Tuesday, January 31, 2017

WINNER of 2016 ECOPREACHER CONTEST

Congratulations to Margaret Bullitt-Jonas whose sermon “Sacred Earth, Sacred Trust” is the winner of the 2016 EcoPreacher Contest!  Margaret will receive a signed copy of Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology and the Pulpit (Chalice Press, 2015) and I’m featuring her sermon below.

Margaret serves as Missioner for Creation Care in both the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ. She preached this sermon on June 12, 2016, at a special service that brought together First Congregational Church and St. John’s Episcopal Church in Ashfield, Massachusetts. June 12 was a day when people of many faiths around the world celebrated a day of prayer and action for Earth, our common home. It was also a day that marked the six-month anniversary of the Paris Climate Agreement, and the first anniversary of the publication of Pope Francis’ landmark encyclical, Laudato Si.  This sermon was part of the chorus of voices announcing that the Earth is holy and that it deserves our protection and care.  You can learn more about Margaret’s work on her website:  http://revivingcreation.org/. Notice how Margaret uses all three aspects of the three-fold approach I recommend in my book Creation-Crisis Preaching:flowering” (consciousness-raising), “leafing” (calling for specific action) and “fruiting” (transforming lifestyles and culture for long-term, sustainable change) in this sermon.
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Sacred Earth, Sacred Trust

The Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, Ph.D.

“Naboth said to Ahab, ‘The LORD forbid that I should give you my ancestral inheritance.’” (1 Kings 21:3)

           
Whenever you and I re-awaken to God’s presence in our hills and woods, in the grasses and dirt beneath our feet and in the stars overhead, we discover again that we are connected not only to other human beings but also to everything else. We are part of the web of life: connected by our breath, blood, flesh, and bone to the whole creation.  As our Protestant forebear, Martin Luther, pointed out: “God writes the Gospel, not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and the flowers and the clouds and stars.” God’s love and presence are everywhere – not just in church, not just inside a sanctuary built by human hands, but also outside, in the sea and sky, in the humble tomato plant valiantly trying to grow in my shady garden.  The crucified, risen and ascended Christ fills all things, sustains all things, and redeems all things.  Whenever you and I come to our senses and realize that God is giving God’s self to us in every part of creation – in this breeze and bird and leaf, in this breath, in this heartbeat – then reverence springs up in us, and a deep desire to give thanks.  We realize again that the Earth is sacred, and in the strength of that heartfelt wisdom we can fight the great battle of our time, which is to protect the integrity of God’s creation, to preserve a habitable planet, and to build a more just and sustainable society.
           A record 175 countries have already signed the Paris Climate Agreement, which is an historic first step toward limiting the ravages of climate change.  But the Paris Agreement is only a start.  It doesn’t go nearly far enough.  Its provisions won’t cap the rise of the world’s average temperature at 1.5˚ Celsius above pre-industrial times, which is the uppermost limit for ensuring a stable climate and livable planet.  Unless we get to work in every community and every sector of society to reduce our carbon emissions, unless we push political and corporate powers to keep fossil fuels in the ground and make a swift transition to clean, renewable energy, then the average global temperature is going to shoot far past that critical threshold of 1.5˚ Celsius.  Around the world, scientists and activists, vulnerable communities and communities of faith are fighting to avert runaway climate change.  Their cry and our cry is “1.5 to stay alive.”
            I usually take the Gospel as my sermon text, but this week I must turn to the Old Testament passage, that hair-raising story from First Kings about a powerless citizen being framed and murdered by an unjust king and queen so that they can seize his land.  Naboth has a vineyard beside the royal palace.  When King Ahab makes what sounds on the face of it like a reasonable offer to buy the vineyard, Naboth turns him down: “The LORD forbid that I should give you my ancestral inheritance” (1 Kings 21:3).  Calling the land “my ancestral inheritance” suggests that the land has been in his family for a long time and also that he holds the land in trust.  To Naboth the land is not just a commodity, not just real estate, not just a source of profit and gain: it is a gift from God; it is sacred; it is entrusted to his care.  

            King Ahab is frustrated.  He goes home “resentful and sullen” (1 Kings 12:4), lies down on his bed like a pouting child, and refuses to eat.  Enter, then, the strong negative character of the story, Queen Jezebel, who basically asks, “Hey, don’t you have power to do whatever you want?”  She tells him to quit moping; she will take care of this.  Using Ahab’s credentials, she arranges for “two scoundrels” (1 Kings 12:10) to make false charges against Naboth in front of the city council and to have him stoned him to death.  And so the deed is done: through backroom dealings that include perjury, conspiracy, and theft, Naboth is framed and murdered, and the king claims the vineyard as his own.
            This is an almost archetypal story about dirty politics, about violence and the misuse of power.  It resonates down through the centuries and up to the present moment.  A few days ago, when I was visiting Union Theological Seminary in New York City to speak to an ecumenical group of clergy who had gathered from all over the country for an intensive, weeklong training on climate change, I learned that activists fighting to stop construction of a trash-burning incinerator in a low-income neighborhood of Baltimore are using the story of Naboth’s vineyard to illuminate their own experience of social and environmental injustice.
            The mindset that allows Ahab and Jezebel to kill Naboth so that they can grab his land is the same mindset that allows governments and businesses to push aside low-income people and indigenous peoples and people of color to exploit, pollute, and take possession of their land, the same mindset that allows a nation to go to war against another nation so that it can seize control of another country’s natural resources, the same mindset that allows the fossil fuel industry to keep expanding its search for more oil and gas, despite the enormous human cost – especially to the poor – of burning fossil fuels.  Injustice against human beings is intimately linked to desecration of the Earth. 

            Because of that mindset, Naboth is killed, and for a while it seems that Ahab has triumphed.  But then, the story tells us, God intervenes. In the prophet Elijah’s heart a holy resistance rises up.  A sacred protest fills him, a Spirit-filled energy to stand up against unjust power, a compelling need to protect the rights of the poor and to defend the sacredness of the land.  “The word of the LORD came to Elijah” (1 Kings 21:17), says the text. We don’t know how that word came to him, whether it came through a dream, a vision, or simply through the painful and gut-wrenching awareness that what Ahab had done was wrong.  What we do know is that the word of God came to Elijah, and that he received courage to stand up to the king, to stop the injustice, and to change the course of history.        
            The same Holy Spirit that spoke through Elijah and through the life and words and deeds of Jesus Christ is speaking through countless people the world over today.
            “1.5 to stay alive” – that is the cry of every God-inspired prophet who stands like Elijah beside the vulnerable Naboths of this world
            We say “1.5 to stay alive” to stand with the low-income community of Baltimore that is fighting for the right to clean air. 
            We say “1.5 to stay alive” to stand with Pacific Islanders forced to leave their homeland because rising waves are washing away their buildings and contaminating their water supply. 
            We say “1.5 to stay alive” to stand with indigenous peoples in the Arctic whose cultures are disintegrating as the ice melts. 
            We say “1.5 to stay alive” to stand with frightened pregnant women in the global South and the Southern U.S. who know that the Zika virus, which spreads in a warm, humid climate, could irreparably harm their unborn child. 
            We say “1.5 to stay alive” to stand with every person and every community that wants to live in a just and peaceful world with recognizable seasons and moderate, predictable rains, in a world with enough clean, fresh water for all and an ocean teeming with life. 
            And we say “1.5 to stay alive” to stand against the political and corporate powers that view the Earth as nothing more than a source of profit and who exploit the Earth and other people as if it’s every man for himself and the Devil take the hindmost.

            Thanks to one of our members, Bob Parati, we have a sign that proclaims, “1.5 to stay alive.”  After the service, I invite anyone who wishes, to join me outside so that we can take a group photo.
            I invite you to do some other things, too.  If you haven’t done so already, I invite you to join Climate Action Now, our vibrant, local grassroots climate action network.  I’ve put a sign-up sheet in the back of the church, so you can receive Climate Action Now’s terrific weekly newsletter.  I will also gladly share your name with a new interfaith climate group I’m helping to lead, Massachusetts Interfaith Coalition for Climate Action.  
            Thanks to some of the people in this room, and to people like you, Kinder Morgan’s NED pipeline was stopped.  Now the fight is on to stop another dangerous and unnecessary fracked gas pipeline, Spectra Energy’s West Roxbury Lateral pipeline.  Two weeks ago I was arrested in Boston along with fifteen other religious leaders after we sat down on the edge of the trench that runs down the middle of the street where the pipeline is being constructed.  Sitting at the edge of that trench was like sitting at the edge of an open grave, proclaiming the power of love and life as our legs dangled in the pit.  We clergy came from a variety of denominations and traditions – American Baptist, Buddhist, Episcopal, Hindu, Jewish, Presbyterian, United Church of Christ, and Unitarian Universalist.  We represented a range of religions, yet all of us were drawing from a holy power greater than our selves.  All of us were rooted in a reality that transcends the unjust structures of this world.  And all of us were fired by the vision of a better world, by faith in the human spirit, and by faith that God would guide us to courageous and visionary action. We prayed and preached and sang until the cops handcuffed us and took us away. 
The Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas engaging in civil disobedience with interfaith colleagues to protest a fracked gas pipeline construction project in Boston. (Photo credit:  Robert A. Jonas)

            More resistance is ahead.  I invite you to consider joining a group from western Massachusetts that will protest the West Roxbury pipeline on June 28, and I invite you to consider joining a march against new gas pipelines that Better Future Project will lead in mid-July. I’d be glad to speak with you about those events, after the service.
             Near and far a wave of religious protest and activism is rising up around the world as we respond to the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor.   The first followers of Jesus tapped into a source of love and power that gave them strength to challenge injustice.  And we tap into that holy power, too.  Here at this table, we followers of Jesus will share in the bread and wine of the Eucharist, knowing that God will give us strength for the journey and will nourish our hungry souls.  The Church was made for a time like this – a time when God calls all people to recognize that we form one human family and that the Earth is sacred and entrusted to our care. Just as Naboth said to Ahab, so we, too, say to the powers-that-be, “The LORD forbid that I should give you my ancestral inheritance” (1 Kings 21:3).  With the Spirit of Jesus to guide us, we head into the world to proclaim the good news of the reign of God.  
The Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas with protesters at the Spectra Pipeline in Boston. (Photo credit:  Robert A. Jonas)



Monday, January 30, 2017

TEN BOOKS FOR PREACHERS IN THE AGE OF TRUMP: YEAR ONE

An Annotated List
The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade
Assistant Professor of Preaching and Worship
Lexington Theological Seminary
Lexington, Ky

You’re a preacher and you know you need to address the assault against humanity and our planet that is being perpetrated by the Trump administration.  But some things are holding you back.  Maybe you don’t feel informed enough about certain issues.  Maybe you don’t feel you received enough training in seminary for how to preach a prophetic sermon.  Maybe you’re afraid of the push-back from members of your congregation if you tackle topics that seem too “political.”  Or maybe you just need a shot of homiletical chutzpah.

If you’re reading this, consider yourself part of the new Prophetic Preacher of the Month Club. Below are my recommendations for the coming year.  This is an arbitrary list, I know.  And there are many more that could (and should) be included.  But this is a start.  If you read just one book a month, you will increase your effectiveness as a preacher and be doing a great service for those in your congregation who are looking for a sermon that addresses the issues that matter to them, to our communities, to our Earth, and to “the least of these.”  

FEBRUARY
Preaching Justice: Ethnic and Cultural Perspectives; Edited by Christine Smith (Wipf and Stock, 1998)
Black History Month is an ideal time to familiarize yourself with the standpoints of “the other.”  Whether you are a white preacher looking for an essay from an African American woman’s perspective (provided by Teresa Fry Brown), or an African American preacher wondering how Korean Americans fare in this country (explained by Eunjoo Mary Kim), or a Latina/o preacher wanting to help your congregation understand the Jewish perspective on justice (shared by Stacy Offner), these and five other essays will expand your preaching horizons.


MARCH
Preaching Fools: The Gospel as a Rhetoric of Folly; Charles L. Campbell and Johann H. Cilliers (Baylor University Press, 2012)
You’ll be reading this book in preparation for Sunday, April 2, the day after April Fool’s.  There will be many times when you feel like an utter fool in the pulpit against the powers of evil-on-steroids that have strengthened with this president. Campbell and Cilliers’ book will not only help you rethink and reframe the homiletical task, it will equip you with stories, images and metaphors for helping your congregation celebrate their role as “fools for Christ,” proclaiming the message of the cross that tells the truth and calls the gospel-reality into existence.

APRIL
Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology and the Pulpit; Leah D. Schade (Chalice Press, 2015)
Shameless self-plug here, I know.  But Trump has appointed some of the most heinous climate-denying, anti-environmental, anti-public-health people ever for the positions of leadership in the White House. So preachers need to keep Creation-care front and center for their congregations.  Especially as the world celebrates Earth Day, we need sermons that will prophetically and creatively engage this reality in the face of the climate-change denial exhibited by the incoming administration.  This book will provide theological and scriptural background for greening your preaching, as well as practical tips for becoming an “ecopreacher.”


MAY
Telling the Truth:  PreachingAbout Sexual and Domestic Violence; Edited by John S. McClure and Nancy J. Ramsay (United Church Press, 1998)
With Mother’s Day this month, the focus is on women.  The onslaught against women’s access to reproductive health and their right to choose how to make decisions about the most intimate parts of their bodies is exacerbated by a misogynist president who bragged about sexual assault.  Nearly every congregation in this country has victims, survivors, or perpetrators of sexual and domestic violence in its pews.  This is the book I recommend for preacher who need sage guidance about how to address these issues as a pastor and a preacher.  The collection of 15 essays covers theological and biblical perspectives, provides resources for telling the truth about sexual and domestic violence, gives practical how-to’s for preaching, and includes model sermons.

JUNE/JULY
Resisting Structural Evil: Love as Ecological-EconomicVocation; Cynthia D. Moe-Lobeda (Augsburg Fortress, 2013)
The summer is an ideal time to tackle a sermon series on the ways in which systemic evil attacks “the least of these.”  While Moe-Lobeda’s book is not aimed at preachers per se, her approach to the complexity of interrelated structures of evil is very helpful for sermons because she provides case studies that give us glimpses into the lives of real people affected by the decisions we make every day.  The first half of the book will give you incredible insights into the economic and ideological patterns that gave rise to Trumpism in the first place, while the second half of the book provides concrete approaches to galvanizing yourself and your community for resistance.

AUGUST
Under the Oak Tree: The Church as a Community of Conversation in a Conflicted and Pluralistic World; Edited by Ronald J. Allen, John S. McClure and O. Wesley Allen Jr. (Cascade Books, 2013)
You’ll be reading this book in preparation for leading a series of conversations in your congregation about some of the “wicked” (i.e. complex) problems our country is facing.  The task of preaching about difficult social justice issues is helped when we have cultivated a culture of dialogue in our congregations.  Under the Oak Tree contains eleven essays to help you think through the concept of conversational practical theology and how to view the tasks of ministry (including preaching, worship, evangelism and interfaith relations) through this lens of conversation. 

SEPTEMBER
Prophetic Preaching: A PastoralApproach; Leonora Tubbs Tisdale (Westminster John Knox Press, 2010)
With the “community of conversation” as your frame of reference, you’ll read Tisdale’s book to give you that infusion of courage for addressing social issues in the pulpit in tandem with the dialogue series you’ll be leading this month.  The author suggests a myriad of reasons why pastors resist preaching about justice issues and offers practical suggestions for ways to be both pastoral and prophetic in their preaching.  This book offers specific strategies to break through resistance as well as a variety of forms to help spark your prophetic imagination.


OCTOBER
Preaching as Weeping, Confession and Resistance: Radical Responses to Radical Evil; Christine M. Smith (Westminster/John Knox, 1992)
The month of October brings out the ghosts and goblins as our culture celebrates Halloween.  Consider a sermon series entitled “Something Wicked This Way Comes” and address the true demons loosed on our society.  Christine Smith’s book gives you the theological and biblical tools to address handicappism, ageism, sexism, heterosexism, white racism and classism.  The last chapter provides some model sermons to prime your preaching pump.



NOVEMBER
Preaching Politics: Proclaiming Jesus in an Age of Money, Power, and Partisanship; Clay Stauffer (Chalice Press, 2015).
November is usually the month when churches launch their stewardship campaigns.  This year as we contend with a president who wouldn’t even be forthcoming about his tax returns or divest himself from his companies, help your congregation understand why Jesus’ teachings speak a necessary ethical corrective.  Stauffer provides a guide for understanding the need and biblical justification for preaching about the politically contentious issues of money, greed, and power within a capitalist society.   With sound exegesis of key teachings of Jesus on money and faith, as well as robust theological engagement with Stanley Hauerwas and Adam Hamilton, this book is useful for both preaching and leading Bible studies.  Stauffer encourages, equips and emboldens preachers to tackle these issues from the study and the pulpit with renewed confidence.

DECEMBER
Living Beyond the “End of the World”: A Spirituality of Hope; Margaret Swedish (Orbis Books, 2008)
If you follow the Revised Common Lectionary, the Advent readings contain the apocalyptic texts of Jesus.  The Bible does not shy away from naming the upheaval in our world, and neither does Swedish.  Yet she challenges us to articulate what kind of human beings we will be as we approach this difficult period in human history, and how we will live into that.  With solid biblical exegesis (especially her treatment of the “loaves and fishes”) your preaching will benefit from the way she clearly presents the values, vision, and spiritual resources that can nurture a new human community even when the evidence points to the world falling apart. 

AND COMING SOON: PREACHING IN THE ERA OF TRUMP  by O. WESLEY ALLEN. Watch for a release date from Chalice Press soon!

Leah is currently working on her next project, Preaching in the Purple Zone: Homiletics in the Red/Blue Divide, that will look at ways in which preachers can effectively address controversial justice issues in the pulpit.  Click here to learn more. 


Saturday, January 21, 2017

GASLIGHTING IN THE AGE OF TRUMP: TIPS FOR SURVIVAL

The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade; lschade@lextheo.edu


Only one day has passed since Donald Trump has taken office, and already we are seeing outright lies being asserted as truth by him and by his press secretary.  When the world could see in real-time the size of the crowd gathered for the inauguration and compare that to pictures of crowd for Obama’s inauguration, we can obviously see the difference.  Yet they dispute the facts right in front of our eyes.  What is going on here?

In a word:  gaslighting.


Gaslighting is the attempt of one person to overwrite another person’s reality.  It is a tactic used for gaining power and control.  The term gets its name from a 1938 play and 1944 film Gaslight starring Ingrid Bergman in which her husband would secretly dim the gaslight, but when she commented on it, he insisted she must be crazy.  And he convinced others she was insane as well.  Thus gaslighting is a form of manipulation through persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying in an attempt to destabilize and delegitimize a person or group of people. The point of gaslighting (sometimes called “mind games”) is to sow seeds of doubt, with the purpose of making the person or group question their own memory, perception, and sanity.  Gaslighting is a favorite tactic used by people who exhibit narcissism. The underlying message of a gaslighter is always this:  What you know to be true is not true.
Our country has been subjected to gaslighting by Trump, fake news, internet trolls, and Trump’s White House team that is hell-bent on imposing its xenophobic, white supremacist, homophobic, misogynistic, climate-change-denying, planet-destroying authoritarian agenda on our country and the world.  Name-calling and stereotyping certain groups is another form of gaslighting, because it attempts to assign a demoralizing identity to a person or group, thus countering the reality that they are precious human beings whose lives matter.  The effects that this bullying and abuse will have on the collective psyche of our nation remain to be seen, but are certain to be felt for perhaps decades, even after this presidency ends. 

[For an excellent perspective on how this gaslighting in the form of non-sequitor is affecting both social discourse and teaching in higher ed, read this article by Nancy Lynne Westfield, Associate Professor of Religious Education, Drew Theological School & Graduate Division of Religion: http://wabashcenter.typepad.com/teaching_religion_politic/2017/02/up-tick-of-non-sequitur-speech.html.]
People of faith and goodwill need to understand what is happening and how to counter the effects of gaslighting.  Faith leaders especially are obligated to name it, shame it, and speak truth, as well as educate and pastorally support their congregants who are being subjected to this kind of psychological trauma (even if people don’t recognize it as such, or are unwittingly assenting to it).
5 Things to Know about Gaslighting:

1.      Gaslighting requires a belief that it is acceptable to overwrite another person’s reality.  Notice the way in which Trump has actually used the term “fake news” to accuse legitimate journalists and news outlets of being illegitimate.  He is attempting to turn reality upside down.  This encourages people to doubt that the institution of the media is necessary for a democracy to function.  Resist all attempts to demonically alter reality.

2.      Gaslighting has the goal of actually changing who someone is, not just their behavior.  Note how the very character of our nation seems to have become distorted by the events of the campaign, the election and its aftermath.  Be especially vigilant about practicing kindness, compassion, empathy, and active solidarity in order to counter the cruelty being normalized.

3.      Gaslighting doesn’t always involve anger or intimidation.  Often the gaslighter transforms themselves into the victim. Witness Trump’s tweets or verbal responses to criticism, the Russian hacks, anything that he believes is trying to diminish him.  This is also typical narcissistic behavior in an attempt to exercise control.  Don’t fall for it.

4.      Gaslighters accuse the victim of being the bully.  Abusers will often manipulate the story, the memory, the environment and witnesses to make it appear that they were the one who was abused by the actual victim.  The victim wracks their brain trying to remember how and when this happened – and it didn’t.  But they’re already mistrusting their memory, so they experience self-doubt.  All the while the gaslighter deflects the reality, and often does so publicly.  Witness the way Trump would call Hillary a “nasty woman,” making it seem as if she was abusing him, when, in fact, just the opposite was happening.  Also notice the way he calls the media and any public figure who attacks him abusive (“and they don’t even know me!”).  This is classic gaslighting from a narcissist that should not be fed or assented to in any way.

5.      Gaslighting engages the victim in a hamster-wheel of illogical arguing and sucks up vast amounts of emotional energy.  You argue for hours, without resolution. You argue over things that shouldn’t be up for debate. There is no resolution and you feel drained afterward with no energy left for re-constructing a healthy self.  This is a tactic for effectively shutting down resistance and allowing the gaslighter to have his or her own way.  It’s used on journalists constantly (witness Kellyanne Conway in nearly every press interview) and exhausts anyone who tries to make sense of what’s happening.


6 Ways to Respond to Gaslighting (and help others)

1.      Educate yourself with information from reliable sources.  See these documents: “Resources for Debunking Fake News,” “10 Investigative Reporting Outlets to Follow,” and this chart showing what news sources are fake or legit, politically skewed or nonpartisan.  You can share these with people in your congregation, members of your family, friends, and anyone who buys into the gaslighting rhetoric and uncritically regurgitates it.

2.      Name it, don’t normalize it.  When you see gaslighting happening, name it and shame it.  Call it what it is.  In Ten Commandments parlance, this is calling “bearing false witness” – lying – and it is opposed to God’s will.  So tell the truth.  And do not accept this behavior as normal.  It’s not.  It’s evil and it needs to be resisted.


3.      Check in with people you trust.  Who are the five people you can count on to help you figure out what’s real?  Who are the people who value you, affirm you, boost you up and infuse you with courage?  Who are the people and groups that equip you to resist the gaslighting and abuse?  Who are your go-to people who inspire you to be your best self?  Make it a point to check in with them often.  They are your psychological lifeline and safety net.

4.      Listen and believe those who are confiding in you their feelings about what’s happening in our nation, which are likely to dredge up experiences and feelings from their past, or exacerbate what they’re already subjected to.  Reassure them that they are not going insane, that they are a good person, and that they are strong enough to psychologically resist what is happening to them.  

5.      Help others to self-differentiate and resist in community. Self-differentiating means being able to separate feelings and thoughts, to base one’s responses on logical thought rather than a flood of emotions. When we do this with others, it frees us up to be able to work together to help those who are “the least of these” – the ones most at risk from this administration.  Taken together, self-differentiating and working with a trusted group to resist evil and bring about positive change helps make you stronger, clearer, more directed, more differentiated, and more compassionate.
Leah Schade at the Women's March in Lexington, KY - 5000 strong!

6.      If you are a person of faith, use every spiritual and religious resource available.  We have actions and words – rituals – that are designed to hold the vast range of feelings we are experiencing.  Rely on that pattern of worship that gathers us in and sends us out.  Pray without ceasing.  And if you are a Christian, trust that the Spirit of God through the compassion of Jesus Christ is in our midst, and already going ahead of us into this “grave new world.”  And what did Mary and the women find at the grave? . . . .

Leah Schade is the author of the book Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology and the Pulpit (Chalice Press, 2015). She is the Assistant Professor of Preaching and Worship at Lexington Theological Seminary in Kentucky, and an ordained minister of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.


For more information:  10 Things I’ve Learned About Gaslighting As An Abuse Tactic, by Shea Emma Fett, August 27, 2015 [http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/08/things-wish-known-gaslighting/] accessed 1/19/17.

A gaslighting, codependent circus: The Trump train wreck is America’s dysfunctional family by Mary Elizabeth Williams, Aug. 3, 2016 [http://www.salon.com/2016/08/03/a_gaslighting_codependent_circus_the_trump_train_wreck_is_americas_dysfunctional_family/ ] Accessed 1/21/17.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

17 Ways to be an Ecopreacher in 2017

#17in17

The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade

Imagine what your life would be like if you could be part of God’s work to heal this planet – right from the pulpit.

Imagine if your parishioners were inspired by your preaching to address the most pressing environmental concerns of our time.

Imagine hearing your parishioners actually thank you for preaching about protecting our planet.

Imagine discovering a new dimension to your preaching that opens a whole new world of perspectives, creative ideas, and inspiration for reaching people with God’s Word.

Imagine finding a whole new perspective for engaging the Bible that deepens and expands your faith.

Here are 17 ideas excerpted from my book Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology and the Pulpit (Chalice Press, 2015) for helping make this vision for your preaching become a reality in the coming year:

 
1.     Walk. Walk the grounds around the church building. Consider your surroundings, which include the land you are sitting or standing on, the plants near you, the air you are breathing, other living creatures perceptible to your senses. Who are your biotic neighbors? Also consider the houses, buildings, businesses, factories, and other human-made “neighbors,” etc. Reflect on the interactions that are occurring between you and these multi-faceted surroundings. Are they harmful? Beneficial? Neutral? How do your natural surroundings affect your physical or spiritual existence? Your feelings? Your values?

2.     Look at a topographical map where the congregation is located. Google Maps, Google Earth, or other online mapping services are free and can reveal a bird’s eye view of your setting. Notice the local waterways, landscape features (mountains, desert, beach, green spaces, etc.). How are they are disrupted, connected to or otherwise intersecting with human civilization?
3.     Talk with members of your congregation to get a sense of “who” (in the expanded ecological sense) are their neighbors, and who has been beaten and lies along side of the road. Who are “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40) in need of attention and care?
4.     Talk with other clergy to learn the history of “neighbor-relations” in the community. What stories do they tell about neighbors helping each other (or not)? Do any of them have share your interest in environmental issues so that you may collaborate on preaching ideas?
5.     Talk with community members to hear their stories about environmental issues that are part of the community’s history. Were there any grassroots efforts to clean up blighted areas? Protest pollution? Confront toxic dumping? What was successful? What work remains to be done?
6.     Talk with local health care workers such as doctors and nurses to find out what the key public health issues are in the community. There are often environmental connections (asthma, obesity, cancer, and depression, for example, are all exacerbated by deleterious environmental conditions such as air pollution, radioactive waste, waste incineration, etc.).
7.     Meet with local chapters of environmental groups such as Sierra Club, Clean Air Council, Interfaith Power and Light and grassroots activist groups to find out what environmental issues are facing your community. Ask how local houses of worship can be helpful in their work.
8.     Talk with local naturalists, master gardeners, fishermen, hunters, farmers, beekeepers, or others whose work involves the natural elements. Ask what changes they have observed in animal, plant, insect, fish or other biotic communities in the last few decades.
9.     Search for clean-energy businesses in your community such as wind farms, solar farms, geothermal companies, etc. Inquire as to how they see their work in relation to the community and the planet.
10.  Meet with your elected officials. Ask them who they consider “the least of these,” or those most vulnerable among their constituents. What are their main environmental concerns regarding their watersheds, land, forests, and biotic communities within their territories?
11.  Preach as one of the “nature” characters in a biblical text (e.g., preaching as the fig tree whom Jesus causes to wither, preaching as the stones about to cry out along the “Palm Sunday Road,” preaching as the birds or lilies from Jesus’ parable).
The author preaching as the character of Ruah, the wind/Holy Spirit, in a sermon about climate change.

12.  Bring in or at least show a picture of an actual object of nature mentioned in a biblical text (tree stump, water, flowers, rocks, etc.).
13.  Preach a sermon series on Jesus’ parables about or interactions with Creation.
14.  Provide time in a sermon for listeners to share about their favorite places in Creation, or particular aspects of Creation. This not only allows them to hold an image in their mind, but helps to foster a relationship between the listener and some aspect of Creation within the context of preaching.
15.  Tell the story of a local natural habitat, framed within a biblical context or concept. Incorporate Earth’s story with the biblical story, and connect it with the listeners’ stories.
16.  Do a sermon series on features of nature in the Bible, such as rivers, mountains or valleys.

17.  Preach outside. This is a natural way to de-center the anthropocentrism of the congregation and directly address the larger “congregation” of the Earth community.
What ideas do you have for greening your preaching?  Post a reply to share what has worked for you in bringing Creation-care to the forefront of your preaching.
For examples of Ecopreacher sermons, visit: http://www.creationcrisispreaching.com/sermons

For more information on the book Creation-Crisis Preaching, visit: http://www.creationcrisispreaching.com/

Monday, January 16, 2017

Preaching King’s “Drum Major Instinct” in the Age of Trump

The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade


What does the preaching of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., model for us as preachers today in the emerging political landscape of the Trump era? 

Since the 2016 presidential election, some pastors may be feeling reticent to engage in controversial justice issues, or to “stir the pot” and create unnecessary tension in the church by addressing topics that some deem “too political.”  The temptation is to “play it safe” and rationalize such a decision by deciding that the church is where people go to escape the world, not to further engage it.  But insular preaching ignores the reality that many parishioners are dealing with a world outside the church that is increasingly fractious, confusing, confounding and even hostile to their values as Christians.  To simply hunker down each week in the beautiful enclave of the Christian tradition without clear instruction on how to relate to the outside world will only continue churches on their path to dwindling relevancy.

Fortunately, Dr. King’s model of preaching that engages with the current events and timely concerns of his parishioners encourages, even urges us to bolster our courage and speak a prophetic word.  Remember – there is a way to preach about politics (literally, the concerns of the citizenry, the polis), without being political (siding with a particular party or group).  The key is to identify the biblical themes or values that underlie the contemporary figure or situation in question.  Dr. King was an expert in this, and we would do well to learn from his strategies.

Homiletician Richard Lischer's analysis of King's sermons demonstrate the way he masterfully combined the strands of Protestant Liberalism, black theology, American civil religion, and, at the end, a strongly prophetical voice to the issues of segregation.  Lischer not only read the texts of King's sermons, but listened to recordings in order to gain a fuller understanding of the performative aspects of the preaching that is often missed in edited, cleaned-up, written versions.  What King was able to create was a preaching style and content that was able to comfort the "disinherited" (to use Howard Thurman's  term), while appealing to the highest ideals of white society in a way that left them no choice but to answer the "call to repentance" or accept their own guilt.

King's early work demonstrated his belief that the great arc of human history is bending toward the God’s righteousness as manifest on earth.  His Christmas Eve sermon, for example, sees the interconnection of all living beings and God's intention of healing, restoration, and redemption not just for the oppressed but also for the oppressor.  As well, the famous “I Have a Dream Speech” paints a vision of God's intention for all children to live in harmony with one another regardless of skin color, creed or cultural background.  Toward the end of King's life, however, the tone and content of his sermons became more caustic as he got at the heart of the demonic possession that had corrupted (and still corrupts) America's political and cultural heart.

If you read the works of King in the last three years of his life, you will begin to see a change in his rhetorical style and content.  No longer content to affirm the highest ideals of American society, King seeks to unmask and reveal the dominating power structures underneath.  This is brilliantly demonstrated in his sermon entitled “The Drum Major Instinct,” which is a virtuosic example of preaching that takes a commonly understood image – that of the drum major for a marching band – and refigures it to represent the ego hidden within us that seeks its own ends and power.
It is especially telling to read his sermon in light of the upcoming presidential inauguration.  Read the following excerpt from King’s sermon while considering the words, Tweets, and actions of our president-elect, Donald Trump:

And there is deep down within all of us an instinct. It's a kind of drum major instinct—a desire to be out front, a desire to lead the parade, a desire to be first. . .There comes a time that the drum major instinct can become destructive. . .If this instinct is not harnessed, it becomes a very dangerous, pernicious instinct. For instance, if it isn’t harnessed, it causes one's personality to become distorted. I guess that's the most damaging aspect of it: what it does to the personality. If it isn't harnessed, you will end up day in and day out trying to deal with your ego problem by boasting. Have you ever heard people that—you know, and I'm sure you've met them—that really become sickening because they just sit up all the time talking about themselves. And they just boast and boast and boast, and that's the person who has not harnessed the drum major instinct . . .

And then the final great tragedy of the distorted personality is the fact that when one fails to harness this instinct, he ends up trying to push others down in order to push himself up. And whenever you do that, you engage in some of the most vicious activities. You will spread evil, vicious, lying gossip on people, because you are trying to pull them down in order to push yourself up. And the great issue of life is to harness the drum major instinct. 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Whether you support or oppose the president-elect, there can be no denying that his “drum major instinct” goes wildly out of control.  This is appealing to some – especially those who feel their own drum major instinct satisfied by attaching themselves to such a figure.  But most reasonable people recognize that the kind of out-of-control egoism demonstrated by the man about to assume the highest, most powerful office in the world, poses a radical danger this country has never before seen.  And in the spirit of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Confessing Church in Nazi Germany (which served as a source of inspiration for Dr. King), preachers must speak a prophetic word that critiques the abuses of power being exercised by elected officials, or risk kowtowing to and being complicit with the forces of evil.


As a teacher of preaching, I encourage pastors to engage in prophetic critique of the “drum major instinct” that we’re seeing both writ large in politics, and infused into racist, xenophobic, misogynistic rhetoric of our citizenry fed by the intoxicating reach and anonymity of social media.  Now is the time to expand our understanding of preaching beyond the confines of the church.  Because both Scripture and Christian history show us that preaching has and should take place in the public square (witness Paul at the Aereopagus, or Dr. King speaking at the Lincoln Memorial, just to name two examples). 

This is not to say that we should abandon the meaningful traditions of the church and abdicate our pastoral responsibilities to our parishioners. Rather, I suggest juxtaposing an understanding of our liturgical and pastoral commitments alongside contemporary concerns of public ethical engagement around those issues that are most threatening to “the least of these” – those most vulnerable in the Trump era who have little power, decreasing access to health care, education and economic security, and heightened levels of anxiety over their safety due to their gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity or status.  Preaching that engages on this level would create a "new thing" in the best, biblical sense of the word, and enhance the level of relevancy for our churches in the midst of a world that often seems to be spinning apart.

Regardless of one’s politics, the object lesson on the drum major instinct provided by the president-elect begs engagement.  We have much to learn from Dr. King’s preaching, not the least of which is how to reframe the drum major instinct to be harnessed for good.  In explaining how Jesus responded to the disciples James and John (Mark 10:35-35) who requested to sit at Jesus’ right and left hand (demonstrating their drum-major-egos), here’s the move King makes:

What was the answer that Jesus gave these men? It's very interesting. One would have thought that Jesus would have condemned them. One would have thought that Jesus would have said, "You are out of your place. You are selfish. Why would you raise such a question?" But that isn't what Jesus did; he did something altogether different. He said in substance, "Oh, I see, you want to be first. You want to be great. You want to be important. You want to be significant. Well, you ought to be. If you're going to be my disciple, you must be." But he reordered priorities. And he said, "Yes, don't give up this instinct. It's a good instinct if you use it right. (Yes) It's a good instinct if you don't distort it and pervert it. Don't give it up. Keep feeling the need for being important. Keep feeling the need for being first. But I want you to be first in love. (Amen) I want you to be first in moral excellence. I want you to be first in generosity. That is what I want you to do."

And he transformed the situation by giving a new definition of greatness. And you know how he said it? He said, "Now brethren, I can't give you greatness. And really, I can't make you first." This is what Jesus said to James and John. "You must earn it. True greatness comes not by favoritism, but by fitness. And the right hand and the left are not mine to give, they belong to those who are prepared."

Did you notice how he encourages the instinct to greatness, but redirects it toward the highest ideals of our faith?  This is what we are called to as Christians.  And this is what Christians must be calling our leaders to exemplify.  This does not mean that a “Christian agenda” is to be imposed on the citizenry.  Rather, we are holding ourselves and our leaders to the highest standards of moral and ethical preparedness and fitness.  This is what we must name and claim as Christians who live in the world and have a responsibility for the world.  May your life, your voice and your actions seek greatness in yourself and those who represent you – greatness in generosity, in moral excellence, in love.  


 The Rev. Dr. Leah Schade is the Assistant Professor of Preaching and Worship at Lexington Theological Seminary (KY) and an ordained Lutheran minister (ELCA), though the views expressed in this post are her own and do not necessarily reflect the institutions she serves.  She is the author of the book Creation Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology and the Pulpit (Chalice Press, 2015).