#0601,Pipeline march, Greenfield church,3-'16

On Day #3 of a four-day, 46-mile walk to stop the construction of the Kinder Morgan NED pipeline, scores of activists gathered in the sanctuary of St. James Episcopal Church in Greenfield, Massachusetts, for a spirited rally organized by Sugar Shack Alliance. St. James Church is a grand old beauty of a building, a neo-Gothic stone structure that was consecrated in 1849. The sanctuary buzzed with excitement as a diverse crowd took their seats, many of them walkers eager for encouragement after a long day of tracing the route of the proposed pipeline on foot.

#0600,Greenfield Episcopal,3-'16As a Christian climate activist, I found it stirring to realize that the rally was taking place on the eve of Palm Sunday, the day that Christians around the world step into Holy Week. Here were the stately altar and lectern arrayed in cloths of traditional red colors for tomorrow’s service, yet here, too, were banners draped across altar, pulpit and lectern, crying out in large letters: “No Prisons, No Pipeline. Shut It Down,”Respect Existence, Expect Resistance,” and “Love Will Win.”

At first I was startled to see these messages spread out across the sacred space, but then I realized that their meaning was exactly right and resonated with Palm Sunday: we were here to celebrate non-violent confrontation with unjust power. On Palm Sunday, Christians remember Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and the cheering crowds that cast palm branches on the ground to welcome him. Jesus was on a collision course with imperial Rome and all the powers of this world that rule by force and domination. He came to proclaim the power of God’s love. He came without armor or weapons, riding not a war-horse but a humble donkey, as the prophet Zechariah foretold: the king of peace would come on a donkey (Zechariah 9:9-10).

Margaret stands in the 10 x 15 foot cabin in Ashfield modeled by Will Elwell after Thoreau’s cabin at Walden Pond, photo by Robert A. Jonas
Margaret stands in the 10 x 15 foot cabin in Ashfield modeled by Will Elwell after Thoreau’s cabin at Walden Pond (photo by Robert A. Jonas)

I think that Jesus would rejoice in the wave of non-violent action against fossil fuels that is rising up around the country. Growing numbers of individuals and groups are confronting the unjust political and corporate powers that hold society – and the very Earth itself – in a deathly grip. Resistance to fracked gas is mounting, from Seattle to Seneca Lake, from Ashland, Oregon to Ashfield, Mass., where last week Will Elwell, a local resident, constructed with his friends a replica of Thoreau’s Walden Pond cabin, placing it directly in the path of the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline. On the eastern side of Massachusetts, in the West Roxbury neighborhood of metropolitan Boston, activists are fighting to stop the construction of the Spectra Energy pipeline project, which would bring highly pressurized fracked gas through a densely populated area and terminate at a station beside an active blast quarry.

Opening the rally with prayer
Opening the rally with prayer


Whatever our faith tradition, the resolve to stand up for life and to resist a deathly status quo springs from a deep place in the human spirit. So I was grateful to have a chance to offer a brief word of blessing as the rally began. Looking out at the faces of all these good people who long as ardently as I do for a more just, peaceful, and sustainable world, I invited the crowd into a spirit of prayer. I called upon the Spirit of love, the divine Mystery that we call by many names, and I prayed to God:

“Through our own experience and in the words of your prophet Isaiah, we know that:
Those who hope in you
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint (Isaiah 40:31).
“Thank you for the love that you pour into our hearts through the power of your Spirit (Romans 5:5).
“Thank you for your power working in us that can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).”

I asked God’s blessing on each person present and on the great work that we’ve been called to do.

After that, speakers came forward to articulate a particular argument for keeping so-called “natural” gas in the ground. Why were we struggling to block this pipeline? Because of our right to clear air and clean water. Because of the risk to public health from leaks and explosions. Because of conservation areas – farms and forests, scenic trails, wetlands, and rivers – that must remain intact. Because in Article 97 the constitution of our Commonwealth protects conservation lands and open space (a provision that the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company is challenging aggressively in court). Because forced surveys of land violate the Fourth Amendment and constitute “unreasonable search and seizure.” Because we are committed to a clean energy economy. Because it is reckless to invest another dime in new fossil fuel infrastructure. Because we are pushing hard to avert catastrophic climate change.

People encircle the sanctuary, holding signs that represent all the towns that have voted against the pipeline
People encircle the sanctuary, holding signs that represent all the towns that have voted against the pipeline

I was particularly touched by the remarks of cultural anthropologist Lisa McLaughlin of the Nolumbeka Project, who spoke about the ancient Native American burial grounds that must not be disturbed. She pointed out that in addition to the particular places that Native American tribes deem sacred, the whole landscape has its own “naturally sacred geography.” For Native Americans, she said, the struggle against the pipeline represents a clash of cultural values: one set of values considers the Earth to be profane and dead, with humanity entitled to dominate and exploit, and the other set of values views the Earth as sacred and alive, with humanity existing as part of nature.

The latter understanding is the perspective that Pope Francis lifted up in his encyclical Laudato Si, which in many ways draws from the best of the Judaeo-Christian tradition. A recent sermon by Br. Keith Nelson, SSJE, conveys beautifully this way of seeing the world. He writes: “We must become students of the air, the soil, the waters, the birds and beasts, whose simple being is prayer. From them, we must re-learn how to live well and live deeply in union with the Creator.”

People who protest gas pipelines, compressor stations, fracking wells, and other extreme forms of energy extraction are people who understand that human beings are connected to the larger web of life. We have a moral responsibility to bless the Earth and its inhabitants rather than to desecrate, destroy, and demean what has been entrusted to us.

The need to keep fossil fuels in the ground is urgent. February 2016 was the hottest of any month ever recorded, which crushed the record set in January, which crushed the record set in December. A recent climate report in the Washington Post bears the title, “Scientists Are Floored by What’s Happening in the Arctic Right Now.” Last year, 2015, was the hottest year on record.

In the face of the profound assault now being unleashed on our planet, what are we called to do? Once we know that “the heat accumulating in the Earth because of human emissions is roughly equal to the heat that would be released by 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs exploding across the planet every day,” what changes do you and I need to make in our work and witness?

Those who hope in the LORD.... (image by Robert A. Jonas)
Those who hope in the LORD….
               (image by Robert A. Jonas)

On Palm Sunday Jesus rode into Jerusalem with no army except a crowd of supporters and a handful of friends, most of whom soon melted away into the darkness, betraying him, denying him, or simply fleeing. He rode with no weapon but the weapon of truth, no power but the power of mercy, no strength but the strength of love. He entered the city with no weapon, and yet, the Gospel tells us, “the whole city was in turmoil” (Mathew 21:10) – it was shaken. The Greek word used here is one that describes an earthquake. The powers-that-be in this world are shaken up when the king of peace rides into town, when he rides into the boardrooms and back rooms of our country, when he rides into our hearts.   There is an upheaval in the center of reality.

This is the holy upheaval that I glimpse in the climate movement. Some of us may suffer as Jesus suffered – indeed, the environmental activist for human rights and indigenous rights, Berta Caceres, was martyred in Honduras on March 3, 2016. We don’t know if our own efforts will succeed any more than Jesus’ did. After all, Jesus’ life apparently ended in failure: just days after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, he was arrested, tortured, and crucified.

Cabin raising -- no, cabin risen. Photo by Robert A. Jonas
Cabin raising — no, cabin risen                                (photo by Robert A. Jonas)

Yet faith beckons us to stand with Jesus against the power of Empire. And faith tells us that if we live in the spirit of Jesus, we, too, will be raised to new life in him. I grinned when I saw the “Cabin Raising” sign on the corner of Beldingville Road, pointing the way to the Thoreau-inspired cabin to protest the pipeline.  On the sign, someone had crossed out “raising” and scribbled “raised.” Yes, that cabin has gotten raised, all right, and so have our spirits. A week after Palm Sunday, Christians will proclaim on Easter morning that Christ has risen. That is why we join the Jesus Movement: because we believe that love, not death, will have the last word. Because we know that those who hope in God will renew their strength; they will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

Sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent, February 21, 2016. Delivered by the Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas at Grace-St. Paul’s Church, Tucson, AZ. Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18 Psalm 27 Philippians 3:17-41 Luke 13:31-35

Fasting from carbon

I am blessed to be with you this morning. My husband and I now come to Grace-St. Paul’s whenever we visit Tucson, and I am grateful to be with you again. This is a special place: I feel the Holy Spirit here. Thank you, Steve, for inviting me back to this pulpit.

To say just a word about myself: after 25 years of parish ministry, I now serve as Missioner for Creation Care in the Diocese of Western Massachusetts. My dream is to help create a wave of religious activism to protect the web of life that God entrusted to our care. So I travel around, preaching and teaching and leading retreats about God’s love for this precious planet and its inhabitants, human and other-than-human, and the need to take action to express our faith. My particular concern is the climate crisis, so you can probably imagine my delight when I learned a few weeks ago that the couple who funded the first two years of my ministry raised the money by selling off their oil stocks. This is happy news to someone who believes, as I do, that divesting from fossil fuels is an expression of our moral values and will help propel a shift to clean energy. So here we are in the second Sunday in Lent, a season for renewing our lives in response to the love of God. Thanks to the passage from Genesis, today we have Abram standing at our side, an old man who, along with his wife, was landless, childless, without an heir. The door to his future was completely closed, shut tight, locked, and throw away the key. Nothing good lay ahead. Then God spoke to Abram in a vision and made a promise, the kind of promise that God made to a whole line of prophets, one after another: the door to the future was open. Through the grace of God, Abram’s life would bear fruit; he would bring forth life; he would convey blessings that would reach far into the future, blessings as countless as the stars. And Abram responded with faith. He trusted in God’s promise. He stepped out into an unknown and open future, trusting that God would guide him and that God would make him a vehicle or channel for new life. Today is a good day to stand with our faithful brother Abram and to reaffirm our trust in God’s promise that even when the future looks bleak or chaotic, even when we see no way forward, God is with us. God will open a path where there was no path, provide a way where there was no way, and pour divine hope into our hearts when our own hope is gone. Heaven knows there are reasons to fear for the future. 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 than our species has ever experienced before. So far that extra CO2 has forced the average global temperature to rise about one degree. That may not sound like much, but what’s so worrisome to scientists is that this process is happening so fast. 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. We know that the situation is urgent. We know we have only a short time in which to avert a level of climate disruption that would render the world ungovernable and possibly uninhabitable within the lifetimes of our children and our children’s children. The World Bank – hardly a leftist organization – recently warned that unless we quickly rein in greenhouse gas emissions, climate change will drive 100 million people into extreme poverty – extreme poverty – in the next 15 years. Just imagine for a moment the human suffering and social upheaval that this would engender worldwide. We know we can do better than that. And as people of faith we refuse to stand idly by and to let business as usual destroy human communities and destroy life as it has evolved on the planet. As Pope Francis so beautifully explained in his landmark encyclical, Laudato Si – in a message that was picked up and amplified by Anglican, Jewish, Muslim, and many other religious voices the world over – we bear a moral and spiritual responsibility to respond boldly to the climate crisis. Lent invites us to come back into balance, to align our lives with our deepest intention, and to make the changes we need to make in order for God’s love to be manifest more fully in our lives. Today, in the presence and power of God, and with Abram at our side, we dare to ask some big questions: Through the grace of God, how can my life bring forth new life? How can I contribute to a better future? How can I live so that my life becomes a blessing to those who come after me? As Ella Fitzgerald once put it, “It isn’t where you came from, it’s where you’re going that counts.” You know, there are many ways to be healers in the world, many ways to help our neighbors. But regarding climate change, here come three suggestions. One: sign up online for the Ecumenical Lenten Carbon Fast. During Lent, we seek to restore the limits that give life. Let’s you and I learn how to fast from carbon. Let’s you and I learn together how to make choices that cut back dramatically on our use of fossil fuels. This is an honorable, and I would argue, a necessary, Lenten practice. When you sign up for the Ecumenical Lenten Carbon Fast, you receive a daily email with inspirational reflection and a specific action step to reduce your personal consumption of dirty energy. Right now the fast is being carried out by thousands of Christians who care for God’s Creation. Two: write a postcard to your members of Congress. After the service, stop at the table for Citizens Climate Lobby and pick up some postcards. You might think that writing a letter or postcard to your member of Congress is a waste of time, but it’s not: your representatives probably have no idea that you care about climate change and that you’re tracking what they’re doing. And Citizens Climate Lobby is pushing for a way to price carbon that will get us off fossil fuels, create new jobs, and accelerate a transition to a new economy based on clean, renewable sources of energy, like sun and wind. Last summer I joined scores of other faith leaders to lobby on behalf of Citizens Climate Lobby in Washington, D.C. We didn’t push for carbon pricing because we were Democrats, or because we were Republicans, or because we were socialists or members of the Green Party. It wasn’t politics that propelled us to support carbon pricing. It was faith: faith in a God who utterly loves us and all Creation, faith in a God who envisions a healthy, just, and sustainable society, faith in a God who wants our lives to be a blessing to the vulnerable poor and to those who come after us. Three: go to the Website 350.org, sign up to receive emails, and build the global climate movement. 350.org is the grassroots non-profit that is helping to create a wave of global resistance to keep coal, gas, and oil in the ground, where they belong. This coming May, actions will be held in places all over the world to “shut down the world’s most dangerous fossil fuel projects and support the most ambitious climate solutions.” Already the movement to keep fossil fuels in the ground is gaining momentum. People are blockading oil trains and protesting the construction of new pipelines; thousands of so-called “kayaktivists” took to the water in Seattle to block an oil-drilling rig; and two men in a lobster boat near Cape Cod disrupted the delivery of 40,000 tons of coal. Just this week, beloved writer Terry Tempest Williams took part in an auction in Salt Lake City that was selling off leases for oil and gas drilling on public lands. As a climate protester, she bought up land rights on a parcel near Arches National Park in Utah in an effort to prevent any drilling. Later she commented, “It has deeply shaken my core as an American citizen to watch these beautiful, powerful public lands that are all of ours, and our inheritance, being sold for $2 an acre, $3 an acre… I’m both heartsick and heartbroken and outraged.” Yes, it can be heartbreaking to take part in the struggle to stabilize the climate and to heal our relationship with the Earth. But the pain we feel is an expression of love, and love is what sustains us, and guides us, and will see us through. So I invite you to take up my three suggestions: to join the Ecumenical Lenten Carbon Fast; to sign postcards to your legislators on behalf of Citizens Climate Lobby; and to join 350.org and the global climate movement. As people of faith, we’re here for the long haul. We’re not going away. We’re going to keep fighting for a future that runs on clean energy like sun and wind. We’re going to keep fighting for a society and an economy that leave no one out. As Pope Francis reminded us, the cry of the Earth is intimately connected with the cry of the poor. We hear that cry. We share that cry. And we intend to answer it, by divestment and direct action, by voting and lobbying, by making personal changes in our lifestyle and, perhaps, by engaging in peaceful civil disobedience. A new world is on the horizon, and we hope to act like midwives, helping that new world to be born. We hope to act like Abram, trusting in God’s promise of new life. And we hope to act like Jesus, who when Herod threatened to kill him, refused to be intimidated or deterred. Despite all the forces arrayed against him, Jesus continued to heal and to set free. He refused to be stopped. “Today,” he said, “tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way” (Luke 31:33 ). And so it is for us. We, too, must be on our way — on Jesus’s way — today, tomorrow, and the next day. Who knows what God in Christ will be able to do through us, now and in the days ahead?    

Photo c) Robert A. Jonas
Photo c) Robert A. Jonas

On the eve of the U.N. climate talks in Paris, hundreds of thousands of people worldwide took to the streets to join the Global Climate March. Here in western Massachusetts, 200 people gathered in Amherst and an even larger group assembled nearby in Northampton, all of us calling for decisive international action to keep 80% of current fossil fuel reserves in the ground.



With Philip and Betsy Mathews on the Amherst Common, in front of Grace Church; photo c) Robert A. Jonas
With Philip and Betsy Mathews on the Amherst Common, in front of Grace Church; photo c) Robert A. Jonas

I was the opening speaker at the November 29 rally on the Amherst Common. The crowd included young and old, families, college students and retirees, an 8-foot tall Polar Bear puppet and a little boy in a brown bear suit. We shivered in the cold night air, but our energy was high and our resolve was strong.

A much bigger, regional rally is planned for the day after the conclusion of the U.N. talks. Please join me on the Boston Common on Saturday December 12, 1:00-3:00 p.m. for a Jobs, Justice, and Climate Rally that will bring together a wide range of interests – labor, immigrant rights, faith, racial justice, economic justice, and climate justice groups – as we build an unstoppable grassroots movement to stabilize the climate and create a more just and sustainable society.

Below is what I said last night at the Amherst rally.

Photo c) Robert A. Jonas
Photo c) Robert A. Jonas

I am filled with gratitude as I look into your faces. We stand together tonight in the center of town, under the stars, to express our longing for a safe, just, and sustainable future. All eyes are on Paris tonight. West of here, across the river, another group has assembled in Northampton. South of here, down the road, other people gathered this afternoon in Springfield. East of here, across the state, a group is gathering in Boston. Around the world, in every direction, from Beirut to Barcelona, from Ottawa to Melbourne, thousands of events are in progress, as people from every walk of life turn their hearts and hopes to the U.N. climate negotiations that begin tomorrow in Paris.

Photo c) Robert A. Jonas
Photo c) Robert A. Jonas

We know that the situation is urgent. We have only a short amount of time in which to avert a level of climate disruption that would render the world ungovernable and possibly uninhabitable within the lifetimes of our children and our children’s children. To cite just one example of where we’re headed if we don’t change course, a few weeks ago the World Bank – hardly a leftist organization – warned that unless we rein in greenhouse gas emissions quickly, climate change will drive 100 million people into extreme poverty – extreme poverty – within the next 15 years. Just think about the human suffering and social upheaval that this would engender worldwide.

We know we can do better than that. And we refuse to stand idly by and to let business as usual continue to destroy human communities and unravel the web of life.

Photo c) Robert A. Jonas
Photo c) Robert A. Jonas

So tonight we join with people around the world to pray for a climate deal in Paris that is ambitious, one that finally gets the world on track to stabilize and lower its carbon emissions.

We also hope for a deal that is fair, one that protects the most vulnerable and low-income populations from the most devastating effects of climate change.

But you know what? This is not just about Paris and it’s not just about tonight. The agreement that comes out of Paris is not going to be enough, by itself, to keep the world below a 2 degree centigrade rise in temperature above preindustrial levels, which we need in order to avert catastrophe.

That’s where you and I come in. Whatever happens in Paris, we’re here for the long haul. We’re not going away. We’re going to keep fighting for a future that runs on clean energy like sun and wind. We’re going to keep fighting for a society and an economy that leave no one out. We’re going to keep building political will and moral pressure until we get this right. As Pope Francis reminded us in his encyclical, the cry of the Earth is intimately connected with the cry of the poor. We hear that cry. We share that cry. And we intend to answer it, by divestment and direct action, by voting and lobbying, by making personal changes in our lifestyle and, perhaps, by engaging in civil disobedience.

A new world is on the horizon, a world that is safe, just and sustainable. We intend to act like midwives, helping that new world to be born. We pray tonight for the climate talks, but those talks are just the beginning. Those talks are just the start.

Photo c) Robert A. Jonas
Photo c) Robert A. Jonas




If you’ve been wondering whether public opinion on climate change has changed in the U.S. since Pope Francis published his encyclical in June, look no further. A new study shows that during the six months since Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home was released, Americans have become more concerned about global warming and are more actively engaged in the issue. About 17% of the study’s respondents overall, and 35% of its Roman Catholic respondents, said they had been influenced by Francis’ message. Between spring and fall of 2015, more Americans reported they were more concerned about climate change, and more Americans considered climate change a moral issue that involves fairness/social justice and poverty. The authors of the survey found the shift in public opinion so striking that they dubbed it “The Francis Effect.” (Download the pdf here.)

Margaret speaks about the need for people of faith (photo by Quentin Prideaux)
Margaret speaks at the State House about the need for people of faith (photo by Quentin Prideaux)

This national survey focused on the three largest groups of American Christians: Roman Catholics, non-evangelical Protestants, and born again/Evangelical Christians. It didn’t report on other religious groups in the U.S. or on people without any religious affiliation. Perhaps further research will reveal how far the Francis Effect has extended to these latter groups. But it’s already clear that Pope Francis’ message has touched the lives of at least some individuals who belong to religions not included in the survey.

Take, for instance, Lise Olney and Amy Benjamin, two Boston-area social justice activists who are members, respectively, of a Unitarian Universalist and a Jewish congregation. The two women were so moved by Pope Francis’ message that they began to organize an interfaith response. On Columbus Day, October 12, they pulled together “Answering the Call: An Interfaith Gathering for Climate Action,” which was held at Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley. Billed as “part service, part forum, and part rally,” the event focused on how Pope Francis is connecting faith, social justice, and climate change; on what the call to climate action means to people of faith in Massachusetts; and on what we can accomplish together as people of faith that we cannot accomplish alone.

They expected only a small crowd. Instead, almost 600 people showed up.

Mariama White-Hammond (photo by Robert A. Jonas)
Mariama White-Hammond (photo by Robert A. Jonas)

Thus launched the Massachusetts Interfaith Coalition for Climate Action, a network so new that even now we are trying to decide how to pronounce the acronym. Should “MAICCA” sound like “May-cah” or maybe “Micah,” in deference to the Hebrew prophet who enjoined his followers “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8)?

Less than a month after MAICCA – however you pronounce it – burst onto the scene, its core team convened a legislative day of action in Boston on November 10. Well over 200 religious leaders and members of faith communities came from across Massachusetts for a spirited rally inside the State House, asking legislators to make a swift transition to clean, safe, renewable energy and to honor our moral mandate to protect low-income and other historically under-served communities.

Rev. Fred Small (photo by Quentin Prideaux)
Rev. Fred Small (photo by Quentin Prideaux)

“We are here today because we know that there are crucial decisions to be made,” said Mariama White-Hammond, a minister in training at Bethel A.M.E. Church in Jamaica Plain. “There are decisions that will impact not just the here and now, but generations to come. And so we are here, in these hallowed halls, because we are ready to start a revolution.”

Rev. Fred Small, the Unitarian Universalist minister who recently quit his job at First Parish in Cambridge to work fulltime for climate justice, gave an impassioned call to action. “Too long,” he said, “have people of faith hung back from political engagement to defend creation, future generations, and the most vulnerable of our neighbors. Politics is complicated, it’s messy, and it’s a lot of work. But it is holy work. It is necessary work. Today we embrace it in the name of love. There are powerful interests invested in the status quo. They are not evil people, but they are captive to an energy system that is deadly to life on earth… Today we lift our voices – the voices of people of faith, the voices of neighborhoods, the voices of our descendants yet to come, the voices of all God’s creatures. And we shall be heard!” (For the full text of his remarks, click here.)

Glimpse of the crowd (photo by Quintin Prideaux)
Glimpse of the crowd (photo by Quintin Prideaux)

Our coalition, whose members come from more than 60 religious and spiritual organizations, is pushing for a comprehensive energy plan that invests in renewables (solar and wind power) and in local economies. Its priorities for upcoming energy legislation include
• lifting the caps on solar energy and expanding incentives for community and low-income solar installations;
• investing in off-shore wind development, particularly in communities where coal-fired power plants have closed or are closing;
• ensuring that energy efficiency programs serve all communities, including low- and moderate income homes, renters, and people who speak no English;
• fixing natural gas leaks; and
• rejecting public subsidies for new natural gas pipelines (for a full description of the priorities, visit here.

Rep. Frank Smizik, Rabbi Shoshana Meira Friedman, Rev. Fred Small, Rev. Reebee Girash, Margaret, Mariama White-Hammond, Amy Benjamin, Lise Olney
Rep. Frank Smizik, Rabbi Shoshana Meira Friedman, Rev. Fred Small, Rev. Reebee Girash, Margaret, Mariama White-Hammond, Lise Olney, Amy Benjamin

After the rally, most of us fanned out to visit more than 60 legislators’ offices, where we outlined and advocated for our legislative priorities, and delivered some 1500 postcards. Along with a small group of MAICCA leaders, I headed to the office of Speaker of the House, Robert DeLeo (D-Winthrop) and then to the office of the Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, Brian S. Dempsey (D-Haverhill). Because this is a critical moment for solar legislation in Massachusetts, we focused particularly on the moral mandate both to lift the caps on solar power and to protect community and low-income solar so that everyone can enjoy the benefits of solar energy. (In the hall we ran into Rep. Frank Smizik (Brookline), Chair of the House Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change, and nabbed a quick photo.)

Meanwhile, my husband Robert A. Jonas, who serves as Chair of the Board of the Kestrel Land Trust, headed downstairs to join a packed auditorium for a public hearing on a bill that would strip the protected status from conservation lands in Sandisfield, MA, in order to allow construction of a pipeline carrying fracked natural gas from Pennsylvania. Opposition to the pipeline has been fierce – see, for instance, MassPLAN and No Fracked Gas in Mass.

Judy Eiseman, Robert A. Jonas, and Kristin DeBoer, representing the Kestrel Land Trust
Judy Eiseman, Robert A. Jonas, and Kristin DeBoer, representing the Kestrel Land Trust

I doubt that many people involved in the rally, the lobbying, or the hearing had heard of the Francis Effect, but one way or another all of us seemed to have taken to heart the Pope’s concept of “integral ecology,” which stresses how deeply everything is connected. As Pope Francis wrote in his encyclical, “We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature” (139).

Will we keep building momentum and keep pushing for social transformation? Will we keep finding new partners and keep reaching out to bring new people into the climate justice movement? Will we lobby, vote, phone our legislators, divest from fossil fuels, perhaps even engage in civil disobedience? What happens next is up to us.

Near the end of the survey that reported on “The Francis Effect,” the authors remark: “It is important to note that The Francis Effect may fade or grow over time.”

Whether it fades or grows depends on what you, I, and countless others do next.


Here is what I said at the rally inside the Statehouse (visit here to download a pdf):

It is a joy to stand here with people of so many different religious and spiritual traditions, all of us united for a common purpose.

We’re here because Massachusetts is poised at an energy crossroads, and we have a precious opportunity, a precious responsibility, to choose a more just and sustainable future.

The world’s religions proclaim that the Earth is entrusted to our care and that we have a moral responsibility to build just, generous, and life-sustaining societies. I don’t know what tradition, if any, you belong to – whether you call yourself “religious” or “spiritual” or “none of the above.” However you define your deepest meaning and values, I hope that you will come to think of yourself as a person of faith.

We need people of faith.

Here’s why. Until now, humanity has seemed incapable of breaking away from the power of the fossil fuel industry or of imagining a life-sustaining future. It’s as if we’ve fallen under a spell and made what U.N. Secretary General Ban-ki Moon calls a “global suicide pact.”

I’m here to say that in Massachusetts, we’re not going to settle for a global suicide pact, or for a local one, either. At this energy crossroads, one path leads to “business as usual,” an economy mired in dirty fossil fuels that push the planet toward catastrophic climate disruption. The other path leads to clean, safe, renewable energy from sun and wind, to energy efficiency and energy conservation. One path leads to profit for the few, suffering for the many, and, before too long, death for all. The other path leads to a stable climate, clean air, soil, and water, good “green” jobs, and the ongoing evolution of life as we know it on this planet.

We know which path we choose. We choose life. We choose that path because, whatever our religious tradition, we are people of faith.

Who are people of faith?

People who see the long view, not just short-term quarterly 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 our hope not in the promise of success but in being faithful to the love that created us and that holds all things together.

Thank you for being people of faith. Thank you for your commitment to urging our Commonwealth to choose a good path, one that stabilizes the climate and that ensures that all our communities can enjoy a clean and just energy future.



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 next morning I come across another report in The New York Times – this one placed not on the front page, but on page 10, as if the editor hoped to shield the reader from frightening news. A new study reports that burning all the world’s deposits of coal, oil, and natural gas would raise the global temperature enough to melt the ice sheet that covers Antarctica, along with the rest of the earth’s land ice. Sea levels would likely rise more than 200 feet.

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.”

Margerie Glacier Calving, Glacier Bay National Park, AlaskaAs 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.

Week of Moral Action for Climate JusticeNext 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.

The encyclical itself has generated a strong response: negative reviews from right-wing politicians wedded to the fossil fuel status quo and ringing endorsements from religious leaders worldwide who view climate justice as a moral imperative.  More than 400 rabbis have signed a Rabbinic Letter on the Climate Crisis that was timed to support the papal encyclical.  Islamic leaders from 20 countries recently released the Islamic Declaration on Climate Change, urging action based on a religious mandate to protect the planet. Anglican bishops just issued a fresh call for action on climate justice.

During the week in DC I will offer a prayer at the National Prayer Breakfast for Creation Care, hosted by National Religious Coalition for Creation Care (NRCCC), and I will offer a prayer at the Interfaith Prayer Vigil near the National Mall that concludes the marking of Yom Kippur, one of the holiest days in the Jewish calendar, and a day of atonement. I will walk through the halls of Congress, delivering copies of a letter about the climate emergency that I took the lead on writing on behalf of NRCCC, and I will stand with thousands of people on the National Mall to watch on Jumbo Trons as the Pope delivers his message to Congress. That night I will savor a celebration of song, prayer, sermons, and poetry about faith and climate at the National Cathedral, which will be live-streamed nationally.

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!