Light in the Darkness of Climate Change

Sermon preached on August 16, 2021 at Nevada City United Methodist Church (sermon begins 30.44 minutes in)

Humanity is facing a code red alert because of how much and how fast the planet is heating up, and most of the warming is unequivocally the result of human greenhouse gas emissions. That’s the message from the latest scientific report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. All over the world, extreme weather-related disasters are shattering all records. Here it has been heat waves, droughts, and wildfires.

The recent fires have been traumatic for our community. They started during Pastor Gail’s first month here! She had been preaching a four-part sermon series on the mission of Nevada City United Methodist Church, “the light at the top of Broad Street.” She hadn’t even fully unpacked when the sky filled with smoke and evacuations began. Initiation into our community by fire! That’s when Pastor Gail invited me to preach today about climate change.

Hold this image in your mind: our church at night, in the dark of winter, during Victorian Christmas, with all the lights shining. Solar panels on the roof now power those lights. The mortgage was paid off recently and our energy bills are much reduced. It’s a beautiful image—a solar-powered beacon at the top of Broad Street. It’s a sign of our church’s willingness to act on climate and a witness to the God of Love who cares for all creation. It’s a way to let our light shine so that others may our good works and give glory to God. We care. God cares. 

One of the most important things we can do as a church in this time of climate change is to help change the values and metaphors and assumptions of the dominant culture. That’s what Jesus did. This passage comes right after Jesus’s teachings on wealth. He says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth,” but rather, “in heaven.” “You cannot serve both God and wealth,” or “You can’t serve both God and money.”  

“Therefore, he says, “do not worry” or (in some versions) “do not be anxious” about food or drink or clothes or tomorrow or even your own life. Rather, live simply, trusting God. This has been called “the most radiant passage on Christian simplicity in the Bible.” It is an antidote to our culture of instant gratification, overconsumption, overuse and misuse of the gifts of the earth.

Jesus instructs his followers to consider how God cares for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. Sadly, such reflections on creation can bring us face to face with our deep anxiety about the worrisome loss of species and humanity’s impact on the planet. We experience not only the glory of creation but also its pain.  But as we move out of denial and face our feelings, we allow space for the Holy Spirit to intercede for us and for all creation, with sighs too deep for words. And we find a deeper peace, the peace of Christ that passes understanding.

In Matthew 10 Jesus assures us that not one sparrow “will fall to the ground outside of God’s care,” and says, “even the hairs of our head are all numbered.” God’s loving care extends to us and to all parts of creation. We are creatures, part of God’s creation, dependent on God for life and breath and all things, and interdependent with the whole community of life. In John Wesley’s words, “God is the soul of the universe.”

This passage will inform us as we consider how our church can respond to climate change, in addition to solar panels. We’ll look at relief, resilience, and mitigation.

First, relief. When fires threaten and smoke fills the skies, we can offer immediate relief to people who are impacted by climate related disasters.  Our church is good at giving to those who are in need… through our Christmas and Thanksgiving outreach, our regular work with Hospitality House, our organized support for Interfaith Food Ministry, and in many other ways.

During the recent fires and even now in the aftermath, our whole community responded with generosity, raising money, offering food and clothes and shelter for evacuees, even space for people who lost homes. Many of us helped out. 

One thing we could do as a church is to organize in advance disasters. We could support members of our church and community in becoming fire safe and fire ready. We could even offer our church as a resource and become a hub in the community’s disaster response network.

Second, resilience. Immediate disaster relief is not enough.  How can we be a light at the top of Broad Street when the smoke settles? One way is by joining with other groups and individuals to help build a resilient community that can adapt to future changes that we know are coming.

Building a resilient community would include working for food security by supporting local small farms and local businesses. It would mean holding local officials accountable in protecting our soil, air quality, and water and in conserving energy and moving to renewable power. Building a resilient community would also mean fostering just relations for all of God’s people. Our work on behalf of racial justice and LGBTQ inclusion can’t be ignored. No one can be left behind. All these things will be important in adapting as a community as the climate warms. 

Third, mitigation. In climate change lingo, this means reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. Even as the smoke clears, the impacts of climate change will continue. Scientists make clear that the magnitude of the problem is beyond the scope of any individual solutions. We need bold policies to reduce emissions now.

Working toward mitigation means advocating for an immediate transition away from fossil fuels to just and sustainably sourced forms of renewable power, advocating for policies that would keep fossil fuels in the ground without harming the poor. But this advocacy can only be successful if we join others in building a movement for climate justice that is strong enough to pressure the powers that be to make it happen.  Fortunately, there is such a movement… it is strong, it’s growing, and it is global, on every continent. Its slogan is “another world is possible.”

None of this sounds easy.  So let’s turn again today’s passage from Matthew six. Note that Jesus is not just saying “don’t worry, be happy,” as the song goes, or “relax and take it easy, and leave everything up to God.” Not at all. Jesus says, “Strive first for the kingdom of God and its righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

But just what does this mean? The proclamation of the kingdom of God (or the kingdom of heaven) was central to Jesus’s ministry. He talked about it in different ways. It’s like a small seed that grows into a big tree. It’s like a treasure buried in a field or a pearl of great price that is worth everything we have. He talked about it as a present reality: “The kingdom of God is within you” and “The kingdom of God is among you.” At the same time, he talked about the coming of the kingdom of God, and he called people to “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.”

Jesus is talking about a reality that is already present, but not yet fully revealed. He tells his followers to strive for God’s kingdom and teaches us to pray: “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” These are two ways of praying for the same thing. For when God’s will is done on earth, God’s kingdom is revealed.

Biblical scholars and theologians refer to it in different ways, as “God’s intended world” or “God’s dream, ” or God’s Domination-Free order. It’s been called “Love’s Domain,” or “Love’s Rule,” because “the Kingdom of God is where the God who is Love rules.” Martin Luther King, Jr.’s term “The Beloved Community” is another way of talking about the compassionate and inclusive community that Jesus proclaimed and created when he walked on earth. Theologian Jurgen Moltmann refers to this understanding when he says that Christian hope is “hope that the world can be different.” Or in secular terms, “Another world is possible.”  

We are called to pray and strive for the coming of God’s reign here on earth, even in the midst of climate change. That’s what it means to follow Jesus. As the light at the top of Broad Street, we point not to ourselves but beyond ourselves to Jesus, doing our small part to be faithful in a time of climate change. Our mission is to be a faith community that prays for and strives for vision of the world as God intends for it to be, for God’s reign of compassion and justice for all creation, for God’s will, God’s dream, Love’s domain. And we reflect that vision as best we can to our community and world.

So don’t worry. Turn your worry into prayer. God’s got us. We’ve got each other. 

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Other blog postings about climate change can be found here.  

Local Grandmothers Highlight Intergenerational Pipeline Struggle

In late May, I travelled to Minnesota by train with three other local grandmothers, Janie Kesselman, Shirley Osgood, and Joyce Banzhaf, to join a 31-member delegation of 1000 Grandmothers for Future Generations. Our purpose was to highlight the intergenerational nature of the struggle to stop construction of the Enbridge Line 3 dirty tar sands oil pipeline. Together, we visited and helped out at the Water Protectors Camp which serves as a welcome center for visiting Line 3 activists, we hosted young Indigenous activists from a frontline camp for a memorial ceremony on the 1st anniversary of George Floyd’s death, and we held two public demonstrations, including one at the Minnesota Governor’s Mansion in St. Paul See video of that action here  and See pictures of the trip here.

The delegation included Lakota grandmothers from South Dakota, including Madonna Thunder Hawk and Mabel Ann Eagle Hunter, who have been activists struggling for Indigenous rights and the rights of Mother Earth for over 60 years; Alcatraz was in 1968, and was not their first big action! They were engaged in an ongoing way with the American Indian Movement (AIM).  Their daughters and niece, now also grandmothers, had also been involved with AIM as children and teens and were also part of this delegation. All of us were motivated by concerns for today’s children, for the natural world and our other-than-human relatives, and for future generations.

Our grandmothers’ trip was a precursor to the Treaty People Gathering that is taking place early in June in support of the Anishinaabe people, whose treaty rights are threatened by this pipeline. (See #TreatyPeopleGathering). Massive demonstrations are taking place along the route of pipeline construction. Thousands are participating, including Indigenous leaders, celebrities, climate justice activists, and others who understand what is at stake if the construction of oil and gas pipelines and other fossil fuel infrastructure continues to extend the fossil-fuel era. People are engaging in major public actions, including nonviolent civil disobedience at pipeline construction sites.

The Nevada County contingent stayed an extra day and participated in an action led by Indigenous youth where two young people were arrested for trespassing and stopping workers from continuing construction by climbing onto the newly-laid pipeline. The four of us did not risk arrest and made it to the train for our return trip that night. We returned home grateful for being welcomed and included, sobered by all that we had learned and have yet to learn about the issues related to Line 3 and about respecting Indigenous leadership.

The Enbridge Line 3 Pipeline would run from Canada through the Mississippi headwaters and Minnesota’s lake country, threatening its pristine waters. It also runs through sacred ancient wild rice beds, traditionally harvested by the Anishinaabe people. This land is under treaty with the Anishinaabe, who have the rights to hunt, fish, and gather wild rice, all threatened by this pipeline. Treaty rights are the law of the land, with priority over federal or state laws.

Enbridge, a Canadian corporation, has a terrible safety record, with over 1068 pipeline spills before 2013, leaking 7.4 million gallons of oil. Disastrous spills continue. Enbridge calls the new Line 3 a “replacement pipeline” although it is constructing 300 miles of pipeline along a new route, abandoning the old pipeline to deteriorate in place, and doubling the quantity of dirty tar sands oil.

Climate activists make the case that long-lasting fossil fuel infrastructure such as pipelines locks us into increasing greenhouse gas emissions and rising global temperatures for decades. This project alone would have the climate impact of 50 coal mines, counteracting Minnesota’s plans to reduce climate change by investing in renewable energy, green jobs, energy-efficient buildings, and electric cars.

Since 2011, the United States has been a net exporter of fossil fuels. Under the Paris Climate Accords, our exports of fossil fuel are not counted. So even if we reduce emissions nationally, by continuing to increase our exports of fossil fuels we cancel out our stated intentions to reduce global climate change. Stopping construction of new oil and gas pipelines is a necessary step to addressing climate change.

Finally, solidarity with Indigenous peoples in their struggles for a livable world is a way to affirm indigenous wisdom and perspectives that move us from a worldview that promotes organizing society around the market to a worldview that promotes organizing around concern for the whole community of life. This lays a foundation for actions that impact the future in ways that further the good and heal the past.

For anyone who is convinced that the struggle against Line 3 is an important effort, there are many actions that we can take. Indigenous leaders are requesting that supporters call on President Biden to cancel this pipeline.  Find a petition here:  https://www.stopline3.org/take-action. Go to https://www.stopline3.org/biden for more information on how to contact Biden and make it clear to him that there is a large and diverse intergenerational movement to #StopLine3.

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https://www.oilandwaterdontmix.org/enbridge_safety_record

Seasonal Thoughts on Climate Justice

Progressive Christian Social Action

Seasonal Thoughts on Climate Justice

This post was published as A Seasonal Reflection on Climate Justice in the Grass Valley Union on December 19, 2020.

During this season, Christmas carols feature angels singing “peace on earth, goodwill to men” (meaning all) and choruses proclaiming, “Let heaven and nature sing.” These words express the universality of the divine intention for good, the hopeful spirit of the season, and humanity’s yearning for peace, goodwill, and the abundance of life on earth.

As part of the Union’s regular series on climate change, my article is appearing when people of the world’s many spiritual traditions celebrate hope as light breaks through the winter darkness and days begin to lengthen. These varied traditions offer comfort and renewal, even as we face an overwhelming surge of pandemic-related tragedies and needs. With so many other concerns, it’s hard to think about climate change, but rising global temperatures and intensifying weather-related disasters do not pause for the coronavirus and will bring ever-increasing harm if we ignore them. Climate change is violence against people and against the natural world. Our challenge is to achieve climate justice: justice for our human family, especially those most impacted and threatened by our changing climate, intergenerational justice for children and future generations, and justice for the earth that sustains us all.

It will take people of all religious, spiritual, and philosophical perspectives, working together, to bring about a world of climate justice. Yet instead of the unity we need to address today’s challenges, there is an extreme political and social divide. How can we effectively address climate change in this “climate” of division? Perhaps this season of goodwill can inspire us to reach out beyond the boundaries that separate us and build bridges that unite.

Especially concerning to me are divisions within my own faith tradition, Christianity. But the Christmas story foretells the good news of the compassionate, wise, inclusive, egalitarian, nonviolent Jesus of Nazareth, who challenged the Powers that be and was executed for doing so, and whose Spirit still animates those who seek to follow him. Even today, many pray and work for God’s compassionate will to be done “on earth as it is in heaven,” that is, for a world of peace, goodwill, and abundant life. For some, this includes a yearning for climate justice.

Many people look to the New Year and to the Biden Administration for strong climate action. Some hope to gain bipartisan Congressional support by proposing modest initiatives. But a modest approach would not ensure that the United States does its part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at a scale that would help limit global temperatures to 1.5℃ (2.7℉) above pre-industrial temperatures, the internationally agreed-upon upper limit to prevent runaway climate change.

The only proposed legislation so far that would set annual, science-based emissions reduction targets while also addressing systemic injustice is the Green New Deal. Highlights include guaranteed living-wage jobs and a “just transition” for both workers and frontline communities. As the world has acknowledged since 1992, when the foundational climate treaty was signed at the UN Conference on Environment and Development (which I attended in Rio de Janeiro as part of the United Methodist delegation), the only way to effectively address climate change is to also tackle issues of social, economic, and environmental justice. This would increase goodwill among nations and reduce the violence of climate change.

President-elect Joe Biden has his work cut out for him. Restoring agencies, programs, and competent staff will be a huge task. Restoring international relations is another challenge. Biden is right in saying that rejoining the Paris Climate Accords is important but not enough. Building a world of climate justice will require a strong, diverse, and well-organized global movement that can exert power to demand justice for both people and the earth. Only “people power” will be able to move public officials here and elsewhere to take the strong and coordinated actions necessary to protect those most vulnerable to the ravages of pandemic, poverty, injustices, and climate change and to create a world of inclusion, equity, ecological healing, and peace. Fortunately, this movement for global justice is well underway; it is strong and growing. Its slogan is “Another world is possible.”

During this season, our songs, prayers, decorations, candle-lighting, charitable giving, feasting, exchanging gifts, and other rituals demonstrate and point to hope for the world. As we celebrate the dawning of light, may our varied spiritual traditions inspire us to join together in unity, not just to address climate change as an isolated issue but to work for climate justice and a world of peace, goodwill, and abundant life.

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Her other blog postings about climate change can be found here.  

 

 

Why Nonviolent Direct Action?

Progressive Christian Social Action

Friends, I wrote this post and recorded it for Youtube as we were getting ready for a peaceful march on October 4th for racial equity, inclusion, and peace.  Although the march is over, I wrote this to share why I believe nonviolent direct action is important in social change.

People sometimes argue that we should not go out into the streets for demonstrations at this time of division because it is dangerous. This may be true. Some say such actions further the divisions among us. They certainly may highlight the divisions. Some people argue that we should do more studying of the issues or reach out to talk with people who think differently than we do or focus on doing the inner work of changing our own hearts. Certainly, all these things need to be done.

But at this time of upheaval, our challenge is not just to change people’s hearts. Changing people’s hearts is a central part of the theory and practice of nonviolence—especially changing our own hearts.  We know that hurt people tend to hurt people unless they have found healing. But it’s also crucial to change public policy, and that takes more than voting every four years. Changing hearts and changing public policy goes together.

Martin Luther King, Jr. stated the role of nonviolent direct action:

“You may well ask, `Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches, etc.? Isn’t negotiation a better path?’ You are exactly right in your call for negotiation. Indeed, this is the purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.”

Mohandas Gandhi led the nonviolent struggle against the British occupation of India.  The whole time he insisted that the British would leave India not as enemies but as friends. And they did. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Love is the refusal to defeat any individual. When you rise to the level of love, of its great beauty and power, you seek only to defeat evil systems. Individuals who happen to be caught up in that system, you love, but you seek to defeat the system.” In nonviolent direct action, changing hearts and changing public opinion go together.

In recent months, white nationalists calling themselves patriots have been violently disrupting peaceful demonstrations for racial justice in smaller rural communities like Rocklin, Placerville, Auburn, and here in Nevada City. We all hope that they won’t try to disrupt our upcoming march, where we plan to come together to demonstrate strong community support for racial equity and inclusion and peace. I do hope that Proud Boys and others like them really are “standing back and standing by” for now, including here in Nevada County as we prepare for this march. But they haven’t been told to stand down, and we have to be prepared with all the nonviolent tools at our disposal, especially as this critical election draws near.

Why take nonviolent direct action? Why go out into the streets? Because we don’t yet know how far down our society and world might go toward fascism or social and ecological collapse if we don’t face these challenges together.  Right now, the time calls us to stand with our BIPOC brothers and sisters, mothers, fathers, grandparents, and children. Otherwise what Martin Niemoller said during the Nazi era could come true:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Regardless of what path we take, there are no guarantees, whether we take to the streets or stay home. But it seems to me that in the long run we are safer if we take action together nonviolently in a coordinated way.  I invite you to form supportive groups of people you trust, study nonviolence theory and practice, and form equitable and inclusive relationships with people engaged in today’s multi-faceted struggle.

Join us in envisioning and demonstrating for and creating the world as we know it can be, a world built upon values and policies that support the common good and will sustain us into the future, such as truth and reconciliation, voting rights and participatory democracy, racial, social and economic equity, health care for all, public health and environmental policies supported by science, and community well-being.

I hope to see you in the streets.

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George Floyd: Say His Name

“In resistance people live most humanly. No to death means yes to life.” Twentieth-century theologian William Stringfellow

Our organization, Earth Justice Ministries, is deeply committed to the principle and practice of nonviolence. We promote disciplined nonviolence in word and deed in our personal lives and organized, cooperative nonviolent action in public demonstrations.

Nevertheless, we recognize the violence and racist discrimination inherent in the current system. We are grieved but not surprised by the uprisings that are taking place in various cities following the violent killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis this past week. The property destruction and violence and looting express the grief and outrage that communities treated unjustly have experienced for far too long. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Looting is the language of the unheard.” We, too, abhor the ongoing killing of black men and women by police and others, which is the issue these communities are reacting to.

In times of great social evil, the only way to maintain our humanity and our integrity is to live in resistance to systems of domination that bring injustice and death. This is such a time, when human beings are targeted, treated cruelly, and killed because of their race.

Who was George Floyd? It is important to say his name. The point of Black Lives Matter is that people who are black or brown are not expendable. George Floyd was a person, known by many as “Big George.” He had gifts, hopes, dreams, and people who loved him. He played a role in his community. A friend writes, “He was the man that helped me drag a baptismal pool to the court in the projects so we could baptize dudes in the hood. The man that put down chairs and helped put down and clean up chairs at outreaches in the hood. A man of peace. A good man.”

Many people, especially those of us who are white and privileged, don’t want to believe that white supremacy and systemic racism are real in the United States. “White fragility” makes it hard to face, especially if we feel accused of racism or of being complicit in a system of racist discrimination. The way we recount US history, even in our history books, tend to forget or soften or leave out the blatant injustice upon which our country was founded and upon which was built the wealth of the nation: colonialism, genocide, slavery, economic injustice, violence against women, oppression of workers, scapegoating of immigrants, projection of military power, and the exploitation and destruction of the natural world. Whatever gains we have made in recent times have come only through the struggles of people joining together to demand justice, peace, and environmental care. These struggles are as important today as ever, perhaps more so in the current resurgence of racist violence and its encouragement from the top of our government hierarchy.

The only way to face the atrocities taking place in the United States today, with our tax dollars and in our names, is to stand in peaceful solidarity with the victims of unjust policies, rise in nonviolent resistance, and speak out for what is right. To accept the reality of such things without taking a stand is to side with the oppressors and be diminished as human beings. Still, many choose the relative comfort of denial and apathy over the discomfort of being at odds with the system from which many of us benefit.

We are convinced that the spirit of love that is present at the heart of the universe is at work even now through all who foster peaceful and just relationships and seek the common good.

The Reverend Sharon Delgado for The Board of Directors of Earth Justice Ministries