Sunday, May 29, 2016

Only Speak the Word – A Sermon for Memorial Day

The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade
Readings:  Kings 8:22-23, 41-43; Psalm  96:1-9; Luke 7:1-10

How appropriate that the gospel reading in the lectionary texts assigned for today would be about a soldier.  How many here today have served in our armed forces – please stand up to be recognized.

Now if this had been first century Palestine and you had been Roman soldiers, we would not have been applauding you.  We would have likely cowered before you, or booed and hissed, or even thrown rotten vegetables.  Because Roman soldiers were feared and hated.  They were regarded as ruthless oppressors not to be trusted.  So to have one show up in a gospel story in such a positive light would have been shocking to the first readers of this passage from Luke. 

The soldier sends word to Jesus asking for him to heal his beloved servant.  The Jewish elders vouch for him, explaining that he helped them build their temple and was a friend to them.  This would have been very much out of the ordinary for the first listeners of this story.  Even more surprising was the fact that this centurion could have just tossed this servant aside knowing he could have gotten another one – they are just expendable work animals to the Romans.  But the gospel portrays him as actually caring for this servant.  Jewish listeners would have been uncomfortable with this, because not only is this outside the typical negative expectations about a Roman soldier, but this also shows us that soldiers are human – they are capable of showing compassion.  So we have a Roman soldier in a liminal position between Gentiles and Jews, and between life and death for his servant.  Which means that the gospel is blurring the lines between foreigners and natives, between who we think is inside the circle of God’s love and who is outside. 

But given our lesson from 1 Kings and Psalm 96, it shouldn’t surprise us.  Because Jewish scripture has many passages that speak about welcoming the foreigner.  When Solomon prays to God at the dedication of the Temple, he says, “When a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from the distant land because of your name, for they shall hear of our great name, your mighty hand, and your outstretched arm – when a foreigner comes and prays toward this house, then hear in heaven your dwelling place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you” (1 Kings 8:41-43a).  Likewise, Psalm 96 speaks of declaring God’s glory among the nations – meaning the Gentiles.  “Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength” (Psalm 96:7).

This tells us that God’s love extends beyond the typical boundaries of clans and tribes, beyond distinctions of religion and race and culture.  “Families of the peoples” extends the family of God in ways we would not expect, and that, frankly, many people are not comfortable with.  What we hear instead in our media and from certain politicians and from voices filled with fear and anger are calls for walls to be built to keep away the families of the peoples, to keep out the foreigners.  And to use soldiers to patrol these walls and defend against any intruders.

But that’s not the vision for the human family that God has in mind.  Apparently what God envisions is for soldiers to actually help escort people across those artificial lines so that they may be welcomed into healing and safety.  Because that’s what the centurion did that day in Capernaum.  He sent an escort for Jesus, seeking healing for his servant.

Notice that the soldier is well-aware of the boundaries and respects them.  He knows that it would not be acceptable for Jesus, a Jew, to enter into his house.  This would make Jesus unclean, and the soldier had no intention of disrespecting Jesus.  Which, again, is uncharacteristic for a Roman soldier.  By rights, they can enter any house at any time, drag anyone anywhere they want with impunity.  But that’s not what this centurion does.  Instead he sends word to Jesus recognizing his authority.

“For I also am a man set under authority,” his messenger says on the soldier’s behalf.  Again – shocking!  Here was a professional officer of the Roman army acknowledging that Jesus is under orders from the highest authority – God. And like a centurion who can order his soldiers and officers around as he sees fit, God has given Jesus the authority to wield power as he sees fit.  But it’s not military power.  It is a much deeper and life-giving power.  It is the power of healing, the power of life over death.

And the centurion doesn’t even need to see Jesus or have him come into his house in order for this power to be exercised.  So many others seek to touch Jesus, to crowd around him, demand signs of him.  But the centurion says this: 

            “Only speak the word and let my servant be healed.”

Only speak the word! You know what that’s called?  Faith!  Trust!  This shocks even Jesus!  And to think that this is coming from none other than a Roman centurion – the last person the gospel listeners would expect to get it.

There is a line from a popular song called “Fix My Eyes” by the band For King and Country:  “It takes a soldier who knows his orders to walk the walk I’m supposed to walk.”  The soldier never even sees Jesus – but he is ready to take his marching orders from this rabbi.  Only speak the word, and I will trust the power of that Word.

Today as we welcome a child into God’s family through baptism, that Word will be spoken again.  Like that soldier, we have never even seen Jesus.  But we know the power of that Word which extends across time and space and through this scripture and over this water and says to this child:  You are washed. You are welcome.  You are loved. 

How about you?  What is that Word saying to you? 

Our prayer is that of the soldier, trusting in faith:

Only speak the word – to the soldier and to the servant: you are healed.
Only speak the word – to the foreigner and the native:  you are welcomed.
Only speak the word – to the parent and the child: you are loved.

Only speak the Word.


Sunday, May 22, 2016

Teaching Environmental Ethics: Feeding “The Good Wolf”

Dr. Leah D. Schade

In the Spring of 2016 I taught a course entitled Environmental Ethics at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, PA. Having taught a similar course at a different college the previous semester, I knew that the study of environmental ethics can easily devolve into a spiral of pessimism, given the unprecedented challenges we face regarding the climate crisis and other ecological threats to the well-being of our planet. So this semester I began by showing the students some clips of the film Tomorrowland (Disney, 2015), including one which recounts the Native American “Tale of Two Wolves,” the story of two evenly matched wolves in a battle. One is evil, greedy, arrogant, lying and full of fear.  The other is good, filled with love, hope, compassion and integrity.  The question is: which one will win?  The sage’s answer:  the one we feed.

When it comes to the environmental crises facing our planet, we are tempted to feed the wrong wolf and give into despair and a fatalistic resignation. In fact, as one of the characters in the movie describes it, we feed on it “like a chocolate ├ęclair.” So in this course, I explored with the students some religious, philosophical and environmental perspectives to help us understand the roots of the many environmental crises we face, as well as search for resources to help us “feed the good wolf,” and work toward possible solutions. 

One of the university’s requirements for the course was for a Team Intensive component to be included that met the following criteria: 

1. Demonstrate processes needed for a positive working relationship with team members.
2. Demonstrate and evaluate the roles and functions of leadership and team membership.
3. Work together in a team to create a presentation wherein a specific environmental issue is researched, the problem articulated, a hypothesis about a possible solution is suggested, and that hypothesis is tested through a project on campus.

So I devised a semester-long group project called Life Stories based on an idea from Cynthia Moe-Lobeda’s book Resisting Structural Evil: Love as Ecological,Economic Vocation (Fortress Press, 2013).  In her book, Moe-Lobeda has several “Life Stories” – vignettes that illustrate the damage being done to the planet, ecosystems, communities and individuals.  Each story has a second “episode,” however, that show what steps have been taken to resist structural violence and build alternatives. 

I assigned each group to create its own “life story” over the course of the semester.  There were seventeen students and I assigned them to four different groups based on one of their choices of general topics of interest. They were to begin by researching how the university setting was in some way part of the problem.  But then they were to actively engage in changing policies and/or practices of life on the campus on one of four levels:  individual; a communal living place (dorm or house of students); a division of campus life (buildings and grounds, foodservice, informational technology, health center, athletics, etc.); administrative (office of the VP, Pres, Admissions, etc.). 

They drew from Moe-Lobeda’s work, as well as selections from Chip and Dan Heath’s Switch:  How to Change When Change is Hard (Broadway Books, 2010) to identify and describe the problem, and then strategize and carry out a solution (the website has a nice summary of the Switch steps:

For their final exam each group presented their “Life Story” through a PowerPoint presentation or short film documenting their effortsBelow are links to the presentations for each of their projects.  Keep in mind that these are college students – not professional film-makers.  But you can get a sense of the research they did, the way in which they devised plans for addressing the problem, and the creative ways in which they approached their projects.  The goal is for others to see what they did, learn from their process (as well as their mistakes), and be inspired to create their own projects that “feed the good wolf” and work on solutions that engender hope.

The Terracycle Project (Learning about the harm plastic items cause to birds, and initiating a recycling project for discarded pens, markers, etc.)

The Meatless Project (Challenging students to go meatless for one meal a day.)  

Do Right, Save Light: Candelight Dinner Project (Learning about saving electricity through energy efficient lighting on campus [with a dash of college-student silliness for good measure!]). 

Saving Water: The Shower Heads Project (Students learned how much water is wasted in showers on campus and embarked on a project to have low-flow shower heads installed.)

Film Review: Merchants of Doubt (Guest blog post)

In the Spring of 2016 I taught a course entitled Environmental Ethics at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, PA. One of the assignments was for the students to choose an environmental film and write a review in which they address the question of who or what is to be included in moral consideration, according to the film.  They also needed to take and justify an ethical position on the environmental problem depicted in the film using the theological, ethical and philosophical vocabularies we covered in class.  Finally, they were asked to explore the ambiguities and challenges of the problem and articulate what they would suggest a viewer do after watching the film.

I invited some of the students to share their reviews as a guest blog post.  Here is one by:

Emily McGuckin
Environmental Ethics
Dr. Leah Schade
  Film Review: Merchants of Doubt      

The movie Merchants of Doubt begins with a scene of a magician telling the audience about magic tricks and how magic is truly just all about illusion and misdirection. As I started watching I was confused as to what a magician had to do with the tobacco industry, flame retardant manufactures and greenhouse gas emissions. But then it quickly hit me.  The documentary forms an analogy between the illusion tactics magicians use on their audiences and the way the government and large corporations mislead the public. At that point, I could tell that this documentary would dive into places no one really thought of before.
            The first major case the movie, based on the book of the same name, showcases is one within the big tobacco industry. This issue started around the 1960’s when scientists were finding evidence that nicotine is addictive. When these scientists released this information, the magic tricks began. When the big tobacco industries were put on trial for selling addictive drugs they knew they were in trouble. So what did they do? They denied. They all stated under oath that they believed nicotine was not addictive and that their products were not addictive. However, once more scientific research and evidence was released, denying was not much of an option anymore. So what did they do? They played the doubt card. The big tobacco industries that were interviewed about their addictive products responded to those criticizing them by saying that there was still a great deal of doubt as to whether or not nicotine was addictive, even though deep down they knew it was.
            However, what the public failed to realize was that the evidence was all there. Scientists knew nicotine was addictive and they knew cigarettes were killing thousands of people. But the big tobacco industries had the bigger voice. They had more power. They had more money. According to Cynthia Moe-Lobeda in her book Resisting Structural Evil, “A company may put enormous amounts of creative and financial resources into public relations to construct a convincing socially responsible public face regardless of how far it may be from the truth.”[1] Using this idea, it is clear that the companies were able to cast a smokescreen of doubt on the public with their power and wealth so that those who were buying their products would still purchase them despite the scientific evidence. The film then cuts to a clip of the magician with his deck of cards which allows the audience to really make the connection as to how powerfully the tobacco companies were misleading the public just so their product would continue to sell.
            This “trick” the big tobacco companies were using to cast this doubt about the scientifically proven negativity of their product is known as the “Playbook.” Within this playbook there were tricks as to how to delay effective policy so they could make more money. Such tricks included shifting the blame, questioning the science, attacking the messenger, and creating controversy. All of these are related to Moe-Lobeda’s point about companies using their power to portray an image that is not true. The companies knew that their products were bad. They knew nicotine was addictive, they knew it was causing deaths. But they would never admit that. They would never admit anything that would make them lose money. Therefore, they used these tricks on the public so that they could continue selling their product. What is really unbelievable is that these tricks fooled the public for about 50 years until we started to finally believe the science.
            The film continues with a similar story line about flame retardants and flame retardant manufacturing companies and then again with greenhouse gas emissions and companies that produce fossil fuels. Both of these cases have instances similar to those of the big tobacco case where large companies and political figures were using the “Playbook” in order to continue creating doubt, denying the science, deceiving the public, and selling their product.
            After viewing this film, I could not help but find myself sitting in shock and disbelief. How do people come up with these “tricks”? How are we, as a public, so blind that we cannot see what they are doing? How could someone lie about their product that is harming or killing thousands of people? It led me to question the ethical perspective of this “Playbook” that is used by so many companies and political officials.
            It was clear to me that these companies were doing things that were ethically and morally wrong.  Virtue ethics is an ethics based system that asks “what kind of person do I want to be?” Clearly, by the rules of the playbook, these “professional deceivers” did not care about their virtues. They told lie after lie, spinning stories into giant webs, hurting thousands of people, just so they could continue making money. The tobacco companies denied the negative effects of nicotine that were killing thousands of people. The flame retardant manufactures claimed their products protected more than they harmed despite the fact that American babies were being born with the highest amount of flame retardant chemicals in their blood compared to the rest of the world. The fossil fuel industries denied the negative effect of CO2 emissions that are destroying our planet. All of these companies used their “tricks” to deceive and manipulate the public and the planet in order to make a profit.
            I believe that what these companies are doing are undoubtedly wrong. These companies take advantage of their wealth and power and use it to deceive the public. They use their “tricks” to help them deny the fact that they are killing and harming people as well as harming the planet. This film allows the audience to see that they are a part of the ones being deceived. It really made me question how many times a company has tricked me and misled me just because they had the money and power to do so.
This film sheds light on the dirty tricks these companies are playing and I would highly recommend it to anyone. Everyone should see this film because we are the ones who are being affected. We are the targets for the corporate magicians to deceive and take advantage of.  Rosemary Reuther states, “the legal fictions of the corporation as a ‘person’ who has permanent rights to exists, but without liability for the harm it causes to individuals or communities, must be altered.”[2]  Now that we know these tricks exist and we are fooled by them daily, we can help stop it. We can find the trick and reveal it to the audience before it deceives us all.

[1] Moe-Lobeda, Cynthia D., Resisting Structural Evil:  Love as Ecological, Economic Vocation.  Fortress Press, 2013.
[2] Rosemary Ruether, Integrating Ecofeminism Globalization and World Religions (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefoeld Publishers, Inc., 2005), 160.

Film Review: Groundswell Rising (Guest blog post)

In the Spring of 2016 I taught a course entitled Environmental Ethics at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, PA. One of the assignments was for the students to choose an environmental film and write a review in which they address the question of who or what is to be included in moral consideration, according to the film.  They also needed to take and justify an ethical position on the environmental problem depicted in the film using the theological, ethical and philosophical vocabularies we covered in class.  Finally, they were asked to explore the ambiguities and challenges of the problem and articulate what they would suggest a viewer do after watching the film.

I invited some of the students to share their reviews as a guest blog post.  Here is one by:

Jimmy Kinneally
Environmental Ethics
Dr. Leah Schade
Film Review:  Groundswell Rising

            The film Groundswell Rising illustrates the atrocities being committed by large fracking companies and tells of the miseries faced by those whose lives have been affected by the drilling. “Fracking” is a process used to extract natural gas from the earth. In my analysis of fracking, I will look at the pros and cons of the process. I will discuss the impact it has on the lives of employees of fracking companies, residents who live in areas where fracking has taken over, children, and future children whose chances of being born with birth defects from genetic mutations are extremely high. In my address of these topics, I will refer to the ideas of Immanuel Kant as well as the concept of utilitarianism and consequentialism. Finally I will make suggestions as to what a viewer could do as a course of action against fracking following the viewing of the film.
            The film followed the lives of a handful of people whose lives and those of their children are directly affected by fracking. Within the first five minutes of the film, a list of all the chemicals used in the fracking process scrolled through the screen. The “words” that followed appeared to be a different language. The list of chemicals contained a maximum of three words that I could pronounce. These chemicals pollute the water supply of the people in the surrounding area. They then drink the water and are forced to suffer the consequences. Parents in the fracking areas of Colorado created a coalition when they realized that their children were suffering from health problems that were caused by breathing in the gas released by the fracking sites. The ailments ranged from chronic nosebleeds to asthma to autoimmune disorders.
Children are not the only victims of the chemical pollution in the water. Sandra Steingraber was diagnosed with bladder cancer at an early age. Doctors attributed the cancer to poor quality of drinking water. Today she campaigns against fracking because of the negative effects the process has on water supplies.
Companies also have little regard for those that they employ to work in direct contact with all these chemicals. Later in the film, viewers are introduced to Randy Moyer who suffers from lesions on his skin, swelling of the lips, mouth, and tongue, as well as other symptoms which doctors have not been able to explain. Moyer was responsible for cleaning the condensation tanks, where the gas compressed into liquid form. “They didn’t tell ya what was in there. They just said ‘Get in there and clean it,’” he recalled.
            Another idea to be considered is that by consuming the chemicals in the water there may be other side effects other than sickness. Chemicals have the ability to alter the genetic makeup of cells. These mutations are permanent and would then be passed from parents to offspring, meaning that the child would be born with birth defects, illnesses, ailments, etc. This means that  the conversation over the morality of fracking includes the future children of people who live in areas where fracking occurs. 
            The next victim I will discuss does not drink contaminated water. She does not suffer from cancer or asthma. Rather, this victim is assaulted and raped just for profit. Mother Earth is drilled into, and subsequently filled with explosives. The detonations shake the Earth, causing miniature earthquakes. All of this is done just so that natural gas can be removed from the ground and sold. According to Mark Wallace, author of Green Christianity, “The earth is not dead matter, but a living being—in biblical terms, it is God’s ‘creation’—and, as such, it is deserving of our love and protection,” (Wallace 28). Wallace takes the position that just as we should “love thy neighbor,” we should “love thy earth,” as it is as much of a living being as we are.
This notion of a universal ethical command can be understood in terms of Immanuel Kant’s theory of the Categorical Imperative. The universal principle here is that a person should act in such a way that would be acceptable to all human beings. This idea is essentially the Golden Rule of treating others the way you want to be treated. Mother Nature needs to be included in this principle. To relate this to the film, executives of fracking companies may feel differently about the process if they were the ones suffering from the effects of nearby fracking. The theory can be connected to the earth by understanding that we should do everything in our power to make sure that the earth has everything it needs in order to flourish.
Ecofeminist theologian Ivone Gebara adds yet another level of understanding to the concept of the Golden Rule: “If we have excessive love for ourselves, we will fall into a sort of unlimited narcissism and the virtually implacable destruction of others,” (Gebara, in This Sacred Earth, 409). This quote implies the need for balance. The companies in this situation have “too much love for themselves” and are only interested in creating profit refusing to care about the people who are affected by their work.
There are challenges to the elimination of fracking, however. Obviously, creating a new business or expansion requires more work, which would create more jobs. Someone who needs to feed a family will likely not turn down an opportunity for work, regardless of the task. The other challenge I see is that extracting more oil appears to produce cheaper energy, which allows for struggling families to afford the energy that they need.  But government subsidies for the fossil fuels industry obfuscate the true cost of the energy.
            At the conclusion of the film, a list of milestones appears, citing numerous groups that one could be inclined to join. The groups campaign for the ban on fracking in numerous states. They have succeeded in the city of Pittsburgh as well as the entire state of New York. What this film conveys is that despite the benefits of fracking, a moral person cannot overlook the atrocities taking place against the earth and its people. 

 Works Cited
1.     Gebara, Ivone. "The Trinity and the Problem of Evil." This Sacred Earth: Religion, Nature,        Environment. By Roger S. Gottlieb. New York: Routledge, 1996. N. pag. Print.
2.     Wallace, Mark I. Green Christianity: Five Ways to a Sustainable Future. Minneapolis: Fortress,           2010. Print.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Film Review: Chasing Ice (Guest blog post)

In the Spring of 2016 I taught a course entitled Environmental Ethics at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, PA. One of the assignments was for the students to choose an environmental film and write a review in which they address the question of who or what is to be included in moral consideration, according to the film.  They also needed to take and justify an ethical position on the environmental problem depicted in the film using the theological, ethical and philosophical vocabularies we covered in class.  Finally, they were asked to explore the ambiguities and challenges of the problem and articulate what they would suggest a viewer do after watching the film.

I invited some of the students to share their reviews as a guest blog post.  Here is one by . . .
Julia Tolin
Environmental Ethics
Instructor:  Dr. Leah Schade
Review: Chasing Ice: My Ecological Revelation

            This film was the pivotal point that led me to an important environmental self-realization. I have been aware of the issue of receding glaciers and how it affects the rising sea levels for a long time. However, I have never truly been emotionally affected by this issue until I viewed this film. In Chasing Ice, the amazing efforts of James Balog to educate the world on the pressing and very alarming issue of receding glaciers are documented. The film was hauntingly beautiful in a way that forced my eyes to open and face the issue head on. There was not a moment that I took my eyes off the screen. This documentary was purely scientific and based on Balog’s travels and time-lapsed photos that challenge us to consider the implications of our actions on other living things around us.  
            Chasing Ice follows the journey of Balog and his process of conducting the largest and most impactful glacial survey ever completed, called the Extreme Ice Survey (EIS). Twenty-five cameras were set up across Iceland, Greenland, Montana and Alaska, and shot a frame every hour there was daylight. Each camera produced 2,300 frames over a period of 6 months, totaling about 60,000 frames from all 25 cameras. In the words of Balog, “I never imagined that you could see features this big disappearing in such a short period of time. But when I did, when I saw that, I realized, my God, there’s a powerful piece of history that’s unfolding in these pictures…”. In one specific “calving” event (a glacial event that occurs when shards of ice break off at the end, or terminus, of the glacier), a section of a glacier equivalent to the length of five football fields (approximately 1,500 feet) in Greenland occurred, in less than an hour. The forward-moving motion caused by calving creates the instability of the terminus, causing the entire glacier to shift. The pieces of ice that break off of the glacier in a calving event are called icebergs.
It is absolutely imperative that our society understand that the climate that sustains our world is changing. Plants and animals are going extinct, and within the next 200 to 300 years, an anticipated mass extinction will occur. China has to pollinate crops by hand, and the length of the fire season in the Western United States has increased by over two months.
            Theologically, there is boundless evidence and teachings that show us the importance of connecting ourselves with nature. Religion represents nature’s voice, as Roger Gottlieb states “Spiritual teachings have celebrated and consecrated our ties to the nonhuman world, remind[ing] us of our delicate and inescapable partnership with air, land, water, and fellow living beings”.[1] Balog explains that our society is in denial by claiming that climatologists are preaching garbage science. But the truth is that these icebergs are dying right in front of our eyes, and there is no denying it. As he explains, “If I hadn’t seen it in the pictures, I wouldn’t believe it was real.” Through the camera we are able to become aware of events outside of our own bodily experiences. However, for some reason we seem to turn a blind eye, even when we have easy access to tools that can raise awareness about the preservation of our natural world.
We need to understand the risks of our actions, as well as our moral obligation to protect the environment. My experience with this film has made me question why our society is the issue of climate change. Films such as Chasing Ice are clearly laying out how our environment is suffering from our careless habits. Why do we continue to claim that climate change is just a figment of our imagination, that it is normal? It deeply concerns me that we can be so nonchalant and place the responsibility of reversing the dying environment on the next generations.
Many experts, including ecological theologian Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, are desperately trying to get our society to understand this fact. Moe-Lobeda argues in her book Resisting Structural Evil, that “One young and dangerous species now threatens Earth’s capacity to regenerate life as we know it. Homo sapiens are using and degrading the planet’s natural goods at a rate that Earth’s ecosystems cannot sustain.”[2] Our earth cannot keep up with our destructive habits. In the close observation of the Greenland Ice Sheet, Balog shows that glaciers are not only receding, but thinning at the same time. Over a period of 6 months, retreat of the glacier in terms of vertical change is equivalent to the height of the Empire State Building. That is 1,454 feet of melted ice that happened in only six months. The Solheim Glacier in Iceland was also examined by Balog and the EIS team for four and a half years. From 1900 to 2000 (100 years), the glacier retreated 8 miles. In a short period of 10 years from 2000 to 2010, the glacier retreated 9 miles. This terrifying statistic cannot be explained by natural climate fluctuation.
GreenChristianity author Mark Wallace suggests five ways to lead humanity to a sustainable future. He explains that if we try to find God everywhere, read the Bible with green eyes, enjoy the flesh, eat well and live a vocation dedicated to justice, then we will be able to preserve our earth. Environmentalists all over the world, like Wallace and Moe-Lobeda, are trying to get our society to realize the destruction we are causing.
In the Canadian Yukon Territory, there were 1,400 glaciers surveyed in 1958. From 1958 to 2008, only four of those 1,400 glaciers got bigger, over 300 disappeared, and the rest got significantly smaller. The Extreme Ice Survey, the brainchild of Balog, is pure and empirical evidence that we know what is going on with glaciers. It is not just an issue with economic and public policy, but with perception, because the public still does not yet understand climate change. We must change the lens through which we view topics of climate change; that is, with an unbiased eye that sees the reality of our destructive habits.

[1] Roger S. Gottlieb, This Sacred Earth: Religion, Nature, Environment: Second Edition (London: Taylor Francis Ltd, 2003), 8.
[2] Cynthia D. Moe-Lobeda, Resisting Structural Evil: Love as Ecological-Economic Vocation (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013), 31.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Film Review: Journey of the Universe (Guest blog post)

In the Spring of 2016 I taught a course entitled Environmental Ethics at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, PA. One of the assignments was to choose an environmental film and write a review in which they address the question of who or what is to be included in moral consideration, according to the film.  They also needed to take and justify an ethical position on the environmental problem depicted in the film using the theological, ethical and philosophical vocabularies we covered in class.  Finally, they were asked to explore the ambiguities and challenges of the problem and articulate what they would suggest a viewer do after watching the film.

I invited some of the students to share their reviews as a guest blog post:

Film Review by:  Dylan Rearick, Susquehanna University Student

Environmental Ethics

Instructor:  Dr. Leah Schade

The film Journey of the Universe took me through an experience like no other. The film starts by showing a beautiful part of earth that has not been heavily impacted by the industrial machine and really lets you take in the beauty of the world. It connects that beauty of the landscape with everything else in the entire universe. By making this connection, the film tries to interconnect human beings to nature; this in turn gets the viewer to really question what level of respect for nature we really have. This film’s use of an interconnected way of life tries to show viewers that we as humans are a part of something much bigger than ourselves and we should respect the earth and all life (organic and non-organic) that it holds.
The film starts our journey by showing the Big Bang. It then goes on to explain that every element that is in our universe today can be traced back to that initial spark. Everything we know today is from that one event, and the film is trying to show the association that we have with all of earth and that we are all derived from the same material. It is demanding that we work in a mutual relationship with our environment and have the common decency to respect our mother earth. Picture the earth as a living cell. The earth has many mechanisms to adapt over time. This concept is a known as Gaia Theory. Gaia Theory postulates that humans and other organic life creates a self-sustaining system of this planet which is designed to thrive.[1] This film introduces concepts of Gaia Theory to the viewer and expresses to the viewer that we and the earth are partners. This concept of human and nature being intertwined is also seen in Hindu religion. For example, a passage from the Vana Purana (12.26) states:
Let all the great elements bless the dawning day:
Earth with its smell, water with its taste,
fire with its radiance, air with its touch,
and sky with its sound.[2]
This passage directly connects different elements of the earth with human senses in order to encourage humans to understand that they are truly dependent on nature.  Lately, we have not been treating the earth as a partner but more as a slave to us. With the drastically increasing population problem that we have today, we are finding that space to hold this huge number of people is decreasing rapidly which ends up hurting nearly all other species that live on this planet. We want to push and advance the human agenda, but many are not realizing the irreversible damage that is being done to the planet.
The earth had a much greater amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere many million years ago because the sun was cooler than it is now. As the sun has heated up over the millennia because of nuclear fission, the earth needed to cool itself down and it did this by releasing some of the carbon into the air and creating carbon-based shells for early aquatic life. This adaptability of the earth has been the reason why the planet is stable and able to thrive and function so well after billions of years.
However, with the advancing science and technology that is around us today, we are forcing nature to work for us and meet our demands instead of living in a healthy relationship with her. This film suggests that we should not be making this earth our slave, but regarding it as sacred, perhaps even as a divine mother.  This notion of divine feminine is also seen in Hindu tradition. “[T]he imaging of the divine and human ‘feminine’ as expressions of creative and sustainive cosmic energy underlying the phenomenal world, are ideas capable of feminist and ecological interpretation.”[3] This concept of treating the earth as a divine being has been instilled in cultures for generations, but for some reason has been forgotten in Western culture. The nurture and passion we put out towards the earth will be given back to us by the planet’s increasing beauty and stability. This once again connects the earth and all of its inhabitants to each other and demonstrates that we are not different from the ground on which we walk; so, we should treat that ground with as much respect and passion as we would our own mother or brother.
            After watching this film, the question becomes: What can I do? How can I stop this vast problem that seems to be getting more and more out of hand? Well, the answer all starts just like our universe did: with a spark. As with the creation of the universe, a spark so small can create so much. Go against societal norms and start asking how it can be stopped. A spark or an idea can influence so much no matter how small. That is what is needed in order to change the increasingly growing reality of our slowly dying planet.

Executive ProducersMary Evelyn Tucker
John Grim
Brian Thomas Swimme


[1] "Gaia Hypothesis." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2016.
[2] Gottlieb, Roger S. "Hinduism and Deep Ecology." This Sacred Earth Religion, Nature, Environment. Florence: Taylor and Francis, 2003. 302.
[3] Ruether, Rosemary Radford. "The Greening of World Religions - Hinduism."Integrating Ecofeminism, Globalization, and World Religions. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2005. 53.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Sermon: Celebrating the Holy Spirit

Pentecost Sunday, 2016
The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade
#holyspirit #pentecost #lutheran #meditation #interfaith 

The Holy Spirit does not often take center stage in the Lutheran tradition.  We focus a great deal on God and Jesus, but rarely is the Holy Spirit uplifted.  Other denominations place a great deal of emphasis on the Holy Spirit.  They’ll talk about the movement of the Spirit in their lives, or they’ll invoke the name of the Holy Spirit often in their worship services, Bible studies and prayers.  There is one denomination that even bases its name and identity on the work of the Holy Spirit – the Pentecostals.  Their services are characterized by shouts of Hallalujah, clapping, dancing, and even being taken over in their bodies by the Spirit to the point where they speak in tongues, like on the day of Pentecost that we read about in our lesson today.

Lutherans, of course, are not comfortable with this style of liturgical expression.  We prefer to keep our expression of the Spirit within the bounds of quiet, respectful piety, with an occasional nod of the head, maybe once in a while voicing an Amen! at the preacher’s prompting.  Maybe clapping our hands during Youth Sunday.  But that’s about it.

That’s not to say, however, that the Holy Spirit is not active in our lives and in our church.  So I wanted to find out how this church experiences the Holy Spirit.  Earlier this week I posted a question to the congregation on our Facebook page.  I said that I would be preaching about Pentecost this Sunday, celebrating the coming of the Holy Spirit. So how have you or do you experience the Holy Spirit in your life? What words would you use to describe the Holy Spirit in your experience?

One person said that for her, the Holy Spirit was an experience of peace in her body and soul.  Another described the Holy Spirit as forgiving, peace and love.  One woman said that she experienced the Holy Spirit as overwhelming peace. “I experience the Holy Spirit when I am deep in his word, listening to a bible study via radio broadcast, tv, and at church. Also through music!”  And another person share one word that captures an important aspect of the Holy Spirit:  POWERFUL!

Last year’s Confirmation class also wrote some reflections on the Holy Spirit.  You can see their work here:

So how do you experience the Holy Spirit?  If you’re Lutheran, and particularly if you’re a Central Pennsylvania Lutheran, chances are it’s probably not something you think about on a daily basis.  But I encourage you to begin to think about the Holy Spirit, to invite her into your life, into your breath, into your church.  I want to offer to you three ways to think about how the Spirit is working: 1) in your life, 2) in your church, and 3) in the world.

First, I want you to think about the Holy Spirit when you breathe.  That’s right – at the very basic level of your existence.  Spirit comes from the word spiritus and in Hebrew is the word ruah, which can mean wind, air, mother bird, and breathe.  So with our Confirmation students last year and with our meditation groups during Lent, as well as with one of my college classes I taught this spring semester, I had them take part in a meditation exercise that helps to connect our bodies and breath to the Holy Spirit.  Let’s just try it briefly.  Sit comfortably in your pew with your back straight and your hands in a comfortable position.  Take a slow, deep breath in, and release it.  In and out, three times.  Feels good doesn’t it?  

Now if you feel comfortable, I invite you to close your eyes and listen to this mantra as I guide you with my voice.  On the in-breath:  Holy Spirit fill me; out-breath: Holy Spirit cleanse me.  In: Holy Spirit fill me. Out:  Holy Spirit cleanse me.  Repeat three times silently to yourself as you breathe.

Now how do you feel?  When I do this with small groups and ask this question, I hear words like: peaceful, relaxed, stress relief, focused, clearing my head, centered.  This is a prayer to the Holy Spirit and this is something you can do at almost any time or place – before you get out of bed in the morning, before a meal, after a stressful day, before going to sleep at night.  You can do it in church during the time of silence at confession at the beginning of the service, or during communion.  The breath of God, the Spirit of God is all around you – you need only to take that power into your body through your very breath.  So that’s one way to experience the Holy Spirit.

But another way is through the energy that the Holy Spirit generates.  Remember that it was wind and fire that came into the room where the disciples were gathered.  There’s incredible power in the Holy Spirit, and we experience that in our own church.  Our Youth have this energy which they share in their worship services, in their mission trips and service projects, and in their fellowship that is filled with laughter and joy.  

We also experience that energy in our OAKs senior center.  The Spirit has blown out into the community and drawn in people from all over to experience the fellowship, care, food, and learning that this ministry provides.  Every month there are new faces, which tells us that the Spirit is working and moving among us and through us out into the world. 

And then there’s the Rich Huff Chinese/Silent Auction extravaganza that happened this past weekend.  How poignant that the fire that tragically took the life of Rich has been transformed into the life-giving fire of the Holy Spirit through the work of this church.  In the last four years nearly $20,000 has been raised and children in need have been supported in this community, including a new scholarship given to high school seniors who exemplify the ideals embodied by Rich.  I have a feeling that the Holy Spirit has something even more in mind for this ministry. 
You don’t get this kind of response of over $8000 raised in one weekend without the energy of the Holy Spirit filling all the volunteers who have put in countless hours to make the event a huge success.  The Holy Spirit has something big in mind for this ministry and this church, and I am excited to see where the wind will blow next!

Finally, I want you to think about the Holy Spirit in her other aspect, in terms that Jesus described as Advocate – the one who acts for justice and righteousness.  This is the role of the Holy Spirit out in the world bringing people together across cultures and religions and languages, just like on the day of Pentecost when 3000 people from across the globe were brought together by the work of Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit. 

Where do we see that kind of power happening today?  Let me share with you something The Rev. Claire Burkat, Bishop of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod, shared with me:

There is an Islamic mosque in Philadelphia at the Al-Aqsa Islamic Society.  In December of last year a severed pig’s head was thrown at the door of the mosque. Just imagine coming to your house of worship and finding a pig’s head on your door step.  But support, care and outrage was expressed to Imam Mohamed Shehata through letters that Bishop Burkat and others sent People surrounded not only the Al-Aqsa Mosque but also the whole Muslim community in Philadelphia with concern and expressions of solidarity. Their Religious Leaders Council, along with the Interfaith Council of Philadelphia was particularly attentive to supporting their Muslim neighbors.

So in January at the Religious Leaders council, the interfaith group composed of a variety of faith leaders from all religions and neighborhoods, Muslim Christian, Jewish, Ba’hai, Sikh, Mormon, Unitarian, Hindu gathered at her invitation at the Lutheran Seminary for a discussion about fear and insecurity. (There’s that Holy Spirit Pentecost moment!) Imam Sheata was there as were several Imans.  Once again he thanked everyone for their support. 

Then Rabbi David Straus spoke up to give a sort of testimony. He said he woke up the day of the picnic sponsored by the Muslim community and did not want to go.

“It was Shabbot” he said, “It was my day off, I had had a hard week. I didn’t want to get dressed and go to West Philly to mingle with people I did not know. But my wife Debbie said. ‘Get dressed, of course you have to go - the Jewish presence is critical at this time.’”

So he dressed and went. Then he told the group that he was so glad he listened to his wife. He had a wonderful time and was thanked constantly from so many from the neighborhood but especially the Muslim community. Sometimes, he said, you have to listen to that other voice, that says go even when you don’t want to.

Then Bishop Burkat said, ”You may call that voice Debbie, but we Christians call it the Holy Spirit.”  Every shared a good laugh!

This is the work of the Holy Spirit, my friends.  In your very body, laughing with you.  Giving you peace through deep breaths of her calming effects.  Gracing our church with energy and power for our ministry. Build loving relationships with our neighbors, and standing with those in need against the ones who would harm them.

I pray that the Holy Spirit will touch you this day and move through your breath and heart and mind and body to feel the power of God in Jesus Christ.  Amen!