Summer

A Testing Ground for Community

Iriana Shiyan / Shutterstock
Iriana Shiyan / Shutterstock

IF THE SWELTERING heat were not enough to dampen the midsummer soul, D.C.’s metro system has shut down portions of its train lines for long-overdue repairs, leaving us retreating to our homes—and, if we’re lucky, our porches: the outdoor living rooms of a city.

Summer is a time when lethargy reigns, especially here in the humid semi-South. Unlike in the North, where frigid winter inculcates an obstinate determination to prove that weather won’t hold us back, the South is a respecter of heat. Come August, everything s l o w s d o w n.

There’s no better time for porches than in a humid heat, when sleepy hospitality reigns supreme. Summer is the season for public myth-shaping, when private dreams and tweeted ideologies collide on the street with other humans and the full cacophony of life lived outside. Our systemic ills are most visible in the summer: residents suffering from water shutoffs, police brutality committed and pardoned, an education system that affords some children elite summer camps and denies others a glimpse of the outdoors, the merry-go-round of ads reminding us that “summer” is skin-deep and buyable. So is our hospitality most visible—music drifting from one door to the next, neighbors sharing an extra lemonade.

In earlier decades, houses were designed for life to happen just off the street. So the living rooms of most houses in D.C. are in the front—kitchens, studies, and bathrooms in the back or on another floor altogether. The dream of safe ensconcement away from the unpredictable intrusions of neighbors or vendors is unique to suburbia—in urban design, proximity is power. Front porches, just slightly removed from the chaotic spontaneity of summer streets, are both cachet and a basic necessity—permeable culture containers waiting to capture the overflow.

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Living the Word: Extravagant Kindnesses

Everett - Art / Shutterstock
Everett - Art / Shutterstock

THE “DOG DAYS” OF SUMMER refers to more than the weather. Attendance in churches is often down due to travel. The energy level is low, with students away and families scarce. The church year tends to gear up with the academic one, to peak with Christmas, to peak again with Easter, and then to peter out into the summer. How do we stay invigorated? How do we energize our faith with the zeal of the psalmist: “Come and see what God has done: God is awesome in deeds among mortals” (Psalm 66:5)?

I challenge churches to do something different with the summer—turn the dog days into an excuse to take risks. “Something different” will differ with context. Try a dialogue sermon. Answer live tweets from the youth. Preach a sermon entirely in the interrogative mood—nothing but questions or one that, like the psalms, is addressed solely to God. Invite testimonies about faith and service. Invite mentors who inspired you into ministry to offer their story during worship or Bible study. With the elections coming, talk about how the church has engaged with politics through history—and don’t leave out the bad stuff. Immerse yourself and your community more deeply in the gospel for the renewal of your life together, always an aspect of church and worship.

Summer is often a season of travel and meeting strangers. Remember that Abraham and Sarah offered extravagant kindness when they met three strangers in the desert. How can we become known, like Abraham, as “the friend of strangers”?

[July 3]
A Livable Faith

Isaiah 66:10-14; Psalm 66:1-9; Galatians 6: 1-16; Luke 10:1- 11, 16-20

ST. AUGUSTINE describes breast milk as a sign of the goodness of God. Who would dare say he’s wrong? It’s so there—abundant, nurturing, creating intimacy. It’s like God with all of us. But Augustine isn’t being original here. Isaiah is. God is a nursing mother, Israel is a nursing child, and both are happy with one another.

Eugene Peterson has made a career of insisting on the “livability” of scripture. We can do this stuff—with a healthy dose of the Spirit’s power. Coastal Church, a Pentecostal congregation in downtown Vancouver, made Luke 10 a sort of constitution for its life together. Rather than preach or protest at people, it has made a point of visiting people’s homes (already difficult in an age that loves privacy). They offer blessing. They ask what hurts and pray for it. They eat together. And they speak of the reign of God. The church has grown, lonely neighbors find surprising friends, and the reign is manifest.

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Time for Confession—and Action

THE NEWS IN mid-May was grim: Scientists announced that melt across the West Antarctic was proceeding much faster than before. In fact, they said that at this point the melt of the six great glaciers fronting Amundsen Bay was “unstoppable,” and that over a number of decades it would raise sea levels by 10 feet or more.

This is another way of saying: Given dominion over the earth, we’ve failed. We’ve taken one after another of the planet’s great physical features and wrecked them. The Arctic? Summer sea ice is reduced by 80 percent, and it’s an every-year affair now to boat through the Northwest Passage, impassably choked by ice until this millennium began. The seven seas? Thirty percent more acidic than they were in the past—and the acidity could double or triple by the end of the century. The Antarctic? It’s not just warming rapidly, but its wind patterns have been changed by the ozone hole in ways that amplify the heating. Storms are stormier, droughts are deeper, fires last longer, rain falls harder.

And all because it was a little easier and a little cheaper not to change off fossil fuels. When scientists sounded the alarm about all this in the late 1980s, the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide was about 350 parts per million—or what we now consider the upper bound of safety. If we’d heeded their fervent warnings, we’d have moved with great speed to convert to solar and wind power. We’d have parked our SUVs. We’d have insulated every home in the world. It would have cost money and it would have been inconvenient; on the other hand, it could have bred solidarity in much the same way that preparing for World War II transformed the U.S.

But we couldn’t be bothered. We ignored the first commandant that we’d been given: to exercise sensible, sane stewardship over this planet that God had found so good. We stood by as our addiction to fossil fuel ran Genesis in reverse.

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Turning Up the Heat

Climate Justice Now! supporter

STATISTICALLY, the last couple of weeks of July are the hottest months of the year. In recent decades, the fossil fuel industry has been making them steadily hotter by burning huge amounts of coal, gas, and oil: Last year was by the far the warmest year in American history, and it came complete with biblical-scale fire, drought, and storm.

But this summer it’s the environmental movement that’s going to turn up the heat. Summer Heat is what folks are calling it: a collection of actions taking on the fossil fuel industry in every corner of the country.

Some of the action will stay focused on the route of the Keystone pipeline, but the emerging fossil fuel resistance is much broader than a single project: We’ll be at refineries and power plants and proposed coal ports, and we’ll be making clear that climate change is just part of the spectrum of damage that includes everything from air pollution to political corruption.

These battles have been led on the local level for years now by climate justice groups, by farmers and ranchers, by indigenous activists—by the folks on the frontlines of the damage from fossil fuels. But they deserve backup and reinforcement from the rest of us. And, of course, in an age of global warming, all of us are potentially on the front lines: Until Hurricane Sandy broke over their heads, most people in lower Manhattan thought the world was treating them pretty well.

If this fossil fuel resistance works, it will help shut down these local disasters. But playing defense is only half the battle: We also have to go on offense, showing the planet that these fossil fuel companies are the opposition to a decent future. That future isn’t impossible—Germany, for example, already generates a quarter of its power from renewables. In Portugal this winter, that figure was more than 70 percent.

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The America I Love

Baseball and mitt photo, Paul Orr / Shutterstock.com
Baseball and mitt photo, Paul Orr / Shutterstock.com

It’s a hot summer evening in a Midwestern town. The grass is glimmering in the bright lights, contrasting with the brown dirt of the base cut-outs and pitcher’s mound.  On the field, nine to a side, young men are dreaming of making The Show, although one suspects that in their hearts they know most of them won’t. There are no big city teams flush with cash, no mega-millionaire superstars. 

The park is half-filled with fans, many of them families out for an evening together. It’s a diverse slice of America; white, African American, Latino, a few Asian. Young boys, and a few girls, sitting in the stands with their gloves on, awaiting a hoped-for foul ball souvenir. Dinner is bratwurst or a chili cheese dog, followed by peanuts or popcorn.

 

Paradigm Shift

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Autumn mornings -- when the cool rain is hitting the tin roof and the breezes blow with enough swagger to make the trees bow in admiration -- remind me of when my second daughter was born and after we had held her in our arms for some time we knew exactly what her name would be. Jorah (meaning "autumn rain" in Hebrew.)

I cannot help but reminisce about those summer sunsets (pictured above) when the sweaty warmth stretched late into the day. Those days were full of bold, luminous life. A bountiful garden. Happy hens sauntering. Silly children splashing and running and laughing.

During the summer season, my wife's delicate hands turned, with soil under her nails and calluses here and there from hours of loving toil in the garden -- always walking towards me with a bowl full of color and a mouth cracked open by a proud grin. She mothers the vegetables in her with almost as much attentiveness and love as her own babes.

Now autumn's crisp air awakens us as we feel the seasons shifting. The trees cast all their energy into turning shades of green into glorious reds, yellows, oranges and golds, a celebratory finale before bowing out for a season of slumber.

WAR NO MORE

This Friday, October 7, 2011, marks 10 years since the United States invaded Afghanistan in the name of the "War on Terror." Sadly, this summer President Obama announced he'll continue our military presence in the country until 2014, and Congress has agreed to follow his lead.

Where do we go from here?

Compassion, Destruction, and Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a surprising addition to the typical summer blockbuster canon -- for one thing, it manages to entertain and challenge, without resorting to gratuitous violence to make its point. But there's a deeper subtext that is even more unexpected -- for this is a story in which we start to lose.

It was fashionable in the late 1960s and early '70s for science fiction films to attempt to out-dystopia each other -- see for example the notion in Soylent Green that post-industrial humanity snacks on itself to survive, the suggestion that only robots can be trusted to look after creation in Silent Running, and the climactic revelation in the original Planet of the Apes that a few generations from now, the nuclear arms race will end in mutually assured destruction. All these point to a simple philosophical idea: that humans cannot be trusted to care for ourselves or the planet we steward.

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