Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Josh Fox’s Film HOW TO LET GO - A Choir Member’s Review

The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade

“There’s nothing wrong with preaching to the choir.  As long as the choir members go out into the world and sing.” – Josh Fox

The above quote is how Josh Fox responded when asked if his new film, How to Let Go of the World and Love All Things Climate Can’t Change, was aimed at those who were already convinced that climate change is a problem.  In a theatre packed with well over 200 people, many of whom stayed for the Q&A after the film, the question carried the concern that the movie would not reach the ones who need to hear the message about the climate crisis.  Fox’s response reminded us that the message of the film cannot stop at the door to the theatre.  

I am one of the members of the environmental “choir” who has been vocalizing about climate change issues for many years.  As a Christian ecotheologian and pastor who has written an entire book on this topic, I know exactly what he means about “preaching to the choir.”   We wonder – will our work have any consequence beyond those who already share our concern?  Happily, while I saw the “regulars” in our community who faithfully attend meetings, marches, rallies, films, and other events about environmental issues, I also saw many, many people I did not recognize.  The free screening of the film at Lewisburg, Pa’s Campus Theatre sponsored by RDA, the Bucknell Center for Sustainability and the Environment, and the newly formed SusquehannaValley Climate Action Network drew in a substantial crowd on a Monday evening in June that ranged from young children to elders; people from all walks of life; and, presumably, from different political orientations.  I have viewed Josh Fox’s previous two films, Gasland and Gasland II (for a review of the second, click here), and tried to see this one not just as a choir member, but also from the perspective of those who may be new to the climate change issue.  

There was a sense of energy in the air as the director took to the stage and serenaded us with his banjo before the film began.  Over the next two hours we were taken on a ride that began by dropping us into the depths of despair.  The first part of the movie deftly and compellingly catalogued the ways in which our planet has been damaged due to climate change and continues to careen toward a 2 – 4 degree increase that will alter life on earth in horrific ways we are only beginning to fathom. 
In the theatre a few seats away from me sat a grown man.  Two times during the film I heard him crying, sniffling softly.  Once was when Fox (intrepid investigative reporter that he is) brought us into the Amazon jungle in South America and showed us two things – an oil spill from a ruptured pipeline that had coated a beautiful jungle forest in black slime; and another part of the jungle that was completely destroyed from clearcutting.  His new cinemagraphic toy for this film is the drone which he uses to great effect, taking us up to a bird’s eye view to see what man hath wrought.  And yes, it is enough to make you cry.

Another time of quiet weeping was after all the experts had been interviewed about the myriad ways in which climate change has already destroyed coral reefs, forests, glaciers, island nations, and human settlements.  The sobering realization that 40 – 60% of all species on earth are headed for extinction – even if we stopped using fossil fuels tomorrow – was a moment that left every expert without words.  Fox wisely let the silence of each of them speak for itself.  The lament was palpable.

But as Fox contemplated giving up and retreating to his idyllic childhood home in the forests of northeastern Pennsylvania, he experienced a second wind – one which carried him and the viewer through the second half of the movie.  In Christian parlance, we call this the Holy Spirit, blowing through our lives, refreshing us, lifting us to hope, and driving us to take action.  The stories of those people and communities that are actively resisting the powers that profit from the destruction of people and the planet were at times heart-breaking, but also inspiring and motivating.

From a religious studies perspective, there were several moments in the film that resonated with biblical  and interfaith themes.  The motif of the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” was invoked by one of the experts interviewed about the ways in which climate change is bringing about cataclysmic effects.  He was referencing the book of Revelation in the New Testament in which four figures on horses symbolize war, famine, pestilence and death.  It was an appropriate and sobering description of what our world is facing.  This reality was also chillingly captured by Fox in the Amazon jungle when they encountered a worker’s ghostly latex uniform hung on a cross warning of the toxic environment they were about to enter.  I have used the term “eco-crucifixion” to describe the environmental crisis on this planet, and this image confirmed what people, plants and animals are subjected to daily at these places where sacrifice is deemed necessary by the fossil-fuel empire.

But the film also drew on biblical images to frame the positive work that is being done around the world to resist the empire.  For example, the heroic efforts of Pacific Island warriors paddling out in their hand-made boats to stop a coal tanker from leaving port in Australia was described as David facing Goliath.  Even as their island homes are disappearing due to sea level rises from climate change, they chanted relentlessly:

We are not: drowning!
We are: fighting!

The spiritual aspect of this work of resistance was also evident in the interviews with tribal peoples who described the trees and jaguars and parrots as having spirit, connecting with human beings on a profound level of being.  And this connection is one that transcends money.  “I’m a poor man,” said one of the tribal leaders, “but I am rich because I live on this land.  I have my freedom.”  But it is others’ desire for wealth that enslaves him, his tribe, his homeland, and the ecosystems ravaged by the bulldozers, pipelines, and carbon dioxide leading to the heating of the planet.  Nevertheless, the climate warriors across this planet are actively and creatively engaging with each other and with their communities to mount massive movements of education and awareness, activism and nonviolent resistance. 

I talked with a mother who had brought her two young boys to the film and asked how they responded.  While her younger son felt fear that moved him to cuddle into his mother’s arms, it was the movie's message of hope and action that came through loud and clear to her older son.  “He told me he wants us to put up solar panels at the church!” she said.  Indeed, out of the mouths of babes.

How to Let Go is a film that will make grown men cry and cause little children to crawl into their mothers’ laps in fear.  But it will also inspire brave little boys and girls run out into the streets, to their schools, their houses of worship with the message:  We must DO something.  Like Casey Newton in the film Tomorrowland refusing to succumb to despair even in the face of mounting bad news about the state of her world, Josh Fox’s film shows us that more and more people are rising up to shift our society and values toward the principles that matter most. 

Whether you are a member of the choir, just beginning to learn about climate change, or even a skeptic about the climate crisis, the film is worth your time to see.  Because it is a story about what it means to be our best selves when faced with the worst circumstances.  And it has the potential to activate the resilience, creativity, courage and love that is exactly what we need for this time and this planet. 

Note: In 2-Minute Ecopreacher: What Can A Person of Faith Do About Climate Change?, I include some of the action steps that Fox encouraged every person to take as a result of having their eyes opened about the seriousness of the problems we face.  

Leah Schade is author of the book Creation-Crisis Preaching (Chalice Press, 2015), is an ordained Lutheran pastor who has served three congregations, and will begin her new position as the Assistant Professor of Preaching and Worship at Lexington Theological Seminary in Lexington, Kentucky, on August 1.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

2-Minute Ecopreacher: What Can A Person of Faith Do About Climate Change?


People of faith have much to contribute for understanding climate change, ecological issues, and why healing Earth is part of our vocation and calling.  Click the link below to learn more:

2-Minute Ecopreacher: Why Changing Light Bulbs May Be Hurting the Climate Movement


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Susquehanna Valley: #WeAreOrlando

"To become human is to become visible."  David Whyte, poet

The Rev. Dr. Leah Schade

On June 12, 2016, someone with evil in their heart decided that 49 people were not human and tried to make them invisible in the most violent and hateful way.  The gunman made the choice to end the lives of as many gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, and queer people as possible at a night club in Orlando, Florida, where all they wanted to do was dance and celebrate their lives.

The response to this evil act has run the gamut from blaming the victims for being who they are - who God made them to be; to blaming Muslims for being who they are - who they chose to be in worshiping God; to denying that gun violence and easy access to guns in this country was a main contributor to this mass shooting.

But across the country and in the Susquehanna Valley where I live and raise my family and pastor a church there has also been the response of gathering in public places for vigils and lighting candles and engaging in heartfelt conversation about what it will take to turn hatred into hope.

What I saw at Cameron Park in Sunbury, Pennsylvania, on June 14 reminded me of David Whyte's words:  "To become human is to become visible."  Over 100 people gathered . . .

And by being a visible presence, we became human.  We made a choice to defy the hatred and homophobia and Islamophobia and fear that threatens to make us less than human.

The young and the elders . . .

People of different races and cultures . . .

Representatives from different faiths who read the names of the 49 dead were there, as well as agnostics, humanists and atheists . . . .

We gathered to light candles for them.  For ourselves.

What was most encouraging to me were the people who were gay or lesbian or bisexual or trans or queer or supportive allies choosing to come to this gathering and openly declare who they are.
The shirt reads:  Trans is not a crime.

The shirt reads:  gay?  fine by me.
They were brave.  They were courageous.  And even if they felt fear, they entrusted themselves to us in a public space.

Jennifer and The Rev. Nathan Baker-Trinity and their children.
This is what we must teach our children.  That just as God made an infinite variety of plants and animals on this planet and declared all of it "good," God created humanity in an infinite variety of colors, sizes, shapes, and sexual orientations.  And God has declared them GOOD.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Sermon – Decreasing for God's Increasing

The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade
Text:  John 3:22-30
“He must increase, but I must decrease.”

[To watch the video of this sermon, click here:]

This is one of the most profound revelations offered in Scripture, but it’s not one we pay attention to very often.  It is spoken by John the Baptist after his disciples report to him that Jesus is now baptizing.  They’re indignant about this.  Who does he think he is, this young upstart, this guy from Nazareth who suddenly thinks he’s the Messiah?  There’s a petulant tone in the words of John’s disciples:  “Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified, here he is baptizing, and all are going to him.”  Like elementary school tattle-tales, they think that Jesus is moving in on John’s territory, stealing the limelight. 

So John has to remind them – remember, I told you this is the one about whom I was speaking.  I’m just the best man.  Jesus is the groom.  He’s the one you should pay attention to.  He must increase, but I must decrease.

Yikes – not something we Americans like to hear.  Waddya mean I must decrease?  What are you saying?  That in order for Jesus to grow, I have to somehow become diminished?  No way!  Not me!  I worked hard for what I am and what I’ve done and what I own.  Don’t tell me I need to decrease.  No sir.

That, my friends, is what we call the Ego. It’s that voice in our head that demands its own way, craves attention, to feel noticed and important.  You probably know some 2-year-olds like this, right?  And you probably know adults like this, too, don’t you?  There is always drama around them getting what they want.  At that the age of two everything is about me-me-me.  Of course, having a healthy sense of self-identity is a natural part of human development.  It’s what helps us survive as a species.  The problem is when that 2-year-old is never taught to mature out of the little-tyrant phase and become a compassionate, empathetic adult.  When the spoiled Veruca Salt is never disciplined in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, then the brat becomes a monster.  That attachment to ego is what leads to anger, jealousy, violence and even war when the ego overtakes entire tribes and nations.

More and more we are seeing this exaggerated Ego magnified through the voices of our politicians, in the rhetoric about certain forms of foreign policy, and in the advertisements that do everything they can to appeal to all the egos running around seeking to puff themselves up.

And if you were very honest with yourself, you could admit that sometimes the 2-year-old tyrant rises up in you in certain circumstances, right?  I know it rises up in me.  Just ask my husband. ;-)

But what John realized, is that the “I” that gives us the sense of self is actually an illusion.  In fact, nearly every major religious teacher – from Buddha to Jesus to Muhammed to Guru Nanak to the Dalai Lama – has reiterated this teaching – that your ego is not real.  It’s not you.  It’s a projection of your reptilian mind writ large upon your mind’s inner screen.  Your ego is not what is true.

What’s true is, well  . . Truth (with a capital T).  This Truth is the great I AM, the Divine, the God in whom both John and Jesus were baptizing.  This God, this Truth is trying to help you understand that you are, in fact, connected to something bigger than your own ego.  So if we can learn to discipline this  little tyrant, to have it decrease, then we make room in ourselves for God’s Truth to increase in us.  And that Truth is what leads to the growth of contentment, generosity, forgiveness, and the desire to care for God’s Creation.

The word for increase is very much rooted in God’s Creation, in the natural world. The word is auxano, where we get the word “augment.”  It means to grow larger, to increase in size and number, to flourish.  It’s a word that is used many times in the New Testament to describe growing – “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow,” (Matthew 6:28).  The mustard seed is described using this word, growing into a huge bush (Luke 13:19).  And the seed that falls on good soil in the parable grows to yield a hundred fold (Mark 4:8). 

And the word is also used to describe faith – how it grows among a whole group of people, like in the book of Acts where the number of followers of Christ increases – like seeds sprouting up in good soil (Act 6:7).  And auxano is also how faith grows inside of us, like a budding flower.  In fact, even Jesus was described using this word auxano when Luke talks about Jesus as a young boy and then a young man growing and increasing in spirit (Luke 1:80, 2:40). 

Paul tells us that the seed is planted and watered, but it is God who makes the seed of faith grow (1 Corinthians 3:6-7).  It’s a mystery how this works.   We can study science all we want; we can try to replicate the biological processes by which growth happens.  But the reality is that when life first arose on this planet, that moment is something that can never truly be repeated.  Because it was a moment of the Divine Truth.  Anything we do now as human beings with our sophisticated technology is mere child’s play compared with that original genesis of life, that calling of life into existence. And any tricks we can pull off with bioengineering and genetic engineering are only possible because of that original moment of Divine Truth and Love that called life into existence.

Today we are celebrating another life that has been called into existence.  We have another young seed in our midst. Wade is being brought to the font where he will be watered by the drops of baptism and raised in the midst of this good soil, this garden that is United in Christ.  

But it is God who will increase his faith.  Only God can do that.  And again, it’s a mystery how it works.  Just like with the science of biology, the growth of faith is also a mystery.  We can study theology and anthropology all we want.  I spend an entire semester with students reading about the theories of why and how human beings are religious.  But the reality is that when faith first arose among human beings, that is something that can never be duplicated by humans.  Because it was a moment of the Divine Truth.  And while seminaries teach pastors and lay leaders about how to create the processes by which spiritual growth happens – and I will be looking forward to being part of that educational process – the reality is that it is God who calls faith into existence. 

This is not to say that human beings have no part in the extent to which faith grows.  And this is where John’s words become so important.  “He must increase, but I must decrease.”  He’s talking about the process by which we work on whittling down our own egos, removing the rocks from the garden - selfish thoughts, words and deeds - so that the mind, words and actions of Christ can fill us. Buddhists call it the Buddha nature.  Hindus call it Atman, the in-dwelling of God.  Muslims call it submission – that’s what Islam means “to submit” to God.  I must decrease, so that God can increase within me.

And that’s one of the reasons why being involved in a faith community is so important.  I know, I know, you can experience God on the golf course and in your hunting blind.  I experience God out there too.  But there are some key things that the community of Christ does that you cannot get out there on your own.  And one of them is the confrontation with this Truth that can help you bring your Ego into check.  And to engage in those practices that help to discipline that two-year-old in order for him or her to relax and trust that things will be taken care of, if you just let go of your own selfishness.

Prayer is one of those practices.  Many people think prayer is like giving the big Santa Claus in the sky our wish list.  This is incorrect.  Prayer is a way to decrease our ego so that Christ can increase in us.  For example, the Living Lutheran magazine this month (June 2016) has an article entitled “Religion – good for our health and well-being,” by Megan Brandsrud that tells of a couple who had tried for seven years to get pregnant.  Through prayer and Christian counseling, they realized that something was getting in the way of their marriage – their own egos.  It took many years of work to decrease their own egos so that there could be room in their spiritual selves for a child.  “It surprised both of us that by asking God to take the lead in healing our marriage and rebuilding trust how quickly strides were made in both areas,” the wife said.  “Without prayer and faith in God being there and directing our steps, we would be a long way from where we are now.”  And where they are now is with, fittingly, a two-year old little boy, who they are now raising in the faith.  Just like Justin and Nicole are raising their little boy in the faith.

“He must increase, but I must decrease.”

As I am nearing the end of my time with you as your pastor, there are some things that I want you to remember during the transition to calling your new pastor.  One of those things is this:  no matter who is standing in this pulpit, don’t stay away from your pew.  

It will be very tempting to say to yourself: Well, I’ll wait to come back until the next pastor comes.  Or I don’t feel like going to church since there isn’t a pastor there.  When you hear that voice – that’s your Ego talking.  And that’s the time to recognize your ego for what it is and to discipline it the same as you would any two-year-old. 

Because while the pastor is important, that is not what church is about.  If it were, then the pastor’s ego is a problem!  Instead it is the practices of baptism and communion and learning and reading the Bible and praying and healing – these are the practices of faith, and these won’t change.  And your ego needs to be submitted to these practices so that it can decrease while God increases within you.  Now is not the time to stay away from church.  In fact, this is exactly the time when you need to make sure you are in church, doing the work of the Body of Christ to prepare yourself for your next pastor.  Just like that couple made the intentional decision to pray and go to weekly worship and Christian counseling – this is the time to make sure you engage in a regular discipline of attending worship, praying and asking God to direct your steps – individually and as a congregation. 

Besides, this child we are baptizing is counting on you.  You are making a commitment to him, just like his parents are making a commitment, to be here for him.  To make sure he has a church to go to, and a Bible to read and a class to attend to learn about Jesus.  Our youth are counting on you to make sure they’re little egos are decreasing so that God’s Truth is increasing in them.  Your spouse is counting on you.  Your co-worker is counting on you.  Your enemy is counting on you.  Your community is counting on you.  The world is counting on you to decrease so that Jesus Christ may increase.


For more reading on how to decrease your ego and work towards peace, see Eckhart Tolle’s book A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose. New York: Plume, Penguin Group. 2005.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

2-Minute EcoPreacher: Global warming or climate change?

The Rev. Dr. Leah Schade

This new feature of EcoPreacher will offer 2-minute digestible bits on understanding climate change, ecological issues, and why healing Earth is part of our vocation and calling as people of faith.

Global warming?  Climate change? Greenhouse effect?  Climate chaos?  Global weirding?
The shifting language used to describe the problem of greenhouse gases creating planetary warming can lead to frustration and confusion.  Some climate change deniers claim that there was a “name change” to create more hype about this supposed “hoax” (a claim that is patently false).  Others simply are not up to speed on what these different terms mean.  What are we supposed to call it after all?

Both of the terms in question are used frequently in the scientific literature, because they refer to two different physical phenomena.  As the name suggests, 'global warming' refers to the long-term trend of a rising average global temperature . . . 'Climate change', again as the name suggests, refers to the changes in the global climate which result from the increasing average global temperature.  For example, changes in precipitation patterns, increased prevalence of droughts, heat waves, and other extreme weather, etc.

While the jargon can be difficult to grasp and keep up with, the fact that our ways of talking about this problem are expanding is actually a good thing.  Because it indicates that the issue of our hurting planet just won’t let us go.  The alarming data and studies, along with more stories about how religion is addressing climate change as a moral and ethical issue, shows that we keep coming back to the need to connect science and faith.  

In July of 2015, President Obama welcomed twelve people of faith to be honored as White House "Champions of Change" for their efforts in protecting our environment and communities from the effects of climate change.
Taking a few minutes to read up on the terminology can help you be a better climate communicator to show people of faith that the better we know and understand the problem, the more quickly and effectively we can take steps to address it.  And what are those steps?  Stay tuned for the next installment of 2-Minute EcoPreacher.

·        * For a quick reference guide to climate change terms, try the BBC’s Climate Change glossary:
·        * For a more in-depth glossary list, the EPA has a helpful site:
·        * As does the Union of Concerned Scientists:

·        * And here is a great series about how to talk to a climate skeptic with responses to the most common skeptical arguments on global warming to  

Leah Schade is the author of Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology and the Pulpit (Chalice Press, 2015).  She is ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and has been an eco-activist, educator and speaker since 2000. She will begin her position as the Assistant Professor of Preaching and Worship at Lexington Theological Seminary on August 1, 2016.