Saturday, December 15, 2012

Do Not Sacrifice Our Children on the Altar of the Gun


Do Not Sacrifice Our Children on the Altar of the Gun
by The Rev. Leah Schade
Read:  Genesis 22:1-14:  “The Sparing of Isaac”
[This is a departure from my usual topic of ecology and theology.  But I have been so distraught over the killing of 20 children and 6 adults by shooter Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on December 13, 2012, I am compelled to write about this.]

There is no greater cliff-hanger than the image of Abraham’s knife poised above Isaac, just as an angel flies down to stay his hand.  But it is also one of the more disturbing stories in Genesis because of the questions it raises.  Why would God test Abraham by telling him to sacrifice his own son?  What kind of God is this?  Why would God do such a thing?  And why would Abraham so willingly follow this command to kill his own son without questioning?

The command to kill the boy Isaac seems downright cruel.  Why would God issue such a violent and abhorant edict?  Well, in that day and age, child sacrifice was not unheard of.  It was not unusual for the peoples and cultures of that time to sacrifice their own children in order to appease an angry god, or to stay on the good side of capricious deities.  While it must have broken Abraham’s heart to hear his God make such a demand, he knew from the cultures and religions around him that sometimes this is the price that must be paid in order to secure the favor of the deity.

This story needs to be retold again and again. Because it raises questions for our modern society.  Might we, in some ways, be like Abraham, blindly assuming that certain sacrifices are necessary, without questioning the culture around us that has conditioned our behaviors?  We might think that we’ve moved beyond these barbaric practices of child-sacrifice in today’s modern world.  But truth be told, children are sacrificed daily on the altar of the gun. 

Guns are god-like in this country and we worship them.  Worship may be defined as anything to which human beings devote their sacrifice, allegiance, finances, time and heart.  Thus, the gun is an almighty god that is bowed down to in the United States.  The gun has become so ubiquitous, it assumes god-like omnipresence.  Guns permeate our television shows, movies, video games and toy store aisles.  Gun shows are like old-fashioned church tent-revivals touting a religion that will “save” its adherents.  The gun industry is a billion-dollar machine that spreads a gospel of salvation, profiting mightily by convincing the public to own as many guns as they do Bibles, if not more. The NRA is the royal priesthood to which all politicians must defer and pledge their allegiance.  The Second Amendment to the Constitution, “the right to bear arms,” has been twisted to become its dogma that demands sacrifice. 

Martin Luther encouraged people to “call a thing what it is.”  So from a theological standpoint, I am taking the mask off the gun to reveal it for what it truly is:  evil.  And I say this as a former hunter who used to faithfully go into the woods every fall and spring to kill animals with a shotgun or rifle.  I do not begrudge hunters this right.  But as a parent, and as a citizen who has watched one too many sacrifices of our children at the altar of the gun, I have had enough. 

I don’t have the political clout to take on the NRA priesthood or the politicians beholden to the organization’s campaign donations.  I don’t have the cultural clout or societal standing to organize mass protests and topple the idol of the gun.  All I have is my writing, my broken heart, my anger, and Internet access.  And prayer.  My nine-year-old daughter wrapped her arms around me last night and reminded me that the most important thing I can do is pray.  And as I spent the night in a restless mix of prayer and nightmare, I awoke convinced that I needed to speak out on this issue about guns from a theological and biblical perspective.

Like Abraham trudging up the hill to Mt. Moriah, we have been fooled by the gun-religion and culture around us into believing that the only way to appease the angry and demanding gun-god is by accepting that our children must be sacrificed.  We unquestioningly believe in the ritual practice of manufacturing more and more guns and giving unfettered access to all who would devote their money and their heart to the gun.  To question the doctrine of the NRA is to be accused of heresy in the form of being “unpatriotic.”  But, in fact, the more guns we produce and sell, the more people who have them, the more people – children – are dying from guns. 

This gun-god cares nothing about our children, and convinces us to justify this lack of care by the bogus mantra: “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.”  Let’s be very clear:  GUNS KILL PEOPLE!  I have held a gun.  I have fired it.  As a hunter I have used it to kill, to take the life of another being.  There is something about the gun that imbues the holder with a sense of power over another – the power to give and take life.  If I do not pull the trigger, I have spared your life.  If I pull it, I take your life instantly.  This is god-like power.  It may be argued that any weapon can give that sense of power.  But let’s face it – none of the mass killings that have happened in our country were committed with swords, knives or cross bows.  It was guns, plain and simple.  Guns kill people. 

In the Genesis story, Abraham and Isaac begin their final walk to the site of sacrifice.  Isaac’s mind must have been racing, the weight of the wood on his shoulders nothing compared to the weight in the pit of his stomach.   Finally he asks, “You know, Dad, I was just thinking.  We’ve got the fire; we’ve got the wood . . . where is the lamb?” It’s a question that must have gone through the heart of Abraham like a bullet.  It’s one of the most dramatic moments of irony in the Genesis story.  Abraham’s answer seems evasive, but it also reveals his faith:  “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.”  YHWH yir’eh – in Hebrew:  God will provide.

When my five-year-old son heard the news that children in an elementary school just like his were killed, he asked a similar question:  Is a bad man going to come to my school and shoot kids?  In other words, am I next?  Am I the lamb to be sacrificed?  I could only say to him words similar to Abraham’s, “I hope and pray that God will provide and save you and your classmates from this fate.”

“YHWH yir’eh, God will provide.” I would imagine that those were the words Abraham kept repeating to himself over and over as he piled up the stones for the altar, as he lay down the wood for the sacrifice.  Perhaps even Isaac began repeating the words like a mantra as his father bound his hands and he allowed himself to be laid upon the altar.  “YHWH yir’eh, God will provide.”

With tears in his eyes, Abraham grabs the dagger.  He stands over his son, his tears dripping onto Isaac’s face, mingling with the tears of his beloved son.  And he raises his dagger.  One last time, “YHWH yir’eh, God will provide. . .”

“Abraham -- STOP!  Do not hurt the boy.  I know that you trust me.  I know that you would do whatever your God asks of you -- even if it meant killing your own son.  But let this be a sign unto you -- I do not require child sacrifice.  God does not demand the blood of children.”

Sometimes we have to be taken right to the edge of death to realize the truth about God.  In this story, we are taken right to the edge of the knife so that the lesson of this story will be indelibly etched in our minds.  Do not sacrifice your children.  Do not engage in deadly violence against your offspring.  Not now, not for all time.  Our God – the true God – is not one who demands us to put our children on the altars of idols and sacrifice them.  This is a God who seeks the preservation of our offspring.   The books of Exodus and Deuteronomy have explicit laws against child sacrifice.  Deuteronomy 18:10:  “No one shall be found among you who makes a son or daughter pass through fire.”

But we have allowed ourselves to become convinced that the sacrifice of children is simply the price that must be paid to the gun-god.  The gun-god is the only one who will provide.  The gun is the answer to all our woes.  Is the teenager’s music too loud?  Shoot him.  Is his wearing of a hoodie making you feel threatened?  Shoot him.  Are you angry at the politician?  The ones who have mistreated you?  The world?  Angry at God?  The answer is the gun, always the gun.  It is the final solution.

It is past time for pastors, theologians, and people of faith to take a united stand against this idolatry of the gun, tear down the idol and the altar, and protect our children.  I can only pray, sobbing, my tears dripping onto the heads of my children who may be next . . . “YHWH yir’eh, God will provide.”




Saturday, November 24, 2012

Sermon: Rethinking Christ the King: From the Ground Up

ECOPREACHER HAS MOVED TO PATHEOS!

Please click this link to read this piece on Rethinking Christ the King: From the Ground Up:

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. 



Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Christian Perspective to Drilling in Rock Run


United in Christ Lutheran Church
 PO Box 95; West Milton, PA 17886
1875 Churches Road Lewisburg, PA 17837
UICLutheran@dejazzd.com      570-568-2254
Facebook: United in Christ Lutheran Church

October 21, 2012
An Open Letter to Governor Tom Corbett, DCNR Secretary Richard Allan, and Anadarko Regarding the Protection of Rock Run and Old Loggers Path in Loyalsock State Forest:

We are members and friends of United in Christ Lutheran Church in rural Lewisburg.  We are alarmed about the threat to Rock Run and Old Loggers Path in Lycoming County from the natural gas industry.  This pristine wilderness area of Pennsylvania is a treasure that should be protected.  We are asking you not to develop the Clarence Moore mineral rights in the Loyalsock State Forest and to halt natural gas development in the Old Logger’s path area. 

This issue is important to us as Lutherans for several reasons.  First, we see the despoiling of the Rock Run area as nothing less than the degradation of God’s gracious gift of creation. Scripture witnesses to God as creator of the earth and all that dwells therein (Psalm 24:1). The creeds, which guide our reading of Scripture, proclaim God the Father of Jesus Christ as “maker of heaven and earth,” Jesus Christ as the one “through [whom] all things were made,” and the Holy Spirit as “the Lord, the giver of life” (Nicene Creed).   Thus we believe all of creation is worthy of protection, especially those areas that are particularly sensitive and whose ecosystems are fragile.  Rock Run is one of those areas.

Second, the Holy Bible gives us several examples of mountains and waterways being special places in which God reveals God’s self.  We believe that this area of Loyalsock State Forest is a place where God’s presence in creation is experienced deeply by those who hike, swim, and fish there.  A natural area such as this is not a domain to be conquered and exploited for short-term gain, but to be enjoyed, preserved, and explored as a wondrous, sacred trust.

Third, according to Genesis 2:15, our role within creation is to serve and to keep God’s garden, the earth.  You have an opportunity to leave a legacy for this state and future generations that preserves the pure water, native fish populations and unparalleled beauty of the forest.  It is your responsibility as leaders in government and industry to protect this ecologically and aesthetically sensitive area.  And it is our responsibility as Christians to ask that you do so.

Finally, according to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) social statement, “Caring for Creation,” adopted in 1993 (http://www.elca.org/What-We-Believe/Social-Issues/Social-Statements/Environment.aspx): “We live within the covenant God makes with all living things, and are in relationship with them. The principle of participation means they are entitled to be heard and to have their interests considered when decisions are made.”  We urge you to consider the interest of the fish, fauna, trees and plant life, as well our children who deserve the opportunity to be in communion with their earth-kin in this area of Rock Run.

We will be praying that God’s will may be done in this situation.  And we trust that you will make the decision that is best for the residents – both human and God’s creation – of Pennsylvania.
Sincerely,

The Rev. Leah Schade and Members and Friends of United in Christ Lutheran Church (signatures below



Tuesday, October 16, 2012

"Farmer Amos and the Carpenter’s Son”


(The CROP Walk Sermon)
The Rev. Leah Schade
Oct. 14, 2012
Texts:  Amos 5:6-7, 10-15 -  “You trample on the poor . . .”
Mark 10:17-31 – “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Farmer Amos has been puzzling on something for a long time.  Day after day, year after year, he tends his flocks and cares for the fig trees his grandfather planted a generation ago.  He takes his harvest and the choicest cattle and sheep from his flocks to the market to sell.  He knows there is plenty of food.  And yet all around him, people are hungry.  They languish, begging, along the side of the road, or suffer silently in their homes.  But in the market place, the wealthy who pass these beggars along the road as they travel in to the market from their estates, they proceed to buy wine and grain and the best cuts of meat and the fattest figs from his trees.  Then they go back to their luxurious homes, barely glancing at the ones along the road, and prepare feasts for their festivals.

Farmer Amos had been puzzling on this for quite some time.  Until one day, something seized him.  As he arrived at his stall in the market, and began to set up his goods to sell, it all became clear.  He couldn’t not say anything anymore.  He wasn’t sure what he was going to say, but he knew something needed to be said.  So on that day he left his stall and marched straight to the court of the king. 

No one was ever quite sure what set him off.  Maybe it was because he was one of the few who still worshipped at the Temple and honored the Sabbath, and observed the Torah.  Some say that the Word of the Lord came to Amos that day, that the Spirit of the Lord came upon him.  So focused was Amos on his task, that he didn’t realize his fellow farmers were following him.  They all noticed when Amos just up and left his stall.  This was such unusual behavior, and Amos had such a look of determination on his face, that they just had to see what he was up to.

Finally he arrived at the court of the king.  And he began to speak.  “Seek the Lord and live, or he will break out against the house of Joseph like fire, and it will devour Bethel, with no one to quench it.  You step all over the poor, and you take the food right out of their mouths.  You can build your mansions, but you won’t get to live in them.  You plant your vineyards, but you won’t drink the wine.  You take bribes and ignore the needy.  I’ve been silent for too long.  But I can’t hold my tongue anymore.  We better change the way we are living, and quick, or we’re headed for disaster.”

Amos said a whole lot more that day.  You can read it all in here [hold up Bible].  But I can tell you, the king and the priests were none too happy with what he had to say.  “Get out of here, you prophet,” they screamed at him.  “You’re talking against the king.  You better stop causing trouble!  You’re being unpatriotic!  You’re a radical!  That kind of crazy talk will destroy our economy!  Go someplace else with your protests and marches!  Let’s look at the facts and not stir up unnecessary fears.  You’re never going to change things anyway – we’re the ones in control, and we’re going to keep it that way.”

Undeterred, Farmer Amos said to them, “I’m a farmer, not a prophet.  But I know what I see, and I’m calling you out.  Or rather, God is calling you out.  Mark my words – if things don’t change, and I mean fast, we’re all headed for a heap of trouble.  But if we do as God has told us to do all along, and rebuild this society in a way that’s fair to everyone, and stop rationalizing why it’s okay for you to be super-rich and super-powerful while there are children hungry all around you; and if we start following the way God has called us to in the Ten Commandments, then maybe we can turn it around in time.”
Two years later, when the earthquake hit, and the mansions fell, and the vineyards were destroyed, many remembered the words of Farmer Amos. They even wrote down what he said.  And it was passed on through many generations.     
--------------------------
Hundreds of years later, there was a carpenter’s son who began puzzling on some things.  Day after day, year after year, he followed in his father’s footsteps learning the trade, building fine things with wood that he and his father took to the market place.  He knew that God’s love for him was plentiful.  He studied the Torah and the prophets, including the writings of Amos.  He knew God’s grace was all around him, everywhere.  And yet all around him, people were hungry.  They languished, begging, along the side of the road, or suffered silently in their homes.  But in the market place, the wealthy who passed these beggars along the road as they travelled in to the market from their estates, they proceeded to buy wine and grain and the best cuts of meat and the finest pieces of furniture from his father’s stall in the market.  Then they went back to their luxurious homes, barely glancing at the ones along the road, and prepared feasts for their festivals.

The carpenter’s son had been puzzling on this for quite some time.  Until one day, something seized him.  As he arrived at his stall in the market, and began to set up his goods to sell, it all became clear.  He couldn’t not say anything anymore.  He wasn’t sure what he was going to say, but he knew something needed to be said.  So on that day he left his stall and marched straight to river Jordan to be baptized by some crazy prophet named John.  And from that day on, he walked.  He walked all over the countryside, speaking about God’s love and speaking up for the poor and speaking out against injustice in the Temple and the government.
 
No one was ever quite sure what set him off.  Some say that the Word of the Lord came to the carpenter’s son that day at the River, that the Spirit of the Lord came upon him.  So focused was that young man on his task, that he didn’t realize people were following him at first.  But they all noticed when he came up out of the water and a voice came like thunder from heaven. This was so unusual, and the carpenter’s son had such a look of determination on his face, that they just had to see what he was up to.

Once he was speaking in a place located not too far from where Farmer Amos had delivered his speech so many hundreds of years ago.  And on that day the carpenter’s son said:  “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God.  Why it’s easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.  I’ve been silent for too long.  And I can’t hold my tongue anymore.  We better change the way we are living, and quick, or we’re headed for disaster.  All of you who are first are going to be last.  And the last in line are moving on up.”

The carpenter’s son said a whole lot more that day.  You can read it all in here [hold up Bible].  But I can tell you, the king and the priests were none too happy with what he had to say.  “Get out of here, you prophet,” they screamed at him.  “You’re talking against the king.  You better stop causing trouble!  You’re being unpatriotic!  You’re a radical!  That kind of crazy talk will destroy our economy!  Go someplace else with your protests and marches!  Let’s look at the facts and not stir up unnecessary fears.  You’re never going to change things anyway – we’re the ones in control, and we’re going to keep it that way.”

Undeterred, the young man said to them, “I’m a carpenter, not a prophet.  But I know what I see, and I’m calling you out.  Or rather, God is calling you out.  Mark my words – if things don’t change, and I mean fast, we’re all headed for a heap of trouble.”

Even his closest friends said to him, “If things are that bad, who can be saved?”

And the carpenter’s son said:  “For human beings it is impossible, but not for God.  For God all things are possible.”

Two years later, when the earthquake hit, and the curtain of the Temple was torn in two, and the carpenter’s son was crucified, many remembered his words. They even wrote down what he said.  There’s even talk that the impossible did, indeed, happen – that God raised the carpenter’s son from death, and that he is alive to this day.  And it was passed on through many generations.     
-------------------------------
Thousands of years later, there was a group of people who began puzzling on some things.  Day after day, year after year, they tried to follow in the footsteps of the carpenter’s son, learning the faith, building fine churches, singing beautiful hymns about the death and resurrection of the carpenter’s son.  They knew that God’s love for them was plentiful.  They studied the Torah and the prophets, including the writings of Amos, and the books of the New Testament.  They knew God’s grace was all around them, everywhere.  And yet all around them, people were hungry.  They languished, begging, in soup kitchens, and government assistance offices, or suffered silently in their homes.  But in the market place, the wealthy who passed these beggars along the road as they travelled in to the market from their estates, they proceeded to buy wine and grain and the best cuts of meat and the finest pieces of furniture for their homes.  Then they went back to their luxurious homes, barely glancing at the ones along the road, and prepared feasts for their festivals.

This group of people had been puzzling on this for quite some time.  Until one day, something seized them.  As they arrived at church that morning, and began to set up for the service, it all became clear.  They couldn’t not say anything anymore.  They weren’t sure what they were going to say, but they knew something needed to be said.  So on that day they left after the service and marched straight to the center of town to join other groups of people.  And on that day they walked.  They walked all over the town, speaking about God’s love and speaking up for the poor and speaking out against injustice in society. 

No one was ever quite sure what set them off.  Some say that the Word of the Lord came to the people that day, that the Spirit of the Lord came upon them.  So focused was that group of people on their task, that they didn’t realize others were following them at first.  But everyone noticed when the streets were blocked off and traffic was rerouted and hundreds of people filled the streets to walk.  This was so unusual, and the people had such a look of determination on their faces, that they just had to see what they were up to.

And when the walk was over, the people decided that more needed to done.  And they went on to write letters to their representatives and their congressmen and their president and the ones who controlled the water and the land and the air and the energy that the people used. The spoke up and they said, “We have had enough.  Stop poisoning our streams and rivers.  Stop drilling and mining for these fossil fuels that are causing this climate crisis.  People can’t even eat the fish because of the mercury and black spots and lesions.  Don’t you see that there is a connection between the health of our soil, air, water and our food supply, and this is one of the causes of hunger in our world?  Don’t you see that degradation of the environment will lead to more hunger?  You’re exploiting us and God’s creation for profit, and now global climate change is devastating the people who are the most vulnerable, and have the least resources to cope.”

“Seek the Lord and live, or our earth is going to be consumed like fire, and it will devour everyone, with no one to quench it.  You step all over the poor, and you take the food right out of their mouths.  You can build your mansions, but you won’t get to live in them.  You put in your drill pads, but you won’t get to profit from them.  You take bribes and ignore the needy.  We’ve been silent for too long.  And we can’t hold our tongue anymore.  We better change the way we are living, and quick, or we’re headed for disaster.”

The people said a whole lot more that day.  You can read it all in here [hold up computer, phone].  But I can tell you, the king and the CEO’s were none too happy with what they had to say.  “Get out of here, you prophets,” they screamed at them.  “You’re talking against the government.  You better stop causing trouble!  You’re being unpatriotic!  You’re a radical!  That kind of crazy talk will destroy our economy!  Go someplace else with your protests and marches!  Let’s look at the facts and not stir up unnecessary fears.  You’re never going to change things anyway – we’re the ones in control, and we’re going to keep it that way.”

Undeterred, the people said to them, “We’re teachers and moms and kids and factory workers and pastors. We’re not prophets.  But we know what we see, and we’re calling you out.  Or rather, God is calling you out.  Mark our words – if things don’t change, and we mean fast, we’re all headed for a heap of trouble.”
Even among themselves they spoke to each other in worried tones, “If things are that bad, who can be saved?”

But they remembered the words of the carpenter’s son:  “For human beings it is impossible, but not for God.  For God all things are possible.”

We don’t know what will happen two years from now, or twenty.  But I can tell you, no matter what happens, many will remember your words and your walk. Some may even write down what you say and what you do.  And maybe the impossible will happen - that God will resurrect this dying planet, and that generations after us will live without hunger.  And if this happens, they may say that, in part, it was because of what we did today.  Because of what Farmer Amos did thousands of years ago.  Because of what a carpenter’s son did two millennia ago.  Because of what God is doing today.  And it was passed on through many generations.     Amen. 

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Sermon -- Earth Speaks: What’s Next?



[Note: this sermon is best viewed rather than read. It is done as a dramatic monologue with the preacher speaking from Earth's point of view.  Click the link above to watch the video on Youtube.  The text is below:]

The Rev. Leah Schade
“Of Lambs and Limbs” Preaching series, Part Four
Texts:  Genesis 2:18-24; Psalm 8; Mark 10:2-16

[Sung:] O, Lord, how majestic is your name in all of the Earth!
I am Earth.  I am Gaia.  I am Ge.  I am ha-erets.
Birthed from your self-emptying
I knew not who I was at first.
Without shape, you molded me, atom by atom, molecule by molecule
Until I saw that I was round and hot
I could barely contain my excitement in having been created!
My surface burst and bubbled, molten lava shooting up from my depths.
You were patient with me
Until I cooled, my roundness hardening, forming great mountains of rock.
I hovered alone in space.  But not lonely.
All around me my siblings –
my sister moon and other planets joining me in our dance around Sun.
In the distance, my cousins – stars, supernova, comets, black holes. 
All of us sing to you our cosmic song of glory: 
How majestic is your name in all the cosmos, our Creator!

And then I felt something cool and blue  enveloping me like a sheer curtain.
Air!  Sky!  You were breathing into me, your breath flowing all around me:
Ruah, your spirit, surrounding me, inhaling, exhaling, wind blowing.
And what is this?  I am wet. 
Are you weeping upon me? 
I am wet all over, rain falling upon me, coursing down my mountains,
Pooling in my deep places, rising up from my depth in springs.
And then it was quiet.  Just your breath, and the sound of water.
You were patient with me
Until I was ready.  I wanted to know – what’s next?

Ooh!  What was that?
Ooh!  There it is again!
Oh!  That tickles!
What?  What is all this?  Things are moving within my waters.
Look at what you’ve done!  I am alive!  Life lives in me!
Oh, how you have blessed me!
Look – green algae! Yellow fish! Red earthworms! Blue birds!  Orange insects!  Purple frogs!
They dance and swim and fly and creep and make their home in me!
And it was not quiet!  Buzzing and sloshing and splashing and cawing and whistling!
Listen, they are all joining in the song of praise to you, their Creator!
O, Lord, how majestic is your name in all the Earth!

I am not patient now.  I want to know – what’s next?
Ooph! Ooph!  Heavy!
Thump! Thump! Paws, claws, hooves, move
(Sound of galloping)
They race on me! They jump and climb and swing from branches.
Look – there goes the monkey!
Zoom!  There goes the zebra!
Fur and scales, brown and black, white and red.
Teeth, ears, eyes, noses, lambs and limbs –
Look at what you have done!  Oh, how you have blessed me!
I am ready.  What’s next?

[Pretend to gently pull a rib from yourself. Pretend to hold a lump of clay in front of you.  Look at it, rotating it.  Slowly fashion it into a human being, like making a snow man, but a real person.
Add the details – toes, fingers, face].

What is this?  Who is this?
You drew him out of me.  Out of my very soil.  You fashioned him.
This at last is being from my being, and flesh from my body.
This one shall be called Adam, for he was drawn from my rib, from my very body.

Gasp! You are breathing into him! You are giving him your Spirit, your ruah!
He must be very special.  I must be very special, that you would think to create him from me.
Oh, he is lonely.  Yes – bring to him all that lives on me!  See what he will call them, see which one he will choose for a companion.
None?  Yes, let him sleep.

Oh, look – you are doing with him, what you did with me.
Who is this?  He likes!
As I care for him, may he care for her.
May they care for me, as I care for them.

Look at what you have done!
What are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?
Yet you have made them a little lower than yourself
And crowned them with glory and honor.
You have given them dominion over the works of your hands  . . .

Oh! Oww!  Look what they have done!
[Cough] What has happened to my air?
What have they done to your ruah?
OOhh! They are cutting into me!
My mountain – it’s gone!
My forests – where did they go?
They are taking from me, drawing my essence out of me.
Why do they not use the sun, as the plants do?

[Choking, gagging]:  What is that? That tastes horrible!
What are they putting into my water?  What is this poison?
Look at my insects.  They are dying.  My bee hives – empty.
All of these dead fish!
My animals in cages.  They live only to feed the one you have made.

And what is he doing to her?  Stop!
You are doing to her what you are doing to me!
Why do you fight your brother?
Why do you kill?
Why do you scream in rage!  Why do you not sing with us the song of glory to your Creator?
O, Lord, how majestic is your name  . . . .

Look at what they have done.  They do not love me.
They are poisoning me, taking from me, drilling me, cutting me, choking me.
They are killing me.
I am afraid to ask:
What’s next?
(Crouching with hand over head]

Bob: [stand and face the congregation]:  And Jesus said:  “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.  Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 

[Kneel down and put arm around Earth.  Lift her up by the hand.  Embrace her, placing your hands on her head].

Annette:  And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.  Amen.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Eco-Ethical Bridge Connects Us (The ISEC Sermon)


The Eco-Ethical Bridge Connects Us
Sermon, United in Christ Lutheran Church, West Milton, PA
The Rev. Leah D. Schade
9-30-2012

Mark 9:38:  “John said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’”

Insiders and outsiders.  That’s what John is concerned about.  Who’s in the “Jesus Club”?  Who’s not?  And if someone is doing the work of Jesus but not actually following him, shouldn’t they be stopped?  Only insiders should be able to access that kind of power.  Outsiders either need to make the decision to follow Jesus, or accept that they’re not part of the club and get out of the way.

I have to admit that I was worried that I would encounter the John-attitude here in Central Pennsylvania before I moved here.  In the weeks before I was about to begin my call here at United in Christ, while I was still living in Philadelphia, I would tell people where we were moving, and nearly everyone had a similar reaction.  “Wow – that’s such a conservative Christian area!  It’s like the Bible Belt of Pennsylvania.  How are you going to deal with that after living in the Philadelphia area for the past decade?”  The implication was that the city is a place of diversity and variety, while the middle of the state is a homogenous blob of pale-faced Christians.  And I have to admit, I was a little concerned that I would miss having the opportunity to work with clergy of different faiths, as I had the pleasure of doing during my time in Philly.  And I was worried that I would encounter some who insisted in the exclusivity of the Jesus Club, as John did.

But it wasn’t long after we moved here that Jim was out playing the drums at the Bull Frog, and he met another drummer whose wife is the pastor at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Northumberland.  “You need to get in contact with her and connect with her,” he encouraged.  So Pastor Ann Keeler Evans and I had lunch, and she clued me in on something about this region of the state I was not yet aware of. 
“There is much more diversity to this area of Central Pennsylvania than you might at first think,” she said.  She went on to tell me about the Jewish synagogue in Sunbury, the thriving Muslim community in the area, and the myriad of other non-Christian faiths and practices around us, everything from pagans to New Age to agnostics and atheists.

And when this really started to become apparent for me was last December when the Susquehanna River Basin Commission was about to have a public meeting on the approval of water withdrawal permits for natural gas drilling, and we began circulating a letter to area clergy asking them to sign in support of protecting the Susquehanna from these million-gallon withdrawals.  In three days’ time, over 50 people had signed the letter from six different faith traditions.  

We knew something important was happening in this area, because people of different faiths wanted to join their voices and meet across interreligious lines to protect God’s sacred creation.  So this past January, we decided to form an organization called the Interfaith Sacred Earth Coalition.  In the past nine months I’ve been blessed to meet, correspond with, and work alongside an incredible variety of people who have taught me so much about what it means to do the work of Jesus, even if they themselves are not followers of Jesus. 
Remember Jesus’ response to John about the man who was casting out demons: ‘Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us.”

What I have found is that there is an incredible number of people who are trying to cast out the many demons that are afflicting our society and our earth.  They may not be followers of Jesus, but they are doing the work that Jesus calls us to do. 

·        *  I’ve seen Christians, Muslims, and Jews discuss the sacredness of water in each of their traditions and how that informs their work of environmental justice. 
·       *   I’ve watched New Age spiritualists stand alongside Lutherans making speeches that confront the demons of political power abused, corporate wealth used to oppress, and ignorance manipulated for profit. 
·         * I’ve witnessed a Roman Catholic Church serve as host to an interfaith care-of-creation symposium with nearly 50 people in attendance from different faith traditions.
·        *  I’ve watched a gathering of non-religious philosophers and environmental activists take part in an interfaith vigil lamenting the loss of the Riverdale Mobile Home Park in Lycoming County, decrying the demons of corporate capitalism that value profits over human community.
·        *  I’ve seen Buddhists join with Christians and atheists in a Native American four-directions ritual to bless a gathering of people committed to protect the area of Rock Run and Old Loggers trail.
·         * I’ve seen Muslims and Jews stand side-by-side in solidarity against the demon of hate crimes at the synagogue in Sunbury.

What is it that is binding us together?  I think Psalm 19 can give us some insight.  The Psalm begins with declaring that the heavens and earth are proclaiming God’s glory.  Nature is silent and voiceless, yet somehow has speech and words that are heard across the earth.  The writer explains that the very design of nature discloses the law of the Lord which is perfect, revives the soul, makes wise the simple, rejoices the heart and enlightens the eyes. 

I suggest that there might be a connection between attending to God’s law in nature and the exorcist working outside of the disciples’ inner circle.  What is that connection?  Well, the members of the Interfaith Sacred Earth Coalition, while they may not be part of the same club, have certain beliefs and values in common.  For example, we believe that children, women, men, and earth-kin have the right to clean water, land, air, and health.  We are committed to being a public presence on ecological issues in order to bring ethical, moral, spiritual, and religious perspectives to bear. 

In other words, what once made us outsiders of each other’s religions is making us insiders of the same planet.  It is what’s outside our houses of worship that is making us insiders working for the same cause.  
The theologian Paul Knitter, in his book Introducing Theologies of Religions (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2002), says that one model for a theology of religions, that of “mutuality,” where the diverse religions are all considered “true” and are called to dialogue with each other.  He uses the metaphor of “bridges” to illustrate the means by which people of differing faiths can meet and connect either philosophically, mystically or ethically. Knitter says:
Given the present pain-ridden and crisis-strewn state of the world, the religions have a job to do, a job they all share.  Taking up this job together will enable them to get to know each other better.  For this bridge, ethical issues and ethical responsibility are the pillars that will sustain a new kind of interfaith exchange.  A pivotal term in this approach to pluralism and dialogue, therefore, is global responsibility:  in being responsible for our endangered globe and all its inhabitants, the religions have new opportunities to understand both themselves and each other.[1]

That is exactly what we are seeing right here in the Susquehanna Valley.  Our hope is to raise consciousness and offer education about eco-justice issues so that citizens may be better informed, advocate for eco-justice issues in the public arena, and offer a positive, creative vision for our planet based on our collective interfaith dialogue.

This is not to say that there are no points of tension in our work together.  Issues of race, gender, power, and theological discord are always part of our discussion.  But we don’t see them as excuses to shut each other out, as John wanted to do with the exorcist.  We see them as opportunities to learn from each other, and find points of commonality that allow us to build these eco-ethical bridges. 

Today we’re going to see another instance of bridges being built in protection of our area.  This time the bridge is going to include music.  At 4:00 there’s going to be a concert at Oak Heights on Rt. 15 called “Songs from the Sacrifice Zone.”  Musicians from all over the region are going to be performing songs celebrating the beauty of Pennsylvania and raising awareness about the threats to the area from natural gas drilling.  I’m going to be playing the harp as well.  There are going to be all kinds of people there – people with long hair, people with short hair.  People wearing “hippy clothes” and people wearing jeans and t-shirts.  Young people, older people.  Religious people, non-religious people.  University professors and factory workers. 

We’re all outsiders to each other in some way.  But we all live inside the same atmosphere threatened by the climate crisis.  We all live inside the same state threatened by powers that see our land only as a profit-making venture and our residents as nothing but a sacrifice.  We all live inside the same planet whose sun comes out “like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy, and like a strong man runs its course with joy.  Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them; and nothing is hidden from its warmth,” (Psalm 19:5-6).

“Whoever is not against us is for us,” said Jesus.  And, I would add, whoever is for the planet, is for all of us.  Amen. 
 



[1] Knitter, Introducing Theologies of Religions, 134-5.