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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Cross Country by Train

 

 

As some of you know, last year I traveled cross county by train—not once, but twice.  The first time was to Washington DC, in September, to work with a team of United Methodists from around the world on updating the “Natural World” section of our denomination’s Social Principles.  The second time, I got a one-month rail pass and presented my book, Love in a Time of Climate Change, at several East Coast venues.  I spent Thanksgiving with my sister in Asheville, North Carolina, where I also presented my book.

One of the benefits of traveling by train is a sense of “freedom from the bondage of time.”  There are none of the usual demands of life while going long distance by train.  I eat when I’m hungry and sleep when I’m tired, visit with a fellow passenger now and then, meditate as I gaze out at the scenery, and get out for occasional “fresh air breaks” at various stations.  I settle in to the rhythm and am comforted by the sound of the train’s whistle up ahead.  I trust that I am being carried to my destination.  And in between, I write, write, write, listening for the inspiration of the Spirit.

Long-distance train trips function as writing retreats for me.  On both trips, as I was traveling with my newly-released book, I was also working on a Second Edition to Shaking the Gates of Hell, my first book.  I was working under deadline, and sure enough, I got the draft of updates and edits submitted to my publisher in mid-December, two weeks before the end-of-year deadline.

Now it’s in their hands, and eventually I’ll get their suggestions back, then typeset pages for me to proof, and finally, the book itself.  The Second Edition of Shaking the Gates of Hell is scheduled to be released later this year.

My challenge in these days is to continue living free from the bondage of time, amidst the many demands and opportunities that each day presents.  I know that especially as an activist, it’s easy to take on too much, trying to fill whatever need I see.  There have been times when I’ve taken on so much that I feel like I’m on a train that’s taking me further and further from where I want to be, so that I can hardly remember why I got on in the first place.  I end up running on automatic.  Then I crash… and I have to stop, re-evaluate, limit my commitments, and make more realistic (and humble) choices.

I understand that not everyone can cut back on activities, especially if they are supporting their families.  That’s why we all need to continue promoting justice (including a living wage), so that everyone will be able to be sustained.

I was at the demonstration today on the bridge in Nevada City, commemorating ongoing resistance to the policies of the Trump Administration.  Then I walked home, up the hill from town, enjoying the beauty of the day.   Each of us can only do so much, and I want to be a spiritually fit as possible so that I know what I need to do and will be equipped to do it.  I choose to be sustained by spiritual practice for the long haul, and I practice trusting in the same way that I trusted while I was on the train, that I am being guided and carried to my destination.

 

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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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Christian Responsibility for Climate Change

Progressive Christian Social Action

Christian Responsibility for Climate Change

“How can modern Christianity have so solemnly folded its hands while so much of the work of God was being destroyed?”                                                              Wendell Berry

As Hurricane Harvey devastates communities in Texas, catastrophic rains are also paralyzing cities in India, Bangladesh, and Nepal, causing many deaths.  Some scientists, public figures, and even some reporters have spoken out about the links between climate change and the scientific projections of increasingly intense storms.  Conservative groups close to the Trump Administration are mobilizing to downplay, mock, or refute such assertions.

My new book, Love in a Time of Climate Change, is an antidote to the anti-science, anti-environmental claims of the Religious Right.  The following includes an excerpt:

Christianity has been widely criticized for promoting a view of dominion that has contributed to ecological destruction.  In “The Historical Roots of the Ecologic Crisis,” a now-famous article written in 1967, author Lynn White Jr. charged that the Christian religion is primarily responsible for the ecological crisis, because its underlying ideology has supported unfettered exploitation of the earth.  White’s primary arguments centered around Judeo-Christian understandings of dominion, the origins of the scientific revolution in natural theology, the idea of perpetual progress rather than cyclical views of time, and the dualism of man versus nature.  White pointed to differences between Eastern Orthodox churches, which have focused more on creation spirituality, and churches in the West.  He claimed that Western Christianity is “the most anthropocentric religion the world has seen.”

There are merits to White’s critique of Christianity.  He based his primary argument on an interpretation of the Genesis creation stories, which he explained by saying, “God planned all of this explicitly for man’s benefit and rule:  no item in the physical creation had any purpose save to serve man’s purposes.”  As we have seen with the Christian Right, there are people who understand the stories of Genesis in this way, but White went further by claiming that this view undergirds Western culture.  He wrote: “Our science and technology have grown out of Christian attitudes toward man’s relation to nature which are almost universally held… Despite Copernicus, all the cosmos rotates around our little globe.  Despite Darwin, we are not, in our hearts, part of the natural process.  We are superior to nature, contemptuous of it, willing to use it for our slightest whims.”

The support of Donald Trump by white Evangelicals, who helped him win the election, seems to support White’s thesis.  Trump is appointing leaders and enacting policies that will be disastrous for creation and will bring further injustice to people.  In fact, his actions are so destructive that National Geographic is keeping a running list of changes his administration is making to environmental policy.  But this is just the latest and most extreme manifestation of a pattern of destruction that has been going on for centuries. Christian farmer and poet Wendell Berry asks a question that should be deeply considered by anyone who professes to follow Jesus: “How can modern Christianity have so solemnly folded its hands while so much of the work of God was being destroyed?”

Rather than argue against White’s thesis, it seems more fruitful to acknowledge that attitudes he describes have done their share of harm and have contributed to ecological destruction.  We can also affirm his suggestion that Christians adopt an alternative theological model that motivates care for creation.

Just because the views of the Christian Right are magnified just now doesn’t mean that all people who consider themselves Christian carry such views.  Many people seek truth and are open to the “weight of the evidence” of climate science as well as the science of evolutionary biology.   Many focus on the intrinsic value of creation, the glory of God revealed through creation, the kinship of human beings with other creatures, or the human responsibility to care for creation.  These attitudes support an understanding of the value of creation and the human responsibility in relation to the earth.

For more about the Religious Right and its anti-science and anti-environmental agenda, see Paris, Trump, and the Religious Right.   To learn more about right-wing Christian arguments against climate change and other issues, check out the Cornwall Institute.

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Other blog postings about climate change can be found here.  

 

My New Book is Out!

Progressive Christian Social Action

My New Book is Out!

Hello friends.  I’m happy to announce that my new book, Love in a Time of Climate Change, has finally been released.  I’m delighted with how it turned out and thrilled to be holding copies in my hand.  It will be available in local bookstores here in Nevada County when I receive a shipment next week.  It’s already available through online distributors. You, my friends, can help boost its visibility by ordering a copy, reading the book, and posting a review.  Find it at Amazon here.

This book offers a spiritually-based approach to climate change that is informed by both science and theology.  It makes the case that the spiritual principle of loving God and neighbor is the only foundation strong enough to take us through this grave global crisis.   While the book primarily addresses Christians, it also speaks to people of other faith and philosophical traditions who care about the earth and seek a peaceful and just world.

It was a year ago that I signed the book contract with Fortress Press and started working seriously on Love in a Time of Climate Change:  Honoring Creation, Establishing Justice.  I felt that I needed to present a progressive alternative to the anti-science biblical literalism of the Religious Right, which helped to elect Donald Trump, a self-proclaimed climate change skeptic.  (For more on this theme, see Paris, Trump, and the Religious Right.)  This book does just that by:

  • Presenting an overview of climate change and its implications for churches, poor and vulnerable people, future generations, and creation itself;
  • Exploring the themes of creation and justice in the context of climate change;
  • Using resources drawn from scripture, tradition, reason, and experience to inform, challenge, and encourage readers to form their own conclusions;
  • Offering hope for the future based on spiritual awakening and the need for a broad-based movement that includes various constituencies working together for peace, justice, and caring for the natural world;
  • Proposing activities that people can take beyond personal lifestyle change to help build the global movement for climate justice.

I’ll be presenting Love in a Time of Climate Change at several upcoming public events, which I’ll announce soon.  I’m scheduled to go on the road (or, rather, on the train) in November, with several presentations scheduled, including in Boston and New York.  It’s an exciting time.

Meanwhile, climate change continues to progress, a reality that motivates me to keep on with my work, in solidarity with all of you who continue working for a world that is habitable and abundant the children and upcoming generations.  May we work together with the Spirit of the universe, who surely is with us in this struggle.

 

Find out more about the book at Love in a Time of Climate Change at this website, where you can find the Table of ContentsInitial Endorsements, and several excerpts.

To receive an email notification each time Sharon posts to her blog, click the “Follow Sharon Delgado” button at the right.

Other blog postings about climate change can be found here.