You know those jugglers who manage to get many plates spinning on sticks while they run back and forth trying to keep them from falling? That’s been me this week. Working in academia, this time of year can often feel like the worst kind of juggling act – and physical balance has never been one of my gifts! Despite the craziness of campus this week, I’ve been considering all the events of the past few weeks. I don’t know how to make sense of everything I have read or heard in the media. It is a dark time in our nation right now as we recognize the evils of racism, anti-Semitism, classism, and all the other “isms” and phobias that separate us from one another – but I don’t think any of this is new. It’s been here all along; it’s merely been hidden behind facades of tolerance and the excuse of “political correctness.” The bullying example of our current President seems to have opened the floodgates of cruelty and hatred. I hear too many voices saying that being “PC” is over; we can tell it like it is. Since when is civility and kindness a mark of being “politically correct?” I’m dumbfounded by this line of thinking.
Working at Hillsdale College, known for its extreme conservative agenda, can be a challenge at times. I know that I don’t share the same worldview as many of the students and their families yet I do share the same love and devotion to God that they profess. It’s a good reminder that even in the face of significant differences, we can come together and acknowledge that our belief in Jesus as Lord and Savior connects us as children of God. For me, here, this is a strong foundation upon which to build relationships with young people who are looking for answers to life’s tough questions. I don’t have all the answers but, in relationship, I have an opening to share my experiences and perspectives that they might not find here otherwise. I do bite my tongue a lot as I listen to conversations into which I have not been invited while I also look for opportunities to engage the students one-on-one with ideas they might not have considered before.
After working as the physics lab director here for nine years, I am especially sensitive to conversations about scientific topics: evolution, climate change, the age of the universe, etc. I can be somewhat amused when I hear students discuss their belief that the universe is somewhere between 6,000 and 15,000 years old (not taught here in our science division) based on the stories from Scripture even though I know that the scientific evidence for the age of the universe puts it at 13.8 billion years. Although the discrepancy is huge, the consequences are not life-threatening. Denying the existence of climate change, however, could have a far greater impact and one that will threaten life as we know it here on Earth.
In last week’s blog, I reminded us of the commitment The Episcopal Church has made with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to pray, fast and act on the 21st of each month. You might recall that this month’s focus is for both domestic and international environmental programs which affect the lives of the most vulnerable. The 21st of August has come and gone but that shouldn’t stop us from continuing to consider ways we can engage in this important topic.
Because I was committed to campus work this morning and could not worship with my congregation, I prayed Morning Prayer in my room before our work of greeting new and returning students began in earnest. I started my quiet time by reading Forward Day-By-Day’s devotional entry for Sunday, August 27th written by the Rev. Scott Claassen:
Romans 12:2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.
Climate change is a major bummer, and I wouldn’t blame you if you stopped reading this meditation right here. Care for creation is forcing humanity to re-evaluate our position on this planet and in the universe. If we look hard, we can see the possibility of maturation and a deepening of the bonds of the human family as a likely response to climate change. We do not have to be—and ought not to be—conformed to the narrative of a world doomed to manmade destruction, but we may be powerfully transformed by the renewing of our minds.
We are all one body in Christ Jesus. Many ecotheologians consider humans, rocks, ecosystems, and all living things as part of the Cosmic Christ. In that transformed vision, we are called to care for the planet as part of the Christ made manifest in flesh and bone, dust and breath. If that sounds quixotic or cheesy, maybe we can simply pray for Christ to renew our minds.
I’m not sure yet what to think about an image of the Cosmic Christ although I am able to envision God in all the complexity and beauty of God’s creation. I am often blown away by the wonder and majesty of the natural world from the awesome images of last week’s solar eclipse to the incredible – and destructive – power of Hurricane Harvey. When we get puffed up with our own significance, these events ought to remind us of our frailty and impotence in comparison.
As I continued praying Morning Prayer, I read: “The earth is the Lord for He made it; come let us adore him.” It’s not ours. This beautiful planet, our “island home,” was given to all of us in trust that we care for it and not abuse or rape its resources for our selfish desires. This morning’s psalms further drew my attention to God’s place in creation:
Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help! *
whose hope is in the Lord their God;
Who made heaven and earth, the seas, and all that is in them; *
who keeps his promise for ever… (Psalm 146: 4,5)
He counts the number of the stars *
and calls them all by their names.
He covers the heavens with clouds *
and prepares rain for the earth;
He makes grass to grow upon the mountains *
and green plants to serve mankind (Psalm 147:4, 8-9).
We must not sit idle while nations and corporations continue in practices that injure this planet, God’s gift to us, beyond its ability to recover. It’s time we, as God’s children, allow the Holy Spirit to renew our minds that we might see this issue as God sees it. Even if we are still uncertain that the devastating effects of climate change are manmade, we must act on what we recognize – that there are changes in our planet’s climate which are having disastrous effects on people around the world.
Scientists have linked climate change to the increased intensity of recent storms including Hurricane Harvey which is still pummeling Texas as I write. According to an article in The Atlantic (August 27, 2017) by Robinson Meyer:
Storms like Harvey are helped by one of the consequences of climate change: As the air warms, some of that heat is absorbed by the ocean, which in turn raises the temperature of the sea’s upper layers.
Harvey benefitted from unusually toasty waters in the Gulf of Mexico. As the storm roared toward Houston last week, sea-surface waters near Texas rose to between 2.7 and 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit above average. These waters were some of the hottest spots of ocean surface in the world. The tropical storm, feeding off this unusual warmth, was able to progress from a tropical depression to a category-four hurricane in roughly 48 hours.
You can read the article in its entirety here.
All this brings me back to the Episcopal Public Policy Network’s call to pray, fast, act this month. Have you signed the letter for your legislators at their website? You can do so here.
In the days ahead, there will be many calls for assistance for the victims of Harvey. Are we ready to work? And then, are we ready to consider ways that we each can be transformed by the renewing of our minds to live lives that are friendlier to our beautiful Earth? I hope so.
Let us pray –
Father, we praise you with all your creatures.
They came forth from your all-powerful hand;
they are yours, filled with your presence and your tender love. Praise be to you!
Son of God, Jesus,
through you all things were made.
You were formed in the womb of Mary our Mother, you became part of this earth,
and you gazed upon this world with human eyes. Today you are alive in every creature
in your risen glory.
Praise be to you!
Holy Spirit, by your light
you guide this world towards the Father’s love and accompany creation as it groans in travail. You also dwell in our hearts
and you inspire us to do what is good.
Praise be to you!
Triune Lord, wondrous community of infinite love, teach us to contemplate you
in the beauty of the universe,
for all things speak of you.
Awaken our praise and thankfulness
for every being that you have made.
Give us the grace to feel profoundly joined to everything that is.
God of love, show us our place in this world
as channels of your love
for all the creatures of this earth,
for not one of them is forgotten in your sight.
Enlighten those who possess power and money
that they may avoid the sin of indifference,
that they may love the common good, advance the weak, and care for this world in which we live.
The poor and the earth are crying out.
O Lord, seize us with your power and light, help us to protect all life,
to prepare for a better future,
for the coming of your Kingdom
of justice, peace, love and beauty.
Praise be to you!
(Pope Francis, Laudato Si’)
~ The Rev. Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council