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

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

John 11:1-45

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

I have the longest job title in the world. I serve in both the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Conference of the UCC as Missioner for Creation Care. This unusual joint position is a marker of good things ahead, for Christians of every denomination, and people of every faith tradition, are drawing together to proclaim with one voice that the Earth is sacred and that we intend to work together – boldly, lovingly, without swerving, without delay – to renew its health and to protect it from further harm. Today’s Gospel reading brings us to the turning point in Jesus’ ministry. Raising Lazarus is the crowning miracle or sign that reveals Jesus as the giver of life, and that also precipitates his death. The raising of Lazarus provokes a meeting of the Sanhedrin, the official Jewish court, which reaches the decision that Jesus is dangerous and must be killed. And so next week we come to Palm Sunday and begin the anguish and ultimately the joy of Holy Week. Today’s story begins in a place of desolation, loss, and despair. Lazarus has died; he has been dead for four days; and his sisters Mary and Martha are in distress, grieving with family and friends. The story begins right where we are: in a world that is full of death, full of grieving, full of loss. Mary and Martha taste the same bitterness that we taste when a loved one dies. They know, as we do, the pang of sorrow that can seize us in the middle of the night. They know the anguish that can empty life of zest or meaning. This morning you and I may be in the very same place in which Mary and Martha begin this story, for there is plenty of death in the air these days. My particular concern is the climate crisis, and right now, even as I speak, burning fossil fuels is pumping carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere and further disrupting the delicate balance of the world’s climate. In just 200 years – a blink in geologic time – human beings have burned so much coal, gas, and oil and released so much heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that atmospheric levels of CO2 are higher than our species has ever experienced before. Last year was the hottest year on record, which crushed the record set the year before, which crushed the record set the year before that. As global temperatures rise, every living system of the world is affected and in decline. Sea ice is melting rapidly at both poles. Land ice is melting and sliding into the sea. Tundra is thawing. Storms are becoming more intense. Droughts are spreading in some areas, extensive floods in others. The ocean is absorbing heat and excess carbon dioxide, and in just decades has become 30% more acidic. Last month scientists reported that large sections of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef have died. The climate emergency is not just a quote-unquote “environmental” problem. It’s not just about polar bears and coral. It’s about people in Southern Africa, where rains have failed, crops are withering, and starving families are “reduced to eating cactus and even rocks or ashes.”  It’s about Pacific islanders whose homelands are already flooding. It’s about impoverished people here and abroad who are hit first and hardest by a changing climate, who have the fewest resources to adapt to it, and who are the least responsible for causing it. It’s about coastal communities and great cities the world over, including Boston, which face rapidly rising seas. So that’s where we find ourselves: on a beautiful, precious, but ailing planet, with the web of life unraveling before our eyes. When we hear bad news like this, it can be easy to shut down. It is difficult to face the grief, helplessness, and fear that our situation evokes. Most of us aren’t climate skeptics; most of us don’t deny outright the conclusions of science – but most of us do engage in a kind of everyday denial: we try to avoid the anxiety of thinking about climate change, so we change the subject and focus on more manageable things. When we feel helpless to imagine, much to less create, a better future, we just carry on with business as usual. It’s as if we fall under a spell and make what former U.N. Secretary General Ban-ki Moon calls a “global suicide pact.” That’s where our gospel passage begins: in darkness, in the pit, in the valley of the shadow of death. Martha and Mary are bereft. And then – something changes. Jesus arrives. When he sees Mary weeping, and the crowds around her weeping, Jesus is “greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved” (John 11:33). As if the gospel writer wants to make the meaning perfectly clear, a few verses later we come to the shortest verse in all of Scripture, a verse that is often translated by just two words: “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). He wept. Here is no distant God, no far-off deity untouched by grief, but a God who comes as one of us, a God who meets us in our suffering, a God who shares in our pain. When we feel anguish, it’s easy to look for someone to blame, to conclude that God isn’t real, that God is punishing us, or that God has abandoned us. But gazing at Jesus in this story reveals something different: when our hearts are breaking, God’s heart is breaking, too. It is a heart-opening, mind-opening revelation to discover that when we weep for the Earth, when we feel outrage and protest, God is grieving with us and through us. God is bearing what we cannot bear alone. The fact that Jesus wept suggests that the first step in healing, the first step in birthing new life, comes when we step toward the pain, not away from it, and when we do so in the presence of God. The God who enters into our suffering knows that new life begins only when we are willing to feel pain. And when we grieve in God’s presence, we move out of numbness, out of inertia, out of the denial that pretends that everything is fine. So, as the wise Buddhist teacher Joanna Macy puts it, “Don’t ever apologize for crying for the trees burning in the Amazon or over the waters polluted from mines in the Rockies. Don’t apologize for the sorrow, grief, and rage you feel. It is a sign of your humanity and your maturity… We are capable of suffering with our world, and that is the true meaning of compassion. It enables us to recognize our profound interconnectedness with all beings.” I will ask you the same questions that I asked at yesterday’s retreat at Trinity Church on spiritual resilience and resistance: Where do you feel the pain of the earth and its creatures? Where do you hear the groaning of God’s creation? And I will add this, too: the unjust powers of this world don’t want us to grieve or protest. They don’t want us to feel outrage and sorrow when we face the deathly patterns that are part of this society: the racism and militarism, the abuse of the helpless, the poisoning of air and water, the relentless assault on the web of life. The powers-that-be would much prefer that we stay numb – zombies who are too busy or bored or distracted, too defended to feel the pain that allows something new to be imagined, something new to be born. “Jesus wept,” and in that weeping begins the healing that leads to new life. In the vulnerability of his open heart, Jesus opens to a power greater than himself. “Take away the stone,” he says to the astonished crowd. Can you imagine what the throng of people must be thinking just then? Probably something along the lines of, “Hey – is he nuts?” But reluctantly or eagerly, maybe shaking their heads in bemusement, maybe daring to hope against hope, some folks move forward. They lean their weight against the stone and push it away from the entrance of the tomb. And then comes Jesus’ voice. In the midst of weeping, there comes a voice. “Lazarus,” he cries. “Come out.” It is a voice of power, a summons, a command, and it addresses us by name. You’ve heard that voice before, and I’ve heard it, too. Deep inside us is a presence, a voice, a Someone who calls us to quit hiding in a deathly place and to step out into fullness of life. We can go for a while, maybe quite a long while, not engaging with reality, not engaging with the climate crisis, and just laying low, hiding out, ducking from everything that seems too hard to face, too hard to bear. The powers-that-be want to keep it that way, and they murmur, “That’s OK. Get comfy in that little tomb. Make peace with it. Decorate it. Stay small.” But then comes that insistent, disturbing voice, calling us by name. “Barbara,” it says. “Come out. Cindy, come out. Rob, come out. Margaret, come out.” “I love you,” God says to us. “I want you to be fully alive, not just partially alive, not just going through the motions. I want you to grow up into your full stature in Christ. I loved you into being, I sent you into the world to fall in love, and I call you now to serve love without holding back. So come out of your hiding place. Come out of your helplessness. Come out of your fearfulness, and join the struggle to save life on this sweet Earth. The resurrection life that I give you doesn’t start beyond the grave. It starts right now. I didn’t create you to live in a tomb.” When I look around, I see a planet at risk of catapulting into runaway climate disruption. But also see person after person hearing – and answering – a deep call to step out and to engage in the struggle to protect life. On a practical level, what can we do? As individuals, we can drive less, use public transportation, put on a sweater and turn down the heat, ignore the dryer and hang our laundry out to dry, eat less meat, eat local foods, recycle, and so on. You know the drill. But the scope and pace of the climate crisis require change on a much broader scale. Thanks be to God, coalitions are building among people of faith who care about the Earth, about poverty and economic justice, about racial justice, about immigration and human rights – for all these issues intersect. Right here in Massachusetts, a new group, Mass. Interfaith Coalition for Climate Action (or MAICCA, for short) is organizing very diverse communities of faith to work together on climate. I’ve put a MAICCA sign-up sheet in back so that you can connect. At the end of this month, on April 29, the 100th day of this country’s new Administration, thousands of people – including countless people of faith – will converge on Washington, D.C., for the People’s Climate Movement “March for Jobs, Justice, and Climate.” You can sign up for the march at PeoplesClimate.org, and I hope you will come. A sister march will be held here in Boston on the same day, and that’s a good choice, too, though it may be particularly effective to carry out our witness in our nation’s capital. The Church was made for a time like this – a time when God is calling us out of the tomb of inertia and despair and into the wholehearted, focused, joyful, justice-seeking, Spirit-led, unstoppable movement to protect the world that God entrusted to our care. “Lazarus, come out!”  
Sermon for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 12B), July 26, 2015. Delivered by the Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas at Grace Church, Great Barrington, MA. 2 Kings 4:42-44 Psalm 145: 10-19 Ephesians 3:14-21 John 6:1-21

Filled with the fullness of God

It’s a pleasure to be with you on this fine mid-summer morning. Thank you, Janet, for inviting me to preach. I am the Missioner for Creation Care in this diocese, so I travel from church to church, preaching the Gospel and speaking about our call as Christians to protect the Earth. This is my first visit to Grace Church and I haven’t met most of you, but already I feel as if I’m among friends. From everything I’ve heard, you are modeling the kind of Christianity we need in the 21st century: a community of people who gather week by week to be nourished by each others’ presence and by the Word and sacraments of God, and who don’t require a big old building that leaves a big old carbon footprint.

I’m told that many of you are gardeners, and that you know how to cultivate the soil, tend flowers, and grow food. I honor you for that hands-on knowledge of the Earth, and I also honor your dedication to sharing what you grow with your neighbors and to feeding a hungry world. Our call as human beings to “till and keep” the Earth (Genesis 2:15) extends outward to political engagement, as well, so I also want to thank those of you who headed off to New York City last year to join the People’s Climate March. What an astonishing event that was – hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets to proclaim the urgent need to protect and sustain life on Earth! Thank you, friends, for all the ways you bear witness to what Archbishop Desmond Tutu calls the “supreme work” of Jesus Christ: to reconcile humanity not only with God and each other, but also with the whole of Creation. I know you’ve been reflecting for several weeks on food and faith, and I want to jump right in to our Gospel reading from John. Whenever I read this account of Jesus feeding the five thousand, I feel a wave of affection for the little boy who offered Jesus his five barley loaves and two fish.1 We don’t know very much about that boy – we get only a glimpse of him and we see him only in passing, but we do know that his gift to Jesus opened the door to a miracle, one that the early Church found so significant that, among all the stories of Jesus’ public ministry, only this one is recorded in all four Gospels. After that unknown little boy puts everything he has into the hands of Jesus, the hungry crowds are fed – in fact, they are filled with such abundance that the disciples can gather up the leftover food and pile it into twelve baskets. Like many commentators, I’ve wondered about the identity of that nameless boy whose generosity made all the difference. I imagine him as being eight, nine, maybe ten years old. Maybe he heard that Jesus was in the neighborhood, and started begging his mother to let him go see for himself the man that everyone was talking about. If I had been his mother, I would have been reluctant to say yes: for one thing, the boy might get lost in the crowds. But maybe he kept pestering her until finally she gave in and packed him a picnic lunch: some barley bread – in those days, the bread of the very poor – and a couple of pickled fish, no bigger than sardines. What happened next is told in all four gospels. The hungry crowds begin to gather around Jesus – hundreds, even thousands of them – and they have nothing to eat. The sun is hot, their feet are sore, and their stomachs are empty. One of the disciples, Philip, feels hopeless. “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little” (John 6:7). How easy it would have been for the boy to say to himself: “So many people need food, how can my bit of lunch make a difference? I don’t want to look like an idiot. And I don’t want to give away the little I have and go hungry, myself. Let’s just wait and see. Maybe someone else will figure out what to do.” We will never know what went through the child’s mind, but obviously that wasn’t it, for something drew him forward. Maybe he tugged at Andrew’s sleeve and showed him the food that he’d brought with him. It seems that Andrew wasn’t particularly impressed. In fact, he sounds quite doubtful as he turns to Jesus to say, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” (John 6:9). As I imagine it, Jesus listened quietly to Andrew and then turned to look down at the little boy, standing there in the heat with his outstretched offering of some chunks of bread and two tiny fish. Maybe Jesus looked at him and smiled. He took the child’s gift, blessed it, and gave it to all the hungry people to eat. And they ate, and were satisfied. This is a story about hopelessness shifting to hope, about scarcity being transformed into abundance, about empty places being filled to overflowing. It’s a story about one small person initiating a miracle by offering what he has, even though it seems very small. It’s a story about the power of generosity – a story about how one small but selfless act can end up blessing everybody. I relish this story because I cherish that little boy and also because it’s so easy to identify with the crowds of people around him that are hungry, tired, passive, and overwhelmed. It’s easy these days to be agitated by anxiety or paralyzed by despair, for the challenges that press upon us are daunting. In just 200 years – a blink in geologic time – human beings have burned so much coal, gas, and oil and released so much heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are at a level that our species has never experienced before. This spring the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that for the first time in human history the global level of carbon dioxide has topped 400 parts per million, reaching a level that hasn’t been seen in about 2 million years. For now the air is still breathable, and for now your life and mine will go on. But what’s so worrisome to scientists is that this process is happening so fast. Already we’ve shot well past 350 parts per million, the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and the amount of carbon dioxide pouring into the atmosphere is accelerating at a record pace, one hundred times faster than natural rises in the past. If we stick to business as usual and keep to our present course, then within two, three, four generations we could raise average global temperatures to a level that would make the world very difficult for humans and other creatures to inhabit. Already oceans are heating and becoming more acidic; tundra is thawing; ice caps are melting; sea levels are rising; coral reefs are dying; massive droughts are spreading in some places and heavy rains intensifying in others. This summer the West is so dry, even a rainforest is on fire, and so many fires are burning in Alaska that the smoke has drifted through the Midwest and reached all the way down to Texas. The first half of 2015 was the hottest ever recorded, and this year is on track to beat last year as the hottest year on record. We’re on the edge, or even in the midst, of what some experts are calling the sixth major extinction event on this planet. So when it comes to the climate crisis, it’s not just about polar bears anymore. It’s about saving a habitable world for our children and our children’s children. It’s about finding our moral compass and deciding what kind of world we want to inhabit. Like the little boy caught in the midst of a hungry and restless crowd, we rifle through our pockets, wondering what gift we have to offer and whether one person can possibly make a difference. When I look around, I see a planet at risk and masses of people who are tormented by denial, fear, anger, or despair. But I also see this: person after person bravely standing up to offer his or her vision and skills, energy and time to the shared struggle to re-weave the fabric of life and to create a just and sustainable future. As a Christian, I believe that if we put what we have, whether it’s a little or a lot, into the hands of Jesus, miracles can happen and blessings can emerge that no one could possibly have predicted. As we heard in the Letter to the Ephesians, if we stay “rooted and grounded in love,” we will discover a “power at work within us [that] is able to accomplish far more than all we can ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:17, 20). As I look around this summer I see people rising up for life and refusing to settle for a killing status quo. I see people blocking the path of new fracked gas pipelines and being arrested for civil disobedience as they read aloud from Pope Francis’ groundbreaking encyclical on the environment. I see people lobbying for a fair price on carbon, so that we can build a clean green economy that provides decent jobs and improves public health. I see our own Episcopal Church deciding – miracles of miracles! – to divest from fossil fuels, since it makes no financial or moral sense to invest in companies that are ruining the planet. I see new coalitions being formed and new alliances being forged, as people begin to realize that the environmental crisis is closely connected to the social crises of poverty, income inequality, and racial injustice. The worldview that allows the Earth to be exploited and trashed is the same worldview that allows the poor and vulnerable to be exploited and trashed – which means, as Bill McKibben has pointed out, “The fight for a just world is the same as the fight for a livable one.” On September 24, one year after the People’s Climate March in New York City, people will be gathering in Washington, D.C., and in New York City to welcome the Pope as he addresses a joint session of Congress and then a meeting at the United Nations. This is a defining moment as we head toward the international climate talks that will be held in Paris this December. But you don’t have to leave Massachusetts to join the climate justice movement. We are fortunate to have a strong grassroots climate group right here: 350Mass. for a Better Future. It has nodes across the state, including one here in Berkshire County. If you sign up to receive the weekly newsletter from 350Mass., as I hope you will after the service, you will find friends and allies in the struggle to keep fossil fuels in the ground and to accelerate a transition to clean, safe, renewable sources of energy, such as sun and wind. I can almost promise that in doing so you will receive a wave of hope that will nourish your soul. The Church was made for a time like this – a time when human beings need to remember that we belong to one Earth, that we form one human family, that our life is a gift, and that God entrusted the Earth and all its residents to our care. Despite what our culture tells us, we are not called to be self-centered consumers who grab and hoard everything we can for ourselves, but rather people who find our deepest identity and deepest joy in serving the common good and in being rooted and grounded in love. I think that’s what the little boy in today’s Gospel story discovered when he gave his bread and fish to Jesus and realized, lo and behold, that somehow his gift was enabling the whole community to be fed. I like to imagine how that day ended. I like to imagine that at the end of the day, the boy practically ran all the way home, burst through the door, and told his astonished mother, “Just guess what happened! Just guess what Jesus and I did together today!” Who knows what God in Christ will be able to do through you, today and in the days ahead, as you offer your gift to a yearning and hungry world?
1. I am indebted to a commentator who imagined this scene many years ago. I can’t remember where I read his account, but I want to give him credit and extend my thanks.  

This post is based on a statement I read yesterday morning (October 25, 2014) at the annual convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts.

That afternoon the diocese passed a resolution asking the Episcopal Church to divest from the top 200 fossil fuel companies and to re-invest in clean energy.

It was a glorious day.

The resolution, which passed by an overwhelming majority, is included at the bottom of this piece.

I have been serving as the diocese’s Missioner for Creation Care since last January, and I can’t imagine a more rewarding or meaningful way to spend my time. I am especially grateful for the advice and support of our bishop, Doug Fisher, whose understanding of Jesus’ mission inspires me and gives me strength. Thank you, Doug.

I compare my ministry to a swinging door. Sometimes I turn toward the Church, and sometimes I turn toward the secular world. When I turn toward the Church, I speak about the sacredness of creation and about God’s call to protect the web of life. Most of us aren’t aware that the web of life is unraveling. We don’t realize that we are now in the midst of the sixth major extinction event in the history of this planet – the last one involved the dinosaurs. Most of us haven’t fully taken in what scientists are telling us about climate change. We haven’t quite grasped that in only 200 years – a blink in geologic time – we have burned so much coal, gas and oil, and released so much heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the air, that atmospheric levels of CO2 are higher today than they’ve been for millions of years. The world is changing before our eyes – melting, flooding, acidifying, and burning in ways that no human has ever seen. If we keep extracting and burning fossil fuels at present rates, we will force the worldwide average temperatures to rise between 5 and 11 degrees Fahrenheit in this century, which would make the Earth quite inhospitable for life as it has evolved on this planet, including human life.

So when I turn toward the Church, I speak about the Earth, and when I turn toward secular people, I speak about God. To political and corporate leaders, I speak about the Church’s deep commitment to caring for creation. I speak about the Church’s particular concern for the poor, who are least equipped to deal with the effects of climate change, from more extreme floods and droughts to more infectious diseases and greater food scarcity. To environmental activists – some of whom wrestle with despair – I speak about the spiritual resources that give Christians hope. I speak about a God who created and loves every inch of creation. I speak about Jesus Christ rising from the dead and showing us that life, and not death, will have the last word. I speak about the Spirit that gives us power to roll away the stone. I speak about the divine love that will never let us go and that sends us out to bear witness to love, no matter what the outcome may be and whether or not our efforts are “successful.”

My vision is that this diocese – and the wider Church – will come to see that caring for the Earth is the great mission of our time, and that caring for Creation must be woven into everything we do – from sermons to Sunday School, from prayers to public advocacy. We were born at an unprecedented time in human history, a time when our choices really matter to the future of our children, our children’s children, and the ongoing evolution of life. Whatever particular “issue” may be closest to our hearts – whether it be poverty and economic injustice or immigration; war, racism, violence, or human rights; education or public health – whatever you think of as “your” issue, please know that it will be deeply affected by climate change. Please keep working on those issues, but know that tackling climate change is the great and over-riding challenge that pulls us together in a common search to find a more just, peaceful, and sustainable way of inhabiting this planet. This is the kind of moment the Church was made for. This is an all-hands-on deck moment, a time when we need everyone’s wisdom and energy and help.

So – to the parishes that have already invited me to preach and speak: thank you. To the parishes that haven’t yet done so: please do. I would welcome an invitation. Over the last 10 months we’ve been building a network of people in the diocese who care about Creation, and if you’re interested in joining, please give me your name and contact information. Since beginning this job, I’ve started a new Website, Reviving Creation, on which I post blog essays and sermons, and I hope you’ll take a look and maybe sign up to receive blog posts in your email. We now have a diocesan banner that says “Love God, Love your neighbor: Stop climate change,” and it has been getting a workout. Last month people from the diocese carried our banner during the People’s Climate March in New York City, which drew something like 400,000 people for the biggest climate march in history. And last Monday night, here in Springfield, a wonderfully diverse mix of poor Hispanic, African-American and immigrant communities from the inner city joined with white folks like me from places like Amherst and Northampton to march together to City Hall to ask the city to develop a climate action plan. Once again we carried our banner, and the Dean of our Cathedral was there; our Hispanic Missioner was there; members of our churches were there; and a representative of Bishop Jim Hazelwood and the New England Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America was there. Bishop Doug was one of the speakers at the rally, and that night Springfield’s City Council voted unanimously to pass a resolution to create a climate action plan. Days like that warm my heart!

Springfield Climate March, Close-up, by Joe Oliverio
Springfield Climate March, Close-up, by Joe Oliverio

Here we are in the midst of our first-ever Season of Creation, and I’ve enjoyed learning about the many ways that churches in the diocese are celebrating this special season. I hope you’ll enjoy and make good use of these weeks until Christ the King Sunday at the end of November, and will lift up the sacredness of the natural world and God’s call to safeguard life. Two weeks from today we’ll be offering a special event in Worcester: on November 8, Massachusetts Interfaith Power & Light will give a Sustainable House of Worship (SHOW) workshop that can show your church how to save money and become more energy efficient and energy conserving. I hope that everyone here will make sure that someone from your church attends that event.

Meanwhile I want to thank the Trustees of this diocese for carrying out a thoughtful, prayerful, and sometimes difficult discussion about the diocese’s policy and practices regarding investments in fossil fuels. I salute your decision in August to reduce our diocese’s exposure to fossil fuels and to invest instead in clean energy. I am grateful for your leadership, and I am grateful that we will have an opportunity this afternoon to discuss a resolution that asks the Episcopal Church to make the same decision.

I look forward to the day when I am no longer a swinging door – the day when we all live in one space. On that day, the Church will fully understand and embody the fact that caring for the ongoing web of life is central to our moral and spiritual concern. On that day, the “secular” world will fully understand that the living mystery we call God is real, and very much alive, and is making all things new. Until that day comes, and when that day comes, I will give thanks for all of you who engage in the great work of loving God and neighbor by participating in the movement to protect life on this planet.


The following resolution was submitted to the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts by the Social Justice Commission, and passed at the diocese’s annual convention on October 25, 2014.

Eliminating Fossil Fuel Holdings and Investing in Clean Energy

Resolved, that as a matter of moral and theological urgency, in obedience to God’s command to “tend and keep the earth” and consistent with Jesus’ injunction that we care for those who are most vulnerable, this 113th Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts calls on the Church Pension Fund, the Investment Committee of the Executive Council, and the Episcopal Church Foundation to adopt a policy to refrain from this time forward from purchasing any new holdings of public equities and corporate bonds of the world’s leading 200 fossil fuel companies as identified by the Carbon Underground1, and be it further

Resolved, that in obedience to God’s call to be stewards of earth’s diverse community of life, this 113th Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts calls on the Church Pension Fund, the Investment Committee of the Executive Council, and the Episcopal Church Foundation to develop and implement a plan to eliminate exposure within five years to direct ownership of public equities and corporate bonds of the world’s leading 200 fossil fuel companies as identified by the Carbon Underground2, and be it further

Resolved, that as an investment in the healthy future of humanity and the planet, this 113th Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts calls on the Church Pension Fund, the Investment Committee of the Executive Council, and the Episcopal Church Foundation to develop and implement a strategy to invest 5% within two years and 10% within four years of their overall holdings in “impact investments” in the clean energy sector, and be it further

Resolved, that this 113th Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts, memorialize the 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church to encourage all dioceses and the Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes to engage within the coming year the topic of eliminating exposure to investment in fossil fuels and of reinvesting in clean energy.

Explanation

God calls us to be good stewards of God’s good Creation (Gen. 1:31, 2:15).  Jesus commands us to care for those who are vulnerable as if we were caring for Him (Mt. 25:40).  The Fifth Mark of Mission of the Anglican Communion is “To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.” The Episcopal Church has long been on record calling for action to address climate change, and environmental justice, most recently with resolutions in 2006 and 2009.3 The Episcopal Church, by its mission, is pledged to the protection and care of God’s people and God’s Creation.

Climate change represents a titanic threat to all life, and especially to the poor. The biblical mandate and our church’s teachings could not be clearer that we must respond with faithful, prophetic action. For over two decades, the Episcopal Church and the wider faith community has utilized shareholder and legislative advocacy on climate change, to very little effect.

The scientific consensus is overwhelmingly clear that anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels4 have already caused and will continue to cause climate change.5 Without a swift, concerted, global shift away from the burning of fossil fuels, the effects of climate change will displace and impoverish hundreds of millions of people in the coming century6 and condemn many species to extinction. In recent years, superstorms and droughts have plagued our planet. We witness an unprecedented melting of Greenland’s ice cap, the Arctic ice pack, Antarctic glaciers and ice shelves, and mountain glaciers worldwide. Rising, acidifying7 seas coupled with more violent storms are threatening communities at sea level worldwide. An estimated 400,000 people a year die from the effects of climate change8. A far larger number of people lose their homes, livelihoods, and health from climate-related droughts and storms, the increased spread of infectious disease due to rising temperatures, and related stressors. Climate change is, in profound ways, a matter of justice. Jesus teaches that when we care for the poor, we care for Him (Mt. 25). As the climate crisis worsens, the church must increase the scope of its response.

Climate scientists inform us that if we are to limit global warming to just 2 degrees Celsius above the norm existing prior to the Industrial Revolution—a cap that is still fraught with risks9 but one that even the most conservative governments in the world have agreed to meet10—then we can only emit approximately 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide11. The fossil fuel industry already possesses in its reserves enough carbon to emit approximately 2,795 gigatons of carbon dioxide if burned12—five times the amount that could be ‘safely’ emitted into the atmosphere. At current rates of emission this ‘ration’ will be used by 2040.13

The fossil fuel industry’s value and future depend on burning these fuels. This industry has used its financial power to prevent legislation to reduce carbon emissions, spending over $400,000 per day to lobby the US government alone.14 It secures unthinkably large government subsidies – $1.5 billion globally per day, according to the International Energy Agency.   In 2013, the industry spent over $600 billion exploring for new fossil fuel reserves, far beyond the $244 billion invested globally in renewable energy.1516 This level of spending dwarfs the resources that can be mobilized by advocates for a sustainable future.

Given this reality, four factors require the church to address the issue of eliminating exposure to holdings in fossil fuel companies and reinvesting in clean energy. Two of these are moral factors, and two financial.

First, a growing number of religious and educational institutions are committing to eliminate their fossil fuel holdings, having concluded that it is immoral to profit from an industry whose core business creates climate change and whose financial and political influence has prevented climate change legislation. In the past, under circumstances of grave harm combined with intransigent resistance to change by the offending industry or regime, the church has debated and/or divested from certain industries (tobacco) or from certain companies which support repugnant regimes (apartheid South Africa). Such a time has arrived with the fossil fuel industry. Within the past two years, the United Church of Christ and the Unitarian Universalist Association have both voted to divest. The Presbyterian Church USA is studying divestment. The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, in May 2014, became the first Anglican body in the world to divest form fossil fuels. Union Theological Seminary and the University of Dayton, a Roman Catholic University, voted to divest in June 2014.17 The Diocese of Massachusetts has adopted a divestment resolution, and study of divestment is underway in our diocese, the Diocese of Oregon, and in hundreds of churches nationwide. The time has arrived for the Episcopal Church to take a leading role in the pre-eminent moral issue of our time.

Second, analyses18 have shown that eliminating fossil fuel industries from an investment portfolio over the past twenty-five years would have resulted in no reduction in returns. This suggests that concerns about the risk to church investments posed by divestment may well be overblown.

Third, a growing number of investment professionals are now warning about the inevitability of a “carbon bubble,” a term referring to the over-valuation of fossil fuel companies which currently depend on fossil fuel reserves as a substantial part of their market value. In the view of an overwhelming majority of scientists and policymakers, approximately two thirds of these reserves will not be able to be burned if the climate is to remain below two degrees Celsius.   This creates the inevitability of the devaluation of these holdings; church investment managers and trustees are duty-bound to respond.

Fourth, the growing number of renewable energy and clean technology investment opportunities (with some of these referred to as “impact investments”), combined with the desperate need of the developing world for clean energy, establishes a moral obligation for the Episcopal Church to seek to utilize its investment resources in a manner that meets its investment objectives while supporting the emergence of clean energy systems in the developing world. According to the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN): “Impact investments are investments made into companies, organizations, and funds with the intention to generate a measurable, beneficial social and environmental impact alongside a financial return. Impact investments can be made in both emerging and developed markets, and target a range of returns from below-market to above-market rates, depending upon the circumstances.”19

The time has come to bear our witness in this new, faithful, courageous manner. For the sake of life and of justice, the time has come for the church to eliminate its holdings in fossil fuels and to reinvest in clean energy.

— Sponsored by the Social Justice Commission


 

1. http://fossilfreeindexes.com/the-carbon-underground-2014/

2. http://fossilfreeindexes.com/the-carbon-underground-2014/

3. Resolution GC2009 – D031: Urge Commitment to Lower Carbon Output, Resolution GC2006 -B002: Acknowledge and Reduce Global Warming

4.“Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data” from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/global.html

5. Naomi Oreskes, “The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change”, Science, December 3, 2004; http://www.sciencemag.org/content/306/5702/1686.full

6. “Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,” 2007; http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg2/en/contents.html

7. Ken Caldeira and Michael E. Wickett, “Anthropogenic Carbon and Ocean pH”, Nature, 2003; https://pangea.stanford.edu/research/Oceans/GES205/Caldeira_Science_Anthropogenic%20Carbon%20and%20ocean%20pH.pdf

8. “Climate Vulnerability Monitor, Second Edition”, DARA and Climate Vulnerable Forum, 2012; http://daraint.org/climate-vulnerability-monitor/climate-vulnerability-monitor-2012/report/

9. Just two examples of the effects of a warmer planet include the increased risk of hurricane disasters (see Kerry Emanuel, “Global Warming Effects on U.S. Hurricane Damage,” 2011; ftp://texmex.mit.edu/pub/emanuel/PAPERS/wcas_2011.pdf) and species extinction (“Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: Summary for Policy Makers,” 2007; http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/wg2/ar4-wg2-spm.pdf).

10. The 2010 United Nations Climate Change Conference; http://unfccc.int/key_steps/cancun_agreements/items/6132.php

11. http://fossilfreeindexes.com/2014/05/06/the-allocated-carbon-budget/

12. Ibid.

13. http://www.climatecentral.org/news/ipcc-climate-change-report-contains-grave-carbon-budget-message-16569

14. http://www.opensecrets.org/industries/indus.php?Ind=E01

15. http://www.fastcoexist.com/3020656/are-oil-companies-wasting-billions-on-energy-theyll-never-use

16. http://fs-unep-centre.org/publications/global-trends-renewable-energy-investment-2013

17. For a current list of faith-based institutions that have divested or that are debating divestment, see http://greenfaith.org/programs/divest-and-reinvest/listing-of-known-religious-divestment-efforts

18. See, for example, http://www.aperiogroup.com/system/files/documents/building_a_carbon_free_portfolio.pdf

19. http://www.thegiin.org/cgi-bin/iowa/aboutus/index.html

A spider is basking on the bathtub’s white porcelain. Once upon a time I might have considered the malicious fun of surprising it with a spray of hot water from the shower and watching it slide down the drain. Today I gently cup the spider in an empty glass and walk it outside for release in the yard. Be well, Spider. You are not so different from me: you, too, want to live. In your own way, you, too, want to be happy and at peace.

Protecting one tiny creature – a gesture that a while back might have seemed merely sentimental – takes on new meaning today. A report just released by the World Wildlife Fund reveals that more than half the world’s population of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish has disappeared since 1970. Jon Hoekstra, chief scientist at WWF, summarizes the heart-breaking news: “39 percent of terrestrial wildlife gone, 39 percent of marine wildlife gone, 76 percent of freshwater wildlife gone — all in the past 40 years.”

Pileated woodpecker
Pileated woodpecker in Ashfield, MA, photo c) Robert A. Jonas

Much more than an occasional spider is vanishing. Because of humanity’s accidental or malicious impact on other creatures worldwide, great numbers of creatures are being lost, as are entire species. I imagine St. Francis of Assisi – the man who spoke of Brother Sun and Sister Moon – grieving the loss of kin, as members of his family disappear. I also imagine him looking around to see what he can do – what alliances he can forge, what actions he can take to heal the Earth community, human and non-human alike.

A place to begin is to save the individual creature that falls, hapless, into our hands. Then we look around to see what else we can do – maybe plant native landscapes and protect the habitats that shelter bees, birds, and butterflies; eat lower on the food chain; support organic agriculture; protect farmland and open space; and stringently reduce our use of fossil fuels.

This morning a friend who lives in Northampton and who, like me, routinely drives 8 miles to Amherst and back told me that the next time she heads over there, she plans to take the bus. She has never taken that bus before, but after the rousing People’s Climate March in New York City, she knows afresh that she wants to do her part. Using public transportation rather than driving a car is one way we can help. I wonder how much more quickly the climate movement would grow if we who have financial resources encouraged each other to break our habit of over-consumption and waste, and turned our minds and hearts to protecting the web of life that is unraveling around us. There is so much worth fighting for and so much left to save.

Pacific walrus looking for places to rest in the absence of sea ice are coming to shore in record numbers.  Source: AP Photo/NOAA, Corey Accardo
Pacific walrus looking for places to rest in the absence of sea ice are coming to shore in record numbers. Source: AP Photo/NOAA, Corey Accardo

The Feast Day of St. Francis on October 4 marks the beginning of the first-ever Creation Season in the Diocese of Western Massachusetts. For the next 7 weeks, until the last Sunday of the church year (November 23), congregations will explore four ways to celebrate and safeguard the gift of God’s creation: Pray. Learn. Act. Advocate (a Web page offers suggestions and resources for each category). I hope to hear stories of breakthrough and experiment.

If you are lucky enough to read this post in time and to live near central Massachusetts, you can celebrate St. Francis Day on October 4 at Agape Community in Ware from 10am – 4pm, at a gathering entitled, “A Vital Conversation: Integrating Ecology, Justice, and Peace,” with two gifted leaders of the religious environmental movement, Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim. For information about the event, visit here or email: peace@agapecommunity.org (phone: 413-967-9369).

To honor St. Francis, you can also study a free online resource, “The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi,” courtesy of Fr. Richard Rohr’s Center for Action and Contemplation, which writes: “Learn more about the Franciscan way of simplicity, compassion, and justice, from its historical roots to modern implications. Browse a wide variety of textual and media-rich perspectives at your own pace. Begin at any time and return as often as you like. No registration needed.” Visit here.

Are you looking for another way to celebrate St. Francis, who recognized that all creatures were members of one family? Here is a possibility: embrace the whole human family. Jesus loved not only the lilies of the field and the sparrows in the air; he also loved the outcast and the poor. Caring about the health and well-being of the natural environment involves caring about justice for the human poor. Stabilizing the climate and building a sustainable future is inextricably connected with working for social and economic justice.

I give thanks for the strong coalition just now springing up within and around Springfield, the hardscrabble city that is third largest in Massachusetts. Over the past year, Arise for Social Justice, supported by Climate Action NOW, has been working to develop a climate change action plan for the city, which is the biggest urban polluter in the Pioneer Valley. The neighborhoods most affected by climate change – poor, Black and Latino – are forming a new coalition, which includes NEON from the North End, to advance their need to decrease air pollution and thereby to prevent asthma, emphysema and heart disease. More than one of every five children in Springfield is afflicted with asthma, a rate that is twice the average across the state.

What do the under-served populations of Springfield want in a climate change action plan? They want more public transportation, more bicycle lanes and bicycle racks, more trees, parks, and community gardens, brighter and more efficient lights on public streets, more recycling, increased composting, and a stronger bottle bill, and “green” jobs for city residents. The people’s needs for good food, clean air and water, public health and public safety line up with what the Earth needs, too.

On Monday, October 20, the Springfield City Council will consider a resolution that demands a Springfield People’s Climate Action Plan, which includes a provision for a staff-person to implement it. That night we will hold a march that begins at 5:00 p.m. from two separate locations: Northgate Plaza (1985 Main Street, which has plenty of parking) and Arise for Social Justice (467 State Street). The two groups will start walking and will meet on Main Street in downtown Springfield. United, we will walk to the steps of City Hall for a speak-out at 6:00 p.m., and then pack the Council meeting to share our passion for a cleaner Springfield.

Will your organization become a sponsor of the march? To become a sponsor, you agree to publicize the march among your membership, to participate in the march, and to allow your name to be included in our publicity. To become a sponsor of the March for a People’s Climate Action Plan for Springfield, please give your name, email address, and organization’s name to Susan Theberge (susantheberge (at) comcast.net).

As I experience it, the Spirit of St. Francis – the Spirit of Jesus – is with us in our struggle to safeguard life as it as evolved on this planet. What shall we do with St. Francis? Pray, learn, act, and advocate. Save some wildlife, and hit the streets.

Sermon for the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 21A), September 28, 2014 Delivered by the Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas at Christ Episcopal Church, Rochdale, MA Exodus 17:1-7 Psalm 78-1-4, 12-16 Philippians 2:1-13 Matthew 21:23-32

Speaking and living our “Yes”

It is a pleasure to be with you this morning, and I’d like to thank Molly, your rector, for inviting me. I serve the churches in this diocese as your Missioner for Creation Care, and I am just back from last Sunday’s exhilarating experience of walking through New York City in the People’s Climate March alongside literally 10,000 people of faith. As you probably heard, the march drew a record 400,000 people from all over the country to express their concern about climate change.

I’d like to speak about why Christians care so much about protecting the world that God entrusted to our care, and we have a wonderful parable to guide our thoughts, the parable of the two sons, which is found only in the Gospel of Matthew. We just heard the story: a father with two sons asks the first son to go work in the vineyard, and the boy replies, “Nope, no thanks. Not interested.” But sometime later he changes his mind, heads to the vineyard and gets to work. The father asks the second son to work in the vineyard, and the boy says, “I go” (Matthew 21:30). But he doesn’t go; he stays put. The question is: which of the two sons did the will of his father? The answer, of course, is the first son, the one who, despite his initial no, actually carried out his father’s request, not the son who said yes, but did nothing. What counts in the end is what we do, not what we say we will do. I confess that I smiled when I realized that this was one of today’s readings, for this parable means something to me personally. My son is now 24, but when he was a kid, I remember asking him one day to turn off the TV and go clean his room. “Sure, Mom,” he said, “I’m on it.” But he kept sitting on the couch, absorbed in the TV, and didn’t move. I gave him a couple more minutes and asked him again. Again he said yes, just a sec, sure, he’d go, but he kept on staring at the screen. I waited a while longer until finally – exasperated – I decided to tell him the parable of the two sons. Which is better, I asked: to say no but then do what is right, or to say yes and do nothing? With a hangdog look my son went off to clean his room. I was pleased about that, though I can’t say that my irritated lecture deepened his appreciation of either the Bible or Christianity. Still, I think there is something here for all of us to consider: this story invites us to notice the places in our lives where we know what the right thing to do is, but we’re not doing it, the places in our lives where our lips say, “Yes, Lord, I love you, I’ll do what you ask,” but our actions express something else entirely. We all have places in our lives where what we believe and what we do don’t quite line up, places where what we intend to do and plan to do and know is right to do somehow never gets done. We say yes with our lips, but our actions say no. It is a powerful moment, a moment of healing and integration, when our actions finally line up with our values, when we start doing the things that we know are right, when we say yes to God’s will and desire for our lives and then actually follow through. That is one reason why last Sunday I found the People’s Climate March so exhilarating. Here we had people of all the world’s faith traditions – everything from A to Z, Agnostic to Zorastrian, and people of every religion in between – Episcopalians, for sure, but also pagans, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Greek Orthodox, indigenous people, Evangelicals, Buddhists – you name it, the world’s religions were represented – and all of us, with our different rituals and different doctrines and different ways of talking about the Holy, all of us were saying yes: yes, we recognize that the living world of which we are a part is sacred and precious, and we take action today to heal and protect it. As I imagine it, it was as if members of all the world’s religions had in their own way heard God the Father say, “I need you to work in my vineyard; I need you to play your part in the urgent work of healing the Earth that I entrusted to your care,” and last Sunday members of all the religions said yes, and went out to the vineyard and got to work. Values and actions lined up. It was a day for rejoicing. I’ve talked a bit with Molly, and I’ve heard many good things about how here at Christ Church you are already taking action to make care for Creation an important part of your mission and ministry. I’ve heard about your replacing throwaway, disposable cups at coffee hour with cups that can be washed and reused. I’ve heard about your community garden, which is a terrific way to build local resilience and food security. I’ve heard how several years ago you raised thousands of dollars to build a well in Liberia. I want to salute you for efforts like these, because doing our utmost to protect the ongoing web of life on this planet, and caring for the water and soil and air upon which our good health, and all life, depends is central to what it means to be a faithful Christian. In our Creation story at the beginning of Genesis, we meet a God who loves the Creation into being and who takes a look around at what he just made and is filled with delight. “God saw everything that [God] had made, and indeed, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). The created world, the web of life that scientists call the biosphere, is created by God and reveals God’s glory. As the psalmist puts it, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows [God’s] handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). Land and rivers, animals, air and sea ultimately belong to God, not to human beings, for, as we also hear in the psalms, “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it” (Psalm 24:1). As humans we are part of the created order, not above it or separated from it, and the Book of Genesis tells us that the very first task that God gave to human beings was to take good care of the earth (Genesis 2:4b-8, 15).  This is God’s Creation, not ours. We are here to shepherd and protect what is ultimately God’s possession, not ours. Well, we’ve got some hard work ahead of us in that department. Even a quick look at the news reveals how far humanity has fallen away from God’s vision of our species living in a loving relationship with each other, our non-human neighbors, and the rest of the natural world. Because of our burgeoning population, powerful technologies, and ever-expanding appetite for “more,” we’ve reached a point where human activities are unraveling the web of life. My particular concern is how humans have affected the global climate. As no doubt you’ve heard, climate change caused by human activity is already having far-reaching effects on the world’s continents and oceans, and the creatures that inhabit them. In only two centuries, we have pumped so much heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the air that atmospheric levels of CO2 are higher today than they’ve been for millions of years. A while back I heard a climate scientist remark, “We are breathing from an atmosphere that none of our ancestors would recognize.” Burning fossil fuels, such as coal, gas, and oil, at present rates could raise worldwide average temperatures between 5 and 11 degrees Fahrenheit in this century, which would make the world extremely difficult for humans and other creatures to inhabit. Already our planet is changing before our eyes: oceans are heating up and becoming more acidic as they absorb some of the carbon dioxide released by cars and power plants; tundra is thawing, ice caps are melting, sea levels are rising, coral reefs are dying, massive droughts are spreading in some places and heavy rains are intensifying in others. This past 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.” As the environmentalist Bill McKibben has written, “Our old familiar globe is suddenly melting, drying, acidifying, flooding, and burning in ways that no human has ever seen.” 1 Given the many pressures on the planet’s web of life, we are now in the midst of Earth’s sixth major extinction event. Maybe half the world’s species could vanish before the century is out. Our planet is 4.5 billion years old and has endured other extinction events, but this is the very first time that an extinction event is being caused by one species: us. We live at an unprecedented moment in human history, a moment when our choices really matter and what we do, or don’t do, makes all the difference to what kind of world we leave our children and our children’s children. What can we do? Well, we can recycle more, drive less, and be sparing in our use of water. We can turn off lights when we leave a room. Maybe we can eat local, organic foods and support our local farms and land trusts. We can install insulation, turn down the heat, and cut back on AC. As individuals we can and should do everything we can to reduce our use of fossil fuels, but the scope and speed of the climate crisis require action on a much broader scale, too. We need to join with other people and make it politically possible to do what is scientifically necessary. We need to push our political leaders to get this country and other countries on track to make a swift transition to clean, safe sources of energy like sun and wind. We need to quit our addiction to fossil fuels and bring down the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million, which is the uppermost level that many scientists say is safe for life as we know it to continue on this planet. What is the level today? Nearly 400 parts per million – and climbing. So we have work to do. Hope springs up when we take hold of that work and move into action. So I hope you’ll form a “green team” or a Creation Care committee (whatever you want to call it) here at Christ Church, and start to explore what you can accomplish together. I hope that those of you interested in building a network of people in the diocese committed to Creation care will give me your names, so that we can work together and support each other. I hope you’ll read the blog posts on my new Website, Reviving Creation. I hope you’ll take full advantage of our diocese’s first-ever Season of Creation, which begins next Saturday and lasts through the end of November. We are fortunate to have a bishop who recognizes what we Christians must do. I hope you’ll be thoughtful and creative and have some fun as you find ways to line up actions that express your values. The news from scientists is grim. But the good news, as we saw last Sunday, is that people the world over are finally beginning to organize, strategize, and mobilize. And the Gospel good news is that God is with us. God is with us. “God so loved the world” – literally, in Greek, the “cosmos” – “God so loved that cosmos that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16). The melting ice in West Antarctica may be unstoppable, but so is the divine love that made us, that sustains us, and that calls us to stand up for life. Jesus is among us now, offering us here at this table the nourishing gift of his presence and power. There is so much left to save, so much good that we can do, so many ways that we can help to build a better world. Like the two sons in the parable, we have a chance not only to say yes, but also to embody that yes: to go to work in the vineyard and to learn to live more lightly on the earth.  As the poet Wallace Stephens once wrote: After the final no there comes a yes And on that yes the future world depends.   1. Bill McKibben, Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, New York: Henry Holt and Company, Times Book, 2010, p. xiii.
 

I have been speechless for the past three days.

OK, not exactly speechless. I have been immersed in email, so that counts as words.

Episcopal Diocese of WMA at People's Climate March
Some of the Episcopalians from the Diocese of WMA who came to NYC for the People’s Climate March (l. to r.): the Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas (Missioner for Creation Care), Maria Dye, Mary McCarthy, Lucy Robinson, Mary Hocken, Jonathan Wright (partially hidden), Suzannah Fabing, Meg Kelsey Wright (partially hidden), Miriam Jenkins, Bob Hawley (partially hidden), Sandy Muspratt, Maryann Dipinto.

But after the weekend’s “Religions for the Earth” conference in New York City, which brought together more than 200 religious and spiritual leaders from around the world to voice our concerns and commitments regarding climate change; after the conference’s powerful multi-faith service at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine; after the People’s Climate March on Sunday, which surpassed all expectations when 400,000 people surged through the streets of Manhattan; and after Flood Wall Street the next day, in which perhaps 2,000 demonstrators poured into the financial district and more than 100 people were arrested in a peaceful, passionate uprising to protest carbon pollution and carbon profits – after participating in all these events, any one of which would be enough to change a life, something deep within me fell silent. At a soul level, I had nothing to say. I wanted only to marvel in silence.

Years ago someone told me that when Leo Tolstoy saw the ocean for the first time, all this man of words could say was: “It’s big.”

I’m no Leo Tolstoy, but I understand such reticence. When for the first time you see something as deep, wide, and alive as an ocean, words fail. You want to gaze in silence. You want to bow with amazement and respect.

Here’s what I can say, three days after coming home: I saw an ocean in New York.

It was deep: deep in prayer. Deep in grief, conviction, and resolve.

I heard an indigenous woman keen a lullaby to the children of the future who may never be born.

I heard an elder from Greenland tell a hushed crowd at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine that when he was a child, the ice was 5 kilometers thick. Sixty-seven years later, the ice is 2.5 kilometers thick. “I carry the wisdom of the ice,” he told us. “It is too late. The big ice is going away. Our only hope is that you begin to use your vast knowledge wisely. We must melt the ice in the heart of man.” It was time now, he said, to call upon the ancestors. He pulled out two thin circular drums, placed them against his cheeks like a megaphone, and began to wail. His long, deep call echoed through time and filled every space. From where I was sitting, his face was hidden. He was nameless, ego-less, as anonymous as the psalmist who cries, “Out of the depths have I called to you, O LORD” (Psalm 130). His ardent plea carried the universal prayer of every heart that longs for life as we know it to continue on this earth. “Lord, have mercy,” I prayed in union with his plea. “O God, make speed to save us. O Lord, make haste to help us.”

I heard the chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change appeal to the world’s religions to speak boldly about the most urgent moral issue of our time. “This power has to be a spiritual power. This has to be an ethical force.”

I heard a man who marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1960’s and who spent his long life dedicated to the struggle for justice tell a group of Christians that the time has come for everyone who cares about stabilizing the climate and building a livable future to “Organize. Strategize. Mobilize.” At the Cathedral service, I heard his resonant declaration: “The civil rights movement and the human rights movement have now joined the climate movement. We are the rock of this movement. We will never stand down.”

It was wide: brimming in size and wildly diverse.

Four hundred buses headed to New York from all over the country, including more than 50 buses from my home state, Massachusetts, and a bus of Episcopalians from western Massachusetts and Connecticut who celebrated Holy Communion along the way (thank you, the Rev. Stephanie Johnson, for helping me organize that bus!). Also arriving in New York were people from the world’s front-line communities, the regions suffering most from the initial effects of climate change, among them Micronesia, Guatemala, India, New Zealand, and the Philippines. So many people filled the streets of Manhattan that the preliminary count of 310,000 marchers had to be revised upward, to 400,000 – certainly the largest climate march ever. Over the same weekend, more than 2,800 solidarity events were held in over 160 countries around the world. (To view some of those beautiful march pictures, click here.)

It wasn’t just the numbers that took my breath away – it was also the diversity. There were scientists and students, anti-fracking and anti-war groups, indigenous people and urbanites, grandmothers and children, medical doctors and social justice activists, celebrities and people from historically under-served communities – waves of people from every walk of life, all of us united in the urgent call to governments and the U.N. to take strong action for climate justice and sustainability.

The signs that people carried were as diverse as the people carrying them: funny and poignant, angry, sad, and quirky. At least two writers created poetry from the signs’ messages, including Terry Tempest Williams (The Orion Blog: River Walkers) and a local friend, Nick Grabbe (Adventures in the Good Life: Climate Change Kills Kittens).

About 10,000 people marched in our interfaith contingent. So many different faith groups were represented that a thoughtful volunteer created 38 small flags for each group to carry, alphabetized from A-Z (Agnostic to Zoroastrian). All of us marched together: Greek Orthodox and Pagan, Jew and Muslim, Pentecostal and Sikh, Buddhist and Mennonite. A handmade Noah’s ark was stationed alongside an inflated replica of a mosque. (For a photographic essay about the Ark’s journey through the streets, visit “A priest, a rabbi, an imam, and a unicorn got on an Ark to save our planet”).

It was alive: filled with energy and generating new possibilities.

The march was timed to coincide with the U.N. climate summit in New York, and a host of significant events rose up alongside, like mighty ocean waves.

Flood Wall Street protesters gather at Battery Park
Flood Wall Street protesters gather at Battery Park before marching to the financial district

The protesters and the acts of non-violent civil disobedience on Wall Street gave voice this week to everyone who wants a fossil-free economy and an economic system that heals the chasm between rich and poor.

The Rockefeller family, whose legendary wealth flowed from oil, announced its decision to divest its $860 million philanthropic fund from fossil fuels.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu and more than 80 of the world’s leading theologians, ethicists and religious leaders released a statement supporting fossil fuel divestment and clean energy reinvestment by faith communities. “To serve as custodians of creation is not an empty title,” Tutu said in a video released this week. “It requires that we act, and with all the urgency this dire situation demands.”

A Pastoral Message on Climate Change was issued this week by the heads of the Anglican Church of Canada, The Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. Worth reading carefully, the statement declares: “God, who made the creation and made it good, has not abandoned it. Daily the Spirit continues to renew the face of the earth. All who care for the earth and work for the restoration of its vitality can be confident that they are not pursuing a lost cause. We serve in concert with God’s own creative and renewing power.”

Meanwhile, there are things that all of us can do right away. I invite you to add your voice to a new initiative, OurVoices.net, by which millions of people around the world can register their commitment to pray for the success of the 2015 U.N. climate talks in Paris. The U.N. climate leader, Christiana Figueres, is asking for everyone’s spiritual and moral support of this initiative.

Those of us who live in western Massachusetts have an opportunity on Monday evening, October 20, to march to the steps of City Hall in downtown Springfield and to urge City Councilors to pass a resolution calling on the city to create a strong climate action plan (for updates, please check Climate Action Now).

Faced with a crisis that threatens all living beings, human and non-human alike, will humanity unite at last to create God’s dream of Shalom and to form the beloved Earth Community? Will we respond at last to the call to organize, strategize, and mobilize?

I take heart from the prophet Isaiah, who perceives God as coming to us from the future, making all things new. God speaks through Isaiah, saying: “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:18-19).

The planet is rapidly warming. Species are going extinct. Sea levels are rising. But another kind of ocean is rising, too: an ocean of love and concern, an ocean of commitment and resolve that is bringing together all kinds of people who are willing to engage in the struggle for a just and habitable world.

Al Gore, one of the Cathedral speakers, quoted the Wallace Stevens poem that begins:

After the final no there comes a yes
And on that yes the future world depends.

I will remember September 21, 2014, as a day when humanity said Yes. In the days ahead we will have plenty of opportunities to repeat that Yes, again and again, with our lips and in our lives.

We have a long struggle ahead of us. I hope that all of us will discover what it’s like to rise up like an ocean, deep and wide and alive.


To view some of the plenary sessions and workshops from the conference “Religions for the Earth,”held at Union Theological Seminary from Sept. 19-21, 2014, and sponsored by Union Theological Seminary, the World Council of Churches, and several other major religious organizations, go here.

To view the multi-faith service held on Sept. 21, 2104, at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, which served as the finale of the “Religions for the Earth” conference, go here.

At the service, religious and spiritual leaders from around the world joined with activists, artists, scientists, community leaders, and government officials in a ritual of covenant and commission to protect and care for the Earth. Speakers included Former Vice President Al Gore, Rev. Jim Wallis, Chief Arvol Looking Horse, Dr. Vandana Shiva, Rabbi Ellen Bernstein, and more.

The man who prayed to the ancestors is Uncle Angaangaq Angakhorsuaq, Founder, IceWisdom International/Eskimo-Kalaallit Elder. The man dedicated to civil and human rights is the Rev. Dr. Gerald Durley, Pastor Emeritus, Providence Missionary Baptist Church.

 

Divestment comes in many forms.

In the hectic last days before the People’s Climate March in New York City, I finally put everything down. I abandon email. I relinquish the phone and turn off the computer. I drop my tasks and leave behind the scribbled lists of Things To Do that are piling up on my desk.

I step outside. Ah! Fresh air!

I inhale a deep breath, let it go, and look around. On this late summer day, the field behind our home in the Berkshire foothills is aglow with asters and goldenrod. Jewelweed crowds the edges of the beaver pond. The blackberries are long gone, but I savor a last handful of blueberries. While exploring the edges of the pond, I spot the tracks of a blue heron on a flat stone beneath the water’s surface. Are those otter prints that are heading the other way?

Heron & Otter Tracks
Heron and otter tracks, Ashfield, 2014 c) Robert A Jonas

For a long time I stand barefoot on a cold patch of moss beneath a hemlock tree, noticing the rise and fall of my breath and listening attentively to the soft gurgle of a stream, the occasional chatter of a chickadee, and the sharp cry of a hawk overhead. Most of the songbirds have left by now, and the tender green ferns that I watched unfurl this spring have turned brown. The fields and woods of New England are divesting themselves of summer’s glory as the season turns toward fall.

Divestment is in the news these days. I rejoiced last week when the Trustees of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts announced their decision to reduce investment in companies that produce fossil fuels and to redirect funds to companies that produce renewable energy. The Trustees’ decision was the result of a thoughtful, prayerful, and sometimes difficult 18-month process of research and discussion that was carried out with the full support of the bishop, the Rt. Rev. Douglas Fisher. The Diocese of Western Massachusetts now takes its place in the growing movement of religious groups that have declared their commitment to reduce or eliminate holdings in fossil fuel companies. Along with the World Council of Churches, the United Church of Christ, the Unitarian Universalist Association, the Anglican Church in New Zealand and Polynesia, the Diocese of Massachusetts, and many other religious groups worldwide, the diocese has chosen to align its investments with its mission (for a list of religious and other groups that have announced plans to divest, visit GoFossilFree.org.

Hawk over big pond, Ashfield
Hawk over big pond, Ashfield c) Robert A. Jonas

Scientists report that this past August was the hottest month yet since record-keeping began. If we intend to avert climate catastrophe and to build a sustainable, just, and low-carbon future, now is the time to divest from fossil fuels and to re-invest those funds in clean, safe, renewable energy. As the resolution explains in its opening paragraph, “Scripture tells us that all the world is God’s precious creation, and our place within it is to respect and care for its health. We therefore have a spiritual and moral obligation not to profit from damage inflicted on God’s creation by the production and use of fuels that hurt the environment, and a corresponding obligation to seek out and invest in ways to promote its healing and health.” (Read the full text of the resolution here.)

I just discovered a Website that provides both the rationale and the resources for individuals and foundations to divest from fossil fuels and invest in climate solutions. Divest-Invest provides a strategy by which both individual donors and philanthropic foundations can break the grip of the fossil fuel industry on public policy and model the energy transition that societies worldwide need to make.

Divesting and re-investing create a rhythm that sustains life. In all kinds of ways, we let go and we take hold. We release and we welcome. We breathe out and we breathe in. The question is when and in what to divest, and when and in what to re-invest. What do we need to relinquish in order to step into fullness of life? What do we need to take hold of, to take up or re-claim, in order for life to flourish?

As I envision it, the People’s Climate March that so many of us will join on September 21, will not only be the largest and most diverse climate march ever held – it will also be a shared act of divestment and re-investment.

We will divest from the routine of an ordinary day, divest from inertia, divest from sitting on the sidelines and waiting for someone else to speak up.

We will divest from helplessness and isolation, from cynicism, resignation, and solitary hand-wringing.

We will invest in the possibility that a strong, diverse grassroots movement can build moral, political, and spiritual momentum for a strong U.N. treaty that actually reduces fossil fuel emissions and protects the poor and the most vulnerable.

We will invest in the possibility that we can safeguard life as it has evolved on this planet.

We will invest in our renewed commitment, as individuals and as a society, to make the changes that are necessary to sustain the integrity of the biosphere.

We will invest in our future and our planet’s future.

We will invest in hope.

To watch the newly released film, Disruption, which takes a look at the consequences of inaction on climate and makes a compelling call for bold collective action, click here.

Ultimately, the only clean, safe, renewable energy that can sustain human beings is the power of love. This weekend I will travel to New York and join the People’s Climate March for all kinds of personal reasons – because I love my son, because I love my grandchildren, because I love the holy Mystery that creates and sustains life. As I walk through the streets of New York, I will carry in my heart all the creatures whose presence bless my life on this late-summer day: jewelweed and hemlock tree; otter, hawk, and blue heron. I will give thanks for the divine Breath that breathes us out and breathes us in, and bids us to take a stand for life.

To change everything we need everyone

 

On a sunny, late summer morning, a brisk wind blew across the waters of Mount Hope Bay. It blew against the two broad towers of the Brayton Point power plant, which squat on the bay’s west side. It blew through the streets of Fall River, an old mill city on the east side of the bay. Like the creative, Spirit-filled wind that swept over the face of the deep at the beginning of time, like the breath that God blew into the nostrils of the first human beings to give them life, like the healing and liberating spirit that Jesus breathed into his startled, grateful friends – on a sunny, late summer morning in 2014, a wind blew across Mount Hope Bay and made its secret way into Fall River’s Bristol County Courthouse. It breezed past the security guards, swept up the stairs, and slipped soundlessly into a fifth-floor courtroom.

I didn’t notice that wind at first. After all, I was packed tightly into a seat at the back, squashed hip-to-hip, thigh-to-thigh with an overflow crowd of clergy and other people of faith. We had come to support Jay O’Hara and Ken Ward as they stood trial for using a small lobster boat to block the shipment of 40,000 tons of coal to the Brayton Point power plant, the largest coal plant in the state. There wasn’t any breeze to speak of in the courtroom, for the air was thick with suspense and uncertainty.

We stood when the judge entered the room; we listened as the district attorney and the defense attorney took turns speaking; we watched the backs of Jay and Ken, willing them strength, praying for their protection and freedom. And then the air began to move. An instruction from the judge was being repeated in whispers around the room: No clapping or cheering. No clapping or cheering.

“How about booing and hissing?” I murmured wryly in the ear of my friend Fred Small, who was sitting beside me. I hardly dared to hope.

But to our amazement, the district attorney was explaining that they had reached an agreement: the Commonwealth of Massachusetts was reducing the criminal charges against the two defendants to civil infractions, and the two men would simply pay restitution of $2,000 apiece to the City of Somerset. That was it.

“This ends the matter, as far as Bristol County is concerned.”

Outside the Fall River Justice Center
The defense attorney speaks after the trial, with (l. to r.) Jay O’Hara, Fred Small (partially blocked), Tim DeChristopher, Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, Jim Antal (partially blocked), Marla Marcum (partially blocked), and Ken Ward. Jay and Ken hold a photo of their lobster boat blocking the Energy Enterprise. c) Peter Bowden

As directed, we refrained from cheering or applause, but a lively wind blew through the room and drew us outside. We gathered as a crowd in front of the courthouse, exultant and marveling. Jay, who is a Quaker, explained to the TV cameras and radio crew that the climate crisis demands action, and that we must immediately stop burning coal. He described the moment as “bittersweet,” for he had wanted Bill McKibben and NASA’s James Hansen to mount their “necessity defense” and to put climate change on trial. A reporter asked: Are you satisfied that your action reached enough people? Sometimes, Jay quietly replied, there are actions we need to take, even if no one is looking. What will you do next? Another reporter asked. Sail down the Atlantic coast, he replied, to join the People’s Climate March in New York City.

Ken added a few fierce words of his own: the West Antarctic ice sheet is melting irreversibly. We need not just a handful of people blockading the delivery of coal, but everyone’s action, everyone’s help.

I felt the Spirit in their moral conviction and clarity: there comes a time when business as usual must give way to a more life-giving path. If business as usual is taking down life on this planet, then business as usual must be stopped. Business as usual must be challenged and transformed, even if doing so violates the law of the land. Protests and acts of non-violent civil disobedience may be essential to creating a path forward.

But the Spirit was not done with us yet. For here was District Attorney Sam Sutter, standing with us on the plaza, beginning to speak.  Climate change, he told the reporters and the crowd, was “one of the greatest crises our planet has ever faced. In my humble opinion, the political leadership on this issue has been sorely lacking.”

District Attorney Sam Sutter holds up Bill McKibben's article in Rolling Stone after dropping criminal charges for Ken Ward and Jay O'Hara, who used a little white lobster boat to blockade 40,000 tons of coal last spring.
District Attorney Sam Sutter holds up Bill McKibben’s article in Rolling Stone after dropping criminal charges for Ken Ward and Jay O’Hara, who used a little white lobster boat to blockade 40,000 tons of coal last spring.

The DA understood the position of the defendants.  To emphasize his point, he waved in the air a copy of Bill McKibben’s recent article in Rolling Stone, “A Call to Arms”.  He announced that he agreed with McKibben and that he was answering the call; he, too, was coming to the march in Manhattan on September 21.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who felt it: the wind was blowing. And everyone clapped and cheered.

The reporters were quick to pepper him with questions: Was the District Attorney inviting other people to blockade shipments of coal? Was he encouraging other acts of civil disobedience to protest climate change? No, the DA replied; every case had to be taken separately and addressed one by one. But in this case, he said, the decision was just. This is what Bristol County stood for.

I don’t know what historians or legal scholars will make of this moment, but on that sunny, late summer morning at Fall River Justice Center, it seemed to me that, when even the people who enforce the law recognize the justice of breaking the law, then surely it’s time to change our laws. If burning fossil fuels is laying waste to the land, causing flooding, drought, and severe storms, then we must challenge the law of the land. We can no longer allow fossil fuels to be relentlessly and ceaselessly extracted, mined, and burned, even if the law allows it. The DA of Bristol County took a brave step in making that clear. In his own way, he seemed to be following in the footsteps of Jay O’Hara and Ken Ward. I wonder how many other ordinary citizens will be inspired to join them, breaking laws that perpetuate injustice and lobbying for laws that create a sustainable, just, and low-carbon future.

When I left Fall River, I drove over the bridge that rises beside Mount Hope Bay. Glancing across that vast expanse of water, I could see that the wind was blowing.


 

NOTE: The Boston Globe wrote a front-page article about the decision, “DA drops charges in case of blocked coal shipment,” on September, 8, 2014.

 

The People’s Climate March is only a few weeks away, and conference calls to organize the event are coming thick and fast. In New York City at 11:30 a.m. on Sunday, September 21, tens of thousands of people – projected estimates run as high as 250,000 – will step out in the largest, most diverse climate march in history. I am told that over 850 businesses and labor unions, faith groups, schools and seminaries, and social justice, environmental and civic organizations have been working together to create this historic event. No single celebrity or entity is behind it – this will be a movement made of many movements, a collective call to action. As far as I can tell, it’s an unprecedented collaboration. I missed the 1963 March on Washington, but I don’t intend to miss this one.

The purpose of the People’s Climate March? To build momentum for a strong international climate treaty. To stand with front-line communities being hit hard by the impacts of climate change. To show world leaders gathered in New York City at a U.N. climate summit that we’re not willing to settle for more inaction.

In short, we hope to create a pivot toward justice and healing.

Speaking by phone with a range of religious leaders has generated a lot of creative thinking. People of different faiths will be marching together, and we’re looking for ways to keep our part of the march prayerful and focused. What shall we sing? How shall we express our deep conviction that Creation is sacred? How shall we particularly honor indigenous peoples whose religious traditions have always been connected with Earth? How shall we call upon Spirit as we walk together in all our diversity to protect life on this planet? What symbols might we carry?

Someone proposed making an Ark. We brainstormed possibilities. Maybe the Ark could be hauled on a flatbed truck that runs on biodiesel. Maybe it could be made of papier-mâché and pulled by volunteers. Maybe Sunday School children could walk alongside, wearing homemade masks of animals. But how would we frame the meaning of the Ark? What would we want it to represent? Rabbi Arthur Waskow, the indomitable prophet and the founder and director of The Shalom Center, offered to give an invocation and to develop something along these lines: “The Ark as an island of safety in a world of danger; the Ark as an act of creativity in a world that is stuck in old habits; the Ark as a community modeling Eco-system Earth.”

The Ark is an ancient symbol of hope: here is where human beings and the rest of the natural world learn to co-exist in harmony. Here is where we find refuge. Here is where bio-diversity is saved for generations to come. In times like these, when climate emissions are sky-rocketing and political will is flagging, when the draft of a major U.N. report warns of “severe, pervasive, and irreversible impacts” of climate change in the decades ahead, and when you can sit in stunned silence at your computer and watch a Greenland glacier melt before your eyes, it is good to tap into our inner Noah: to discover the self that is willing to rise up in response to God’s call to preserve life on Earth.

Channeling your inner Noah does not even require an Ark – sometimes a lobster boat will do. On May 15, 2013, Ken Ward and Jay O’Hara used a little white lobster boat to blockade the delivery of 40,000 tons of West Virginia coal to the Brayton Point Power Station, the largest coal plant in New England.  Their action fired up a summer of protests and actions at the Brayton Point plant, and the owners announced last fall that the plant will shut down in 2017.

Ken Ward (left) and Jay O’Hara on the boat they used to block the delivery of 40,000 tons of coal to a power plant in Somerset. Photo © Ben Thompson
Ken Ward (left) and Jay O’Hara on the boat they used to block the delivery of 40,000 tons of coal to a power plant in Somerset. Photo © Ben Thompson

Meanwhile, Ken and Jay are about to stand trial on September 8 and 9 on charges of disturbing the peace, conspiracy, and motorboat violations. If convicted, they face up to nine months in jail. At the Fall River courthouse they will use a groundbreaking legal approach: they will admit to all the charges, but they will bring to the stand expert witnesses such as Bill McKibben and NASA scientist Jim Hansen.  Ken and Jay will argue that their actions were necessary to defend their lives from the imminent threat of climate change.  The Boston Globe recently featured an article (fancifully entitled, “The Climate Made Me Do It!”) about this historic case, which would be the first time that a climate necessity defense is used in American court.

People of faith will gather at the Fall River courthouse to express their solidarity with these two brave men. Will you join me there on Monday, September 8? For more information and to RSVP, please visit Lobster Boat Blockade.

As for joining the Climate March in New York City on September 21, here comes a last call to buy seats on our bus reserved for Episcopalians in western Massachusetts. More than half the seats have already been sold, so please reserve your seat today.

The bus will leave Springfield, MA at 6:30 a.m. on Sunday, September 21, stop in New Haven to pick up seminary students at Berkeley Divinity School/Yale Divinity School, and arrive in New York in plenty of time for the march. Holy Communion will be celebrated on the bus, so get ready for your first Eucharist on wheels! The Presiding Bishop is recording a homily for the occasion that will be broadcast on the bus. After the march, everyone is invited to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine for a vibrant interfaith service at 6 p.m. The bus will arrive back in Springfield on Sunday night.

The bus trip is being subsidized by the bishops of Province 1 (the Episcopal dioceses of New England), so a round-trip ticket costs only $15, plus a service charge. The Rev. Stephanie M. Johnson, Environmental Missioner for Province 1, will be the celebrant aboard the bus, and I will greet everyone when you arrive in New York.

Please bring a church banner. Clergy, please wear a collar.

Register for the People’s Climate March here.

Reserve a seat on the Episcopal bus and review FAQ here.

(For more transportation options, see below.)

Request a free pass to the 6 p.m. service at St. John the Divine (which will be crowded) here.

Even if you can’t make it to the march, your congregation can support the march in other ways. I know of two Episcopal churches – Church of the Holy Trinity (NY, NY) and Grace Church (Amherst, MA) – whose vestries passed a strong resolution endorsing the March. And congregations everywhere can register to be a Climate March Faith Community. To register as a Climate March Faith Community, go to GreenFaith here, and commit to carrying out four or more of the eight suggested actions. Suggested actions are straightforward: for instance, a congregation can encourage members of the community to join the climate march.  It can offer a sermon about climate change, lift up prayers, or invite march participants to report back on their experience.

The most unusual suggested action is the last one: at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday, September 21, a congregation can “sound off” outdoors in support of climate action for 5 minutes and 50 seconds. Why 5 minutes 50 seconds? Because that’s 350 seconds. In the global atmosphere, the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide, the chief greenhouse gas that causes global warming, is 350 parts per million. Currently we are close to 400.

How do we “sound off”? Churches will ring bells; synagogues will publicly sound a shofar; mosques will offer a public call to prayer; sanghas will ring a meditation gong or bell; Hindu temples will chant a mantra – or your community can carry out an outdoor walking prayer/meditation or design its own outdoor observance. “Sounding off” events will take place at 1 p.m. in a great rolling wave of sound around the world – from Europe and Africa to the U.S. and Asia.

The best part of the story of Noah’s Ark comes at the end. God makes a decisive promise to all of creation, human and non-human alike: “I have set my bow in the clouds,” God says (Genesis 9:13). From now on the rainbow will mark “the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth” (Genesis 9:16). Looking ahead to the climate march, I hold on to that promise.  If there is going to be any kind of flood, let it be a flood of people filling the streets of New York. God has promised to stand with every living creature, and so will we.

In honor of Noah, and just in time for the Climate March, here’s a song to sing to the tune of “Jacob’s Ladder” — with lyrics by the Rev. Fred Small, Senior Minister of First Parish in Cambridge UU, and Co-Chair of Religious Witness for the Earth:

We are saving Noah’s cargo…. (sing 3x, closing with the refrain: Children of the Earth.)

Every creature has its purpose…

Wolves and whales and owls and otters…

Send a dove to find safe harbor…

In the rainbow, see God’s promise….

See you in New York!


 

If you are looking for other ways to get to NYC on Sept. 21 (train, light rail, carpool), stay tuned here, the Pioneer-Valley-focused site for getting to the March.

Also, 350MA.org has organized both September 20 and September 21 buses from cities across Massachusetts, including Amherst and Worcester. To order tickets, visit here.  Sales end Sept. 10.

If you are traveling from Cape Cod, you can find bus seats here.

Sermon for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 13A), August 3, 2014. Delivered by the Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Williamstown, MA Genesis 32:22-31 Psalm 17:1-7, 16 Romans 9:1-5 Matthew 14:13-21

Feasting on hope

It is a pleasure to be with you on this green, summer morning, and I’d like to thank your rector Peter Elvin for inviting me. I serve the diocese as your Missioner for Creation Care, and today’s Gospel passage provides a wonderful story for us to consider as we reflect on our call to protect the Earth.

Most of us have heard the story before – in fact, many times before – and evidently it was a significant story for the early Church: it’s told more often than any other story in the Gospels. A story of Jesus feeding a crowd of thousands shows up in every one of the four Gospels, and the Gospels of Mark and Matthew even tell the story twice (Mark 6:30-44, Mark 8:1-9; Matthew 14:13-21, Matthew 15:32-39; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-13)! That’s how important this story was to the first Christian communities. The stories vary in their details, but the basic plot-line is the same: a crowd gathers around Jesus in a deserted place. Jesus teaches them and heals them. Hours pass, evening approaches, and by now everyone is very hungry, but there are only a few scraps of food to be found and no grocery store in sight. The disciples are baffled – maybe even desperate. What can they do? All they have rustled up are five loaves and two fish. Yet when these small offerings are placed in Jesus’ hands, he takes them, blesses and shares them, and behold – everyone eats and is satisfied, with baskets of leftovers to spare. This is a story of hopelessness shifting to hope, of scarcity transformed into abundance, of empty places filled to overflowing. Generations of Christians facing hard times – times of poverty or war, of personal loss or societal breakdown – Christians in times like these have clung to this story, for it assured them, as it assures us still, that even if we feel depleted, tired, or afraid, even if our stomachs are growling or our hearts are yearning, even if we’re sitting in a great crowd of people and feeling anxious, helpless, and alone, there is Someone – capital S, a holy Someone – within us and beside us who will meet us where we are and in whose presence we will be filled with hope and new life, even in the midst of suffering and grief. Now is a very good time to find our selves in this story, for the crisis of climate change is leading many of us to feel as if we’re sitting among those hungry, late-afternoon crowds in the Gospel story, out in the middle of nowhere with night coming on; and the hour is late. Just to say the words “climate change” and most of us tighten up; we duck and draw back; we feel a weight on our chest. The reports from scientists are increasingly urgent and grim, and it’s no wonder, when we allow ourselves to pay attention, that we react with a mix of disbelief, sorrow, and fear. Strictly speaking, most of us are probably not climate skeptics: we believe what the scientists are saying. It’s just that the situation is too much to take in – we can’t deal with it, we don’t know how to respond to it or what we can possibly do about it. How do you respond when you hear from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations group, that climate change is already having far-reaching effects on the world’s continents and oceans? In only two centuries, human beings have pumped so much heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the air that atmospheric levels of CO2 are higher today than they’ve been for millions of years. Recently I heard a climate scientist remark, “We are breathing from an atmosphere that none of our ancestors would recognize.” Burning fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, and gas, at present rates could raise worldwide average temperatures between 5 and 11 degrees Fahrenheit in this century, which would make the world extremely difficult to inhabit. Already our planet is changing before our eyes: oceans are heating up and becoming more acidic as they absorb some of the carbon dioxide released by cars and power plants; tundra is thawing, ice caps are melting, sea levels are rising, coral reefs are dying, massive droughts are spreading in some places and heavy rains are intensifying in others. You know about that – you’ve been through Hurricane Irene. This 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.” As the environmentalist Bill McKibben has written, “Our old familiar globe is suddenly melting, drying, acidifying, flooding, and burning in ways that no human has ever seen.”1 Given the many pressures on the planet’s web of life, we are now in the midst of Earth’s sixth major extinction event. Maybe half the world’s species could vanish before the century is out. When we hear things like this, most of us freeze. We shut down. We stop listening. We go into shock, into denial, or into despair. We get paralyzed. Either we tell ourselves that it can’t be that bad, surely this is not going to affect me or my children, surely climate scientists are exaggerating and this is just some awful mistake. Or we slide into hopelessness: it’s too late, we tell ourselves; we’re not experts; we don’t have the skills or knowledge or leverage to turn this around; we can’t make a difference; we’re goners; we’re cooked. Either way, like the crowds in the Gospel story, we sit on the grassy hillside as the hours tick by, unable to move, feeling increasingly anxious and empty. And unlike the crowds in the story, we don’t have any nearby villages to which we can go look for food. We’re out here by ourselves, facing an unprecedented historical situation, in which the whole human enterprise on this planet is at stake. Where will we find the inner food, the inner nourishment to meet this crisis with courage and hope? Today’s Gospel story suggests three ways that Jesus’ presence nourishes and empowers the crowds. First, he loves them. He has, as the Gospel says, “compassion” (Matthew 14:14) for them. Jesus knew in his very bones that he was deeply loved by God. He knew that he was cherished to the core, and he came among us to us to show us what we, too, are cherished. We, too, are the children of God. We, too, are beloved. Whenever we know ourselves as precious – whenever we take in the divine love that is streaming through us in every moment, in the gift of this breath and this heartbeat – whenever a person we care about turns and looks at us with eyes of love – whenever we gather together as a community and tell the sacred stories and share the sacred meal that remind us that God is with us – we touch the divine love that will never let us go. Hope comes back to us when we know that we are loved, for whether or not our efforts are successful, we know they are worthwhile – because we are worthwhile, and because God’s Creation is worthwhile. Jesus’ first gift to the crowds is the gift of love. His second gift is empathy. He shares in our suffering, in our brokenness and fear. At the end of the day in our Gospel story, Jesus was just as hungry as the crowds were – just as tired, just as thirsty. Jesus was fully human and he shared fully in the human condition. When it was hot, he sweated. When he was hungry, he needed to eat. Not only that – in this version of the story, Jesus was also feeling an immediate and very personal sorrow. Right before Jesus fed the five thousand, Matthew’s Gospel tells us that Jesus heard the news that his dear friend John the Baptist had been brutally executed. Out of that well of shock and grief, Jesus withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself, presumably to grieve and pray. Only then could he come out of prayer to share the Good News. The God we meet in Jesus is a God who shares our grief. I know that many of us can’t even begin to feel the cascade of losses that has already been initiated by climate change. We may be afraid that sorrow will overwhelm us, and that we will drown in the grief. But unfelt emotions can keep us immobilized, so it is good to know that Jesus is with us in our grief, that Jesus shares it and understands it and can give us a heart to hold it without being overcome by pain. It is good to feel our sorrow about climate change, because tears can water the soul. It is good to feel our anger and protest, because anger can be an energy for life. It is good to invite Jesus into our hopelessness, because in that place of emptiness, impasse, and waiting, God’s hope, not ours, can be born. So Jesus offers us, just as he offered the crowds, the gift of his love and the gift of his empathy. He offers a third gift, too: the capacity to act, the power to make a difference. What we have to contribute may seem very small. I mean, come on – all I’ve got here are five loaves and two fish! I’m not a climate scientist or a politician! I’m just an ordinary citizen with a pile of other responsibilities on my plate! What can one person possibly do? But of course there is plenty that we can do. We can recycle more, drive less, and be sparing in our use of water. Maybe we can eat local, organic foods and support our local farms and land trusts. We can install insulation and cut back on AC. As individuals we can and should do everything we can to reduce our use of fossil fuels, but the scope and speed of the climate crisis require action on a much broader scale, too. We need to join with other people and make it politically possible to do what is scientifically necessary. We need to push our political leaders to get this country and other countries on track to bring down the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million, the uppermost level that many scientists say is safe for life as we know it to continue on this planet. What is the level today? 400 parts per million, and climbing. So we have work to do. Hope arises when we move into action. I like to say that hope is love in action. So if you don’t already have a “green team” or a Creation Care committee (whatever you want to call it) here at St. John’s, I hope you’ll form one and will start to explore what you can accomplish together. I hope that those of you interested in building a network of people in the diocese committed to Creation care will give me your names, so that we can work together and support each other. I hope you’ll read the blog posts on my new Website, Reviving Creation. And I hope that some of you will join me on Sunday, September 21st, when the largest rally in the history of the climate movement will be held in New York City, the People’s Climate March. As Bill McKibben puts it, “If you’re wondering how to react to the devastating news that the Antarctic is melting out of control: New York. If you’re scared like I am by the pictures of the fire and drought across the West: New York. If you’re feeling like it’s time to change the trajectory of this planet: we’ll see you in New York.” The melting ice in West Antarctica may be unstoppable, but so is the love that made us, that sustains us, and that calls us to stand up for life. Jesus is among us now, just as he was among those hungry crowds, offering us here at this table the nourishing gift of his presence and power. There is so much left to save, so much good that we can do, so many ways that we can help to build a better world. I’ll close with the words of Helen Keller: “I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something I can do.” What is Jesus inviting you to do?
  1. Bill McKibben, Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, New York: Henry Holt and Company, Times Book, 2010, p. xiii.