A former Lutheran pastor sharing thoughts on faith and life. Please join the conversation! I love your comments!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Advent People

Last summer, it was with much joy that we loaded up our wagon and headed north in the hopes of escaping the relentless 100 degree heat of Kansas. We left in the midst of a drought, thankful that while things were bad, at least we still had it better than the folks in Oklahoma and Texas. Driving through South Dakota's Black Hills, the beauty of the mountains was marred only by the acres upon acres of bleak, solitary pine trunks, victims of the ravaging pine beetle. Saskatchewan greeted us with flooded fields and frustrated farmers, unable to ever get their wheat crop into the ground due to almost daily rainfall. As we headed home, interstate was closed in a section of North Dakota. On our detour, we looked on in disbelief at houses standing in lakes. We returned home to ongoing heat and drought. This fall, I regularly monitored the water level in the Little Arkansas River that runs near our home, that is, until it dried up. When my daughter and I headed out for a fall walk in our next door pasture, we walked across what we used to refer to as the "Frog Pond" and wondered aloud if the frogs had hopefully survived by tunneling down deep into the cracks between the clods of dried mud under our feet. At the same time, a facebook friend was posting regular updates and pictures of historic flooding in upstate New York. More recently, we 've heard news coverage about the statewide wildbrush fires in Nevada. Last week, freakishly high winds swept across California, Utah and Colorado doing much damage.

Cimate change, environmental science, global wierding, say it how you will, this is a topic that hasn't been receiving front page attention for the last few years as economic hard times have kicked it on down the list of grievances demanding national attention. But nature doesn't care so much about the state of our economy. And so the plight of the environment has remained front and center, right outside our living room windows.

Despite a fading media spotlight, an interesting study recently emerged. A few years ago some climate scientists were accused of doctoring their numbers to make things appear worse than they actually are. The media dubbed it "Climategate". In response, a prominent physicist and well-known climate change skeptic, Richard Muller, decided to do his own research, fully anticipating empirical data would prove the earth isn't warming at an alarming rate after all. A large part of his study was funded by the Tea Party and by the Koch brothers, managers and owners of the second largest privately owned company in the United States (and based out of Wichita, Kansas). This company specializes and invests heavily in the oil industry. Muller's study lasted two years and his results, quietly published in October, comprehensively support all current climate statistical data. As a result, Muller has switched his position and now acknowledges the land is indeed 1.6C warmer than it was in the 1950's.

The Isaiah text for Sunday speaks to the landscape changing as valleys are lifted up and mountains are made low. Our landscape is certainly changing! Though the Isaiah reference infers not a bad change, but a good one. Yet isn't it interesting how the changes environmentalists urge us to make are not so very different from the changes God calls us to make daily as we turn towards repentance.

Yesterday I asked my congregation what they thought will characterize life in God's Kingdom - whether we're talking life after death, life after Christ's return, or life here in this world when God's Kingdom is fully realized for a fleeting moment. Their responses were very similar to my own.

As I think about God's Kingdom, I think of a time and place where justice reigns. No longer does there exist "not enough" because all needs are well supplied. This is partnered by the complete disappearance of materialism and consumerism. We, who always strive for more, will finally know what it means to be content. Those who have always struggled to have basic needs met, will know the joy of needs abundantly supplied. The natural law of the land will be love and therefore no other law will be required. Tears, sorrow, death will be no more.

Some of our hopeful descriptions will not be realized in this life. We will always have to contend with sorrow and grief and death. The law of love will not be fully realized and so we will need lots of other laws and regulations. However, some of this is very much within our grasp if we decide to get serious and start making it happen. The advancement of justice, the eradication of poverty, a decreasing emphasis on consumption and materialism - these are all very doable. And if we begin to really make a dent in these areas, than we also alleviate suffering and grief. We do begin to embody a greater law of love.

I read an interesting article this week from The Nation magazine called, "Capitalism vs. the Climate" by Naomi Klein, a well-respected journalist and author. (http://www.thenation.com/article/164497/capitalism-vs-climate?page=0,0) In this article Klein suggests climate change deniers perhaps understand the societal repercussions of the scientific evidence better than those of us who do accept the reality of climate change. Their fierce opposition is triggered by their fear of the changes that must occur if environmental conditions really are as dire as climate scientists suggest.

Klein then goes on to briefly outline what a "serious climate agenda" would look like in the following six arenas: public infrastructure, economic planning, corporate regulation, international trade, consumption and taxation.

Klein begins, advocating for the creation of efficient and affordable mass-transit across the country. She writes, "Traditionally, battles to protect the public sphere are cast as conflicts between irresponsible leftists who want to spend without limit and practical realists who understand that we are living beyond our economic means. But the gravity of the climate crisis cries out for a radically new conception of realism, as well as a very different understanding of limits. Government budget deficits are not nearly as dangerous as the deficits we have created in vital and complex natural systems. Changing our culture to respect those limits will require all of our collective muscle--to get ourselves off fossil fuels and shore up communal infrastructure for the coming storms."

Second, she calls us back to the "lost art of planninig"--planning on every level of society. From federal to local, we must all wrestle with and make very tangible plans that will enable us to begin weaning ourselves from fossil fuel dependance.

Third, Klein calls for more and much stricter regulation for corporations and notes that it is with good reason corporate leaders are at the forefront of the climate change denial movement.

Fourth, she attacks our current understanding of "free-trade" which is free only for those who benefit the most, but is in fact costly for the greater majority, including the environment. Klein writes, "Climate change does not demand an end to trade. But it does demand an end to the reckless form of "free trade" that governs every bilateral trade agreement as well as the World Trade Organization. This is more good news--for unemployed workers, for farmers unable to compete with cheap imports, for communities that have seen their manufacturers move offshore and their local businesses replaced with big boxes. But the challenge this poses to the capitalist project should not be underestimated: it represents the reversal of the thirty-year trend of removing every possible limit on corporate power."

Klein entitles the fifth arena, "ending the cult of shopping." As things stand now, every energy efficient advance is accompanied by an increase in consumption that in effect, cancels out all the energy savings. We are consuming too much. We have exceeded the limits of sustainability and must learn how to live with less.

And sixth, going where the money is with increased taxation. Klein speaks to the traditional remedy of growing our way out of crisis before dismissing the theory as ludacris given that we've already grown beyond our limits. She calls to mind the fact that tobacco companies were made to pay for the harm their products caused when the cancer connection was finally proven. In the same way, she suggests the greatest polluters should perhaps be called upon to pay the most.

Of taxation, Klein writes, "That means taxing carbon, as well as financial speculation. It means increasing taxes on corporations and the wealthy, cutting bloated military budgets and eliminating absurd subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. And governments will have to coordinate their responses so that corporations will have nowhere to hide...When [deniers] claim, as they so often do, that climate change is a plot to 'redistribute wealth' and wage class war, these are the types of policies they most fear. They also understand that, once the reality of climate change is recognized, wealth will have to be transferred not just within wealthy countries, but also from the rich countries whose emissions created the crisis to poorer ones on the front lines of its effects."

While many would hear these six suggestions as the end of the world, I read this and I think, "Yes!" Here we have a plan to begin putting God's upside-down Kingdom values into place and I find that tremendously exciting! What Klein describes would help begin building God's Kingdom here on earth. And yes, it would mean an awful lot of change and change is scary. We might even end up, in fact I will just say, hopefully those of us with more than enough would end up with materially less and would need to learn how to make do with less of our wants. Even if the earth, our environment were not threatened, I would welcome these proposals as a giant step in the right direction simply because they are the right thing to do. That I believe we must act on these general ideas if we take our future seriously only adds more impetus.

Sunday's lectionary texts were all about repentance, but they aren't harsh, rather, gentle. In the gospel of Mark, John is preparing the way for Jesus by proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The people aren't ready for Jesus just yet. Repentance is called for before they'll really be able to see with Kingdom eyes.

Isaiah speaks words of comfort while also reminding people that when God comes, everything changes--valleys are lifted, mountains are brought low (whispers of the upside-down Kingdom in the Old Testament), the landscape changes and people - people are like grass - here today, gone tomorrow. Yet despite this, God gently and tenderly gathers us all in like a shepherd with his flock. These are words of comfort for a people who have been severely chastised and who have repented.

Psalm 85 is a psalm of repentance. The Psalmist is pleading to God for forgiveness and reconciliation. It ends with the author's vision of God's Kingdom. "Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other. Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky. The Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase. Righteousness will go before him, and will make a path for his steps (NRSV)."

Advent is a time of anticipation and intentional preparation. As we learn from John, part of preparation is repentance. Looking at our American society, if our best indicator of what we're willing to do is what we're actually doing, then we're not ready for or even too terribly interested in Christ's return. But the church is different from our general society. We, the church, are that people yearning for and striving towards God's revelation. We are Advent people, turning always towards repentance, embracing those moments when righteousness and peace kiss each other.

Some final food for thought from Naomi Klein. "The fact that the earth's atmosphere cannot safely absorb the amount of carbon we are pumping into it is a symptom of a much larger crisis, one born of the central fiction on which our economic model is based: that nature is limitless, that we will always be able to find more of what we need, and that if something runs out it can be seamlessly replaced by another resource that we can endlessly extract. But it is not just the atmosphere that we have exploited beyond its capacity to recover--we are doing the same to the oceans, to freshwater, to topsoil and to biodiversity. The expansionist, extractive mindset, which has so long governed our relationship to nature, is what the climate crisis calls into question so fundamentally. The abudance of scientific research showing we have pushed nature beyond its limits does not just demand green products and market-based solutions; it demands a new civilizational paradigm, one grounded not in dominace over nature but in respect for natural cycles of renewal--and acutely sensitive to natural limits, including the limits of human intelligence."

A fine statement of repentance....

1 comment:

Sheri Ellwood said...

Great thoughts! Isn't it interesting and exciting how it all seems to tie together?! We need a radical transformation in our philosophy on life: from competing to see who can get the most to making sure all have enough. If we can move in that direction it will address so many challenges from climate, to politics, to social justice, etc. And it does all seem very consistent with scripture. It is overwhelming to think about but still hopeful and exciting. Thanks for your thoughts and research.