• FAITH ... And God saw all that he had made ....

  • SCIENCE ... and behold, it was very good.

  • JUSTICE ... As you did for the least of these brothers of mine...

  • ACTION ... you did it for me.

  • RESOURCES ... books, videos and online tools for earthkeepers

Justice and Mercy in the Year of Deportation

You pray. You write. You call your elected officials. You march. You cry. And sometimes – sometimes – justice and mercy prevail.

Yesterday, Barbara, Peter and I joined the “Jericho Walk” with hundreds of others organized by the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City. Our walk was a silent vigil of prayer around the Federal office building in lower Manhattan that houses Immigration & Customs Enforcement (“ICE”). As every immigrant knows, ICE is rapidly becoming a terrifying organ of the nativist state, turning once-routine visits by compliant law-abiding immigrants into a dark portal to the nether world of expulsion from family, home, church and community.

The ICE building in New York yesterday was the site of a court hearing in the case of Ravi Ragbir, a native of Trinidad who has lived peaceably among us for two decades while regularly checking in with the authorities. Ravi serves as the executive director of the New Sanctuary Coalition/NYC. Two weeks ago, Ravi reported dutifully to ICE, which seized him, rushed him into detention, and flew him to Miami as a last stop before deportation.

No warning. No time for farewell to his wife, a US citizen, and his children. No time to pack, or organize his affairs at work and home.

In short, Ravi was “disappeared,” a verb well understood in Pinochet’s Chile or Peron’s Argentina, but – until now – strange to American ears. Being “disappeared” at the hands of ICE is increasingly the fate of organizers and leaders of groups protecting immigrant rights. It is selective enforcement to decapitate grassroots movements which protect those who are making America great in ways not favored by the nativists in power.

As we marched in silence seven times around the ICE building yesterday, the first words of the prophet Isaiah coursed through my heart, again and again:

“Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom; listen to the law of our God, you people of Gomorrah! When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow…” (Isaiah, chapter 1).

Little did I know that, while I poured out my lament and my plea, inside the Federal courtroom, God was answering our prayer. U.S. District Court Judge Katherine Forrest issued a fundamentally prophetic condemnation of the cruelty that governed ICE’s actions to tear a community leader away from all that’s dear and familiar without warning.

Judge Forrest’s ruling is worth reading in its entirety, and can be downloaded HERE. But if you are among those on the brink of despair that our country remembers how to act with decency, take a moment with these selections to restore your soul:

“There is, and ought to be in this great country, the freedom to say goodbye. That is, the freedom to hug one’s spouse and children, the freedom to organize the myriad of human affairs that collect over time. It ought not be — and it has never before been – that those who have lived without incident in this country for years are subjected to treatment we associate with regimes we revile as unjust, regimes where those who have long lived in a country may be taken without notice from streets, home, and work. And sent away. We are not that country, and woe be the day that we become that country under a fiction that laws allow it. We have a law higher than any that may be so interpreted – and that is our Constitution. The wisdom of our Founders is evident in the document that demands and requires more; before the deprivation of liberty, there is due process; and an aversion to acts that are unnecessarily cruel. These fundamental rights are at issue in this case.

“After having spent nine years in this country without incident, reporting as required to immigration authorities and building a home, a family, and a community, on January 11, 2018, Ravidath Ragbir [Ravi] was suddenly taken into custody. He was informed that his time in this country was at an end; without further ado, without the freedom to say goodbye, he was taken away. This abrupt and by all accounts unnecessary detention, a step in the direction of deportation, was wrong.

“To be sure, there is a complicated statutory scheme that has been written in so many different voices and with so many agendas that it is now akin to a corn maze. That scheme, read as the government here reads it, allows for precisely those acts that occurred on January 11, 2018. Under that reading, [Ravi’s] status was essentially always at will and subject to immediate revocation if a mysterious “travel document” was obtained. How and when said document would be sought, let alone obtained, is unclear. Here [Ravi] was never told that such a document had been applied for and, unless the process requires many years to complete, such a document had not been sought for over a decade. In short, [Ravi] had no reason to suspect that this meeting on January 11, 2018 would result, as it did, in his immediate and abrupt detention.

“The Court in fact agrees with the Government that the statutory scheme – when one picks the path through the thicket in the corn maze – allows them to do what was done here. But there are times when statutory schemes may be implemented in ways that tread on rights that are larger, more fundamental. Rights that define who we are as a country, what we demand of ourselves, and what we have guaranteed to each other: our constitutional rights. That has occurred here.

“In sum, the court finds that when this country allowed [Ravi] to become a part of our community fabric, allowed him to build a life with and among us and to enjoy the liberties and freedom that come with that, it committed itself to allowance of an orderly departure when the time came, and it committed itself to avoidance of unnecessary cruelty when the time came. By denying petitioner these rights, the Government has acted wrongly….”

So to all people of goodwill – friends and strangers – look up, breathe deep, and stand a little taller. Don’t give up praying. Listen as the Spirit leads you: pick up that phone, make that donation, write that email.

One court ruling will not change everything. Ravi Ragbir remains on the pathway to deportation, with thousands of others. Nativist wall-building may seem to rule the day…

… But don’t you believe it. Your God rules every day, even this one.

J. Elwood

  • To learn more about New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City, click HERE.
  • To read Judge Forrest’s complete ruling, click HERE.
  • To read Ravi Ragbir’s story, as told by his wife, click HERE.

 

Rhythms of Creation in a Pre-Industrial Enclave

It is 5:30. I have slept straight through Night Vigil. The 3:00 hour slipped past without a trace, lost to me in forgotten dreams.

Now, on the last morning of my silence, I pull on layer after layer till only my eyes are exposed. I step out into the pitch black.

It is cold. There is a little machine in my pocket that tells me just how cold. Two below. I turn the machine off and slip it away. The road is covered with snow. 

Genesee Abbey chapel stands just less than a mile away, up a long windswept hill here in the Finger Lakes of New York. I can just make out the lights across the corn stubble still peeking through the fresh-fallen snow. My breath freezes on my mustache.

Why am I doing this? All week long, amidst every possible kind of winter weather, my car — perfectly serviceable — has waited for me outside Bethlehem House. When I first arrived, I slowed to a crawl as I passed dark figures leaning into the wind.

“Can I offer you a ride?” I asked uncertainly, fearful of interrupting some mystical communion.

The answer would come back in whispered tones: “Thank you brother, but I will walk.”

Silence. Solitude. Walking.

And listening. And seeing. And wondering.

Upon my return, friends will be curious: How was it? What did you take from the silence? What did you discover among the Trappists?

And I will stammer out a few feeble lines, settling weakly on this: The monastic community is a pre-industrial fellowship. The rhythms of life, the liturgies, the daily disciplines were all born long before Thomas Newcomen first scooped coal into a new kind of engine — a Spirit which for three centuries would possess every soul, every imagination, every culture, every human enterprise.

I will say that perhaps I have crossed back, to some small degree, to a life I have never imagined, before the Spirit of Buried Fire gripped the planet.

And I will recall how that Spirit has allowed us to bypass the rhythms and requirements of nature that mankind once was bound to observe season after season – summer and winter; darkness and sunlight; birth, death, and new birth. I will observe for the first time the degree to which I have imbibed the illusion that we could bring the creation under our control, and free ourselves from futility and toil. I will recall how these seductive illusions have made me a stranger to the planet of my birth, to my fellow mortal creatures, and to the demands of slow, orbital nature.

In this morning’s silence, all I hear is the steady crunch of my feet on the snow. A fingernail moon is rising in the dark eastern sky. The morning sun cannot be far behind. My cheek bones and temples ache in the winter wind.

My vehicle, using the energy equivalent of 2,000 human beings, can triumph over this unfamiliar harshness. The flash of ignition, the hum of the engine, and the shelter of glass and steel – and I am again Master. The Earth is no longer my fellow creation. She is not “thou,” but only “it.” Her creatures are not in fellowship with me; they are “resources;” they are “property.”

In the darkness, I plod on uphill. A car overtakes me and slows to a crawl.

“May I offer you a ride?”

The voice is soft and tentative. The driver does not want to interrupt some unseen communion. His offer reflects kindness. He knows we are almost late for the divine office of morning Lauds. He does not want to leave me in this darkness.

“Thank you brother,” my voice whispers. “I will walk.”

J. Elwood

Note: The writings of Larry L. Rasmussen (Earth-Honoring Faith) and J. Gustave Speth (The Bridge at the Edge of the World) have helped to form some of the thoughts shared in this account. I hope you will find time to read them.

One Year In, UK Christian Environmental Leader Assesses Trump Impact on the Creation

How bad would a Trump presidency be for the natural world? One year ago, on the day of Trump’s inauguration, Dr. Martin John Hodson, the environmental biologist directing the John Ray Initiative in the UK made a number of predictions for the year ahead. One year later, he’s examined them in hindsight.

How damaging has Trump been? We’ll summarize Hodson’s points, but here’s his conclusion:

“Having considered all the evidence I think it is probable that Trump will be far worse for the United States than for rest of the world. On the climate change issue, the US was the leading nation in the world, but is now rapidly losing that position to China. Internally, pollution laws and regulations are being repealed meaning that Americans will be exposed to higher levels of a whole range of toxic substances. If Trump gets his way, public lands and the coasts around the US will be opened up for drilling and mining. These activities and the Mexican border wall will have many negative impacts on biodiversity. The US science base, particularly in the area of climate science, is already being eroded. I can see more scientists leaving.

“So with one proviso, Trump is likely to be worse for the US than for the world. Here is the exception. In my 2017 briefing I expressed worries about the potential for a nuclear war. A year of Trump’s leadership has not decreased those worries. Even a limited nuclear war would be disastrous not only for the many people killed, but for the wider environment.”

EPA’s Scott Pruitt (center) and Interior’s Ryan Zinke (right) applaud President Trump. Together, they have dismantled US environmental leadership at home and abroad.

Now, here, in the bare bones, are Dr. Hodson’s findings now that the year is in the books:

Will Trump moderate his “climate hoax” attitudes and actions? “Trump’s actions throughout the year have almost entirely followed a skeptic path,” and it’s likely to continue.

Will Trump pull the US out of the Paris Accord? Yes, he did, but no one else has followed him. Most have increased their commitments, and the two other non-signatories have now joined, leaving the US completely isolated. “A feeling emerged that it might be better if the United States were out of the Agreement at the moment to avoid Trump’s meddling in the whole process.”

Will Trump be able to reverse the decline of coal? Despite killing the Clean Power Plan, leasing Federal lands to coal companies and making it easier to dump coal mining toxins into streams, coal employment has hardly budged. “My conclusion is that Trump’s attempt to revive coal will fail.”

Will work begin again of the Keystone XL Pipeline? “The long fight over Keystone XL is likely to continue for some time, and whether it will ever be built is still uncertain.”

Will Trump dent the surge in the use of renewable energy sources? Globally, no. The world is racing ahead with renewable energy, led by China and India. In the US, yes. Trump is using tax and tariff policies to cripple renewables in favor of fossil fuels. But the US retrenchment is dwarfed by the global progress.

Will Trump succeed in selling off public lands? Large scale protests will break our everywhere, but Trump will try to eliminate Federal protections as he did at Bears Ears National Monument and with uranium mining in the Grand Canyon watershed.

Will cities and states be able to prevent the worst effects of the environmental assault? It’s too early to say. The Climate Mayors (68 of them representing 68 million Americans) and the United States Climate Alliance (15 states} have committed to the Paris Accord goals, despite the Trump pullout..

How far will California go to protect the environment against Trump’s policies? California has already entered agreements with Scotland and China, and is working with others to fill the Federal climate void. As the world’s sixth-largest economy, California is eclipsing the Federal government in climate leadership.

Will US climate science survive four years of Trump? He has acted to muzzle science; NASA may lose its climate mandate; earth science satellites may be canceled. But others are filling in: France has hired numerous US climate scientists, and New York is now funding the disbanded Federal Climate Advisory Committee, in exile at Columbia University. Despite these efforts, science will suffer.

What new things have arisen, not seen in last year’s outlook? “The wall” will affect more than 100 threatened species. Virtually the entire US continental shelf will be open for oil drilling. Smog will be worse with the withdrawal of the Clean Power Plan.

Will the Church in the US rise to the challenge to protect the creation? Mainline Protestant and Roman Catholics, yes. Evangelicals, no – some are even debating whether they still wish to be called evangelicals, despite the efforts of a small cadre of evangelical climate activists. “Outside of the United States very few Christians of any variety have time for Trump, and most Christian environmentalists are getting on with the job of caring for God’s creation.”

J. Elwood

Read or download Dr. Martin John Hodson’s full article here.

What Little People Can Do

I’ve been thinking.

Check that: We’ve been thinking. I’ve learned that I actually don’t think very well on my own. In fact, I can’t perform the even most basic bodily functions on my own. I can’t digest a meal, or circulate my blood, or process a thought by myself. I’m not – and you’re not – wired that way. But the Creator has given me some helpers. Billions and billions of them. In fact, ten percent of my body weight is made up of the creatures living in me as life partners. They may be small, but they outnumber my “human” cells ten-to-one. They feed in me, and with me, and even on me. Without them, my body’s functions would shut down within hours.

So, whatever happened to the rugged individualist? The top-of-the-food-chain alpha guy?  It turns out there are trillions of us working together in the body we call “Me.”

So what have we been thinking? We’ve been thinking about how amazing the “little people” are – the unseen biome that makes up most of the Creation. Take this little guy: symbion pandora. Actually, pandora is only a guy sometimes; other times, he’s a she. And other times, she’s neither one. The same creature. Pandora lives one place in the world: On the lips of Norway lobsters. (I bet Haitian lobsters have some incredible little helpers too!)

Symbion pandora can change from asexual, to male, to female. Amazing!

You wondered if lobsters had lips, eh? Well they do, and Pandora attaches himself/herself/itself there, dining on the crumbs that fall from the lobster’s table.

Pandora, with her one-sex-fits-all rotation is so unusual, they had to give her a special phylum (taxonomic category just below kingdom) all her own. (“Cycliophora.” Write it down. Impress your bowling buddies!) But her discovery twenty years ago rocked the biosciences, and showed us a whole new way of being a living species.

So we’re really excited to share with you about symbion pandora and show you her picture. Pretty pretty, huh? And handsome! The trillions of little people in here think it’s high time we’ve written something about their kind. And for the proud human individualist out there, I have a trillion voices telling you to wake up to the facts – Your little people outnumber the rest of you big time. Show them some respect, okay?

J. Elwood

Everything is Connected

I have been hearing three voices to challenge and shape my prayers and desires in recent days:

  1. A week of silence and spiritual routine at the Abbey of the Genesee, reawakening my connections with wind, ice, earth, sky, river, heartbeat, non-human creatures, and Spirit.
  1. Rereading of Pope Francis’ encyclical letter Laudato Si’, reawakening my sense of the connectedness of all things: “St. Francis would call creatures, no matter how small, by the name of ‘brother’ or ‘sister’. Such a conviction cannot be written off as naïve romanticism. For it affects the choices which determine our behavior. If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters unable to set limits on their immediate needs. By contrast, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously. The poverty and austerity of St. Francis were no mere veneer of asceticism, but something much more radical: a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled.”
  1. And then, religious ethicist Larry Rasmussen sharpens the Pope’s “connectedness” reasoning even further: “While there is a deep human longing to belong to the same order that threw the galaxies across the universe and the planets into orbit, most of the cosmological and biological processes that gave us birth do not register in our sense of ourselves…. Modernity’s prized bubble – the built environment as our true habitat – leads to “apartheid” consciousness at the species level. Like whites in apartheid South Africa, we think that “our kind” can develop separately. Human beings collectively become the center and focus, drawing upon all the rest as needed. We do not regard ourselves internally related as kin to the rest of a shared and indispensable community that also lives embedded in the earth and cosmos. This constricted and alienated sense of ourselves is the species counterpart of self-absorption…. And while, as biosocial creatures by nature, we might acknowledge that our deepest human need is for social bonds and committed relationships – the opposite of self-absorption – we for some reason do not extend these bonds and commitments to other-than-human life. The outcome is the kind of anthropocentrism that smothers the cosmophelia (love of the cosmos) and biophelia (love of life) native to the kind of creature we are. Biophelia, the yearning for contact with other-than-human life, and cosmophelia, the yearning to belong to the same order as the stars, then languish, and we forget we are human beings tethered marrow and bone to evolutionary cosmic processes” (Earth-Honoring Faith).

For years, my friends have heard me throwing around references to the gospel as finding its source in “God so loved the cosmos” (Gr. “kosmon”) and its consummation in “the reconciliation of all things” (Gr. “ta panta”)  and its final word as “Behold, I am making all things new!”

And yet my own life hardly reflects this unity and community with the wider world of God’s creation. On the contrary, I see in myself heart-deep patterns that resist all of these redemptive connections: frenzied commitments to career, neglect of time in nature, a false sense of superiority arising from the unexamined references to the “image of God,” and tribal instincts that extend to nation, ethnicity, social class and religious tradition. And I recognize those same traits writ large in our nation as we retreat into exceptionalism, militarism, ethnocentricity, xenophobia, wanton disregard for ecosystems, expulsion of foreigners, and elimination of systems to care for the needy. We are not connected; we will build walls; we will arm ourselves with guns; we will sink or swim; we have a bigger button. We are not connected to anything beyond individual choice.

I decry these trends in our nation. But let me start by addressing disconnectedness in my own heart. And look, I’m running late for my walk in the woods…

J. Elwood

Can American Evangelicalism Survive?

Rev. Timothy Keller was my pastor, at New York’s famous Redeemer Presbyterian Church. I have for years listened to his sermons, both in person and from a distance – first on those ancient cassette tapes, and more recently on podcasts. I have read most of his books, and discussed them in small groups at my church.

So I was naturally delighted to see that one of my favorite magazines, The New Yorker, published an article of his under the title “Can Evangelicalism Survive Donald Trump and Roy Moore?” I hope you will follow the link and read it for yourself. But because of my familiarity with and respect for the author, I wanted to offer my own reactions.

Rev. Keller’s answer to the question begins with real promise – unflinching acknowledgement of the present-day shame of the white American evangelical label:

“People who once called themselves the ‘Moral Majority’ are now seemingly willing to vote for anyone, however immoral, who supports their political positions…. Many younger believers and Christians of color, who had previously identified with evangelicalism, have also declared their abandonment of the label. ‘Evangelical’ used to denote people who claimed the high moral ground; now, in popular usage, the word is nearly synonymous with ‘hypocrite.’ When I used the word to describe myself in the nineteen-seventies, it meant I was not a fundamentalist. If I use the name today, however, it means to hearers that I am.”

Wow. What a start! I read on, eager for the thoughtful analysis to come. And sure enough, there’s good stuff in here. Keller points to the chasm dividing the typical American “white evangelical” – a tiny minority in worldwide Christianity by any measurement – from the robust growth of Christianity in the non-European global South. He points to the vibrancy of multi-ethnic urban churches in America planted among immigrant communities by non-Western missionaries. And he finds racial justice and care for the poor prominent in the lives of such churches.

‘Evangelical’ used to denote people who claimed the high moral ground; now, in popular usage, the word is nearly synonymous with ‘hypocrite.’ — Rev. Tim Keller (Source: Both photo and caption from The New Yorker)

As Pastor Keller describes it, there is a vibrant movement in the American church – aided by immigrants and missionaries from abroad – that addresses one of the fundamental flaws of Christianity in this country. That flaw is summarized well by Robert Phillips Russo of Christians for the Mountains:

“Most of the church is split into two camps – either focused on personal salvation and holiness, or focused on social holiness and social justice. While we can say that we all care about both personal and societal well-being, many of us fall into one of these two camps.”

I think Russo has got it just about right. And if it’s true for the personal beliefs of individuals, it’s all the more so for church communities. Our churches tend to opt primarily for one of these choices or the other. Personal salvation. Societal justice. Seldom both with anything approaching equal fervor.

But what if Rev. Keller is right? What if American Christianity is being transformed by multi-ethnic “small-e evangelical” churches with a new-found passion for social justice? As Keller tells it, the media stereotype of evangelicals misses this movement entirely. Those “big-E Evangelicals” you see on TV or read about in polling data are not what you find in our churches. Young people are not abandoning the urban “small-e evangelical” churches like ours. We are adopting a full-orbed commitment to gospel justice in ways that defy both political poles.

Well, I hope so. But I’m in those churches, and I’m not so sure. For the most part, I find that while we concern ourselves with personal salvation, we don’t dare to seriously address thorny societal issues beyond the traditional causes of the Christian Right. Coming out of the closet (as a Democrat or progressive) is still really awkward. Young people ARE leaving us due to our complacency about societal injustice. And efforts to address structural injustice (as opposed to alleviating its consequences) are still generally too hot to handle.

And I’m afraid that Rev. Keller’s own words would seem to reveal a pretty clear choice on his own part in the divide described by Russo. “Jesus didn’t come primarily to solve the economic, political, and social problems of the world,” wrote Keller in a recent Tweet. “He came to forgive our sins.”

Well, okay. But does our gospel force us to make this choice? Do we have to choose between the personal and the societal? It looks to me like this good man has chosen the personal – not the societal – redemption offered in the Christian gospel.

 

To be fair, Rev. Keller did qualify his choice with the word “primarily.” But there is still a choice to be made, isn’t there? Primarily, God did not love the “cosmos” so much that he gave his only begotten Son; rather, he loved the individual sinner. He loved me. He saved me. Personally. That’s the primary message of this particular gospel narrative, isn’t it?

But as I read them, the Gospels don’t force us to choose. To begin with, they tell us that “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son…” (John 3:16). The world. He loved the world. The gospel writer could have used the word “anthropos” – meaning the human world, individual people and mankind. And that’s the way my religious tribe usually presents the message. It’s human; it’s personal; it’s about God’s love for me – at least for starters.

But the apostle instead chose a different word for the world God loved: “kosmon.” God so loved the kosmon, from which we get the word “cosmos.” God loved the cosmos – the world of all things. Jesus uses the same word when he asks “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world (kosmon) and loses his soul?” It would seem that “the world” that God loves excludes nothing at all. God loves the world of “all things” without limit, whether people, or societal relationships, or ecosystems. And we learn from scripture that God sent his Son to reconcile “all things” to himself; and that at the culmination of history, he will make “all things” new. The entire cosmos. Everything.

So, is our gospel primarily personal? Or is it societal? Or is it ecological? Or do we really have to decide?  If God’s love for the cosmos undergirds the gospel, maybe we don’t have to.

And yet we evangelicals (or whatever we now call ourselves) have indeed decided, I’m afraid. The personal, individual message has it hands down. And if we mention societal holiness at all, it’s generally in broad, non-specific terms. We’re fine with God’s love for the poor. But the Medicaid that keeps them alive? Well, that may be too delicate for us to act on.

As a case in point, my wife Barbara and I traveled to Charlottesville, Virginia last August, at the same time that white supremacists and neo-Nazis were descending on the college town for a brazen show of gun-toting, torch-bearing racial intimidation. Mainline-denomination and African American Christians were everywhere, mobilizing opposition, operating church sanctuaries for those in danger, organizing transportation networks to evacuate the injured, and confronting the armed rally-goers with scripture, songs and prayers.

We began with planning in an Episcopal Church; we greeted the sunrise with prayer at an African-American church; the Methodists provided a sanctuary space for us all. These were people of many faith traditions. And, yes, we even saw one white evangelical church joining in the effort, led by their pastor.

But Virginia is teeming with evangelical churches. Where were they? Evangelical pastors from my own denomination (and Keller’s) had, by chance, congregated in Charlottesville at that very moment to deal with routine issues of church governance. But they stayed indoors, far away from the messy business of racism and ethnic hatred. Meanwhile, out on the streets, the white evangelicals such as ourselves were nearly invisible in a sea of diverse people congregating in mainline churches, acting in defense of Jews, African Americans, and general decency. Personal salvation, or societal reconciliation? In Charlottesville, the evangelicals appeared to choose the personal.

I don’t think this experience is isolated. In my experience, wherever action to address structural injustice is found, American evangelicalism is most notable by its absence, by its silence. Surely Pastor Keller must see some cases where evangelical churches genuinely relate their faith to the urgent social issues of the day. But to me, he’s arguing more from the exception rather than the rule.

More than anything, I wish Pastor Keller would address this question: Let’s assume that the worst of the bigotry voiced under the “big-E Evangelical” banner is in fact emanating from those without true faith and consistent religious practice. Even so, why is it that the remaining white evangelical church is generally silent or complicit in the face of rampant economic, ethnic, racial, gender and ecological injustice? We are born again, for goodness sake! Unless that’s just a get-in-free pass to Heaven, it has to mean something on Earth, doesn’t it?

(Warning: A response of “Christians-aren’t-perfect” simply will not do. If you are indwelt by the Spirit of God, you actually live somewhat more like Jesus did. And in his own words, Jesus came bearing good news and practical aid to the poor, the oppressed, the prisoner and the blind.)

Pastor Keller ends his article by siding with those who think the name “evangelical” will likely be abandoned or demoted. Personally, I think that’s a courageous prediction for a leading pastor in a conservative denomination. But beyond that, he predicts no change in belief among those in the movement. That’s where I think he would do well to explore a bit further. Current or former evangelicals will – indeed they must – ask themselves: What have we believed, or failed to believe, that has made us feel so comfortable with our place in a religious tribe which is so little devoted to the justice and mercy that defined our Savior’s life and mission? How could “God’s elect,” those indwelt by the Holy Spirit, have actively supported or silently acquiesced in some of the darkest societal ills seen in our generation? And how could we do so in greater numbers than those we regard as lost?

In the meantime, my thanks to Pastor Keller for making a good start. He has acknowledged the shame we feel. He has highlighted the role of world Christianity in shaping a more just mission for the Christian church. He has pointed us to examples of redemptive church life in our own country. But I pray that he won’t stop there. We are still forced to make choices that are foreign to the life and teaching of our Lord. We’ve got to look with brutal honesty at where we have lost our way. Because if Jesus came bringing hope and help to the poor and the powerless, then we’ve simply got to figure out why it’s so hard for us to follow him there.

To read Rev. Keller’s article, please follow this link.

Confessions of a Global Warming Alarmist

Last week, I was sobered to read a note of sincere concern from a close friend who – like me – belongs to the American evangelical movement. In reference to my increasingly shrill warnings about the consequences of climate inaction, this person wrote, in effect: “The only note you can sound right now is the Chicken Little note.”

Chicken Little. The sky is falling. Global warming alarmist.

Well, let’s be thankful for all God’s blessings, however they might sometimes seem to sting: It is rare to find a friend who loves you enough to tell you the truth as he or she sees it. But if your friends don’t share your sense of alarm, it’s also important to recognize this truth: Like my honest friend, they probably believe you’re a little nuts. You’re a climate fundamentalist. Of course, they are kind enough to tolerate you – as one would with a conspiracy theorist or a grouchy old uncle. But you’re still an alarmist.

As you alone know, they don’t recognize the agony you’ve gone through not to yield to the hopelessness of the unfolding data. This is the tortured debate among climate communication experts: How do you speak the scientific truth without causing everyone to simply give up and wait for the end to come? You see it in virtually all climate reports. Regardless of the factual content, the final narrative will always be the same: We can still solve this! The time to act is now!

What’s the point of reporting the factual implications if they push us over the brink into tomorrow-we-die fatalism? So you try to soften the implications of your words. And yet, your witness seems impossibly dour to people who don’t spend their time digesting the implications of our abuse of the creation, as you do. Your friends and your family think you’re Chicken Little.

So, with my friend’s letter in hand, I read with renewed interest an article in last week’s New Yorker magazine by Pulitzer-Prize winner Elizabeth Kolbert, dealing with the technical matter of “carbon dioxide removal” or “negative emissions” – the mostly theoretical idea of sucking CO2 out of the atmosphere and storing it safely forever. (Note: This isn’t the same as carbon capture and sequestration [CCS], which pulls the carbon out of smokestacks. This is full-bore geo-engineering, where vast infrastructure parses through the entire atmosphere to hunt down and trap excess carbon, and store it away forever out of reach of the earth’s climate systems.) This is truly radical stuff.

Reading about “negative emissions,” my interest was piqued, not by the technology, cost or logistical hurdles, but by the unspoken hopelessness of the facts that served as the backdrop for the discussion. We are now discussing “negative emissions,” not because it’s a terrific – or even feasible – idea, but because we can’t imagine a survivable world without this technology. Consider with me a few of the facts presented by Kolbert:

“Catastrophe,” while once cited in hyperbole, now occupies a prominent place in the scientific lexicon. Kolbert recounts the facts: “This past April, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached a record four hundred and ten parts per million. The amount of CO2 in the air now is probably greater than it’s been at any time since the mid-Pliocene, three and a half million years ago, when there was a lot less ice at the poles and sea levels were sixty feet higher. This year’s record will be surpassed next year, and next year’s the year after that. Even if every country fulfills the pledges made in the Paris climate accord—and the United States has said that it doesn’t intend to—carbon dioxide could soon reach levels that, it’s widely agreed, will lead to catastrophe, assuming it hasn’t already done so.

“As the world warmed, it started to change, first gradually and then suddenly. By now, the globe is at least one degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than it was [at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution], and the consequences are becoming ever more apparent. Heat waves are hotter, rainstorms more intense, and droughts drier. The wildfire season is growing longer, and fires, like the ones that recently ravaged Northern California, more numerous. Sea levels are rising, and the rate of rise is accelerating.”

In light of what we have already done, there is nothing we can do to stop the earth from warming at least to levels targeted as dangerous by every country under the Paris Acord: “Meanwhile, still more warming is locked in. There’s so much inertia in the climate system, which is as vast as the earth itself, that the globe has yet to fully adjust to the hundreds of billions of tons of carbon dioxide that have been added to the atmosphere in the past few decades. It’s been calculated that to equilibrate to current CO2 levels the planet still needs to warm by half a degree [in addition to one degree already in the books]. And every ten days another billion tons of carbon dioxide are released. Last month, the World Meteorological Organization announced that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere jumped by a record amount in 2016.”

Few voices are telling us how radical are the personal and societal changes needed to salvage a world whose climate can support its species, including humanity: “When the I.P.C.C. went looking for ways to hold the temperature increase under two degrees Celsius, it found the math punishing. Global emissions would have to fall rapidly and dramatically—pretty much down to zero by the middle of this century. (This would entail, among other things, replacing most of the world’s power plants, revamping its agricultural systems, and eliminating gasoline-powered vehicles, all within the next few decades.) Alternatively, humanity could, in effect, go into hock. It could allow CO2 levels temporarily to exceed the two-degree threshold—a situation that’s become known as ‘overshoot’—and then, via negative emissions, pull the excess CO2 out of the air.”

The odds against us are more daunting than climate communication experts will ever advise us to admit: “The I.P.C.C. considered more than a thousand possible scenarios. Of these, only a hundred and sixteen limit warming to below two degrees, and of these a hundred and eight involve negative emissions. In many below-two-degree scenarios, the quantity of negative emissions called for reaches the same order of magnitude as the ‘positive’ emissions being produced today.”

Please, my friends, let that sink in. More than one thousand scientific models have been run. Only sixteen conclude that humanity can keep global warming to two degrees Celsius. Of those sixteen, only eight reach that conclusion without reliance on massive, arguably-fictional geo-engineering technologies that actually suck up and hide the pollution that we are emitting today. And, even those assume immediate Herculean efforts at every national and sub-national level – efforts that we are still refusing to adopt as a country, and perhaps as a world.

For me, this dismal narrative explains, to a considerable degree, the renewed interest in biblical lamentation among young people of faith. The prophets and psalmists saw the Babylonian exile coming; others wept in captivity as they remembered their homeland; they raised their complaint to God with bitter tears. They maintained profound hope rooted in God’s faithfulness; but sunny, can-do optimism is nowhere to be found.

And today, you share much with those prophets and psalmists. You have tasted God’s grace in creation and redemption; you have placed your hope in his love. Yet you also know that God’s love is not a magical antidote to suffering in this world, whether personal or societal. Genocide, starvation, famine, pandemic and flood afflict all of mankind, in virtually every age, regardless of faith commitments.

And yet, you pray “thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.” And in this age, that might make you an alarmist, like me. We must resist the arrogance of dogmatic certainty. But some things are terrifyingly clear. Our walk of faith today is to work and to speak for those who cannot speak. And finally, to pray for faith to believe that this world’s Maker will ultimately be just, despite the calamity we are bringing upon his beloved planet.

 

Read Elizabeth Kolbert’s article here: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/11/20/can-carbon-dioxide-removal-save-the-world