June 2016 – A Year’s Worth of Difference

blending wisdom with loveCreative Commons Image by atinirdosh on Flickr.

It’s been almost a year since Laudato Si’ was released, Pope Francis’s monumental encyclical on climate change. Since then, the Pope’s encyclical, and his U.S. visit in September, with his address to Congress, have indeed shifted the debate. He examined climate change from all angles, and addressed not simply Catholics, nor only people of faith, but all the world’s human inhabitants, conferring on this crisis the gravity it deserves.

Several weeks before Laudato Si’ was released, I attended Interfaith Power & Light’s (IPL) annual conference in Washington, D.C. As was customary, we spent our final day on Capital Hill, meeting with staff members of our U.S. senators and representatives. Especially for those of us living in midwest coal country, advocating before politicians who adamantly denied climate change was dispiriting.

But when I returned this May for our pilgrimage to legislative offices, I sensed a quiet shift underway. This year, congressional and senate staffers who previously dismissed climate change were discussing it. Support was expressed for the Green Climate Fund. There was perceptible movement.

It goes back to last September when, coinciding with the Pope’s visit, Republican representative Chris Gibson and ten other Republicans introduced the “Gibson resolution,” acknowledging the reality of climate change and calling for better environmental stewardship. As the New York congressman 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.

There is more to the backstory than the news told, we learned at this year’s IPL meeting. It was the Quakers who initiated this. (It’s worth remembering it was also the Quakers who, two centuries ago, led the charge for slavery’s abolition.)

The offices of the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), the nation’s oldest nonpartisan, ecumenical lobby, stand just across the street from the U.S. senate offices. Emily Wirzba, policy associate for sustainable energy and environment at FCNL, described to us 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.

June 5

  • 1 Kings 17:8-16, (17-24) and 1 Kings 17:17-24 continue stories of the prophet Elijah. God provides food for the poor and rescues them from sorrow.
  • Psalms 146 and 30 both speak of trust. Psalm 146 describes God’s care for hungry, prisoners, blind, and poor, and proclaims God as the benefactor not only of humble people, but also of all who live in earth and sky and sea. Psalm 30 reminds readers that restoration depends upon God, who established the speaker as “a strong mountain.”
  • Galatians 1:11-24 continuing last week’s reading, describes Paul’s own journey of courage and trust.
  • Luke 7:11-17 discloses God’s power to restore even the dead.

June 12

  • 1 Kings 21:1-10, (11-14), 15-21a and 2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15 both relate stories of violent ecological theft by the greedy: Naboth loses his vineyard and his life; the poor man loses his beloved lamb. God’s reactions show disdain for greed and concern for close ties between humans, their land, and their animals.
  • Psalms 5:1-8 and 32 both counsel reliance upon God and attentiveness to God’s paths.
  • Galatians 2:15-21 emphasizes living by grace.
  • Luke 7:36-8:3 shows those who recognize how greatly God has blessed them displaying more fervent gratitude.

June 19

  • 1 Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), 8-15a and Isaiah 65:1-9 both show divine care for the minority who seek justice.
  • Psalm 42-43 and Psalm 22:19-28 both employ animal imagery. Psalm 42-43 envisions the speaker as a thirsty deer in the wilderness. Psalm 22 envisions the enemies as dogs, lions, and wild oxen, reminding readers of these animals’ agency and power.
  • Galatians 3:23-29 reminds readers of the equality of all in God’s eyes.
  • Luke 8:26-39 narrates Jesus’ healing of a mentally ill man, and his request that the man broadcast what God has done for him.

June 26

  • 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14 and 1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21 both tell of Elisha’s following after Elijah, the first from the end of their story together and the second from the beginning, narrating the passing of faithful vocations from one generation to the next.
  • Psalms 77:1-2, 11-20 and 16 both describe God’s paths in wild places. Psalm 77 describes the waters of the Red Sea parting before God, whose path was through the mighty waters. In Psalm 16, God shows the joyful path of life.
  • Galatians 5:1, 13-25 commends the fruit of the spirit. True freedom consists in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, not in self-centered grasping.
  • Luke 9:51-62 relates the single-minded path of non-materialism followed by Jesus and his disciples.