What more perfect a passage to enliven our Earth Day celebrations than Romans 8:20-25?
Paul's letter to the Romans was certainly not an exhortation to deepen creation care by weighting it with environmental justice. It wasn't an exhortation for the middle-class church to listen to the groaning of people under the bondage of environmental racism. It wasn't intended to paint a picture of the intersection of climate change, poverty, and racism.
But we — two evangelical activists — are just foolish enough to give all that a try in this short space!
Our dear Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans paints a picture of the new age inaugurated by Jesus' death and resurrection. Jesus has taken sin – that which infiltrated the world (5:12), enslaved the world (6:6, 17-18), and brought death and destruction (7:8-14) — and had victory over it. By our death in baptism and resurrection with Christ, we participate in his victory over sin (6:4). This is a new age, we put on our new selves, we live with the (re)new(ed) creation ahead of us.
And as I worshiped I realized creation wasn’t singing with me. I had entered into creation’s ongoing worship of God!
But Scripture speaks of another utterance of nature — a groaning. (Romans 8:19-22) Even as creation worships, it bears the weight of our sin. Our addiction to consumption, our oil drills and oil spills, and our depleted uranium bullets whizzing through theaters of war in countries ravaged, torn apart — both the people and the land. Creation is groaning, even as the trees lift their branches heavenward in worship.
The Genesis 2 story of creation offers a profound picture of humanity’s relationship with the rest of creation in the beginning. In Genesis 2:15 God called humanity to till and keep the Garden of Eden. The Hebrew word for “till” (‘abad) is also translated “to serve” (as a bond servant). The Hebrew word for “keep” (shamar) is most accurately translated “to protect.” Thus, we were called to serve and protect the rest of creation. In the very beginning of our existence, we related to the land as its servants — its protectors. That relationship was full of care, nurture, security, and selfless service.
Last week during my Sunday school class, one of my second graders asked, “How can we go to heaven, if we continue to sin?”
As usual, I am often stunned and quieted by the striking questions that come from the mouths of young people.
I usually respond to the inquisitive questions from my Sunday School students by reiterating what I have been told by many a Sunday School teacher: “Even though we break our promises, God doesn’t; God promised us if we believe in God and that God’s Son Jesus died for our Sins, we will go to heaven — even when we mess up.”
While that seems like a really ‘simple’ explanation of one of many biblical truths, it is still striking and amazing that even though we continue to ‘mess up,’ God has not retracted on God’s promise of offering us a beautiful ending to the troubled world we live in today.
As I think about Romans 8:21 and how it speaks to the fact that “creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God,” I get excited. Not only because we all will see the glory of God one day, but that the bondage and decay we are experiencing in our physical world will end in Glory!
Last fall, on a Sunday afternoon, as I walked out of the church, a young man tugged on my Franciscan habit. It was Miguel, a member of our Latino choir.
“Father,” he said, “please, pray for the people of my home parish back in El Salvador, especially for one of the priests who has received death threats.”
Startled, I asked: “What is happening there?"
“These priests are organizing against the multinational companies,” he said. “The companies are looking for gold. What will be left for our people? Only poisoned water, a wasteland, and death.”
A few weeks later, I had another similar conversation with a group from Guatemala. Theirs was a similar tale of how indigenous communities were being threatened by mining projects.
As a Catholic and a member of the Franciscan Order, I believe that we are called to “read the signs of the times” and to listen to the cry of the poor and the “groaning” of God’s Creation.
At Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, members and neighbors buy fruits and vegetables from a black farmers market and work in an organic garden named after botanist George Washington Carver.
They recycle their church bulletins, plan to renovate their building with a “green” roof and have purchased 27 acres for a community project that will include an urban farm.
“By any greens necessary,” the Rev. Otis Moss III, the church’s pastor, likes to say.
When it comes to African-American churches and a focus on the environment, Moss and his congregation are the exception rather than the rule.
Moss said many of his black clergy colleagues are less interested in conservation and tell him: “That’s your thing.”
Black congregations have tended to focus on their members’ basic needs — getting jobs, rearing children, pursuing higher education.
Deuteronomy 8 says “the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of flowing streams, with springs and underground waters ... a land where ... you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.
When you arrive in Nebraska, signs on the interstate will welcome you to “The Good Life.” The folks who came up with our unofficial state motto may or may not have had the passage from Deuteronomy in mind, but to witness Nebraskans’ love for their land is to understand that it is a quietly sacred connection.
That connection found its voice in Nebraska citizens’ four-year battle to stop the TransCanada pipeline. In face of the threat of oil spills polluting the underground Ogallala Aquifer, of construction spoiling the fragile Sandhills region, and of a foreign corporation using bully tactics to seize landowners’ property, a remarkably diverse coalition of farmers, ranchers, environmentalists, Republicans, Democrats, Independents, grandmothers, students, and citizens took hold to protect Nebraska land.
Don’t let the media tell you that nothing is going to happen in Washington this year. Sure, Congress may be gridlocked on major legislation as we approach midterm elections, but key decisions are set to be made that will define President Barack Obama’s legacy on climate change. In the coming months, the Environmental Protection Agency is finalizing carbon pollution standards for both new and existing power plants, and the Obama administration will make a final decision on the Keystone XL pipeline.
Because the impacts of climate change, such as drought, more severe weather, flooding, and crop devastation, are more harmful to the world’s poor, these decisions will affect the lives of vulnerable people everywhere. As a Christian, I cannot sit idly by while God’s children are suffering from the devastating effects of irresponsible environmental degradation. I am joining with other people of faith in articulating the moral urgency of caring for God’s creation.
There was a moment during last week’s “debate” between Bill Nye the Science Guy and young-earth creationist Ken Ham that I think was more telling than any other.
During the Q&A session, Ham was asked what seemed to me to be a very simple question: “Hypothetically, if evidence existed that caused you to admit that the universe is older than 10,000 years and creation did not occur in six days, would you still believe in God, and the historical Jesus of Nazareth, and that Jesus was the son of God?”
What was most telling was not really what Ham said, as much as what he didn’t say, which was “Yes.”
In my mind, this question was a softball pitch. It couldn’t possibly be easier. And Ham was given two minutes to answer the thing? His response should have taken all of two seconds: “Yes.”
The U.S. needs to quit its crude oil habit. TransCanada needs to see the individuals whose health is directly threatened by Keystone XL. The president and legislators alike need to act for the welfare of not only this generation but for the generations to come, if we indeed want to see the flourishing of future generations. We need to admit to our addiction to oil and identify its harmful ecological impact for what it is.
As a person of faith, I want to see our landscapes, waters and skies restored to wholeness. I am compelled by the love I’ve received from God and God’s people to work alongside others for the common good of all. Having experienced the crisp June evenings of Minnesota as well as the asthma-inducing smog of Hong Kong, I know both the beauty of fresh air and green spaces and the dullness of pollution and gray skies. The chances of enjoying the former are quickly dwindling at our current rate of oil consumption, but we still have time to prevent further environmental degradation, if not for future generations then at least for those of us who still look forward to the rest of their lives, no matter our age.
Friday at 3 p.m. ET, the State Department released their long-awaited final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement of the Keystone XL pipeline extension, a proposed project from TransCanada to build a new pipeline for transporting tar sands crude oil from Canada to a refinery in Texas where it will likely be exported internationally.
Environmentalists and concerned citizens on the pipeline’s pathway have been waiting for the State Department to address previously ignored issues like the pipeline’s impact on climate pollution. President Obama said in a climate-focused speech last year that he would only approve Keystone XL if it did not pose a significant risk of climate pollution, so although State Department looked at other environmental risks as well (such as the 1,692 pipeline spills or incidents that occurred from 2002 to 2012 in the United States). This review concludes that the number of U.S. jobs to be created – once estimated in the tens of thousands – will actually be 50 operations jobs, with only 35 permanent. The rest (the touted 42,000 number) are all temporary construction jobs.
The wheelbarrow outside the sanctuary was overflowing with vegetable scraps; decomposing matter filled the baptismal font; and a pile of rich brown soil replaced the Communion table.
Ashley Goff, minister for spiritual formation at Church of the Pilgrims, wanted to convey a message about the cycle of nature this fall, and she could think of no better analogy than the congregation’s growing enchantment with compost.
“I wanted them to see the process of life and death and change,” she said of her Presbyterian Church (USA) congregation of 70. “It’s a dying and a rising, where new life begins.”
Across the country in the past decade, hundreds of houses of worship have started composting, relating it to theological concepts of resurrection and stewardship.
I’m a big fan of the TV show Mad Men, which takes place in the midst of the Madison Avenue advertising agencies back in the ’60s and ’70s. Sure, I enjoy the drama and the “cool factor” of Don Draper and his cavalier ad team. But for me, the most fascinating part is all of the cultural norms of the time that seem fairly shocking now, only a few decades later.
Of course, there’s all the drinking and smoking in the office, but beyond that, the way that non-Anglo employees and the women in the workplace are treated would today be grounds for a lawsuit, if not public shaming for such brazen chauvinism. The thing that’s hard to remember is that, although we see such behavior as morally offensive today, it was simply normal back then.
This past Sunday, I had the opportunity to watch our children’s ministry present through play, song, and dance the story of the birth of Jesus Christ.
No matter how many times I have seen this story, it’s always amazing that this miracle that happened in a manger could have such a huge impact on the lives of so many. Jesus was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth, his parents did not have the best reputation, and he definitely wasn’t birthed in a fancy hospital. Instead, he was born where animals were kept — not the best conditions environmentally at all! Further, Jesus Christ became an advocate for the poor, for those that do not always have a voice, and for those that were suffering from terrible mistreatment, disease, and sickness.
I truly believe that Jesus’s focus on the “least of these” is a model for advocacy, especially for the environmental justice movement.
Many believers are familiar with the term “medical missions.” Less well known, though a growing awareness is popularizing the movement, is the field of environmental missions. The idea’s biblical base is to combine God’s creation care mandate with the additional call of Christ’s “great commission.” What that means and looks like and how it can be cultivated into fruition is the subject of Lowell Bliss’s new book, Environmental Missions: Planting Churches and Trees. Bliss is the director of environmental missions organization Eden Vigil.
The purpose of the newest category of missions, Bliss asserts, is two-pronged. The goal is to integrate the dual aims of the environmental missionary: to care for the environment and to make disciples. Why? Because God is a both/and God, not an either/or God. He cares for both people and the planet; he is concerned with saving both souls and soil. Following Jesus’ example, then, we can be both people and tree-huggers.
I was raised bilingual and bicultural in New Mexico, the state with the highest percentage of Latino population, nearly 50 percent. In addition to working as an environmental advocate, I am also a member of the rising Latino generation, the fastest growing young demographic in the country. Fifty thousand Latinos turn 18 every month. To put this in perspective, Pew Research Center estimates that by mid-century, Latinos will comprise nearly 30 percent of the U.S. population.
When I was 18, I had just graduated from high school with several years of soccer at Santa Fe’s 7,000-foot elevation under my belt. I was on my way to college, and would go on to complete a master’s of science in an interdisciplinary environmental sciences program.
What my experiences do not include are those that are far too common among Latino 18-year-olds who are disproportionately affected by carbon pollution. Carbon pollution contributes directly to climate change, in turn endangering Latinos due to the resulting health and environmental repercussions. One expected climate impact in the U.S. is more smog in areas with poor air quality, translating to more asthma attacks for our young people. In fact, the Latino community is one of the hardest hit: Hispanic children are nearly two times as likely to be hospitalized for asthma as white children. Other illnesses related to poor air quality, such as chronic bronchitis, are also prevalent within Latino communities, yet nearly half of all Latinos in the U.S. live in counties that often violate ground-level pollution standards.
The Environmental Protection Agency held listening sessions Thursday to hear from the public about a forthcoming rule about carbon emissions from existing power plants. More than 20 faith leaders spoke on behalf of those Jesus called “the least of these.” In addition to such faith leaders as Rev. Dottie Yunger and Interfaith Power & Light’s Joelle Novey, other parties, from pro-coal Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and coal lobbyist Mike Carey to the Sierra Club’s Leslie Fields and League of Conservation Voters’ Gene Karpinski, were on hand to testify. Those testifying had three minutes apiece to voice their views on what the new rule on emissions should look like.
Prior to the testimonies, more than 20 faith leaders assembled outside of the EPA to pray that God’s creation would be restored. Organized by Creation Justice Ministries and Greater Washington Interfaith Power and Light, the vigil featured songs of hallelujah and peace. Novey read a Jewish prayer for travelers, asking God to lead us into safety.
After the worship service, the faith leaders joined a diverse audience to testify to the EPA about the importance of battling climate change. I saw five faith leaders speak, reminding the agency that they not only have a technocratic responsibility to create a stringent rule limiting carbon emissions, but also a moral responsibility to do so.