On September 19, the day before the Global Climate Strike, I returned home from an intensive mission trip along the coast of California, where I preached, led retreats and workshops, and spoke in multiple cities about the climate crisis. It was the first time I’d met people who had so recently and directly experienced the disastrous effects of climate change, from massive heat waves, droughts and wildfires to torrential rainfall and mudslides. I didn’t need to say very much about the urgency of the situation – I could tell from the alarming stories they shared and the concern in their faces that they already understood: we need as a species to change course fast. From Santa Barbara to Cupertino I urged everyone I met to join the weeklong Global Climate Strike.
Back in western Massachusetts on September 20, I spoke at two Climate Strike events in my corner of the world, Springfield and Northampton. Below are the notes for my remarks.
Springfield Climate Vigil: Standing for life
Under a hot sun, sixty or seventy people gathered at Court Square, Springfield, MA, for a climate solidarity vigil filled with music, speaking, and prayer. Organized by Verne McArthur, the vigil featured speakers including Buddhist teacher Jin Haeng Kyle Wiswall, Springfield City Councilor-at-Large Jesse Lederman, Deacon Bill Toller (who read a statement by U.S. Roman Catholic bishops on the need for climate action), Rev. Jason Seymour (Unitarian Universalist Society of Greater Springfield), Sister Melinda Pellerin-Duck (Sisters of St. Joseph of Springfield), and me. Rev. Marisa Brown Ludwig joined Verne in leading the singing. Here is what I said:
I am grateful to be standing with you! In my tradition there is a story of God’s people standing at a crossroads. They have a choice to make, and Moses says to them: “Today I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.”
We, too, stand at a crossroads. We are living at a pivotal moment in human history, where the choices we make going forward will make all the difference to the wellbeing of our children and our children’s children, and to the life – or death – of billions of people and non-human species around the world.
We know we have a choice. Today, at this crossroads, we stand for life.
You know that we face a long struggle ahead. The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has told us that we need to transform our society at a rate and scale that are historically unprecedented. This task will demand all our reserves of strength and courage. We need spiritual resilience. So it’s good to know where we are rooted and where we find strength.
Where does our strength come from? We begin by knowing where we stand.
We stand on Mother Earth. I invite you to feel your feet on the ground and to feel the good Earth holding you up. We can imagine our roots going down deep into the Earth, and from deep within Mother Earth we are drawing up strength.
We also stand with trees and all green-growing things.
We stand with other creatures – our brother-sister beings;
with children and young people who long to inherit a habitable planet; and
with the marginalized and poor, the people most vulnerable to climate change.
We stand with everyone who is suffering right now from floods, droughts, and storms,
and with the millions of people worldwide who are rising up to say that they won’t settle
for a death-dealing way of life.
We stand for a better future.
We stand for the possibility that love, not hate, will have the last word.
We stand for the possibility that our species will learn wisdom and compassion, generosity and self-control, so that we become at last what we were made to be: a blessing on the Earth.
And we stand in something, too. What do we stand in?
We stand in love.
We stand in the divine love that is always being poured into our hearts,
in the love that will never let us go and that will be with us till our journey’s end.
We stand in the love that nothing, not even death, can destroy.
We stand in the love whose power, working through us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.
You and I – we stand for life. Thank you!
Climate Emergency March for a Just Future, Northampton: A blessing
Late in the afternoon, many hundreds of people marched from Sheldon Field to downtown Northampton for a rally at City Hall. Organized by Marty Nathan (Climate Action NOW of Western Massachusetts), the rally featured music (led by Peter Blood and Paul Kaplan, and by Expandable Brass Band) and a range of speakers, including State Senator Jo Comerford, City Council President Ryan O’Donnell, Barb Madeloni (Labor Notes and past President, Massachusetts Teachers Association), Victor Davila (Neighbor to Neighbor Springfield), Maeve McCurdy (Divest Smith), State. Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, Patrick Burke (SEIU and Hampshire Labor Council), Andrea Schmid (Pioneer Valley Workers Center), and Kate Parrott (teacher at JFK Middle School).
Rabbi David Seidenberg (Prayerground Minyan) and I offered closing blessings. After each of us had prayed, the Rabbi blew his shofar to complete the rally. My blessing, more or less as delivered, is below.
Friends, we have good work to do and we face great challenges ahead. We need to root ourselves in our deep sources of wisdom, strength, and courage. This is a good time to turn to a power greater than ourselves, one that we know by many names: Great Spirit, loving Mystery, Creator and Sustainer of life. Dante called it “the love that moves the sun and the other stars.” Trusting in that sacred power, we can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.
I’d like to offer a blessing that I adapted from a Franciscan prayer1 that may be familiar to some of you. I invite you to join me in a spirit of prayer.
May God bless us with discomfort
At easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships,
So that we may live deep within our heart.
May God bless us with anger
At injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people and the Earth,
So that we may work for justice, freedom, and peace, and pass along to the next generation a habitable world.
May God bless us with tears
To shed for people and all our brother-sister beings who suffer from the effects of climate change,
So that we may reach out our hands to comfort them
And turn their pain into joy, and our grief into action.
And may God bless us with enough foolishness
To believe that we can make a difference in the world,
So that we can do what others claim cannot be done
To bring justice and kindness to children, to the poor, and to the whole of God’s Creation.
1. The source of this prayer is unclear. One Website attributes it to Craig Groeschel: https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/280711-may-god-bless-you-with-discomfort-at-easy-answers-half
The original version reads:
May God bless you with discomfort
At easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships,
So that you may live deep within your heart.
May God bless you with anger
At injustice, oppression and exploitation of people,
So that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.
May God bless you with tears
To shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger, and war,
So that you may reach out your hand to comfort them
And turn their pain into joy.
And may God bless you with enough foolishness
To believe that you can make a difference in the world,
So that you can do what others claim cannot be done
To bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor.
Text of a keynote address for “An Interfaith Climate Justice Meeting” organized by Springfield Area Interfaith Climate Action Network (SAICAN), held at First Church of Christ, Longmeadow, MA, on October 30, 2016
Thank you for inviting me to speak. I am excited by what you’re up to as a coalition, and very interested to see what emerges from today’s meeting.
I have worked with some of you. Some of you I haven’t yet met. But I greet all of you as friends. I am an Episcopal priest and a long-time climate activist, and I now have the world’s longest job title. I work as “Missioner for Creation Care for the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts and for the Massachusetts Conference, United Church of Christ.”
I am not a “missionary,” a term that can evoke imperialist, colonial-era associations of forcibly converting someone to a religion, but rather a “missioner”: someone who is sent out on a mission, serving a purpose greater than herself, out of the box, outside the boundaries of a building. And I’m a missioner for “Creation care,” a term, it turns out, that some people confuse with “creationism,” the belief that the universe originated from acts of God that are literally described in the Bible. Being a missioner for “Creation care” (not creationism) means that I’m trying to protect the beautiful world that God created. My Website is RevivingCreation.org, where you can find blog posts, sermons, articles, and more – including an article on how to start a green team, and an article on the roles that communities of faith can play in a time of climate crisis.
My job is like a swinging door: on the one hand, I preach, speak and lead retreats for people of faith, saying that we need to place the climate crisis at the center of our moral and spiritual concern and we need to take action. Then I turn, and I speak to activists who may have no particular faith tradition. I thank them for engaging in the struggle to protect the web of life, which is such urgent and difficult work. I tell them that the only way to keep going, without burning out or going off the rails, is to draw from inner resources of spiritual wisdom, from spiritual practices, and ideally from the support of a spiritual community.
Today the swinging door is an open door: people of faith and climate justice activists are here together in one place! How sweet it is! I hope we can break down (or at least soften) the false split of people into two camps: “spiritual” people (people who pray, meditate, and take time to contemplate beauty of the world; people who give thanks and who attend to their inner lives) and “active” people (people on the front lines who are serving, helping, organizing, advocating). I hope we can keep working to heal that false split, because right now we need people who can do both: people who can tap into their deep inner wisdom and who can also step out to take bold, creative action on behalf of life on this planet.
Christians often say that we need to be good “stewards” of the planet. That’s true. But sometimes the word “steward” can sound rather wimpy, as if it’s enough for us to recycle a can once in a while, or to turn off a light. I think we need a term that is more robust, more full of juice. Maybe we need to be “spiritual warriors” engaged in “sacred activism.”
More than ever we need wise people, bold people, dedicated people, because we’re in the midst of an emergency. The house is on fire. Through burning fossil fuels like coal, gas, and oil, in 200 years – just a blink in geologic time – we’ve pumped so much heat-trapping CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the air that atmospheric levels of CO2 are higher than they’ve been for millions of years. In a TED talk a few years ago, climate scientist James Hanson explained that the added energy (or heat) that we’re pouring into the atmosphere is equivalent “to exploding 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs per day, 365 days per year. That’s how much extra energy Earth is gaining each day.” Not surprisingly, this is having a profound effect on planet. In his book Eaarth, Bill McKibben writes: “Our old familiar globe is suddenly melting, drying, acidifying, flooding, and burning in ways that no human has ever seen.” Scientists tell us with increasing alarm that unless we change course fast, we’re on a fast track to catastrophic, runaway climate change that would render the world very difficult to inhabit, perhaps in the lifetime of our children.
I’ve been a climate activist for many years, but I have never felt the rising tide of commitment and momentum that I now feel. I’m deeply thankful for that, even as I am keenly aware that we have a long struggle ahead. Every religion has issued some kind of statement about the moral and spiritual urgency of addressing the climate crisis – here is just one collection, Faith-based Statements on Climate Change, collected by Citizens Climate Lobby volunteers.
Climate change is obviously a scientific issue, an economic issue, a political issue, but it is also a moral issue, a justice issue. The poorest nations and the poorest citizens in each nation are those most vulnerable to climate change, because of flooding, food shortages, and the loss of clean water. As we see in Flint, Michigan, and right here in Springfield, the front-line communities most affected by fossil fuel pollution are often low-income communities and communities of color. The poor are often the people least responsible for causing climate change, and the people least equipped to protect themselves from its effects. As the Pope’s encyclical makes crystal clear, healing the climate is closely connected with securing social justice, racial justice, environmental justice, and economic justice. We can see that very starkly in the struggle going on right now at Standing Rock in North Dakota, in the resistance to the Dakota Access pipeline. And climate change is about intergenerational justice, too, for right now we are stealing a habitable Earth from our children.
So climate change is a justice issue. And it’s a spiritual issue, too. I titled these remarks “Climate change: An emergency of the heart,” because in the face of the climate crisis, it’s so easy to get emotionally overwhelmed, to go into panic mode and be flooded by anxiety, or to shut down entirely, go numb and not feel a thing, because we don’t know what to do with our fear and anger and grief.
Each of you probably has your own favorite “go to” strategy for avoiding your feelings. Here are a few popular methods. Some of us get into our heads and give all our attention to mastering the facts – we intend to stay on top of every last fact about the rate of melting ice, every last bit of awful climate news, every single detail about the terms of a Senate bill. Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for mastering essential facts and for educating ourselves and staying informed. But sometimes we can get so busy using our wonderful brains to analyze, memorize, conceptualize, and so on, that we lose touch with our inner landscape. Then we wonder why we’re so short-tempered or why we woke up with insomnia or why we got into a car accident. It’s only when we’re connected with our feelings that we have access to our emotional intelligence, to our intuition and moral imagination. When we get into our heads and lose contact with our greater intelligence, we forget who we are and we act, as Joanna Macy puts it, like “brains on a stick.”
Another strategy to avoid our feelings is to get really busy. If I stay super busy, if I have an endless list of things to do, if I try to cram in more tasks in a day than any human beings could possibly accomplish, then I won’t have to feel the clench in my belly or the ache in my heart.
Addictive behaviors are another “go-to” strategy. Don’t like what I’m feeling? Maybe it’s time to do some shopping, eat another cookie, have a smoke, have a drink – there are lots of ways to go numb and repress what’s going on inside.
Yes, we are in a climate emergency. We’re also in an emergency of the heart. We need to learn to be “first responders” to ourselves and to each other. We need to be gentle with ourselves and with each other. We can’t think our way out of anxiety. So I will share three remedies, three spiritual practices for responding to the cry of the heart.
I invite us to pray. I invite us to explore practices that quiet our minds, bring us into the present moment, and help us listen to our deepest wisdom. This could include practices of mindfulness, practices of gratefulness, practices of meditation and contemplative prayer. Practices like these help us to open to the deep inner wisdom that is always speaking in our hearts. Practices of prayer and meditation help us to listen to the inner voice of love.
Here’s a quote from Thomas Merton, the 20th century Trappist monk and prolific writer who practiced contemplative prayer: “If we descend into the depth of our own spirit and arrive at our own center, we confront the inescapable fact that at the root of our existence we are in immediate and constant contact with God.”
That’s a very different image of God than the one we may be used to. God is not “out there,” far away in the heavens. God is “in here,” closer than our next breath.
I invite us to allow ourselves to grieve. We have lost so much, and there is more loss ahead. I invite us to let ourselves feel the pain so that we are able to move forward and to be fully alive. Until we allow ourselves to grieve, parts of ourselves will stay numb, even dead.
A couple of weeks ago I attended a climate summit in Washington, DC, and I happened to be seated beside the Executive Director of the US Climate Action Network. Our task at each table was to do a go-round and to name the top three things that need to be done in order to tackle climate change. The first suggestion from this activist was: Grieve.
Let me add that there are two ways to grieve: one is to grieve alone, in a state of despair – the kind of grief that does not bring healing. The other way to grieve is to grieve within the embrace of love. If we believe in God, we do this when we pray our grief: we grieve in the presence of a loving God who embraces and shares in everything we feel. But whatever our religious beliefs, we can grieve with each other and we can hold each other with love.
Finally, I invite us to discover who we really are. I brought in this icon of St. Francis, who is often called the patron saint of ecology. You can see that Francis didn’t think that that he was alone and that his identity stopped with his skin. He is interpenetrated by other creatures – by wolf, bird, turtle, and snake – and even by elements like wind and fire. He spoke of Brother Sun and Sister Moon.
Francis’ daily prayer was “Who are you, God, and who am I?” Pray that prayer for a while and see what happens! Our identity does not stop with our skin!
When we experience ourselves like that, as interpenetrated with all of life, then we know that when we take action to save life on earth, we do so in the company of the trees, of the earth and sky. When we stand up for life – when we get arrested in a protest against fossil fuels, when we divest, when we take whatever actions we’re called to take – the trees are thanking us. The animals are thanking us. We are not alone. The whole creation is offering its support.
Thank you for the work you’re doing to re-weave the web of life. I may have the title, “Missioner for Creation Care,” but I only hold that title on your behalf. Each of you – everyone in this room, every single one of you – you too are missioners for Creation care.
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7)
It is a joy to be with you this morning. Thank you, Tom, for inviting me to preach. As you may know, I serve as Missioner for Creation Care for this diocese and also for the United Church of Christ in Massachusetts, which means that I go from church to church, preaching the Gospel and speaking about our call as Christians to love and protect the Earth that God entrusted to our care. This is a great day to be visiting the Cathedral, the center of worship in our diocese, for we are right in the center of Creation Season, which began several weeks ago with the Feast Day of St. Francis on October 4 and will extend for several more weeks, until the first Sunday in Advent.
As I pondered the readings for this morning, that line from Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy leaped off the page: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). What’s the context? Paul is apparently in prison, probably in Rome, and he is facing imminent death. As he says in the reading’s first line, “I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come” (2 Timothy 4:6). Paul is preparing to die and he is doing what most of us tend to do when we face our death: he’s looking back over his life, carrying out a life review; he’s glancing into the future, to the life beyond death; and he’s trying to convey what really matters to him.
Maybe it’s because I celebrate a birthday tomorrow – and not just any birthday, but a milestone birthday – that I find myself drawn to this passage. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, when we’re on our deathbed, to be able to look back on our lives and to say: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith!” I imagine the satisfaction that someone who is able to say that must feel. Through his teaching and ministry, through his presence and words, through his death and resurrection, Jesus showed us that love sent us into the world, that love is what we’re made for, that love is what roots and grounds our lives and gives them meaning and purpose. So when we reach the end of our lives and look back, wouldn’t it be wonderful to know that, as best we could, we made that love real in the world around us – that we lived our life in a way that made people as sure of love as they are of sunlight. Now that is a fight worth fighting; that is a race worth finishing; that is a faith worth keeping!
Maybe, at the end of our lives, we will hope what Paul hopes – that God has reserved for us “the crown of righteousness” (2 Timothy 4:8) – but today’s Gospel makes it clear that it won’t be a crown of self-righteousness. Two men stand before God in prayer, and it’s not the good man, the man who has done all the right things, who goes home justified with God, in right relationship with God, but the other man, the sinful man who honestly confesses his guilt and beats his breast in repentance, praying “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13) It seems that God sees deeply into the heart. What matters to God is not just outward behavior – that we do good things – but also what goes on inside us: that we don’t exalt ourselves and don’t regard other people with contempt.
I find this is a particularly poignant parable in light of this year’s combative and divisive election season, which, across our country and in our own living rooms. is arousing so much anger, fear, and even hatred. Wherever we are on the political spectrum, it’s easy to get caught up in the general mood of self-righteousness, mockery, and contempt. So, as I consider today’s Gospel passage, I imagine the vast tenderness of God, the God who says it’s OK, right here in this sanctuary, to quit all our defensive posing and posturing, to drop all our efforts to promote ourselves, to put ourselves forward and to make ourselves look good at someone else’s expense. I imagine the gentleness of God, who wants nothing more than to come to us, as God came to that wretched tax collector, and to touch that place within us where deep down we know that we can do nothing without God and that in fact we are nothing without God.
It’s when we put down our weapons and come before God with an undefended heart that we finally discover how loved we are. Whenever that happens – when we let God’s love reach us in that place where we feel most vulnerable and afraid – a great answering love rises up in us, a love for ourselves and for our neighbors and for the beautiful, fragile Earth upon which all life depends.
Jesus knew a love like that, a love that encompasses the whole Creation. Jesus obviously lived close to the Earth: his ministry began by immersion in a river and he prayed and lived and walked countless miles outdoors. In his parables and stories, Jesus talked about God in terms of natural things: seeds and sparrows, lilies and sheep, rivers, wind, and rocks. Jesus was deeply aware of the sacredness of the natural world and it’s no wonder that in our sacraments we, too, make contact with simple earthy things, with bread and wine and water. We trust that God is in these things – that when we take in the consecrated bread and wine of the Eucharist, we take in God’s presence.
Like most Christians, I didn’t grow up hearing very much about how God’s love extended to the natural world. But because of the ecological crisis in which we now find ourselves, as Christians we need as never before to renew and reclaim our care for God’s Creation. The web of life is unraveling before our eyes. 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 today than they have been for millions of years. Scientists warn with increasing alarm that our atmosphere is warming more rapidly than expected and that climate disruption is already evident worldwide. 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. We’re on the edge or in the midst of what some experts call the sixth major extinction event on this planet. 2015 was the hottest year on record, shattering the record set just the year before, and 2016 is right on track to set a new record for heat.
The world community is beginning to grasp that the situation is urgent. Last December nearly 200 countries pledged in the Paris Agreement to reduce their carbon emissions, agreeing that the Earth must be prevented from warming more than an average of 2˚ Centigrade (or 3.6˚ Fahrenheit) above pre-Industrial levels – and ideally much less than that. That agreement is a start, but the pledges are voluntary, and even if they were carried out, they would be insufficient to avert catastrophe. So, as I’ve said before in other contexts, if we’re serious about wanting to preserve life as it has evolved on this planet, then we’re going to have to work for it – to organize, lobby, vote, pray, invent, create, protest, and push – to do this together and do it fast.
If, at the end of our lives, we hope to say with St. Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith,” then we need to place care for the Earth at the center of our spiritual and moral concern.
For there is a good fight to be fought: we are fighting for a habitable planet and for a safe and healthy world for our children and our children’s children. We are fighting to keep fossil fuels in the ground and to transform our economy so that we are free at last from dirty fuels and are set on a path to a better future.
There is a race to be won: we are racing against time, racing to make a swift transition to clean renewable sources of energy, like sun and wind, in time to avert climate chaos.
And there is a faith to keep: faith in ourselves and in each other; faith in the God who entrusted the Earth to our care; faith in Jesus who walked and loved this Earth and who reconciled all things in heaven and on earth through the blood of his cross (Colossians 1:20; and faith in the Holy Spirit who guides and sustains our efforts and who makes all things new.
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 outside to dry, eat less meat, eat local foods, recycle, and so on.
But the scope and pace of the climate crisis require change on a much broader scale. Thanks be to God, coalitions are growing among people who care about the Earth, about poverty and economic justice, about racial justice, about immigration, about human rights – for all these issues intersect. I’m excited by the work of local groups right here in Springfield, such as the Springfield Climate Justice Coalition and the Springfield Area Interfaith Climate Action Network. I’d be glad to talk with you after the service about efforts like these. Maybe some of you would like to join me next Sunday at 2 o’clock when I give a keynote address at an interfaith climate forum at First Church of Christ in Longmeadow that will draw together people from all over Springfield. Maybe some of you will join me a couple of weeks later, on Sunday afternoon, November 13, for a special outdoor worship service to celebrate God’s Creation and our Christian call to protect it. Our own Bishop Doug Fisher will lead the service, along with all the other heads of Protestant denominations in Massachusetts – Episcopal, UCC, and Lutheran. We’re calling the service “We Are the Earth: Public Prayer for the Planet,” and Tom and I just posted a flier in the hall.
Whatever you feel drawn to do for the Earth, as individuals and as a community of faith, I hope that we will keep encouraging each other to follow Jesus in his mission of justice, mercy, and hope. And I hope that at the end of our lives, each of us will be moved to say, “With God’s help I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
Some people named the week beginning September 21, 2015, the Week of Moral Action for Climate Justice. Others called it Pope Week. I want to call it Watershed Week: the week when Americans streamed to Washington, D.C., New York City, and Philadelphia, like rivers pouring through a watershed, eager to hear Pope Francis speak about our call to love each other and all Creation. The week was a watershed in another sense, too: a turning point where everything changed.
I spent most of that week in D.C., swimming through crowds and participating in prayer vigils, concerts, strategy sessions, and rallies. On Monday I gave the opening prayer at the National Prayer Breakfast on Creation Care, an annual event organized by the National Religious Coalition on Creation Care (NRCCC). NRCCC is composed of members of all the major religious groups in America, including Catholics and Protestants, Jews and Muslims, Evangelicals and Orthodox Christians. Joined in prayer, and united with people of every religious tradition, we advocate for a right relationship to God’s creation.
The Open Letter to President Obama focuses on actions he can take without approval of Congress, such as becoming an advocate for a carbon tax, modifying the Trans-Pacific Partnership, rejecting the Keystone XL Pipeline, and rejecting new coal leases on public lands. The letter urges the President to adopt the language of “emergency” whenever he speaks about climate change, and “to mobilize the nation with the same focus and determination with which we mobilized during World War II, so that we reach 100 percent renewable energy in two or three decades.”
We were gratified to hear from the Council on Environmental Quality that the letter was shared widely with the White House climate team. Maybe it will make some waves.
On Tuesday a group of NRCCC members headed to the State Department to meet with Karen Florini, Deputy Special Envoy on Climate Change, and Amy Willis, in the Secretary’s Office for Religion and Global Affairs. With only two months to go until the crucial international climate talks in Paris, we wanted to express in the strongest possible terms our desire for bold leadership by the United States. Ms. Florini welcomed our faith-rooted advocacy – she herself is a person of faith – and we talked about how to push for effective climate action both at home and abroad in the midst of an obstructionist Congress. As she put it, “We are under active political assault.” (Learn more about the visit here.)
From the State Department we headed to the Senate Building to meet with the legal counsel of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. We gave him an earful about the moral mandate to tackle the climate crisis, citing science and Scripture, ethics and economics. In turn, we listened to his concerns about unemployment in Kentucky and the future of coal. A member of our group pointed out, “Coal is over.” So the question becomes: can Republicans and Democrats work together to make a swift and just transition to a new economy based on clean energy? That is something to work and pray for.
Wednesday began with an interfaith coalition of climate leaders meeting over breakfast with the staff of ecoAmerica. EcoAmerica has been instrumental in developing best practices for climate communication, and its Blessed Tomorrow campaign is mobilizing faith communities to engage in the struggle to stabilize the climate. The offices of ecoAmerica happen to be directly across the street from St. Matthew’s Cathedral, where Pope Francis spoke for one hour to Roman Catholic bishops and cardinals. We relished having the chance to see the Pope as he entered and left the sanctuary.
On Wednesday night I joined a large group on the steps of John Marshall Park near the National Mall to mark the end of Yom Kippur. At the start of Yom Kippur the night before, Rabbi Mordechai Liebling had delivered a powerful sermon that called for atonement – At-One-Ment – with the Earth and each other, a watershed moment that can only take place when we “feel in our hearts and know in our guts that what happens to the oceans, to the forests, to other species, to other people is also happening to us.”
A multi-faith prayer vigil completed the marking of Yom Kippur, and I gave the opening prayer, lifting up Jesus’ cry from the cross as the cry of the Earth-community.
“Why have you forsaken me?” We hear that cry
in the din of collapsing glaciers as they tumble into the sea,
in the crash of forests as they are felled,
and in the blast of mountaintops as they are blown open for extraction of
“Why have you forsaken me?” We hear that cry
in the murmur of refugees searching for water in lands scorched dry,
in the diminishing bleats and roars and chirps worldwide as species go extinct,
one by one,
and in the silence of dying coral reefs as they bleach in acid seas.
At the foot of the cross, we hear the cry of all humanity, and especially the poor, as the climate crisis unfolds around us.
We hear the groaning of all Creation: “Why have you forsaken me?”
The prayer ended with an appeal for divine mercy, asking God to empower us not to forsake each other, but instead to stand with the vulnerable, the poor, and the living world around us. Receiving God’s forgiveness and accepting our interconnection with all Creation can be a watershed moment. The dusk drew shadows around us; above us, the stars began to shine. (The complete prayer is here. )
On Thursday morning, I joined thousands of people at a reserved area on the lawn in front of the Capitol Building, to listen and watch on large screens as Pope Francis addressed a joint session of Congress. Eventually I moved further back on the National Mall to participate in the Moral Action on Climate Justice Rally, which featured lively music, speakers, and a diverse throng of activists. On either side of the stage stretched two long banners in English and in Spanish, quoting from the papal encyclical: Hear the cry of the Earth. Hear the cry of the poor.
A hush settled over the crowd as the Pope began to speak. In a world where so many leaders speak rapidly and evasively, bending the truth to suit their needs and using their words to dominate opponents, defend a narrow, partisan agenda, and push for power, it was rare and sweet to hear a leader speak slowly, truthfully, and from the heart, excluding no one and welcoming everyone. Here was a person whose humility evoked our own basic goodness as human beings, reminding us that in fact we are connected to each other, we do care about the Earth and each other, we do have the capacity to be good, we do have the power to work together and to do the right thing. Was I the only listener moved to tears? I doubt it.
After the Pope left Capitol Hill, I lingered for a while at the rally to meet with friends, old and new. Activist and writer Ted Glick was on the penultimate day of an 18-day, water-only Fast for New Permits, organized by Beyond Extreme Energy. The fast targeted the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which essentially rubber-stamps approval for gas pipelines. Ted, looking tired but resolute, cited Gandhi’s insight that “fasting is the sincerest form of prayer.”
I’ve been part of the religious climate movement for many years, but I’ve never experienced as deep and wide an awakening to the urgent call to stand up for life as I did last week. In order to give our children a livable planet, we need the vision and passion of people of faith – people who can see the long view, not just short-term quarterly or annual reports; people who care about the homeless, hungry, and poor, not just about elites; people who understand that the web of life is a gift to be protected, not a commodity to be exploited and destroyed; people who place their hope not in the promise of success but in the faithfulness of God.
People like that are rising up on every side. The image of a watershed may fit this moment in history, but, so, too, does the image of a rising tide. I look back on last week as a watershed moment, because around me and within me I sense a rising tide of activism, resolve, and love.
The most inspiring climate song I’ve yet heard was written by Rabbi Shoshana Meira Friedman and Yotam Schachter, and first performed by Rabbi Shoshana and Rev. Fred Small on September 20 – just in time for that pivotal week. They also went on to perform it at the National Cathedral on Thursday night.
The song is called: “The tide is rising and so are we.”
The past 24 hours have stretched my sense of time.
One morning I come across a report that in a far off cave in South Africa, scientists have discovered the bones of a previously unknown branch of the human family. A photo on the front page of The New York Times shows an ancient skeleton, neatly laid out from head to toe. The bones of the feet, according to one scientist, are “virtually indistinguishable” from those of modern humans. The finger bones are “extremely curved,” clearly adapted for climbing, and the skull seems to have sheltered a brain no bigger than an orange – one-third the size of a modern human brain. Named after the Rising Star cave in which the bones were found, these ancestors are called Homo naledi (“star” in the local Sesotho language). They walked the Earth more than 2.5 million years ago.
I don’t know what these distant relatives were like – what they thought about, how they spent their time, what mattered to them. But I imagine that in some ways they were just like us: they searched for food when they were hungry; they wept when they were sad; they looked for shelter and safety in a difficult world; they cared for their nearest and dearest. Scientists note that Homo naledi repeatedly placed the bones of their dead in an inaccessible cave, a fact that makes me want to say “the bones of their beloved dead.”
I bow to my ancestors who lived nearly 3 million years ago. Somehow we are kin.
The big surprise to scientists is that the melting could happen very quickly. Scientists used to think that it would take many thousands of years for Antarctica to melt. It turns out that once large-scale melting begins, half the melting could occur in as little as a thousand years. At that pace, the ocean could rise about one foot every decade, about 10 times faster than it is rising now. The article notes: “Such a pace would almost certainly throw human society into chaos, forcing a rapid retreat from the world’s coastal cities.”
As the lead author, Ricarda Winkelmann, puts it: “To be blunt: If we burn it all, we melt it all.”
What takes my breath away is the list of the world’s regions that would be affected by a sea-level rise of 200 feet. The list of cities lost includes (among others) Miami, New Orleans, Houston, Washington, New York, Amsterdam, Stockholm, London, Paris, Berlin, Venice, Buenos Aires, Beijing, Shanghai, Sydney, Rome and Tokyo.
I read the list of cities printed in The New York Times. I touch my fingers to the page, as if physical contact can help me absorb these facts and make them real. I recall the startling new report from James Hansen and 16 other top climate scientists, which predicts that significant sea level rise could be swift and abrupt. Oceans could rise as much as ten feet in as little as 50 years, which means that we would lose all the coastal cities of the world.
The people living in those ruined cities could include my beloved children and grandchildren. I don’t need to exercise any imagination or empathy to know what these people will be like. They will be just like us. They will search for food when they are hungry, and they will weep when they are sad. They will look for shelter and safety in a difficult world, and they will care for their nearest and dearest.
I know in my bones that we are kin.
That night I go outside and stand barefoot in the backyard. The toes of my feet, not so different from those of Homo naledi, dig into the cool grass. Where am I in time? Behind me, in the past, extend some 3 million years of human evolution. Ahead of me lies a human future that could be unimaginably chaotic and short. Here, in this precious, passing instant of time, I stand on the place where past and future meet.
That place is on fire with love.
Surging through the dark night air and rising up from the earth beneath my feet are gratitude for the priceless gift of life, grief for what we’ve lost, anger at what we’ve done, and a love that knows no bounds. I feel an urgent call to spend my life well, to place it in the service of life.
Next week I will head to Washington, DC, to participate in the Week of Moral Action for Climate Justice (Sept. 21-25). Pope Francis is coming to DC to address a joint session of Congress, and people of all colors, creeds, and faiths will converge on our nation’s Capitol to amplify his unequivocal call to humanity to create a just and sustainable future. All eyes are on the U.N. climate talks that will be held in Paris this December, which we fervently hope will chart a course to a low-carbon world.
The Pope’s encyclical, Laudato Si’(Praise Be to You), draws from the best of the Judaeo-Christian tradition. As Wen Stephenson points out in a fascinating cover story in The Nation, the encyclical reclaims the once-marginalized terrain of liberation theology and offers a radical critique of the economic and social system that drives climate change. Francis highlights the fact that in a world beset by a disrupted climate, those who are poor have the fewest resources and are the least able to adapt. What’s more, the same mindset and economic system that exploit the Earth are the same mindset and economic system that exploit the poor. The cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor form a single cry and should evoke an integrated, comprehensive response.
For too long humanity has been caught in a trance of greed, resignation, and shortsightedness, as if we have no choice but to keep drilling and fracking, keep plundering the earth and keep plundering the poor. We stand at the brink of disaster. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called it our “global suicide pact.”
But maybe we will start to apprehend the mystery of time, a sacred mystery that extends far beyond our own little lives. We belong to something much greater than ourselves. After all, human beings were born from stars. Members of Homo naledi are not the only Star People – we all are. We exist within a great sweep of Milky Way time. Yet we are also faced with the fact, as Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, that “…tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now.”
In the short span of a lifetime each one of us has countless opportunities to bear witness to what Dante called “the love that moves the sun and other stars.” That love is moving through us, too, and in the brief time we Homo sapiens have left in which to save life as it has evolved on this wondrous planet, it is our call and privilege to do everything we can, because we love our natural world and our descendants, those born and not yet born. They are our future and we are their past.
So we reach out to the ancestors who came before us and to the descendants who, God willing, will arrive long after we have vanished from Earth and are only bones in the ground. We reach out to our human neighbors, to children and the elderly, to the vulnerable and poor, to the countless refugees already on the move as seas rise and drought spreads. We reach out to the living world around us – to all that has been desecrated, to the blasted forests and dying meadows, to the poisoned, acid-drenched oceans and the convoluted air. We reach out in love to all of you, and we say: I stand with you. I belong to you. I am part of you. I will not let you go. We are in this together. I will join the fight to re-weave the web of life.
The most comprehensive schedule I’ve found for the events going on in DC during the Week of Moral Action for Climate Justice is here.
September 21: The National Prayer Breakfast for Creation Care will begin at 10 AM, at Capitol Hill Lutheran Church, 212 East Capitol St NE, Washington, DC 20003.
September 23: Interfaith Prayer Vigil will begin at 7:00 p.m. near the National Mall at John Marshall Park (at Pennsylvania and 4th Street NW, near Judiciary Square Metro), organized by Franciscan Action Network.
September 24: Ignatian Solidarity Network is helping congregations to organize “watch parties” of the Pope’s historic address to Congress, offering a free step-by-step guide for how to set one up.
Three watch parties are scheduled at 7:00 p.m. in the Pioneer Valley (in Amherst, Northampton, and Longmeadow, MA). Details are here.
At 12:30 p.m. on September 24, the same day that Pope Francis addresses Congress, Springfield Climate Justice Coalition will hold an important rally on the steps of the Springfield, Mass. City Hall, to urge the city to fund and implement a climate action plan. Download a flier here: SpringfieldRallyForClimateJustice2015flyer. Please come if you can!
The Pope’s encyclical on the environment was officially released today, and I am relishing the response from both the secular and the religious climate movement. Surges of enthusiasm are rolling across the Internet like waves across the sea, and rivulets stream into my email inbox. Pope Francis’ landmark encyclical was addressed not only to Roman Catholics, nor only to Christians, but also to “every person living on this planet.” And all sorts of groups far and near are responding with invitations to Stand With the Pope. Hands down, the best invitation was extended by Forecast the Facts: name your identity and take your stand beside the Pope on climate. I’m a Mormon and I stand with the Pope on climate! I’m Buddhist and I stand with the Pope on climate! I’m a Republican… a pagan… an atheist… a Sikh… a Jew… a non-church-going Catholic… a Humanist… a parent… an Earthling… and I stand with the Pope on climate!
Guess what? It turns out that preserving a habitable world, caring for the forgotten and the poor, and honoring the Earth and its inhabitants, human and other-than-human, are values that resonate deeply with the human spirit, whatever our faith tradition may be and despite the lies that are peddled to us daily by the fossil fuel industry and by an extractive, exploitative, and consumerist culture. Climate change presents humanity with a decisive spiritual and moral crisis, and the papal encyclical has added precious momentum to messages that cut through the fog of inertia, denial, and political impasse and rouse the human family to unite in tackling the crisis before it’s too late.
It will take some time to absorb the comprehensive thinking that went into the encyclical, and I am grateful for the excellent analysis that some writers have already provided, such as James Martin, S.J.’s helpful essay on “Top Ten Takeaways from ‘Laudato Si.’”
Meanwhile the urgent work to build a sustainable, just and peaceful world goes on. Last night I sat with a group of Springfield, Mass. residents who are acutely aware of the health impacts of climate change on their struggling city, and the particular burden that is carried by the poor. Across boundaries of race, class, and religious and ethnic background, this growing band of men and women is organizing to resist environmental injustice and to promote sustainability, resiliency and equality for all Springfield residents. Last night none of us in the Springfield Climate Justice Coalition had read the Pope’s encyclical, but tonight we can all take heart from the Pope’s understanding of the “immense dignity of the poor” (158).
To prepare myself for lobbying on Capitol Hill, I inhale deeply, and breathe in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. I ground myself in the love of God. I am strengthened when I recall the Pope’s thoughtful critique of unfettered capitalism, especially when it harms the poor. “Profit,” says the Pope, “cannot be the sole criterion” of our decisions (187). Christianity has a long tradition of advocating for economic justice, and I intend to carry that message forward.
Today the Pope released a groundbreaking document that urges reverence for all Creation, and justice and mercy for all its residents. Tomorrow men and women around the world will get out of bed with a renewed commitment to fight the good fight – to divest from coal, gas, and oil, to keep fossil fuels in the ground, to build a society based on fairness and generosity, and to provide a habitable world for our children, grandchildren, and generations yet unborn. I hope that one day we will look back and remember the Pope’s encyclical as the electrifying moment when humanity finally grasped that we have the power to bear witness to love, and the responsibility to protect the Earth upon which all life depends.
“We have been called to heal wounds, to unite what has fallen apart, and to bring home those who have lost their way.” — Attributed to St. Francis of Assisi
We welcome the strong prophetic witness on climate change offered this week by His Holiness Pope Francis in his encyclical “Laudato Si’.”
Pope Francis addresses this encyclical to people everywhere: “Now, faced as we are with global environmental deterioration, I wish to address every person living on this planet…. In this Encyclical, I would like to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home.” We hope that indeed people of all faiths will heed his words and take action. As the Pope affirms, climate change is largely human-caused. In keeping with his commitment to the marginalized and vulnerable, Pope Francis emphasizes that climate change has especially devastating effects on the poor. Addressing climate change is an essential aspect of ethics. As individuals we must reduce our personal consumption of fossil fuels; as citizens, we must push for effective governmental and international action.
We believe that taking swift and responsible action to address climate change is an urgent moral imperative. Last September we walked with faith communities in the People’s Climate March, joining 400,000-plus people in the streets of New York. You might call it a kind of flood — not Noah’s flood, not the flood of a monsoon or hurricane, but a flood of loving determination, a flood of witness and hope for action on climate change. The climate movement is a flood of people calling for systemic change: for sharply reduced greenhouse gas emissions and for a swift transition to clean, safe renewable energy; for the protection of poor and vulnerable communities, for an end to fossil fuel subsidies, and for a strong international climate agreement in 2015.
Today we must choose between two floods: the flood of rising seas, or the flood of hopeful and courageous change. As Professor Mercy Oduyoye, an African theologian, has said, unless we take care of each other, we will lose our humanity; unless we become earth-keepers, we will be homeless.
Ban-Ki Moon, the U.N. General Secretary, has asked people of faith to urge bold action on climate change and to “provoke, challenge and inspire political leaders.” We celebrate the release of the Pope’s encyclical, which has done just that. We recommit ourselves to the struggle to provoke, challenge, and inspire political leaders and to mobilize a wave of religious activism to stabilize the climate, heal the Earth, and chart a course to a just and sustainable future.
There are countless reasons to lament and lose heart. Scan the headlines and take your pick: racism and torture; hunger and sickness; poverty and war; a web of life that is unraveling. I know a woman who heard one piece of bad news too many, and found herself walking around her house, howling.
I give thanks for her wails, for her willingness to be pierced by the suffering of the world and to let herself lament. It takes courage to lament. I dispute the injunction attributed to labor organizer Joe Hill, who reportedly said, “Don’t mourn, organize.” I advocate for both: let’s mourn and organize. It seems to me that allowing ourselves to mourn is a good way to keep our hearts supple and soft, and a good way to resist the pressure to go numb. Shedding tears is a way to water the soul. And mourning can be an act of resistance too, a way of shaking off the dominant consumer culture, which prefers that we stay too busy, distracted, and anesthetized to feel a thing.
From within our grief, a Spirit is moving among us, inviting us to dream big dreams and imagine new possibilities. Especially in this Advent season, Christians look ahead with hope for Christ to be born afresh within us and among us. What can you do – what can I do – what can we do together – to help this birth take place and to heal a hurting world? How is the Spirit inviting us to join the movement for justice and renewal that is already in our midst, sprouting like tender, new leaves on a tree?
Here comes a list of four sightings of the Spirit by just one person in just one week – and an invitation for you to take part.
In the hills of western Massachusetts, a small group of people gathers outdoors on a December night. Under a dark sky, we light candles. Surrounded by quiet, we sing. We are only a handful of intrepid souls as we stamp our feet and blow on our fingers to keep warm in the cold night air. But inwardly we are warmed by the knowledge that people all around the world tonight are doing just what we are doing: praying for the climate talks in Lima, Peru.
The spirit of the Lord God is upon me… [God] has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted…[and] to comfort all who mourn. (Isaiah 61:1-2)
Leaning forward in a circle of chairs and listening intently, seven Christian leaders from across New England meet in a Framingham retreat house to pray, dream, and strategize. How can the larger group to which we belong, New England Regional Environmental Ministries (NEREM) become a catalyst for societal change and a transformed church? How can we inspire a spiritual awakening in the face of climate change?
We ponder the fact that hearing a trusted pastor preach about climate change is often what moves churchgoers to accept that climate change is real and to take action to slow it. Yet many parishioners have never heard anyone preach about climate change. In my travels from church to church, I often meet with groups of parishioners and I often ask who has heard a sermon about climate change. In most such gatherings, not a single hand goes up.
I won’t disclose what NEREM envisions for next year, but now is the time to start preaching and hearing good sermons about climate change. One way for clergy to begin is to sign up to join the National Preach-in on Global Warming, sponsored by Interfaith Power & Light, which will be held on the weekend of Valentine’s Day, February 13-15, 2015. The Website is full of resources, with sermon ideas, prayers, discussion and activity ideas. Or pick another date. The date doesn’t matter. What matters is conveying the urgency of the hour.
“…to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.” (Isaiah 61:3)
On a Wednesday night in the city of Springfield, Massachusetts, a diverse group of concerned citizens – Hispanic and white, wealthy and low-income – meets to strategize how best to implement and fund a climate action plan for the city. The leaders of this effort – Arise for Social Justice, the North End Organizing Network and Climate Action NOW – have organized the Springfield Climate Justice Coalition.
Back in October we held a march through the city’s streets, gathered 200 people for a rally on the steps of City Hall, and rejoiced when the City Council unanimously passed a resolution to adopt a Climate Justice Plan for the city and to establish a staff position to carry it out. Now comes the hard work of building a grassroots base to ensure that the mayor, Dominic J. Sarno, implements the resolution. Over pizza and oranges we exchange ideas, jot notes on newsprint, and start to divvy up tasks.
At the end of tonight’s meeting, I invite everyone to stand up and take each others’ hands. I feel awkward. This coalition seems so fragile and new. Can we, should we, pray together? I look around the circle of friends and strangers, take a breath, and speak briefly about the traditional Christian virtues of faith, hope and love. In fighting for this city, we express our faith that we can imagine a better future; we share our hope that we can build that future together; and we manifest the love that gives us strength. I ask God’s blessing on our work, and pray that our work will be a blessing for the city.
If you would like to join the Springfield Climate Justice Coalition, please contact Michaelann Bewsee (michaelannb (at) gmail.com) of Arise for Social Justice, or Susan Theberge (susantheberge (at) comcast.net) of Climate Action Now.
“They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.” (Isaiah 61:4)
A creative spirit is at play among us: the rally features a tuba and an enormous black plastic pipeline, placards full of pointed messages (“There is No Planet B”), and opportunities for singing, chanting, and banging pots and pans to make noise. We mark four-and-a-half minutes in silence, too, remembering that the body of Michael Brown, a black teenager, apparently lay on the ground for four and a half hours after he was shot by a white policeman in Ferguson, Missouri. The movement for climate justice is intimately linked to the quest for social and racial justice.
The climate rally’s most combative moments are provided by a loud-mouthed, fat-cat banker who wears a top hat and a suit festooned with fake money. She strides up and down the sidewalk, carrying a mini-pipeline on her shoulder, from which dangles a cloth doll, several small stuffed animals, and the placard “R.I.P.” She launches into a rousing debate with a 7-foot-tall polar bear. Is the Keystone XL pipeline safe? Will it make us energy independent? Will it create lots of jobs? Will it protect the climate?
Despite the sneers of Mr. Money-Bags, the patient arguments of the polar bear win the day. The proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would run from Alberta, Canada to the Gulf Coast, would carry toxic tar sands that would then be shipped for export overseas. The pipeline would allow the most polluting oil on earth to reach world markets. Mining this oil is already destroying the land, water, and health of the people and wildlife of Alberta. The new pipeline creates a risk of spills – the first Keystone pipeline spilled 14 times in its first year of operation. Experts estimate that the pipeline would provide only 50 permanent jobs. And according to NASA scientist James Hansen the pipeline would propel us into a catastrophic level of climate disruption.
Thousands of citizens across the country have signed the Keystone XL Pledge of Resistance. Please consider adding your name and pledging to join in non-violent direct action to stop the pipeline.
If you wish to participate in and to receive updates about events in western Massachusetts tied to the national Pledge of Resistance campaign – including a training meeting on January 3 – please email Dave Roitman (droitman1(at)verizon.net). We expect to carry out an act of non-violent civil disobedience sometime between mid-January and March. It will be timed so that it happens on the same day that 97,000 other people take action, as part of the national Keystone XL Pledge of Resistance. A short fact sheet about the pipeline by Friends of the Earth can be downloaded here.
“For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.” (Isaiah 61:11)
In the face of the confusion, brutality, and violence of the world, we grieve and mourn. And we also mobilize, strategize, and organize. In our longing for a just and peaceful world, we trust that we share in God’s longing to bring forth “a new heaven and a new earth” (Revelation 1:1). As Brian Swimme writes in his “Canticle of the Cosmos”:
The longing that gave birth to the stars
The longing that gave birth to life
Who knows what this longing can give birth to now?
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!
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.
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.
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.