Environment

Beauty Exhaustion: Discipleship and Getting Outside

Beautiful landscape, Galyna Andrushko / Shutterstock.com
Beautiful landscape, Galyna Andrushko / Shutterstock.com

St. Bonaventure (d. 1274) once said, “Whoever is not enlightened by the splendor of created things is blind; whoever is not aroused by the sound of their voice is deaf; whoever does not praise God for all these creatures is mute; whoever after so much evidence does not recognize the Maker of all things, is an idiot.”[1]

If Bonaventure was right, then we’re all idiots.

The first time I travelled to Rome was an experience second to none. Never, in my young travels, had I ventured to a place so layered with history and significance around every corner that one literally couldn’t escape it. Even the Roman suburbs were historical. We were amped to see it all. Our approach was simple: we would incrementally make our way through the city over the course of 10 days with a plan that would make any explorer proud.

The sheer magnitude of historical and ecclesiastical sites to be seen in the city was overwhelming at best. Then it happened. I had a unique moment near the end of the trip. We’d been walking nonstop through museums, ruins, churches; we’d even heard the pope preach a sermon, when I started to lose my attention. Many travelers or art buffs will resonate with this — there came a point during our endless walk through Rome where I had seen so much beauty and splendor and history that I just started taking it all for granted. The last two days consisted of me walking around blindly and numbly, room-to-room, ruin-to-ruin, as though what I stood before was of little or no value.

I called it “beauty exhaustion.”

Praying for a Breakthrough on Climate Action

Man praying for the earth, Gandolfo Cannatella / Shutterstock.com
Man praying for the earth, Gandolfo Cannatella / Shutterstock.com

As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) releases a groundbreaking and comprehensive report detailing the impacts of climate change as “severe, pervasive, and irreversible,” young evangelicals across the United States are coming together to pray for urgent and responsible climate action to protect life and defend their future. Organized by the Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, the Evangelical Environmental Network, and Renewal: Students Caring for Creation, prayer events are being held across the Nation — and on more than 20 Christian campuses — in recognition of April 3 as the 2014 National Day of Prayer for Climate Action.

While evangelicals are not typically associated with climate action, YECA spokesperson Ben Lowe points out,“Climate disruption is not just a scientific or political issue — it’s first and foremost a moral issue and biblical issue … It’s about protecting life and, as evangelicals, we’re particularly concerned about the ways our pollution and political inaction is affecting the poor and those who are most vulnerable.”

Communities around the world are already experiencing the negative impacts of climate change. The new IPCC reports details how the poorest countries are being seriously affected by climate change, with severe consequences to global food security, human health, and economic development. The poor will not be the only ones influenced by climate change, as IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri says, "Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change.”

Lent: Falling in Love With the Ordinary

For me, joy in the everyday begins with food. If I can take time to make food and drink holy, if I make my table a place of family and community, a place of health and wellness, a place of good choices that sustain creation, I am grounded. Food is the place where I began my journey towards social justice, as a self-righteous young vegetarian who lusted after meat.

Food is the thing we all have in common, and with it, Jesus set forth the Eucharist. Is that enough for you to believe food is important?

Do you ever wonder why Paul spends so much time advising his churches on food and dinner manners? It's because the Eucharist was a wine-and-bread-leavened feast that intentionally leveled the strict hierarchy of Roman society. This enables Paul to confidently state, "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus."

That Our Creation Care Would Also Fight Racism and Poverty

Irish_design / Shutterstock.com
Romans can touch on the intersection of climate change, poverty, and racism. Irish_design / Shutterstock.com

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.

Listen for the Groaning; Then Worship!

Environmental pollution, Mikhail Kolesnikov / Shutterstock.com
Environmental pollution, Mikhail Kolesnikov / Shutterstock.com

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.

The Hope of Glory Amidst 'Bondage and Decay' of Environmental Injustice

kwest/Shutterstock.com
Even in the environment, despite the bondage and decay, glory is coming. kwest/Shutterstock.com

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!

Prophetic Preaching: 'One of The Priests is Receiving Death Threats'

Photo: Jacek Orzechowski
a Franciscan young adult group at St. Camillus created a large mural about Easter. Photo: Jacek Orzechowski

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.

Obama's Energy Fail

I'D ALWAYS HOPED that the president’s “all of the above” energy strategy was a mere campaign slogan, a way to avoid riling anyone up as he ran for re-election. But he’s made pretty clear that it’s actually his guiding light.

“The all-of-the-above energy strategy I announced a few years ago is working,” he crowed in his State of the Union address. And indeed it is, if the goal is to drill, baby, drill. In Obama’s time in office, U.S. oil production has increased 50 percent; analysts estimate that by the time he’s gone in 2016, we’ll have literally doubled the amount of oil we produce in this country. The curve for natural gas production has been almost as steep, and though we’re burning less coal in our own power plants the amount we export has hit record highs.

In political terms, Barack Obama holds us environmentalists at bay with pretty words on climate change, but when it comes time to drill he’s the go-to guy. As he told a crowd of cheering oilmen in Oklahoma during the last campaign, “over the last three years, I’ve directed my administration to open up millions of acres for gas and oil exploration across 23 different states. We’re opening up more than 75 percent of our potential oil resources offshore. We’ve quadrupled the number of operating rigs to a record high. We’ve added enough new oil and gas pipeline to encircle the Earth and then some.”

Eighteen of the nation’s biggest environmental groups sent the president a letter earlier this year asking him to back off the all-of-the-above rhetoric, and to change his policies. The only reply came from one of his counselors, who fired back a peevish letter saying he was “surprised” that they would dare challenge the president, since he’d done more than his predecessors to fight climate change. But being better than George Bush is not the point—to do anything about global warming you need to meet the bar that physics sets. And that means leaving coal and gas and oil in the ground.

Read the Full Article

​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Black Clergy Seek to Bridge 'Green' Gap

Rosalyn Priester, Pat Owens and Adrienne Wynn at an Earth Day display. Photo courtesy Trinity UCC Photography Ministry. Via RNS

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.

The Fight for 'The Good Life'

Nebraska welcome sign, spirit of america / Shutterstock.com
Nebraska welcome sign, spirit of america / Shutterstock.com

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.

Pages

Subscribe