For Behold

As light as a feather, free as a bird.

“Fear not, for behold: I bring you glad tidings of great joy.” I’ve listened to these words, sung them, shouted them from a church basement, and read them hundreds of times. They are the great refrain of Christmas. This year they strike me differently, though, because this year I am afraid.

I’m afraid because my mother’s no longer here, which is just sad on most days but then sometimes feels like the ground under me has heaved and is no longer trustworthy. I’m afraid because, walking to work last week in below-zero temperatures, I passed through a happy flock of robins—the climate is changing, what used to be predictable is no longer, and we’ve elected a government that will likely aggravate the problem. (more…)

Entering Shadowland

pokahoesunset16-04Cancer does this: Shake you out of the status quo and drop you into a different realm, one where your everyday priorities are rearranged and suddenly small talk, the cleanliness of the house, even your job ambitions seem ridiculous. Instead you give yourself over to what really matters: Being present to one another. Doing everything possible to tend to health and well-being. Emily and I call this place of intensity Cancerland. Life-threatening illness does a marvelous job of helping you reprioritize.

But so do other things, like the death of a loved one or losing a home or experiencing trauma. The last time our country did a collective gasp and had to reprioritize was 9/11. The recent election shocked some of us into a new way of seeing the world. Our national shadows—the parts of us that fear the Other, that wants to eradicate whatever seems to threaten our wellbeing—are now out in the open. They’ve been there all along, as people of color and immigrants and trans folks have been trying to tell us. But now we’re all plunged into a new reality: Shadowland, a country where democratic processes are scorned and fear has taken the reigns. (more…)

Containing Land & Spirit

Retaining WallPhew! Emily and I have just completed a major landscaping project, building a retaining wall along the south and east sides of our property, putting in two rain gardens, leveling the soil where our old garage stood, and planting grass seed. After an entire year of chaos, the garden finally feels settled. The work that remains (stone paths, trellises, more planting) is ornamental.

When I look at all this change through practical lenses, most of it seems unnecessary. Our yard was fine beforehand. (more…)

Communal Faith and Climate Change

Every day I become more convinced that the pressing social justice issue of our times, the single most important problem that individuals and congregations and governments need to address, is our warming planet.  And every day I’m more convinced that an essential (perhaps the essential) source of a solution rests in our faith—not necessarily the Christian faith, although that will do, but humanity’s faith in the sacred wholeness of creation.

Since my brand of faith is Christian, look with me through one Christian lens at one solution.  Krista Tippett recently interviewed Nadia Bolz-Weber, the pastor at The Church of All Sinners and Saints, an emergent Lutheran congregation in Denver, Colorado.  Bolz-Weber said, “I don’t think faith is given in sufficient quantity to individuals… I think it’s given in sufficient quantity to communities.”  She gave a few examples:  Some people think they can’t say the Apostles’ Creed because they don’t believe all that it says.  “I’m like, oh, my God.  Nobody believes every line of the Creed.  But in a room of people…for each line of the Creed, somebody believes it.  So we’re covered, right?”  When praying for your enemies is impossible, which it often is, Bolz-Weber recommends asking someone else to pray for your enemies.  We’ve individualized faith too much.  Faith can (and should) be the work of community.

We’re facing an environmental disaster of inconceivable proportions.  Not only do we need communal faith to sustain our hope; we need it to coordinate our various gifts and energies to become a force to stop and reverse climate change.  In a secular, despairing world, congregations can say, “We know a source of healing and transformation!”  And in an overly individualistic world, congregations can function as the Body of Christ, throwing over the 21st century version of temple money-lenders:  our planet-killing habits and the systems that benefit from them.                                                             –Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew

 

Write, or Be Written

Here’s what excites me about our climate crisis:  It invites us to change.  “We face a choice that is starkly simple:  We must change or be changed,” writes Wendell Berry.  “If we fail to change for the better, then we will be changed for the worse.”  Okay, so the alternatives are either exciting or terrifying, but still:  Dire circumstances give humans the opportunity to create something new, and this fills me with hope.

Berry’s words remind me of a novelist friend who signs her books, “Write, or be written.”  I don’t think Elissa’s trying to make authors out of her readers; rather, she’s suggesting that everyone has the choice to accept the stories our culture tells about us or create our own.  The climate story our culture has written is dictated by consumption and profit at the expense of the earth and the poor who live close to it.  It’s a story written with highways and billboards, farming practices and diets, the movement of our money and the absence of money.  It’s a story most people don’t question.  We’re too immersed in it.

When I read the stories Jesus told and when I think about his life as a model, I see Jesus asking of us something similar.  We can accept the dominant stories of our culture—“an eye for an eye,” for example, or a morality determined by the law rather than our hearts—or we can participate in a radically different story based on love and humor and subversion.  Jesus doesn’t simply call us to believe in God’s realm; we have to create it, with thoughts and words and deeds.  Write, or be written.  Change or be changed.

These are tumultuous times, and, as every artist knows, creativity comes out of chaos.  As Christians, can we pioneer a new story based on justice and kindness and faith?  Let’s get to work.

–Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew