Earth

On Scripture: Earth Day, God, and the Apocalypse

Globe in hand,  Magdalena Bujak / Shutterstock.com
Globe in hand, Magdalena Bujak / Shutterstock.com

Have you ever heard someone described as, “So heavenly minded, he was no earthly good?” This phrase suggests one danger of interpreting the book of Revelation. Sadly, when it comes to considering the natural world and Revelation, heavenly mindedness often undermines care for our environment. Some Christians have a tendency to think, “Well, if I’m off to heaven, I shouldn’t care much about this silly earth of ours. It’s just a temporary home, after all.” 

In fact, Revelation suggests the opposite: the earth isn’t truly “left behind,” but renewed, becoming the very dwelling place of God. Revelation 21 calls people to be, well, “earthly good,” caring for creation as we prepare for God to come home. 

Fifty Days of Grace

HOW SHALL WE engage with scripture through all 50 days of Easter? There are clues in the haunting story of Jesus' appearance beside the sea of Tiberius. After Easter Day many of us are ready to let things quickly revert to normal. It is, strangely, both reassuring and uncomfortable to hear that those disciples, whose business had been fishing, wanted to get back to their boats so promptly after the horrors and wonders they had witnessed in Jerusalem.

Jesus is waiting for them by the shore with breakfast already cooking. All is ready, yet he wants them to bring some of what they haul up in their nets, so he can include samples of their own catch in the menu. And what a catch it was!

Easter is our time to experience the grace that is always ahead of our game and is underway for us before we are ready. Yet grace does not exclude what we bring to the table. Grace expects and includes the work of our hands, the weavings of our imaginations, and the gifts of our unique experiences. In one sense, Eastertide is more truly a season of repentance than is Lent. One thing we might need to repent of is our passivity—those times when we expect God to hand us on a plate the meaning we are hungry for. We need to bring our own bits to the cooking fire if we are to really eat with Jesus. It is part of the mix of grace that we must participate, not just receive.

Martin L. Smith, an Episcopal priest, is an author, preacher, and retreat leader. His newest book is Go in Peace: The Art of Hearing Confessions, with Julia Gatta.

[ April 7 ]
Trust But Verify
Acts 5:27-32; Psalm 150; Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31

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On Earth As In Heaven

Baldemar Velasquez

A RECENT ONLINE profile referred to farm worker labor union leader Baldemar Velasquez as both "militant" and "genius." It's hard to argue with either of those designations for the 66-year-old founder of the dynamic Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC). The Toledo, Ohio-based union has used a David-vs.-Goliath style to bring corporate giants to the collective bargaining table, thereby improving the living and working conditions of perhaps the least powerful worker group in the nation.

Velasquez, an ordained evangelical Christian who received a MacArthur Fellowship in 1989, simply sees FLOC's work as God's work, and his opponents might consider following the wisdom of the Pharisee Gamaliel, who said of the apostles, "I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone ... You might even be found opposing God!"

Velasquez, who founded FLOC in 1967, has yet to lose a battle. A 1967 strike Velasquez led against Ohio tomato growers resulted in two dozen growers signing union contracts. A national FLOC boycott of Campbell's Soup in the 1980s resulted in a three-way collective bargaining agreement that raised wages and improved working conditions for tomato workers. A six-year campaign in North Carolina resulted in another three-way deal between FLOC, cucumber growers, and the Mt. Olive Pickle Company. Today, FLOC is going after another giant, Reynolds American, the second-largest U.S. producer of tobacco products.

While perseverance and cunning strategies are FLOC's organizing hallmarks, Velasquez also brings his deep faith to FLOC's campaigns. He insists on loving his enemy, and on his followers doing the same.

"Everything that we do, everything that we say, and everything that we work around is based on loving your neighbor as yourself—including the grower, including the manufacturer, including the company," Velasquez told Sojourners . "And you learn to hate the sin and love the sinner.

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God and Science

Photo: Universe,  © Alan Uster / Shutterstock.com
Photo: Universe, © Alan Uster / Shutterstock.com

I'm a member of an organization called the Planetary Society. If you haven't heard of us, we are a group of nerds who are deeply passionate about space exploration. We believe so deeply in the exploration of other worlds that we pay annual dues and organize fundraisers to pick up the slack left by governmental and commercial space programs. In addition to expansive efforts toward public education, we fund experimental approaches to space exploration and engineering. Spacecraft propelled by solar wind, or little robots that can move asteroids with laser beams are a couple of examples. Our CEO is Bill Nye. You may know him as "The Science Guy" from children's television.

Lately, Bill has been in the news cycle because of a video he made about creationism. In this video, Bill argues that the religions that teach stories of creation that oppose a contemporary scientific understanding are dangerous to public education. ... This puts me in an awkward position.

The Deadly Misnomer of 'Fossil Fuels'

COAL, NATURAL gas, petroleum. Thoughtlessly we call these substances “fuels”—fuels to burn for creating pleasant climates inside homes and offices; fuels to power appliances and engines. For years, like nearly everyone, I never thought beyond our mere use of these things. I neglected to consider their role in the Earth’s wider economy.

This all changed when my family moved to a Wisconsin peatland in 1972. Since then, conducting research there with my graduate students has produced four decades of discovery.

For thousands of years, wetland plants and algae in a bay of glacial Lake Waubesa took carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. They transformed it by photosynthesis into the carbon structure of life, eventually adding their remains, page upon page, to the accumulating peat. Eventually, this peat filled the bay for an area more than a mile long, reaching a depth of 95 feet at the present lake edge. When first I walked here, I saw the vibrant surface of plants and wetland creatures; now, in my mind’s eye, I also see the deep-layered remains of creatures below.

Also standing and walking here (much more gracefully than I) are sandhill cranes. These stately creatures, as conservationist Aldo Leopold observed, “stand, as it were, upon the sodden pages of their own history.” Elsewhere, the sodden pages of peat deposits have been cut over the ages to be dried for fuel. The early Romans saw this practiced by conquered peoples of northern and western Europe. Peat was also used as fuel in Ireland, Scotland, and northern Europe after forests were cleared for agriculture. And peat is the precursor of coal, transforming under geologic pressure into brown coal, bitumen, bituminous coal, and anthracite.

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What Not to Burn

Have you heard the old adage, “Just because you can say it, doesn’t mean you should”? Well, the same principle applies to the fossil fuels we scorch and torch each day for our own consumption: Just because you can burn it, doesn’t mean you should.

In his latest Sojourners commentary, “The Deadly Misnomer of ‘Fossil Fuels’” (September-October 2012), environmental scientist and ethicist Calvin DeWitt explains how we need to change the way we look at carbon substances. Petroleum, natural gas, and coal are not merely “fuel” sources. Rather, they are “fossil carbons” necessary to the sustenance of the earth. Read more here.

To illustrate what not to do, our staff shared some of their favorite things to—voluntarily or involuntarily—burn:

Office Printers and Fax Machines (Sandra Sims, Director of Sales and Advertising)
Tired of dealing with crappy computers, jammed printers, and finicky fax machines? Office Space offers their solution by pummeling faulty equipment. But Sandra would rather threaten the office machines with fire …

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In Case You Missed It: #OccupyWallStreet's Official Statement

396px-Wall-Street-1

From the official statement by #OccupyWallStreet: "As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors; that a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power."

No Time to Think

The avalanche of information available via the Internet is both a blessing and a curse. Used judiciously, it is an invaluable tool for research -- making what used to take hours in a library now just a few clicks away. Any piece of information, no matter how obscure, is at our fingertips.

The proliferation of blogs and listservs mean an amount of information that is simply impossible to keep up with. We have news summaries several times a day and instant breaking news headlines as they happen. And then there is the rise of a new social media. Facebook has enabled us to connect with friends and family, so we know immediately the latest cute thing their toddler did, what they're cooking for dinner, and the most recent book they read. On Twitter, we share thoughts and activities in 140-word tweets.

All of this means we know more than ever, but never have time to think about it. Neal Gabler, a senior fellow at the Annenberg Norman Lear Center at the University of Southern California, lamented in a piece in The New York Times Sunday Review:

Hymns for September 11

Many people remember "O God, Our Words Cannot Express," a hymn written on the afternoon of September 11, 2001. The hymn was quickly shared by email and Web postings (it is still on over 10,000 websites); it was used by many churches on that evening and in the days that followed. The hymn was featured in newspaper stories, radio programs, twice on national PBS-TV, and on BBC-TV in the United Kingdom. YouTube has the Church World Service music video by Emmy winner Pete Staman of this hymn being sung by Noel Paul Stookey (of "Peter, Paul & Mary") with the Northfield Mount Herman School Choir.

The new posting of this interfaith hymn includes a revised version for the 10th anniversary. Also included is "God, We've Known Such Grief and Anger", a hymn lifting up Christian hope in the face of disaster that was written for the first year anniversary of 9/11. Last week I wrote a new hymn for the tenth anniversary of September 11 with an emphasis on working for peace and justice for all.

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