Sunday, March 29, 2015

Leah Schade Featured in The Lutheran Magazine

Excerpt from: 

Restoring creation with faith

by Mary Birdsong
While growing up, Leah Schade experienced God’s presence in the forests of Pennsylvania as much as in church. But she couldn’t find a way to express her distress over environmental desecration until called to pastoral ministry.
“It was the arc of my theological awareness and sense of call to ministry that gave language to what I witnessed and the change I wanted to bring about,” she said.
Schade started an eco-ministry committee 10 years ago in her first congregation and more recently became an advocate and activist for environmental issues ranging from hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to clean air standards. She was also part of a successful attempt to defeat a proposed tire incinerator in her community of Milton, Pa.
Besides serving as pastor of United in Christ Lutheran Church in West Milton, Pa., she teaches courses and workshops in preaching, ecology and ethics and is an adjunct instructor in religion and philosophy at Lebanon Valley College, Annville, Pa. 
Leah Schade
In her ministry of environmental advocacy,Leah Schade has become a “fracktivist,” taking on the industry at such places as this drill rig in the Tiadaghton State Park in Lycoming Country, Pa. 
In her upcoming book Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology and the Pulpit (Chalice Press), her goal is to “show how preaching can help give new life to God’s earth, and that God’s earth can give new life to preaching.” One goal of the book is developing a Lutheran eco-feminist Christology for preaching.
Environmental activism outside of the congregation is important to Schade, such as her service on the Upper Susquehanna Synod’s task force examining justice issues around shale gas drilling. This bipartisan group is made up of pastors, theologians, teachers, lay leaders, scientists and individuals who either worked in the industry or were favorable toward it. 
After more than two years, they were able to agree that exemptions from regulations enjoyed by the fracking industry were unjust. 
“In 2014 our synod assembly voted to ask our legislators to close the so-called ‘Halliburton Loophole’ and put the industry under the same laws as everyone else,” Schade said. “Fracking threatens water, air, public health and contributes to climate change. It is the ‘perfect storm’ of environmental devastation. Faith is absolutely essential to this work because it can be very depressing facing the devastating realities of ecocide.”

Friday, March 20, 2015

Spring Equinox and Lent: The Surprising Discovery of Balance at the Temporary Loss of My Cell Phone

The Rev. Dr. Leah Schade

I probably should have felt panicky realizing that the spinning ball on the screen in my hand meant the device was no longer functioning.  I was disconnected!  No one could call me, and I could not call or text anyone.  My tether to the etherworld of instant weather updates, instant camera, instant music, and instant distraction was severed.  I was floating, my eyes unmoored from the slick screen that normally held my gaze whenever I needed to connect, whenever I was bored, waiting, impatient, or in need of entertainment. 

Interestingly, however, I did not panic.  Instead I felt a strange sensation of calm envelop me.  Like standing at the window on a snowy morning and realizing there is nothing I can do but accept the blanket of white silence that has temporarily suspended my plans.  I had an excuse not to check in, not to feel the incessant demand of my attention with every ping and aural notification.

Of course not having the phone did have the potential to create real problems.  We gave up our landline phone last year to save money, so I would have to rely on my husband’s phone if I really needed to make a call.  And I am a pastor, so being available to my parishioners is imperative.  So on my computer I sent out a Facebook message and congregation-wide email letting people know of my situation.  I could check messages from other phones, but would not be able to receive or answer texts.  And I wouldn’t be immediately accessible as I usually was.  

But, surprisingly, the world did not unravel around me.  In fact, what I discovered was a reservoir of mental energy that has allowed me to gather my psychological threads back into some semblance of sanity.  Checking my phone, I realized, had become a nervous habit akin to biting my fingernails.  Without a phone to check, I noticed my awareness of my surroundings expand.  Without a screen to swipe I felt my attentiveness stretching out with greater continuity, uninterrupted by flashing lights alerting me to a text, a Facebook update, a phone message.  

Certainly, I worry that I will miss something important.  But those who need to contact me know other ways to reach me.  And I have discovered that there is great freedom in having a phone-sick-day.  As it turned out, a day stretched into a weekend, stretched into a week, and is stretching into ten days.  Due to complications with the company, the wait for a replacement is taking longer than expected.  But when the issue was resolved today and I was told by the company representative that my new phone would arrive in 2-3 business days (rather than overnight, as I suppose I could have demanded), I did not fret about how I would survive without my phone for that long.  Instead I relished the thought of at least 3 more days of quietness, being exempt from virtual distraction.

It occurred to me that today is the first day of spring, the vernal equinox.  There is an equal amount of daylight and darkness.  Day and night are perfectly balanced for this one day.  How serendipitous that in these days approaching and relaxing into the equinox, I would receive the gift of balance by the temporary loss of my cell phone. 

This year I did not elect to “give up” anything for Lent.  The thought of disciplining myself to withstand deprivation when I am already so driven just seemed ludicrous to me.  I did not set my mind on any kind of Lenten fasting.  But a Lenten fast found me instead.  I would never have chosen “giving up my cell phone” as my Lenten discipline.  But I am so grateful that at least for these ten days, the choice was made for me.  Perhaps a regular practice of cell-phone Sabbaths are in my future. . . 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology and the Pulpit

By Leah D. Schade
Chalice Press
Available Summer 2015
Pre-order here:

How can we proclaim justice for God’s Creation in the face of global warming? How does fracking fit with “the earth and its fullness are the Lord’s?” Creation-Crisis Preaching works with the premise that all of Creation, including humankind, needs to hear the Good News of Jesus’ resurrection in this age in which humanity is “crucifying” Creation. Informed by years of experience as an environmental activist and minister, Leah Schade equips preachers to interpret the Bible through a “green” lens, become rooted in environmental theology, and learn how to understand their preaching context in terms of the particular political, cultural, and biotic setting of their congregation. Creation-Crisis Preaching provides both theoretical grounding and practical tips for preachers to create environmental sermons that are relevant, courageous, creative, pastoral, and inspiring.

Clergy and lay preachers: This book is an equal blend of theory and practical application when it comes to environmental preaching. Drawing on social movement theory and the role of religion in environmental activism, the author offers an innovative approach to environmental preaching based on a deciduous tree’s yearly cycle:  “flowering/pollination” (consciousness-raising), “leafing” (calling for specific action); and “fruiting” (transforming lifestyles and culture for long-term, sustainable change).  Several sermons by the author are included throughout the book with detailed analysis to illustrate preaching that honestly and creatively names the reality of our ecologically “crucified” world, while emphasizing a hope-filled “eco-resurrection.”  The flowering-leafing-fruiting approaches to preaching about Creation are applicable to other justice issues as well.  The book would be useful for pastor study groups and continuing education classes for preachers.  Also, the book addresses the role of religious leaders in the public square, how to be a presence in local justice issues, and how to balance the prophetic and pastoral voice in their preaching and public witness.

Lay religious readers: Readers interested in connecting their faith with Creation-care will find theological, scriptural, and practical tools for addressing environmental justice issues in their lives and faith journeys.  The book could also be used as a seven-part study series with the help of the downloadable study guide.

Non-religious environmental activists: Non-religious environmental activists and advocates seeking to widen their base and make connections with people of faith will find this book helpful in providing insights as to what resonates with religious persons and activates them to take part in efforts to protect the environment.  Just as the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s relied heavily on churches, synagogues and people of faith to frame their cause as righteous and morally compelling, today we need a Green Civil Rights movement in which people of faith are engaged and seen as partners in the Great Transition to a non-fossil-fuel future where human beings reorient to a biocentric economy.  This book can help build a bridge between the two groups.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ash Wednesday Sermon: Job’s Healing through God’s Creation

The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade
Texts: Job 2:1-8; Job 10:1-9; Job 19:23-27, 42:1-6

INTRO DURING ANNOUNCEMENTS: For this Ash Wednesday service, we have built the theme around readings from the book of Job. Job’s lament sitting among the ashes is very appropriate for this service. There is secular song written by the artist Joni Mitchell called “The Sire of Sorrow.” It is a beautiful song that captures the spirit of the book of Job, and we will be playing it during communion.

“Why do bad things happen to good people?” There’s is a well-known book by that title. And it is a central question in the book of Job. From the opening chapters of the book of Job, the feeling you get about Job’s predicament is that it’s not fair. It’s not fair that Satan and God are allowed to place a gamble on his faith. It’s not fair that Job is allowed to be tested. It’s not fair that such a righteous man should lose everything - his wealth, his family, his health.

There is a whole middle section of the book of Job which we were not able to include in our readings today. It’s the discourse between Job and his so-called friends. After Job has been reduced to the ash heap, three men come to talk with him about his situation. In Joni Mitchell’s song she calls them the “Antagonists.” And that’s exactly what they do. They antagonize him, rub salt into his wounds, add insult to injury. They spout off all these pious dictums and self-righteous words that show they have no compassion for Job. They speak with an air of superiority, trying to convince Job that there must have been something he did to deserve this ill treatment.

But Job stands his ground. He knows that he did not bring on this suffering by anything of his own doing. And he insists he wants to speak directly with God to learn what he has done to deserve his suffering. If he could only talk with God, he reasons, he will understand what’s going on, why he’s made to suffer so.

And finally he gets his wish. God speaks to him out of a whirlwind, a hurricane, signifying the immensity of this encounter. But God’s answer is not what Job expected. Rather than explain what guilt Job has incurred to deserve such suffering, God takes the conversation in a completely different direction. God takes Job on a whirlwind tour of creation, showing him the overwhelming task of conjuring up the world in all its diversity of life forms, the staggering array of the cosmos and its creatures therein.
Essentially God says to Job, “Your suffering is not an issue of moral law; it’s not a question of guilt or sin, or anything you did or did not do to deserve what happened to you. Look, you’re going to have to trust me on this one. I’m God, and I know what I’m doing. Don’t let yourself be dragged into this self-doubt by the Antagonists. I created you. You’re going to be fine. Trust me.”

Finally, Job gets it. He answers God, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. . . I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” Actually, a closer reading of the Hebrew text at this point gives a slightly different translation: “I rid myself of dust and ashes.” In other words, he does as God advises, letting go of the tug-of-war with the Antagonists, getting up out of the ashes and moving on.

There is a deep humility in Job’s words. Seeing the breathtaking complexity of Creation has given Job a different perspective on God and his place in God’s world.  After having come through everything he endured, there is a settling into acceptance, an inner knowing that the God who created the world has you and me in God’s hands as well. And that whatever trials and tribulations we suffer, there will come a time of redemption, a time of restoration. In the story of Job this actually happens in his lifetime. All his fortunes are restored. He has more children than before and more wealth than he knows what to do with.

In a sense, you could call this a resurrection story. As Christians, we cannot help but look at the story of Job and draw comparisons to Jesus. We look to the person of Jesus, who certainly suffered as Job suffered, and more in his crucifixion. And like Job, he did not deserve it. He incurred no guilt. And, like Job, Jesus had his doubting moments, too. In the Garden of Gesthemane he wrestles with God, “If it can be, let this cup pass from me. Yet not my will, but thy will be done.” And then on the cross, he quotes this famous line from Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Like Job, Jesus is stripped of everything and tortured at the hands of men. And the self-righteous religious leaders gather at the foot of the cross like the antagonists to Job, uttering their pious words of judgement, showing no compassion.

And like Job, Jesus holds his ground. Not only that, but the ground holds him.  All of Earth bears witness – the trees lashed together into the cross, the rocks that shake and split, the sun that darkens, the air that receives his last breath.  And, of course, the tomb in the cave of the earth holds all of Jesus’ suffering, cradling it, like the manger cradled his infant form so many years ago. 

Life of Jesus
But on Easter morning as the tomb lies empty and the air stirs with the breath of one who was dead, these words from Chapter 19 in Job could just as well have been uttered by Jesus: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.”

But I’m getting ahead of things. Easter morning is a long way off. Today, we’re still in the ash heap. Today we are beginning this journey that will have us questioning, doubting, battling with inner and outer demons. And the question is, how will we be with each other during this time of testing? Will we be like those Antagonists? Or can we find another way to relate to each other?

You can probably bring to mind several people in our congregation or in your own life right now who are enduring Job-like suffering. The serious illness or death of a family member or close friend, loss of self-confidence and identity when the job, the marriage, the friendship has crumbled. Like Job we question why God would allow this to happen.”

It’s difficult to sit with people who are in the ashes. It’s much easier to stand over them like the Antagonists, analyzing their situation, prescribing remedies based on some perceived deficiency in their personalities or actions. And there’s a good reason why we don’t like to join another in their suffering. If we decide to sit with another in the ash heap it means we have to face our own mortality. We have to recall the times when we suffered. Those are the times we would rather forget. It’s painful. It’s unsettling.

When you listen to this song by Joni Mitchell song you may say to yourself, “Oh this is so depressing.” And that’s true. It’s not easy to listen to this song and read the words.  A friend of mine and former music director at a church I once served was the one who shared Mitchell’s song with me.  She wrote: “At first, its directness in dealing with the harsh realities of Job is unsettling. Yet the music Joni Mitchell set these words to is haunting and beautiful. She gives no answers, no references to the saving grace of Christ. Her life has been difficult with polio, unhappy relationships, abortion and years of hardship to attain success in the music business. And even though she has achieved super stardom, she struggles with the shallowness that accompanies fame. Can this song give healing? I feel that it does. She makes Job everyman, yet also relates to him through her own struggles. Maybe this lack of answers combined with the knowledge that these sufferings are universal, will alleviate some of the isolation of those who are grieving.” (Furia, Linda, “A Hymn Study on the Book of Job,” unpublished paper, Sept. 4, 2001, pp. 11-12.)

And, that, I think is one of the keys to undertaking this Lenten journey together. Suffering, tragedy, loss and grief are all isolating experiences. The experience overwhelms you with feelings that make it seem as if you are the only one in the world who knows what it is to truly suffer. Like the song that Ellen sang earlier in the service as the ashes were marked on our foreheads: “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen.” And it’s true. Everyone’s pain is unique.

And yet, if you can find the heart and the courage within yourself to sit in the ashes with another who is suffering, you will find yourself connecting with another human being in the most profound way. And if you yourself are suffering, if you can allow yourself to come to a service like this, or really, any worship service, and join yourself to the community, there is something very healing in that process. And when we open ourselves up to the power of God’s holy Creation, observing the processes of life, the dizzying complexity, the astounding patterns and details from the heights of the stars to the depths of the tiniest sea creatures – we may gain new perspective on God, and on our place in God’s Creation.

So I invite you to sit with another in the ashes during this Lenten journey. And if you are feeling like Job, I invite you to bring your ash heap here among us and allow us to care for you while you are suffering. Because we are called to be a people of compassion. The Job in me recognizes the Job in you. We see our common humanity, we share in each other’s suffering.

And even as we sit in the ashes, we keep our eyes raised to the cross, knowing that Jesus has traveled this road before us. Nobody knows the trouble I seen. Nobody knows but Jesus. Indeed. The God of the ashes is the God of Creation is the God of the cross is the God of the resurrection. And we know that our God, our Redeemer, lives. Amen.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Transfiguration: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

The Rev. Dr. Leah Schade
Readings:  2 Kings 2:1-12 (Elijah and Elisha); Mark 9:2-9 (The Transfiguration)

On Friday evening my daughter and I watched a movie called Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, based on the book of the same name by Jonathan Safran Foer.  The story centers around a boy named Oskar Schell whose father died in the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City.  That happened nearly 14 years ago -- what Oskar called “the worst day.”  It was perhaps the most traumatic event to happen in our country, as we watched the Towers collapse and more than 2000 people die.

The movie is very emotionally intense, and I would not recommend it for young children.  But I can tell you that Oskar was very close to his dad and loved him very much.  His dad used to create elaborate expeditions for him to find objects throughout the city.  After his father died, Oskar found a key in a vase in his father’s closet with the name “Black” written on the envelope.  The rest of the movie is about Oskar’s quest to contact every person with the last name of Black in the city of New York to find the lock which the key will open.  The movie flashes back to Oskar’s wonderful memories of his father as well as the terror of the day his world came crashing down around him.  Oskar’s quest to find the lock for the key is his attempt to make sense of what has happened and keep some kind of connection to his father. 

We had another story in our readings today about someone losing a man who was very close to him, almost like a father.  It is the story of Elisha whose teacher Elijah was taken away in a chariot of fire, leaving Elisha to carry on without him. 
Elisha had followed his master from the moment they met, when Elisha was a young man, plowing his father's field.  He was completely devoted to Elijah, as we saw in our skit.  When Elijah wanted his young student to stay behind as he was coming to the end of his earthly journey, Elisha refused.  He insisted on accompanying his master to the very end.  And he makes a bold request of his master – to receive a double share of his spirit.  Elijah tells him that if he can see him being taken up into heaven – if he can withstand the pain of that vision – then he will indeed receive Elijah’s spirit.  And sure enough, after he watched his master swept up into heaven by the chariots of fire, he is able to perform miracles and spread God’s word even more powerfully than Elijah.
The other story we heard today was about another amazing experience – Jesus taking some of his disciples up on a mountain so that they could catch a glimpse of who he really was – the Son of God.  The disciples don’t know it then, but they will not have their teacher with them for much longer.  After they come down from the mountain they will be starting on the journey to Jerusalem and, finally, to Jesus’ death at Calvary on the cross.  It will be what Oskar would call “the worst day,” when their world will come crashing down around them. 

But at this moment they are caught up in the sheer amazement of what and who they see.  Elijah – the prophet of old, along with Moses – the giver of the Law, join Jesus there on the mountaintop.  And then a cloud overshadows them and they hear the voice of Jesus’ heavenly father – extremely loud and incredibly close: “This is my son, the Beloved.  Listen to him.”  It’s that voice which will echo in their minds much later as they watch their beloved teacher writhing in unimaginable pain on the cross.  Perhaps even Jesus hears that voice in his memory as he is feeling forsaken and abandoned by his heavenly father.  That memory would be both a comfort and distressing to him.Transfiguration of Christ wallpaper
Oskar, too, had a memory of his father’s voice that was both comforting and distressing at the same time.  When his father was still in the Tower, he called home and tried to speak with his son.  But he was only able to leave a series of messages on the answering machine.  For over a year his son replayed the recordings of his father’s anguished voice, the sound reminding him how much he loved the sound of his father’s voice, but also reminding him how much he missed him.

Maybe you know a little of how Oskar felt.  When we lose someone we love, it feels like our world comes crashing down around us.  We don’t know how we are going to go on without them.  The feelings of grief, anger and sadness can become unbearable.  And sometimes it’s not until we are on our quest for a long time that we find the peace and connection we were looking for. 
Elisha was fortunate in a way – he was able to tap into his master’s spirit nearly immediately.  He was able to carry on his work and step into his new role as a true prophet, no longer an apprentice.  The disciples were also able to tap into their master’s spirit.  In fact, Jesus made sure of it.  By breathing on them after the resurrection, and later by sending the Holy Spirit to them in wind and fire, they were able to step into their new role, no longer disciples (meaning students), but apostles (meaning “sent ones”), doing the work that Jesus had been teaching them to do.

Oskar, too, has his father’s spirit, although at first he doesn’t realize it.  Even as he is grieving, he boldly approaches every person with the last name of “Black” on his list and he meets over 200 people who share with him their own stories of pain and loss.  By the end of the movie, Oskar is able to overcome some of his worst fears and find his father’s power within himself. I won’t spoil the ending, but there is a final amazing moment in the movie where Oskar’s spirit soars, like a phoenix rising out of the ashes of grief.
Each of us is at a different place in our journey.  Some of you are very young and may have not yet experienced the death of someone you love.  I will tell you something my daughter shared with me she learned from watching the movie – to tell your parent or grandparent or teacher or whoever it is that is important to you – tell them that you love them and why they mean so much to you.  And remember when you do eventually lose someone you love – their spirit never leaves you.  It may take a while to discover how and where that spirit is within you, but Jesus has promised to accompany you on that journey.  You will not be left to be on your journey alone.

Oskar found this out in surprising ways.  All during his quest he is being followed, watched, cared for by someone who loves him very much, even though he doesn’t know it until the end.  And along the way he is accompanied by a surprising person who comes into his life and helps him find his way.
Elisha, the disciples, Oskar . . . and you.  Your quest lies ahead of you.  You have been given a key, and as you seek the lock for which it fits, you will find yourself unlocking moments of grace along the way.  And remember – Jesus goes ahead of you, preparing the way for you, never abandoning you, always accompanying you.  Even though we cannot see him, his spirit is with us, his life and his love are with us.  They are as close as the bread in our hand, the wine on our lips.  May God bless you on your journey.  Amen.