Committed to Respond

August 20, 2017 — Nancy Bancroft
Readings: Psalms 104: 1-34, Colossians 1:16-17


It was about two and a half years ago that Jenny Comeau gave her time and incredible organizational skills to us as she led us through a process of developing our church profile. She collated what we identified as the important components of who we are and what we value about this church, returned it to us, and together we affirmed the resulting self-portrait. This description of Union Church has helped us find both an interim pastor and a settled pastor who fit our culture well, and it has given me a road map to help shepherd us in the direction that we best understand is our Spirit-led path on our pilgrimage as a People of God. Last week we joyously celebrated our sense of worship, based on this profile. This week we give our attention to our relationship with all of Creation.

Michael Hogue, professor at Meadville Lombard Theological School states, “Humanity has come to exert biological and geological agency over Earth’s environment in profound ways never before experienced. And, never before in the history of human life has the whole of the biosphere been an object of moral concern”.  He teaches that in many ways, we are profoundly challenging species and habitats. And at the same time, we are disproportionately impacting the disadvantaged, the elderly, children, and endless generations to come. It is the elderly, the young, the poor, the uninsured and the under-insured who will be the ones to suffer most from heat, cold or increased respiratory distress. The rise in coastal and inland flooding will impact most those with the least resources to flee, rebuild, or recoup losses. He urges us to recognize that we live amidst a huge, complex problem that begs for moral conviction, discipline and strength so as to creatively engage a range of real solutions for all life.

Our situation is grave. Our leadership seems to be in denial even as global land and ocean temperatures rise along with sea levels that threaten half of the population around the world who live in coastal areas. Worldwide there are regularly occurring severe weather events beyond anyone’s memory; often breaking records. With the growing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events and disasters comes increased food and water insecurities, desperate migrations, and, for humans, terrorism, warfare, even in some places, genocide.

According to a 2016 National Geographic report, our world is shrinking from the unstoppable melting of the West Antarctic Ice Shelf. Sea level rise projections have increased dramatically, and now exceed the data that formed the basis for the Paris Climate Accord. Meanwhile, our emissions reduction targets and other measures to prevent runaway climate change fall further and further behind evolving reality. And there are rumblings that in our country we will abandon even the meager goals that have been agreed to.

When we consider these and other realities:  the science, the political and economic systems, the partial and false solutions, our shortcomings – we can become demoralized and discouraged. We are deeply saddened as we imagine the losses for our children’s children, and we feel a threatened sense of security. We mourn the loss of livelihoods, habitat, health or wellbeing, even lives of those on the frontlines of climate change. The enormity of this reality can be depressing. Depression is the experience of hopelessness and helplessness.  And yet, if we remain depressed all is lost. What is required of us is to clearly and honestly acknowledge the reality of our situation while at the same time support each other to overcome our depression. If we deny or minimize the reality and seriousness of creation’s plight we will not be motivated to act. If we let ourselves remain depressed by the realization that all of creation groans in anguish by how it is treated, we will not have the wherewithal to act.  Recognizing that we are co-creators of our earth we can begin again in gratitude for the gift of life itself. We can come back into covenant with our earthly community and commit to doing better.

Our church profile states, “We honor the sacredness of all creation. We recognize the place we hold in nature as a reciprocal partnership; we walk together with, and are not in dominion over, God’s creation. We focus on making our lives and the lives of others better; we think deeply, learning from each other; we willingly open our hearts and minds to God and Spirit. Our faith leads to the conviction that all are equal, and so we respond to all needs of humans and beings alike — from caring for the elderly or the orphan children in Haitian slums, to the merciful treatment of bears, mustangs, cats and dogs.” These are direct quotes about who we say we are and what we believe.

Author Gary Ferguson writes, “The fight to save our planet goes hand in hand with the effort to stop the oppression of people on the basis of race, class, and gender. Serve one, and you serve them all. Accepting this reality can move us to be more intentional about living in right relationship with our natural kin and consider the impact of our every-day lifestyle choices. It matters what we believe and it matters what we do.

As we take comfort, pleasure and joy in nature we can be strengthened to act. Perhaps this is where we encounter the Divine. Returning to our self-crafted profile we read, “We appreciate that God can be experienced in all of creation.”

If we each took one step in honor of the sacredness of all creation, that would be something.  Perhaps it’s in our use of water: Taking shorter showers, watching how we wash our dishes or clothes. Maybe it’s being willing to have what one professor at the University of Maine calls an “interesting lawn”; a hardy one made of several types of grasses and clover rather than the pristine putting green lawn that requires tons of water and chemicals to maintain it. Maybe we need to consider how often we mow our lawns. Longer grass needs less watering and despite their small size gas powered lawn mowers produce a lot of air pollution. According to the Government of Canada running an older gasoline-powered lawn mower for one hour can produce as much greenhouse emissions as driving a new car 342 miles. Perhaps we need to consider the type of car that we drive or make more of an effort to combine errands so that we drive less. Maybe we can be more intentional about what we eat. Foods such as red meat and almonds require an inordinate amount of natural resources for the amount of nutrition produced. The list goes on. There are numerous internet sites with ideas about how we can grow in responsible relationship with our planet. These may seem like small steps, but there is wisdom in the old saying that it’s much better to light one candle than curse the dark.

Researchers at George Mason University and Yale University tell us the most important thing any person can do is to talk more about our environmental problems and their solutions. Given that our media is generally silent on climate, they say it is important for us to end the “spiral of silence” in which “even people who care about the issue, shy away from discussing it because they so infrequently hear other people talking about it – reinforcing the spiral. We can talk about our fears and grief and then, talk about what gives us hope. For example there are, all over the world, small and large endeavors to squelch products and processes most damaging to our earth.  There is greater and greater use of renewable sources of energy. Just last week Time magazine had an article about a formula e race in San Francisco using electric cars that drove at 140 miles per hour. We can talk about what we are doing to respond; maybe only a small step, but something. Most of us have been taught to be private about our good works. Even in Scripture, Matthew 6:3 we read, “. . . when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” But in these demoralizing times when the decisions and actions of those in power seem to be counterproductive to responsible stewardship of creation, hearing about what others are doing can offer hope and comfort.

I end with a prayer written by Lynn Harrison entitled Committed to Respond.

Committed to respond to the call of a wounded world…
We join together this day with loving hearts, hands and minds.
Embracing the interconnected web of water, air and earth…
We light a fire of sustaining hope, ever bright with love and justice.
May we bring forth this day new wisdom, strength and courage
To create a new world not of wealth, but well-being.
A world of new peace and abundance for all.
As we give thanks for this earth, our shared and singular home,
May we dedicate ourselves to its ongoing care.
Rising to the calls deep within us, and all around us…
May we respond today and always with courage and with love. Amen.