising tax on carbon; when we urge colleges and other non-profits to divest from fossil fuels. We resist climate catastrophe when we support our local land trusts and farms, plant trees and community gardens, and reuse, recycle, share what we have, and buy less stuff. We resist climate catastrophe when we march and join rallies, engage in public fasts and prayer vigils, contact politicians, vote, and even run for office ourselves – all for the sake of directing society away from the edge of the cliff of continuing business as usual and toward a more sustainable path.

Resistance is a stance of the spirit and a conscious practice: we intend to protect each other and the Earth. We intend to stand up for life over death, for love over hate.

I’d like to suggest three opportunities to express reverence and resistance:

  1. One is to join the climate march in Washington, DC, that will be held next Saturday, April 29. Sister marches will be held in cities across the country, including Springfield, Greenfield, and Boston. I will be heading to DC, and I’d love to see you there.
  2.  Second, we can join a wonderful, local, grassroots, climate action group, right here in the Pioneer Valley: Climate Action Now.
  3. Third, we can take part in a festive, interfaith, outdoor service that will be held on June 11 under a big open tent in Northampton. We’re going to pray and sing and speak on behalf of the Earth, and we’re calling the event “Public Prayers for the Planet: Reverence and Resistance.”

We live in precarious times. The word “precarious” derives from the word for “prayer.” For people of faith, this is a time for prayer, a time to seek God’s presence and guidance.

To circle back to the story of Noah: after the flood, God makes a covenant for all time with every living creature, and puts a rainbow in the sky as a sign of God’s unfailing love for all creation. When we act and advocate to protect God’s Creation – when we hold in our hearts the future generations who count on us to leave them a habitable world – I believe that we do so in the presence and power of a divine love that will never let us go.

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Lent, April 2, 2017 Delivered by the Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas at The Church of the Covenant, Boston, MA

“Lazarus, come out!” A Christian response to the climate crisis

John 11:1-45

What a blessing it is to be here this morning and to join your Lenten exploration of “Fierce Love”! Thank you, Rob (Rev. Robert J. Mark), for inviting me to preach, and thank you for your steadfast witness to God’s love for the Earth and for all its communities, human and other-than-human. I was arrested with you last spring at an interfaith protest of the West Roxbury fracked gas pipeline, and just a few months ago, each of us felt called to make a trip to Standing Rock to stand with the Water Protectors. We are allies in the struggle for life, and it is good to worship with you and your congregation this morning.

I have the longest job title in the world. I serve in both the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Conference of the UCC as Missioner for Creation Care. This unusual joint position is a marker of good things ahead, for Christians of every denomination, and people of every faith tradition, are drawing together to proclaim with one voice that the Earth is sacred and that we intend to work together – boldly, lovingly, without swerving, without delay – to renew its health and to protect it from further harm. Today’s Gospel reading brings us to the turning point in Jesus’ ministry. Raising Lazarus is the crowning miracle or sign that reveals Jesus as the giver of life, and that also precipitates his death. The raising of Lazarus provokes a meeting of the Sanhedrin, the official Jewish court, which reaches the decision that Jesus is dangerous and must be killed. And so next week we come to Palm Sunday and begin the anguish and ultimately the joy of Holy Week. Today’s story begins in a place of desolation, loss, and despair. Lazarus has died; he has been dead for four days; and his sisters Mary and Martha are in distress, grieving with family and friends. The story begins right where we are: in a world that is full of death, full of grieving, full of loss. Mary and Martha taste the same bitterness that we taste when a loved one dies. They know, as we do, the pang of sorrow that can seize us in the middle of the night. They know the anguish that can empty life of zest or meaning. This morning you and I may be in the very same place in which Mary and Martha begin this story, for there is plenty of death in the air these days. My particular concern is the climate crisis, and right now, even as I speak, burning fossil fuels is pumping carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere and further disrupting the delicate balance of the world’s climate. In just 200 years – a blink in geologic time – human beings have burned so much coal, gas, and oil and released so much heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that atmospheric levels of CO2 are higher than our species has ever experienced before. Last year was the hottest year on record, which crushed the record set the year before, which crushed the record set the year before that. As global temperatures rise, every living system of the world is affected and in decline. Sea ice is melting rapidly at both poles. Land ice is melting and sliding into the sea. Tundra is thawing. Storms are becoming more intense. Droughts are spreading in some areas, extensive floods in others. The ocean is absorbing heat and excess carbon dioxide, and in just decades has become 30% more acidic. Last month scientists reported that large sections of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef have died. The climate emergency is not just a quote-unquote “environmental” problem. It’s not just about polar bears and coral. It’s about people in Southern Africa, where rains have failed, crops are withering, and starving families are “reduced to eating cactus and even rocks or ashes.”  It’s about Pacific islanders whose homelands are already flooding. It’s about impoverished people here and abroad who are hit first and hardest by a changing climate, who have the fewest resources to adapt to it, and who are the least responsible for causing it. It’s about coastal communities and great cities the world over, including Boston, which face rapidly rising seas. So that’s where we find ourselves: on a beautiful, precious, but ailing planet, with the web of life unraveling before our eyes. When we hear bad news like this, it can be easy to shut down. It is difficult to face the grief, helplessness, and fear that our situation evokes. Most of us aren’t climate skeptics; most of us don’t deny outright the conclusions of science – but most of us do engage in a kind of everyday denial: we try to avoid the anxiety of thinking about climate change, so we change the subject and focus on more manageable things. When we feel helpless to imagine, much to less create, a better future, we just carry on with business as usual. It’s as if we fall under a spell and make what former U.N. Secretary General Ban-ki Moon calls a “global suicide pact.” That’s where our gospel passage begins: in darkness, in the pit, in the valley of the shadow of death. Martha and Mary are bereft. And then – something changes. Jesus arrives. When he sees Mary weeping, and the crowds around her weeping, Jesus is “greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved” (John 11:33). As if the gospel writer wants to make the meaning perfectly clear, a few verses later we come to the shortest verse in all of Scripture, a verse that is often translated by just two words: “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). He wept. Here is no distant God, no far-off deity untouched by grief, but a God who comes as one of us, a God who meets us in our suffering, a God who shares in our pain. When we feel anguish, it’s easy to look for someone to blame, to conclude that God isn’t real, that God is punishing us, or that God has abandoned us. But gazing at Jesus in this story reveals something different: when our hearts are breaking, God’s heart is breaking, too. It is a heart-opening, mind-opening revelation to discover that when we weep for the Earth, when we feel outrage and protest, God is grieving with us and through us. God is bearing what we cannot bear alone. The fact that Jesus wept suggests that the first step in healing, the first step in birthing new life, comes when we step toward the pain, not away from it, and when we do so in the presence of God. The God who enters into our suffering knows that new life begins only when we are willing to feel pain. And when we grieve in God’s presence, we move out of numbness, out of inertia, out of the denial that pretends that everything is fine. So, as the wise Buddhist teacher Joanna Macy puts it, “Don’t ever apologize for crying for the trees burning in the Amazon or over the waters polluted from mines in the Rockies. Don’t apologize for the sorrow, grief, and rage you feel. It is a sign of your humanity and your maturity… We are capable of suffering with our world, and that is the true meaning of compassion. It enables us to recognize our profound interconnectedness with all beings.” I will ask you the same questions that I asked at yesterday’s retreat at Trinity Church on spiritual resilience and resistance: Where do you feel the pain of the earth and its creatures? Where do you hear the groaning of God’s creation? And I will add this, too: the unjust powers of this world don’t want us to grieve or protest. They don’t want us to feel outrage and sorrow when we face the deathly patterns that are part of this society: the racism and militarism, the abuse of the helpless, the poisoning of air and water, the relentless assault on the web of life. The powers-that-be would much prefer that we stay numb – zombies who are too busy or bored or distracted, too defended to feel the pain that allows something new to be imagined, something new to be born. “Jesus wept,” and in that weeping begins the healing that leads to new life. In the vulnerability of his open heart, Jesus opens to a power greater than himself. “Take away the stone,” he says to the astonished crowd. Can you imagine what the throng of people must be thinking just then? Probably something along the lines of, “Hey – is he nuts?” But reluctantly or eagerly, maybe shaking their heads in bemusement, maybe daring to hope against hope, some folks move forward. They lean their weight against the stone and push it away from the entrance of the tomb. And then comes Jesus’ voice. In the midst of weeping, there comes a voice. “Lazarus,” he cries. “Come out.” It is a voice of power, a summons, a command, and it addresses us by name. You’ve heard that voice before, and I’ve heard it, too. Deep inside us is a presence, a voice, a Someone who calls us to quit hiding in a deathly place and to step out into fullness of life. We can go for a while, maybe quite a long while, not engaging with reality, not engaging with the climate crisis, and just laying low, hiding out, ducking from everything that seems too hard to face, too hard to bear. The powers-that-be want to keep it that way, and they murmur, “That’s OK. Get comfy in that little tomb. Make peace with it. Decorate it. Stay small.” But then comes that insistent, disturbing voice, calling us by name. “Barbara,” it says. “Come out. Cindy, come out. Rob, come out. Margaret, come out.” “I love you,” God says to us. “I want you to be fully alive, not just partially alive, not just going through the motions. I want you to grow up into your full stature in Christ. I loved you into being, I sent you into the world to fall in love, and I call you now to serve love without holding back. So come out of your hiding place. Come out of your helplessness. Come out of your fearfulness, and join the struggle to save life on this sweet Earth. The resurrection life that I give you doesn’t start beyond the grave. It starts right now. I didn’t create you to live in a tomb.” When I look around, I see a planet at risk of catapulting into runaway climate disruption. But also see person after person hearing – and answering – a deep call to step out and to engage in the struggle to protect life. On a practical level, what can we do? As individuals, we can drive less, use public transportation, put on a sweater and turn down the heat, ignore the dryer and hang our laundry out to dry, eat less meat, eat local foods, recycle, and so on. You know the drill. But the scope and pace of the climate crisis require change on a much broader scale. Thanks be to God, coalitions are building among people of faith who care about the Earth, about poverty and economic justice, about racial justice, about immigration and human rights – for all these issues intersect. Right here in Massachusetts, a new group, Mass. Interfaith Coalition for Climate Action (or MAICCA, for short) is organizing very diverse communities of faith to work together on climate. I’ve put a MAICCA sign-up sheet in back so that you can connect. At the end of this month, on April 29, the 100th day of this country’s new Administration, thousands of people – including countless people of faith – will converge on Washington, D.C., for the People’s Climate Movement “March for Jobs, Justice, and Climate.” You can sign up for the march at PeoplesClimate.org, and I hope you will come. A sister march will be held here in Boston on the same day, and that’s a good choice, too, though it may be particularly effective to carry out our witness in our nation’s capital. The Church was made for a time like this – a time when God is calling us out of the tomb of inertia and despair and into the wholehearted, focused, joyful, justice-seeking, Spirit-led, unstoppable movement to protect the world that God entrusted to our care. “Lazarus, come out!”