Saturday, January 31, 2015

Response to PA. Gov. Wolf’s “No-New-Leases-on-Public-Lands” Announcement

The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade
(All photos, save for the first [taken by a friend], taken by The Rev. Dr. Leah Schade, March 2012).

A reporter from the Sunbury Daily Item called to ask for my reaction to newly-inaugurated Governor Tom Wolf’s decision to ban new gas drilling leases in Pennsylvania’s state forests and public lands (“Wolf’s ban on leases lauded,” Daily Item, January 30, 2015, A1-2).  I said that I was relieved because I have witnessed first-hand what kind of damage is being done in Tiadoghton State Forest (Lycoming County), for example. 
Where would Jesus frack?  Not in a park, not on a farm.  He would not frack and do such harm.

Drill rig at Tiadoghton State Park, Lycoming County, 2012.  Just the kind of tree I want to see when I hike the Pennsylvania Wilds.

So I am grateful that this step has been taken.

But I stressed that the existing leases are still active and the public lands are continuing to be drilled. 
Formerly pristine state forest now an industrial zone with a well pad.  Note the venting tower - you can't see the methane, but it's being released into the atmosphere, adding yet more greenhouse gases and exacerbating climate change.
And the rest of the state is still being ravaged by the process.  Here’s the thing:  if fracking is not good for our state forests and public lands, it’s not good for the rest of the state either. The reporter left that part out of my quote.
Why am I required to wear safety equipment in a state park??  The industrialization of Penn's Woods.
If it’s not good for the state of New York, it’s not good for PA, either.  If it’s not good for Scotland, it’s not good for the U.S. either.  As philosopher and fracktivist Wendy Lynne Lee has noted, “Thanking the gas wolf governor for ‘saving’ a few acres from the frack is like thanking the armed robber for leaving the curtains after he guts your house.”

Compressor station right next door to a house in rural Lycoming County, PA.

Pipeline cutting through forests (fragmentation).  Well pad next door to a house in rural Lycoming County, PA
Wolf still thinks that the shale gas drilling industry is good for PA, even as communities, families, and ecosystems continue to suffer.  

5 million gallons of water per day?? Granted, that's not what is used every day, but undoubtedly millions of gallons were used for fracking at this site.  That water can never be used for drinking again.  And probably got spilled or possible dumped into a local creek after it came back up with chemicals, dissolved solids and radioactive materials from deep below Earth's surface.  The industry is notorious for environmental violations. 
No form of energy is worth sacrificing our “common wealth” – the land, water, air, human and biotic communities that make up our planet.  A non-fossil-fuel energy economy based on renewables such as solar, wind, geothermal and conservation is the wisest use of the resources entrusted to us.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Friends Don't Insult - An Interfaith Reflection on Free Speech and Compassion

The Rev. Dr. Leah Schade

Keywords:  Charlie Hebdo, interfaith dialogue, peace, free speech

When the news of the attacks on the satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris erupted earlier this month, one of the reporters from the local paper, The Daily Item (Sunbury, PA), called me for my reaction.  I expressed prayers for the families of the victims.  And then I was very clear that we should not respond with violence against Muslims because the vast majority do not perpetrate such crimes. He also asked me what I thought the Muslim response should be. I said that it was important for faith leaders to come together to model healthy conversations about the questions that are coming up about the incident - why some Muslims responded to the caricatures the way they did.  I suggested that he talk with someone from the local Muslim community, and that it was important that we be able to deal with these questions in an open and honest way.

My friend and pastoral colleague in interfaith work, The Rev. Ann Keeler Evans, pastor of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Susquehanna Valley, reminded me that one of the best ways to respond to these kinds of violent acts is to engage in the simple things with those whom many would consider our “enemies.”  “Have a picnic,” she said.  “Hold a potluck where people bring their different dishes and share a meal.  Show up together at arts festivals and public events and let people see us doing ordinary things together.”  In other words, be a self-deprecating embodiment of the old jokes, “A Christian, a Jew and a Muslim walk into a bar . . .” and just share a beverage and conversation.  Doing ordinary things can speak volumes in these extraordinary times.

Since then I have grappled in my own mind and heart about the tension between the right to free speech as exercised by the cartoonists and editors of Charlie Hebdo (and any other satirical medium) and the revulsion I felt upon seeing the caricatures in the paper.  I gained some clarity after reading the Gospel assigned for Jan. 25 for those churches that follow the Revised Common Lectionary.  We read in Mark 1:15 these words:  Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’"

Because the time is fulfilled, and because the Kingdom of God has already come near, this has immediate effects on our world, our lives, and, yes, our churches and houses of worship.  The key is in the verbs: μετανοέω (repent) and πιστεύω (believe).  The verb forms in Greek are in the present active imperative.  They are expressing commands to the hearer to perform a certain action by the order and authority of the one commanding.
μετανοέω means to turn – to turn away from what has been destructive and harmful, and turn towards that which is healing and restorative.  In our time, it means not only turning away from violence to respond to those who anger you when your religious beliefs have been insulted.  It also means turning away from the continuing rancorous religious rhetoric uttered by so many in our own country and around the world.

Yes, we want to defend the freedom to express our thoughts and opinions, and to critique hypocrisy and protest abuse, and even to laugh at ourselves.  But in the kind of kingdom envisioned by Jesus and those of us committed to interfaith peace and dialogue, we would not dream of insulting people of other faiths with our words, or cartoons, or ads on city buses, or bumper stickers on cars, or memes on our Facebook pages.  Why?  Simply because they are our friends.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t do those kinds of things to my friends. And in their mercy they refrain from doing those things to me as well.

This does not mean that we do not disagree, even sharply, with each other and our respective beliefs and practices.  It does not mean that we refrain from asking the difficult questions in an effort to reach greater understanding.  It does not mean that we don’t, in good fun, tease each other when we are feeling playful.  We do all of these things.  But we do them with care and respect, not wanting to hurt each other or jeopardize our friendships for the sake of a thin appeal to “rights.”

For me, those friendships are built on Jesus’ other key word, key command, really – believe.  Or, better, have faith.  Trust.  Have confidence.  In whom?  In your friends, especially the ones with whom we are willing to cross lines and break bread, join hands and step into zones of difference in order to find common ground.  And we have faith and trust in the God who calls each of us to the path of peace, finding as many willing partners to join us along the way.


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Sunbury Pipeline Safe? Magical Thinking

The following op-ed was printed in the Jan. 19, 2015 edition of the Daily Item.  The link is here, and the full text is below:
The Rev. Dr. Leah Schade

Prominent voices in the Susquehanna Valley (Central Pennsylvania) have touted the proposed “Sunbury Pipeline” as a boon for new businesses, jobs, and “affordable, accessible” energy from shale gas.  The same arguments are made for pushing through the Keystone XL pipeline.  Like most misleading arguments, there is a bit of truth that seduces us into wanting to believe these projects are a good idea. What these voices have overlooked or may not be aware of are the serious short-term and long-term costs that will accompany these pipelines.  These are not just risks. Pipelines have a history of documented damage that pose a threat here as well. 

For example, in our Valley, home and business owners with the pipeline buried underneath are at risk for loss of property value, refusal of insurance due to liability, and loss of resale potential.  Residents near the compressor stations along the route will be exposed to methane and other noxious gases due to leaks and routine venting, not to mention explosions.  The river’s ecosystem and those who rely on its drinking water will be subjected to incalculable risk when (not if) the pipeline ruptures or leaks.
  When all of this is taken into account, it becomes apparent that the pipeline is, in fact, a bad idea for the Valley, its residents and the river.

A recent editorial expressed confidence that despite the risks of running the pipeline beneath the river, environmental safety can be attained by maintaining a transparent process overseen by the Department of Environmental Protection.  This argument rests on the premise that the DEP is trustworthy, reliable, well-staffed, non-partisan, and proactive in protecting the environment.  And that the companies involved have the best interest of the environment and public health in mind, putting them before profit.  In my experience with DEP and the companies involved with the proposed White Deer tire incinerator, which was shelved a year ago, and with the shale gas industry over the past several years, such assumptions and trust are misplaced.  This is an example of “magical thinking” which leads people to believe that their thoughts will make something come true.  We may wish and hope and trust that very little will go wrong with this pipeline, as well as the Keystone XL, and convince ourselves and others of the same.  But when the disasters happen, all of our magical thinking fails us.  Even with best of intentions, human error would be too costly.

And it’s not just the Valley that will pay the price for this pipeline.  The methane that leaks from the fracking sites and through the pipelines, compressor stations and in the power plant itself are a more potent form of greenhouse gas than CO2 over a 20-year period.  Harvard scientist Naomi Oreskes has pointed out that this is the very timeframe when we need to decrease our use of fossil fuels to curtail the climate feedback cycle that is leading to serious planetary problems.
Bottom line – the gas must stay in the ground.  But here we are in the Valley running full tilt toward more infrastructure for the cancer of the shale gas industry to metastasize yet again.

This Valley is too precious to leave to chance, human error and magical thinking.  Let’s not be misled.  At the very least, we need to have environmental scientists, naturalists, and other researchers study these plans in detail and tell us what the risks are.  We need to look at other instances of pipelines that have been dug underneath rivers to learn what problems they’ve had. It’s irresponsible for our leaders to tout this as such a good thing for the Valley while overlooking or making light of the threats.  If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

New businesses and jobs are a good thing.  And we need energy for our electricity needs. But let’s welcome businesses that are on the forefront of the clean energy sector (solar, wind and geothermal) that will provide stable, well-paying, long-term jobs in the Valley without damaging our properties, health and river. 

Schade is the pastor of United in Christ Lutheran Church in Lewisburg, an ethics instructor at Lebanon Valley College, and was a leader of the Tire Burner Team.  She is the author of the forthcoming book, Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecological Theology and Homiletics (Chalice Press).

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Climate Stew Crew's newest member: The Rev. Dr. Leah Schade

Meet the newest member of the Climate Crew Stew!

So honored and excited to be part of the team behind this weekly podcast on climate change! Funny, quirky, educational 13-minute podcasts on climate change by my friend Peterson Toscano. Watch for a post on Monday, Jan. 19 with my "debut."

And the pic below? Me at around age 4 at my dad's landscaping and nursery business.  A quiet moment between climbing mulch bag piles, running through greenhouses of exotic and local plants, and exploring the little creek that ran between the fields of young trees, their roots burlapped and waiting to take root in new soil.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Our Constellation of Faith - Epiphany Sermon

The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade
United in Christ Lutheran Church
Jan. 4, 2015

Watch the video of this sermon here:
Last month we embarked on a sermon series about finding and experiencing God in darkness.  Today, as we draw to the close of the Christmas season and approach the day of Epiphany, we take this time to note the tiny lights in the sky that can only be seen when the sun goes down – stars!  For many years I lived in the Philadelphia area where the light pollution is so strong, the light of the stars is barely visible.  It’s like trying to hear the music of piccolos but the trumpets keep blaring away.  The little lights in the distant sky get drowned out when the street lamps and headlights and spotlights keep blaring away.  Living in the city, I wished I could just shush the noisiness of the lights so I could enjoy the peace and quiet of the stars. 
Living in this part of central Pennsylvania, however, where the Susquehanna River and fields and hills stretch on for miles with minimal artificial lighting has given me the hush of nighttime I longed for.  I have come to love gazing at the starry sky above our house on the edge of farmland where only the occasional lights of porches and garages compete with my view of the constellations.  In fact, I am actually learning to identify some of those constellations.  With the help of the handy dandy Google Sky Map application on my phone, I can hold my screen up to the sky and know the names of the stars and constellations I am seeing. 

I’ll bet the Wise Men, or Magi (as they are sometimes called) wished they had an app to help them navigate their way to Jesus. I’ve often wondered how it was that they were able to “follow” the star to the place where Jesus was.  I know they were learned men, well-versed in the movements of the stars in the heavens.  The Magi consulted the accumulated wisdom of many generations of women and men who gazed at the heavens and noticed the patterns in those dots of light, how they moved over time.  And when they saw the unusual phenomenon of two stars aligning in the sky to form one doubly bright light, they knew that something amazing had happened and sought to find out what it was. 

In our crèche scenes and Christmas cards, the Wise Men are shown on the opposite side of the shepherds at the manger, implying that they arrived the same night.  But most likely it took those Magi weeks, even months to find the Holy Family.  Who knows how long they traveled from their own separate countries until they met and discovered their shared quest.  They may have been following those two separate stars for years, anticipating their joining, and intent on making their way to where the giant star pointed.  However they found their way, we can be sure that, like their counterparts on the sea who guide their ships by the stars they see at night, the Magi learned to observe the constellations and track their own movements accordingly.  

The Wise Men from the East were the first of the Gentiles to be drawn to the light of the Christ child, which for them was first seen in a star.  Matthew includes this story because it is important for him, as a Gospel writer telling the story to a specific audience, that the message of Jesus’ universal significance be conveyed.  Like the light of a star, the love of God revealed through the person of Jesus is meant to be seen by all, whether they’re standing right next door, or many miles away. 
I wonder . . . who do you know who is seeking the light of God?  Are they many miles away?  Are they right next door?
Friends - you are one of those stars pointing the way to Jesus.  Because you have been baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection, you are one of those lights in the dark sky that can help guide people to the love of God in Jesus Christ. 

Think of how many men and women and children have found their way to this church, followed the Christ star, in a sense, to find Jesus welcoming them in this place.  Three years ago we made a commitment as a congregation to begin inviting our friends, neighbors and family to our church, so that they could encounter the love of Jesus through us.  Did you know that since that time we have welcomed 30 new faces through baptisms, new members, and renewed members who returned after years away from the congregation?  When many churches are seeing their numbers dwindle, you have bucked the trend.  You believe in this church, and you believe in what Christ has to offer to others through this church. 
Not only that, but think of all the other people who have found joy, music, fellowship and hope through our ministries and special events.  Our OAKs Monthly Senior Center regularly welcomes about 20 people, many of whom are not members here.  Our new Young Adults group has included friends of our members who have expressed great appreciation for this new ministry.  And our youth are some of our brightest stars!  We have our Small Stars Sunday School class that just started this fall for toddlers and their caregivers.  And our All Stars older youth invite their friends to this church on a regular basis.  Just last week we had 27 young people here for our pre-New Year’s lock-in.  A third of them were friends of our youth.  You know your church is cool if the kids are inviting their friends!  

This congregation has been a light in the darkness for so many individuals who are wandering, seeking a congregation of friends who will take them in and help them take the next steps on their faith journey.  We already know Jesus is here.  We experience his presence every week in the hugs and handshakes, in the songs we sing together, in the breaking of the bread and sharing of the cup at communion.  But how will the Wise Men and Women out there find where Christ is without the stars to guide them? 
An incredible gift has been given to you, to us, as a community of Christ.  We, as a congregation, pass that gift on to others, just as the Wise Men did for Jesus and his parents.  Our benevolence to the synod, the food we have collected, the children in need we have helped, the guests we have welcomed, the homeless we have helped through Habitat for Humanity, the gifts and songs we gave to the residents at Country Comfort, the children in Liberia whom many of you have helped to educate through your financial support – these are the gifts we give to the community, to the world, to announce that the light of Christ has come into the world.   

We may be a small congregation – but the light we shine in the darkness is just what someone out there needs see to help them find their way.  In your bulletin there is an insert called “Letting My Light Shine.”  On the inside there are two identical flaps for your to write down the names of people you would like to pray for in the coming year, that they will come to know the love of Christ through your light.  I would like you to write down their names on one side that you will tear off and put into the offering plate.  On the other side, write those same names and keep them with you.  Post them on your dresser mirror, or your refrigerator, or in a place you look at often, so that you can remember to pray for them.  And we will create a prayer list call the “shining stars” – first names only – of those names you turn into us.  Throughout the coming year, we’ll revisit the list to see how we’re doing.  Maybe we’ll even see some of these wise men and women sitting in the pew next to you one Sunday. 
I mentioned earlier that we had a big group of young people here at the church for the lock-in and many of them were guests.  One of them was a boy who had never been in our church before. In fact, he had never been in any church before.  I found out because I asked him, and he said this was his first time in a church.  I was glad this was his first experience.  Because we played games and made craft bags that Vivian showed them how to do.  We grazed on hot dogs and veggies and chips and fruit throughout the long night.  We played hide and seek and watched movies.  And just before midnight we gathered in the darkened sanctuary carrying the little candles we used from Christmas Eve.  Ellen and Devon led us in song on their guitars.  We read from the Bible, and we shared prayers for our hopes in the coming year.  And then we sang “Silent Night” as the candles made our faces glow.  This little boy could not sing along because he did not know the words.  But I heard him humming softly, looking around, taking it all in.  On that night he found himself in a constellation of beautiful glowing stars right here in our church.

These people on your list – I can just imagine how they might feel being part of our constellation here at United in Christ.  Pray for them.  Let your light shine for them.  And keep watching for the appearance of those new stars!  Amen.