Monthly Archives: August 2015

Summer of Trump Yields to Autumn of Francis

And I can hardly wait.

Because it’s been a really long summer. And that’s coming from a man – an old, white man, at that. Makes me wonder how women and people of color must be feeling.

But still, it’s been grueling. It’s not just the narcissism, or the rudeness, or the stupidity, or the frivolity. It’s this: That constant drumbeat that we need to keep them out, suppress them, even kill them.

Them. You know, THEM.

Maybe they’re rapists and criminals. Maybe they’re terrorists. Maybe they’re stealing our jobs. Maybe they want us to acknowledge that their lives matter. THEM.

We need to build walls against THEM. We need to deport THEM. We need to stop THEM from devaluing their currency. We can’t let THEM vote.

I wish it were just Trump. But it seems almost everyone wants to make sure he’s not out-Trumped by anyone else. It seems to be the easiest ticket to popularity in an American election season: Make sure everyone hates and fears the dark and sinister THEM.

Pope_Francis_Korea_Haemi_Castle_19_(cropped)But while I hear it every night on the news, during the day I’ve been reading Pope Francis’ wonderful letter “On Care for Our Common Home,” or “Laudato Si’ (Be praised, my Lord).” If there are more striking polar opposites, I can’t think of any more pronounced than the message peddled by Trump (and Trump wannabees), and the hopeful message of Francis.

And that’s because – at least in part – Francis doesn’t recognize that any of us are THEM. The title of Laudato Si’ gives you the first clue: “Care for Our Common Home.” OUR home. Our COMMON home. It’s not an American home over here, and a Mexican, Syrian or Chinese home over there. It’s one home, shared by everyone, protected for everyone, or polluted for everyone. Treasured for everyone, or debased for everyone.

“We need to strengthen the conviction,” says Francis, “that we are one single human family. There are no frontiers or barriers, political or social, behind which we can hide, still less is there room for the globalization of indifference.”

“Whether believers or not, we are agreed today that the earth is essentially a shared inheritance, whose fruits are meant to benefit everyone. For believers, this becomes a question of fidelity to the Creator, since God created the world for everyone.”

But back here in the Summer of Trump, we’re treated nightly to plans to build a 2,000-mile wall to keep THEM out. “Nobody builds better walls than me, believe me,” says the orange-haired fellow. Never mind that net migration across that particular border is actually ZERO.

But for Trump and the keep-THEM-out crowd, their worst fears are about to be realized. They are – in fact – coming. THEM. But in this case, THEM is a smiling, one-lunged, Argentinian priest and his collection of bishops from all over the world.

He’s going to be greeted by throngs that will put to shame the pitiful little crowds that cheer and sneer for Trump. And Francis is not just going to comfort his audience with assurances that we are all common creatures of one loving Lord and Father. He’s got some tough love for us: We, on THIS side of the border, owe a staggering debt to THEM, on the other side.

“A true ‘ecological debt’ exists,” he has said, “particularly between the global north and south, connected to commercial imbalances with effects on the environment, and the disproportionate use of natural resources by certain countries (you know who he’s talking about, don’t you?) over long periods of time.”

In effect, we’ve been polluting the whole world’s atmosphere for so long, and gotten so rich by doing so, that we are far worse than mere equals of our poorer migrant brothers. We are, Pope Francis points out, deeply in hock to those who are suffering the global effects of our 200-year fossil-fuel binge.

So when Francis speaks publicly in Philadelphia or Washington, I’ll find a way to be in the crowd. I don’t expect to be entertained. I know that all quarter-million of us on the National Mall will be among the “twenty percent of the world’s population” that “consumes resources at a rate that robs the poor nations and future generations of what they need to survive,” according to Francis.

I expect him to tell us that we need to consume and pollute far less for the sake of our children. “The pace of consumption, waste and environmental change has so stretched the planet’s capacity that our contemporary lifestyle, unsustainable as it is, can only precipitate catastrophes,” he has written. “Intergenerational solidarity is not optional, but rather a basic question of justice.”

I don’t expect it to be all that much fun. But I plan to be there. Because maybe, just maybe, the summer of stoking fear of THEM is finally yielding to the autumn of US.

If so, I want to be part of it.

J. Elwood

Download Laudato Si’ Digest : our own thumbnail version of Pope Francis’ letter “On Care For Our Common Home.”

What Hillary Can Learn from “the Donald”

Dear Secretary Clinton,

I’m sitting at my desk this morning, wondering: What happened? You may have never been the perfect candidate, but you were a smart leader, with a moral compass on behalf of the oppressed, whose instincts could mostly be trusted. You would listen to reason. And you were walloping any of the boys the politicos might send up against you.

But now, Bernie Sanders has won the hearts of the justice voters. Vice President Biden is being drafted by voters who long for some real heart. And the GOP has gone for a straight-talking reality TV star.

How the heck did we get here?

I think I have an idea. And just maybe, it can help you recover a bit of your mojo. You see, for months now, pundits have dismissed all the reckless crazies who shoot off their mouths at the drop of a hat. Trump was history when he called millions among us rapists. Cruz was pronounced dead when he likened Obamacare to Nazi Germany. Biden’s loose lips got him way out in front of the President on marriage equality. And Sanders foolishly welcomed the “socialist” epithet.

Those guys are all history, right? Actually, not right. Whatever we may think about immigration, health care, marriage or any other underlying issue, it seems that we voters sort of like people who will speak their minds. Even buffoons might be given a pass if voters think they’re telling it like it is.

Picture1And that brings me to your recent comments about the Keystone XL Pipeline. I may be wrong, but I’m pretty sure that almost no one believes you’re dodging this issue because of a valid technical constraint. You’ve said the “I have to keep my opinions to myself” because you were once involved in reviewing TransCanada’s application to build the tar sands pipeline through the middle of our country.

“I want to wait and see” what President Obama and Secretary Kerry decide, you said.

Well, of course you want to wait and see. But wait-and-see has been on a bit of a losing streak these days. We voters want to know what leaders really think. And your dodges make tend to make us suspect the worst, even if we’re wrong.

The worst? It’s not lost on us that ExxonMobil, a huge tar sands investor, has contributed heavily to the Clinton Foundation. We saw that as Secretary of State, you quietly supported the pipeline. We held our noses when one of your key campaign managers even went on to become a well-paid lobbyist for TransCanada. So we nervously ask ourselves, has she been bought off by Exxon? By TransCanada? By Stephen Harper’s Canadian petro-state?

Look, maybe you really once liked this awful project. But that was a long time ago. How were you to know that thousands of your countrymen were willing to be arrested in their efforts to stop it? That was before some 30,000 “pipeline fighters” locked arms around the White House, and before 400,000 of us marched through New York City to demand real climate action. That was before your own president vowed to reject the permit if Keystone XL would contribute to climate change – which it clearly will.

So maybe it’s time to take a lesson from “the Donald,” and all those other shoot-from-the-hip candidates at either end of the spectrum. Tell us what you’re thinking about Keystone XL. Tell us now. I’m just sure you don’t imagine that your silence is going to win you the drill-baby-drill vote. But it may cost you the support of millions of Americans who are attracted to people who seem to be speaking their minds – whatever may be in there.

You took a step in this direction last week, and I personally think it helped you. Even though President Obama has approved Shell’s oil drilling in the Arctic, you went out on a limb and opposed your former boss. “The Arctic is a unique treasure,” you said. “Given what we know, it’s not worth the risk of drilling.”

Hey, that’s good. The President may not be happy. Shell and the Trump crowd may be seething. But voters heard something different than “wait and see.” I bet you’re standing a little taller for all that.

Now, how about trying it out on that Canadian tar sands pipeline? We will feel much better about you, I’m sure.

Respectfully,

J. Elwood

Pray With Us for the Creation!

We would like to invite you to participate in what may be the first truly global response by Christians to our many environmental crises. You can do it by joining in a Telephonic Prayer Meeting organized by Evangelical Christians engaged in various Creation Care ministries.

  • When? Tuesday, September 1, 8:00-8:50 PM  Eastern, 5:00-5:50 Pacific
  • Call in instructions: Dial 1-302-202-1106 – Conference code: 381142 (Kindly mute your line upon connecting.)
  • Who’s involved? Representatives of the World Evangelical Alliance, the Lausanne evangelistic movement’s Creation Care Network, Care of Creation, Climate Caretakers, Sojourners, Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, the A Rocha Christian conservation ministry, the Christian Reformed Church, the Presbyterian Church and Christians for the Mountains, among many others – including Beloved Planet!
  • How can I participate? Download the Pray for Creation prayer guide, call in and join numerous speakers in scripture readings, devotions and prayer for our world, for repentance, for those in power, and for the church. And forward this email to your friends, small group members, pastors, family members and the like. There’s room for everyone to join in prayer!

earthVirtually the entire global Christian Church has embraced next Tuesday, September 1 as a Global Day of Prayer for Care of the Creation. Patriarch Bartholomew of the Orthodox Communion inaugurated the observance some twenty-five years ago, calling on “every person, and above all the faithful, to constantly watch over his fellow man and the world, for the benefit of us all and for the glory of the Creator.” Cheers for the Orthodox! 200 million Christians.

Last week, Pope Francis joined in on behalf of the world’s Roman Catholics. “The ecological crisis therefore calls us to a profound spiritual conversion,” wrote the Pope in announcing the Day of Prayer. “Christians are called to an ecological conversion whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them.” Cheers for the Catholics! Another 1.1 billion Christians. With the Orthodox, the tally reaches 1.3 billion people called to prayer for the beloved planet.

In no time at all, the World Council of Churches, representing roughly 500 million Protestant Christians in 110 countries committed to observing the Day of Prayer, and extending it for more than a month-long “Time for Creation.” Hooray WCC! The tally? Around 1.6 billion Christians.

And now, the Protestant World Evangelical Alliance, representing more than 600 million Christians in 129 countries has added their “Amen” to the Day of Prayer. That’s 2.2 billion Christians. And that’s just about all of us. All praying for God’s healing of our polluted planet. All repenting of our toxic consumerist idolatry. All praying for God’s people to rise up to protect our Father’s world.

You can join us, wherever you are. Pray for biblical simplicity of life. Pray for the poor, who disproportionately suffer the effects of pollution caused by others. Pray for those facing extreme weather – drought, flooding, and intense storms driving hunger, conflict and human migration. Pray for all who rely on marine ecosystems, in the face of worldwide ocean acidification. Pray for those in the path of rising sea levels and melting ice sheets. Pray for those in power, to commit to bold and compassionate action for people of every nation.

And if you’re free at 8:00 PM Eastern Time on Tuesday, then call in and join us for a few minutes. This is our Father’s world. Let’s pray – and then act faithfully – for its healing.

J. Elwood

Note: If you cannot make it to our Prayer Call, but still want to pray with others, then click here to access several calls being hosted by Evangelical Environmental Network.

Pope Francis: Who is my Neighbor?

New Jersey is my home. I live here, I farm here, and I pay taxes here. And that – those taxes, that is – can sometimes get on my nerves.

It’s not because of how much we pay. Really. It’s just this: we get so little back for the money we send to Washington. For every dollar in Federal taxes we pay in New Jersey, only 48 cents comes back to us. By contrast, our countrymen in famously tax-averse South Carolina receive a whopping $5.38 from the Feds for every dollar they pay. And they’re joined by fellow tax-haters – Mississippi, Alabama, Kentucky, and Florida, all of which get back more than double what they pay out.

At first, this really annoys me. But I’ve decided – after much soul-searching – that my reaction calls for more repentance, and less anger. Men and women in South Carolina are fellow citizens with us New Jersians. Why shouldn’t we give more to them, if we have the ability to meet their needs? They’re our fellow Americans, right?

In fact, our friends from Delaware are compelled to be even more generous, with benefits of only 31 cents on the tax dollar. And New York, Ohio, Illinois, and Nebraska aren’t far behind in subsidizing other states. But they shouldn’t complain either. This is what you do for the greater American family, right?

This issue came into focus last month as Greece teetered on the brink of default and expulsion from the European Union. Greece’s debts had run up to $323 billion Euros, and they just couldn’t keep up. Their European neighbors weren’t the slightest bit happy about it. But if the American states accounted for debt the way Europe has been doing it, then South Carolina and many of its neighboring states would be in a world of hurt. They’d never be able to repay what they’ve received, and the poor would become poorer yet.

Who is my neighbor?

Who is my neighbor?

Europe, it seems, is still grappling with the question of what it means to be one people group, where those who can afford it help out those who can’t. But this raises a deeper question, doesn’t it? Who, in fact, is my neighbor? Where does entitlement to neighborly generosity end? With my family? Or my church? Or my town, state or country? Who should be able to count on my help? Of course, this question lurks just below the surface of many of our national policy debates.

And into this debate last month, Pope Francis jumped with both feet. In a 180-page letter addressed “to all people of goodwill,” the Pope stressed the intimate connectedness of all living things all over the world – to each other, and to God. His letter bears the Latin title “Laudato Si’” (“Praise be to You, My Lord”), but its subtitle is more informative: “On Care for Our Common Home.”

That “common home” language in the title tells us a lot about where the world’s largest Christian church is headed: “We need to strengthen the conviction that we are one single human family,” wrote the Pope. “There are no frontiers or barriers, political or social, behind which we can hide, still less is there room for the globalization of indifference.”

A single human family? Even South Carolinians? Even Greeks? Where does it end?

Well, if you’re like me – prone to fret over your tax money benefiting distant strangers – then the Pope’s teaching may feel like a splash of ice-cold water. Each and every human has a right to the bounty of the earth. Christ-followers, particularly, are bound to recognize this in submission to their Lord: “Whether believers or not, we are agreed today that the earth is essentially a shared inheritance, whose fruits are meant to benefit everyone. For believers, this becomes a question of fidelity to the Creator, since God created the world for everyone.”

Who is my neighbor?

Who is my neighbor?

Consider a few of the Pope’s neighbor principles:

The fruits of the earth belong to the entire human family: “The gift of the earth with its fruits belongs to everyone.”

Each person has sacred, holy value: “We were conceived in the heart of God, and for this reason each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.”

The poor especially deserve our care and attention: “The poor have no other financial activities or resources which can enable them to adapt to climate change or to face natural disasters…. Our lack of response to these tragedies involving our brothers and sisters points to the loss of that sense of responsibility for our fellow men and women upon which all civil society is founded.”

We need something like conversion to embrace our connection to people all over the earth: “Many things have to change course, but it is we human beings above all who need to change. We lack an awareness of our common origin, of our mutual belonging, and of a future to be shared with everyone.”

We in the developed West will have to bear many costs of harms for which others are suffering: “The countries which have benefited from a high degree of industrialization, at the cost of enormous emissions of greenhouse gases, have a greater responsibility for providing a solution to the problems they have caused.”

We must preserve and improve the earth for future generations, not extract and consume it for ourselves: “Intergenerational solidarity is not optional, but rather a basic question of justice, since the world we have received also belongs to those who will follow us.”

Simplicity, not infinite growth, is required to make the world livable for its entire human family: “The pace of consumption, waste and environmental change has so stretched the planet’s capacity that our contemporary lifestyle, unsustainable as it is, can only precipitate catastrophes….”

Our vision for family loyalty must go beyond humanity, to all creatures that God creates and loves: “All creatures are moving forward with us and through us towards a common point of arrival, which is God, in that transcendent fullness where the risen Christ embraces and illumines all things.”

Who is my neighbor?

Who is my neighbor?

Lofty words? Wishful naïveté? Well, maybe. But people can change. Let’s not forget that there was a time when people from my state would never have paid so dearly to benefit those strangers in South Carolina and Kentucky. But now, we think of them as something like family: one nation, under God – Isn’t that what we say?

Can we imagine a day when travelers on this wonderful, injured planet will begin to think that way of all God’s people and creatures?

J. Elwood

Evangelicals, Catholics and Climate Pollution: The Sleeping Giant is Stirring

This just might be the year.

After a string of losses and frustration spanning more than a decade, this looks like the year that efforts by the Christian faith community to protect the world’s climate systems are starting to pay off. When historians look back to pinpoint the turning point in the battle against climate catastrophe, I’m beginning to believe they will focus on this time – 2015.

Why this year? Well, consider:

  • The world’s two largest economies – the US and China – have finally agreed this year to serious cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, and have called on the rest of the world to do the same.
  • With the global climate meetings planned for early December in Paris, the rest of the world is getting on board as well. So far, fifty-three countries representing the vast majority of the global economy have already submitted plans for cutting climate-warming pollution. Among them, Russia, Japan, and the entire European Union have joined the US and China, committing to significant reductions in carbon emissions.
  • The leader of the world’s largest religion, Pope Francis, has issued an urgent call to action by all Christians to protect the creation in the face of manmade climate impacts that fall most heavily on the poor.
  • And with the pivotal climate summit in Paris only four months away, American evangelical Christians have launched a new community – Climate Caretakers – committing themselves to prayer and action in response to the climate crisis.

Climate Caretakers isn’t remotely the first evangelical foray into the struggle to protect the creation from climate-warming pollution. During the past decade, American Christians issued the Evangelical Climate Initiative, concluding that “Christians must care about climate change….” The 190-nation evangelical Lausanne Movement issued a call to action, finding that “the most serious and urgent challenge faced by the physical world now is the threat of climate change.” The Evangelical Environmental Network gathered many thousands of signatures in support of limits on carbon and mercury pollution from power plants. The National Association of Evangelicals clarified the link between Jesus’ command to love “the least of these” with the duty to protect the environment. The Christian Reformed Church adopted an exhaustive endorsement of the findings of climate science and called on all Christians to take action. And the Orthodox “green patriarch” Bartholomew has issued unrelenting calls for compassionate climate action, as have Anglican and other Protestant denominations.Sign CCC 2

But in launching Climate Caretakers, Christians are offering a simple way that the faithful can commit to pray and act in ways that demonstrate love for their Father by protecting his world, and to love others by protecting the natural systems vital to their survival. They are inviting Christians to do the following:

  • Affirm God’s purpose for his creation to flourish.
  • Confess the harm that we have each done to God’s world and his people.
  • Recognize the cloud of witnesses who testify to the impact of climate disruption upon the poor of the world.
  • Commit to faithful prayer and bold action in pursuit of lasting solutions to the climate crisis.

They envision a world in which delegates from every nation will be prayed for regularly as climate negotiations proceed; a world with thousands of Christians considering daily what it means to be a steward of their Father’s creation; one in which children know that their elders care deeply about the world they will inherit; and where policymakers know that they must answer to a growing movement of compassion for the innocent victims of unrestrained, unlimited and unpriced pollution.

The Climate Caretakers Commitment has been made by pastors, scientists, denominational leaders, educators and lay people. And it’s easy to join them, by signing the commitment at http://climatecaretakers.org .

This could well be the year that the dam of denial and apathy finally bursts under pressure from praying believers. All of us can be among those changing history by our faithful prayers and compassionate action. You are invited to join them.

And yet, the painful reality is that many otherwise compassionate Christians will remain disengaged. Some will be confused by the gaggle of “think-tanks” dedicated to manufactured doubt about climate science. Others will be lulled into inaction by airwaves choked with cheery ads about “clean coal” and “safe” fracking. Others will mistakenly conflate care for God’s creation with liberal politics. Still others will be tempted to give up, because of entrenched politicians smearing science as a “massive hoax” and vowing to scuttle even skeletal efforts at global climate cooperation.

But I believe that this tide too has begun to turn. We’re seeing today that the truth can only be suppressed for just so long. Today, a solid majority of voters in the key swing states support climate action. Politicians who once denied climate science have revised their script to simply assert that they are not scientists, hoping to satisfy their polluting donors while not appearing laughable to voters. Young people, Catholics, and people of color have become especially concerned about the climate crisis.

This may be the year that the tide finally turns. We all have a choice whether or not to engage for the sake of God’s world and his people. Or perhaps we’ll try to just get along. Won’t you join me in one small step? Log on to Climate Caretakers. Make the commitment to pray and act. It might not seem like much at first, but maybe you’ll end up being a hero to your grandkids.

It may take time, but let’s start praying – and acting – now.

J. Elwood