CO2

Standard

Carbon Dioxide

Judeo-Christian scripture is crystal clear about God’s command to human beings to take good care of the creation. There are obvious reasons for this. The earth is our home, a gift from God, filled with abundant resources and natural beauty.

Every Sunday our congregation’s intercessory prayers include a petition for the stewardship of the earth. From week to week the petition covers a lot of ground, meaning that we lift to God our concerns for everyone from home gardeners to farmers and ranchers, from the land and sea to the stars in the heavens, from all living creatures to favorable weather (always a plea when one lives in Northeast Ohio).

This Sunday the petition will have an even greater sense of urgency about it, given President Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Accord, a move that isolates this country even further from our global partners and associates us with Syria and Nicaragua as the only three countries on the planet who oppose the Accord. This is not good company to be keeping.

The ELCA Advocacy Office issued a statement saying that it is “deeply disappointed with President Trump’s decision to begin the process of withdrawing from the Paris agreement. The effects of climate change are being felt globally, and vulnerable and the marginalized are most impacted.”

Opting out of the agreement is a troubling decision because it will undoubtedly have a trickle down effect that could impact us and our children for years (possibly generations) to come. If our president is not concerned about controlling carbon emissions, let alone seeing the value of partnering with almost every other nation of the world to care for the earth, then certainly we could not expect him to advocate for other important things like clean drinking water or preserving the national parks. His budget proposal slashes the EPA budget by a whopping 31%, the largest cut of any government agency. According to National Geographic, the budget would eliminate major programs to restore the Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay, and Puget Sound.

The interior department has been instructed to review dozens of national monuments to see if they could be scrapped or resized to allow better access for oil and gas drilling. A moratorium on coal mining on federal land has been lifted while a bar on offshore drilling off the Atlantic coast is being reviewed. Trump’s budget also calls for drilling in the Arctic national refuge in Alaska.

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised by any of this, as Mr. Trump once claimed that climate change was a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese to adversely effect U.S. manufacturing.

In the face of what seems to be an example of government acting contrary to time-honored Christian beliefs that are grounded in scripture and sound theology, what are we to do? For starters, here’s a prayer about stewardship of the earth. I offer it as one way to focus our hearts and minds on what God desires.

Merciful Creator, your hand is open wide to satisfy the needs of every living creature. Make us always thankful for your loving providence; and grant that we, remembering the account we must one day give, may be faithful stewards of your good gifts, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, p.63)

Doorbell

Standard

Doorbell Blog Image

We had a racial incident at our house this week.  It began when our dinner was interrupted by the doorbell.  A door to door salesman was going to try to persuade us to buy magazines or pet supplies or other stuff we didn’t need.  As my wife started toward the door I heard the guy say in a loud voice, “I’m black, but I won’t attack!”  (Let that sink in for a moment.)  What the hell?  Was this some kind of wacky new sales strategy intended to calm the jangled nerves of white folks in my neighborhood who might look with suspicion upon a person of color meandering through our streets?  I’m sure there’s a lot more behind it, but apparently this guy believed there was a distinct possibility that we would be afraid of an African American young man coming to our door.  Thus, the unusual announcement.

For many reasons, this was disturbing.  When I was a child my father made sure I learned to fear people of color, especially black people.  I heard every racial slur one could possibly imagine.  Part of my home tutorial before being sent off to junior high school was being told to stay away from the black students.  They were potentially violent, with a built in disposition for causing trouble.  (Remember, this was 1971, and racial tensions in this country were still running high.)

This was only the tip of the iceberg.  My childhood was peppered with incidents that reinforced the idea that “others” were not to be trusted, and that differences were not to be celebrated but rather feared.  And hey, don’t get me wrong.  There were “good negroes” in the world, as my father would insist when pressed on the issue.  Like the “colored” nurse assigned to take care of my grandfather in the hospital, or the “darkie” celebrities that would entertain him like Sidney Poitier or Nat King Cole (ironically my father’s favorite singer).

I’ve worked long and hard during my adult life to unlearn the lessons that were taught in my childhood home.  It’s taken honest confession, truth-telling conversations, and difficult periods of introspection.  I am grateful for the people who have walked with me, corrected me, challenged me, taught me, and have become close friends along the way.  Change can happen if we become vulnerable enough to expose the things we have hidden away in the dark corners of our pasts.  I’m still working on it, but progress is being made.

Given the solicitor’s greeting at our door, we still have a long way to go.  Racism continues to rage in this country, and it will be the case until we stop pointing fingers of blame, refrain from being suspicious and thinking the worst of one another, and be brave enough to sit down and shut up and actually listen to people who don’t share our skin color, or ideologies, or culture.

I doubt very much that a caucasian salesperson ringing doorbells in an African American neighborhood would think to begin the conversation with, “I’m white, but I’m alright.”  We need to keep working toward the day when no one feels as though they have to justify themselves because of the color of their skin.

Smart

Standard

Smart Image

Each week for one hour I mentor a second grade student as part of our church’s Kids Hope USA program.  Let’s call him Jay (not his real name).  Jay is very challenging.  He is not motivated to learn, struggles academically, has behavior problems, and doesn’t get much support at home.

This past Tuesday as he was being his usual petulant self about the work he had been assigned for our time to together I said to him, “You’re smart!  I know you can do this work.”  His response was startling.  “No one ever told me that before; that I’m smart.”  Think about that for a moment.  NO ONE, NOT ONE SINGLE PERSON in Jay’s nine years on this earth, had told him that he was smart.  No wonder he had no interest in doing his school work.  He assumed he would fail because the messages he has been receiving throughout his life have pretty much guaranteed that he would.  Maybe that explains the response I got once when I asked him what he wants to be when he grows up.  “I don’t know, I’ll probably live on the street.”  What kid says that?!  You can bet your bottom dollar that from now on every time I see Jay I’m going to remind him that he is smart, that he can succeed if he sets his mind to it, and that he has value.

I wonder how many people (kids and adults) travel through life not hearing the things they need to hear from the people who matter most.  How many never hear the words “I love you.” Or, “Great job!” Or, “I’m proud of you!” Or, “You are important to me.” Or, “You can be anything you want to be.”  Or, “Thank you!”  Or, “Keep going, you’ll get there.”  Or, “I forgive you.”  Or, “You are special.”  I’m afraid the number may be disturbingly high.

Each one of us has an opportunity each and every day to lift someone up.  The thing is, we don’t know what kind of impact we may have on another person simply by sharing a word of encouragement.  It may be the very first time someone has heard it.  Our words have power and, in and of themselves, can be powerFUL.  That is, they can impact a person’s life far beyond what we might see at the moment.

What might happen if we made a habit of encouraging at least one person every day?  It could be a child, a co-worker, a friend, a parent or grandparent.  It could even be someone we don’t know like the cashier at the grocery store, the mail carrier, the restaurant server, the janitor, the cafeteria worker, and the list goes on.  What if we assumed that the person standing in front of us at any given moment has never heard a word of hope or love or mercy or acceptance?  And what if we took it upon ourselves to change that?

Maybe we could make the world a better place, or at least smarter.

A Better System

Standard

Case of Beer Image

I was standing in the check out line with a single frozen pizza. In front of me was an older couple with a few items in their cart: some fresh vegetables, a few cans of soup, a package of hamburger meat, and a case of beer. Nothing unusual except that the man paid for the case of beer, and the woman for everything else. So I said to the woman, “You make him pay for his own beer?” She looked me straight in the eye and replied, “If I don’t drink it, I don’t buy it. He drinks it so he can pay for it.” I started laughing and looked over at the older gentleman who said with a sly smile, “She cooks dinner. It’s a good arrangement.” Indeed, I thought to myself.  Everyone has a system, and this one apparently works quite well.

But every once in awhile, a system needs to be challenged because it no longer serves its intended purpose. Or it has become so corrupt that it benefits only those who are responsible for overseeing it.

For Christians, this is the holiest week of the year, and not just because we mark the death and resurrection of Jesus. But also because we observe how Jesus attempted to dismantle an entire social system, and replace it with something dramatically and unabashedly new. We remember how his teachings about love and grace and acceptance blew apart a religious infrastructure based on judgment and fear. We watch as Jesus upends the tables of the money changers in the temple and tells them to get the hell out of his Father’s house. Later, he gathers together his followers and, in the midst of a final meal takes a towel and a basin of water and washes their feet, an example of what it means to serve and love others that flies in the face of a system predicated upon power and influence. And then he subjects himself to a criminal’s death, nailed to a cross because he loved us so radically and completely that he was willing to stand against political and religious systems infiltrated by what had become a complete disregard for the value of human life.

This is not to be overlooked when considering the potential impact of the events of Holy Week on our contemporary world. We should be giving serious thought to what Jesus might be saying to a culture still firmly rooted in systems that thrive on driving wedges between the rich and poor, set on building walls rather than bridges, closing its doors to those seeking refuge, and wielding military might to remind the world who’s the boss.

For those of us who follow Jesus and profess his teachings, we should be reminded that we, too, are called to speak out against systems that Jesus himself would find deplorable. You know, the ones that drop chemical weapons on children. The ones that send suicide bombers into Coptic churches. The ones that launch nuclear missile tests. The ones that keep refugees out. The ones that don’t allow girls to attend school or women to drive a car. The ones that propose boosting their military budgets at the cost of clean air and water. The ones that perpetually create fear of “the other.” The ones that lie and betray the public trust. The ones that _____________. Feel free to add your own example.

Jesus has a simple, yet profound system. It is based on loving God with our whole heart, mind, soul and strength, and loving our neighbor as ourselves. This week we see that displayed in full view at the cross of Calvary. I hope we all take the time to reflect on what that could mean for our lives, and for the communities in which we live.