Two things motivated me to write this book: my love for creation (and that includes our human family) and my love for the good news of Jesus, the gospel. If you love creation and are distressed by seeing it harmed and degraded and undone; if you love the good news of Jesus and are distressed at seeing it distorted and misused to cause further harm… Then this book is for you.
The cross is the primary symbol of Christianity, but it means different things to different people. That can be very confusing both for people who consider themselves Christian and for people who don’t. What does the cross mean to you? What does Christianity mean to you:
The good news of a God of love and inclusion and nonviolence and compassion and transformative justice as Jesus proclaimed and demonstrated?
Or the bad news of Empire and colonization and patriarchy and white supremacy and ecological exploitation and Christian nationalism as some portray it today?
Clearly, the cross and Christianity itself can mean either or both.
This book is a remedy for the confusion and frustration and apathy and disempowerment that comes from trying to sort out all these mixed messages. The goal of The Cross in the Midst of Creation is to help you find clarity about what you believe and what you don’t believe and to encourage you in finding a faith that is true to the teachings and example of Jesus and is relevant for today.
The subtitle is “Following Jesus, Engaging the Powers, Transforming the World.” This book is geared toward people who feel drawn to following Jesus. If you’re not, you might still want to hear a good word from Christianity. Besides, we are all going to have to work together if we’re going to build a movement strong enough to counter the powers that be, to bring systemic change, and to transform the world in the direction of justice, peace, and the healing of creation.
The bottom line is this: Even though the crucifixion of Jesus took place long ago, there is a sense in which the crucifixion is ongoing. Institutionalized powers very similar to those that crucified Jesus are still at work today, bringing suffering and death to people and the earth. At the same time, the resurrection is ongoing as people rise in courage and set on a path of both personal and social transformation. For followers of Jesus, that means trusting that the Spirit is at work in us and in the world even now, bringing light out of darkness and life out of death.
May you walk in the light of the Spirit of the risen Christ, today and every day.
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My new books are finally here: 100 copies of The Cross in the Midst of Creation. The official launch day is June 14, but I ordered these from Fortress, and they were delivered early. Hooray!
Although I signed the contract for this book in May of 2020, it has been in the works for years. In 2017 I published a Lenten blog series, A Lenten Call to Resist, with posts that included summaries of several of its primary themes. From then on, even as I was publishing and giving presentations on my other books, I returned to this writing project as my spiritual focus and discipline each year during the season of Lent.
But my passion for the topics in this book go back much farther than that. The scriptural foundation for this work, the first two chapters of First Corinthians, is also the foundation of my spiritual journey and my life. These are the passages that triggered in me a spiritual experience that propelled me directly into preparations in the United Methodist Church for ordained ministry, with a specialized focus on peace, justice, and the healing of creation. These passages motivate me to continue seeking “God’s wisdom, secret and hidden” (1 Cor 2:7) and to challenge the “wisdom of this age” and “the rulers of this age” (1 Cor 2:6) as Jesus did in his day, although it led them to crucify him (1 Cor 2:8). If you read this book, you will see how these themes are integral to a participatory view of the gospel that leads to both personal and social transformation.
If you wonder whether you want to read this book, read a short summary here. Also, check out several initial endorsers here. They include climate activist Bill McKibben, theologians Catherine Keller and Ched Meyers, Sojourners Editor Rose Marie Berger, and many others. If you read it and think others would find the book valuable, please help me get the word out:
Write a two or three sentence review on Amazon, Goodreads, or other online sites.
Recommend it on your social media platforms.
Request the book at your local library or local bookstore.
Recommend the book to three people you know who would appreciate the message.
I will post info about upcoming book launch events. Thank you for your ongoing support.
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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.
Brown’s Last Chance Sit-In at the State Capital, August 25, 2018
Rise for Climate, Jobs, and Justice
In this blog, Progressive Christian Social Action, I primarily address thinking Christians and other people of faith who seek a deeper relationship with God and who are open to responding to the great social and ecological issues of our day. Most recently, I have been writing about the acceleration of climate change and the increasing ferocity of its impacts, which are being felt all over the world, especially among those who are most vulnerable.
On August 25, I participated in a sit-in in Governor Brown’s office in the State Capitol in Sacramento. We called on the Governor, who claims to be a climate leader, to stop issuing oil and gas permits and to institute 2500 foot-setbacks from oil and gas wells for schools and residential areas. Market-based solutions are not enough to turn the tide on climate change.
For the next week, I will be participating in various demonstrations, programs, and other people’s actions related to the Global Climate Action Summit, which will be held in San Francisco. Tomorrow morning, I will get up early to drive with Guari to Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley to say a few words to an Interfaith group before we all get on BART to join thousands of others in San Francisco at the Rise for Climate, Jobs, and Justice march. Solidarity demonstrations will be taking place all over the world.
Here are some of the words I will say:
Farmer/poet Wendell Berry said, “How can modern Christianity has so solemnly folded its hands while so much of the work of God is being destroyed?” This critique can also be extended to other faith traditions. But today we are not just sitting solemnly with hands folded, we are taking to the streets.
Surely the One I call God is with us: the Great Mysterious, called by so many names, the Source of life and love, Father/Mother of us all, higher power, transforming power, the Holy Spirit who flows where it will and is present in every act of compassion and justice—surely that One is with us as we rise for climate, jobs, and justice.
We rise to challenge the powers and principalities, not just the Trump Administration but also so-called climate leaders like Governor Jerry Brown, who could do so much more.
We rise to call for immediate and decisive action. There’s no longer time for a gradual transition—we need to keep oil and gas in the ground and transition NOW to a people-centered and creation-centered economy.
We rise because without each other we are lost. As Bill McKibben said, “We can’t do much as individuals to stop this juggernaut…, but if we can build a movement, then we have a chance.” So that is just what we are doing. We are organizing across issues, across interest groups, across borders, creating networks and coalitions and movements, all converging in a strong and growing global movement for a stable climate and a compassionate and just world.
We rise because as people of faith we know that another world is possible. As we take actions of hope we embody hope and we live hope into being. In the words of Arundhati Roy, “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”
Now let us go in peace. And to the One who, by the power at work WITHIN US, is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or even imagine, to that One be the glory… now and to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
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For the past several weeks, I have been going to Sacramento on Mondays to join in the Poor People’s Campaign demonstrations at the California State Capitol. Similar demonstrations are taking place across the country at over thirty state capitols and in Washington, D.C. The campaign’s website summarizes its goal and purpose: “The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival is uniting tens of thousands of people across the country to challenge the evils of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation and the nation’s distorted morality.” By uniting these interrelated issues, this campaign is helping to create the diverse and broad coalition that we will need to transform the system that underlies them all.
Last Monday’s action at the California State Capitol with the Poor People’s Campaign was about human health (including a call for health care for all) and the health of the environment (including air, land, water, climate justice). It included strong leadership from Indigenous brothers and sisters, some from Standing Rock. They covered the statue in the capitol rotunda (of Queen Isabella giving Columbus the world) with a parachute that said, “All Nations, One Fight.” After the police took the parachute, thirteen people surrounded the statue and were finally arrested and taken to Sacramento County Jail. There was lots of singing, a strong spirit of unity and people power, and great diversity. Next Monday the focus will be on economic justice. I will be there.
During this forty-day kick-off, hundreds have already been arrested for nonviolent direct action, including in Sacramento. These “moral witnesses” have been willing to put their bodies on the line to call attention to the violence and injustice of today’s Domination System, the interlocking network of political, economic, military, police, and ideological institutional “Powers” that rule the world today. This coming Monday it will be my turn. Some of my grandchildren will be with me. I want them to know in their bones that their grandmother loved them enough to take whatever (nonviolent) action that might be necessary to bring about systemic change and to secure their future.
I have been preaching, speaking, writing, organizing, and taking action for peace, justice, and environmental sanity for years. I have been arrested many times. I practice prayer and other spiritual disciplines to stay physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually fit so that I will be ready and “awake” when the time comes for me to act. I seek the Spirit’s guidance in discerning not just what needs to be done but what I am called to do. I especially look for those instances where there is an outbreak of Spirit, those times when there is an uprising of people power, those historical moments “when the impossible becomes possible.” Now is such a time.
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