Faith-based environmental activism can take many forms. Your event could be small: a handful of people gather one evening outside a church, holding candles and praying for upcoming U.N. climate negotiations. Or your event could be large: hundreds of people share a multi-faith worship service at which they sing, preach, and pray about caring for Earth.

Your event could be simple: a panel of speakers from different faith traditions discusses the spiritual foundations of environmental activism. Or your event could be complex, with multiple components: maybe an interfaith crowd will gather to sing, speak, and pray on the steps of your State House, hold a procession inside, carry out more speaking and singing at your Governor’s office, and then spread out for an afternoon of lobbying. Your event could be even more ambitious than that: it could, for instance, launch with an interfaith service and continue with a pilgrimage across your state, pausing as you hold educational events along the way and sleep on the floor of houses of worship; it might conclude with a large, interfaith service indoors, followed by a public rally outdoors.

Your faith-based event could be legal or it could include non-violent civil disobedience. It could be a stand-alone action or it could weave itself into something larger, such as the 10,000 people of faith who marched together in the People’s Climate March in 2014, joining a river of hundreds of thousands of people who coursed through the streets of New York City.

Whatever form it takes, your event will require planning. Here comes a list of thirteen steps for carrying out an effective and memorable faith-based environmental action. Please add your own suggestions at the bottom of this post!

1. Gather and tend the seeds

Someone has the seed of a brilliant idea (“Let’s carry out civil disobedience on Good Friday to stop new pipelines in our city.” “Let’s walk across the state to raise awareness of climate change.” “Let’s honor the sacredness of water by paddling downriver, praying all the way.”). Welcome your seeds of inspiration. Gather a group of friends, test and refine your ideas, generate more ideas, and see who has time and energy to join a planning team.

2. Only connect

Who else needs to be included in designing and carrying out the event? How wide a circle do you want to cast? Who are your potential allies? This part of the process may take a good deal of time, thought, and relationship building.

You will need to decide if you want to create an event for people of just one faith tradition, for people of several faith traditions, or for people of all faith traditions. Because so many folks no longer identify with a particular religious tradition, considering themselves “spiritual but not religious,” you may decide to promote your event as being “for all people of faith and good will.”

You will need to decide if you want the event to be led by clergy and other recognized religious leaders, and, if so, if you want those leaders to be locally known and grown or to have a wider following.

You will need to decide if, and to what degree, “your” event is open to being shaped and led by other stakeholders. For example, if you are middle-class and white, are you open to meeting with people of color and to low-income and immigrant communities as you muse on a potential action? Will you listen to their needs and hopes? How will they be included as participants and leaders? Again, if you are middle-aged and older, how will you engage youth as participants and leaders? If you are part of a “mainstream” religion, will you reach out to indigenous religious leaders? How will you take into account the needs of the differently abled, such as those who are deaf or hard of hearing, or those who need an accessible walkway?

Creating an interfaith environmental event provides a precious opportunity to build relationships across boundaries of age, race, and class, and to respect “intersectionality,” that big mouthful of a word that acknowledges that different forms of oppression (such as race, class, and gender) overlap and intersect. As Naomi Klein has said, to change everything we need everyone.

3. Go for ‘now’ time and ‘deep’ time

An event that honors “now” time is an event that is timely. Will you hold your event during the final push to pass important legislation? Will your event try to affect an upcoming election? Will it be held on the eve of an important national or international event, such as Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S. or the next round of U.N. climate talks? Will it be held in the aftermath of an environmental disaster, such as an oil spill, hurricane, or wildfire?

A timely event will also explore the possibility of aligning with the larger climate movement. Can your prayer vigil, procession, pilgrimage, worship service or rally be timed to coincide with other events being carried out around the world? Right now the next big climate mobilization will be held worldwide on September 8, “Rise for Climate.” What better day than this to schedule an interfaith climate action and to uphold the movement in prayer?

              Note: to keep track of actions being planned on a global scale, follow 350.org. For climate justice events in Massachusetts, follow 350Mass for a Better Future; in the Pioneer Valley, follow Climate Action Now.

A faith-based event can be timed to connect with a civic holiday such as Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, or Thanksgiving. It can also be timed to resonate with the “deep” time of religion. Scheduling your event on a holy day, a day of atonement, or a liturgical season can add to its spiritual, moral, and emotional power. Even if the conjunction is accidental, it can still be meaningful. One of the most dynamic celebrations of Advent I’ve ever witnessed took place in 2011, when 7,000 people, including clergy and faith leaders, marched through the streets of Montreal to support decisive action at the U.N. Climate Change Conference. As I wrote in my book of Advent meditations, Joy of Heaven, to Earth Come Down (Forward, 2012, 2013), the march sounded the ancient themes of Advent:

“The time is high,” said one sign.
“People in power: wake up!” said another.
Now is the time wake from sleep. Repent. Time is short. Prepare for judgment.

Deep time is a good context for holding your event, but here’s a heads up: you will need to be thoughtful in selecting a date that does not create insurmountable obstacles for the faith communities you hope to reach. On Friday, Muslims are encouraged to gather at the mosque for special prayers; Saturday is when observant Jews mark the Sabbath; Sunday (particularly Sunday morning) is when Christians observe a Sabbath day of rest. Clergy may find it relatively easy to attend a weekday or weeknight event, but difficult to do so on a weekend, when they lead services. People with 9 to 5 jobs may find it easier to attend an event that is held on the weekend or at lunchtime or on a weekday evening. Finally, before choosing a date, be sure to check the proposed date against the schedule of special observances of the faith traditions you hope to include.

In selecting the date of an interfaith event, you will almost certainly have to make some hard choices. Still, it’s better to weigh the pros and cons in advance and to make a deliberate and informed choice, offering explanations and apologies as you go, than inadvertently to choose a date that you later discover will exclude a large swath of the people you’d most hoped would participate.

4. Draw from symbol and story

Myths, parables and stories from religious traditions provide powerful ways to re-imagine ourselves and our situation. Because stories speak not just to our rational mind but also to our imagination, feelings, and will, they can be brought to bear to address the climate crisis and can give us courage, guidance, and motivation to act.

To name a couple of examples from the Judeo-Christian tradition: in Massachusetts, activists fighting new pipeline construction chose the biblical story of Moses confronting Pharaoh and demanding, in the name of God, that the people be set free, as the framework for Exodus from Fossil Fuels, an interfaith witness for climate action that we carried out in Boston in March 2018 during Holy Week (for Christians) and shortly before Passover (for Jews). (For my blog post on this event, click here.)

Similarly, activists fighting to stop construction of a trash-burning incinerator in a low-income community in Baltimore used the story of the theft of Naboth’s vineyard (1 Kings 21:1-21a) to illuminate their own experience of social and environmental injustice and to inspire their own acts of resistance. (For my sermon on this text, visit here.)

Sacred symbols such as water and trees also hold great power in many religious traditions. Is there a symbol around which you would like to organize your event?

5. Create a vision

If this event were “successful,” what would it look like? Hold this conversation early in the planning process. The vision that emerges can serve as a sort of North Star to guide you along the way. Keeping the vision in mind can raise energy, clarify focus, and open the heart. During the planning process, it is good to return to the vision from time to time. Are we still in alignment with the initial vision that so inspired us? Does our vision of the event need to change?

Antoine de Saint Exupery pointed out: “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” Simon Sinek makes the same point in his TED talk, “How Great Leaders Inspire Action,” when he says, “Martin Luther King, Jr. gave the ‘I have a dream’ speech, not the ‘I have a plan’ speech.

6. Divvy things up

In other words: get organized. One model for organizing a complex event is to have a steering committee made up of maybe half a dozen dedicated individuals who can devote real time to overseeing the project. Other leaders can form subgroups that are devoted to accomplishing specific tasks (e.g. communications and media; worship service; choreography of civil disobedience; outreach to groups not yet represented). A member of the steering committee can participate in each subgroup and serve as a liaison to the steering committee, reporting on progress made and where more help is needed.

Divvying up responsibilities requires self-awareness (what skills do I bring to the table?), curiosity (what skills do the other people bring?), and clarity (what skills does this event need in order to be successful?). For example, some people may be excellent at generating and maintaining the big vision of the event, whereas other people may be terrific at handling details, creating timelines, forming agendas, and assuring accountability. A successful event will require both sets of skills.

               Note: if you are planning an interfaith act of civil disobedience to address climate change, Climate Disobedience Center is an excellent source of support and guidance.

7. Communicate

Craft a clear, simple message for the media and the public.

Let your visuals communicate the same clear, dramatic message. Will a casual passerby grasp the purpose of your event?

Develop a communications plan: make a flyer, figure out how to post it on bulletin boards and share it online, set up a Facebook event page, compose a decent press release, designate your spokespeople, and reach out to press, radio, and TV.

8. Make it beautiful

Music is essential, especially participatory singing that requires no song sheets. When it comes to enlivening an interfaith vigil or rally, songs are more potent than chants. Whether they are fierce or tender, songs can generate warmth and fellow-feeling, compassion and resolve.

Will you create banners? What about oversize puppets? There’s nothing like holding an interfaith rally that is attended by a larger-than-life polar bear or by Mother Earth herself.

Will your event include a ritual such as ripping a cloth (a sign of mourning in Jewish tradition), blessing the crowd with evergreen fronds dipped in water (a Christian tradition), or smudging your neighbor’s outstretched palms with dirt (a ritual of commissioning someone to become a healer of Earth)? What kind of ritual might enrich your event?

Encourage religious leaders to wear vestments or other clothing that represents their tradition. You’re aiming for an event that is dignified, colorful, diverse, and photogenic.

9. Keep it fun

Wherever possible, maintain a spirit of joy. How blessed we are to express our deepest values, to celebrate the sacredness of life, and to do so together!

Bring snacks to planning meetings. Offer your seat to someone. Yield the floor. Enjoy the ride.

10. Pray your way through

As you plan an interfaith event, trust that the initial seed of an idea, and the process of tending, enlarging, pruning, and adapting those ideas, is a gift from Spirit. Aim to stay connected with Spirit all the way through by keeping your meetings rooted in prayer, allowing space for silence, singing, and prayer, as well as for the nitty-gritty work of planning and problem-solving. The only way to reach peace is to be peace along the way.

It’s worth pointing out that people who organize an interfaith climate action are people who care deeply: we feel an urgent desire to preserve the web of life and to create a just and sustainable society. Organizers will not always concur on the best path forward, and strong feelings can lead to disagreements. Expect some misunderstandings and conflict. Keep breathing. Cherish the planning process as an opportunity to use and expand all your skills in non-violent communication. Understand that everything that happens – the bump in the road, a sudden gust of disappointment, the possibility of failure – is part of your own spiritual journey to grow in wisdom, compassion, and discernment.

11. Record & share it

Can you persuade a professional photographer to take video and still photos? Or will you rely on people’s cell phones? Amplify the impact of your event by spreading images on social media, and consider writing blog posts, letters to the editor, and op-eds. Creating a visual and verbal record of your event not only boosts your morale – it also educates other people and encourages them to create their own actions.

Be sure to thank members of the media who covered the story.

12. Plan to follow up

Will this be a one-off event or will it be the start of something? Consider how you will engage people, once your event is over. At the end of your action, consider distributing a short handout of upcoming events and local organizations. Make it easy for newcomers to get involved in the climate movement.

Gather participants’ names and contact information. Keep records.

13. Savor the harvest

Soon after the event, take time with your steering committee to debrief in person or on a conference call. (What did we learn? What were the high points and low points? Name a rose and a thorn. What would we do differently next time? Are we ready to consider next steps?).

If you’re up for it, hold a party.

If possible, protect space in your calendar so that you can now catch up on the responsibilities you probably set aside in order to plan and implement your wonderful event.

Give thanks.

 

 

Leaders of the Eastern Church and the Western Church, representing billions of people worldwide, spoke with one voice this month about the moral urgency of confronting the climate crisis.

The Parthenon. The ancient city of Athens, where democracy was born, is often called the cradle of Western civilization. Photo credit: Robert A. Jonas

“A civilization is defined and judged by our respect for the dignity of humanity and the integrity of nature,” declared the head of the Orthodox Church, His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, in his keynote address for a three-day international symposium held in Greece. “Toward a Green Attica: Preserving the Planet and Protecting Its People” was the ninth international, inter-disciplinary, and inter-religious symposium that Patriarch Bartholomew has convened since 1991 to highlight the spiritual basis of ecological care and to strengthen collaboration across disciplines in our quest to build a just and habitable world.

I accepted an invitation to attend the symposium, along with 200 leaders in a variety of fields – science, economics, theology, public policy, journalism, business, and social activism. Gathering in Athens and visiting the islands of Spetses and Hydra, we studied climate science, explored strategic actions toward sustainability and resilience, and renewed our commitment to push for the economic and societal changes that must take place if we are to avert social and ecological chaos and widespread suffering. (For the program and a list of participants, visit here.)

The Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt. Rev. Nicholas Holtam, represented the Archbishop of Canterbury and affirmed the commitment of the Anglican Consultative Council to address the climate crisis (see, for example, Resolution 16.08: Response to Global Climate Change). As the Church of England states on its Website, “We believe that responding to climate change is an essential part of our responsibility to safeguard God’s creation.” (I note that from September 1 to October 4, Anglicans will unite with Christians around the world to care for God’s creation in a “Season of Creation.” Excellent materials for “Creation Season” worship, study, and prayer are available from the Anglican Communion Environmental Network and other sources here, and a complete guide to celebrating a 2018 “Season of Creation” is available here.)

Fr. John Chryssavgis, Orthodox theologian and adviser to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and Professor Jeffrey Sachs. Photo credit: Robert A. Jonas

Peter Cardinal Turkson, a Ghanaian Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church who worked closely with Pope Francis in developing the papal encyclical, Laudato Si, represented the Pope at the symposium. Cardinal Turkson read a statement from Pope Francis that included these lines: “It is not just the homes of vulnerable people around the world that are crumbling, as can be seen in the world’s growing exodus of climate migrants and environmental refugees. As I sought to point out in my Encyclical Laudato Si’, we may well be condemning future generations to a common home left in ruins. Today we must honestly ask ourselves a basic question: ‘What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?’” (The entire statement can be found here.)

One of the most powerful, disturbing and illuminating lectures was given by Jeffrey Sachs, a world-renowned professor of economics and director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. Sachs gave a one-hour overview of the history of economics that included a blistering critique of corporate capitalism and its veneration of greed, by which “Nature is utterly sacrificed for profit.” (A professional videographer recorded his speech, but until that video becomes available, you can watch a more basic recording here).

Other speakers at the symposium included such luminaries as award-winning scientist and activist Vandana Shiva, who argued that modern industrial agriculture has become “an act of war” against human health and the health of the Earth. She noted that the chemicals used to kill insects are the same chemicals that were used in Hitler’s concentration camps. Members of Hitler’s “poison cartel” were tried at Nuremberg for their crimes, she said, “but those crimes continue in the name of feeding the world.” Asserting that only 5% of cancers have a genetic basis, she maintained that the recent merger of corporate giants Monsanto and Bayer created a “cancer train”: one part of the company makes carcinogenic chemicals, and the other part makes the medicine used to treat cancer. She also contended: “Climate change is the destruction of the metabolic system of the planet to regulate her climate.”

Rev. Dr. Jim Antal (UCC), Rev. Dr. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, & Dr. David Goa (theologian and author, U. of Alberta). Dinner after a full day of climate education and dialogue, island of Spetses. Photo credit: Robert A. Jonas

Professor Hans Joachim Schellnuber, Director of Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact, gave a hair-raising presentation on the precarious health of “the vital organs of the planet,” such as the Gulf Stream, coral reefs, Alpine glaciers, the Amazon rainforest, and West Antarctic Ice Sheet (a recent study shows that Antarctica’s ice loss has tripled in a decade; if that continues, we are in serious trouble). Citing a 2017 article in the journal Science, “A roadmap for rapid decarbonization,” Schellnuber asserted that we could halve carbon emissions every decade – “but we have to want to do it.”

Other speakers likewise underscored the urgent need to galvanize humanity’s vision, will, and moral courage as we confront the climate crisis, which poses an existential threat to civilization. Writer and activist Raj Patel urged us to consider the question, “What sort of ancestor do you want to be?” When asked about the role of civil disobedience, he replied, “Now and yesterday is a good day to put our bodies on the lever of the machine.”

Award-winning human rights advocate Rabbi Awraham Soetendorp spoke movingly about the power of compassion, based on his own experience as a three-month-old infant who was protected from the Nazis by a Roman Catholic family, and spared from death by an SS guard who took pity on him. “We are wood plucked out of the fire,” he cried. “How can I ever despair? We are able to plant the future into the present…We desperately need each other…A decade is rising before us, a decade where miracles can happen. Can we declare this decade a sacred time? We are one human family, one Earth community with a common destiny. Is this not a moment of kairos?… We are men and women of radical hope.”

Speaking of hope – Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) from 2010-2016, gave one of the most impassioned appeals to active hope that I’ve ever heard. Figueres was a key player in the successful delivery of the Paris Climate Accord, an agreement that she deemed “fundamentally necessary” yet also “insufficient.” Figueres is a small, vigorous woman; her concentrated focus and fierce tenacity reminded me of a diminutive songbird with the astonishing capacity to migrate thousands of miles. Like the Rabbi, she, too, spoke of kairos, which she defined – citing Patriarch Bartholomew – as “the intersection of conviction and commitment.” In response to the urgent question, “What can we do?” she exhorted everyone: 1) to eradicate meat from our diets; 2) to be careful in our methods of transportation; 3) if we live in a democracy, to vote responsibly (to do otherwise is “collusion with a crime against humanity”); and 4) to leverage the power of capital by divesting from fossil fuel companies and investing in clean renewables.

Christiana Figueres, UNFCCC Executive Secretary when the Paris Climate Accord was reached, urging ambitious action

Figueres went further: she challenged communities of faith to “strengthen the arc of faith” – that is, to “inject confidence” in the process of transformation that has started and that must accelerate. After all, limiting global average temperatures to a 1.5º rise – the aspirational goal of the Paris Climate Accord – gives only a 66% guarantee of saving small island states. How many of us would board an airplane that had only a 66% chance of landing safely? She also challenged faith communities to “expand the arc of love,” so that no one is excluded.

Both Jeffrey Sachs and Cardinal Turkson left the symposium early to travel to Rome. Pope Francis had taken the unprecedented step of inviting the world’s top fossil fuel executives – including the chairman of Exxon Mobil, the chief executive of the Italian energy giant Eni, and the chief executive of BP – along with money managers of major financial institutions, to meet with him in a two-day, closed-door conference at the Vatican. Sachs and Turkson joined the meeting to add their perspectives.

“There is no time to lose,” the Pope told the participants. He appealed to them “to be the core of a group of leaders who envision the global energy transition in a way that will take into account all the peoples of the earth, as well as future generations and all species and ecosystems.”

Thus, in one extraordinary week, Christian Churches, both East and West, called for robust action to address climate disruption.

The Rt. Rev. Marc Andrus, Bishop of California and leader of the Presiding Bishop’s delegation to UN Climate Summits, commented: “The moment is dire, and also is our (humanity’s) moment of greatest possibility. St. Irenaeus called a human fully alive the glory of God. Now, 1,300 years later we may understand that for humanity to act as one for the good of the Earth is yet a greater expression of God’s glory.”

Patriarch Bartholomew releases kestrel. Photo credit: Robert A. Jonas

Looking back on the symposium, Bishop Marc was thankful for its “great spirit of respect and mutuality… Rather than lobbying to enlist people to each cause, there was a celebration of what each person is doing to heal the Earth, and a seeking to support each person on their path, to make connections. A good example of this to me was the tremendous joy we all felt as the Ecumenical Patriarch released two kestrels that had been nursed back to health by an Athenian woman whose ministry is protecting and healing endangered birds.”

Another Episcopal participant, Dr. Sheila Moore Andrus, a biologist and an active climate champion from Diocese of CA, expressed appreciation for the opportunity to meet new climate activists and connect with individuals she has respected for many years – including the Rev. Fletcher Harper, who, she said, “is currently working on a project similar to one I am working on for the Diocese of CA: a web-based tool that can help people decrease their carbon footprint and aggregate those choices by church and diocesan Community.  The conference gave Fletcher, Marc and me a chance to explore ways to promote such a tool among interfaith groups, and all this in settings filled with inspiring talks and sacred indoor/outdoor spaces.”

The Rev. Fletcher Harper, Executive Director of GreenFaith, concluded: “The fact that it was searingly hot during the symposium made the point about the need for action as powerfully as any of the speakers.  This September, the multi-faith service at Grace Cathedral at the start of the Global Climate Action Summit gives everyone a chance – whether in person or on the live-stream – to commit to living the change in our own diet, transportation and home energy use that’s needed for a non-scorched, sustainable future.”

 

It’s unusual to see a scientist, a politician, an economist, and a religious leader sitting together at one table to discuss climate change. Yet that’s just what happened at a public forum at Westfield State University entitled “Carbon Pricing – A Key Component in Solving a Warming Climate.” The four speakers included Dr. Carsten Braun (a climate scientist at Westfield State), State Rep. Jen Benson (D-Lunenburg, the lead co-sponsor of bill H.1726, which places a price on carbon in Massachusetts), Dr. Marc Breslow (Director of Policy & Research at ClimateXChange), and me.

The panel gathers at WSU: The Rev. Dr. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, Rep. Jen Benson, Dr. Marc Breslow, Dr. Carsten Braun, and the moderator, Hillary Sackett

The conversation was lively. Striding up and down the aisle of the auditorium, Dr. Braun began by reflecting on a photograph of a barren, lifeless landscape, which turned out to be Mars. Far off in the dark sky was the tiniest of dots: planet Earth. On that tiny dot was everyone and everything we love, a living, precious, blue-green planet.

Mars is unsuited to human life. In the movie “The Martian,” the character played by Matt Damon is stranded on the red planet and must fight to survive until he can be rescued. By contrast, as Dr. Braun observed, if we render planet Earth uninhabitable, we have no rescue coming. Nothing will save humanity from the ravages of global warming unless we take concerted action to save ourselves.

He showed us graphs and charts that predict what lies ahead. The best-case scenario puts the average atmospheric level of carbon dioxide at 550 ppm by 2100; the worst-case scenario puts it at 940 ppm. The trajectory is frightening, but the good news, he said, is that by taking action, “we get to choose the future.” (For scientific information on climate, he recommends ClimateCentral.org. For making the transition to clean, renewable energy, he recommends TheSolutionsProject.org.)

Dr. Braun urged us to move from knowledge to action, quoting the late chemist F. Sherwood Rowland: “What is the use of having developed a science well enough to make predictions if, in the end, all we’re willing to do is stand around and wait for them to come true?”

A scientist was followed by a politician. Rep. Benson discussed how her carbon pricing bill, H. 1726, would reduce carbon pollution, rebate 80% of the revenue, and reinvest the remaining 20% into a Green Infrastructure Fund for clean energy, public transit, and climate adaptation projects. Next came an economist, Dr. Marc Breslow, who explained that the price of a product should include the damage to society that it causes – such as its harm to public health and to the environment. What’s more, studies show that a well-designed carbon-pricing plan would not only reduce dirty emissions but also enable low-income and moderate-income households to come out ahead financially.

When it was my turn to speak, I argued for the spiritual and moral call to put a price on carbon, based on a talk that I gave four years ago at a similar carbon-pricing panel in Amherst. Some things clearly need to be said more than once! My reflections are below.

At the end of the evening, I expressed my agreement with the scientist, Dr. Braun: we earthlings should not count on being rescued from the climate crisis by some extraterrestrial or supernatural entity. Yet I do believe that human beings have the God-given capacity to access a loving Presence and source of wisdom that is greater than we ourselves. I hope that we will remember to heal and tend not only our outer landscape, but also our inner landscape, for, through prayer and spiritual practice, we can tap into a boundless love whose strength will never fail us, a divine love that gives us the moral courage to change course. Our task is to be good ancestors.

I don’t know if we will succeed in stabilizing the climate in time to maintain a habitable world for future generations. But I do know that I want to get up every morning, willing to do whatever I can to heal the web of life, and aiming to be what God intended for us to be: a blessing on Earth.


It’s a joy to be here tonight, and I am honored to be speaking alongside these expert colleagues who have addressed the science of climate change and the economic, environmental and societal benefits of a carbon fee and rebate.

I’d like to pull back the lens and to comment briefly on what I understand to be the larger spiritual and ethical context in which we’re holding this conversation.

I invite you to take a moment to feel your feet on the ground. Beneath the floor is the earth. Let yourself feel the support of the good earth beneath your feet. Feel the sensations of your feet on the floor, and let the good earth hold you up. Feel how solid your body is, as solid as the earth… I invite you take a couple of good, deep breaths. As you take in the sweet air and then let it go, feel the air passing into and out of your lungs. Notice that you are exchanging the elements of life with plants and green-growing things… You are giving the breath of life to trees. Trees are giving the breath of life to you. Take a moment to experience yourself as a living creature, connected in a dynamic, living relationship with the earth and air and all living beings.

Yellow-throated warbler. Photo credit: Robert A. Jonas

As we sit here with our feet on the ground, breathing with awareness, we may notice that none of us owns our breath. Our breath does not belong to us. We can’t hold on to it or save it up for later. We simply receive it freely and then let it go. Moment by moment, each breath is given to us. Breath by breath, we receive the gift of life. All of it is gift – everything we see and hear and taste and touch. This is where amazement springs up, along with wonder, gratefulness and awe. Here we are! Breathing!

Gratitude is the wellspring of all spiritual traditions, and from gratitude flows the perception that everything is precious. Everything is sacred. We belong to a sacred Mystery that is much larger than we are. We are part of a much larger whole. In our stressed and busy lives it’s easy to forget that we are part of something greater than ourselves, which is why so many of us come home to ourselves when we spend time outdoors – when we climb a mountain and get the big view, or when we pause in the midst of a busy day to listen to a warbler or gaze at a blooming dogwood tree.

When we are spiritually awake we feel our connection, our kinship, with other living beings, human and other than human. We recognize that we’re in this together, that all of us are part of one single, precious, and intricate web of life. Perceiving the world like this elicits a certain tenderness: we want to nurture and protect the mysterious gift of inhabiting a living planet. That’s the spiritual wisdom we can learn from being aware of our feet on the ground and our lungs filling and emptying with air.

But our bodies also teach us about the ethical dimension, the justice dimension of the world. The good earth beneath our feet is the same earth that fossil fuel companies are blowing apart by mountaintop removal in order to extract coal; the same earth that is being violently injected with tons of chemicals that crack apart shale, release fracked gas and methane, and poison rivers and streams; the same earth that is flooding in some places, going dry in others, and manifesting unpredictable, violent extremes of weather because of the abrupt changes inflicted by global warming.

The life-giving air that fills our lungs is the same air into which fossil fuel companies are pouring greenhouse gases as if the atmosphere were an open sewer; the same air that contains more carbon dioxide than it has for millions of years; the same air whose delicate balance is being disrupted and destroyed.

Our own bodies connect us to the wounding of the world and to the cries of the poor, who are affected first and hardest by climate change, and who are already suffering from its effects, including extreme storms and rapidly rising seas, food and water shortages and infectious diseases.

That is the spiritual and ethical context in which I welcome a carbon tax and rebate. Putting a stable, rising, and meaningful price on carbon, and distributing the fee in a way that is fair and doesn’t harm the poor, is an essential step in making a swift and just transition to clean renewable energy. My friends who advocate for carbon pricing point out that carbon pricing is not a silver bullet – by itself it can’t resolve the climate crisis. But carbon pricing is an essential piece of the jigsaw puzzle. It is one of the most promising tools we have for changing consumers’ behavior, reducing our use of dirty energy, creating green jobs, and stabilizing the climate.

Here’s the bottom line: we need to protect the web of life, which is unraveling before our eyes. We need to move quickly to build a just and sustainable future for our children and our children’s children. We need to plant our feet firmly on this beautiful earth, to take a good deep breath of air, and to press together for a strong, fair, and equitable carbon fee and rebate plan. I hope that Massachusetts will lead the way.

 

 

The Rev. Dr. Jim Antal is retiring as President and Minister of the Massachusetts Conference, United Church of Christ. I will miss him! Here’s what I said at his retirement celebration in Worcester.

Laura Everett (Mass. Council of Churches), Jim Antal (MACUCC), Doug Fisher (Episcopal Diocese of Western Mass.), and Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, at Jim’s retirement party

What a blessing to be here as we honor our friend Jim. I’ve been invited to speak about his leadership in protecting God’s Creation and taking action on climate change.

Not everyone who wanted to be here today was able to make it. Someone who dearly wanted to come sent a letter that he asked me to share, and I brought it with me. The missing person is Scott Pruitt.

Jim, you need to know that he wanted to have a few words with you and to share his feelings about your climate ministry. He delivered his letter in a 12-foot limousine that gets 5 miles per gallon. Here’s what he wrote.

Dear Reverend Dr. Antal,

You know how hard I’m working to dismantle every regulation that protects the integrity of our environment. You know how hard I’m trying to convince the American public that science doesn’t matter, climate change is nothing to worry about, and God put all that wonderful coal, gas, and oil in the ground so that we could dig it up and burn it, and, incidentally, so that some of us could get rich.

Reverend, I must tell you that you are a thorn in my side, a burr under my saddle, and a monkey on my back. If my work comes to nothing, it will be because you, and people like you, rose up to stop me. I fear your energy, your eloquence, your moral conviction, and your persistence. But there is one thing about you for which I am grateful: you make my speeches easy to write. I read what you say, and then I say the exact opposite.

Sincerely yours,
Scott Pruitt

Jim and Margaret help deliver 52,000+ signatures on a climate letter to Presidential candidate, Mitt Romney (September, 2012)

Thanks for sharing, Scott.

Here’s what I want to say: eleven years ago, in 2007, I met Jim on a sidewalk somewhere between Newton and Cambridge, near the end of the Interfaith Walk for Climate Rescue, a 9-day walk from Northampton to Boston that I helped organize to raise awareness about the climate crisis. The march ended with an interfaith service at Old South Church, and when the congregation stepped into Copley Square, we held what was until then the biggest climate rally in U.S. history.

I love it that Jim and I made friends on a climate walk. As we walked along together, we immediately launched into a spirited conversation about everything from the nature of hope to the moral call to care for the Earth. I wondered to myself: Who is this brilliant guy with the big-picture mind, the passionate dedication to solving the climate crisis, and such an extraordinary zest for life? His laugh could light up a room.

Assembling for People’s Climate March in D.C. (March 2017): Pam Arifian, Tom Carr, Jim Antal, Margaret Bullitt-Jonas

In the years since then, Jim has been an intrepid ally, friend, and visionary thinker in countless other climate actions. We dangled our legs over the side of a pipeline trench in West Roxbury as we prayed and sang before the police handcuffed us and took us away. On another occasion, Jim declared “A New Awakening,” and we co-led workshops on prophetic preaching about climate. We spoke on panels. We marched in D.C. We visited the State Department to weigh in on the upcoming climate talks at the U.N.

In 2012, when Mitt Romney was running for President against Barack Obama, we joined Bill McKibben in delivering to Romney’s local headquarters more than 52,000 signatures on a climate letter. In 2013, we co-organized the Climate Revival in downtown Boston. In 2017, when Trump announced his intention to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord, we co-wrote an ecumenical statement of Christian protest, “An Opportunity for Which the Church Was Born” – that title came from Jim.

This is only a glimpse of Jim’s leadership on climate. I should mention, by the way, that he was a key player in persuading the United Church of Christ to become the first denomination to move toward divestment from fossil fuels.

Jim, you are an incomparable friend and an incomparable leader on climate. Thank you for hearing the cry of the Earth, the cry of the poor, and the cry of future generations. I couldn’t say it better than Bill McKibben, who wrote, in the foreword to your new book, Climate Church, Climate World: “…For as long as there has been a serious climate movement in the United States, Jim Antal has been at the forefront… He is on the short list of heroes who have given their all.”

Maybe one day Scott Pruitt will stop by your house in a Tesla – or on a bike! – shake your hand, and thank you for converting his heart. If he asks to plug his Tesla into your outlet, I know you will be generous and say yes. Until then, I’ll be with you in the struggle. Let’s keep walking.

 

 

Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter, April 15, 2018 Delivered by the Rev. Dr. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas at Federated Church of Orleans, East Orleans, MA Acts 3:12-19 1 John 3:17 Luke 24:36b-48

             “You are witnesses of these things”                  

Today we are deep into the Great Fifty Days of Easter, and I want to share a story told by an Episcopal bishop about leading worship one Easter morning. Bishop Mark Macdonald was preaching to a congregation in the middle of Navajo Nation. When the time came to read the Gospel account of Jesus’ resurrection, Bishop Macdonald stood up and began reading in Navajo: “It was early in the morning…” Almost before the words were out of his mouth, “the oldest person there, an elder who understood no English, said loudly (in Navajo), ‘Yes!’”

Margaret in front of Federated Church of Orleans, whose banner reads “Boldly Caring for Creation”
The bishop remarks that “it seemed a little early in the narrative for this much enthusiasm,” so he assumed he had made a mistake – maybe he had mispronounced the words in Navajo. So he tried again: “It was early in the morning…’” This time he heard an even louder and more enthusiastic Yes. After the service, the bishop went up to one of the lay leaders and asked if he had pronounced the words correctly. Oh, she said, looking surprised, of course. Well, asked the bishop, then why was the older woman so excited? Oh, he was told, “The early dawn is the most important part of the day to her. Father Sky and Mother Earth meet at that time and produce all that is necessary for life. It is the holiest time of the day. Jesus would pick that good time of day to be raised.”1 Bishop Macdonald realized that while the early dawn is certainly the best time for new life, he had never thought about the possibility that this “observation about the physical word could be theologically and spiritually revealing, that it suggested a communion between God, humanity, and creation that is fundamental to our… existence.” It took him a while to absorb this. He writes: “An elder with no formal schooling had repositioned the central narrative of my life firmly within the physical world and all its forces and interactions. It was,” he says, “an ecological reading of a story that, for me, had been trapped inside a flat virtual world misnamed ‘spiritual’.” Today, on the Third Sunday of Easter, we celebrate Christ’s resurrection and the sacred power of the natural world. Like Bishop Macdonald, today we remember and re-claim what he calls “a primal, long-ignored layer of spiritual consciousness that [is] also an ecological consciousness.”2
Horseshoe crab on tidal flats, Rock Harbor, Cape Cod
I don’t know about you, but I grew up thinking of “spirituality” as completely ethereal. The God I grew up with had no body. Being a good Christian was all about distancing oneself from the body and transcending the body – both one’s own body and the “body” of the natural world. The natural world and its wild diversity of buzzing, blooming, finned, and feathered creatures was essentially irrelevant and dispensable, just the backdrop to what was really important: human beings. Since the time of the Reformation, Christianity – at least in the West – has had little to say about the salvation of the natural world and the cosmos, as if only one species, Homo sapiens, is of any real interest to God. So what a healing it is, what a restoration of the ancient biblical understanding – an understanding that has never been forgotten by the indigenous people of the land – to know that the Earth is holy. Its creatures are holy. The whole created world is lit up with the power and presence of God. Our Gospel story this morning is full of meanings, but surely one of them is that the Risen Christ is alive in the body, in our bodies, in the body of the Earth. While the disciples were talking about how they had seen Jesus risen from the dead, “Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost” (Luke 24:36-37). But Jesus doesn’t come as a ghost. He doesn’t come as a memory, as an idea, or as something from “a flat, virtual world misnamed ‘spiritual’.” He comes as a living body, a body made of flesh and bone that can touch and be touched, a body that can feel hunger and thirst and that wants to know, “Hey, isn’t there anything to eat around here?” Scripture tells us that the Messiah is born, lives, suffers, dies, and rises as a body, and that says something about how much God cherishes the body and wants to meet us in and through the body – through our bodily senses of sight and sound, through taste and touch and smell, in this very breath. Scripture tells us that for forty days the disciples met the living Christ through his risen body. And then, when he ascended into heaven, Jesus’ body withdrew from the disciples’ sight, so that his living presence could fill all things and so that all of us can touch and see him, if our eyes are opened.
Bird tracks on tidal flats, Rock Harbor, Cape Cod
What this means is that when you and I go out into nature, when we let our minds grow quiet and we simply gaze at the white pine, the first blooms of forsythia, the seashell on the shore – when we gaze with a quiet eye, not grasping for anything and not pushing anything away, we begin to perceive that a holy, living presence fills everything we see. Wherever we gaze, the Risen Christ is gazing back at us and his presence is flowing toward us. “Peace be with you,” he is saying to us through wind and tree, through cloud and stars. “Peace be with you. I am here in the needles of the pine tree beside you that flutter in the breeze, and in the bark overlaid with clumps of lichen, each one a tiny galaxy. I am here in the ocean waves that form and dissolve on the shore, in the sand under your bare feet, in the sea gull that is crying overhead. Peace be with you. I am here, and you are part of this with me, and you are witnesses of these things.” This morning I brought with me an icon of the Risen Christ.3 The icon imagines Christ as a Native American figure whose body shines out from every habitat and every creature – from the sky above to the water below, from mountains, field and buffalo. The God who created all things also redeems all things and fills all things. Through the crucified and risen Christ, divine love has woven together the human and natural worlds into one inter-related whole. When our inward sight is restored and our eyes are opened to behold Christ in all his redeeming work, the Earth comes alive and we perceive Christ in every sound we hear, in every handful of dirt that we hold and in every bird we see. We are witnesses of these things. In our first reading this morning, Peter speaks about God’s power to heal and to bring forth new life, and he says, “To this we are witnesses” (Acts 3:15b). Our Gospel passage ends with the risen Christ speaking about God’s power to bring new life out of suffering and death, God’s power to reconcile and forgive and heal. Jesus says, “You are witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:48).
Storm erosion has been eating away about 12 feet of Nauset Beach every year. Last year’s Nor’easters decimated the beach.
Today more than ever we need witnesses to the love and power of God and to the divine love that fills the whole Creation, for God’s Creation is in the process of being recklessly assaulted by an economic system that is based on limitless expansion and dependent on the relentless burning of fossil fuels. Countries around the world agreed in the Paris Climate Accord that we must limit the rise of the global average temperature to no more than 2 degrees Celsius, and ideally to no more than 1.5 degrees. The national proposals of the Paris Accord help get us part of the way there, but only part of the way (3.3 C, or 6 F), so we must rein in dirty emissions even more boldly than that. If we stick to our present course and keep going with business as usual, global temperatures will skyrocket by the end of this century, raising temperatures an average of 4.2 degrees Celsius (or 7.6 Fahrenheit). Human beings simply can’t adapt to that level of heat. We would be living on a different planet. Thank God, there is a lot that we, as individuals, can do. Maybe we can plant trees. Save trees. Recycle more. Drive less. Eat local, eat less meat, and move to a plant-based diet. Get our home insulated and get LED lighting. Support local farms and land trusts. Fly less – and, if we must fly, buy carbon offsets. Maybe we can afford solar panels and move toward a carbon-neutral home. I was thrilled to see the solar array behind the church.  That’s the first time I’ve ever seen solar panels behind a nice white picket fence! Individual changes make a difference, but because of the scope and speed of the climate crisis, we need more than individual action – we need systemic change. To do that, we’ll need to become politically engaged, to confront the powers-that-be, and to push our elected leaders to awaken from the fantasy that we can continue with business as usual. So some of us carry out peaceful, disciplined actions of civil disobedience to stop construction of new fossil fuel infrastructure and keep fossil fuels in the ground, where they belong. Some of us push for policies that support the development of clean renewable energy, since that is where our future lies, if we’re going to have one. Some of us join Citizens Climate Lobby and advocate for a national carbon tax, or support legislation right here in Massachusetts that would put a price on carbon. Those of us who are white and privileged listen to the voices of racial minorities, indigenous peoples, and the poor, knowing that they are God’s beloved and that they are the ones hit first and hardest by climate change. Together we intend to build a world in which everyone can thrive. Here on Cape Cod you are fortunate to have a local node of 350Mass for a Better Future, the grassroots, climate action group that is working hard to build political will to stop new pipelines and move the Commonwealth to 100% clean energy. I hope you’ll sign up with 350Mass and check out a local meeting. Our state politicians may see what’s needed, but they are not moving fast enough to stop the damage.
Solar panels enclosed by white picket fence, Federated Church of Orleans
What motivates us to join the struggle to protect life as it has evolved on this planet? As followers of Jesus, we take action not only out of fear, although we do fear for the future of our children and our children’s children if we leave them a scorched and barren world beset by climate disruption. We take action not only because we’re angry, although we are angry, and refuse to allow political and corporate powers to dismantle the web of life for the sake of their own short-term profit and greed. We take action not only out of sorrow, although we do grieve for all the species we have already lost and will lose, grieve for the dying coral and vanishing bumblebees, grieve for the climate refugees, the vulnerable poor, and all the innocents who are already suffering and whose lives and livelihoods are being destroyed. Fear, anger, and sorrow – all these feelings may galvanize us to act. But stirring beneath them all is love, love for each other, love for the Earth entrusted to our care, love for the God whose mercies cannot be numbered. We were made for communion with God and each other and God’s Creation, and we put our trust in the power of God to work through us to heal and reconcile and save. I don’t know if in the end we will be successful, but I do know this: we intend to be living witnesses to the power of a living God until the day we die.
1. Mark Macdonald, “Finding Communion with Creation,” in Holy Ground: A Gathering of Voices on Caring for Creation, edited by Lyndsay Moseley and the staff of Sierra Club Books, San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 2008, pp. 150-151. Macdonald is the former bishop of Alaska, and now serves as the National Indigenous Bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada. 2. Ibid, p. 151. 3. “Mystic Christ,” by Fr. John Giuliani, Bridge Building Images, Inc.

Margaret contributed to a collection of essays, “The Episcopal Church — standing up to climate change denial?”, assembled by Margaret Daly Denton and published in SEARCH: A Church of Ireland Journal, Spring 2018. The other contributors are Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry, the Rev. Fletcher Harper (GreenFaith), and Nathan Empsall (Yale Divinity School seminarian).

To download the essay, click on the title: TEC Standing up to Climate Change Denial.

The Website for SEARCH: A Church of Ireland Journal is here.

Faith leaders preparing to lead Exodus from Fossil Fuel in front of the State House

On a bright, wind-swept day shortly before Easter and Passover, a crowd of faith leaders and members of faith communities gathered on the steps of the Massachusetts State House to call upon Governor Baker to take bold leadership in addressing climate disruption. Drawing from the ancient stories of Moses confronting Pharaoh and of Jesus confronting the imperial powers of Rome, “Exodus from Fossil Fuel” celebrated our shared determination, as people of diverse faiths, to set ourselves free from fossil fuels and to create a more just and sustainable society.

Before we created and carried out this public event, eighteen faith leaders representing a range of religious traditions – including the Commonwealth’s top leaders of the Episcopal Church, United Methodist Church, and United Church of Christ – signed a letter to Governor Baker.  In our letter, we expressed our conviction that we have a spiritual and moral obligation to protect the web of life. We appealed to the Governor to meet with a small group of faith leaders, so that we could discuss the values that lead us to oppose construction of all new fossil fuel infrastructure in the Commonwealth.

We heard not a word in response.

Hence, on March 26, Monday in Holy Week and a few days before Passover, we went ahead with our public protest and appeal. As I said in my remarks to the press, “We are holding this event during a time of year that is a holy season for multiple faith traditions, because protecting our climate and God’s creation is one of the most important ways to practice our faith in today’s world.”

The Rev. Fred Small leads singing

The lively outdoor service included songs and prayers; a moving litany of “climate plagues” and public mourning led by two rabbis; and speakers representing front-line communities from all across the Commonwealth that are resisting new fracked gas pipelines with vigils, protests, and non-violent civil disobedience. After a closing blessing and song, we walked in procession to the State House, led by the drumbeats and chants of a small group of Buddhist monks. At the doorway to Governor Baker’s office, a few of us spoke with his staff members. Meanwhile the crowd filled the hallway, writing postcards to the Governor, holding palm branches aloft, and singing songs of hope. Then we scattered in every direction, heading to the offices of our state representatives and senators to advocate for the Senate’s clean energy omnibus bill (S. 2302) and the House’s environmental justice act (H. 2913).

Astonishing news arrived the next day: the judge in the trial of the final 13 defendants who had carried out civil disobedience to protest the West Roxbury Lateral fracked gas pipeline were found not guilty, reportedly because their actions were deemed a “necessity.” If confirmed, this could be the first time that defendants were acquitted based on “climate necessity.” Since I was one of the 198 people arrested for carrying out civil disobedience at the site of this high-pressure, dangerous pipeline, I feel particular joy in celebrating the judge’s historic decision.

    • The Berkshire Edge wrote a good short article about Exodus from Fossil Fuel that can be found here.
    • The entire worship service (except for improvised statements that have yet to be transcribed) can be found here. We hope you will use this document to stimulate your own thinking about how to create an interfaith worship service that lifts up the urgency of combating climate change. Please let us know what you come up with! We also hope that, in reviewing this service, you will be inspired by the range and depth of active resistance to fracked gas pipelines that is now being carried out across the Commonwealth.
    • Do you wish to express your own commitment? Clergy and religious leaders are invited to sign a statement calling for moral leadership for climate justice. The Clergy Climate Action statement includes a pledge to resist new fossil fuel development through nonviolent direct action. Congregants and community members can also add their support.

Below is the blessing that I delivered at the end of the service:

We’ve shared a lot of words, so, before we pray, I invite us to take a moment in silence to feel the good earth that supports our feet, which we bless with every step and which blesses us with every step… I invite us to take a good deep breath of air, giving thanks for the trees and green things, giving us oxygen…and to feel that warm sun with all its good energy, with which we can power so many things…

I invite you to join me in a spirit of prayer as we turn to our Creator, the Higher Power, the holy Mystery, the Great Spirit whom we know by many names:


God of abundance, we stand before you with grateful hearts, thankful for the gift of life, thankful for this beautiful world that you entrusted to our care.  Thank you for sending into our midst these warriors and prophets who are giving themselves to the struggle to preserve a habitable world! We ask you to bless them and protect them. Give them courage when they are afraid, strength when they falter, and comfort when they grieve.  Sustain them with your bountiful Spirit and guide them on their sacred path.

We ask your blessing on every one of us here.  Thank you for the love that drew us here today, for the love that wells up from the center of our being, abides in our midst, and reaches out in every direction, calling us to recognize each other and all other beings as kin.  Help us to bear witness to that love in everything we say and do.

We ask you to bless our Governor, our legislators, our political leaders, and all in authority, to turn their hearts and to guide them to make wise decisions that serve the common good.

And we ask you to bless our efforts going forward.  Make us bold and humble, fierce and tender in our search for justice, healing, and peace.   Amen.  


Photo: Faith leaders preparing to lead Exodus from Fossil Fuel in front of the State House
(l. to r.) Rev. Fred Small (Minister for Climate Justice, Arlington Street Church, Boston); Rev. Betsy Sowers (Minister for Earth Justice, Old Cambridge Baptist Church); Rev. Dr. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas (Missioner for Creation Care, Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts & Massachusetts Conference, United Church of Christ); Rev. Ian Mevorach (Spiritual Leader, Common Street Spiritual Center in Natick; Coordinator, American Baptist Churches Creation Justice Network); Rev. Dr. Lawrence Jay (Executive Director, Rolling Ridge Retreat and Conference Center of the New England United Methodist Conference); Kristina Keefe-Perry (Coordinator, Creation Care Ministries, The American Baptist Churches of Mass.); Rabbi Katy Z. Allen (President, Jewish Climate Action Network)


Deep thanks to Andrew Mudge of Blackkettle Films, who donated his time and skills to make this inspiring 4-minute video of Exodus from Fossil Fuel, which is now posted on YouTube.

Homily for Greater Springfield Ecumenical Easter Vigil, March 31, 2018 Delivered by the Rev. Dr. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Longmeadow, MA Mark 16:1-8

Easter power

I am blessed to be with you on this holy night as we immerse ourselves in the story of our salvation, the story of God’s love affair with the whole creation. In story after story, we have touched the great truth that we’ve been loved since the beginning of time, that God has led us safely through the Red Sea, guided us through the wilderness, walked with us into the darkness, shared our suffering and pain, and even now is shining a pure light within us and among us.

                Christ is risen!
I need this story, this reality, more than ever. We live in a culture that worships violence and war, a culture in which political and economic forces are tearing us apart. We live in a culture in which the rich grow richer while the poor are swept aside, a culture that values wealth, privilege, and domination, and that treats Mother Earth with the same casual disregard with which it treats the vulnerable poor. Like some of you, I feel visceral anger and grief as I watch our government get to work desecrating every last inch of creation, pillaging every last natural resource, destroying every last habitat, and abandoning every last regulation, rule, and treaty that preserve clean air and water and maintain the stability of our global climate. This week I learned that climate denial is now the official policy of the Environmental Protection Agency. Into this world of violence, deceit, upheaval and war walks a man of peace, a man so radiant with the all-embracing loving-kindness of God that to be in his presence is to be in the presence of God. He walks a path of non-violent love, teaching, healing, and blessing everyone he meets, challenging us to live out of our deepest identity and to understand that we, too, are children of God, born to express God’s love in everything we say and do, born to create communities of love in which no one is left out. When at last he confronts the imperial powers, he endures in his own body the brutalities of this world, conveying until his last breath a spirit of forgiveness and non-violence. And then, on Easter morning – ah! – something is unleashed into the world, an explosion of light, a release of energy. From out of the empty tomb, from out of our empty souls, the living Spirit of Christ springs forth, breaking open whatever is fearful, clenched, and small, unleashing a love that melts all barriers and encompasses all beings.
Deacon Eric Elley practices flying the butterfly before the service begins
If Christ is alive, then we are embraced by a sacred power that can roll away stones, restore the dead to life, and offer meaning and hope in the very places where meaning has fled, and hope has died. If Christ is alive, then into our world a power has been released that is stronger than death, a source of love and energy and hope that nothing and no one can destroy. If Christ is alive, then there is no suffering we can endure, no anguish we can bear, no loss or disappointment we can undergo that Christ himself does not suffer with us.   If Christ is alive, then each person is beloved and cherished by God, and we are drawn to create new forms of community that overturn the systems of rank, privilege, and domination that divide us from each other and that destroy God’s creation. If Christ is alive, then we have no need to settle for a life that is overshadowed by the nagging fear of death, for eternal life does not begin after we die – it begins right here, in this very moment. If Christ is alive, then we are free to be our largest, truest selves: a people free to be vulnerable, free to be generous, free to fall in love with life. If Christ is alive, then there is nothing more real than love, nothing more true than love, nothing more enduring than love. Through the power of resurrection, a great energy has been released into the world, and that power is already at work within us. It springs to new life when we gather to resist the forces of destruction, when we stand up for gun safety or engage in peaceful civil disobedience to stop new fracked gas pipelines. It springs to new life when we gather around the table to break bread in Jesus’ name. It springs to new life when we speak words that are truthful and kind, and when we treat ourselves and one another with compassion and respect. It springs to new life when we refuse to abandon and abuse Mother Earth and when we search for ways to re-weave the web of life. It’s not enough just to gaze on Christ’s resurrection from afar. This is not only Jesus’ miracle – it is our miracle, too, a miracle that each of us is invited to experience more deeply every day of our lives. Tonight, in silence, words, and song, in fear and wonder, we welcome into our lives and into our wounded and lovely world the Risen Christ and the power of resurrection. Jesus Christ has risen to new life, and so have we. Alleluia! Christ is Risen! The Lord is Risen, indeed! Alleluia!  
Sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent, February 25, 2018 Delivered by the Rev. Dr. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas at Grace St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Tucson, AZ Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16 Psalm 22:22-30 Romans 4:13-25 Mark 8:31-38

Keep the faith

What a blessing to be with you this morning! Thank you, Steve, for welcoming me back to this pulpit. I’m an Episcopal priest and long-time climate activist, and I have the world’s longest job title. I work as Missioner for Creation Care in the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts, and the United Church of Christ in Massachusetts. I am not a “missionary,” a word that’s often associated with trying to convert someone, but a “missioner,” which means someone who has been sent out on a mission, someone who has been sent out to serve God beyond the boundaries of a building. As Missioner for Creation Care, I travel in and beyond Massachusetts, preaching and speaking and leading retreats about the sacredness of God’s Creation and our call to become faithful stewards of God’s good Earth, particularly our call to address climate change. The God whom we meet so intimately in our depths is the same God who sends us out into the world to be healers and justice-seekers. My Website is RevivingCreation.org, where you can read articles and sign up for blog posts.

My sermon boils down to three words: Keep the faith. That’s the phrase I often find myself saying to friends as we prepare to go our separate ways: Keep the faith. Other people have other favorite go-to phrases when they say goodbye. I remember Walter Cronkite signing off at the end of every nightly newscast: “That’s the way it is.” Before him there was Edward R. Murrow, who ended his radio and TV broadcasts with the words, “Good night, and good luck.” And as long as we’re on the subject of television, let’s not forget Dr. Spock from Star Trek, with his farewell blessing, “Live long and prosper.” I like all these expressions, but what I want to say, what I want to hear, is “Keep the faith.” We live in a precarious time, a time of turmoil when for all kinds of reasons many of us feel rattled and anxious, and brace ourselves for the next bit of bad news. So how glad I am that today, on the Second Sunday in Lent, we are invited to remember Abraham, our brother in the faith, our father in the faith, “the father of all of us,” as St. Paul puts it in his Letter to the Romans (Romans 4:16). When the story begins, Abraham is the archetype of someone stuck in a hopeless place, a place without faith. He is ninety-nine years old, for heaven’s sake, his body “already as good as dead,” according to St. Paul (Romans 4:19). He has no children by his wife, Sarah, who is no spring chicken, either. The data would suggest that he has reached a dead end. This man who wished for progeny for so long is all washed up; he’s at the end of his rope; his future is barren; the door has closed. But then he has an encounter with God that changes everything. We don’t hear the details of that encounter in today’s reading, though in another passage from Genesis it seems that Abraham’s experience took place at night, in the desert, under the stars (Genesis 15:5). Abraham encounters a God of life, a creative God with the power to make all things new, a God, says St. Paul, “who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist” (Romans 4:17). This wild and life-giving God, a God of justice and mercy, makes a covenant with Abraham, an unshakable bond, and promises him offspring, and a good land, and a future. None of those promises are visible yet, none of them has yet come to be, but Abraham’s faith awakens. It comes alive: he puts his faith in God. He trusts in God’s presence; he trusts in God’s power. He casts his lot with a God of infinite love and creativity, a God who has the power to restore and make whole. And in response to God’s call, Abraham sets out in faith. I want to emphasize that last point: he sets out. He walks. Today’s first reading makes it clear that faith is active, not passive: faith is practiced and made manifest in action. What does God say to Abraham? “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless.” Walk – don’t stand still, don’t get passive, don’t stay stuck and hopeless. Don’t wait for someone else to do something. Get going. Get moving. Take action. And don’t walk alone. “Walk before me,” says Yahweh, “and be blameless.” It is if God were an unseen presence and power that is always behind us, as if our job were to clear the way for divine love to move through us, freely and fully, like a river that flows through us and out into the world, so that all people and all beings can be blessed and healed and reconciled. Our task in the course of a day is to stay in conscious contact with God, so that as far as possible we are walking before God, not walking alone, not being driven by our ego or by our anxiety. Activists usually depend on people power, but spiritual activists – people who walk in faith – depend on God-power. It is God who energizes and emboldens us, God who gives us power to do more than we can ask or imagine. We live in a time that cries out for the imagination, determination, and heart of people of faith. The web of life is unraveling before our eyes. Great populations of creatures – even entire species – are rapidly disappearing from Earth. Scientists tell us that a mass extinction event is now underway – what they’re calling a “biological annihilation.” In addition to species extinction, we also face a changing climate. Because of the relentless burning of fossil fuels, month after month our planet is breaking records for heat. As Bill McKibben wrote, “Our old familiar globe is suddenly melting, drying, acidifying, flooding, and burning in ways that no human has ever seen.” 1 To cite just one example of how burning fossil fuels is affecting our planet: a recent study examined all the major research on oxygen loss in the ocean and concluded that over the past fifty years the amount of water in the open ocean that is without oxygen has more than quadrupled. As one headline puts it, the ocean is losing its breath. To put it another way, the ocean is suffocating. Lest we imagine that land creatures will not be affected, one scientist points out that about half of the oxygen on Earth comes from the ocean. A professor of marine science who reviewed the study commented that the need for action was best summarized by the motto of the American Lung Association: “If you can’t breathe, nothing else matters.” I suppose that’s one reason I’m a climate activist: I like to breathe. Climate change is not one of 26 different causes that we care about, but a cause that affects everything we cherish. If you care about the poor, you care about climate; if you care about immigration and refugees, you care about climate; if you care about public health, you care about climate; if you care about human rights, you care about climate; if you care about loving God and your neighbor, you care about climate. Climate justice is not an issue for a special interest group. If you like to breathe, if you like to eat, if you’d like to leave your children a world they can live in, you care about climate. To heal God’s Creation, there is a great deal that we, as individuals, can do. Maybe we can plant a tree. Save a tree. Recycle more. Drive less. Eat local, eat organic, eat less meat and move to a plant-based diet. Maybe we can support local land trusts and non-profits focused on conservation. We can fly less – and, if we must fly, buy carbon offsets. Maybe we can afford solar panels and move toward a carbon-neutral home. If we have investments, we can divest from fossil fuels, and if we’re college graduates, we can urge our alma mater to divest. Individual changes make a difference, but because of the scope and speed of the climate crisis, we need more than individual action – we need systemic change. To do that, we will have to confront the powers that be, especially when multinational corporations and members of our own government seem intent on desecrating every last inch of God’s Creation, pillaging every last natural resource, destroying every last habitat, and abandoning every last regulation, rule, and treaty that preserve clean air and water and maintain the stability of our global climate. Under the circumstances, I wonder at what point the practice of carrying out acts of civil disobedience will become as normative for faithful Christians as the practice of prayer.2 We will also have to confront versions of Christianity that contend that God has given us license to pillage and destroy the natural world, as if everything on God’s green Earth were placed here solely for the pleasure and benefit of a single species, Homo sapiens, or at least its privileged elite. Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, revealed this week, in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, that he believes that the Bible gives human beings the (quote-unquote) “responsibility” to “harvest” natural resources like coal and oil, although we know full well that burning these fuels is wrecking the planet entrusted to our care. As Mother Jones reports in its cover profile of Pruitt in its March/April issue, the EPA chief’s beliefs are rooted in a version of Christianity that is the “polar opposite from that of other religious leaders, including Pope Francis, who interpret stewardship as the responsibility humans have to protect God’s creation.” When corporate and political powers set us on a path of disaster – when they remain hell-bent on locating, extracting, and burning as much coal, gas and oil as they possibly can, never mind the potentially catastrophic effects of what they’re doing – the time has come for us to unleash our faith, to make it visible and make it bold. I give thanks for the story of God’s covenant with Abraham, our father in the faith. It reminds me that in perilous times, God calls forth a people who put their trust in a power greater than themselves; a people who start walking even if they have no map and must create the map as they go; a people with the God-given imagination to envision a future in which the land will prosper and our offspring will thrive; a people who trust in the creative, liberating power of the God who is within them and among them, beyond them and behind them, making a way where there is no way, giving life to the dead, and calling into existence the things that do not exist. Thank you for whatever you are doing – or will do – to re-weave the web of life and to love God and all our neighbors, human and other-than-human. You know, we are all missioners for Creation care. Every who shares the faith of Abraham and Sarah, everyone who follows Jesus – every one of us here is a missioner for Creation care. Thank you for being on the journey with me. Keep the faith.
1. Bill McKibben, Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, New York: Henry Holt and Company, Times Book, 2010, p. xiii and book jacket. Italics in original. 2. I credit the Rev. Dr. Jim Antal with issuing this challenge, which he explores in his new book, Climate Church, Climate World (Rowman & Littlefield, 2018).

Every rally has its own energy, a particular mood or spirit that propels it along. That was the case in Northampton, Massachusetts, when over a thousand women, men and children took to the streets on January 20, the first anniversary of President Trump’s inauguration. The Pioneer Valley Women’s March: Hear Our Voices, Hear Our Vote was a colorful and festive affair that gathered together, in one great flow of collective energy, a multitude of voices and concerns, among them women’s rights, gay and transgender rights, rights of immigrants and rights of the poor, climate justice, racial justice, and economic justice.

Rev. Dr. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas & Rev. Marisa Brown Ludwig

I am someone who loves words and who delights in other people’s creativity, so I did what I often do at rallies: I pulled a notebook out of my pocket and jotted down some of the signs that caught my eye. Some of them made me laugh. Perhaps they deserve to be set to music or read aloud like a poem.

Fact-checkers of the world unite
I’m with her (beside a drawing of the Statue of Liberty)
We (heart) democracy
Black lives matter
Enough is enough
Time’s up

Kindness is cool (held aloft by a little girl in pink boots and mittens)
I will not go quietly back to the 1950’s (carried by an older woman)

They tried to bury us… They didn’t know we were seeds

Our rights are not up for grabs
Fake Pres., not fake press
Science is not a liberal agenda
Standing on the side of love
Nature bats last
The ocean is rising, and so are we
There is no Planet B
Grab ‘em by the patriarchy
Protect our national parks
Abnormalize
Even Ikea has a better cabinet
(beside a drawing of an alien) Take me to see your lead– never mind
So bad, even introverts are here

I smiled when I spotted a familiar feminist image: a clenched fist inside a woman’s symbol, and the words, Sisterhood is Powerful. Pinned to my coat was my antique Sisterhood is Powerful button, which I wore back in the late 1960’s and early 70’s. I smiled even more broadly when an updated message rose into view: If your feminism isn’t intersectional, it’s not feminism.

Not usually a sign guy, but geez

I savored the resilience expressed by one message (They tried to bury us… they didn’t know we were seeds) and the commitment to solidarity expressed by another (All of us or none of us).

One sign conveyed the impossibility of listing why a person might want to join the march: So many reasons.

Another sign – which made me laugh out loud – expressed dazed incredulity: Not usually a sign guy, but geez.

As for me, I didn’t bring a sign. I brought a flag – the Earth flag that has traveled with me over the years to countless marches and rallies. Here we are, clinging to life on one singular and precious planet, all of us together with so many forces trying to tear us apart. The stakes are high. In the same week that President Trump announced that he was opening nearly all offshore waters to drilling for oil and gas, including more than a billion acres in the Arctic and along the Eastern Seaboard, a new study was published that examined all the major research on oxygen loss in the ocean. The findings? Because of climate change, the ocean is rapidly warming. As a result, over the past fifty years the amount of water in the open ocean that is without oxygen has more than quadrupled. As one headline puts it, the ocean is losing its breath. To put it another way, the ocean is suffocating. Lest we imagine that land creatures will not be affected, one scientist points out that about half of the oxygen on Earth comes from the ocean. A professor of marine science who reviewed the study commented that the need for action was best summarized by the motto of the American Lung Association: “If you can’t breathe, nothing else matters.” 

Rev. Dr. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas & Marilyn Castriotta

I guess you could say that is one reason I joined the march: I like to breathe. It is literally breathtaking to realize that, day by day, the ocean is losing oxygen. It is enraging, it is baffling when a government decides to open up additional areas of the ocean to drilling for oil and gas, when we know full well that burning oil and gas is starting to throttle the ocean and could eventually suffocate us land creatures, too. Hello? Does anyone see a disconnect here? So I marched, flag in hand, grateful for each breath and glad for a chance to help build momentum and political will for a better future.

The crowd begins marching from Shelden Field to Rt. 9

For me, the most memorable incident of the day took place before the march began. Hundreds of us had converged at a local field and were beginning to line up in the street. We were trying out chants, greeting friends and strangers, admiring each other’s getup and signs, and feeling the excitement of anticipating a good long march to City Hall. Suddenly the young woman in front of me began to sag. She sank down slowly, like a leaf dropping gently to the forest floor. People cried out in surprise; hands reached out to cushion her fall; and in a moment she was splayed uncomfortably on the asphalt, unconscious, as we straightened her legs and looked around for help.

She quickly returned to consciousness, but she remained seated on the pavement, upset and confused. “I’m seventeen!” she cried. “I want my mother!” She began to sob uncontrollably. I was kneeling beside her with my arm around her shoulders, and I murmured in her ear: “You’re OK. My name is Margaret. What’s your name? You fainted – that’s what happened. We’ll get you some help. You’re OK.”

The girl kept sobbing, “I want my mother!” like a mantra, like a prayer, fumbling for her phone, dialing a number and never getting through, as her teenage girl friends stood close by, stricken and wide-eyed. At last her mother answered the phone, and the girl sobbed, “Mom, I lost consciousness! I’m frightened!” She listened for a while to her mother’s voice, and then, slightly calmer, she passed the phone over to me. Her daughter was excitable, her mother said, and easily overwhelmed; this was the first time she’d ever gone to a big event without her parents. Probably she needed simply to be comforted and calmed.

Climate change is real

So I kept my arm around the girl’s shoulders, kept offering words of reassurance, and eventually she accepted a sip of water, and wiped her nose, and took an Oreo cookie from one of her friends. By now the crowds surrounding us were beginning to move, so when she was calm enough to stand, I walked her to the side of the street.

Someone had called for medical help. As we waited for the ambulance, I told the girl how brave she was to have come. “I’m so glad you were here,” I told her. “You will look back on today as a day when you were courageous and strong, a day when you stepped out to make a difference in the world, even though you were afraid. We need you in this movement. I hope you’ll come back when you’re 18, and 19, and 20.”

She smiled at me as the medic arrived. “Thank you,” she said.

“I’ll pray for you,” I told her, before I stepped back into the flow of the crowd.

I hope and trust that she will indeed come back, stronger than ever. I see myself in her. I know what it’s like to feel vulnerable and overwhelmed. I know how much it matters when someone – even if it’s only a stranger in a crowd – offers us help when we need it.

Created equal. Photo credit: Marilyn Castriotta

I expect that, when the time comes, she will offer her strength to the next person who needs it, for that is how community works: we share what we have and we lift each other up when someone falls. I suppose that’s the whole point of a Women’s March, and of every march that expresses commitment to mutual relationship and solidarity: we intend to show up for each other, to fight for each other, and to keep making the circle larger, until no one is left out.

I hope we’ll keep doing that – whether we’re young first-timers or old grandmas like me – for as long as we have breath. That’s the vision I see in that magnificent passage by the prophet Isaiah, who hears God calling for a world in which the oppressed are set free, the hungry are fed, the homeless are housed, and we no longer turn our backs on our own kin (Isaiah 58). Women and men, black and white, land creatures and sea creatures, we are all in this together.

Like the sign says: it’s all of us or none of us.