By Keith Ervin
There is good news and bad news in the fight to maintain a global climate in which peace and prosperity are achievable goals.
The good news, in a nutshell, is that the transition from an economy based on climate-ravaging fossil fuels to one based on clean, renewable fuels is taking place at an impressive and accelerating pace. New solar and wind farms generated more electric power last year than did new coal and natural gas plants. Tesla has taken nearly 400,000 advance orders for its mid-market electric car. World leaders have negotiated an agreement that caps the amount of greenhouse gases they plan to emit in the coming years.
Here’s the bad news. The transition to clean energy won’t be complete for decades, yet catastrophic effects of climate disruption are already apparent. The polar ice caps are melting faster than anyone predicted. The resulting rise in sea levels may force evacuation of some of the world’s largest and oldest cities in this century. Coral reefs that help feed hundreds of millions of people are dying. Drought-induced wildfires rage, from Southeast Asia to Eastern Washington. Prolonged drought in Africa has put millions at risk of starvation. Children are dying from fossil-fuel burning in China and India.
And it’s getting worse. More carbon dioxide was added to the atmosphere in 2015 than in any previous year. And after 2015, the planet’s hottest year on record, average temperatures in January in February spiked to unforeseen levels that alarmed scientists.
What, I wonder, would Jesus say if he walked the earth in this age when “business as usual” is leading to killer heat waves, pandemics, disastrous floods, rising seas and modern-day dust bowls? Certainly he would tell us to protect “the least among you” -- the poor who suffer most from the climate disruption we have caused.
Pope Francis, in his environmental encyclical, Laudato Si’, noted “a tragic rise” in the number of refugees fleeing lands ravaged by climate change. “Sadly, there is widespread indifference to such suffering, which is even now taking place throughout our world. Our lack of response to these tragedies involving our brothers and sisters points to the loss of that sense of responsibility for our fellow men and women upon which all civil society is founded.”
It’s a matter of self-interest as well as justice. If we remain indifferent to Earth’s distress, everyone will pay a high price.
Four hundred rabbis last year signed a Rabbinic Letter on the Climate Crisis co-authored by Arthur Waskow, who will speak at Seattle First Baptist Church on May 21 and 22. “By overburning carbon dioxide and methane into our planet's air,” the rabbis declared, “we have disturbed the sacred balance in which we breathe in what the trees breathe out, and the trees breathe in what we breathe out. The upshot: global scorching, climate crisis.”
How do we practice “that sense of responsibility for our fellow men and women” that Pope Francis refers to? There are many ways we can respond. We can reduce our carbon footprint by installing home solar panels, taking one less airline flight, giving up beef, driving an electric car. We can resist expanded fossil-fuel infrastructure, work for a tax on carbon, and support state and federal regulations on carbon pollution.
It’s so easy to be paralyzed by denial (“The problem can’t be that bad”), blind trust (“Someone else will solve the problem”) or hopelessness (“Nothing I do will make a difference”). The first step is to acknowledge the urgency of the problem and commit to doing something.
For the past year a number of us have been meeting with our Bet Alef Meditative Synagogue brothers and sisters to explore what we can do together. Our little group, Interfaith Climate Action, has organized adult-education programs, advocated for a carbon tax, protested increased coal and oil shipments, encouraged divestment of SFBC’s last few fossil-fuel investments, and arranged for purchase of carbon credits to offset the church’s natural-gas consumption.
We haven’t set the world on fire (or, more accurately, put the fire out). We don’t have all the answers and we have lively debates about what we are called to do. But we are doing something and we are doing it together. And though we still worry about civilization’s future, we are finding a joy and a cleaner conscience in doing our bit to address the most critical issue of our time.
If you would like to learn more about Interfaith Climate Action, contact Keith Ervin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-527-3310.
~ Wind farm photo from Wikipedia
Being human cannot be borne alone. We need other presences. We need soft night noises - a mother speaking downstairs, a grandfather rumbling in response, cars swishing past on Philadelphia Avenue and their headlights wheeling about the room. We need the little clicks and sighs of a sustaining otherness.
John Updike describes the comforting “clicks and sighs” of the presence of others in our lives, our awareness of parents talking quietly downstairs, or brothers murmuring in the next room, traffic on Colby cruising to a stoplight.
Jesus’ appearances after his resurrection are that kind of presence. Not only does he speak peace to his friends, he appears unannounced as if the dead regularly materialize in our living rooms, urging calm and trust.
My favorite story is of the disciples coasting close to shore where Jesus has prepared a small fire on the beach. He is grilling a few fish and some bread. (Jn 21) He calls to them to come closer, tells them where they’ll find more fish, and once they’ve beached their boat, to bring more fish to the fire. They don’t even recognize him at first. And then they’re astonished. You can imagine the smoke blown into the hills behind him, the welcome warmth in the chill salty air, and the fatigue—not only from a night of fishing, but another whole net full of fish pulled in as they arrive.
So schooled was I to expect Jesus’ return at any hour of any day, one Sunday night before evening church I thought I saw him standing near a staircase in a brilliant white robe, light shining round about him. I thought Jesus had returned! A second later I realized it was just the pastor in his white baptismal robe standing under a 100-watt light bulb.
So much for peace and presence. I was taught that the Lord might return just this way, all of a sudden, in the middle of a football game or church picnic, and especially in spectacular sunsets over Hat Island. Anticipation overran my imagination.
I grew up with a “Jesus-and-me” complex, a relationship so tight that I always felt him at my side, walking in the fields together. Years later when this assurance had faded, I began to realize the limitations of my naïve familiarity and the millennia that already distanced believers from its magic. At the same time, there was an other-worldliness to the ways I discovered we can still expect the Mysteries of God in our lives. The soft night voices of those we love, the reflection of the back porch light, phrases of music suddenly distinct when the furnace shuts down, the gifts of clean sheets and hopes for tomorrow.
It may not be grilled fish on a rocky beach, but the fragrance of coffee and toast in the kitchen. These little clicks and sighs of a sustaining otherness still speak to us of the love that will never let us go.
Rev. Cathy Fransson blogs at SpiritStones.net, and sees individuals for spiritual direction.
Last Thursday was one of those Seattle surprises, with blue skies in April and temperatures climbing into the 70s. I took the opportunity to go for a long bike ride around the south end of Lake Washington. I wasn’t looking for a life lesson, but I got one before the ride was complete.
The bike route from our house in Madison Valley around the south end of the lake is about 30 miles long. The ride was spectacular – for the first 25 miles. I cycled across the I-90 floating bridge in the bike lane, crossed Mercer Island on quiet streets, then followed bike paths and lanes on around through Factoria, Renton, and up Rainier Avenue back to Seattle. I reveled in the sunshine, warm temperatures, and light traffic.
I was thoroughly at peace with the world as I entered the last leg of my ride, from Seward Park along Lake Washington and back home. That particular section of roadway is very special to me. I’ve ridden it literally 100s of times, and I still remember a day shortly after Jim G and I rode across the United States that I was cycling along the lake and realized that I was riding through the most beautiful biking spot in the nation, at least in my opinion. Just as on that day, last Thursday I pedaled beside blossoming trees and the shimmering lake, riding far to the right on a section of Lake Washington Blvd. that is wide enough for cars and bikes to safely co-exist.
Suddenly I felt something slightly squishy hit my left buttock, and a sense of cold ran down my leg. Someone in a passing car – an ugly beige sedan with a license plate that began and ended in the letter “A,” had thrown a large soft drink at me. No physical damage was done to either me or my bike – I didn’t even slow down - but the emotional sore caused was deep and throbbing.
I had a typical reaction for me – my own version of an Incredible Hulk moment. I got very angry, purple-face-and-throbbing-jugular angry. I fantasized that I had super powers, that I became an X-Man at least for a few minutes, with Magneto’s ability to control metal and Wolverine’s looks to match my fury (and because I’ve always wanted to look like Hugh Jackman). I imagined using my powers to grab the accursed car, flip it upside down and shake it until the pimply-faced perpetrators fell out of the windows, and then chasing them into the middle of the lake while roaring like a rabid animal.
That was fun for about 10 seconds. Then I thought about calling the police, but figured it would be a waste of everybody’s time. I had little information and we weren’t exactly talking about assault with a deadly weapon. Then I thought that maybe the car would get stopped by the ubiquitous road construction along the lake and I’d be able to catch up and confront my tormentors.
And then I remembered something that I posted on this website just a few weeks ago as part of our Online Good Friday Experience. Something about forgiveness. While Jesus was being crucified, a fate far worse that attack by carbonated beverage, he forgave his executioners and tormentors. He forgave people who didn’t ask for it, probably didn’t even want it, while they were in mid-act. We quoted Bishop Andrew ML Dietsche who wrote, “Forgiveness is not a response to anything. Rather it is a gospel way of always being in the world, always making a witness to the Love of God… Forgiveness is simply the fruit of that deeper virtue which dwells in the soul, always ready, always alive.”
Well I didn’t forgive my attackers during the attack, or even in the first few minutes after the incident, but I sort of forgave them before I finished my ride. I forgave them as well as I am able to forgive, which really isn’t very well at all but at least it’s better than continuing to let my blood boil out of my ears.
And once again I learned that we tend to get forgiveness backwards. We don’t forgive people because of the impact that has on the wrongdoers. We forgive because it is good for the wronged. We forgive so that we can get on with our lives with a little more love and a little less indignation. We forgive so we can once again notice the gorgeous weather and spectacular scenery.
We forgive because we need to, so we can keep riding.
By Bill Malcomson
Have you noted that in our current political season there is so much emphasis on STRENGTH? On the Republican side, Donald Trump is trying to portray himself as a person of great strength who would defeat all of our enemies by sheer power. All of his foreign policy advisors are military people. Ted Cruz seems to want to bomb all enemies into submission. John Kasich seems far less willing to portray himself as a bully or as power hungry, though his policies still appear to be "hawkish." On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton at times seems eager to appear "strong on defense," yet also to put a lot of emphasis on diplomacy. Bernie Sanders seems uncomfortable when pushed by the media to be more "hawkish." But a major theme in the campaign appears to be the contrasting of strength with weakness.
Many of us remember when John F. Kennedy regretted being drawn into the Bay of Pigs fiasco by his generals, early on in his presidency, and then played it very careful and diplomatic when it came to the Cuban Missle Crisis. His strength in that instance came through his determination not to play the traditional strong man game. But we also remember Lyndon Johnson's testosterone fueled escalation of the war in Vietnam as he seemed determined to force North Vietnam to pay a horrible price for their actions. Was that strength? In a recent article in The Atlantic, in an interview with President Obama, we see a chief executive who is castigated for drawing back from a previously announced "drawing of a line in the sand" in Syria. Did he show weakness or strength in changing his mind?
I think of the history of non-violent action in the Freedom Movement of the 1960'a, the Gandhian movement in India in an earlier time, and in the work of the mature Nelson Mandela in South Africa. So much of those movements seemed like weakness in the beginning. Is non-violence strength or weakness?
When the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, Greece, in the first century, he suggested that what God deems to be strength is usually perceived as weakness by humans, and what God deems to be weakness is perceived as strength. He seems to have in mind a couple of things: 1. The people who were preaching the gospel of the Way of Jesus were a motley group of essentially ordinary folks. In the Roman Empire, they were not powerful people. They had little or no status. But what they were preaching seemed to have the effect of changing the lives of many of their hearers. 2. They were talking about a man, Jesus of Nazareth, who lived a life which culminated in death by crucifixion, a death reserved, in the Roman Empire, for those who were accused of sedition. Dying on a cross was the ultimate sign of weakness, not of strength.
Here we are in the time of the American Empire. As Carl Sandberg wrote, many years ago, in his often sarcastic way, "We are the greatest country, the greatest nation, nothing like us ever was." So shouldn't we defend ourselves to the hilt, stay as powerful as possible, keep Russia, China, Isis or any actual or perceived enemy at bay at any cost?
Do you hear, as do I, the howling of FEAR beneath this desire for strength? Fear of loss of power, loss of empire, loss of what we have been used to, loss of being "on top," loss of being "mono-cultural," loss of feeling secure and safe. Fear of change, fear of the "Other," fear of what we do not understand, fear of the foreign and the foreigner, fear of a strange future.
I believe in the Fellowship of the Weak. In the weakness of listening to people who threaten us and who find us threatening. In the weakness of listening to those who have been victimized by those in power, by we who did not know we were being oppressive. In the weakness of paying attention to those who have never been paid attention to. In the weakness of compassion. In the weakness of working to build institutions that may not last or solve all problems but will do some good for some people some of the time. In the weakness of working on causes that may never issue in the massive changes that we want, but are worth giving energy to anyway. In the weakness of forgoing ease, pleasure, physical comfort, for the sake of helping someone, of easing their pain, of making their day a bit better. In the weakness of speaking the truth, in the weakness of admitting the unpleasant, in the weakness of not knowing what to say or what to do and admitting it.
Maybe the apostle Paul knew what he was talking about. Maybe Jesus of Nazareth did not die in vain. Maybe the weak do inherit the earth. Don't be afraid.
By Debbie Allen
Editor's Note: Debbie Allen is an Mdiv student at Colgate Rochester Crozier Divinity School in Rochester, NY. She recently participated with Pastor Tim Phillips in a Wednesday evening program about Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Little did I know, when I came to Seattle to help my daughter and her husband with their newly born twins, that I would be drawn into the life of an American Baptist church on the west coast. I live in Ithaca, New York, where the last gasps of winter often occur in April and you can buy a T-shirt that reads, “Ithaca is cold.” In Ithaca, an American Baptist church is central to my life. I am also a seminary student at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School with only 3 more courses to go before receiving a master of divinity degree. Given my commitment to assist with the care of twins and a 3-year-old as well the need to complete the requirements for an independent study course, involvement in the life of a church did not seem possible.
It wasn’t long after arriving here that I began to feel the absence of my church family back home and a growing desire for a spiritual community in the Seattle area. Within a week, I found myself searching the internet for ABC churches and, after trying one other church, came to SFBC. I immediately experienced a resonance with the people I met, with the focus of adult learning, and especially with the experience of worship on that first Sunday of February. Even the bulletin cover struck a chord in me. It was just last October that I traveled to the Holy Land and looked up in awe at the angelic beings in blue and gold on the curved ceiling of the Church of the Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor. As I listened to the music that Sunday, participated in the liturgy, absorbed the words of the sermon, and took communion, I had an uncanny sense of belonging and an awareness of God leading me to this place at this time.
The sermon really got my attention. I was astonished to hear Tim talk about the way in which the image of “strange glory” connected the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, as described in Charles Marsh’s biography Strange Glory, with the transfiguration. Marsh’s biography was one of the texts used in a course on Bonhoeffer that I took a year ago. I treasured this course and recalled the sensitivity and intelligence with which Marsh wrote about Bonhoeffer. I also remembered how difficult, yet rewarding, it was to read Bonhoeffer’s theology. In the midst of wading through concepts that were grounded in the unfamiliar territory of Lutheran theology, I came across words that absolutely took my breath away. My final paper for that course focused on the theme of “freedom,” a subject close to the heart of many Baptists.
After the service, I felt compelled to talk to Tim about the connection I had to his sermon and to express my appreciation for the way in which he brought Bonhoeffer and the transfiguration to life. His gracious reception and interest in continuing the conversation deepened my sense of SFBC as a welcoming community where faith can be explored in meaningful ways. Several days later, I took a leap of faith and sent him my paper on freedom in Bonhoeffer’s theology. Once again, I discovered that the Spirit was at work as new possibilities for sharing revealed themselves.
In his poem “The Way It is,” William Stafford wrote, There’s a thread you follow. It goes among/ things that change. But it doesn’t change…/ You don’t ever let go of the thread. The thread that guides me is the transformative and healing love of Christ. I understand Baptist freedoms as an expression of that love. Bonhoeffer challenges me to see these freedoms as responsibilities that orient us toward others. His description of freedom as a relationship between people rather than as an individual possession or quality makes me more attuned to the places in my life where needs become apparent and a response is required. Sometimes I am the person in need who can only be free by allowing myself to receive the love of others. Bonhoeffer’s poem, “Stages on the Road to Freedom,” makes it clear that freedom does not come without discipline, action, suffering, and ultimately, death. It’s a curious thing that the very aspects of life that seem most limiting are the path to freedom.
This blog includes thoughts from various contributors at Seattle First Baptist