Saturday, November 24, 2012

Sermon: Rethinking Christ the King: From the Ground Up


Rethinking Christ the King: From the Ground Up
The Rev. Dr. Leah Schade, PhD
 

(Photo by Don Taylor of Littleton, Colorado; http://kisselpaso.com/photo-of-the-day-leafy-green-jesus-on-a-telephone-pole-in-colorado/)

On Christ the King Sunday I will sit down on the carpeted chancel steps with the children from the congregation during the children’s sermon and show them typical images of kings.  I will ask them what makes a king a king.  They will point out what they see in the pictures:  crowns, thrones, scepters, soldiers, ornate castles, and loyal subjects.  I will ask them whether kings are found in high places or low places, and they will most likely say “high places.” 

Then I will ask them what makes Jesus a king.  Most likely they will hesitate at first, because this is not an easy question to answer.  I predict that one of them will pipe up with what all kids learn are the three best answers a kid can give in a children’s sermon:  “God,” “He died for us,” and “love.”  Not bad answers.  And I will show them pictures with sharp contrasts with the first set of images:  a crown of thorns, Jesus washing feet, Jesus riding on a donkey, Jesus healing a child, Jesus dying on a cross.  Hopefully they will come to understand that when we speak about “Christ the King,” we are talking about something very different than what the world understands about power, leadership, authority and strength.  We are talking about the Servant King who traded in all the trappings and temptations of temporal, mortal power for the qualities of human relationship that engender trust, sacredness, and precious regard for “the least of these.”  I will end by asking them whether Jesus the king is found in high places or low places.  Their answers will speak to the transcendence/immanence tension Christians have struggled with for two millennia.  And so I will say “Yes!  Both!”

But if I had more time with these children, I would take them outside and walk them around the church and ask them to point out all the living things they see.  When they point to the birds and flowers, I will remind them Jesus counted them as Sunday School teachers to have us learn important lessons about what it means to be satisfied with just enough.  When they point to the trees, I will remind them that Jesus had many times of prayer with God among the trees, who were like his prayer partners.

I would ask them if the sky is a living thing, and would probably receive mixed answers.  But then I would remind them that God’s very breath moved over the face of the earth and into our bodies, that every living thing depends on clean air, and that Jesus compared the Holy Spirit to the wind.

If one of the children would precociously point to the dirt and say that there are all kinds of invisible things in the soil that make it alive, I would affirm this heartily.  I would remind them of the words Jesus spoke in Matthew 12:40:  “ . . . for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth,” (NRSV).  The Greek phrase here is en kardia ge, literally “in the heart of the earth.”  And “heart” in this passage does not just mean in the center of the earth.  Jesus is saying that he is going to that place within the earth that is the seat of physical life, just like a human heart.  This is extremely important for our concept of the created world.  Jesus is acknowledging that Earth is a living entity, for one thing.  And that Earth has a center of spiritual, intellectual and physical life. 

On this Christ the King Sunday, I would want to tell the children (and all the grown-ups within earshot) that Jesus is saying that he will not rule over earth, but allow himself to be taken in by it.  His crucifixion and resurrection, therefore, is not just for the salvation of human beings, but for the very Earth itself.  This is the Cosmic Christ who locates himself not just in the heights of the heavens, but in the depths of the soil that birthed him, took him in after his death, and rebirthed him on Easter morning. 

Finally, I would ask them:  if Jesus is the Servant King, and Christians model their servant leadership on who Jesus is, what he did, and what his kingship means for all Creation, then how can we be servant leaders for Creation?  My hope would be that their answers would indicate the truth of Isaiah 11:6:  “And a little child shall lead them.”


Sunday, November 18, 2012

An Ecofeminist Perspective on Fracking


An Ecofeminist Perspective on Fracking
By The Rev. Leah D. Schade, PhD Candidate, The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia; Pastor, United in Christ Lutheran Church, Lewisburg, PA; Founder, Interfaith Sacred Earth Coalition

Image designed by Michelle Sayles for Berks Gas Truth

Ecofeminism is the intersection of feminism and ecology and is concerned with the intertwined domination of women and Earth (Earth is capitalized by ecofeminists because of the conviction that the planet is a “being” in its own right).  Ecofeminists believe that environmental issues cannot be properly addressed without simultaneous confrontation of the ways females are oppressed, especially in connection with ecological issues.  At the same time, they believe that feminist concerns must incorporate the ecological crisis affecting our world, especially as it relates to women.  Ecofeminists seek to uncover hidden patterns of subjugation, commodification, and violence toward women and Earth so that we can bring to light the way our language, metaphors, symbols, culture, religion, and societal practices continue to inscribe harmful worldviews of patriarchy, dualism, hierarchy and domination.  The hope is that by bringing awareness to these issues we will be able to reconceive new paradigms for relating to women, Earth, and all marginalized entities (human and other-than-human) that honor the intrinsic value, integrity and sacredness of all beings.

The practice of hydraulic fracturing (fracking, for short) is particularly problematic from an ecofeminist perspective.  Fracking is the process of drilling deep into Earth and injecting massive amounts of water and toxic chemicals into the shale formations below in order to release the methane and other natural gas for extraction.  Fracking involves the removal of all trees and vegetation from the area around the drill site, the use of hundreds of trucks and pieces of heavy machinery for establishing the site, the release of atmosphere-poisoning gases, and the problem of how to deal with the waste water from the process that contains carcinogenic chemicals and radioactive substances.   Many of those who have leased their land to fracking companies have found that their water is not only unfit for consumption, but, in fact, lights on fire and explodes because of the gases entering their wells from the underground fractures.  Another problem is the occurrence of earthquakes resulting from the injection of the toxic waste water from fracking into wells deep beneath Earth’s surface.  Thus, despite the oil and gas industry’s insistence that fracking is safe, environmentally friendly, and a way to “buy time” until cleaner forms of energy can be developed, the reality is that there are serious problems with fracking leading many to demand that at least a moratorium be imposed until the practice can be fully studied and safeguards put in place.  Some even call for an outright ban on the practice of fracking.

Ecofeminists would point out the obvious association of the process of fracking with the crime of rape.  Rape involves unwanted sexual penetration of the body in an act of violence that subjects the victim to humiliation, stripping of power, violation of self-integrity, and pain at all levels of physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual existence.  This pain haunts the victim long after the rapist has left her or him in a state of utter depletion, sometimes just barely surviving the attack.  Women, children and men who are subjected to ongoing sexual molestation and violence must repeatedly endure the violation that is like a toxic poison constantly surging through their minds, bodies and souls. 

If we were to imagine Earth as a human body, perhaps that of a woman, we can see how fracking is akin to “gang rape.”  She is beset by men who care nothing for her except to extract her inner essence and prostitute her body, stripping her of her “clothing” (trees and vegetation), mounting her, drilling into her depths, and exploding into her with their toxic fluid.  Her pain is experienced by all who had previously enjoyed the bounty of her clean water and pure air.  And long after the well dries up and the rapists leave the depleted body, her waters continue to burn with humiliating rage, her body shudders with quaking spasms, and her breath is befouled with toxic pollution.

In the human community, especially in the United States, when a woman is raped, if the perpetrator is caught, he is brought to trial and convicted of his crimes.  Ideally, assistance is offered to the woman to help her regain her sense of autonomy, power, health, and, over time, healing from the trauma.  From an ecofeminist perspective, fracking is a crime that needs to be stopped, the perpetrators brought to trial and convicted of their crimes.  Assistance must be offered to those who suffer Earth’s victimization, and Earth herself must be allowed to heal from the trauma. 

Some will argue, of course, that such a connection between women and Earth is romanticized personification of nothing more than a collection of rocks, dirt and gases.  And ecofeminists will point out that it is exactly this attitude of disrespect, “othering,” and devaluation of both women and Earth that has led to the slew of ecological crises we now face across the planet.  As the saying goes, “You can’t keep a good woman down.”  There will be consequences for disrespecting and violating Earth and women.   Humanity would be wise to learn the lessons now before the consequences lead to irreparable harm for our species and the planet we are leading to destruction. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Fossil Fuel Abolitionists


Fossil Fuel Abolitionists

The Rev. Leah D. Schade
November 9, 2012


I recently took part in a presentation about slickwater hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to a small clergy group in Lycoming County, PA.  My presentation followed that of a geologist who owns a fracking company.  A genial and soft-spoken man, he spent nearly 90 minutes extolling the virtues of not just of natural gas and the fracking industry, but also his company which he believes to be operating under the highest ethical and moral standards. 

I then gave my presentation entitled, “Where Would Jesus Frack?: A Christian Ethical Perspective,” in which I pointedly critiqued his presentation by pointing out the detrimental and destructive effects of fracking and how it harms God’s creation, communities and public health.  I also provided a biblical and theological framework for clergy to engage the issue of fracking, including principles of creation care, eschewing idolatry, honoring Sabbath, prophetic justice, Jesus’ command to care for “the least of these,” and sacramentology.  [The Powerpoint slides are available, should anyone be interested in learning more – just email me at interfaithsacredearthcoalition@gmail.com.]

The group then engaged in a lively discussion with both the geologist-fracker and me, in which they raised several good questions and points.  One comment was, “I know we should get off of fossil fuels, but I just don’t see how it’s possible.  Our entire economy is built by and runs on fossil fuels.”  Later in the discussion another clergy person said, “The problem is that this issue is just overwhelming.  There are only so many things that people want to make ethical decisions about.  It’s exhausting.”

And it occurred to me that these are the same kinds of comments people would make in the days before the abolishment of slavery.  Think of it:  for 200 years our economy ran on “slave-fuel.”  It was powered by subjugated human labor.  Not only was it inconceivable for our country’s economy to function without slaves, there was also biblical and theological rationalization of the practice.  But a small group of Christians began to question the morality of slavery.  At the beginning they met in people’s homes, had private conversations, and little by little began to network with each other.  Eventually the abolitionist movement was born.  Yes, it was exhausting and overwhelming.  But their commitment to the cause was indefatigable.  Today, while equality of the races is still far from reality, the idea of owning slaves is simply abhorrent.  No one would say that slavery is an acceptable practice in today’s world.

With that in mind, I believe that we are now in the midst of a fossil fuels abolitionist movement.  Currently most in our society simply cannot conceive a way for our economy to be powered by anything other than fossil fuels.  But there are small groups of concerned citizens who are actively working to bring about a new reality, a paradigm shift.  Some of us are compelled by our religious convictions, some by science, some simply by a commonly held set of ethical and moral standards that convince us that the fossil fuel economy needs to be completely abolished.  We meet in homes, houses of worship, and coffee shops.  We are connecting over the Internet, through Facebook and emails.  We travel to protests, speak at public hearings, and write letters to our legislators and newspapers.  We are fighting a well-funded system of what St. Paul would term “the powers and principalities.” This “domination system” (using Walter Wink’s phrase) seeks only its own profit and self-perpetuation at the cost of the subjugation of the entire planet and those most vulnerable who are now bearing the brunt of the climate crisis, pollution, and toxic water and air.  But I believe the day is coming when the idea of powering our world with fossil fuels will be simply abhorrent.  There will come a time when no one will say that extracting and burning fossil fuels is an acceptable form of energy.

As for the geologist-fracker who firmly believes that his company is one of best out there in terms of its ethical and environmental standards?  He is the equivalent of an 1850’s slave owner bragging about how well he treats his slaves.  His entire livelihood and life’s calling is built on seeing the earth as an extractable resource, its dark shale a tight treasure trove of saleable gas and its fragile surface simply a barrier to the crude oil underneath.  In the same way slave owners looked on human beings from Africa as nothing but an extractable resource, their dark bodies a treasure trove of saleable labor. 

Before I left the clergy gathering, the geologist-fracker, who is a Christian, said to me and all of us, “I have read the Bible cover to cover many times.  And I have not found within it anything that tells me I shouldn’t be doing what I’m doing.”  To which I replied, “Isn’t that interesting.  Because I have also read the Bible cover to cover many times, and I have come to the exact opposite conclusion.”

Slave owners quoted Scripture’s passages about owning slaves as legitimation for their evil practices.  Many of them were upright citizens who loved their families, and made sure their slaves were housed and fed.  Many of them were learned men and successful business owners.  Most of them were Christians.  But the institution of slavery was (and still is – because it continues to thrive in the shadows of society) evil, plain and simple.

In the same way, this geologist-fracker is not an evil man.  He loves his family.  He treats his employees well.  He is a scholar of rocks and legitimate business owner.  And he is a Christian.  But the business he is in is evil, plain and simple. 

For 200 years our economy has run on fossil fuels.  But that time is coming to an end.   To all of you “fossil fuel abolitionists”: take heart, keep up the good fight, and know that, in the words of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

Monday, November 5, 2012

Mad Men: An Environmental Assessment (The Draper Family Picnic)

In honor of the series finale of Mad Men, I'm reposting this piece from 2012:
 
The Draper Family Picnic
The Rev. Dr. Leah Schade
Nov. 5, 2012

Mad Men episode “The Gold Violin,” Season Two, opens with Madison Avenue advertising creative director Don Draper standing in a sleek Cadillac showroom eyeing the 1962 Coup de Ville appraisingly.  On the verge of entering an elite social and economic level as his firm Sterling Cooper enjoys increasing revenue under Don’s creative influence, the impeccably dressed, eternally handsome man seems made for the expensive status symbol, and it for him.  “This is the car for those who’ve already arrived,” purrs the salesman.  But Don is hesitant at first and leaves the showroom without purchasing the vehicle.  He is not quite sure that he has indeed “arrived.”

The senior partner of Sterling Cooper soon convinces him that he has.  Mr. Bert Cooper informs Don that because their coffee company client was so impressed with his sales pitch for their product, he has now been invited to sit on the board of the Museum of Early American Folk Arts.  “That’s nice,” says Don dryly.  “What is it?”  It’s obvious he does not take this offer seriously.  That’s when Cooper reframes the invitation for him: “Philanthropy is the gateway to power.”  These words are placed in front of Don like an expensive cigar, just waiting for his well-manicured hands to pick up, pass appreciatively beneath his nostrils and light up.  “There are few people who get to decide what will happen in our world,” Cooper says.  “You have been invited to join them.  Pull back the curtain and take your seat.” 
    
The seat is leather, “like the cockpit of a jet,” exclaims his gorgeous, blonde wife Betty (on whom Don has cheated repeatedly since Season One).  He brings the shiny, sky blue road-yacht home to her and says simply, “It was expensive.”  “You deserve it,” she says.  “You work so hard.” 

Neither of them give any thought to the fact that the car is a gas-guzzling pollution machine, averaging only 8 m.p.g.  How could they?  In the early 1960’s, environmental consciousness had not yet appeared, much less been mainstreamed.

The next time we see Don and Betty, they are draped across a bucolic country hillside, the sedan parked sedately on the lane just above them.  The sun dapples their red-and-white checkered picnic blanket while a tapestry of green trees frames them like a picture postcard.  Laying back against her reclining husband, Betty sighs, “We should do this more often.”  “We should only do this,” Don replies cleverly.  Their young son frolics nearby as his charming older sister, Sally, asks innocently, “Are we rich?”  Her parents exchange a quick glance, and her mother replies, “It’s not polite to talk about money.”

Don then stands up, holding the can he has drained, and chucks it into the distance.  I gasp.  Betty silently checks the children’s hands to make sure they will not soil the new car.  Then she stands up, picks up the edge of the blanket and shakes it out, sending paper plates, napkins, leftover food, and all manner of picnic trash flying everywhere.  My hand goes to my gaping mouth. 


The camera seems to take the point of view of one of the nearby trees, unmoving, unblinking in its gaze, watching as the family gets into the spotless boat-of-a-car and sails off, leaving the formerly beautiful scene spoiled by their garbage.

“I can’t believe they just did that!” I exclaim to my husband.


“But that’s what they did back then,” he reminds me.  “Nobody thought it was wrong to leave your trash behind.  Besides, Don certainly didn't want all that garbage in his shiny new car.”

This is all before the 70’s image of the iconic “crying Indian” surveying a landscape littered with trash, and the cartoon owl reminding children, “Give a hoot, don’t pollute.”  If the fictional Don Draper were alive today, he would be in his late 80’s. In fifty years, he would have seen the advent of Earth Day, the rise of grassroots environmental organizations like Greenpeace and Friends of Earth, and the evolving of society’s conscience about not overtly leaving one’s trash behind, out of sight, out of mind.
 
But what we see in this fictionalized snapshot of the Draper family picnic is exactly the kind of attitude that still exists among much of our nation, especially among the wealthy.  The Drapers are a lovely, upstanding, and - yes, Sally - rich family who live in a protected bubble of wealth and prestige.  Don makes a living selling illusions to the public on behalf of corporations hawking products that will more often than not end up in a landfill along a bucolic country lane somewhere.

Their expensive car is, despite its shiny chrome and automatic windows, nothing more than a machine that throws its trashy fumes into the air, trapping heat in the earth’s atmosphere that warms the seas and contributes to the horrific mess left behind by superstorms like Hurricane Sandy.  And would Don have risen to replace Bert Cooper, he would no doubt encourage the natural gas corporations of today to throw their philanthropic dollars at the poor rural communities desperate for an infusion of cash in order to secure their power that enables them to trash America’s farms, woodlands and waterways while raking in as much profit as possible.    
  
In the final scene, Don is driving home from a party with his wife Betty swaying greenly in the passenger’s seat.  Is it because she has had too much to drink?  Or because a man at the party they were attending at the Stork Club has just informed her that her husband and his wife were having an affair?  Regardless, the result is the same.  In a bit of poetic justice, Betty vomits all over the seat of her husband’s brand new car.

“You’re garbage, and you know it,” the jilted husband had told Don earlier at the party.  Garbage is as garbage does, apparently.

The excesses of Don’s generation have left our world in a pool of vomitus and garbage.  And the children of Don and Betty are continuing their parents’ drunken addiction to fossil fuels, endless consumerism, and destructive excesses.  The picnic is over.  The trash still remains.