Yesterday I had the pleasure of appearing on WKOK
Sunbury/Selinsgrove 1070 AM’s radio talk show “On the Mark” (co-hosted by Mark
Lawrence and Than Mitchell) with Dr. Wendy Lynne Lee, Professor of Philosophy
at Bloomsburg University. (The full
broadcast, complete with webcam video, is available at http://wkok.info/on-the-mark/. Click
on Friday 2/22/13 which will be available until 2/28/13). One of the callers asked about the way the
money from Koch Brothers has influenced the political debate on climate
change. I used the analogy of cancer in
the human body to explain the ways in which the fossil fuel industry has
infiltrated all aspects of business and politics and debilitated the health of
Cancer cells seek only their own self-perpetuation and
growth. They channel the body’s
resources into their own self-serving mission of expanding and taking over the surrounding
cells, tissues and organs. The tentacles
of the cancerous mass reach out in all directions and, in the end, kill the
body. They don’t care who suffers as
long as they are protected, comfortable, and growing at exponential speed.
The greed for cheap, dirty fossil fuels is fed by our
country’s excessive and unchecked desire for “growth.” There are underlying questions we need to
raise about our refusal to give the land and people rest (Sabbath), and
unrelenting demand we make to have “more” without consideration of the
consequences. These questions undergird the moral and ethical issues of extreme
fossil fuel extraction and the climate crisis.
Those of us who have been trying to resist and fight back
against this cancerous ideology and fossil economy that is threatening the
lives of so many and health of the planet are like the “white cells” of the
body politic. But, as Dr. Lee pointed
out, hundreds of well-paid operatives are deployed to neutralize the white
cells by constantly casting doubt on the science behind climate change and discrediting
the reputations of activists. Even more
frightening is the fact that for nearly a decade millions of dollars from anonymous
conservative donors have been secretly channeled to groups whose sole mission
is to cast doubts about climate change (as reported by Suzanne Goldenberg for The Guardian, http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/feb/14/funding-climate-change-denial-thinktanks-network.).
16% know that climate
change is real, caused by humans, and is having a devastating effect on the
planet and population. They are alarmed and
want to do something.
29% are concerned and believe it's happening, but see no
need to act because it doesn’t seem to be affecting them personally.
25% are cautious, still on the fence, and wonder if climate
change is happening because of the so-called “doubt” among scientists (which is
simply false – the science is settled.
Climate change is real and human-caused and gravely serious.).
8% are simply ignorant about climate change.
13% have serious doubts that climate change is real, and
believe that if it is, it's not human-caused and there’s nothing we can do.
8% are dismissive and claim that climate change is not
happening, that it is part of a plot to take away American sovereignty. While this is a small percentage, it’s
well-organized, well-funded, and loud.
And it’s causing 85% of Americans to be stuck in a state of inertia.
So what do we do with this cancer of the fossil fuel
industry that is overcoming the body of society and the planet? Jesus observed to Nicodemus that “people loved
darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do
evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not
be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it
may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God” (John
3:19-21). Thus we must continue to
expose the industry to the light of truth.
More investigative reporting, more speaking truth to power, more sharing
of stories about those who are suffering.
Second, surgery is needed.
We must aggressively cut out this cancer that lies to us and says we
need this oil and fracked gas to survive (the way the cigarettes lie and tell
us we “need” the nicotine to survive). Treatments
for cancer in the later stages are difficult, draining, and often
debilitating. But if aggressive steps
are not taken, there is no hope for the body to survive. Yes, cutting out addiction to oil and gas
will be difficult, draining and temporarily debilitating. But the only way to ensure the survival of life
on our planet that gets sicker with every well we drill, every gallon of gas we
burn, and every compressor station that spews methane into the air, is to take
aggressive steps NOW.
Surgically remove the cancerous mass of the fossil fuel
industry, use chemo and radiation against all the rogue cells that are lurking
around the body looking for another secret place to take hold, and channel all
resources into a renewable-energy economy to restore health and vitality to the
ecological and economic systems of our planet.
“You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free,”
said Jesus (John 8:32). That’s
true. But before it will set us free, it
will hurt like hell. It will be
painful. But hope and health are
promised when we undertake this road to healing together.
When I think of the writer of
this Psalm, I think of a wise, old grandfather - someone who has lived a long
life, learned some painful lessons, and wishes to share what he’s learned with
the younger generation. And I picture this grandfather taking his grandchild
for a walk in the woods. He watches his grandson running to catch a toad,
skipping after a rabbit, and hopping up to touch a butterfly. When the child
comes back to his side, he puts his arm around the young shoulders and they
walk and talk quietly together, hoping maybe to spot a shy deer along the way.
And as they hike along the
trail, the grandfather says something like the words in the beginning of the
psalm, “Son, I want you to know that I love you, and that God loves you and
wants you to be happy. And I also want you to know I’ve learned a thing or two
about what makes a man happy, and what makes God happy. Now I’ve learned these
lessons the hard way, and I don’t want you to have to make the same mistakes.
So listen carefully to me. Don’t go hanging out with bad kids who want to get
you in trouble. Don’t follow the wrong crowd down the wrong road. Be careful
the company you keep. If you’ve got friends who make fun of you for going to
church and believing in God, well then they’re not friends worth having. No,
son, I’m proud of you that you actually read your bible, and you’ve learned the
Ten Commandments in your Confirmation class.”
The boy listens carefully. He
didn’t know that his grandfather had noticed these things about him. And he
also wonders how he knew about his friends, the ones that sometimes tempt him
to do things he knows he shouldn’t, and tease him for having to get up on
Sundays and go to church. While he is pondering this in mind, they come upon
his favorite spot, where big willow tree grows along the babbling brook. Many
times he and his grandfather have come to this spot to catch minnows and
crayfish, build dams with big wet rocks, and float sticks down the stream.
The old grandfather looks up
at the tree and says, “Son, when I think about you, I think about this tree
growing alongside the brook. You see how tall and green this tree is? Its roots
grow deep, and it’s always watered by this stream. It always sprouts leaves in
the spring, and gives you these long branches to swing from. It’s a strong
tree. Storms come and whip it around, but it’s still standing. And it’s going
to be here for a long time.”
Funny, thinks the boy. That’s
how he’d always thought of his grandfather - like an old tree. Always there,
always strong, always fun to play with, and always willing to provide a shady
spot when you wanted some peace and quiet. And now his grandfather is telling
him that he sees him like this tree?
His grandfather explains:
“When you plant yourself in God’s word, and follow his commandments, and keep
yourself connected to a church, it’s like being planted next to a stream.
You’ll always be fed by the waters of your baptism, son. Your roots will grow
deep, and you’ll be the kind of tree that grows tall and strong. People will
admire you and look up to you. You’ll be able to weather the storms of life
because you know that God is always with you.”
The boy nods. He picks up a
few stones and skips them across the water, just the way his grandfather had
taught them. Then they continue their walk. They emerge from the woods and
climb up into the field. The grasses grow tall around them. His grandfather
pauses and reaches out to grab some of the heads of the grasses.
“Looky here, son,” he says,
and crushes the seed heads between his fingers. He throws them into the air and
they blow away. “You’re not like those kids. They’re nothing but chaff in the
wind. They get blown by whatever impulses come by. And when the storms come,
they’ve got nothing to hold onto. Be the willow tree, Son.”
They continue their walk, the
boy mulling over his grandfather’s words in his mind. And suddenly up ahead
they see a doe standing just off the path. They watch her, and she watches
them, until she moves off quietly into the underbrush. And they continue
walking. The path brings them to the other side of the field where it
intersects with another little trail. Here they stop again, and the grandfather
asks, “Remember where that trail goes?“
says the boy. “It veers off down a steep slope, down to the rocks where the
right,” the old man says. “And if we stay on this path, where does it take us.”
it’s the high road looking over the rocks. And then it circles around and takes
us back through the pines, down through the little valley, and then back to the
hard road to your house.”
good. And how do you know about the snakes?”
I remember you told me about the time when you were a boy and you went down
there and started poking around and a rattler bit you.”
then what happened?” the grandfather asks.
one knew where you were because you went off the path. You almost died down
“And how I worried my mother and father and sister. They
thought they’d lost me.”
boy, being a sharp one, says, “Let me guess, Grandpa. You want me to keep on
the right path and stay safe in life, right?”
grandfather laughs, “You got it, boy. What I’m trying to tell you is that there
is a right way to live life, and it matters what you do and the choices you
make. It matters to God. And it matters to the people in your family, in your
school, in your church, and in whatever you do in your job when you grow up. I
want you to choose your friends carefully. Choose your heroes carefully. And
choose your actions carefully. Like I said, God loves you, and I love you, and
I don’t want to see you stray from the right path that God has set out for you.
If you do, you’ll get hurt, and people who love you will get hurt.”
understand Grandpa. You want me to keep God at the center path of my life, right?”
your talking like you just came out of your pastor’s confirmation class.”
did, Grandpa, just this morning.”
my boy,” he laughs, putting his arm around his grandson again as they make
their way through the pines.
“Just stay on the right path, son. And be like that
willow tree. Be the tree.”
If you're longing to be centered and grounded in this time of divisive, soul-fracturing politics, an ancient Hebrew text from Genesis unearths an important reminder. Your Lenten journey can bring you closer to God when you connect to God's Creation, even the very dust from which our bodies were created. Consider this verse: "Then the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." (Genesis 2:7 NRSV) Now try saying these Hebrew words in Genesis 2:7 aloud as you read them and see if you recognize any words: Va.yi.tser a.do.nai e.lo.him et-ha. a.dam a.far min-ha. a.da.ma va.yi.pakh be.a.pav nish.mat kha.yim va.ye.hi ha.a.dam le.ne.fesh kha.ya
Did you notice the words “adam” and “adamah”? This is a Hebrew pun.
“Adamah” means, “dust of the ground.” Adam means “human.”
Adam was made from the soil. So we are, literally, “people of the
dirt.” We are “dirt people."
We don’t like to think of ourselves that way, of course. “What do you
mean, I’m just dirt?”
But the Bible is very clear about the stuff from which we are made: adamah, soil, hummus. And when God breathed life into the nostrils of this dirt-being, life entered into it and it became human.
“Be-a-pav nish-mat” -- literally, God blew the breath of
life. God breathed the breath of life into the mud-man, and the man
became a living soul. You are "Adam-Nishmat."
So basically, the equation of life is this:
Dirt + Breath = Life.
And when we die, the reverse is true:
Life - Breath = Dirt.
This is why we repeat these words when you come forward to receive the ash
cross on your forehead. We say, “Remember O Man/Woman that you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.” Our death is as basic as our birth.
Nothing more, nothing less.
It’s a somber thought, I know. This is a somber service. Ash
Wednesday is not the time to be whimsical and happy-go-lucky. It’s a time
to reflect on the fragility of life, the brevity of our existence. And in
light of that finitude, to take stock of our lives and see if we are making the
most of these “jars of clay” we inhabit for only a few decades.
If we are, indeed, just mud-people, with the “nishmat,” the breath of life,
flowing through us, how might this have an impact on our Lenten journey this
year? This is a time to return to that from which we were made -- earth and the breath of God. It is time to get back to our center, to return to ourselves, to return to God. And make no mistake - this return to God through earth and breath is a radical, prophetic act. When so many powers attempt to deny the sacredness of Earth, to demolish all legal protections for the health of Creation, and thus the health of human beings - our return to earth and breath is a form of resistance in and of itself.
And so during this time of resistance, finding ways to reconnect with the earth from which you
were created is so essential to finding wholeness and being at rest in
God. What might that look like for you?
Perhaps you will decide to garden this year. Maybe you will put your
hands into the earth, feel the rich loam in your fingers, gently place
some seeds into it, and watch in amazement as the plant is able to grow in this
Or maybe you will take daily walks each of these forty days. It’s a
wonderful time of year to do that. Because as we watch winter recede and
spring begin to take hold, it can be a very renewing experience. We
immerse ourselves in the rhythms of the earth, the lifecycle, the
God-cycle. And we feel ourselves being swept up into the ebb and flow of
life. Things die. And their dying
allows other things to live. Things live, and cause other things to
die. It’s all part of the cycle. Our little lives are like a shard
of the mirror, reflecting the larger truths of universe.
But it’s not just the earth that we need to return to. We also need to
return to the “nishmat,” the breath of God. What is this breath of
God? How does it manifest itself in us? Think of the associations
of God’s breath in the Bible –the “ruach” at the beginning of creation moving
over the waters; the breath of God coming down in the form of the Holy Spirit
at Pentecost; Paul describing how the Spirit intercedes for us in our prayers
with “sighs too deep for words.” There it is – prayer! We reconnect with the breath of God by praying – breathing – to God.
In the book, Real Faith for Real Life, by Mike Foss, the first chapter is all about prayer.
“Daily Prayer is the first Mark of Discipleship. This is the habit of our
living in relationship with God in Jesus of Nazareth . . . One of the
most incredible truths of Christianity is that God desires a real relationship
with us. This is the desire of God’s heart. . . Daily prayer
affirms the relationship between Creator and humanity, bringing heaven to earth
in the life of the disciple of Jesus.” (Foss, p. 15).
In his book, Foss challenges the reader to a thirty-day
experiment. He says, “Set aside and use this special time of daily prayer
for just thirty days. Take note of what happens within you – your response
to stress, your outlook, your response to others. You may want to make a
prayer list and check it to see what has happened in response to those for whom
you have prayed, for those things you have asked for yourself. Understand
that you will only get a glimpse of what God can do. And ask God to help
you see the working of God’s goodwill. Then be spiritually alert.”
(Foss, p. 21).
I would expand that into a forty-day experiment. Use this season of Lent
to realign yourself with the earth from which you came, and the breath of God
which gives you life. “What matters,” he says, “is time – time for you to
grow in your knowledge and trust in the loving God to touch your life and help
you grow deeper in faith; time to be connected to the eternal will of God.”
Ah, but there’s the tricky part – finding the time! Where will you find
time for these wonderful walks in nature? Where will you find an extra
fifteen minutes a day to devote to prayer? Your schedule is already so
crammed full. You already have so much to do – how are you going to add
one more thing?
That’s where our Gospel lesson comes in. Jesus speaks of fasting in this
6th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel. How can fasting be helpful for us in our
quest to return to the earth and prayer?
Fasting doesn’t just mean abstaining from food. It can mean
practicing abstinence from any chosen thing or activity as a religious
discipline. That’s where we get the tradition of giving up something for
Lent, like chocolate or red meat.
What if we gave ourselves a fast that allowed us to more easily return to the
earth and the breath of God? From what could we abstain in order to make
room for these spiritual practices?
One of my favorite books is called, Margin: Restoring Emotional,Physical, Financial and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, by Dr. Richard
Swenson. He says, “It is healthy to periodically separate from the things
of the world and do without. In traditional thinking, such fasting
pertains to food.” (Swenson, p. 147) But there are other kinds of fasting
that are more appropriate for our modern world. Try fasting from shopping
for a week or longer. Use that extra time to take a stroll along the
a local waterway instead of bustling through the stores of a shopping mall.
Try fasting from television. “For the average adult, this would gain
twenty to thirty hours a week. No single effort will secure as much time
margin as this simple, nearly impossible action. Even Billy Graham, asked
if starting over he’d do anything differently, said, ‘I’d watch less TV.’
“Seminary professor Douglas Groothuis says, ‘I routinely require my students to
engage in some kind of ‘media fast,’ in which they abstain from an electronic
medium for at least one week. The results have been nothing less than
profound for the vast majority of the students. Having withdrawn from the
world of TV, radio, computers, and cell phones, they find more silence, time
for reflection and prayer and more opportunities to engage family and friends
thoughtfully.’ (Swenson, p. 123).
This kind of fasting means saying no to what is draining to our lives in order
to say yes to what will renew us, fulfill us, and make us whole.
Your life is so short. Last year’s green, luscious palms quickly dried and now are nothing more than the black ash that marks your
skin. What have you done with your life this past year since the palms
faded? Have you become closer to God? Closer to the earth?
Hear, O “Adam-Nishmat” – dirt people filled with God’s breath: it is time to return.
Foss, Michael W., Real Faith for Real Life, Augsburg Books, Minneapolis,
Swenson, Richard A., M.D., Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical,
Financial and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives; 2004, Richard Swenson,
I Had a "Green" Dream: Major Oil & Gas
Company Announces Conversions to Solar, Wind, Geothermal
By The Rev. Leah Schade
February 2, 2013
[The first part of this post is not an actual event... yet. It is a recounting of a very vivid dream I had on Feb. 2, 2013, written in the style of a news story. A reflection on the dream immediately follows in the second half of this post.]
In an unprecedented move within the oil and gas industry,
one of its major players has announced that it will suspend 80% of its oil and
gas production and begin the process of converting the majority of its
operations to solar, wind and geothermal energy production. In a press conference at one its largest oil fields,
the company unveiled its plans to fast-track the training of its workforce in
the deconstruction of oil rigs and natural gas drilling sites to be replaced
with solar panels, windmills, and geothermal wells.
“We have seen the future of energy production in this
country, and we wanted to be the first to get ahead of the curve and take
advantage of this opportunity to invest in clean energy and truly put our
country on the road to energy independence,” stated the company’s CEO. “We believe we’ve got the best workforce to
train for this conversion process, and we’ve been conducting research and
development on how to best implement this massive, positive change over the
last few years,” he said.
That research had been conducted largely unnoticed by the
industry, though several smaller solar, wind and geothermal businesses had been
consulted and enlisted in the project of clean-energy conversion for the
company. The owners of those businesses
flanked the company CEO at the press conference and expressed their enthusiasm
for the new venture.
“We are pleased to partner with the company to offer our
expertise in exchange for the capital needed to grow our sustainable
business. Together we can build America’s
energy future that will slow down climate change and minimize the negative effects
on the environment and public health,” stated the owner of the largest solar
firm in the new conglomerate.
Response from the environmental community has been
mixed. Many leading ecologists expressed
surprise that the company would make such a sudden turn away from fossil fuels
which have been their cash cow for nearly a century. “I’m guardedly optimistic,” said the director
of one of the country’s largest environmental groups. “Given their history, I have to be a bit
suspicious of their motives and wonder if there is a hidden agenda. But if this is truly a move to convert their
operations to non-fossil fuel energy production, I will be the first to endorse
this new clean-energy conglomerate,” she said.
“Only time will tell what the result of this undertaking
will be,” said another leading environmentalist. “I know the profit motive is still the
underlying driver for the company, so I’m a bit cautious. But they certainly have the capital and technical
know-how to make this happen. I want to watch
and see if they truly make good on their promises. It will be interesting to see how the rest of
the fossil fuel industry responds,” he added.
The CEO’s of the company’s leading competitors were not
immediately available for comment.
A fantasy news story, yes.
But this is the dream that woke me up this morning, clear as a news
headline on my mind’s inner screen. Over
the years I have learned to take dreams seriously. In them are often planted seeds that, given
the right soil of consciousness, may sprout into a fruitful harvest. The Bible is replete with God communicating
to people through dreams and visions.
Abraham, Jacob, Joseph (OT and NT), Ezekiel, Daniel, Mary, Peter, and
John are just a few examples of those who received divine communiques in the
shadowy world between sleep and rousing.
Those are the in-between times and places linking possibility with reality. The prophet Isaiah’s vision was this:
“And many people shall go and say,
Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of
Jacob; and we will be taught God’s ways, and we will walk in God’s paths: for
out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Holy One from
Jerusalem. And God shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people:
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning
hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn
war any more. — Isaiah 2:3-4
An ecological vision of following God’s ways would involve
converting the “swords” of drill rigs into the blades of windmills; the “spears”
of fossil fuel pipelines into solar panels.
The industry will no longer lift up its weapons against the earth, the
atmosphere, and human health; neither shall they learn war against life any
Pessimists and “realists” will scoff at such a vision. Impossible, they will say. The powers of the fossil fuel industry are
too entrenched, too curved in on themselves to ever see beyond their immediate profit
margin. Our society is too consumed with
consuming to support such a drastic move.
But just as I have learned to take dreams seriously, so have
I learned not to discount the often surprising work of God that operates under
the radar of expectations, behind closed doors at wedding feasts, converting
water into wine. After all, it was in
the shadowy in-between time of the Saturday following Good Friday when the
surprise of the resurrection began to germinate.
Further, how can we expect to live in a different world if
we are not open to imagine a new one?
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. understood this. His dream of equality between the races and a
society built on justice helped to inspire the civil rights movement that,
while in no way finished in its work, has made huge leaps in realizing God’s
vision for humanity.
Today we need a “green” civil rights movement that insists on the fundamental rights of all children, women, men, and earth-kin to
live peaceably with the basics of clean water, clean air, sufficient habitat
for healthy ecosystems, and protections for public health. If this is God’s vision of the Peaceable
Kingdom as well, then God will find a way to inaugurate what Thomas Berry
called the “ecozoic age.” And we just may
be surprised how quickly and efficiently it happens.
Call me overly optimistic, but the more accurate description
would be “hopeful.” And this hope is
sustained by the God of Surprises who never ceases to amaze me with the power
of life, laughter and love that overcomes fear and despair.