When I was 8, an area near where we lived in north Florida flooded. Distressed by it all, I asked Mom, “But didn’t God promise never to let a flood happen again?” She reminded me that in God’s promise after the flood in Genesis, God promised never again to destroy the whole earth and all living creatures by flood. That didn’t mean localized flooding might not happen.
Even as a youngster, that sounded like “spin” to me. I’m not sure of the exact route of the conversation, but we quickly got into a discussion of free will and the sovereignty of God, though we didn’t use those words. We talked about whether people are just puppets doing whatever God wants, or if we have freedom to make our own decisions. Mom opted for not- puppets. That made sense to me.
I’m not sure, but that conversation might have been the starting point of my call to ministry. The questions we were wrestling with felt big and real. So big and real, in fact, that I’m still trying to work out precisely what God’s promise in Genesis 9 means.
I wonder how many 8 year olds in Texas or Florida or St. Martin or Puerto Rico this week are asking their parents about God’s promise never to destroy the earth or its creatures by flood. Or how many people in Mexico are questioning the love of God in the rubble of buildings destroyed by two earthquakes in as many weeks.
Harvey. Irma. Maria. Earthquakes. Monsoons. Mudslides. Where is God in all this environmental upheaval? Where are we in the midst of all this environmental upheaval?
So–climate change. As the daughter of a scientist, I hold firmly to the fact that current upheavals in climate are the direct result of human activity. Even so, I’ve been thinking about the argument some make—that, yes, climate is changing, but if you look at things across the eons, climate change is a constant. From earth’s beginning, there have been ice ages and warming atmospheres, floods and droughts, earthquakes and hurricanes. Everything is cyclical. What we’re experiencing now is simply part of the evolutionary ebb and flow.
As an evolutionist, I like that argument…especially when you incorporate into the natural unfolding of evolution the evolution of the human brain, which has dreamed up things–the mass production of automobiles, for example– that have directly affected the environment. When you think about it, the evolutionary argument makes a lot of sense.
Less satisfying, though, is the realization that, while climate change might be the result of a naturally unfolding evolutionary process, that process often has resulted in mass extinctions. And dinosaurs were a much heartier lot than we human beings are. The earth might do just fine without us, but I’d like to see the human race continue for a good long while.
So now I’m beginning to wonder if the tack I’ve been taking in my own thinking might have been a little off. For myself, and in my work as pastor, I’ve been focusing on caring for creation for creation’s sake, to love creation for itself, because creation is part of our family. We’re all siblings, equally-beloved progeny of a loving, Creator God.
That approach certainly is theologically sound. Living in a symbiotic and mutual relationship with creation is a key part of a vibrant faith.
The more I think about it, though, the more convinced I become that for people of faith–as much as we love creation–the more important reason to care for it, the most important reason to do everything we can to work for the mitigation of climate change is Jesus’ call to care for the least of these. I’ve become convinced that we care for creation because we love people. Caring for creation is a crucial way to act the least of these into wellbeing.
The devastation in Texas and the Caribbean have shown just how quickly people can be displaced by fiercer storms and rising sea levels. Overpopulation is putting severe strains on reserves of potable water for much of the earth’s population. In Africa, places where farming was once common, the ground no longer can sustain crops.
We’ve heard a lot about refugees the past couple of years. Eleven million from the war in Syria—6 million internally displaced, 5 million who’ve fled the country. In the last month alone, 415,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled genocide in Myanmar. As severe as the current refugee crises are, another is coming that will dwarf all others—the climate refugee crisis.
Jeff Joslin, who volunteers with the Citizens Climate Lobby, also is a pilot. He offered his services last week to help evacuate people from St. Martin after Hurricane Irma hit.
While waiting in San Juan, Puerto Rico, to fly people to Atlanta, Jeff was able to speak with crews who had been in St. Martin right after Irma hit. He writes, The crew that flew into St. Martin reported devastation on a scale they’d never seen before. Most of the buildings in the vicinity of the airport were destroyed or heavily damaged. People were sleeping in tents. Boats unnaturally rested in places only a storm would carry them. Despite a high need for evacuations, they said they had flown out with nearly 2/3 of their seats empty. Law enforcement personnel were only letting those with the proper paperwork into the airport…and many had lost passports or other documents in the storm. The flow of evacuees slowed to a trickle.
On board our flight to the States, some passengers said they left not knowing when or if they will ever return home. That’s the statement that hit me in the gut, Joslin writes. Some of these folks have lost nearly everything . They were leaving their homes, loved ones, and pleasant memories for a future of uncertainty, recovery, and a leap into the unknown.
Over the next few days, Joslin writes, it dawned on me that I had carried part of a whole new generation of climate refugees. Survivors from the Caribbean and Houston were joining with displaced people worldwide fleeing drought, storm-related natural disasters and low lying islands succumbing to rising seas. They joined the 65 million refugees who have fled their homes, living day to day as trauma survivors in search of the basics: safety, food, a warm, dry bed, and hope for their children’s future.
As people of faith, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the world’s needs. Sometimes, wouldn’t you just like to turn off the world, like you turn off your TV? With 24 news access, sometimes we have to give ourselves permission to do just that.
And sometimes, as President Teddy Roosevelt once said, we have to “Do what we can, with what we have, where we are.” A couple of weeks ago, the message outside read: “The rainbow is a sign of God’s promise. Help your neighbor!” The saying puzzled me at first. What’s the connection between the rainbow as a sign of God’s promise and our helping our neighbor? As I reflected on it, I realized that when God made the rainbow promise, already God was depending on us to help fulfill the promise. The first version of the “Do what you can” quote I pulled up on the internet imposed the quote on top of a rainbow. Exactly! “The rainbow is a sign of God’s promise. Help your neighbor.” “Do what we can, with what we have, where we are.”
In her newsletter article this month, Christy Stanley wrote this: At the end of each worship service, we’re reminded that Jesus has no feet or hands on earth but ours. We are the body that carries out his love. We feed those of his flock who are hungry, we clothe the naked, we visit the lonely, and we house the homeless. I have to believe that Christ could handle all of these things on his own, but he uses us. That is because serving others does just as much for our souls as it does for the people we help. By becoming Jesus’ hands and feet, we become closer to him. With that as her introduction, Christy went on to invite all of us to experience nearness to Jesus by helping out with Family Promise.
We’ve had lots of conversations recently about Family Promise. We’re a relatively small congregation; we wondered if we have enough volunteers to make it work. It’s a legitimate concern. To help address it, I’m in the process of talking with some other faith groups in our area to see if we might enlarge our pool of volunteers. You might know of others who would like to help serve. I’m hopeful about that initiative.
Hosting Family Promise requires close attention to LOTS of logistics. It’s important that we know what our resources are and offer only what we can realistically give. In some of the conversations I’ve had this week, though, I’ve come to recognize that logistics are only a small part of our participation in Family Promise. Camilla Worrell, Executive Director for Family Promise of Cobb County, has said two things about Pilgrimage’s participation. First, she’s said that the diversity of our congregation is a real gift to the rest of the Family Promise network. Second—and this is something she’s said from the beginning—“When guest families talk about Pilgrimage, they always say, ‘When we go there, we know we’re loved.’” Until talking with Camilla this week, I didn’t realize that among congregations in the Family Promise network, we are a leader…not in our facility or other resources, but in love. We lead with love. Which is kind of the whole point of the Jesus thing, right?
I had a conversation this week about what “preaching the good news” entails. I know naming the world’s troubles doesn’t often feel like good news. In fact, it often leads to despair.
Here’s what I’m starting to wonder, though. I’m starting to wonder if the good news isn’t so much something we proclaim as something we live? Have you ever thought that maybe WE are God’s good news? Maybe it is our actions, our service to others, our hospitality, and our advocacy, that proclaim God’s good news to the hurting world. Maybe we are God’s best hopes for the world. Are we God’s good news? If so, “Start spreading the news…”
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.
Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2017