Saturday, November 24, 2012

Sermon: Rethinking Christ the King: From the Ground Up


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

Sunday, November 18, 2012

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]

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.