Climate Change-What Love Requires

Progressive Christian Social Action

Climate Change-What Love Requires

This post is an excerpt from Love in a Time of Climate Change, published at the Evangelicals for Social Action website.

It was love that brought me to this jail cell. – Sandra Steingraber

When my granddaughter Nikayla was ten years old, climate change became real to her. She learned that glaciers and ice sheets are melting, endangering the habitats of Polar bears and Emperor penguins. She loves animals, as most children do, so she created a poster with pictures of hearts, the earth, and animals. The poster said:

“Save our earth! We all know our earth is at stake! We need to do something about it. Try not killing animals or grow a garden. We need our earth to live on. We need you to help save our earth. There are many endangered species of animals. Please save our animals. There is a Polar bear for instance and all of a sudden the ice melts under his feet and he sinks in. There is no land for thousands of miles so there is nothing to do. He just dies. We need to save our animals, too. Save our earth. Save our animals.”

My granddaughter empathized with the penguins and Polar bears, felt grief when she thought about their suffering, and responded by making a poster. Her feelings motivated her to action. Her response brings to mind John Wesley’s counsel to reflect on the suffering of animals as a way to “soften and enlarge our hearts.” The resulting empathy involves an experiential change: a change of attitude and an increase of love.

Studies show that in order for people to be motivated to take action on climate change, their knowledge and concern must move from the head to the heart. Those of us whose lives are still intact may not realize the grave implications of a warming world. Even if we understand climate change intellectually and accept the conclusions of climate scientists, we may not internalize the dangers if we experience relative stability in our day-to-day lives. This disconnection between our head and our heart may prevent us from responding in a way that is proportional to the dangers we face.

We have seen that scripture, tradition, and reason uphold the call for justice, but how can we internalize this knowledge so that it is confirmed at the level of our own experience? What will lift us out of denial, self-centeredness, despair, and paralysis, and motivate us to respond to the suffering of others by joining in the work for climate justice?

The answer is love. According to Michael Lodahl, “For Wesley the love of God is to be experienced, in some sense felt, deep within our beings. Wesley was not content with a purely intellectual faith, nor even with a simply volitional faith, but with a faith of conscious and experienced relation to God and neighbor.”

Wesley spoke of salvation as “deliverance from a blind, unfeeling heart, quite insensible of God and the things of God.” Religious faith is not simply a rational assent to a belief or doctrine, but as Wesley said, it is “no other than love, the love of God and of all mankind; the loving God with all our heart, and soul, and strength, as having first loved us…, as the fountain of all the good we have received, and of all we ever hope to enjoy; and the loving every soul which God hath made, every man on earth as our own soul. This love is the great medicine of life; the never failing remedy for all the evils of a disordered world; for all the miseries and vices of men.”

This love is real in human experience. We have explored the experience of God as revealed through creation and the experience of assurance of God’s forgiveness and love. Now we focus on the experience of God’s love within us, moving us to compassion for others. Compassion motivates us to acts of mercy and justice that witness to God’s love, embody hope, and positively influence the world. Love is the only foundation strong enough to carry us through the difficulties posed by climate change with courage, compassion, persistence, and hope.

Love is the only foundation strong enough to carry us through the difficulties posed by climate change with courage, compassion, persistence, and hope.

Some people may fear being swallowed up by pain, guilt, or the inability to cope if they open their hearts to the magnitude of suffering caused by climate change. Denial and suppression of such feelings may seem to be the only way to carry on with current responsibilities as a functional human being. But as we grow spiritually and mature in faith, our capacity for both joy and sorrow expand. As we become more fully alive and connected with others, we come to recognize the presence of love in the full range of human emotion. We move out of denial through faith and are carried by love. The climate crisis presents us with opportunities to demonstrate that love in a variety of ways, in solidarity with people on the front lines of the struggle for climate justice. As Joan Baez said, “Action is the antidote to despair….”

As people of faith, the climate crisis demands that each of us decide where we stand and what love requires. In each moment we have a choice: to follow where love leads or to relinquish our responsibility to choose. Each prayer and each action has significance. With each decision we move the world closer to climate chaos or to climate justice. In each moment we stand on the front lines of climate change.

Love brought Sandra Steingraber to a jail cell for civil disobedience. Love brought Jesus to the cross. Where will love bring you?

Sharon Delgado creatively adapts John Wesley’s theological method by using scripture, tradition, reason, and experience to explore the themes of creation and justice in her book Love in a Time of Climate Change, from which this article is excerpted with permission from Fortress Press. The premise is that love of God and neighbor requires us to honor creation and establish justice for our human family, future generations, and all creation. From the Introduction: “As we entrust our lives to God, we are enabled to join with others in the movement for climate justice and to carry a unified message of healing, love, and solidarity as we live into God’s future, offering hope amidst the climate crisis that ‘another world is possible.’ God is ever present, always with us.  Love never ends.”

See the article at http://www.evangelicalsforsocialaction.org/creation-care/24462/

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It’s a Sin to Build a Nuclear Weapon

I pulled out this old “historic” poster and put it up on our refrigerator today, after the false alarm went out to Hawaiians that an incoming (presumably nuclear) missile was on its way.  My grown children will recognize the poster, because it was on our refrigerator for years.  I began my career as an activist in 1979, when I realized the extent of the very real danger of nuclear war. I was engaged in the peace and anti-nuclear movement the whole time they were growing up.  They remember carrying candles and walking from Pioneer Park to the Broad Street Bridge in Nevada City each year on August 6, Hiroshima Day.  During the election year of 1984, I was a paid organizer for the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign’s Political Action Committee (PAC), Freeze Voter ’84, which I worked on here in Nevada County.  (Read here about  The Nuclear Freeze and its Impact.)

One morning, I was at home by myself, cleaning house while I listened to a tape of Helen Caldicott talking about the psychological effects of nuclear war on the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, known as hibakusha. Listening to their stories about what they had suffered over the years, I imagined my own family going through what they had gone through and I began to weep.

Suddenly, I was struck with the thought: How must God feel about all this? How must God feel about what we human beings have done to each other, and about what we intend to do, as we stockpile nuclear weapons? I fell to my knees, praying for forgiveness, overcome with a sense of the depth of pain that God must bear because of the horrors we human beings create for each other. To this day, I believe that God weeps for the harm we do and prepare for each other.

When the Cold War finally ended, people around the world heaved a sigh of relief, believing that it signaled the end of the nuclear arms race and the possibility of world peace. Instead, the danger of nuclear war, while less visible in the public eye than during the Cold War, continues to threaten humanity.  In recent years, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has moved the time on its “Doomsday Clock” closer and closer to midnight, that is, “doomsday.”  They warn of a “Second Nuclear Age,”with increasing vulnerability to global catastrophe from nuclear weapons, climate change, and other harmful emerging technologies.  In January 2017, soon after Donald Trump’s inauguration, the Scientists moved the time on the Doomsday Clock to 2 1/2 minutes to midnight.  In addition to unchecked climate change, growing disputes among nuclear-armed nations, nuclear weapons modernization programs, and lack of serious arms-control negotiations, they cited Donald Trump’s statements about using nuclear weapons and about doubting the scientific consensus on climate change.

Now the Trump Administration is planning to take actions that will make the world even more vulnerable to nuclear war.  The Pentagon’s Nuclear Posture Review includes plans to develop new, more usable nuclear weapons and to “expand the circumstances in which the U.S. might use its nuclear arsenal,” even in response to a non-nuclear attack.  (See Rising Concerns about Nuclear War as Trump Prepares to Loosen Constraints on Weapons.) This plan heightens global tensions and raises the dangers of a deliberate or accidental nuclear war.

Donald Trump, however, did not bring us to this pass.  The United States has never pledged to refrain from launching a nuclear first strike, and it is the only country that has ever used nuclear weapons against another nation.  Although President Obama spoke early in his presidency about eventually ridding the world of the nuclear threat, his administration initiated a trillion-dollar program to upgrade and modernize the US nuclear arsenal.  The plan called for creating modernized nuclear weapons that will be smaller, stealthy, maneuverable, and highly accurate.  These features will make them more likely to be used, but there is no coherent strategy for avoiding escalation if they are launched.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States has been the only remaining superpower.  Why, then, has this country not led a major diplomatic effort toward disarmament, peacemaking, and sustainable development in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, the former Soviet Union, and elsewhere? Would this not create a far more secure world? Why do we continue developing increasingly accurate and usable first-strike nuclear weapons, and why are our nuclear weapons still on high alert? Why are we selling advanced war-fighting weapons on the open market and opposing treaties that limit the global arms trade? Why are we launching drone attacks that kill civilians, fuel hatred, and provide a recruiting tool for terrorists?  Why not instead institute a Global Marshall Plan to alleviate suffering and create international goodwill?  Such a policy would go a long way toward creating security for the United States and for the world.

It’s time for a renewal of the peace movement!  I hope that the many people who are actively resisting the harms caused by the Trump Administration will include the challenging work of peacemaking as a priority.  This is certainly a practical issue, for the sake of the world, but it is also a spiritual issue.  I am complicit if I don’t speak out and take action to resist the violent, unjust, and yes, sinful actions of my government.  God weeps at the harm we do and prepare for each other.  “It’s a sin to build a nuclear weapon.”  Another world is possible.

 

This post includes an excerpt from Shaking the Gates of Hell:  Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization by Sharon Delgado.   An updated Second Edition will be released by Fortress Press in the fall of 2018.

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Teaching Children about Creation… and Evolution

Progressive Christian Social Action

Teaching Children about Creation… and Evolution

I have a collection of children’s books about creation that I read to my grandchildren and to the Sunday school children in my church. Some of the books present the seven-day sequence from Genesis 1, with colorful pictures showing the emergence of light and dark, heavenly bodies, plants, sea life and birds, and finally animals and human beings. Some books are based on the story of Adam and Eve. Jane Ray’s Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden, on the other hand, tells the creation story, which has a completely different order of creation, by saying: “At the very beginning of the world the earth was a dry and dusty place, where nothing could live and nothing could grow. So God made a mist which watered the ground all over. Then with his great hands, he formed the first man of the clay of the newly watered earth.”

Other picture books on creation are more loosely based on scripture. And God Created Squash by Martha Whitmore Hickman portrays God as an old man with long white hair and a beard, thinking up things to create. He puts his ear to the ground and says, “I’d like to hear something growing.” As he creates he walks around smelling flowers, tasting food, and enjoying the abundance of life. At the end he says, “I’ll be around. You may not see me. But I’ll be here—and there—wherever you are, whenever you need me. Even in the middle of the night.” Big Momma Makes the World by Phyllis Root presents a feminine image of God: “When Big Momma made the world, she didn’t mess around… she rolled up her sleeves and went to it.” Big Momma, with a playful baby on her hip, takes mud and knits it together to create the world and everything in it, culminating in a huge ball of mud out of which emerge people of every race, size, and shape. They are, apparently, naked, to the delight of the children.

Each of these books is a creative contemporary expression of Judeo-Christian traditional teachings on creation. Each has its own unique twist based on the theological interpretation of the author. Christian tradition is not static. It develops in an ongoing way.

A Christian understanding of creation doesn’t rule out respect for science. I also read the children a science-based book about the origins of the universe called Life Story by Virginia Lee Burton, author of children’s classics such as Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel and The Little House. Life Story begins with the birth of the Sun, “one of the millions and billions of stars that make up our galaxy.” It proceeds with a fascinating walk through geological time and the evolution of life on earth right up to the present. “And now it is your Life Story… The stage is set, the time is now, and the place wherever you are.”

I have never felt there was a conflict between reading the traditional storybooks that talk about God creating the world and children’s books based on science. These accounts of creation complement each other. The children aren’t confused. They know the Bible stories, they know about Jesus, and they know God’s love. They also know about stars, black holes, dinosaurs, and fossils.  . The scientific story of creation doesn’t negate an understanding of God as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of the world.

This blog post is an excerpt from Sharon’s new book,  Love in a Time of Climate Change

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Light in this Present Darkness-Reposted

I am reposting “Light in this Present Darkness,” which I posted three years ago.  It is just as relevant today, as mass shootings continue.

No Evil for Evil

In the midst of winter darkness, people of various spiritual traditions are preparing to celebrate the return of the light.  For me, this year’s Christmas pageant was especially poignant, as the children acted out the story of the birth of a special child.  Following the killings at Shady Hook Elementary, a shroud of darkness has settled across our land.  How can we celebrate in the midst of such unspeakable tragedy?  Where is God, where is the light?

The only light I see is the light of Love, which brings us into being, nurtures us and works through us to nurture others, and leads us in the direction of hope for a more peaceful, just, and compassionate world.  This Love, which is the only God I know, enables us to keep going, caring for the children, enduring hardship and even suffering to make their days bright.  It was this day-to-day Love that motivated Shady Hook’s principal and teachers to try to protect the children in their care.

This Love, “in which we live and move and have our being,” is the light in the midst of this present darkness.  This Love is our only hope.  It points toward a brighter future.  But we can’t see the way Love is pointing if we can’t see where we are.  We must awaken to where we are as a people if we are to see the direction we need to go.

Many of us think of ourselves as spiritual, but we live in and tolerate a society that is violent to the core.  We can see the outward evidence:  bullying of children and others, child and spousal abuse, hate-filled rhetoric in the media, violent movies and video games, military-style weapons available on the open market, gun violence.  We are outraged and frightened by the most shocking incidents, but we don’t know what to do.   Start carrying guns, as suggested by the gun lobby?  Will more people with more guns make us safer?  I don’t think so.

The problem is that there is also an inner dimension to the violence that we see all around us, and even within us.  The violent milieu of our society is supported by a world view that is largely unquestioned by politicians, by the media, or by religious institutions.  US society glorifies domination and violence.  We see ourselves as the Number One nation and promote the “American way of life” as better than other ways of life.   We take for granted our right to use any means at our disposal, including drone warfare, to enforce our will.  Our criminal justice system, which is racially biased and unfair to the poor, is based not on restoration, but on retribution.  Our foreign policy is based on a view of global Empire and is supported by a military-industrial complex that seeks to dominate the world.

At the same time, our society glorifies the Market.  We are told that the Market can best allocate society’s resources, and that taxing the wealthy at a higher rate or putting rules on corporate behavior will drag down the economy.  This is the rationale for cutting services of every kind.  Giving “the Market” so much power means giving power to those with money.  This enables powerful corporations and wealthy individuals to consolidate their power and wealth by dominating political and economic policies.  Such policies do not support services for the mentally ill, victims of domestic violence, or other vulnerable people.  They do not, for that matter, support schools, libraries, or any other public institutions that we have until now taken for granted.  Rather, they increase the gap between rich and poor, which studies show is linked to increasing levels of violence.

To prevent more mass killings, gun control laws are necessary, along with increased funding for mental health services.  But these actions alone will not bring about the social transformation that is needed.   To live into a more compassionate future will require us to face the current darkness and acknowledge that we, as a people, are on the wrong track.  We have allowed ourselves to be swept along by compelling myths and powerful institutional forces that harness money and use violence to dominate our world.

We can choose to resist complicity and join with others to work for the common good.  We can face the darkness, celebrate the light, and by our actions embody hope so we can assure the children that there are brighter days ahead.  Love will be our guide.

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Hiroshima Day

IMG_2705

I can’t let this Hiroshima Day go by without memorializing the people killed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and acknowledging the shadow that atomic (and now hydrogen) bombs have cast and continue to cast over our nation and world.   I plan to stand with others down on the Broad Street Bridge in Nevada City this evening, holding my hand-made sign that says “Hiroshima, 70 years, Never Again.”

My children remember many Hiroshima Day candlelight walks from Pioneer Park and vigils on the Broad Street Bridge while they were growing up.  I first became motivated as an activist in the late 1970s, when I became aware of the very real threat that nuclear war posed to my children.   I wrote about an awakening that motivated me to action in Shaking the Gates of Hell, in the chapter on “The Iron Fist:  Enforcing Corporate Globalization:”

“I began my career as an activist in 1979 when I realized the extent of the danger of nuclear war and became involved with the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign.  One morning I was at home by myself, cleaning house while I listened to a tape of Helen Caldecott talking about the psychological effects of nuclear war on the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, known as hibakusha.  Listening to the stories about what these people had suffered over the years, I imagined my own family going through what they had gone through and I began to weep.

“Suddenly, I was struck with the thought: How must God feel about all this?  How must God feel about what we human beings have done to each other, and about what we intend to do, as we stockpile nuclear weapons?  I fell to my knees, praying for forgiveness, overcome with a sense of the depth of pain that God must bear because of the horrors we human beings create for each other.  To this day, I believe that God weeps for the harm we do to each other.”

My prayer today is this:

Thank you, God, for this day, for the beauty of the earth, for the “yes” of life in the midst of the systems of anti-life, which have taken your world captive and are in process of “undoing creation.”  May we never give up on the future.  May we never hide or run away from the pain of life, except in your presence and your peace.  Protect us from denial, that friend of avoidance and enemy of truth, which pretends to shield us from fear, communal guilt, and that tug of responsibility for the world.  May the strong heart of Jesus, who wept over Jerusalem, fill us with courage to feel and respond to the suffering of our time.  Fill us with your Spirit, that the winds of truth may blow and the flames of love may burn to bring about a great awakening of people of every faith and philosophical tradition, coming together as one, each doing our part to create the new world that is possible.  For you, O God of many names, are the Great Mystery, Ground of Being, Source of life and love, in whom we live and move and have our being.  Surely your will is abundant life, even in the face of death.  Your will is the reign of mercy and compassion in this world.

Good Friday, Nevada Test Site, early 1980s

Good Friday, Nevada Test Site, early 1980s

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