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The awakening we need requires urgency translated down to the communities

August 16, 2015 By: Theoblogical Category: ecotheology, Occupy Theology, People's Climate, Theoblogical

In Margaret Swedish ‘s amazing and disturbing and yet, hopeful book,  this quote  is but one of the instances where she expresses the feeling about the responsibility of the theological communities to awaken their people from “slumber” and out of the practical denial that keeps us procrastinating the measures we need to be instigating in response to the Climate Crisis.  An article here and there just doesn’t cut it.  AT ALL.  “Better than nothing” is not an option.  Talking about it as “an issue” doesn’t even cut it.  IN some cases,  it’s not even listed among the list of “issues” or “topics”  (as is the case with the “Topics” section on their
website.  I pick on the UMC because I worked on that Website,  and am a United Methodist for the past 25-30 years. )  But I have walked through that door and into a different place regarding the climate,  where there is no going back into a prior sense of this crisis.  It now looms as the greatest existential threat that humankind has ever faced.  Some consider this to be hyperbole,  but it is far from it.  Charges of “hyperbole” come from within the vast denial with which we are ladened,  which keep us from the kind of action we need. So let me allow Margaret to speak:

“Because I believe this is true, that living beyond the “end of the world depends upon the awakening, visionary leadership, and cooperation of religions across boundaries of traditions and or it is also urgent and necessary that this awakening be translated down with similar urgency to the communities inspired by, or dwelling within, those traditions.
This disconnect of which Tucker and Grim speak* (see below) is not only between our awareness of the crisis and our ability to change direction, but also between what many religious institutions and leaders know and write about the crisis and what is actually communicated in sermons, teachings, schools, bible classes, catechisms, and more, among their faithful. The language of “patterns of acquisition and consumption” needs to become concrete in the daily living out of our lives, in the choices we make about how we live, in how we reshape the politics of the country in keeping with the exigencies of the crisis and how the community of faith takes up the challenge set in the last chapter in the concrete witness of that community- to bring the ecological foot-print of the human species back into balance with the life systems of the planet while allowing billions of poor people to no longer be poor. Whatever one’s religious tradition, this should be at the very heart of the project of faith from here on out”

* There’s a puzzling disconnection between our growing awareness of environmental problems and our ability to change our present direction. We have failed to translate facts about the environmental crisis into effective action in the United States. We are discovering that the human heart is not changed by facts alone but by engaging visions and empowering values. Humans need to see the large picture and feel they can act to make a difference. Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim, “Daring to Dream: Religion and the Future of the Earth”, in “God’s Green Earth: Creation , Faith, Crisis,” Special issue of “Reflections: A Magazine of Theological and Ethical Inquiry” Yale Divinity School (Spring 2007).

Margaret Swedish hits the nail on the head here when she points out how there are denominational leaders who write and speak about the crisis,  but “what is actually communicated in sermons, teachings, schools, bible classes, catechisms, and more, among their faithful”  is a whole other ball game.  This HAS to change.  I’ve been trying to communicate this to the UMC website folks,  but thus far,  what I’ve gotten are responses that indicate that the “crisis level” is the farthest from their consciousness it can be.  “No time or enough staff” to cover it sufficiently,  and this is all the more apparent when there is “other news” ,  which seems to the case in perpetuity. While there are certainly many people in the UMC who recognize the threat and the call that beckons from it,  all of this remains in the background as far as the larger church is concerned.  Nothing changes on the Home pages to give any indication that the church considers this to be of any grave importance.  Some of us have been “conspiring” in conversations about how we might change this.  One might say to “forget about denominations”, since they tend to be struggling for survival, or mired in political correct-ness,  and put all our money on ecumenical effort.  But we are going to need EVERYONE.

Two faces of Apocalypse: The Church must take on the call to preach both in a time of Climate Crisis.

August 12, 2015 By: Theoblogical Category: ecotheology, Occupy Theology, People's Climate, Theoblogical

I just finished the book (Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love by Elizabeth A. Johnson) this morning, and I’ve been wandering ( and wondering) about for a couple of hours since. I’ve spent a part of that time diving back into Margaret Swedish’s “Living Beyond the End of the World: A Spirituality of Hope”. These two books have been like reading Apocalyptic Scripture ( with a strong dose of both major thrusts of apocalypse: 1. Sin, darkness and destruction and 2. Promise and Restoration). Both these books availed themselves of that healthy, realistic balance of both themes, but ” Living Beyond the End…” …takes on directly the hard task of accepting the reality of what’s happening,  which is to be heavy on the first thrust;  the dire, death-threatening circumstances we face.

It’s not only just “threatening”;  this has been at work inducing death;  the deaths of species at an unprecedented rate.  The death of people from unprecedented and extreme weather inducing disasters,  creating refugees,  disease,  and wars.  And these will only worsen as we continue to do everything to worsen the problem:  clear cutting forests to make way for technological agriculture and even agriculture for the purpose of producing soybeans and corn and palm oil for fuels,  which are being found to be woefully inadequate alternatives,  not to mention the relative loss of that arable land for growing products to be used for food,  and the forcing out of small farmers from the process as the large corporations bring in the heavy machinery,  producing massive amounts of additional CO2.

It is the role of apocalypse to “UNVEIL” (which is the meaning of the word).  To tell the story that needs to be told to reveal that something is dreadfully wrong.  This seems to be the biggest struggle for our culture,  which wants to hold on fast to the idea that “we got this”.  The faith in “unlimited progress” is “dying hard” (holding on for dear life seems more accurate).  And  this is most disturbing when I see it at play in the church.  I see,  everyday the continued absence of an appropriate sense of urgency.  I see denominations avoiding the topic altogether on their denominational websites,  which are their number one public facing source of information about who they are.  The websites represent a way to tell their story and describe what they are about.  There seems to be scarcely any awareness that we face anything like an unprecedented civilizational challenge,  which would seem to put this on an emergency footing.  This is a challenge that goes deep into who we are as a people,  inducing re-evaluation, re-thinking and reformation of our theology itself  (since much of Western Christianity has been negligent in giving blessing to the “full-speed ahead” of industrial civilization’s shaping of our desires and values which have sent us hurdling down the path of “Overshoot”: Overshoot being the title of William Catton’s book on how we humans have overshot the natural sustainability processes and resources of the earth).

If we are faced with such a challenge,  and need a full-scale re-orientation of our economy, way of living,  and also our theology (so as to recover the deeply ecological message that our Western hermeneutic has lost),  isn’t this something that ought to be found somewhere in the church’s descriptions and stories about itself?  Doesn’t this warrant ,  at the VERY LEAST,  Front Page news?  Definitive re-assesment?  Laser-sharp focus on what we have to do going forward?  Or are we caught up in the denial that this just can’t be,  and that someone will come up with a heroic solution.  Are we operating on the denial that we are facing dire physical ramifications (and indeed, already experiencing them),  and just continuing to “Amuse Ourselves to Death”?  Isn’t there something about the church being a prophetic presence in the world;  a call to speak the truth and not waiting for the world to “get it” but to simply “live it” and to be able to articulate a word about “the hope that is within us”?


My challenge to UMComm and all church Communications agencies

August 09, 2015 By: Theoblogical Category: ecotheology, Media, Occupy Theology, People's Climate, Theoblogical

I posted this comment to UMNS Facebook post on UMComm (United Methodist Communicaitons) ‘s 75th anniversary observance:

UMComm has certainly been out there, utilizing media, telling the story, and telling lots of stories which have highlighted the church’s presence across a wide range of issues. This is something to be proud of. What I am wondering TODAY, however, is where Church Communications across the Christian church in today’s world will begin to bring home the gravity of the ecological crisis we face. Science has been warning us in no uncertain terms for over 30 years. The UMC has come out with statements acknowledging that the ecological situation is a moral issue. But it has been lacking , as have other churches and denominations, in truly communicating the depth of the challenge. This MUST change. I cannot repeat that and stand up and remind us of the deeply moral crisis this is, and that we MUST SPEAK UP about. UMCom , as with all other Christian churches and denominations are WELL PAST DUE on proper focus on this matter. It CANNOT continue to be ignored for weeks on end, even months. I recognized a couple of articles when the Pope released his Encyclical. GBGM has a missionary, Pat Watkins,, working with (sponsored by) the Council of Bishops, with the task of getting the church to start dialoguing about the implications of the Bishops letter, God’s Renewed Creation. It is time to start working on specific theological, liturgical, devotional, and political action to take. It’s going to require ALL of the above.

Pat Watkins told me in a conversation we had last week,  that he’d like to see “God’s Renewed Creation” become a sustained campaign on the level of a “Imagine No Malaria”  (“Imagine a Renewed Creation” isn’t bad,  as names for campaigns go).   But beyond the name,  the UMC MUST consider it a calling to advance way beyond the “every now and then” posting of an article about the Climate Crisis (and begin to communicate the very fact that it IS a CRISIS in the first place,  rather than just “an issue” (which, ironically,  doesn’t even appear on the “Topics” age on

Sunday morning reflections on “Creation” and “All Things”

August 09, 2015 By: Theoblogical Category: ecotheology, Occupy Theology, Theoblogical

One of those “all things” passages, in Colossians, 1, it is said of “The Son” that he is the “firstborn over all creation”; “He is before all things and in him all things hold together”; God was pleased to have all fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things”. I cannot avoid the thought that although Paul (or whoever is the source of this hymn of Scripture) would not have known the science of the “all things” here (like where it all came from), that he had some transcendent vision of “all things” which satisfied him; that “all things” was beyond his comprehension, and yet it all holds together under that “LOGOS become SARCS”; not “WORD become anthropos (human) but WORD become SARCS (translated “flesh”, often in contexts of referring to the wider creation that INCLUDES humanity. (the latter, SARCS insight courtesy of “Elizabeth Johnson in Ask The Beasts”.

I am also intrigued by the creation story passage where it is said “And the Spirit of God moved (or “hovered”) upon the face of the waters”. Given that the life we now know originated in the teeming of life that swirled in the oceans and lakes and ponds, this is another intrigue like the “all things hold together” passage. Not that the authors of this creation story were aware that the origin of all life developed in conjunction with water, but that there was a deep sense of the “stuff of creation” being “hosted” by the water.

It’s a bit saddening that so much religious energy has been devoted to denying or shutting out continuing and historic scientific advances and theories, holding fast to “systemic formulation” based on the theological stories of “Creation”, as if those real comprehension stories, to be legitimate, must be construed literally and historically. The authors of those stories were not even conceiving of this being construed as a scientific conclusion or statement of fact. In “fact”, they had no comprehension or expectation or awareness of such; the age was truly “pre-scientific”. This is we humans, projecting our contemporary notions of literature and history and theology BACKWARD into a time where such things as modern science were not only NOT an ingredient of those writings, it was not on the radar.

Elizabeth Johnson points out that the creation stories themselves were written AFTER the exodus stories. The creation was a sending backward of the faith affirmation of a loving and liberating God who brought Israel out of Egypt, and a “faith history” proclaiming the same power that liberates also creates.

Where we find ourselves as a Church, how we got here, and where we need to go in this time of Climate Crisis.

July 30, 2015 By: Theoblogical Category: ecotheology, Occupy Theology, People's Climate

There’s so much to say about this response to an email I sent to a denominational news website:


since your reply to my question about Climate Crisis coverage,  it’s been 24 days,  and I don’t think ONE article has appeared anywhere on [your main website]  Seems that the News staff might need a dedicated Climate reporter,  like many of the secular news agencies do (or for an even better example,  the Guardian has become the premiere journalistic effort on the Climate Crisis.  In early June,  I attended a Conference in Claremont CA , Seizing An Alternative: Toward an Ecological Civilization,  put on by the Center for Process Studies based in xxx School of Theology.   Just wanted to renew my concerns about the level of attention this is being given,  especially since [a Theological School ]is expressing such a level of urgency about the matter.   It’s worth some serious conversation amongst the News staff.



The xxxx Church is a church first, and the news agency — all four of us on the news full time — are there to cover mainly the work of and controversies within the xxxChurch. Yes, climate change as a global issue, is very much part of our coverage. But it will never be the sole focus of any of our small number of reporters. I admire your passion but you have to understand that with a tiny staff and resources, we will never be as comprehensive on any topic as many would like.

I hid the specific names and identifying markers of who I am talking about here,  because my point here is to identify a wide-ranging problem in the church today,  that spans across denominations.   To report on the indicators of the problem/crisis we face stirs up fierce debate,  awkward silence,  or deep discomfort.   Churches shy away from covering the topic at all.  This particular response says a lot about what is at work here,  it seems.

point one:

[this] Church is a church first

Yeah,  it is.  And just what might be at play in a comment such as that?  That somehow this topic is not considered a priority or related wholly to “church issues”?   Just what kind of church might this be describing?  It would seem to me that a dire global emergency,  identified by an overwhelming consensus of the very best scientists in the world,  who are seeing very disturbing trends heralding grave dangers to global health, infrastructures, and economies,  would be sufficient motivation for churches to be deeply concerned about the direction of our consumerist, hubristic plunge toward ecological devastation.

point two:

the news agency — all four of us on the news full time — are there to cover mainly the work of and controversies within the [denomination].

Makes sense.  But the “work of” begs the question:  What should be our work (back to the first point).  And ,  even more obvious to everyone,  “controversies within”:  This is a HUGE controversy.  It draws trolls in as many numbers to website articles on Climate Change issues as does Gay marriage or healthcare (or any number of politically charged issues such as Police violence and #BlackLivesMatter).  All of those issues,  are , of course,  of great ethical and social and theological significance.  But none of them bear the weight of blocking out almost all coverage of ongoing, increasing, dire scientific warnings about what is happening to our planet’s capacity to withstand what we as a consumerist society are doing to it.

point 3:

Yes, climate change as a global issue, is very much part of our coverage. But it will never be the sole focus of any of our small number of reporters.

No,  Climate Change is NOT “Very Much” a part of the coverage.  One article every 3-4 months is not “VERY MUCH” a part of the news coverage. And these past 3-4 months have INCLUDED the momentous and theologically significant and , for the church,  GROUNDBREAKING theological response by a global church leadership (in this instance,  the widest reaching , most authoritative figure of religious stature on the face of the earth, the Pope.  And that was but 6 weeks ago,  and only ONE response has been offered since then (and that was an article borrowed from an internal agency written by an officer of that agency.  Not that this isn’t encouraging,  but when it represents the sum-total of the featured response by a denomination’s news agency,  something is certainly missing.  A disturbing lack of urgency and sense of significance is indicated.

I had made the suggestion of a dedicated “Climate reporter” such as the ones like Joe Romm or several folks at The Guardian,  which has become the model journalistic effort in covering the things which unmistakably lay the urgency right at our feet.  And these are “secular” operators,  but who , sadly for us as a church,  are displaying a deeper level of responsibility for informing the public than denominational agencies are providing for their members,  who are called to represent a different order, a  Kingdom of God which models a new life that’s possible.

I must confess,  that I have to say these things with a clear sense of humility in recognizing that the place to where I have come,  that gives me this sense of urgency,  is a place to which I have come only in the last 10-11 months.  It was a realization on the order of a new conversion;  a reformation of my theological outlook that now operates within the context of “an earth in peril” (a phrase and idea about theology articulated by Philip Clayton).  Prior to this,  I had scarcely noticed the gaping hole in coverage at a level of urgency appropriate to the reality.  But this lays before me an unmistakable, unshakable sense of call upon my life and work.  It is to offer up my communication skills and technology specialties to the task of enabling the church to be the church,  and tell the story of where we find ourselves, and how we got here,  and where we need to go.