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.  



Seasonal Antidotes to Consumer Culture

In this week or so before Christmas, I’ve been very much involved with family and friends.  I’ve been to two pageants, the Nutcracker, family gatherings, a song circle, a Solstice potluck with friends, and birthday celebrations-with more to come.  I am re-posting this message, Seasonal Antidotes to Consumer Culture, from last December 21, relevant again this year on these days before Christmas:

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Reposted from December 21, 2013

Seasonal Antidotes to Consumer Culture

On Sunday the children of our church performed a Christmas pageant, complete with Mary, Joseph, angels, shepherds, wise ones, sheep, and a talking donkey.  The children sang Christmas carols and at times the congregation sang along.

As I mentioned in my last blog post, The Revolutionary Stories of Baby Jesus, the biblical stories of Jesus’ birth and infancy have political and even revolutionary significance.  They are stories about a man and his unwed pregnant fiancé, forced by the State to travel a long distance to register for the census in Bethlehem.  The couple spends the night in a stable because that is the only place offered to them, and the young woman gives birth there.    Lowly shepherds see visions of angels and celebrate the birth of the baby, whose only bed is a feeding trough.  Later, foreign astrologers or “wise ones” spot a significant star and follow it, in search of the Christ child.

Our pageant ends with all the children singing “Joy to the World.”  They don’t act out the painful parts of the story:  how the wise ones go to Jerusalem, talk to King Herod, raise his suspicions and outsmart him, while setting into motion a chain of events that leads to a massacre of innocent children (sound familiar?) and the flight of the holy family into Egypt, where, homeless, they struggle to survive as political refugees.

But these painful parts of the story are there, and the kids learn them soon enough.  And whether you understand the story as history or as legend, it is a reminder of the hope that “another world is possible,” the hope of “peace on earth, good will to all people.” It is also a reminder that the Ruling Powers of this world are directly at odds with the incarnation of peace, love, hope, and joy.  This is just as true now as it was in Jesus’ day.

Take, for instance, this Toys R Us ad, which deliberately attempts to lure children away from their natural love of creation and to seduce them into a corporate-constructed “world” of greed and consumption.  This ad and others that target our children seek to instill in them a sense of entitlement, self-centeredness, greed, and lust for things, values which bring not joy but spiritual harm.  In fact these negative values, which underlie our consumer-oriented culture, contribute to poverty, inequity, and ecological damage that threatens life and the future.

Christmas pageants and other non-materialistic holiday and seasonal celebrations provide an antidote to the seductions and demands of consumer culture.  They teach spiritual values such as humility, gratitude, generosity, community, peace, love, and joy.  They “incarnate” the reality of God with us.  They point to light in the midst of the darkness and to life in the midst of death.’

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The Revolutionary Stories of Baby Jesus

Christmas Pageant 2012

Christmas Pageant 2012

This page includes an Excerpt from Chapter 15, “The Triumph of God Over the Powers” in Shaking the Gates of Hell:  Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization by Sharon Delgado.

During Advent and Christmas, Christians around the world celebrate the stories surrounding Jesus’ birth in pageants and liturgies. Literalists insist that these stories must be taken as historical fact, especially the story of Jesus’ divine conception by the Holy Spirit and subsequent birth to a virgin. In other words, they believe that Jesus is the Son of God biologically.  Some see the literal understanding of this story as a crucial test of faith.

Though Jesus used the intimate term Abba when addressing God, he never claimed the exclusive title “Son of God” for himself.  He usually referred to himself as “the Son of man,” literally “the son of the man,” better translated as “the human being.”  According to Walter Wink:  ‘The son of the man’ is the expression Jesus almost exclusively used to describe himself.  In Hebrew the phrase simply means ‘a human being.’  The implication seems to be that Jesus intentionally avoided honorific titles, and preferred to be known simply as “the man,” or “the human being.” Apparently he saw his task as helping people become more truly human.”

A literal belief that Jesus’ mother was a virgin is not crucial in understanding who Jesus was.  What the birth stories symbolize, however, is the incarnation of the divine in human life.  Matthew Fox expands the concept of incarnation to include all life:  “God has become incarnate—made flesh—not just in the historical Jesus and certainly not just in the two-legged creatures but in all of us.  All of us are incarnations—home and dwelling-places for the Divine—all people, the poor no less than the comfortable.  All races, all religions, all sexes, all sexual orientations, and all beings—four-legged, the winged, the rock people and tree people and cloud peoples—all are dwelling places of the Divine.”  God is present in matter, indwelling all creation.

According to Walter Wink, the question for us is: “Before he was worshiped as God incarnate, how did Jesus struggle to incarnate God?”  We might also ask: What can Jesus show us about how human life can be lived fully and deeply in the light and presence of God?

The stories of Jesus’ birth and infancy are important because they shed light on how the Gospel writers understood the significance of Jesus. Some of these stories are overtly political, and provide compelling evidence that the authors understood the revolutionary significance of Jesus’ life.

According to the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke,  Jesus was born to a poor, young, unwed mother under extremely difficult circumstances.  When Mary was well along in her pregnancy (so the story goes), the Roman Empire issued an edict forcing all Jews to register for the census in their own hometowns, so that they could be taxed and conscripted into the Roman Army.  Mary and Joseph traveled a long distance from their home in Nazareth to Bethlehem, Joseph’s hometown, where Mary gave birth to Jesus in a stable (Luke 2:1-7).

Mary and Joseph were poor.  When they traveled to Jerusalem for their purification, to present their firstborn son to God, instead of offering the standard sacrifice they offered the poor peoples’ alternative: “a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons” (Luke 2:22-24).  Mary and Joseph later fled with their infant son into Egypt as political refugees to escape King Herod’s genocidal attempts to hold onto his throne (Matt. 2:13-15).

During her pregnancy, Mary proclaimed the remarkable words of hope for the poor and oppressed that has come to be called the “Magnificat” (Luke 1:46-47, 51-53, based on Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 2:1-10)):

“My soul magnifies the Lord,

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior . . .

He has shown strength with his arm;

he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,

and lifted up the lowly;

he has filled the hungry with good things,

and sent the rich away empty.”

Mary’s words could hardly have been more political, or threatening to the Powers.

The stories of Baby Jesus have revolutionary significance that should not be watered down.  For those of us who observe Advent and celebrate Christmas this year, let’s keep in mind that human individuals, cultures, economies, and governments need revolutionary transformation today more than ever.  Faith gives us freedom to participate in that transformation.  “Do not be conformed to this world (this world’s systems) but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”  May you find freedom, joy, and transformation during this holy season.

To read more on these themes, go to “Jesus, Resister:  Part One:  Good News to the Poor” and “Jesus, Resister, Part Two:  Betrayal and Death.”