Two feet of rain fell in twenty-four hours in the panhandle of Florida a few days ago, sending many fleeing to the rafters and roofs of their homes. The storm system moved from Oklahoma to the East coast, scooping up humidity from the Gulf and dumping historic amounts of rain from Pensacola to Pennsylvania. Over four days, 65 tornadoes wreaked havoc, and 37 people died. It was the first big storm of the season -- and it was early.
In the West, drought is consuming a growing swath of territory, and fires are worse than ever. Almost half the country is in mild to severe drought.
This is not an accident, nor a freak of nature -- it is human nature.
I almost never preach sermons that emphasize sin and judgment. I serve as the head of Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC), a global denomination founded to affirm all God's children, including lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) people. My faith world is about love and acceptance. I avoid the approach of "sinners in the hands of an angry God."
Yet, I do believe it is time that we look at our own hands and see what we hold. We need to look at our actions and see what we are doing. God's love will never change, but we have an eternal mandate to be in relationship to our natural environment. Human sin has everything to do with our alienation from the garden of Eden -- this paradise we call Earth.
Although we have no control over nature, we have some responsibility for human nature. Since ancient times, the prophets understood that human nature can be self-centered, self-aggrandizing, oblivious to others, and arrogant to the extreme. There is hope because we can be trained but not without effort.
Religions try to move humanity to be in relationship to the divine, to nature, and to each other, but some kind of distorted sense of survival seems to kick in every time, and we end up hoarding, exploiting, dominating, and destroying.
It seems that it takes a village -- no, it takes a global network of villages -- to raise up people who consider the good of the community, even the whole planet, more important than their personal well-being.
At our best, we can create communities of harmony which work in cooperation with each other and nature to thrive and to protect the weakest among us as a sign of our strength and wisdom. At our worst...well, we are seeing the results. Militarization destroys nations and creates rampant pollution. Oil interests block renewable energy efforts. Climate change brings massive storms and destruction.
Are we too late? Global warming is here, regardless of whatever denial tactics are deployed. The public knows it. A Pew Research Center poll found that more than two-thirds of the country's population has noticed climate change. Sadly, only 42% connect that to human behavior.
While controversial oil pipelines have been forestalled in places like Nebraska because of the organizing of church women and others, the oil companies are now shipping oil via train tanks. Just last week, 25,000 gallons of crude oil spilled into the James River, which flows into the Chesapeake Bay and provides drinking water for places like Richmond, Virginia. In West Virginia a few months ago, tap water was undrinkable when another train crashed and spilled its lethal load of coal mining chemicals into the water network. Moreover, The Wall Street Journal reports that 15 million people live within a mile of a gas fracking well, and a jury just awarded a family in Texas three million dollars for their family's health problems related to fracking. An environmental medical specialist found more than 20 toxic chemicals in a family member's blood.
Let's be clear, climate change and pollution is largely about fossil fuels and all the resulting chemicals that are used in plastics, pesticides, herbicides and more.
Bishop Tutu has called for a boycott of fossil fuels on a scale such as the historic global resistance to Apartheid in South Africa. Stanford University recently decided to divest itself of billions of investment in the coal industry. Harvard University is under pressure from students to also divest from fossil fuels.
Our churches, synagogues, ashrams, and other faith gathering places are diligently minimizing the use of Styrofoam, and we sort our paper from the trash to recycle it. Some of us compost our garbage, and this is all good. But as faith leaders, it is time to organize and mobilize. We have the largest networks of people trying to do what is right of any organizations in the world. We each have unique traditions, but we all preach peace. It is time to rise up and be the peace we seek.
But peace is not a reality that just happens. Although we see signs of peace and beauty all around us, it will take massive movements to create global cultures of peace where beauty replaces war. A global culture of peace and beauty asks us not only to wean ourselves from oil but to resist and replace it with solar, wind, and water.
In early May, a national coalition of religious leaders launched a movement called Blessed Tomorrow. We are committed to walking more gently on the earth and inspiring others to create climate change solutions in their congregations, communities, and homes. We are faith leaders from Evangelical, Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant traditions, and we pledge to engage and motivate other leaders and congregations to care for all creation.
As a coalition, we know it is NOT too late. With God's help and our partnerships across all lines of difference, humankind can strive toward freedom from military solutions -- freedom from the oppression of systemic poisoning of our environment and our children -- freedom from discrimination that impoverishes us and leaves vulnerable people in the path of floods and storms.
It is NOT too late. God has gifted us all with Paradise. Let us cherish this sacred gift and pass it to our children and our children's children. Let us strive for a BLESSED TOMORROW!
As the Psalmist wrote in Psalms 148, interpreted by The Message (Peterson):
Praise GOD from earth, you sea dragons, you fathomless ocean deeps;
Fire and hail, snow and ice, hurricanes obeying his orders;
Mountains and all hills, apple orchards and cedar forests;
Wild beasts and herds of cattle, snakes, and birds in flight;
Earth's rulers and all races, leaders and important people,
Robust men and women in their prime, and yes, graybeards and little children.
Let them praise the name of GOD-- it's the only Name worth praising.