By Pam McVety, January 2019
Happy New Year to one and all. Each new year gives us opportunities, blessings and challenges. And in some ways, a new year is like a new beginning, an opportunity for us to decide to do things differently with our lives. This is such a year—and we need that opportunity right now.
My home in Florida area was slammed by Hurricane Michael in 2018. What you may not know, now that our story is out of the headlines, is that we are still recovering and that, for some, the recovery will take decades. And what many don’t know is that we will face more, and more violent, storms in the years to come.
Today, blue tarps are still covering many of our rooftops. Our friends and neighbors are still rebuilding, arguing with insurance companies, filling out papers for FEMA, sleeping in tents, and depending on the charity of friends and neighbors for places to sleep. Many jobs have been taken from us, too. One of the most devastating and long-lasting impacts of Hurricane Michael is the destruction of timber farms. From the Gulf Coast up through South Georgia, hundreds of thousands of acres of trees are lying on the ground. More than half a million acres of trees in Bay, Calhoun, Liberty, Gadsden, Jackson and Gulf counties are gone. With this loss goes jobs, income and diminishing chances of recovery any time soon. This is a monumental tragedy that is painful and life changing for far too many of our brothers and sisters.
None of us wants to repeat this tragedy, but as long as the waters of the Gulf of Mexico continue to warm, they are guaranteed to fuel ever more powerful hurricanes. This is our new reality. Our world has changed and will not change back until we alter our own choices.
When we face a disaster, our church is first in line to help us recover. But it is last in line, or not in line at all, in embracing the new global reality. It continues to invest in fossil fuels. For decades it has committed its investment managers to meetings with fossil fuel companies—and these companies keep spending hundreds of millions of dollars to convince us that they are not responsible for our climate crisis, that fossil fuels have nothing to do with the carbon emissions that are heating up our world. Most of us know that this is a big, dangerous lie, but still we have not rid ourselves of our fossil fuel investments.
Our church’s response to climate change is like living in a two-story house with the heat running on the lower floor and the air conditioning running on the top floor. This is stupid. We are funding the monster called climate change and at the same time we are paying for the damage it is causing. It is time to get on the same side of the ledger by divesting ourselves of our fossil fuel holdings now.
As we start this a new year, we can rid ourselves of our investments in fossil fuels. We can take a life-saving, planet-saving path. We don’t have to wait to make this decision at the 2020 General Assembly.
Our money people can make this choice today.
Pam McVety is a grandmother, biologist and member of Fossil Free PCUSA.
by Jiyoung Kim
When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”(John 8:12, NIV)
The Son of God came into the world in a dark time when there was no hope under the rule of the Roman Empire. The great salvation project for the humanity of the omnipotent God began with the baby Jesus, who was born in a small village of Bethlehem, The Messiah to save this sinful world Christ began not in the form of a great king with powerful kingship but in a place where he was born and had no proper place to sleep. A light came to the world that seemed to be just a little life.
Worries and sighs about climate change are increasing day by day. Each year, we are renewing the highest temperature in the world. We are probably living in a time when the worst earth is suffering. I feel it is impossible to stop this huge flow of climate change. I feel like that I want to avoid the responsibility of not managing this beautiful earth that God gave us. But we cannot. Nothing is changed by worrying and sights a lot. We should act whatever we do. Changing begins then. If God just had loved and worried the world, salvation history would not have been accomplished. It was only begun and completed because God sent Jesus the light to the world.
We can be frustrated with how I can stop this huge flow of climate change with my own efforts. But one person is important. Walk a short distance and ride a bike a little further. When cold, not turn the heater all the way around and wear short sleeves, but wear a minimum of heaters and multiple layers of clothes. When it is hot, let us thank the cool air with a minimum of energy and cold water, not just wearing a cardigan over the air conditioner. When going to the market, carry own shopping bags, not using lots of plastic bags.
Although my effort and action are small, it is accumulated and communicated to other people and act together, this one can be gathered, piled up, can be a starting point to stop the huge flow.
We must fight the ones we are accustomed to. We must choose the uncomfortable ones. Day by day. Little by little. We must go one step forward.
The work of salvation of God also began there. From in a manger where baby Jesus laid down. God's amazing plan was perfect, and the plan of salvation continues today. The light of the salvation of one of Jesus is to twelve disciples, leading to the Early Church, to Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
Let us talk to those who say there is no hope. We are hopes. We are the little Jesus. It is Christmas to celebrate the birth of baby Jesus as a new sunrise tomorrow. Let us pledge that we will be reborn with Jesus as the rising sun. Join the work of God 's salvation and live a life of light in this darkened world. Let us go on believing that the little lights of each person will gather and together to become a great light to illuminate this darkness.
by abby mohaupt
In those days Caesar Augustus declared that everyone throughout the empire should be enrolled in the tax lists. 2 This first enrollment occurred when Quirinius governed Syria. 3 Everyone went to their own cities to be enrolled. 4 Since Joseph belonged to David’s house and family line, he went up from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to David’s city, called Bethlehem, in Judea. 5 He went to be enrolled together with Mary, who was promised to him in marriage and who was pregnant. 6 While they were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby. 7 She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom.
Luke 2:1-20 (CEB)
I wish I was home for Christmas. Home means eating cinnamon rolls made by my mom, playing with my nieces and nephews, meeting up with friends we haven’t seen all year… Home means getting to have cheese fries at my favorite restaurant and hugging my partner’s 80 year old grandmother who I love like my own.
But earlier this month, my partner and I travelled to the Mexico-Texas border to meet and support (in our own small way) asylees who have left their homes to come north. We went with the PCUSA Wall of Welcome, joining students from Austin Seminary and leaders of the PCUSA. We went to listen and to learn. We went because we felt it necessary to leave our homes in order to welcome those who had journeyed so far in order to be welcomed.
I’ve been thinking about that journey in the context of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem--how they sought welcome and ended up in a stable. How from the stable, Mary and Joseph--and now Jesus--had to flee because if they stayed their son would be killed. How their flight meant that other babies were killed… and that at the end of the day it was Herod who bore the guilt. In the same way, our governments today enforce systems of all kinds that mean children--and other living things--die.
We went to the border to meet real human beings who had fled their homes in search o life.
But going to the border (and another family trip in the spring) meant that we used up our resources to go home for Christmas. I don’t just mean our financial resources, though we don’t have limitless money. I mean also that we used up our carbon emissions budget for the rest of the year.
Everything we do has a carbon footprint. In our household we’ve tried to make ours smaller by investing in the solar power option from our utility company, having one of our cars be hybrid (and driving our cars as little as possible), eating an all vegetarian diet (though my partner sometimes eats meat outside of our home), buying only what we need, investing our time and money into advocating for divestment from fossil fuels, and putting on a sweater when we’re cold instead of turning on the heat.
But every time we fly, we make that footprint larger. I fly often for work and I have had to face the guilt of the fact that every time I buy a plane ticket, I’m contributing to climate change. And climate change is literally killing other human beings right now. I don’t know how to stop flying for work--not yet--and it is the question I’m bringing into the New Year.
But knowing that--we need to make our own sacrifices.
So on Christmas Eve, I’ll make a phone call home. I’ll laugh with my grandmother and listen to my niece sing to me over the phone. I’ll pick up cinnamon rolls made by my favorite local baker and snuggle up with my cats.
And as the night grows deeper, I’ll give thanks for the Little One who is coming into this world to love us and teach us and help us make home wherever we go.
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!
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