A few highlights from the United Methodist Church’s General Convention meeting held last week in Portland, OR. This is the top policy-making body of The United Methodist Church, which convenes once every four years.The conference can revise church law, as well as adopt resolutions on current moral, social, public policy and economic issues. It also approves plans and budgets for church-wide programs.
There was lots of coverage on the sexuality debates (Final: “We’ll talk about this later.”) and they voted on a new hymnal, increased the budget, voted to keep fossil fuels in their investment portfolios (Shame on you! You’re Bill McKibben’s denomination!), and are in the midst of learning how to understand themselves as a global church with significant expansion and leadership in Africa.
But here are 5 items that I found particularly heartening:
What happens to a community when there is no safe water supply? Look at Flint, Michigan. The lead that has leached from pipes there remains an ongoing concern. “The problem with Flint right now is this is going to be a generation’s long issue,” says Michigan Area Bishop Deborah Kiesey. “The children of Flint, particularly, are the ones most affected by this poor water.”
From Michigan to Liberia, and Portland to Philippines and Honduras, poor and marginalized communities are struggling with water contamination that threatens everyday life. United Methodist Women called attention to their plight during a lunchtime rally on May 16 at the Oregon Convention Center plaza. The event was part of the UMW Day celebration during the United Methodist General Conference.
“We call upon our seminaries and United Methodist-related
colleges and universities to offer courses on alternatives to violence and to sponsor local community initiatives to diffuse ethnic and religious conflict. We also call on our seminaries to encourage the study of the theological roots of violence and of Jesus’ teachings on nonviolence nonresistance and resisting evil; and …”
On Jan, 20,2016, people from Pennsylvania were forced to break into a “business as usual” meeting of representatives from fossil fuel corporations and state government in order to defend their land and advance the goals of the Paris Climate Conference to keep fossil fuels in the ground and enact an immediate transition to renewable energy.
As Christian activist Nathan Sooy of Dillsburg, PA, says in this video, “When civil discourse is finally closed off or ignored it leaves only the option for uncivil discourse.”
This is a 10 minute video of the Pennsylvania Governor’s Pipeline Task Force meeting the People’s Task Force for the Protection of Pennsylvania (EDGE, BXE, and Pennsylvania fractivists) in Harrisburg, Pa. The industry had their time to talk at the Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force meetings. This video tells the people’s story, featuring public comment from Pennsylvania residents and public health advocates that were dismissed, silenced, and ignored after sacrificing to be at every meeting.
Seven people were arrested. None of them were the government or corporate representatives.
These past two weeks, an ancient and a modern tale of bitter, poisonous waters suddenly rang together as an alarm and an awakening. Right now: We have been learning about the horrifying and disgusting behavior of the government of Michigan, turning off the pipes bringing pure water from Lake Huron to the mostly Black citizens of the city of Flint and instead sending poisonous waters to Flint. (The Governor, Rick Snyder, is no Tea Party type, but a fairly typical “establishment” Republican businessman — anti-labor, anti-choice for women, anti-Syrian-refugees, and contemptuous of pleas from the Black folks of Flint to end the poisoning of their children.)
So the bitter waters came: Waters that stank and were colored brown and green, waters that caused rashes and boils to spring up on the skins of those who had to drink it. Waters infused with lead, which is well-known to permanently and irreversibly damage the brains of young children. Long long ago: The age-old Torah telling that we read this past Shabbat was the story of how ancient Israel crossed the Red Sea while Pharaoh’s power dissolved and his army drowned there. Just a few days later, according to the story, they protested because they had no water fit to drink. What connects these two events?
Word and World believes that it is time to bring our energy and join the movement work happening in Detroit, a city that has been “ground zero” not only of economic crisis, but also of hope and resistance.
This “Land and Water” movement school will focus on cultural organizing bringing together theologies of justice, indigenous resistance, and hip hop spirituality.
Get your application here. If you can’t come, send financial support here.
Today I was researching the creation care teachings that will likely undergird Pope Francis’ forthcoming encyclical on climate change. I found this epiphany reflection by Orthodox Father John Breck.
The deep wisdom in the Eastern church reminds us of the distinctives that Christians bring to our relationship with God’s creation. We do not recognize the earth as a god in herself. We do not believe that the earth is more holy or more perfect than humans. We do believe that both earth and human communities are “fallen” or “in the far country” (as Meiser Eckhart puts it). Our human call to fidelity with creation is so much more than that of caretaker or steward or even pastor or priest. We are family (creaturely together) striving to find our way home.–Rose
Here’s an excerpt from Breck’s reflection on theophany (when God becomes visible) and water:
“… There is another aspect of Theophany that also needs to be stressed, today perhaps more than ever before. This is a motif that appears very clearly in icons of the feast but goes unmentioned in the Gospels. Its earliest formulation seems to be that of St Ignatius of Antioch, who died as a martyr in Rome between 110 and 117 AD. In his letter to the Ephesians (ch. 18), Ignatius makes a statement notoriously difficult to translate: “Our God, Jesus the Christ, was conceived by Mary according to the plan (oikonomian) of God from the seed of David [cf. Rom 1:3] and [by] the Holy Spirit; he was born and was baptized so that by the passion (tô pathei) he might purify the water.”
Without going into the difficulties presented by the language of this verse, we can note its basic theme. It is the same as depicted in icons and liturgical hymns of the Theophany feast. Christ descends into the waters of the Jordan not only to submit himself to the hands of John and to lay the foundation for the sacramental act of baptism. He also goes down into the Jordan in order to purify or sanctify those waters, and in so doing he symbolically (really, through this sign-act) sanctifies all of creation.
Theophany celebrates the baptismal renewal of God’s people, members of the Body of Christ. But it also provides the perspective we are to assume with regard to the entire created world. Stated otherwise, it provides the foundation for a genuinely Christian “ecology.”
Elizabeth Theokritoff has written a book entitled, Living in God’s Creation, with the subtitle “The Ecological Vision of Orthodox Christianity.” The author points out that our relation to the created world is less that of “steward” than it is of priest. We are called not only to preserve and care for the created order. Our vocation relative to the world we live in, both natural and human, is to make of it an offering to God, with the ongoing supplication that he bless, restore and make fruitful this planet over which he has granted us dominion. That dominion implies responsibility and respect toward all living things. But it means, too, that we recognize the “fallenness” of creation and its need for restoration, even redemption (Rom 8:18-23). …”–Father John Breck, Sanctify the Waters (Epiphany 2015)
This summer, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department announced that it would increase its shut-off campaign to 3,000 shutoffs per week.
Catarina de Albuquerque, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to safe drinking water and sanitation says:
“Disconnection of services for lack of means to pay may constitute a violation of the right to water. Disconnection due to non-payment is only permissible if it can be shown that the householder is able to pay but is not paying—in other words, that the tariff is affordable.”
Lydia Wylie-Kellermann, Detroit organizer, sent me this note:
Friends, the watershed in Detroit is crying out. We are working full force against the water department shutting off up to 150,000 homes in the city by September (this is 40% of households). They have already shut off thousands of families. No drinking water, no bathing, no flushing toilets. With no running water, there is a risk of child protective service taking children away from their parents. It is a human rights issue, a privatization of water issue, a health issue, and a watershed issue. The U.N. has responded to the crisis saying that this is a violation of human rights.
“It is our profound conviction that the future of the human family depends also on how we safeguard – both prudently and compassionately, with justice and fairness – the gift of creation that our Creator has entrusted to us. Therefore, we acknowledge in repentance the wrongful mistreatment of our planet, which is tantamount to sin before the eyes of God. We reaffirm our responsibility and obligation to foster a sense of humility and moderation so that all may feel the need to respect creation and to safeguard it with care. Together, we pledge our commitment to raising awareness about the stewardship of creation; we appeal to all people of goodwill to consider ways of living less wastefully and more frugally, manifesting less greed and more generosity for the protection of God’s world and the benefit of His people.” —Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew (from Joint Declaration, 25 May 2014)
I really want my urban D.C. row house to be as naturally powered as possible. But I’m lacking in both the finances and the DIY skills to make it so. This puts me in the position of a “beach-chair activist” when it comes to solar power. I read all the cool new solar developments with envy and dream of a day I can at least feel the sun in my shower.
I’m also hoping that my Columbia Heights neighborhood will start a solar panel cooperative (like they’ve done in Mount Pleasant, D.C.). And I want the U.S. to catch up at least with Europe in saving the planet. (I have a lot of desires.)
The harnessing of solar energy is expanding on every front as concerns about climate change and energy security escalate, as government incentives for harnessing solar energy expand, and as these costs decline while those of fossil fuels rise. One solar technology that is really beginning to take off is the use of solar thermal collectors to convert sunlight into heat that can be used to warm both water and space.
China, for example, is now home to 27 million rooftop solar water heaters. With nearly 4,000 Chinese companies manufacturing these devices, this relatively simple low-cost technology has leapfrogged into villages that do not yet have electricity. For as little as $200, villagers can have a rooftop solar collector installed and take their first hot shower. This technology is sweeping China like wildfire, already approaching market saturation in some communities. Beijing plans to boost the current 114 million square meters of rooftop solar collectors for heating water to 300 million by 2020.
The energy harnessed by these installations in China is equal to the electricity generated by 49 coal-fired power plants. Other developing countries such as India and Brazil may also soon see millions of households turning to this inexpensive water heating technology. This leapfrogging into rural areas without an electricity grid is similar to the way cell phones bypassed the traditional fixed-line grid, providing services to millions of people who would still be on waiting lists if they had relied on traditional phone lines. Once the initial installment cost of rooftop solar water heaters is paid, the hot water is essentially free.
Over at the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns site, Maryknoll lay missioner Barbara Fraser has a nice reflection for the second Sunday of Advent. Fraser spent many years in Peru.
In the Andes mountains, water is life. Rains fall from November to March, during the growing season. In the dry months, however, people depend on glaciers, which slowly release water, irrigating pastures where animals graze and feeding streams that provide water for drinking and washing. As the glaciers disappear, the pastures dry up, and neighbors begin to fight over access to the remaining pastures and streams. Some cannot continue to make a living from the land. They migrate to cities, where they face hardship and discrimination, because they have little formal education and do not speak Spanish well.
Farmers in the Andes see the world they have known collapsing around them, because of the changing climate. What they feel is probably similar to what the Israelites felt when they were in exile, or what the Jews of John the Baptist’s time felt under foreign occupation. They lived in a time of uncertainty, had little control over events, and did not know if they could promise their children a better future.
Today’s readings reminded them and remind us of God’s faithfulness and the promise of salvation. But the readings also remind us that God calls us to action, to prepare the way for salvation.