Monday, June 6, 2016

Podcast Now Available--and Looking to Presbyterian General Assembly

The Rev. John Shuck's Progressive Spirit radio interview with me is now available on podcast here. I'm not the world's smoothest talker--I'd rather write any day than try to sound coherent on the radio--but he did a great job: asking important questions, responding conversationally, and editing out some of my uhhs and ahhs. Thanks, John! I will be preaching at his church, Southminster Presbyterian, in Beaverton, Oregon, on June 19 in connection with the Presbyterian Church USA's General Assembly meeting in Portland. 

While at the General Assembly meeting I will be serving as one of Mid-Kentucky
Presbytery's four commissioners, i.e., delegates with voice and vote on the many decisions the church will make about our course for the next two years at least. The commissioners are divided randomly to serve during the week of GA on one of thirteen committees that will each examine a block of business matters before bringing our recommendations to the entire body. I will be moderating one of these thirteen committees, the Social Justice committee. We have a heavy agenda of matters that may not seem at first glance directly related to ecological matters--but are indeed so, since social justice and environmental justice are so intertwined. 

Our committee will deal in some depth with continued structural racism in the U.S. and, consequently, in our own institutions. One intriguing matter is the study and possible repudiation of something I had never heard of before, even though life as we all know it is entirely based on it: the so-called "Doctrine of Discovery" that more than 500 years ago became the functional norm for European explorers--the church-sanctioned idea that any place inhabited by non-Christians could be claimed by "discoverers" as Christian land. This was the basis of U.S. expansionism into Native American lands (think Trail of Tears), Manifest Destiny, and white colonialism around the world, which led, and leads, to egregious bloodshed, displacement, and extraction of both resources and labor. 

How can our daily lives be so deeply based in an idea we have never heard of? Social memory only goes back a little beyond what the oldest living folks among us can
remember, and there are ugly matters we want (and are encouraged) to forget. This is why knowing history is so crucial. I am looking forward to all our conversations around racism, America's original sin. (And I've just finished reading The Invention of Wings, Sue Monk Kidd's new fictionalized retelling of the story of Charleston abolitionist Sarah Grimke--which vividly imagines the daily relations of slaveholding households and the individuals they enslaved.)

I would have loved to attend the committee dealing with divestment from fossil fuels. Divestment has by far the most support across the country of any item of business before the GA this year. Even if it doesn't pass this year, I believe it's only a matter of time. 

That committee will also discuss and, I hope, repudiate factory farming, the disgraceful treatment of animals that we raise for food, not only killing and eating them, but making their lives miserable from birth on, as if they were not sentient beings but simply industrial widgets. What is done today to chickens, pigs, and cattle--and to those that serve as meat farmers, and to their neighbors--in the name of cheap meat is so unconscionable that I find it personally difficult even to discuss. I am thankful that many of my friends and family members who aren't vegetarian at least restrict the meat in their diets and obtain their meat sustainably from family farms instead.  

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Progressive Spirit, Friends, and the Gibson Resolution

May must be Audio Month. On the same day I gave one of the Spirit Is Willing webinars with Georgia Interfaith Power & Light, I also had a radio interview with the Rev. John Shuck, who hosts Progressive Spirit on KBOO Community Radio out of Portland, Oregon, a show that has hosted the likes of Jim Wallis, Bishop John Shelby Spong, Bart Ehrman, and Diana Butler Bass. I'll also be preaching and teaching at Rev. Shuck's church, Southminster Presbyterian in Beaverton, Oregon while serving as moderator for the Social Justice Issues committee for the 222nd PC(USA) General Assembly in Portland in June. 

On days my life doesn't seem all that exciting, I have to remind myself that, well, yes. The radio interview will be aired the first week of June, with a podcast available starting June 5. 

More fascinating, and this is big....

Interfaith Power & Light's annual conference was earlier this month on the campus of Gallaudet University close to Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. There we learned a fascinating story from Emily Wirzba, who is policy associate for sustainable energy and environment at the Friends Committee on National Legislationthe United States' oldest nonpartisan, ecumenical lobby, whose office stands just across the street from the U.S. senate offices. 

We all knew, of course, of the Gibson Resolution, introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives last September when Pope Francis visited to the U.S. and addressed Congress. In this resolution, Republican New York Representative Chris Gibson, along with ten other Republican reps, acknowledged the reality of climate change and called for better environmental stewardship. As Congressman Gibson told a reporter, addressing environmental issues are a core conservative principle. “If conservation isn’t conservative, then words have no meaning at all,” he said. 

Ms. Wirzba told us there is more to the backstory than the news revealed. These break-with-leadership-join-morality congresspeople didn't just dream up by themselves the vision of going out on a limb for human survival. It was the Quakers who initiated it. (It’s worth remembering that the Quakers were also the radicals who, two centuries ago, led the charge for slavery’s abolition.)

It took years of effort to find the Republican representative who might introduce a resolution affirming the reality of the climate crisis, before a Quaker in his district, joined by an interfaith, delegation, approached the congressman asking him to sponsor this resolution.

Eleven--and now thirteen--representatives may not seem like enough to shift the conversation. But Ms. Wirzba told us that this move has quietly inaugurated fundamental shifts over the past several months. A bipartisan house solutions caucus has formed, Noah’s ark style--two by two, with equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans. A House Republican energy innovation and environment solutions working group has also begun meeting.
And in late April, Senator Lindsay Graham of South Carolina and nine colleagues introduced an amendment to an appropriations bill.  This amendment acknowledges that climate change is real, human-caused, and already affecting the U.S., posing risks to health, security, economy, and infrastructure, and that 180 other countries have committed themselves to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It proposes that the U.S. become a world leader in addressing climate change, and that Congress take action. This is huge.
I am sometimes asked why churches should involve themselves with the “political” issue of climate change. The crisis has indeed been politicized by those who profit by delaying action. Yet shifting our practices to avoid the worst effects of a disaster already unfolding is at the root an ethical action, not a political one. Our faith compels us to protect the earth and the welfare of those living on it, present and future, and to exercise our citizenship in advocating for measures that will do so.
Back behind the ceaseless noise of the presidential election, history is quietly being made. And people of faith are making it. We are the unexpected visitors amidst a roll call of advocates, articulating values embedded in our faiths, values that affirm our responsibility to tend the earth that God so lovingly created.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Spirit Is Willing and We Are Not Faint

Here are recordings of the three webinars in the series "The Spirit Is Willing and We Are Not Faint," cosponsored by Georgia Interfaith Power & Light and Hoosier IPL: 

Friday, May 6, 2016

Lunchtime Webinar: The Spirit Is Willing and We Are Not Faint

First the announcement: Three-part webinar in May, hosted by Georgia Interfaith Power & Light and led by me, coming up on Wednesdays (May 11, 18, 25), 12:00 noon Eastern. Here are the parts:
·      May 11: Rethinking Scripture, Humans, and Creation: Five perspectives for a creation care ethic grounded in faith.
·      May 18: Creating Social Movements for Change: Resources both historical and personal that power our drive to care for creation.
·      May 25: Shifting to a Flourishing Future: Stories and signposts for a future of ecological and social prosperity.

Register here. Find more information and a flyer here.

And now the excuses for my woeful silence over the past six months and my promise not to go AWOL again:

Excuse one: Two days after my last post, and three weeks early, my first blood granddaughter was born. And yes, grandparenting is all it’s cracked up to be. I could watch all day long as she discovers her hands, examines my face, and laughs at nothing more than the joy of life. 

Excuse two: Then I went to Kenya and Tanzania to explore and to teach and preach in congregations of the Africa Inland
Church. And yes, life in the wild is unspeakably magnificent. I could spend all day watching a giraffe ramble across the road, or riding a pikipiki (hired motorcycle) up a country mountainside. Or, for that matter, planting tree seedlings with fans of Wangari Maathai, as these Christian volunteers are.

Excuse three, full disclosure: I shouldn’t mention this in an environmental column, but my spouse and I then went to New Zealand to visit our kids who moved there. But it’s true, we did, and I have the carbon offsets and guilt to prove it, and also the memories of misty Milford Sound, the most surreal scenery on earth, unless you count the iconically conical Mount Ngauruhoe (a.k.a., Middle Earth’s Mount Doom), or the sulfur-spewing hot mudholes of Rotorua, or the glowing worms dangling from the Waitomo Caves ceilings, or Oamaru’s steampunk downtown and playground, even without the penguins, or the haunting earthquake ruins
of Christchurch’s cathedral. How can two little islands hold so much, and polite people to boot?

Excuse four, and somehow not as exciting: Three days training to moderate the Social Justice Issues committee of the upcoming Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly in Portland, and three days of workshops and Capital Hill visits with Interfaith Power & Light in D.C.

Then this and that busyness, writing a new energy conservation guide for Hoosier IPL, working on my Isaiah commentary, speaking to the evangelicals, the Presbyterians, the Quakers, the Catholics, the other Presbyterians, the seminary students, the elderly, the Methodists, the interfaith community, the political staffers, public radio, fourteen events in nine cities and more coming up. Being an ex-academic doesn’t pay much but it sure gets you into interesting conversations in fascinating places. 

And I still love it when strangers announce that they are enjoying Inhabiting Eden, or when they suddenly buy five copies of the leader guide. 

I'm suspending recaps of the PEC conference, will post the webinar recordings when they are completed, as well as another upcoming radio interview. And I promise to keep up better, yes I really do.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Rethinking Scripture, part 3: The Unborn

In a culture that can’t think past the next 24-hour news cycle, religion still reads stories hundreds of centuries deep. The Abrahamic faiths worship a God who shows “steadfast love to the thousandth generation” (Exod 34:7).

Genesis 12 begins the story of Abraham’s call by God. Every promise God gives Abraham
has a long horizon, to be fulfilled centuries later.

In Genesis 15, God talks about descendants four generations hence, and also four hundred years, saying:

“Your offspring shall be aliens in a land that is not theirs, and shall be slaves there, and they shall be oppressed for four hundred years…. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation” (Gen 15:13, 16).

It’s odd that in the same speech God offers Abraham two different timelines. It’s not like God to be that forgetful, so biblical scholars usually chalk up this discrepancy to the Bible’s composite nature. We can take this strange speech as an opportunity to appreciate the Bible’s interest both in those we can imagine and those we can’t.

Me, with my mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother.
Now I have a daughter and am expecting a granddaugher.
Six generations.
Four generations are imaginable. If we remember our great-grandparents and expect to have great-grandchildren, our minds already span seven generations. 

It’s almost impossible to envision life four hundred years from now. Yet we look back to Abraham not four generations or four hundred years, but four thousand years. We look backward several millennia more clearly than Abraham could look forward even a few years.

This is an irony about the past and future. On the one hand we can know the past, but we can no longer change it. No matter how much we wish, we can’t change what ancestors did to create the world we know today.

Yet by contrast, we can’t know the future, but we affect it every day. Looking back at what we can’t change helps us see ourselves through future generations’ eyes. We hope our descendants will look back to us with gratitude.

So even though our culture has an inch-long and inch-deep attention span, our faith calls us to lengthen our horizons to centuries and even millennia. So let’s add a third biblical claim: the interests of the unborn: According to the biblical story, “God directed our ancestors to look to the flourishing of future generations.”

To be continued....

Monday, November 16, 2015

Solar Church

Yesterday our congregation, First Presbyterian Church of Jeffersonville, dedicated our first solar array: 48 panels, 12.96 kW of generating power. 

Never having done this before, we sort of made up what you do when you consecrate solar panels. First Don gave a lovely sermon about the importance of acting as "conservators" of creation, based on Proverbs 27:23-27, "know well the condition of your flocks and herds." Then I gave a "moment for ministry" (listen here) about the project. Then, we all gathered outside. We read the first part of Psalm 19, which describes the sun as a "strong man running his course with joy." When the time came for laying on of hands, red and yellow streamers were tossed down from the panels for everyone to grasp as we said this prayer:
Creator God, we thank you for these solar panels,
   for the people whose generosity and resourcefulness have made it possible for us to have them,
   for those who designed and installed them,
   for the power they will provide
   and for this church home which they will serve.
Bless us with vision and energy for change
      as we care for the earth and for each other,
   in the name of God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Then we sang (what else?) "This Little Light of Mine."

Two Louisville television stations, WHAS and WAVE, were on hand. Here is WAVE’s story. And here is last night’s great report on WHAS. 

Our congregation is very grateful to the Indiana Office of Energy Development, who provided the grant to help fund this project; to Hoosier Interfaith Power & Light, who applied for the grant on our behalf along with four other congregations in Gary, Merrillville, Indianapolis, and Bloomington; to members who contributed; to our installers at Third Sun Solar; and to leaders with the vision and energy to bring this about.

Hoosier IPL structures such grants to maximize their benefits. Among other things, we have committed to several actions to fulfill the grant: we will strive to reduce our electricity and gas usage by 25%; our members will also conserve energy in their homes; we will host some events highlighting energy conservation and renewable energy for our neighbors and neighboring churches.

Our first solar forum will take place this Wednesday evening, November 18, with a chili supper at the church (222 Walnut, Jeffersonville, IN) followed by a presentation by Darrell Boggess from SIREN in Bloomington about the benefits of solar energy.

Soon I will continue the conversation on rethinking scripture....