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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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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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.

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Other blog postings about climate change can be found here.  

 

 

Beyond the Spectacles

Progressive Christian Social Action

 

Beyond the Spectacles

As the daily spectacles of the Trump Administration enthrall the public, Republicans continue to push their unjust and oppressive agenda.  For one thing, they are trying to repeal laws that keep the Internet free and accessible.  Today I made calls as part of the Internet-Wide Day of Net Neutrality, which the organizers have made very easy to do.

The shameful policies of the Trump Administration (and the Republicans) were apparent at the recent G-20 meetings, and were especially obvious in the sidelining of the U.S. president in his refusal to engage with world leaders on the issue of climate change.  Still, some have found a silver lining in that cloud of U.S. non-participation.  Because the United States has regularly blocked strong and binding climate legislation, the rest of the global community may be able to craft a stronger position than would have been possible otherwise.  The G-20 events highlight not only the disaster of the presidency of Donald Trump, but of the problems inherent in U.S.-style politics, captured by corporations, dark money, and ideologically-driven special interests, especially the Religious Right.  (See Paris, Trump, and the Religious Right.)

Meanwhile, heat records are (again) breaking and wildfires are blazing throughout the Western United States.  And now we’ve gotten word that a trillion-ton iceberg has broken off (“calved”) from the Larsen Ice Shelf; it is so big that maps of Antarctica will need to be redrawn.  There are calls to name it the “ExxonKnew” Iceberg, since internal studies show that Exxon-Mobil has known that their products would cause climate change for decades, even while they created a massive public relations establishment promoting climate change denial.  And ironically, Rex Tillerson was CEO of Exxon-Mobil from 2006 until 2016, before he was appointed to the prominent position of U.S. Secretary of State.

My new book, Love in a Time of Climate Change, addresses the ideology and mechanisms that underlie the present U.S. and global system, leading to problems that are illustrated by, but also go far beyond, the ongoing shocks of the (hopefully short-lived) Trump presidency, and which create a momentum that not only harms people’s lives but endangers life on earth.  For example, preview Corporate Influences on Climate Policy in “Chapter 10, Reason:  Climate Justice and Common Sense.”  The following call to action is also an excerpt from that chapter:

“Whatever we do, it is important to keep in mind that we are not acting in isolation, but contributing to the larger movement for climate justice. We are doing our small part to awaken people to what is at stake and to point in the direction of hope.

“Reason makes clear that building a strong movement to stabilize the climate means working in coalition with justice-oriented groups that have other priorities. By joining with pro-democracy organizations, we help to end corporate domination of government and build a peoples’ democracy. Another natural ally is the peace movement. War is deadly for humans and all life, and the U.S. military is one of the world’s largest consumers of fossil fuels. It also makes sense to work with groups that oppose toxic trade deals like the TPP.  Specific groups are listed in the Suggested Reading List at the back of this book.  Working together in a broad coalition of groups builds strength in solidarity and makes it possible to influence public policy in areas of trade, economics, racial justice, immigration reform, prison reform, war and peace, and climate justice. It also makes system change more likely.

“The movement for climate justice, together with allies in the broader movement for global justice, embodies faith that “another world is possible.” Together we seek to establish justice and build a global community in which all human lives, local communities, and the natural world are valued for themselves and not for how much wealth they deliver upwards. As we consider God’s call to climate justice, we turn now [In Chapter 11] to the experiences of people living and working on the front lines of climate change.”

 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.