by Audrey White
I remember the first time I ever loved a place. I was flat on my back on a tennis court at Mo Ranch for vespers during Senior High Youth Celebration in a circle of new best friends, and we were singing beneath as many stars as I’ve ever seen all at once. I had been to Mo a few times before, but that night I understood what people mean when they talk about having more than one Home.
The Texas Hill Country is one of the most beautiful places in the world, and Mo Ranch is right in the heart of it on the Guadalupe river. It is verdant and rocky and vast, with a chapel and a labyrinth and a defunct roller skating rink where we did energizers and heard amazing ministers talk about God in new ways. It is on lands that once belonged to Lipan Apache and Comanche people. I didn’t know that back then, but it is important to know it now and to pray and fight for displaced peoples of all nations. The place we now call Mo Ranch is carefully preserved and set apart, which is why it’s possible for a tennis court full of high schoolers to see all those stars.
That night, I committed my heart to that patch of land, and I have been back many times since. As we wait expectantly for the birth of Jesus this Advent, I think about forgotten lands. I think about corners of the earth that no one with power or money has committed to loving deeply. What would it be like if I could transform the love I have for Mo into an abiding devotion to every inch of this good, created Earth? How can we open our hearts to to caring for the whole planet the way we love our Homes?
I don’t have an answer to those questions, not today at least. But I know we don’t have much time left to ask them. As we wait for Christmas and wonder at the love our creating God has for us, let us also wonder how we can show that love to the soil and water and air that keeps us alive.
by Liv Thomas
Maybe not a conventional opener for a reflection on joy in nature, but I’m not sure one can actually experience joy in nature.
At least, not outright. I’ve come to believe that nature uncovers joy in innumerable ways but can’t deliver us joy like a small wrapped gift floating on a lily pad that we happen to stumble upon. Is this making any sense? I’ll try my best to explain.
As I’ve been considering the idea of Joy in Nature, I’ve been led to consider the nature of joy. I agree with most folks, there’s something radically different about joy and happiness. I think that while happiness is an internal emotional response to external stimuli and sort of comes and goes as we move from one set of circumstances to another, joy is an experience that principally begins within. Put another way, I think happiness moves from large-scale to small-scale. We each experience and process information outside of our bodies (that incredible chocolate cake from yesterday, the thoughtful text from your far-away friend, the hilariously misspelled headline), and sometimes these things reduce to a feeling of happiness within.
When it comes to joy, our awareness of it moves from small-scale to large-scale, its inception springing forth from within and then moving us toward a sense of those things larger than us.
Most simply put, joy is the experience of our central fulfillment.
Joy is present when we feel our complete wholeness, when we experience our undeniable interconnectedness to one another, and when we are delivered to wonder at what is before us and the possibility of what may come next.
And, in this way, the unexpected, almost always temporal, and frequently unimaginable way, our natural world reveals joy and thus makes us aware of God within each other.
A few weeks ago, I took part in an unlikely kickball game that uncovered joy for me.
This kickball game took place on one of the last bright and sunny Saturday afternoons of the fall in a public park located in a city neighborhood hurting from the effects of redlining and poverty. It was just cold enough to need a jacket during the team dividing but warm enough to shed a layer after running the bases a couple of times. The athlete roster was a holy mix: adult staff from a nearby non-profit, neighborhood kids, youth from a church hundreds of miles away, and middle-aged and older members of a nearby suburban church. And while some of us were on the kickball field, another group of new friends was sitting at the park’s tables doing some coloring and getting to know each other.
As I ran and played and enjoyed the warm sun and still crisp air, I was equally struck by the beauty of the day and how unexpected and ephemeral this moment was. Innings would end, winter would soon arrive, the leaves would fall, this temporary community would disperse, and we’d each return to our home. This moment revealed for me such a sense of joy. I deeply understood my connection with these people I’d just met. Now, weeks later, I remain convinced that heaven looks something like an unlikely kickball game on a beautifully sunny day. Surely, the presence of our Creator was in that place.
As we notice joy arise within us during this advent season, may we especially take time to notice and mark the ways that your creation holds, clarifies, and guides us to an awareness in which joy is uncovered. Accompany us as joy is revealed through these unexpected, perhaps temporal, sometimes unbelievable glimpses of you, The One whom we turn to and remember when a great joy is felt. Renew in us the curiosity to notice joy. Amen.
by Emily Brewer, Executive Director of Presbyterian Peace Fellowship
I have to admit, this year in the Advent I’ve been hearing John the Baptist in a way I haven’t before. What I notice about John this year is how harsh his words are, how much his tone clashes with the quiet, candle-lit waiting I usually experience as Advent. His words match the dissonance between the way I want Advent to feel and the way I actually feel this year.
This year, as I light the candles on my wreath, I think about the fires that killed and displaced so many in California, and about the fires that will continue to get worse in our country as climate change becomes more and more evident in our day-to-day lives. As I think about the birth of the Christ-child, I think about how different the lives of children born today will be from my life so far: will they survive the fires and floods and droughts to live long and full and healthy lives? I think about the many children’s lives are already devastated by climate change--by harsh weather and armed conflict that happens as resources become more scarce.
You probably read or saw the news about the Fourth National Climate Assessment that came out just before the start of Advent. In light of that, John’s rantings seem apt this Advent. “You brood of vipers!”* he shouts. It may as well have been written on November 24, 2018, the day after the Climate Assessment was released. It may as well be a message to those of us who have disproportionately caused climate change and whose governments continue to only make weak efforts to combat it, if any at all.
Yet, John does not leave it at calling us vipers. He tells us that we cannot escape what is to come. But we should prepare ourselves by sharing resources like food and clothes. We should not take more than our share. This is how we prepare the way of the Lord.
I am not saying that the already-here-and-yet-impending climate crisis is the same as God coming to dwell among us in the form of a baby. But maybe there are some similarities. John warns us that God coming among us will not be gentle or easy. God coming among us changes the world forever, and we are called to be ready by trying to live out the Kingdom here, by sharing resources on an interpersonal and global scale, because we cannot even imagine what is coming, but we know it will change us. We are called to find hope in the midst of it all, not because it makes us feel better, but because it is the hope of new life that will keep us going in this time, that will help us imagine what is possible when the time comes.
*These scriptural references are paraphrased from Luke 3 and the lectionary readings for the second and third weeks of Advent.
by Yasmina Haddad
Before joining the Walk to Divest earlier this year, I had been coping with climate change by remaining blissfully ignorant about the whole thing. It was never a topic I confronted because, quite honestly, it always felt like a “hopeless cause.” But then, I learned firsthand just how disproportionately climate change affects communities and I realized that I don’t get to be someone who just ignores climate change. I have to be someone who uses my privilege to fight for our planet.
During the Walk to Divest, we spent our evenings hearing from experts. Some were experts because they had studied climate change and others were experts because they are survivors of natural disasters caused by climate change. I was repeatedly confronted with realities that seemed too big to comprehend and, in the face of those realities, the phrase “hopeless cause” often came to mind. And yet, the speakers, leaders, and climate activists always seemed to have an endless supply of hope! It was quite the mystery to me, but I followed along because, after all, I was pretty new to the community.
As mysterious as the hope was to me, it felt real and it felt palpable. It kept us walking, singing, praying and, above all else, it got us to St. Louis and through General Assembly. I was honored to be a part of a hopeful community of determined Presbyterians.
In those few weeks, I learned a lot about what a collective hope looks and feels like. As it turns out, a hope that is shared and sustained by so many is pretty long lasting! In the weeks and months following our journey, I felt more hopeful than ever before (even though we did not get the outcome we were advocating for). I was still hopeful for progress and change because I was so amazed by the strength of the people I walked alongside, the parts of Indiana I didn't know existed, and the God who brought us all together
Now that seasons have changed, Advent is starting, and I have been asked to write this blog post, I am so happy to report that my hope for the future of this Earth and its people is still here. It’s still here because this community, FFPCUSA, is still here and as strong as ever.
The people who taught me and walked with me are still posting on Facebook and scheduling Zoom meetings. They are sending postcards, checking in, and dropping in for visits. They are organizing, planning, and creating. They are writing emails, praying, and, every once in a while, taking rest.
We are holding each other accountable and challenging each other to become better stewards of and advocates for our Earth. The strength is still here, so the hope remains as well! Thank God for community, hope, and the strength that keeps us going.
by Dick Gibson
On Election Day voters in Washington State failed to pass an initiative that would have added a fee to carbon producers and would have begun reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and carbon emissions.
It was an election issue loaded with fear and misinformation. Polluters were let off the hook; gasoline, heating fuel and electricity would cost everyone more. The $31 million that oil companies poured into advertising made a louder noise than did supporters of the initiative, whose campaign sought to explain the urgent need for a fossil-free future that begins now.
When we turn our attention toward Advent, we might find ourselves in the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke, where we meet Mary. Mary is caught in a quandary. Her world has been turned upside down. She has been asked to be the mother of God’s child, but she isn’t sure. She’s downright scared.
Do not be afraid, God reassures her. What you are doing will be for the good for all people.
What should we expect this Advent Season? We hope for a Savior, a new reign, the coming of God among us. But, like Mary, we are not so sure. We struggle each day, not just on Election Day, with our economy and politics. Our nation seems headed in the wrong direction under an administration that rejects science in favor of whatever appears to be the most lucrative deal for the people in power. We face opponents like those in Washington State, whose money speaks louder than our actions on the side of justice and peace. We fear that God may not be at work in our daily lives.
Yet the season of joy is upon us. There in the book of Luke, Mary sings a song of hope that awakens our spirits. God scatters the proud. God puts down the mighty from their corporations and towers. God lifts up those of humble origins. God fills the hungry with good things and sends away the elite 1%, empty handed.
Mary’s story is a radical Gospel call. Yes, we are afraid, but in spite of our fears, climate change will continue. Our worlds will be turned upside down – either through our careful planning or through disastrous climate events like floods in Vietnam and Kuwait and fires in California.
Advent is a time of preparation for new things coming. It’s a time to acknowledge our fears and to set them aside in favor of joy, hope, peace, and love.
Over the coming weeks Fossil Free PCUSA is sharing a series of reflections on Advent and climate change, with a new blog post out each Monday.
by Erica Schemper
Thinking about climate change, and praying that what we've got going here will not be the new normal.
Without minimizing one bit the loss of life and homes and infrastructure at the actual site of the fires, I don't know if those of you in the rest of the country are hearing how the smoke from the fires is affecting big swaths of the state of California.
In the Bay Area, we are up to a week plus of days when the air quality levels are unsafe for vulnerable populations. I read somewhere that we're now at a point where the particulate is even smaller, and thus better able to get deep down in our lungs.
We live outside in CA: leave our doors and windows open; our kids eat lunch and have gym class outside (we often don't have indoor cafeterias and gymnasiums at our schools); my kids swim at an outdoor facility. Classes there have been cancelled for a week, which I think means the teachers and life guards aren't getting paid. My kids have missed gym classes, and are eating in their classrooms. Their teachers are exhausted. After school activities have been cancelled, and playgrounds are empty.
I know those of you in places with actual winter might not be sympathetic to our being shut indoors, but I've lived in climates with winter, and I am really winter person at heart, and I have been known to go for a run when it's well below freezing. This is different: it's not just about comfort, it's about safety. I haven't gone running for over a week because it's just not safe to breath in that much of this air. Many races and outdoor athletic activities and community events have been cancelled, likely cutting into the economy of those communities (the half marathon I was training for was cancelled: I was going to go to brunch afterward. That's not happening...)
I noticed over the weekend that traffic at local restaurants was down.
I sing in a choir in San Francisco. We had our concerts over the weekend, and so many of us had voices that were seriously compromised by this air.
In some areas not far from here, schools are closed. Colleges and Universities, too.
Meanwhile, we are not taking good care of the people who work outdoor jobs for low pay. I've seen families hurrying their masked kids to the car to avoid the air, while next door, a team of gardeners is hard at work on a yard, no face masks.
I know there are people laboring in the farm fields nearby in this air. The food they're harvesting, while breathing this air, is coming to a super market near you soon, because California is truly America's salad bowl.
People who have to bike to work or take public transit, are likely sitting outside breathing this in.
I've also read about food programs for folks living on the streets opening up not just for meals, but for emergency overnight lodging. While we with the means cower in our homes, there are people breathing this air all night long.
These fires are big, and they are life ending have a big reach, and they may well be the new normal for the American west.
And this week? I'm thinking really hard about climate change and my part in it. I hope you will, too.
by Dick Gibson
Dick is responding to the recent announcement that Seattle University will become the first college in Washington State to divest from fossil fuels.
We know that fossil fuels are dangerous in the atmosphere. Now scientists are explaining how bad they are for our oceans. The combustion of fossil fuels helps to acidify ocean water. The colder the water, the more readily carbon dioxide will dissolve in it. Marine life is reacting: oysters, clams and snails are struggling to produce and maintain their shells. Coral reef ecosystems are being destroyed. Krill are less likely to hatch and amphipods will die in the acidic waters. Clown fish can't find their homes, and even sharks miss out smelling their food!
What kind of a world are we leaving our children? With no fish in the sea, no oysters or clams to eat, no coral reefs to visit, their life will be poorer and more confused.
Some regions are fighting fossil fuel use by introducing carbon taxes. WA state has an initiative on the ballot for November to put a price on greenhouse gas pollution by fossil fuels. Most citizens rely on oil, natural gas and coal for the tasks of daily life. This must end, and divesting from companies engaged in fossil fuel production will begin the process. Fossil fuels are the number one problem, as we search for solutions to our changing climate.
Seattle University, a Jesuit school, has voted to divest its endowment fund of fossil fuel companies over the next five years, joining others in the growing divestment movement. As a university and school of theology, the school has a special obligation to address climate change and to make a difference.
So the Presbyterian Church needs to see the handwriting on the wall by others, listen to prophetic requests from its own members, protect its children, and practice its theology of caring for God's creation. Divestment is paramount and needs to be accomplished with our church funds, sooner rather than later. We can not wait for more years of talking, or for negotiations which produce no results or movement by the industries. 2018 must be the year the church stands up to industry and says "NO" to ruining our climate and "YES" to the stewardship of God's gift of our abundant earth!
by Angela Williams
Serving my seminary internship with Fossil Free PCUSA and Presbyterian Peace Fellowship has opened my eyes to so many different facets of ministry in our beloved Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The seminary experience is always perfectly imperfect. I learn much about worship, polity, and theology with my brilliant professors, classmates, and assigned authors. However, the tensions between the theoretical and practical dimensions of learning always remain.
The past eight months working with Fossil Free PCUSA/PPF has exemplified the intent of the Supervised Practice of Ministry, the name my institution gives to this internship. I have definitely benefited from the weekly supervision of abby mohaupt. We delved deeply into the practical sides of ministry through planning and then living out the PCUSA Walk for a Fossil Free World. Our work was certainly ministry as we created community on the walk, learned from phenomenal teachers, and worked around the edges to move our denomination toward divestment from the fossil fuel industry.
One of the greatest takeaways I am bringing from this work is challenging the notions of business as usual. We live in a world broken by white supremacy, cisheteropatriarchy, ablism, capitalism, colonialism, and many other big, scary things. But it does not have to be like this. Being God’s people in this world does not mean we need to be conflict avoidant, passive aggressive, or risk averse. We do not have to stay silent when people speak or act inappropriately for fear of being called indecent or out of order. We do not have to stay at the table when the table is on fire. We can choose to side with the oppressed of the world, using whatever privilege we carry to act in solidarity with those living in poverty. In fact, that is exactly what God calls us to do. I knew most of this coming into this movement, but working with abby has strengthened my courage and stamina to act boldly, drawing from our deep biblical and Reformed theological roots. We name these sins whenever we see them, even in ourselves, and to work toward bringing the reign of God to this beautiful, broken world.
Those are a lot of big, theological words. How do we actually do this? This is the practical nature of the work. The practice of dismantling these systems and spreading the liberative gospel includes showing up and putting our bodies on the line. It is using our time, energy, and resources to learn about climate change and listening to the stories of frontline communities. It is walking across two whole states to listen to those stories and form connections with other stories. It is centering the perspectives of those most impacted by our investments in the fossil fuel industry, those who cannot wait any longer for power brokering in corporate boardrooms. It is coming together with our hearts, souls, minds, and full strength to worship God. We do this by speaking up and speaking out in committee rooms and on the floor of General Assembly, as well as in building relationships with individuals inside and outside of our denomination.These are the tangible, practical ways we engage in ministry.
Joining this movement for climate justice and divestment from the fossil fuel industry has deepened my understanding of what ministry is. As a hopeful future pastor and community organizer, I feel energized to dream strategically about how to build relationships to create meaningful change. Still, no matter how much preparation for ministry we do, the Spirit continuously surprises us, showing up in unexpected people and places. She nudges us toward discomfort that ultimately brings us into deeper relationship with God and with each other, showing us where our treasure is and where our hearts are. The Spirit remains even when we feel beaten down, discouraged, and angry. In those vulnerable places, the spark of ministry ignites communities to support each other with love, compassion, and sometimes righteous anger. This is what ministry is, can be, and ought to be.
Through this experience of outstanding supervision, engaged practice, and deep ministry, Fossil Free PCUSA and PPF have sharpened my skills as a community organizer and pastor. I am so grateful.
Hello, my name is Mina Haddad and I am from the Presbytery of the Ohio Valley. I am speaking in favor of overture 08-04 [on Environmental Justice]
I am a proud Presbyterian and a proud teacher. This past year, through the Fulbright program, I had the honor of teaching English to 300 Muslim girls in India and, as the story goes, they taught me far more than I could have ever taught them. My girls taught me about hospitality, devotion, and struggle. They are the reasons I walked 212 miles in support of divestment from fossil fuels to be here, with you, today.
See, both literally and figuratively, my girls are stuck. They are living in the highly populated heart of Jaipur where, in October, the pollution rolls in and stays well into the month of March. This means they cough, a lot. Their hair is covered in black specks. They blow their noses and their mucus is black. Clean water is much harder to come by. Over the course of those 6 months, my girls are eating, learning, playing and sleeping in pollutants 24/7.
One day, I was talking with my student Raya and, in her broken English, she said, “Ma’am, in our life no fun, no enjoy. Sad life.” And, in that moment, all I could say, in my broken Hindi, was, “Raya, maaf kigiye,” which means, “Raya, I am so sorry.”
By approving this overture before you today, you can help me respond to Raya’s struggle and the struggle of countless other young children around the world. We need to acknowledge the need for environmental justice and take meaningful, bold steps towards alleviating the injustices because, quite frankly, it’s the least we can do.
by Cole Strickland
I walked for two days this summer with the #WalkToDivest crew to help send the message to the 223rd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) that it is time to divest from the fossil
fuel industry. I hesitated to participate at first, knowing that all my friends and family would be
firmly split between supportive and critical of my participating in this #WalkToDivest. After all,
what difference would one more dude (me) make in the General Assembly’s decision on whether
to call for a divestment from fossil fuels?
The answer: I do not know for sure.
Luckily, my decision to show up wasn’t based on any cost-benefit analysis. Rather, my decision to show up was based on my own restless desire to stand up and say, “Hey, wait a minute, I don’t agree withwhat’s going on here!”I have a feeling most of us share that same feeling of restless desire
nowadays. I am thankful for the organizers of the PCUSA Walk for a Fossil Free World that provided a space for us to express it.
Participating in the #WalkToDivest also reminded me of the wonders of community. I only spent
two days with the crew, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t feel like family by the end of those two
We ate together, walked together, prayed together, camped-out in churches together.
I spent a lot of time reflecting on how today’s culture of wanting, achieving and displaying (a culture that I participate in daily) often doesn’t allow for this type of togetherness.
I don’t think God intended for us to behave this way - constantly at each other’s throats competing
for resources and individual achievement, but that seems to be the status quo now. In a way, this
walk was also an outlet for me to stand up and say, “Hey, wait a minute, I’m not cool with that
Maybe one day, when we’re a little older, we’ll spend a little bit more time walking, eating and praying together. So long as we keep standing up for what we believe in.
Thank you to the organizers for all the phone calls and emails that had to be made to make this
walk possible, and a big round of applause for those that completed the entire walk and presented
the resolution to the General Assembly. I hope to see y’all again one day soon.
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