Some of my environmentally conscious friends have expressed concern about having a real Christmas tree in their house – it seems wasteful to cut down an entire tree just for a month or so of décor. After all, climate change is a huge problem, and its potential impacts on the world (most especially the poor) seem contrary to the Christmas spirit.
It’s not a new worry – Teddy Roosevelt actually banned the White House Christmas Tree during his time in office, as he was worried about the conservation implications of people running out to cut down the forest.
We can rest easy, though – the live Christmas tree industry that has developed since that time is actually a benefit to the global climate. Here’s why.
Next week I will vote for the first time in a presidential election. I became a naturalized U.S. citizen two years ago, giving up my Korean passport, my (not)green card, and pledging allegiance after having lived in the U.S. since the spring of 1971.
I actually studied for my citizenship exam out of fear and habit – fear that the wrong answer would mean restarting a process that had cost money, time, and emotions, and habit because I grew understanding not studying was not an option. The process actually took years for me, wrestling through ambivalence, frustration, grief, and gain to get to a point where the privileges, advantages, and necessities of becoming a citizen and my faith as a Christian pushed me over the edge.
It is not surprising that our purely secular “environmental” movements have played out their ability to change society. For the changes we need to undertake are not only technological and political, but deeper and more difficult. They call on us to shape new institutions and new values.
When God’s Wind shattered Pharaoh’s power at the Red Sea, it was only the beginning of the creation of a new society. It took 40 years of struggle, of transformation and mistake, backsliding and grumbling, to ready a people that could live in a sacred relationship with each other, with the Earth, and with the Breath of Life.
So even if we were to shatter the gross and domineering political and economic power of our modern pharaohs, the giant corporations of Big Oil, Big Coal, Big Unnatural Gas that will not relent from over-burning and overpowering us, we would still need to be growing what religions claim to offer: a new vision of our lives.
It was game time. The Saturday night crowd on the Vermont campus was festive, boisterous, pumped. People cheered and whooped when told that one of their heroes, climate activist Tim DeChristopher — serving a two-year federal sentence for his civil disobedience opposing new oil and gas drilling in Utah — would soon be back on the field.
When the man on the stage, 350.org’s Bill McKibben, said it was time to march not just on Washington but on the headquarters of fossil fuel companies — “it’s time to march on Dallas” — and asked those to stand who’d be willing to join in the fight, seemingly every person filling the University of Vermont’s cavernous Ira Allen Chapel, some 800 souls, rose to their feet.
McKibben and 350, the folks who brought us the Keystone XL pipeline protests, are now calling for a nationwide divestment campaign aimed at fossil fuel companies’ bottom line. Beginning with student-led campaigns on college campuses, modeled on the anti-apartheid campaigns of the 1980s, they’ll pressure institutions to withdraw all investments from big oil and coal and gas. Their larger goal is to ignite a morally charged movement to strip the industry of its legitimacy.
“The fossil fuel industry has behaved so recklessly that they should lose their social license — their veneer of respectability,” McKibben tells his audience. “You want to take away our planet and our future? We’re going to take away your money and your good name.”
Because the scientific evidence surrounding climate change is clear, and the implications for humankind are many, the response to these global challenges needs to be persistent, organized, and significant. As Jesus calls upon humankind to “love thy neighbor," and as the Old Testament prophets remind us to strive for justice, we recognize that within a deeply connected world “neighbor” implies all that God has created, and injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere.
So an implication of Jesus’ words and actions is to share and receive the Good News not only on Sunday mornings, but through daily acts of long-term advocacy that promotes sustainable livelihoods. With COP18 in Qatar on the horizon, the time has come when humanity can no longer afford to fight over our resources, and the moment is upon us to prod our elected officials toward legally binding legislation that values the gifts of creation that God has entrusted us to manage.
We are connected with people and places through ways and means unlike any previous generation. We live in a “global village."
We are connected through worldwide round-the-clock television networks, rapid international travel, mobile phones, Skype, and wonders of the Internet. But while such connections are indeed profound, the bonds of our global village run far deeper, for we are also linked through global events and international endeavors. Whether it is sporting events like the Olympics, a royal wedding, or various natural disasters that capture worldwide attention and compassion, the reach and depth of our global village passes through time zones and crosses national boundaries.
While these characteristics of the global village are astounding, our connections run even deeper as a result of the global process of production, distribution, consumption, and waste. In other words, the architects of our global economy intentionally linked local communities with others that are thousands of miles away. And so, while these massive multinational connections are often unnoticed in daily North American life, once we take a deeper look, we recognize that they are not only evident, but are also far from impartial.
Whether churchgoers realize it or not, the trees in their churchyards have religious roots.
Those tall, thin-branched trees on the corner of this city's Episcopal Church Center of Utah, Purple Robe Black Locusts, were probably named after a biblical reference to John the Baptist eating locusts and honey.
Nearby, the crab apple tree just outside the Episcopal Cathedral Church of St. Mark produces a small, sour fruit used by 15th-century monks to treat diarrhea, dysentery, and gallstones.
And the flowers of a nearby dogwood tend to bloom around Easter.
“My hope,” said University of Utah biology professor Nalini Nadkarni, “is [worshippers] will realize that nature and trees are as much a part of their sacred ground and worthy of reverence as what goes on inside a cathedral or church.”
Church camp was in my blood, with an Episcopalian lineage that began when my grandfather helped to build and then direct Camp Bratton-Green in Mississippi. Every summer of her childhood, my mother was a camp brat, the outdoorsy, lanyard-loving equivalent of an army brat.
As a 16-year old, she met my father when he drove his family’s car from Hattiesburg, Miss., to pick up his sister Marcia from camp in Canton, Miss. And decades later, two of my siblings met their spouses at camp.
But let’s be clear: church camp in my family was more than an easy way to find a summer fling from the same denomination. While none of my crushes lasted beyond the summer, I gained a more enduring life-long commitment to God’s earth. Summer camp integrated me into a Christian community that sought to reconcile humans with creation.
Today is Black Friday, the unofficial holiday immediately following Thanksgiving. Today, businesses open very early, offering reduced prices on all manner of consumer items. Customers are encouraged to flood the aisles in search of a good deal on all kinds of things - from DVDs to appliances - but, above all, electronics.
It didn’t take long — after news broke this afternoon that President Obama had indefinitely kyboshed the climate-killer Keystone XL pipeline — for my phone to ring.
“Hi Rose, I’m calling from White House on behalf of President Obama," the voice on the other end of the line said. "We wanted to makes sure you’d seen the president’s executive order postponing the permitting of the pipeline until another environmental impact report can be done, especially focusing on sensitive environmental issues in Nebraska.
"And we want to thank you for your good work on this issue. We’re just reaching out to let you know that the President hears you and we hope you’ll continue to help us focus on the really critical issues that are facing us right now.”
This afternoon President Obama made an official announcement on the Keystone XL Pipeline that so many of you have been working on these last several months.
President’s Obama’s delay in approving the Keystone XL Pipeline is a victory for the movement to stop it, for God’s earth, for the possibility of reversing climate change, and for saving the integrity of this administration.
A “No” to pipeline approval wasn’t really politically likely, with the likelihood of attacks on Obama by the Republicans and the labor movement of sacrificing jobs during an election year — even though the pipeline offers temporary and bad jobs.
The environmental movement is part of the Democratic President’s base, but so is labor and they are both more numerous and more effectively organized to help in presidential races.
So this delay is a victory for the possible future of a clean energy economy, which would produce many more and better jobs, while making a cleaner and more sustainable economy possible.
At the Wild Goose Festival in North Carolina last weekend, I was able to speak with Anna Clark, author of Green, American Style, president and founder of EarthPeople, a green consulting firm, and a contributor to Taking Flight: Reclaiming the Female Half of God's Image Through Advocacy and Renewal. Anna has a heart for equipping churches to make small and big changes for the sake of creation care and stewardship of the earth's resources. How can Christians do this, you ask? Read our conversation to find out.
I recently wrote a blog about how to kill a dying church, asking questions about what to do with so many churches dying. I think the challenge is recognizing the signs that a church is dying. The problem is that churches tend to wither, which is a slow, gradual, and often subtle process. It is difficult to pinpoint when in the withering process it is time to take action, to make changes, and to make some vital decisions. While there are many reasons for a church dying, here are some practical observations that I have noticed in my experience. This list is certainly not exhaustive. It is also a list that my congregation has personally had to face, so I give examples of how my congregation has addressed these issues.
Some controversy has arisen about an ad campaign that a new coalition wanted to run in Sojourners on the issue of the LGBTQ community and the church. We chose not to run the ad as this is an issue we want to openly discuss on and through our editorial pages and not through our ad space. Like the larger church, Sojourners' constituency, board, and staff are not of one mind on all of these issues. However, we at Sojourners seek to foster honest, fair, and loving dialogue among Christians. LGBTQ issues may not be our primary calling as our work against poverty and hunger, and for peace, but based on some reactions to our decision, I want to use this as an opportunity to clarify the positions and practices of Sojourners on this important discussion on the life of the church in the early 21st centur
Jim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street -- A Moral Compass for the New Economy, CEO of Sojourners and blogs at www.godspolitics.com.