Text of a keynote address for “An Interfaith Climate Justice Meeting” organized by Springfield Area Interfaith Climate Action Network (SAICAN), held at First Church of Christ, Longmeadow, MA, on October 30, 2016

Thank you for inviting me to speak. I am excited by what you’re up to as a coalition, and very interested to see what emerges from today’s meeting.

Speaking at SAICAN meeting, Oct. 30, 2016. Photo credit: Rev. Marisa Brown Ludwig
Speaking at SAICAN meeting, Oct. 30, 2016. Photo credit: Rev. Marisa Brown Ludwig

I have worked with some of you. Some of you I haven’t yet met. But I greet all of you as friends. I am an Episcopal priest and a long-time climate activist, and I now have the world’s longest job title. I work as “Missioner for Creation Care for the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts and for the Massachusetts Conference, United Church of Christ.”

I am not a “missionary,” a term that can evoke imperialist, colonial-era associations of forcibly converting someone to a religion, but rather a “missioner”: someone who is sent out on a mission, serving a purpose greater than herself, out of the box, outside the boundaries of a building. And I’m a missioner for “Creation care,” a term, it turns out, that some people confuse with “creationism,” the belief that the universe originated from acts of God that are literally described in the Bible. Being a missioner for “Creation care” (not creationism) means that I’m trying to protect the beautiful world that God created. My Website is RevivingCreation.org, where you can find blog posts, sermons, articles, and more – including an article on how to start a green team, and an article on the roles that communities of faith can play in a time of climate crisis.

My job is like a swinging door: on the one hand, I preach, speak and lead retreats for people of faith, saying that we need to place the climate crisis at the center of our moral and spiritual concern and we need to take action. Then I turn, and I speak to activists who may have no particular faith tradition. I thank them for engaging in the struggle to protect the web of life, which is such urgent and difficult work. I tell them that the only way to keep going, without burning out or going off the rails, is to draw from inner resources of spiritual wisdom, from spiritual practices, and ideally from the support of a spiritual community.

Today the swinging door is an open door: people of faith and climate justice activists are here together in one place! How sweet it is! I hope we can break down (or at least soften) the false split of people into two camps: “spiritual” people (people who pray, meditate, and take time to contemplate beauty of the world; people who give thanks and who attend to their inner lives) and “active” people (people on the front lines who are serving, helping, organizing, advocating). I hope we can keep working to heal that false split, because right now we need people who can do both: people who can tap into their deep inner wisdom and who can also step out to take bold, creative action on behalf of life on this planet.

Photo credit: Rev. Marisa Brown Ludwig
Photo credit: Rev. Marisa Brown Ludwig

Christians often say that we need to be good “stewards” of the planet. That’s true. But sometimes the word “steward” can sound rather wimpy, as if it’s enough for us to recycle a can once in a while, or to turn off a light. I think we need a term that is more robust, more full of juice. Maybe we need to be “spiritual warriors” engaged in “sacred activism.”

More than ever we need wise people, bold people, dedicated people, because we’re in the midst of an emergency. The house is on fire. Through burning fossil fuels like coal, gas, and oil, in 200 years – just a blink in geologic time – we’ve pumped so much heat-trapping CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the air that atmospheric levels of CO2 are higher than they’ve been for millions of years. In a TED talk a few years ago, climate scientist James Hanson explained that the added energy (or heat) that we’re pouring into the atmosphere is equivalent “to exploding 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs per day, 365 days per year. That’s how much extra energy Earth is gaining each day.” Not surprisingly, this is having a profound effect on planet. In his book Eaarth, Bill McKibben writes: “Our old familiar globe is suddenly melting, drying, acidifying, flooding, and burning in ways that no human has ever seen.” Scientists tell us with increasing alarm that unless we change course fast, we’re on a fast track to catastrophic, runaway climate change that would render the world very difficult to inhabit, perhaps in the lifetime of our children.

Last year Pope Francis released a powerful encyclical, Laudato Si’, which opened up space for a new and more urgent conversation about the radical change of course that human societies must take if we wish to safeguard life on this planet and to build a just, sustainable society. If you haven’t yet read Laudato Si, I hope you will. It’s short, and you can download it from the Internet for free. I don’t agree with everything in it, but it draws from the best of Judaeo-Christian tradition, it speaks to people of all faiths, and it gained ringing endorsements from religious leaders around the world.  Evangelical leaders expressed strong support; over 400 rabbis signed a Rabbinic Letter on the Climate Crisis; Islamic leaders from 20 countries released the Islamic Declaration on Climate Change; and Anglican bishops issued a fresh call for action on climate justice.

Amy Benjamin & Lise Olney speak about MAICCA (Mass. Interfaith Coalition for Climate Action), which hopes to partner with SAICAN (Springfield Area Interfaith Climate Action Network). Photo credit: Rev. Marisa Brown Ludwig
Amy Benjamin & Lise Olney speak about MAICCA (Mass. Interfaith Coalition for Climate Action), which hopes to partner with SAICAN (Springfield Area Interfaith Climate Action Network). Photo credit: Rev. Marisa Brown Ludwig

I’ve been a climate activist for many years, but I have never felt the rising tide of commitment and momentum that I now feel. I’m deeply thankful for that, even as I am keenly aware that we have a long struggle ahead. Every religion has issued some kind of statement about the moral and spiritual urgency of addressing the climate crisis – here is just one collection, Faith-based Statements on Climate Change, collected by Citizens Climate Lobby volunteers.

Climate change is obviously a scientific issue, an economic issue, a political issue, but it is also a moral issue, a justice issue. The poorest nations and the poorest citizens in each nation are those most vulnerable to climate change, because of flooding, food shortages, and the loss of clean water. As we see in Flint, Michigan, and right here in Springfield, the front-line communities most affected by fossil fuel pollution are often low-income communities and communities of color. The poor are often the people least responsible for causing climate change, and the people least equipped to protect themselves from its effects. As the Pope’s encyclical makes crystal clear, healing the climate is closely connected with securing social justice, racial justice, environmental justice, and economic justice. We can see that very starkly in the struggle going on right now at Standing Rock in North Dakota, in the resistance to the Dakota Access pipeline. And climate change is about intergenerational justice, too, for right now we are stealing a habitable Earth from our children.

So climate change is a justice issue. And it’s a spiritual issue, too. I titled these remarks “Climate change: An emergency of the heart,” because in the face of the climate crisis, it’s so easy to get emotionally overwhelmed, to go into panic mode and be flooded by anxiety, or to shut down entirely, go numb and not feel a thing, because we don’t know what to do with our fear and anger and grief.

p01tgd39Each of you probably has your own favorite “go to” strategy for avoiding your feelings. Here are a few popular methods. Some of us get into our heads and give all our attention to mastering the facts – we intend to stay on top of every last fact about the rate of melting ice, every last bit of awful climate news, every single detail about the terms of a Senate bill. Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for mastering essential facts and for educating ourselves and staying informed. But sometimes we can get so busy using our wonderful brains to analyze, memorize, conceptualize, and so on, that we lose touch with our inner landscape. Then we wonder why we’re so short-tempered or why we woke up with insomnia or why we got into a car accident. It’s only when we’re connected with our feelings that we have access to our emotional intelligence, to our intuition and moral imagination. When we get into our heads and lose contact with our greater intelligence, we forget who we are and we act, as Joanna Macy puts it, like “brains on a stick.”

Another strategy to avoid our feelings is to get really busy. If I stay super busy, if I have an endless list of things to do, if I try to cram in more tasks in a day than any human beings could possibly accomplish, then I won’t have to feel the clench in my belly or the ache in my heart.

Addictive behaviors are another “go-to” strategy. Don’t like what I’m feeling? Maybe it’s time to do some shopping, eat another cookie, have a smoke, have a drink – there are lots of ways to go numb and repress what’s going on inside.

Yes, we are in a climate emergency. We’re also in an emergency of the heart.   We need to learn to be “first responders” to ourselves and to each other. We need to be gentle with ourselves and with each other. We can’t think our way out of anxiety. So I will share three remedies, three spiritual practices for responding to the cry of the heart.

  1. I invite us to pray. I invite us to explore practices that quiet our minds, bring us into the present moment, and help us listen to our deepest wisdom. This could include practices of mindfulness, practices of gratefulness, practices of meditation and contemplative prayer. Practices like these help us to open to the deep inner wisdom that is always speaking in our hearts. Practices of prayer and meditation help us to listen to the inner voice of love.god-813799__340

Here’s a quote from Thomas Merton, the 20th century Trappist monk and prolific writer who practiced contemplative prayer: “If we descend into the depth of our own spirit and arrive at our own center, we confront the inescapable fact that at the root of our existence we are in immediate and constant contact with God.”

That’s a very different image of God than the one we may be used to. God is not “out there,” far away in the heavens. God is “in here,” closer than our next breath.

  1. I invite us to allow ourselves to grieve. We have lost so much, and there is more loss ahead. I invite us to let ourselves feel the pain so that we are able to move forward and to be fully alive. Until we allow ourselves to grieve, parts of ourselves will stay numb, even dead.

A couple of weeks ago I attended a climate summit in Washington, DC, and I happened to be seated beside the Executive Director of the US Climate Action Network. Our task at each table was to do a go-round and to name the top three things that need to be done in order to tackle climate change. The first suggestion from this activist was: Grieve.

Let me add that there are two ways to grieve: one is to grieve alone, in a state of despair – the kind of grief that does not bring healing. The other way to grieve is to grieve within the embrace of love. If we believe in God, we do this when we pray our grief: we grieve in the presence of a loving God who embraces and shares in everything we feel. But whatever our religious beliefs, we can grieve with each other and we can hold each other with love.

  1. Finally, I invite us to discover who we really are. I brought in this icon of St. Francis, who is often called the patron saint of ecology. You can see that Francis didn’t think that that he was alone and that his identity stopped with his skin. He is interpenetrated by other creatures – by wolf, bird, turtle, and snake – and even by elements like wind and fire. He spoke of Brother Sun and Sister Moon.
St. Francis: A Canticle to Creation, by Nancy Earle, smic
St. Francis: A Canticle to Creation, by Nancy Earle, smic

Francis’ daily prayer was “Who are you, God, and who am I?” Pray that prayer for a while and see what happens! Our identity does not stop with our skin!

When we experience ourselves like that, as interpenetrated with all of life, then we know that when we take action to save life on earth, we do so in the company of the trees, of the earth and sky. When we stand up for life – when we get arrested in a protest against fossil fuels, when we divest, when we take whatever actions we’re called to take – the trees are thanking us. The animals are thanking us. We are not alone. The whole creation is offering its support.

Thank you for the work you’re doing to re-weave the web of life. I may have the title, “Missioner for Creation Care,” but I only hold that title on your behalf. Each of you – everyone in this room, every single one of you – you too are missioners for Creation care.

Thank you.

 

Citizens Climate Lobby 2015, Capitol Building
Citizens Climate Lobby 2015, Capitol Building

On a sultry summer morning this week, with the temperature already climbing past 97˚ and a heat index of 102˚, I paused on the steps of the Capitol Building to pose for a quick photograph. As volunteers with Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL), nearly one thousand people had traveled from near and far to lobby for a carbon fee and dividend in Washington, D.C.

Being a first-time volunteer, I had recently attended CCL’s basic training in how to lobby members of Congress about climate change. Here is how I usually prepare to lobby, especially when facing people whom I consider adversaries: Do research. Assemble talking points. Brace for confrontation.

 

By contrast, here is what Citizens Climate Lobby advises: Do research. Assemble talking points. Search for connection.

The group from Ashfield, MA included Allen Gabriel, Kate Stevens, Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, Ron Coler, Bruce Bennett, and Richard Prée
The group from Ashfield, MA included Allen Gabriel, Kate Stevens, Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, Ron Coler, Bruce Bennett, and Richard Prée

This is harder than it sounds. As I surveyed the voting records of the four Republican members of Congress to whom I’d been assigned, my heart sank. What connection could I possibly have with these conservative men? I am an ardent, long-time climate activist who lives in Northampton, a particularly liberal city in liberal Massachusetts. These House members hail from Kentucky, Florida, Illinois, and Texas, all of them states that have a strong interest in protecting the coal, gas, and oil industries. Just about everything these men had voted for, I was against. Just about everything they had voted against, I was for. Politically, we stand on opposite sides of the aisle. In one portfolio or another, I read phrases like these: Supports fracking and Keystone XL pipeline. Prohibits use of funds by the Administration to conduct a climate change agenda. Opposes and votes against any effort to increase taxes. Voted to gut the E.P.A’s ability to limit carbon pollution from power plants. Voted to open the Outer Continental Shelf to oil drilling.

To my consternation, it turned out that CCL asks its volunteers not to browbeat members of Congress but instead to build relationships and to find common ground. CCL maintains that if you can’t find something to respect and admire in a politician’s life or work, then you should not lobby that person. So I forced myself to slow down. I looked more carefully at the voting records and I tried to exercise some empathy and imagination. What could I appreciate about each person? What did this person seem to value, and why? How might I connect with him?

Spiritual traditions tell us that human beings are essentially inter-related. When we are spiritually awake, we can see the dignity, even the beauty, of each person. Despite whatever may divide us, in fact we are more similar than different. For starters, all of us are mortal, all of us we want to be happy, and all of us want to love and to be loved. It is easy to forget such basic truths when you are caught in the heat of political struggle. It is easier to demonize than to humanize, easier to seek safety behind the walls of righteous judgment than to meet ones “enemy” with an open heart.

This does not give us license to be naïve and sentimental – far from it. Jesus urges us to be “wise as serpents” as well as “innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). Yet if we are to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44) – to say nothing of praying for those whom we want to persecute – then we must stay grounded in a transcendent love that embraces all beings, even the person we might want to condemn as a villain or a fool.

Who knew that lobbying could be a spiritual practice? Not I.

Office of Rep. Ander Crenshaw
Office of Rep. Ander Crenshaw

My first meeting was with an aide to Representative Ander Crenshaw, an Episcopalian from Florida. I introduced myself as an Episcopal priest who believes that climate change is the great spiritual and moral issue of our time. I told the staff member that I’d left parish ministry in order to focus all my efforts on building a wave of religious activism to address climate change. She listened politely, courteous but reserved. I could feel the distance between us.

Pressing ahead, I said that I appreciated Rep. Crenshaw for working tirelessly – for eight long years – to secure passage of the ABLE Act, a significant piece of legislation that protects disabled Americans. I said that I appreciated his concern for the vulnerable, his persistence in accomplishing something difficult, and his capacity to stay focused on an issue to which he was passionately committed. By now the aide was smiling, and I was smiling, too. I was surprised by my own happiness as we looked at each other: it is a pleasure to express and to receive sincere appreciation. It is like striking a chord of kinship: we feel the resonance. Dimly or clearly, we remember our shared humanity.

I went on to propose that, just as the representative was a champion for the disabled, maybe he could also become a champion for the poor, who are affected first and hardest by climate change. Maybe he could apply his passion, his persistence, and his capacity to get a difficult bill passed, to becoming a leader on tackling climate change. The aide listened and took notes. By the end of the meeting, after everyone on our team had had a chance to speak, to listen, and to share some facts about CCL’s proposal, I sensed the possibility that Rep. Crenshaw might now see a way to take effective action on climate change in a way that is consistent with his own values.

I left the meeting with renewed hope that people on opposite sides of the aisle can come together – before it’s too late – in the race to stabilize the climate and to create a just and habitable future. That vision is not just pie in the sky. The carbon fee and dividend proposed by CCL is a way of pricing carbon that has potential to unite people of very different political persuasions. According to an independent study conducted by REMI (Regional Economic Modeling, Inc.), CCL’s plan to place a steadily-rising fee on the carbon dioxide content of fuels at the source (such as a well, mine, or port of entry) and to return all revenue to American households on an equal basis would cut carbon emissions by half within 20 years while adding 2.8 million jobs to the economy. Under this plan, about two-thirds of all households would break even or receive more in their rebate checks than they would pay in higher prices due to the fee, which means that low-income and middle-class folks would be protected.

If you hate taxes, the CCL proposal should be acceptable: the fee is not a tax, since revenue is not spent by the government but instead is returned directly to the people. Nor does this carbon-pricing plan add layers of bureaucracy or additional regulation. It simply allows the free market to do its work, because carbon-based fuels would become increasingly expensive, and clean, renewable sources of energy, such as sun and wind, would become increasingly cheap. This process would unleash entrepreneurial energy and investment in clean energy.

The CCL proposal is no magic wand, but it has power to bridge the political divide and to appeal to our shared desire for economic prosperity, a healthy environment, and homegrown, affordable energy production. It’s an approach to stabilizing the climate that is embraced not only by Dr. James Hansen, the renowned climate scientist, but also by George Schultz, Secretary of State during the Reagan Administration. Both of them serve on CCL’s Advisory Board, along with Bob Inglis, who spent 12 years in the U.S House as a Republican representative from South Carolina, and Dr. Catharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist and evangelical Christian. (For a 2-minute video about carbon fee and dividend, visit here.)

Those four days of CCL training and lobbying have changed me. I am still an ardent climate activist. I am still prepared to go to jail to stop the Keystone XL pipeline. I am still convinced that we need a complete overhaul of how we live on Earth, and that Pope Francis and Naomi Klein are on target when they call for the deep transformation of our social, political, and economic systems. I still want to build a powerful grassroots movement to address the climate crisis, to re-weave the web of life, and to protect a habitable world for future generations. As Jonas Salk once said, “Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors.”

What has changed is that I have found a fresh path forward. I am excited about CCL’s proposed carbon fee and dividend, which I believe is an idea whose time has come. What’s more, thanks to my training with CCL I also feel a renewed commitment to constructive dialogue and to the spiritual discipline of moving beyond “them” and “us.” My experience with CCL draws me to prayer, especially to the prayer for the human family that is found in the Episcopal prayer book. I pray that God will “look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth…” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 815)

If anyone asks what I learned this week in D.C., here is what I will reply: together we can build a low-carbon future, and, when carried out in the right spirit, lobbying can be work that is good for the soul.


 

P.S. To participate in workshops that teach you how to open up a space for “constructive dialogue where conflicts are driven by differences in identity, beliefs, and values,” visit Public Conversations Project. To see how this kind of approach is being put into action internationally, visit Karuna Center for Peace Building.

Sermon for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany, January 18, 2015. Delivered by the Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Northampton, MA. 1 Samuel 3:1-10                                         1 Corinthians 6:12-20 Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17                                 John 1:43-51

    Martin Luther King, Jr. and the climate movement

Friends, it is good to be with you this morning. Thank you, Cat, for inviting me to preach. I serve the diocese as your Missioner for Creation Care, so I travel from church to church, preaching the Gospel and speaking about our call as Christians to heal the Earth. I am blessed by the timing of this invitation to speak, for across the U.S. this weekend Americans are celebrating the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., a man who gave his life, quite literally, to the quest to heal our country’s great racial divide, and who dreamed of a world in which men and women of all races could live together with justice and mutual respect. Racism and racial justice is of course a vital issue in our country right now, a topic of intense debate as we observe in several cities the tragic tensions between some white police officers and the people of color that they were sworn to protect. Across the country people are exploring hard questions about white privilege and institutionalized racism, about how far we have come as a society and how much farther we have to go before we finally manifest what Dr. King called the Beloved Community.

Dr. King recognized that race relations do not exist in a vacuum. He understood that racism intersects with other patterns of violence, including poverty and militarism. If he were alive today, I believe that Dr. King would add a fourth item to what he called the “triple evils” of poverty, racism, and militarism. To that list I believe that he would add environmental destruction, especially human-caused climate change. For unless we stabilize the global climate and rapidly reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases, we will unravel the web of life and destroy any possibility of Beloved Community for human beings and for most of the other beings with which we share this precious planet. The struggle to end racism is linked to the struggle to end poverty, the struggle to end war, and the struggle to protect life as it has evolved on Earth. Racial justice, social and economic justice, environmental justice, climate justice – all these struggles intersect. In the end we share one struggle, one dream, one deep and God-inspired longing: the desire to build a peaceful, healthy, just, and sustainable world. Martin Luther King, Jr. It is God who whispers that dream into our hearts, God who plants  that longing in us like a seed that grows into a mighty oak, God who stirs us out of our complacency and sends us into action. It is God who gives us a heart to care, and strength to keep fighting the good fight. For it can be difficult to keep going, difficult to keep the faith in the face of sometimes brutal opposition and the sheer inertia of business as usual. There is a wonderful scene in the movie Selma, a movie that I hope you will see, if you haven’t already. The movie is set during the turbulent three months of 1965, exactly fifty years ago, when Martin Luther King, Jr. was leading a campaign to secure equal voting rights. Early in the movie we see David Oyelowo, the actor playing Dr. King, awake at home late at night, restless, anxious, and acutely aware of the threats against his own life and against the lives of his wife and children. Should he keep going and head to Selma? He is resisting the powers and principalities of this world and he has reached the limit of his strength. In that late-night hour he picks up the phone, dials, and says to the person on the other end of the line: “I need to hear the Lord’s voice.” The friend he has phoned is the legendary Gospel singer, Mahalia Jackson, and into the phone receiver she begins to sing very tenderly, “Precious Lord, take my hand.” It is an intimate moment, as intimate as the moment recorded in this morning’s first reading, when late at night the boy Samuel hears the voice of God speaking his name in the darkness (1 Samuel 3:1-10). When God speaks to us in that intimate way, often without any words at all, we feel mysteriously addressed. In that quiet, intimate encounter we feel known by name, touched very personally by a loving power that sees us, knows us through and through, loves us to the core, and gives us strength to carry on. This is the experience of the psalmist who writes – marveling and full of wonder – “Lord, you have searched me out and known me; you know my sitting down and my rising up; you discern my thoughts from afar” (Psalm 139:1). This is the experience of Philip, who hears Jesus call him to follow, and of Nathaniel, who realizes that Jesus saw, and knew, and thoroughly understood him even before they’d met (John 1:43-51). As Christians, we open ourselves to be seen and known, loved and guided by an intimate, divine presence that will never let us go. That is what prayer is, and it gives us strength. And when we’ve lost touch with that divine presence, when we feel frightened, despairing, or overwhelmed, we rely on each other to help us find our way back to God, just as Philip helped Nathaniel, as Eli helped the boy Samuel, and as Mahalia Jackson helped Dr. King. As people of faith, we are in this together, and when any of us lose heart, we try to help each other, as individuals and as a community, to turn again to God and to make our appeal: Precious Lord, take my hand. I feel as powerfully as ever that call to prayer, that call to community, and that call to active, faithful service and advocacy. I don’t usually carry a newspaper into church – actually, this is the first time I’ve ever done it. But I want to show you the front page of yesterday’s New York Times, which gives a map of the world colored in shades of red to indicate all the areas that were above average in temperature last year. The year 2014 broke the record for the hottest year on Earth since we started keeping records. But hey, we may be saying to ourselves, it’s been so cold in New England! It turns out that below-average temperatures in our region may be indirectly linked to climate change. Some scientists are studying the likelihood that the unusual dips they are noticing in the jet stream are connected to the rapidly warming Arctic and the exceptionally warm waters of the Pacific Ocean. Bottom line is that the phrase “global warming” is probably much too simple – a better term might be “global weirding.” As the world grows warmer we can expect more erratic and extreme fluctuations in local weather, and some places will sometimes become unexpectedly cold. Yet all the while the average global temperature is heading in only one direction: up. In just two centuries – a blink in geologic time – we have burned so much coal, gas, and oil and released so much heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are higher today than they’ve been for hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of years. I heard a climate scientist say, “We are breathing from an atmosphere that none of our ancestors would recognize.” Sticking to business as usual could raise average global temperatures between 5 and 11 degrees Fahrenheit in this century. That may not sound like much, but in fact it would make the world extremely difficult for humans and other creatures to inhabit. Oceans are already heating and becoming more acidic; tundra is thawing; ice caps and glaciers are melting; sea levels are rising; coral reefs are dying; massive droughts are spreading in some places and heavy rains are intensifying in others. Last spring we learned that the huge West Antarctic ice sheet is starting to collapse and slide into the sea in a way that scientists call “unstoppable.” The latest climate report from the U.N. warns of food shortages, waves of refugees, and the mass extinction of plants and animals, if we keep to our present course. This is the sort of news that wakes me up at night and pulls me into prayer: precious Lord, take my hand. It is also the sort of news that propels me out of bed in the morning, eager to find a way to be of use. Once we have grasped what the bishops of the Episcopal Church call “the urgency of the planetary crisis in which we find ourselves,”1 there is so much we can do, so many ways that we can contribute to the healing of Creation. Thank you for the work you’ve done here at St. John’s to conserve energy, switch to efficient light bulbs, and use cloth rather than paper napkins. Our individual actions add up: we can recycle more, drive less, be sparing in our use of water, quit using bottled water. We can turn off lights when we leave a room. Maybe we can eat local, organic foods and support local farms and land trusts, maybe even leave them some money in our wills. I hope you’ll form a “green team” in this parish, and name a Creation Care Minister. I hope you’ll sign up to join a network of people in the diocese who care about Creation. I’d be glad to support you in any way I can. I also hope you’ll sign up to receive a weekly newsletter from the grassroots group, Climate Action Now, which is centered right here in the Pioneer Valley. If we work as isolated individuals, our success will be limited, for the scope and speed of the climate crisis require action on a much broader scale. So we link arms with other people and we join the movement to make it politically possible to do what is scientifically necessary. The climate movement is gaining momentum, and many of us are inspired by Dr. King and the civil rights movement. Last week I spent a day in Amherst with other local climate activists, studying the principles of non-violent civil disobedience as practiced by Gandhi and Dr. King. Along with more than 97,000 people across the U.S., I have signed a pledge of resistance, a pledge to risk arrest in non-violent direct action if the Keystone XL pipeline is approved. Stopping that pipeline has become a powerful symbol of the urgent need to keep 80% of the known fossil fuels in the ground, where they belong. Fossil fuel companies now possess five times the amount of coal, gas, and oil that, if burned, would force the average global temperature to rise far higher than the 2 degree threshold that gives us a 50-50 chance of preventing runaway climate change. So now is the time to make a swift transition to clean, safe, renewable energy, such as sun and wind. In this unprecedented time, many of us feel called anew to listen to the tender voice of love that God is always sounding in our heart, and then to embody that love in the world as bravely and clearly as we can. If ever there were a time to bear witness to our faith that life and not death will have the last word, now would be the time. If ever there were a time to take hold of the vision of a Beloved Community in which human beings live in right relationship with each other and with all our fellow creatures, now would be the time. The collapse of the ice sheet in Antarctica may be “unstoppable,” but so is the love that calls us to stand up for life. Archbishop Desmond Tutu fought for racial justice and against apartheid in South Africa, and now he is one of the world’s champions of climate justice. Reconciling human beings to each other, to God, and to the rest of Creation is what Tutu calls the “supreme work” of Jesus Christ. Thank you, my brothers and sisters in Christ, for joining me in that supreme work.
1. In 2011 the bishops of the Episcopal Church issued a pastoral teaching on the environment that begins with a call to repentance “as we face the unfolding environmental crisis of the earth.” For the full text of “A Pastoral Teaching from the Bishops of the Episcopal Church,” meeting in Province IX, in Quito, Ecuador, September 2011, visit here.  

There are countless reasons to lament and lose heart. Scan the headlines and take your pick: racism and torture; hunger and sickness; poverty and war; a web of life that is unraveling. I know a woman who heard one piece of bad news too many, and found herself walking around her house, howling.

I give thanks for her wails, for her willingness to be pierced by the suffering of the world and to let herself lament. It takes courage to lament. I dispute the injunction attributed to labor organizer Joe Hill, who reportedly said, “Don’t mourn, organize.” I advocate for both: let’s mourn and organize. It seems to me that allowing ourselves to mourn is a good way to keep our hearts supple and soft, and a good way to resist the pressure to go numb. Shedding tears is a way to water the soul. And mourning can be an act of resistance too, a way of shaking off the dominant consumer culture, which prefers that we stay too busy, distracted, and anesthetized to feel a thing.

From within our grief, a Spirit is moving among us, inviting us to dream big dreams and imagine new possibilities. Especially in this Advent season, Christians look ahead with hope for Christ to be born afresh within us and among us. What can you do – what can I do – what can we do together – to help this birth take place and to heal a hurting world? How is the Spirit inviting us to join the movement for justice and renewal that is already in our midst, sprouting like tender, new leaves on a tree?

Here comes a list of four sightings of the Spirit by just one person in just one week – and an invitation for you to take part.

#Light for Lima, First Congregational Church, Ashfield, MA, Dec. 7, 2104
#Light for Lima, First Congregational Church, Ashfield, MA, Dec. 7, 2014

  • In the hills of western Massachusetts, a small group of people gathers outdoors on a December night. Under a dark sky, we light candles. Surrounded by quiet, we sing. We are only a handful of intrepid souls as we stamp our feet and blow on our fingers to keep warm in the cold night air. But inwardly we are warmed by the knowledge that people all around the world tonight are doing just what we are doing: praying for the climate talks in Lima, Peru.

Our #LightforLima vigil on December 7 was one of scores of vigils that were carried out in more than 15 countries on four continents. For two weeks, world leaders met in Peru to lay the groundwork for the climate treaty that will be finalized in Paris in 2015. Coordinated by OurVoices.net, a multi-faith, global climate campaign, the global vigils responded to Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s call to kindle “a light for Lima.” Religious leaders and organizations were vocal at the Lima climate talks. Pope Francis directed a radio address to the President of the conference, calling climate change a serious ethical and moral responsibility. And Anglican bishops prayed and fasted for the climate.

Please commit to pray for the success of the U.N. climate talks as we approach the decisive Paris climate negotiations in December 2015.  As it stands right now, the deal that negotiators worked out in Lima is not sufficient to prevent the atmosphere from warming more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit over the pre-industrial average, the point beyond which the world would tip into perilous, irreversible effects. In the months ahead we will need the sustained, urgent, openhearted, and full-bodied prayers and political pressure of millions of people.

To add your name as a person who will pray, please sign up with OurVoices.net.

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me… [God] has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted…[and] to comfort all who mourn. (Isaiah 61:1-2)

  • Leaning forward in a circle of chairs and listening intently, seven Christian leaders from across New England meet in a Framingham retreat house to pray, dream, and strategize. How can the larger group to which we belong, New England Regional Environmental Ministries (NEREM) become a catalyst for societal change and a transformed church? How can we inspire a spiritual awakening in the face of climate change?

We ponder the fact that hearing a trusted pastor preach about climate change is often what moves churchgoers to accept that climate change is real and to take action to slow it. Yet many parishioners have never heard anyone preach about climate change. In my travels from church to church, I often meet with groups of parishioners and I often ask who has heard a sermon about climate change. In most such gatherings, not a single hand goes up.

I won’t disclose what NEREM envisions for next year, but now is the time to start preaching and hearing good sermons about climate change. One way for clergy to begin is to sign up to join the National Preach-in on Global Warming, sponsored by Interfaith Power & Light, which will be held on the weekend of Valentine’s Day, February 13-15, 2015. The Website is full of resources, with sermon ideas, prayers, discussion and activity ideas.  Or pick another date. The date doesn’t matter. What matters is conveying the urgency of the hour.

“…to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.” (Isaiah 61:3)

  • On a Wednesday night in the city of Springfield, Massachusetts, a diverse group of concerned citizens – Hispanic and white, wealthy and low-income – meets to strategize how best to implement and fund a climate action plan for the city. The leaders of this effort – Arise for Social Justice, the North End Organizing Network and Climate Action NOW – have organized the Springfield Climate Justice Coalition.

Back in October we held a march through the city’s streets, gathered 200 people for a rally on the steps of City Hall, and rejoiced when the City Council unanimously passed a resolution to adopt a Climate Justice Plan for the city and to establish a staff position to carry it out. Now comes the hard work of building a grassroots base to ensure that the mayor, Dominic J. Sarno, implements the resolution. Over pizza and oranges we exchange ideas, jot notes on newsprint, and start to divvy up tasks.

At the end of tonight’s meeting, I invite everyone to stand up and take each others’ hands. I feel awkward. This coalition seems so fragile and new. Can we, should we, pray together? I look around the circle of friends and strangers, take a breath, and speak briefly about the traditional Christian virtues of faith, hope and love. In fighting for this city, we express our faith that we can imagine a better future; we share our hope that we can build that future together; and we manifest the love that gives us strength. I ask God’s blessing on our work, and pray that our work will be a blessing for the city.

If you would like to join the Springfield Climate Justice Coalition, please contact Michaelann Bewsee (michaelannb (at) gmail.com) of Arise for Social Justice, or Susan Theberge (susantheberge (at) comcast.net) of Climate Action Now.

“They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.” (Isaiah 61:4)

Diana Spurgin, Lucy Robinson, and Margaret Bullitt-Jonas at No KXL rally, Dec. 13, 2014
Diana Spurgin, Lucy Robinson, and Margaret Bullitt-Jonas at No KXL rally, Dec. 13, 2014

A creative spirit is at play among us: the rally features a tuba and an enormous black plastic pipeline, placards full of pointed messages (“There is No Planet B”), and opportunities for singing, chanting, and banging pots and pans to make noise. We mark four-and-a-half minutes in silence, too, remembering that the body of Michael Brown, a black teenager, apparently lay on the ground for four and a half hours after he was shot by a white policeman in Ferguson, Missouri. The movement for climate justice is intimately linked to the quest for social and racial justice.

The climate rally’s most combative moments are provided by a loud-mouthed, fat-cat banker who wears a top hat and a suit festooned with fake money. She strides up and down the sidewalk, carrying a mini-pipeline on her shoulder, from which dangles a cloth doll, several small stuffed animals, and the placard “R.I.P.” She launches into a rousing debate with a 7-foot-tall polar bear.  Is the Keystone XL pipeline safe? Will it make us energy independent? Will it create lots of jobs? Will it protect the climate?

Street theater: face off between a banker and a polar bear
Street theater: face off between a banker and a polar bear

Despite the sneers of Mr. Money-Bags, the patient arguments of the polar bear win the day. The proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would run from Alberta, Canada to the Gulf Coast, would carry toxic tar sands that would then be shipped for export overseas. The pipeline would allow the most polluting oil on earth to reach world markets. Mining this oil is already destroying the land, water, and health of the people and wildlife of Alberta. The new pipeline creates a risk of spills – the first Keystone pipeline spilled 14 times in its first year of operation. Experts estimate that the pipeline would provide only 50 permanent jobs. And according to NASA scientist James Hansen the pipeline would propel us into a catastrophic level of climate disruption.

Thousands of citizens across the country have signed the Keystone XL Pledge of Resistance. Please consider adding your name and pledging to join in non-violent direct action to stop the pipeline.

If you wish to participate in and to receive updates about events in western Massachusetts tied to the national Pledge of Resistance campaign – including a training meeting on January 3 – please email Dave Roitman (droitman1(at)verizon.net). We expect to carry out an act of non-violent civil disobedience sometime between mid-January and March. It will be timed so that it happens on the same day that 97,000 other people take action, as part of the national Keystone XL Pledge of Resistance. A short fact sheet about the pipeline by Friends of the Earth can be downloaded here.

“For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.” (Isaiah 61:11)


In the face of the confusion, brutality, and violence of the world, we grieve and mourn. And we also mobilize, strategize, and organize. In our longing for a just and peaceful world, we trust that we share in God’s longing to bring forth “a new heaven and a new earth” (Revelation 1:1). As Brian Swimme writes in his “Canticle of the Cosmos”:

The longing that gave birth to the stars
The longing that gave birth to life
Who knows what this longing can give birth to now?

 

I have never been to Nebraska and I don’t know anyone who lives there. The more than 7,000 entries in my address book include no one from Nebraska. Yet, Nebraska, dear Nebraska – you are in my prayers.

Nebraska sits squarely in the path of the proposed 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline, and for months the state has been divided over the project. There is still no pipeline route through Nebraska, which is one reason that building the Keystone XL pipeline has repeatedly stalled.

A friend of mine here in western Massachusetts shares ownership of a Nebraska farm. One recent weekend she leaves me a long voice message. TransCanada has approached her family and wants to run the Keystone XL pipeline across a corner of her land. Every member of the family has to sign the contract in order for the deal to go through, but she doesn’t want to sign. Her husband is standing with her, but her brother and two cousins disagree.  They have decided to sign it.

Of course, they tell her, they would prefer not to. They know that the excavation of the tar sands is leaving an environmental catastrophe in Alberta. They’ve heard the reports that extracting the tar sands in Canada and transporting the dirty fuel by pipeline down to the Gulf of Mexico risks causing leaks that would contaminate the region’s soil and water. They know that burning the tar sands could aggravate climate change, including severe weather and drought. None of them wants the pipeline to go through their land. But what can you do? The oil industry looks unstoppable. The pipeline seems inevitable. Besides, TransCanada is sweetening the deal by offering to pay premium prices upfront before it receives state and federal approvals, promising landowners that they can keep the money even if the pipeline is not approved. One cousin does the math and figures that if they refuse to sign the contract, they could end up with only a quarter the price that TransCanada is now offering, plus they would sacrifice pocketing $55,000 now. You might as well bow to the inevitable: sign the paper and get the best possible deal.

My friend is a gentle person, an Episcopalian so soft-spoken that people often have to lean forward to catch what she is saying. By nature she is a peace-lover and she has no desire to create dissension in her family. But when it comes to justice and to doing what she believes is right, she has a spine of steel. The lawyer for her farm checks the fine print and finds loopholes that leave little protection in the case of a leak. She researches groups in Nebraska that are fighting the pipeline, among them Bold Nebraska, Nebraskans for Peace, the Sierra Club, and Natural Resources Defence Council. She learns that she is not alone: 115 Nebraska landowners are holding out and have not signed contracts. She offers to pay each of her family members the money they would have received from TransCanada if they’d signed, for she doesn’t want them to suffer financial loss for doing the right thing.

And she contacts each of them to say that she is not signing and that she hopes they understand.

Three days after phoning me, she tells me the outcome. Her husband continues to stand with her, and her other relatives have now accepted her decision not to sign.

“My brother said that he was willing to sell his soul, but that he didn’t mind too much if I didn’t sell mine: by not selling my soul, I prevented him from selling his. My cousin who manages the farm confessed last night how relieved she was that I’d said ‘No.’ She didn’t really want to take ‘blood money,’ and she knew from past dealings with the pipeline company how sleazy it was.. My other cousin, the one I was afraid of talking to, refused my offer to pay her the amount of money she would have gotten from the pipeline company. She said, ‘No way. I don’t feel good about this.’”

My friend added, “So I haven’t ruined all my family relationships and no one has accepted my offer to pay them the equivalent of pipeline money, though for now I’m leaving it on the table.  I guess we’re all in there with the other pipeline resisters.”

My friend’s story gives me hope. You never know how many people will be changed when you refuse to submit to apathy and resignation. You never know what will happen when the Spirit impels you to speak out, even when doing so causes conflict with family members. You never know – until you do it – how much energy for life will be released if you stand up and resist the forces that are destroying life. You never know if taking care of your own small corner of the world may end up changing the course of history.

Curious about our fellow Episcopalians in Nebraska, I checked out what that Diocese had to say about the Keystone XL pipeline. I was delighted to find an Easter reflection by Archdeacon Betsy Blake Bennett. Her message connects our Easter hope with the landowners, activists, and people of faith who are resisting the pipeline. It concludes:

When Bill McKibben’s Do the Math tour visited Omaha, he said that he became discouraged at first when people pointed out that he was involved in a David and Goliath situation, but then he remembered how that story ends. Easter tells us the end of the story, and it calls for an alleluia response.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

I have just added a new entry to my address book: the Episcopal Diocese of Nebraska. Let’s keep the prayers coming.