Thursday, September 29, 2016


The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade

Today I heard the news that parts of Pennsylvania’s Act 13 which gave unprecedented power to the oil and gas industry for fracking have been ruled UNCONSTITUTIONAL! I wrote about our interfaith protests against Act 13 in my book Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology and the Pulpit (Chalice Press, 2015).  Here’s an excerpt:

Just below Shikellamy Point, at the site of Shikellamy Marina on the southern tip of Packer Island, on February 17, 2012, a group of members from the Interfaith Sacred Earth Coalition (a group that I helped to found in January of 2012) held a press conference to protest the passage of Act 13 in the Pennsylvania legislature, the so-called “fracking bill,” which critics decried for its numerous inequities and failures to protect environmental and public health while ensuring the profitability of the oil and gas industry. According to Jan Jarrett of PennFuture, there are “seven deadly sins” in the legislation: the removal of the rights of municipalities to use their zoning powers to dictate if and where drilling may occur; failure to adequately protect groundwater; limitation of the power of the Department of Environmental Protection from adequately regulating the drilling industry; failure to provide for adequate set-backs of wells from residential areas, schools, or hospitals; failure to protect small, ecologically sensitive intermittent streams or small wetlands; limitation of DEP’s ability to put conditions on gas drilling operations that may harm a public resource such as a park or state forestland; and failure to establish a public record for tracking where gas drillers are disposing of the waste flowback water from the wells. There is also controversy surrounding the law’s provision that health care providers treating people exposed to drilling-related chemicals must sign confidentiality waivers to protect companies’ “proprietary rights.”[1]

Interfaith protest of PA’s Act 13 (the “fracking bill”) followed by water blessing at Shikellamy State Park Marina, convergence of the North and West Branches of the Susquehanna, 2012
According to StateImpact reporter Scott Detrow, “[T]he legislation requires drillers to provide the state with a list of chemicals used during hydraulic fracturing, with the exception of chemicals the energy companies deem ‘trade secrets.’”[2] The concern is that this puts a “gag order” on doctors that will negatively affect public health and leave doctors unprotected should they choose to reveal the chemicals to their patients or in research publications. With all this in mind, members of the Interfaith Sacred Earth Coalition gave several speeches by the riverside (including one given by me, which can be read in the free Appendix download available at calling for the bill’s repeal on religious and ethical grounds. The group then held an interfaith water blessing ritual to recognize the sanctity of the river’s water. After pouring water from the river into a large bowl and saying a blessing over it, the water was ceremoniously returned to the river. The event was featured on the front page of two local newspapers in what may be seen as an example of public theology, wherein faith, religion, and the social movement of environmentalism converged. This is just one example of the ways in which religion and the environmental movement inform, shape, and influence each other, like different tributaries converging into one larger confluence.

Now we have learned that provisions in the natural gas and oil drilling law known as Act 13 were ruled unconstitutional Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2016 by Pennsylvania Supreme Court. This verifies what I and other fractivists have been arguing for years!  According to The Washington County News Observer-Reporter:  “The case, Robinson Township et al v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, was challenged primarily in four areas – a medical gag against physicians; a provision that only public water customers would be notified of spills or leaks at gas drilling sites, not those who use private water sources; Public Utility Commission’s ability to withhold impact fee money if local ordinances didn’t comply with state law; and eminent domain privileges for natural gas companies using private land for storage of natural gas. All were struck down as violating either state or U.S. constitutions."  Read the rest of the article here.

Four years is far too long for this ruling to have come about.  And the oil and gas industry will certainly fight back with appeals.  But the lines of justice have been firmly drawn

ISEC Members 2012

[1] Jan Jarrett, “Seven Deadly Sins of Hb 1950, Http://,” in A Bear in the Woods: Environmental Law Blog (Pennfuture, 2012). The state Commonwealth Court struck down the zoning regulation portion of Act 13 as unconstitutional on July 26, 2012.
[2] Scott Detrow, “What You Need to Know About Act 13’s Confidentiality Requirements, Http://Stateimpact.Npr.Org/Pennsylvania/2012/04/19/What-You-Need-to-Know-About-Act-13s-Confidentiality-Requirements/,” StateImpact: A reporting project of local public media and NPR (April 19, 2012).&quot; <style face=”italic”>StateImpact: A reporting project of local public media and NPR</style> (April 19, 2012)

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Salvaging the Squandered

The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade

How a strange parable from Jesus can give us the wisdom we need to address the environmental/climate crisis - and any other crisis of our own making.

Text:  Luke 16:1-13

On the surface, this parable looks like one we ought to hide in a box called “Things I Wish Jesus Hadn’t Said.”  But as we’ll see, this confounding passage from Luke has a very important lesson for us as caretakers of God’s Creation, and as stewards of other responsibilities entrusted to us as well.

It’s the story of a rich man’s household manager who squandered his boss’ property, much like the prodigal son wasted the inheritance from his father in the previous parable (Luke 15:11-32).  The manager is brought before his boss to answer for the way he misused and neglected what had been entrusted to him.  And to be told to pack up the trinkets on his desk because security is ready to escort him from the building.  In a moment of devastating clarity, the manager realizes what a mess he’s made for himself, his boss, and for his future. 

But when he goes back to his desk he quickly makes some calls to every one of the clients who owe his boss money.  He makes some fast deals for them to pay fifty or eighty cents on the dollar, and to pay it now, in cash, and he’ll mark the debt as paid.  What would have taken years of trickling repayment took minutes instead, and resulted in a huge chunk of funds on the spot.  The full amount he lost in the long run was compensated by the immediate inflow of cash.  The clients are happy, the boss is happy, and (presumably) the manager gets to keep his job.  Everybody wins! 

Then Jesus follows up the story with these words:  “Make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes,” (Luke 16:90).  Huh? A dishonest man who cheats his employer and is then commended for having acted “shrewdly” (NRSV) becomes an object lesson for the Kingdom of God?  What’s going on here?  Is Jesus actually advising us to scam and cheat and swindle our way into salvation?

Hardly.  Part of the problem with this text is the way the Greek has been rendered in some translations.  The word “shrewdly” in verse 8 is phronimos, which translates to “wise” and “prudent.”  Phronesis was one of the virtues extolled by the Greek philosopher Aristotle who said that prudence is the virtue of practical thought that involves the application of wisdom, intellect, forethought, investigation, deliberation, calculation, and judgment. According to Aristotle, “all the virtues will be present when the one virtue, prudence, is present,” (Robert C. Bartlett and Susan D. Collins, Artistotle's Nicomachean Ethics; Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2011; 134). 

So what we are seeing here is a man who had squandered what had been entrusted to him, but in a moment of crisis redeems himself by following the most prudent course of action.  Does it make up for the sins of his past?  No.  But he has at least salvaged what was left and made the best of a bad situation.  This crisis was a teachable moment.  The manager had a decision to make.  He could have broken down, he could have given up, he could have panicked. Instead he did some fast thinking, came up with a plan, reached out to others, and showed what kind of person he could be when it came down to the wire.  Now his boss can say: See what happened here?  See what you’re capable of?  This is the kind of person I want you to be.  I now know you can be better than you have shown yourself to be thus far.  Keep doing this – being resourceful, networking with others, taking care of the resources with which I have entrusted you.

Humanity has been like the manager in this parable by the ways we have squandered the household of Earth and Earth's resources.  Everything from forests disappearing, to species of plants and animals going extinct at alarming rates, to island-size mounds of trash floating in our oceans, to a climate that is being devastated by the use of carbon-based fuels are all clear evidence that we have misused and neglected what had been entrusted to us by God. 

And now we’re being held accountable for what we hath wrought.  Massive hurricanes and typhoons, rising sea levels decimating costal habitations, earthquakes and contaminated water from fracking, simultaneous floods and droughts, bleaching coral reefs, and countless instances of environmental devastation are just a few of the myriad consequences both of our actions, and our refusal to act to head off these disasters. For millions of people across the globe this is the moment of devastating clarity realizing what a mess we’ve made for ourselves, for God, and for this planet’s future.

But here’s the thing – there is still an opportunity to salvage something.  Individuals, communities and organizations are working feverishly to raise awareness about what’s happening and to do everything possible to preserve what’s left, to stem the flow of garbage and fossil fuel emissions and self-serving greed that has impoverished so many.  And these people and groups are networking with each other, combining their know-how and resources and creativity in ways that show us what humanity is capable of when we answer to the angels of our better nature (as Abraham Lincoln put it).  When faced with this crisis, we are seeing phronesis – prudence and wisdom – guiding our long-term planning, as well as our short-term decisions and actions.

Does what we’re doing make up for the sins we have committed against God’s Creation?  No.  As Josh Fox's film How to Let Go, starkly shows - we can't ever get back what we squandered.  Earth has changed forever and we are now living on a different planet than we did before the Industrial Revolution, even before the last decade.  

But there are ways to creatively salvage what's left.  As Bill McKibben so rightly asserts, we need to mobilize ourselves for this crisis, indeed for this war, just as the previous Greatest Generation did with World War II.  “We’ve waited so long to fight back in this war that total victory is impossible, and total defeat can’t be ruled out,” he observes.  So now is the time to marshal all our powers of wisdom, intellect, forethought, investigation, deliberation, calculation and judgment.  Now is the time to take action, to connect, to make the sacrifices in order to salvage what is left. (Two sites I recommend are:; and

Susan Bond reminds us:

Salvage work is messy, risky, and subject to failure.  Salvage work necessitates coming into contact with what is corrupt, touching the unclean, risking contamination. . . To say that Christians are involved in salvaging is to understand our own character as a being-salvaged community committed to the salvage of the world.  We are not somehow above the debris, but are part of the material being salvaged.  We join God in the ongoing salvage of the world.  To salvage involves getting dirty, taking risks, courting failure and social rejection. (Susan Bond, Trouble with Jesus, St. Louis, MI: Chalice Press, 1999; 142.)

Which means that salvaging efforts can work in other areas, too.  In your marriage, in your relationship with your sister, in your church, in your relationship with God . . . if you’ve messed up, if you’ve squandered and neglected and wasted what was entrusted to you – there is still an opportunity to take what remains and make the best of it.  The phronesis – the wisdom and prudence of God – is already at the desk making those calls.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Lost Sheep, Lost Coins, Found Faith

The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade

The parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin in Luke 15:1-10 are well loved because of the message of hope implicit in each story.  The picture of Jesus with the lamb on his shoulders, rescued from the jaws of death, is a favorite in religious artwork. 
And how beautiful for Jesus to lift up a common woman doing common housework in the context of a strongly patriarchal culture as an illustration of God’s kingdom.
The Lost Drachma by James Tissot Overall-Brooklyn-Museum.
The text begins with Jesus asking a question:  “Which of you . . .?”  Who would actually leave behind the ninety-nine sheep to look for just one?  Who would expend so much effort for one coin?  It’s likely that not many would have raised their hands in Jesus’ original audience.  They’re just not valuable, so the effort doesn’t seem worth it, some would say (including the Pharisees in the crowd around Jesus).
But there are those who are indeed compelled to look for the lost.  And there are others who are extremely grateful for those who do that kind of seeking.  Just ask those pulled from the rubble in earthquakes, or on Sept. 11, 2001, in New York City and Washington, DC.  Just ask the miners who were rescued in aChilean mine in 2010. 

Or ask someone who knows what it’s like to be lost – losing one’s way in life, straying from the path and vulnerable to all manner of threats, or inadvertently left behind.  It is a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach realizing that you are in a state of lost-ness – both for the lost one, and for those who are desperately seeking the one who has disappeared. 

So the relief and joy that comes from being found, or finding the one who was lost, is cause for celebration.  Books, movies and television shows are replete with this story line of the one who was lost finally being found.  It is the famous line in the hymn “Amazing Grace” – I once was lost, but now am found.  It is this kind of joy that we hope for when we take the time and effort to seek out the one who has slipped off the radar, the one who has gone astray, the one who has vanished from a relationship, or a family, or a congregation.  The stories of their homecoming celebrated by loved ones injects us with renewed energy and hope.

But what about those for whom we have been seeking for a very long time, and still there is no trace?  What about those on Sept. 11 whose lives were indeed lost and whose remains have never been recovered?  What about the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing from violence who become lost along the way and are never found?  What about the relationships that we have tried to recover, but for whatever reason, seem to be gone forever?

I once ministered to the family of a man who had disappeared without a trace.  He simply kissed his grandchildren good-bye one afternoon, texted his wife not to look for him and that his leaving was not her fault, and was never heard from again.  His picture was shared across the Internet and across counters at stores near where his cell phone was last pinged.  The family searched everywhere they could think of to find him.  The police and local media did all they could to find a clue about his whereabouts.  Not even his vehicle could be found.  They did not know if he had taken his own life, or had gone into hiding, or had been kidnapped.  All they knew was that he was lost and could not be found.

After many weeks we decided to gather the family together.  We could not have a funeral.  But we gathered around a bonfire in the backyard for an evening vigil and prayer service.  We sang hymns and read Scripture – including this story of the lost sheep.  Then friends, neighbors, church folk and family members took turns sharing their thoughts, their anger, their confusion, and their pain – all in a circle of prayer around the fire, lighting candles in the gathering darkness.  Then we commended him to God and consecrated the ground – wherever he was – asking God to bless that place.  While he may be lost to us, he is not lost to God. 

God is the woman sweeping the house, shining her lamp in the darkest, most out-of-the-way places.  And one way or another, we will be found.  Because we are more precious than even a silver coin.  We are more cherished than even the lost lamb. 

This does not mean that those of us left with nothing but grief and anger and loss do not still feel the anguish of not knowing what happened, what went wrong, forever wondering where the person is.  But God will not stop looking for us either, in the midst of our despair.  The pain does not go away.  But neither does God.  The lost will be found. Amen.