Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Creation care and Advent

Creation care involves much more than taking steps to reduce or even attempt to reverse climate change. An autopsy of a dead whale that was recently found on an Indonesian beach revealed the whale had more than 1000 pieces of plastic in its belly. Creation care entails acting in ways that are good for the welfare of other species and of the planet as a whole.

Advent, which begins on Sunday, December 2, is a season of preparation for celebrating God’s incarnation, specifically in human form but more generally in all of the cosmos.

For centuries, Christians mistakenly equated preparation with penitence: clergy instructed their congregants to identify their sin and then seeking forgiveness for it, seeking to make oneself spiritually pure in order to be worthy of experiencing the incarnate God’s presence. This mistaken emphasis is why in most churches the color for Advent is purple.

Thankfully, a growing number of Christians and churches now recognize that spiritual preparation is not synonymous with penitence. In many of these congregations, the color for Advent is blue, the color associated with the House of David. Blue points to Jesus as David’s successor, Israel’s new king.

From this broader perspective, preparations for celebrating the incarnation are more consonant with the preparations that expectant parents make for the birth of a new child. Expectant parents try to make room for the baby in their home (presuming they are not houseless), ensure that they have baby clothes, stock up on necessary supplies (diapers, wipes, etc.), and so forth.

Thus, to prepare for our annual celebration of the incarnation, commit to one or more steps that will improve your stewardship of creation, helping to prepare all of creation ready for the incarnation. Commit only to one or at most a handful of steps. Practice them daily throughout Advent. By Christmas these practices will have become habits.

The power of these small steps is two-fold. First, creation care will have become a slightly more integral aspect of your life. Second, by encouraging others to follow your example – actions being much more powerful than words – you will multiply the effect of your actions/new habits.

Possible steps toward creation care that you might consider adopting this Advent include:

·       Refuse proffered straws in restaurants and elsewhere unless the straws are metal or paper

·       Send ecards instead of paper Christmas cards

·       Walk or bike whenever possible

·       Reduce your consumption of meat and other non-vegetable proteins

·       Turn off the lights every time you leave a room

·       Replace regular lightbulbs with LED or CFL bulbs

·       Read the electronic version of newspapers and magazines

·       Avoid, whenever feasible, buying or using single use plastic beverage containers/bottles

·       Avoid, whenever feasible, buying or using Styrofoam products

Of course, this list is only suggestive. Some of the best ideas will be steps that may have been nagging your conscience but seem too hard or problematic to adopt. Advent is the perfect time to take the plunge!

My hope and prayer are that Advent will become an annual season for Christians around the world to join in emphasizing creation care as a basic element of a healthy spiritual life.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Jamal Khashoggi and the Christian concept of time

Last Sunday, a person in the adult discussion group that I have been leading in the parish where I am a priest associate outlined the traditional Christian view of time as a line with Jesus as the decisive inflection point. I disagreed, even though the linear conception of time, with God existing outside of time, was what I had been taught in seminary.

Time is more helpfully conceived of as a bumpy spiral. The bumps are reminders that history does not proceed in a smooth pattern. Spurts, plateaus, and fallbacks are all part of time. The spiral is a reminder that history does repeat. There are multiple inflection points: Jesus, Buddha, Lao Tzu, and many others. These are people who have altered the direction of history. Insistence on a single inflection argues for Christian exclusivity: Jesus is the only path that leads to salvation.

Whether the spiral, unlike the linear view of history, is going somewhere must remain an open question. One can make an optimistic case (Martin Luther King, Jr., famously remarking that the long arc of history is bending toward justice (c. the Ethical Musings’ post Finding genuine hope in Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead)) or a pessimistic one (e.g., human destruction of the earth through climate change and, more broadly, the consequences of entropy). As emphasized in process theology, God is not outside of time but enmeshed in the very fabric of creation.

Debates about Saudi Arabia and the role of its crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, repeatedly evoked memories of that discussion. The U.S. has a history of supporting dictators who support U.S. policy goals while those dictators both suppress internal dissent and enjoy great wealth at the expense of their people. In the Middle East, the prime example of this type of policy was in U.S. support for the Shah of Iran, ignoring the gathering storms of dissent and unrest. In spite of a notorious internal security apparatus with few if any legal curbs on its power, the Iranian revolution overthrew the Shah and established a dictatorial Shiite state that routinely vilifies the U.S. as the “Great Satan.”

Is Saudi Arabia the next Iran? The House of Saud rules through a combination of religious rhetoric, giving its citizens economic benefits, and a far-reaching internal security apparatus that operates with few legal or ethical limits. Saudi Arabia is unmistakably a kingdom and not a democracy. Meanwhile, internal dissent grows. Dissidents often cloak their activities in a religious fundamentalism, which, although Sunni rather than Shiite in its theology, has political ramifications striking similar to those of the Shiite forces behind the Iranian revolution.

Successful foreign policies look beyond today’s arms and oil deals to ascertain potential long-term benefits of supporting the hopes of other people for genuine peace, i.e., the fullness of well-being consonant with the word’s meaning in the languages of the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim holy books.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Where are you going?

Recently, I stumbled across the Farnam Street blog. The site is dedicated to self-improvement and leadership. The site’s self-improvement aspects differ greatly from the self-help genre popularized by Deepak Chopra, Stephen Covey, Anthony Robinson, BrenĂ© Brown, and others.

Farnam Street wants its readers to think. The quotation at the top of the page describing the blog’s principles is from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “As to methods there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.”

The blog then enumerates its five principles:

1.     Direction over speed

2.     Live deliberatively

3.     Thoughtful opinions held loosely

4.     Principles outlive tactics

5.     Own your actions

Leaders from an amazing variety of fields find the Farnam Street blog helpful. I encourage you to take a look. Even if you don’t look at the blog, ponder the five principles enumerated above. They represent a stark contrast with how many of use live today and offer a prescription for a more meaningful life and improved civil discourse.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Creation care

Creation care is a priority for both the national Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Hawai’i. A friend who is both an active Episcopalian and environmentalist, sent me this link ( to a sermon, “Reality, Grief, Hope: Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks to the Environmental Crisis,” preached by the Rev. Nancy Petty at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh on October 21, 2018. My friend commented that the Rev. Petty had received an ovation from her congregation at the conclusion of her sermon. After reading the sermon, I understand why. I encourage you to take a few moments to read her thought-provoking, very timely sermon.