Noah as Metaphor

by Q. Gerald Roseberry

When I was a kid growing up in Georgia, in a small village outside Atlanta, my parents were leaders in a small fundamentalist congregation. All six of us kids attended the Sunday School and Vacation Bible School. One of the things I enjoyed most about those early educational experiences was the teachers’ use of “flannel graph” art as a teaching aid in illuminating the Bible stories. Pictures of people and significant objects in the story backed with flannel adhered to a lightweight board covered with flannel which helped make the story come to life.

One of the stories I loved was “Noah and the Flood.” So I was fascinated to hear that Hollywood was producing a movie on the subject, and I intended to see it. Unfortunately I was unable to see the movie. Many years ago I stopped believing that the stories were literally true. In my imagination, however, I would like to have a heart-to-heart conversation with Noah. The really big question I would ask Noah is, why did God send such a terrible flood to destroy the people and animals and everything else in the land where you lived? But, of course, my interview with Noah doesn’t go well because we live in such different worlds. Everything is different. They are said to have lived unbelievably long lives, such as Noah’s 950 years. Different times, cultures, languages. Even to talk of faith and beliefs would be a difficult at best.

Setting aside a preoccupation with all the species of animals, birds, and insects being rounded up and adequately housed as totally impossible, I am left with the most important question of all: Why did God send such a terrible flood to totally destroy people, animals, and everything in the land were Noah lived? The ancient text gives the explanation:

God saw that human evil was out of control. People thought evil, imagined evil, evil, evil from morning to night. God was sorry that he had made the human race. . .it broke his heart. God said, “I’ll get rid of my ruined creation, make a clean sweep: people, animals, snakes, bugs and birds—the works.” – Eugene Peterson’s translation, The Message, chapters 6-7.

So what can we learn from Noah’s story? One possible lesson is that when human beings forget their origin in God’s creation, neglect their responsible stewardship of the earth, God’s gift, and forsake their due care for one another, then bad consequences follow. Pope Francis, a scientist himself, has caught the attention of the world, and one thing he said reverberates in our thoughts: “Destroy the earth, and the earth will destroy us.” In his encyclical, On Care for Our Common Home, Laudato Si, he referred to “integral ecology” which means that everything on earth is connected, and implies that our actions can and do upset the delicate balance of our environment, disrupting the intricate web of life supporting everything existing on earth.

 The Psalmist says in Psalm 24, “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world and those who dwell therein. For it was He who founded it upon the seas and planted it firm upon the waters beneath.” Poetic to be sure, but it points to our problem: we have forgotten that earth is not ours to do with as we please. We mortals hold the earth in trust for future generations. In one way or another, we have participated in bringing the earth to the point of rebelling and crying out against the harmful effects of hubris and technology which destroy human community, and disrupt, poison, and pollute the oceans, our atmosphere, water, and soil. This, I venture to say, is the world-destroying “evil” which has brought us to this critical point in human history.
The nations of the world, their leaders and representatives, will meet in early December in Paris to make commitments to reduce and eliminate greenhouse gases from their combustible energy systems. Solutions are at hand. We need to find the political will and the moral courage to apply them. Obviously, the change cannot be overnight, but we must act now with all deliberate speed in ways that enable the essential transitional changes to begin and continue without undue obstruction. That meeting of the nations should be in the prayers of every community of faith and in the hearts of all believers, beginning now and continuing until a just and healing solution is reached.


The Cluttered Table

by Teresa Blythe

Would you look at that? An old 50’s style Formica kitchen table with matching chairs squeezed into a one-car garage–set aside, deemed useless, reduced to nothing more than a plant stand.

That table has a story. It used to be someone’s dinette set. I can see it sitting in any number of kitchens waiting for the family to gather around it and have a meal. I can see a little boy with his schoolbooks spread out on it, doing homework until late at night. Mom probably used it at times to hold her sewing machine so she could make a costume for Halloween. I see cats and dogs begging from underneath it and friends drinking coffee and sharing stories around it.

The kitchen table is an American icon representing our belief in familial love and fellowship. It is so iconic it has been preserved in Norman Rockwell paintings, honored in films like Soul Food and Babette’s Feast, and regularly serves as a set for family based situation comedies on television (think of black-ish, Modern Family, or The Middle). For Christians, the ultimate family table is the site of the Eucharistic banquet — the divine fellowship of God’s children.

Oh, the blessed table. And here this one sits, jammed up and set aside like so much of yesterday’s news. Just taking up precious space.

Why does this image grab me so as I take my daily walk? It must remind me of something in myself that is jammed up, junked up and set out to rust and gather dust.

Maybe it’s a symbol of my own complicity in a culture that collects so much stuff that we become victims of our own affluence. We start to feel like that garage. Or, rather, our lives start to feel like that table and the world like that garage. We are squeezed into jobs that don’t necessarily fit but they pay the bills so we can buy more stuff. We are packed so tightly because we’ve been sold this update and that upgrade and now we don’t have room for it all.

That garage is also how my mind feels after binge-watching television. Story after story after story. Then I fall asleep and dream these cluttered dream-stories based on stories I collected all day long. Where is my story in the midst of all this? My story. Did I inadvertently put it out to the garage to gather dust?

Now is a good time to free that symbolic table. Perhaps loosen up the space between the table and chairs, letting the table breathe in the confines of the garage or move it somewhere less crowded. Give it away to someone whose family needs a table. We can remember the sacramental nature of the table. Gather friends around to laugh and enjoy one another. Tell our stories.

Since finishing seminary 15 years ago, my vocation has been that of a spiritual director–helping people recapture and appreciate their stories and then spotting God’s handiwork in them. Some of these stories are of their life. Some are stories they have heard from popular culture and find illustrative of their life. Some are dreams and visions. But they all say something real about spirituality—that is, our faith lived out in everyday life.

I may never know the facts about that cluttered table I noticed in someone’s garage. But what it evokes in me is eternally true. I need to make space so that my own story will emerge. Unclutter to see how God is living out God’s story in the world.

image credit: Christine Jackowski

I’ve got nothing.

by Amanda Peterson

I’ve got nothing. Am I the only one who has experienced that?  Inspiration seems like a fickle energy some days.   The funny or meaningful story, sermon, art work, class plan just doesn’t come. Just showing up becomes challenging work.  Yet here I am showing up and I’ve got nothing. One of my favorite definitions of contemplation is “a long loving look at the real.”  Developing one’s spirituality is rooted in being real.  And somedays real is just nothing.

Once the truth is stated there is a freedom to dwell in the loving part of that definition.  Maybe the nothing is a something.  Maybe the nothing helps point to the Something without expectations, duty or shoulds.  I do know when life is like this I listen, wonder, and notice life a bit differently.  For instance, I have been creating a lot lately so when nothing is there I look around at my life.  What have I let go during a very fruitful and inspired time?  Nothing times allow space to take care of home,  relationships and one’s soul.  Maybe having nothing isn’t so bad after all.  Maybe the nothing is a call to Something.


Are nothing times a call to “take care”?  What in your life needs your care right now?

image: © original artwork by Amanda Peterson

Wanna Trade?

by Davin Franklin-Hicks

Some very wise people in my life have said, “If everyone were to throw their problems in the middle of the room and you were able to take any of the problems and leave yours, you would pick yours back up rather than take on someone else’s.” Sorta like the White Elephant gift exchange gone depressingly wrong.

I think there is a tremendous amount of truth in the thought that we would rather have our own stuff instead of someone else’s when we can clearly see the extent of what others carry, ours doesn’t look half bad.

What this exercise would do, if it could really be done, is increase a sense of empathy and understanding for those we walk amongst daily. The crushing weight of worry and anxiety, heartache and loss is ubiquitous. No one gets out of this world without some of that. It is our connection and response to these painful moments and seasons that determine the extent of what we will carry and for how long. We could cliché this reality very easily with such platitudes as: “The only way out is through” or something of that nature. While there is truth to that, I rarely have found that helpful when I am sitting in darkness and hurting. The next step toward freedom seems impossible to take.

I am an isolator. I know I’m not alone there. It’s as though I go into power down mode when difficult feelings or situations rise. I know I’m not alone there, either. And isn’t that ironic? I know I am not alone in feeling utterly alone at times. If that isn’t an awful merry-go-round I don’t know what would be. The isolation that I often retreat into removes connection to people in my life. Every. Single. Time. And then I wonder, where the heck are you people, not realizing that it is me who has gone away. Experiencing painful moments doesn’t have to be so hard. It will likely still be very difficult when encountering these times, but it does not have to be so incredibly lonely and painful when others are around to help us shoulder the burden.

A missionary friend told me a story from her time in S. Africa that often occurs to me, especially when I need it most. She described a man who was carrying a pack that must have weighed over 100 pounds as he walked and walked and walked. He was an older gentleman, with a weathered, tired face. The weight that he was carrying had him hunched over, his torso parallel to the road he was trudging. This friend pulled over and invited to give him a ride. He accepted and got into the bed of the truck. She drove a bit and then saw in her review mirror that he was hunched over still, kneeling in the back of the truck with the weight still tied to his back. She pulled to the side of the road and told him he could take the pack off while they drove. His reply was, “It’s too heavy for your truck. It will break it.”

So we say, without words, but entirely in action: “The weight, it’s too heavy for you, it will break you. I will shoulder the burden alone. I will carry the pain myself. I may accept your kindness of company, but I will keep this weight on my back while I do.” I am not alone here, though I sit feeling alone. When this is reality, there is no sanctuary. When this is the truth we believe, there is often little hope that it could ever change. There is nothing more lonely than being lonely when surrounded by people.

I recently climbed a huge hill, called Tumamoc. I went from a very sedentary existence from the last few years to taking this on. I was accompanied by a dear friend and his two of his sons, who are elementary school age. We consider this friend’s kids to be our nephews and niece. Time with them is always pretty fantastic. We started up the hill and it became quickly apparent that I was going to struggle. Each of them were all geared up and ready, could walk likely twice my pace, but they stayed and accompanied me.

We chatted as we walked. I stopped nearly every chance I got to catch my breath. We were .6 miles away from the top of the hill when I was seriously thinking of throwing in the towel. My friend and his sons walked ahead of me, stopping at the next rest point while I gathered myself 500 ft away. I knew I was so close, but everything hurt. Everything. My breathing was forced and painful. I just wanted to be done. I turned to wave my friend and his kids to come back, but when I turned around I saw something that emboldened my resolve. My nephews were walking back toward me. They each stood on either side of me and the youngest one, only eight years old said, “We’re coming to help you Uncle Davin.” In that moment, there was no way I was not going to finish that hike. No way at all.

The accompaniment of relationship during hard times and hard emotions can seem impossible. There are many messages we receive in our culture that there is little time for grief, there is little time for emotion, there is little time for expressing need. I often buy into that myth. The truth, though, is we are a people who have capacity to love incredibly deeply which means we have the capacity to grieve very deeply. There is room for the love and there is room for the grief, there is room for all of it.

I do not know what problems occurred to you when you read the first paragraph. I do know what problems occurred to me as I wrote it. I also know that the longer we retreat, the longer we hide, the longer we will suffer. Have you ever attempted to take a splinter or cactus out of a child’s finger? They writhe, they yell, they cry even before you get started on this major surgery. And it goes on and on and on, until they settle enough to get it removed. Then it is done in a heartbeat. The more we struggle against what is and the more we refuse to allow others to see what exists below the surface, the more injurious it will be.

I may not want to trade my problems for yours and you likely don’t want to trade yours for mine. I do want us, thought, to unload it on the floor, spread it out, and rest for awhile together. I have a feeling we may even shed some weight of our packs in this process before trekking to our next rest stop.


Why I’m Absolutely a non- Absolutist

by Kenneth McIntosh

I just returned from the Parliament of World Religions in Salt Lake City. My wife and I agree it was the greatest show on earth. From Friday through Monday 10,000 people gathered from 70 nations to share lives and faith. There were plenary sessions packed with great speakers like Marianne Williamson, Karen Armstrong, Jane Goodall, Alan Boesak, Brian McLaren, Katherine Hayhoe, Jim Wallis and speakers that readers of this blog might not know by name, but who are leading figures overseas and in their respective faith communities. There were hundreds of workshops, of every imaginable sort. I got to experience Matthew Fox’s Earth Spirituality rave service, a Jain discussion of countering violence, a talk on how to convince religious skeptics on climate change, and an improvisational and interactive theater piece on how ISIS twists the Quran. I also saw our own Southwest Conference pastor Teresa Cowan Jones share how Sacred Space works to fulfill the goals of the Compassion Charter, and my friend Professor Elizabeth Ursic led a very moving service of worship to God in her feminine nature. Every day, Sikhs from around the world worked hard to feed 5,000 people –for free—in a very dignifying way, with delicious Indian vegetarian food. The grand finale’ service was in the Mormon Tabernacle, filled with saffron-robed monks and turbaned Sikhs mingling with LDS members in their ties and suits. The presentation was a 3 hour extravaganza with everything from a bagpipe band to Chan Buddhist drumming to Indian Sitar and Thai dancing and the Bahai and Mormon choirs. I posted on Facebook, “This is what Heaven is going to be like.”

So what was the takeaway from all this (besides being totally overwhelmed)? This extended weekend renewed my sense of hope, truly. For some time previous, the violence, prejudice and arrogant tone of our country’s troubles had been chafing at me. In truth, I was becoming desperate—and therefore rather shrill about things myself. What I saw was community —formed of the unlikeliest allies. I realized there are enormous numbers of good-willed people from all the world’s religions, all working for similar positive goals—to end discrimination against women, to reduce violence, to save the earth. I know we’ve been doing our part in the UCC, but we’re really rather small at under a million members. It’s wonderful to see that we’re just part of an amazing puzzle, that can interconnect and work shoulder-to-shoulder with a huge variety of sects around the planet (I’m all for good sects).

I also picked up a new word that’s going to stick in my vocabulary (and hopefully my heart). That is Anekantavad. It’s one of the three major tenents of the Jain religion. The Jains, founded by Mahavira at approximately the same time as his near neighbor Guatama Buddha became enlightended, have not killed animal or human for 2,500 years. This is possible because of adherence to the “three A’s:”

Ahimsa = Non-violence

Aparigraha = Non-attachment


Anekantavad = Non-Absolutism.

I noticed in their workshop that the Jains shorten their non-absolutism to Anekan. I’m a bit relieved, because there is something in the tongue that dislikes spewing out five-syllable words. Three I can handle, and I can remember the shortened version by thinking of Anikan Skywalker (perhaps a name chose by George Lucas because Anikan starts out understanding the Jedi way of Anekan, then abandons it for the absolutism of the Dark Side?

At the workshop Anekan was defined as “Realizing that you are never 100% totally right in anything that you believe, and those who oppose you are never 100% totally wrong.” Now believe me, this is not how I was disciple into my faith. Coming from a Calvinist Evangelical background I heard over and over that non-absolutism was the worst possible thing that anyone could embrace. “God said it and that settles it.” “Open your mind too far and your brains will fall out.” “If you don’t believe it all you’ll end up with nothing.” “Doubt one word in the Bible and you’ll slide all the way down the slippery slope until you reach hell at the bottom.” But now…it’s happened. I realized this past week how vital Anekan/ non-absolutism is, if we’re to make any progress in the world.

As long as two people are absolutely convinced they are entirely right on a topic, there is no room for peace between our positions. Embracing Anekan gives me a tool to flex and move toward the other, and might enable an opening for them to walk through and meet me. The first step is to critique my belief: does my position have to be utterly rigid? Then I can mirror the other’s thoughts—even if they present themselves as enemy. I can begin to see how I might look unreasonable, dangerous even, to them. And I can see why they hold to the things they adhere to so strongly. Yes, perhaps they are bound by greed, fear, lust, the need to control….but all these are simply mal-adaptations (or over- compensations) of basic human needs for safety and agency.

So I see a person wearing a confederate flag on their t-shirt. My normal reaction is to immediately think judgmental thoughts. “They’re a racist” and they’re probably also (fill in a series of negative and judgmental blanks at this point).  But by Applying Anekan, I can try to perceive where there may be elements of good in that person’s choice of apparel. They might not associate that symbol with slavery (though I know historically that was its genesis). They may take pride in their southern state community, may have seen their neighbors pull together against odds. That flag has always been associated with their civic life, and they feel comfort and attachment with that association. For that matter, maybe they’re just straight males of a certain age with pleasant memories of watching Daisy Duke ride along in the General Lee—with that flag on top. Who knows?

If I label that person “racist” out the gate, then I am unlikely to have any good effect conversing with them—if I come in knowing “they’re just bad, or crazy” I’m not likely to win them over on any point, and why should they respond well to me? But what if I try to seek a common humanity between us? I might say, “You look like a person with some strong connection to your community —where do you hail from?” I might just say “It’s a nice day, isn’t it?” This would not be in any way an endorsement of the awful dark history connected to that symbol, nor would it overlook the fact that he may indeed be wearing that symbol to denote hatred. But even with the worst sorts, Anekan opens up the possibility (even if it is slim) of a transforming relationship. What if more people had chatted with Hitler and encouraged his pursuit of art when he sat on the streets of Berlin with paintings that no one would buy and slid over the fulcrum point into hatred and fanaticism? What if someone looked past the brown shirt and saw the eyes of an artistic soul that was turning to stone inside?

And here’s the funny part. My Jain brothers and sisters have given me something that—rather than destroying my faith as a Christian—enables me to live out my faith in a much better way. When asked the greatest commandment in the Torah Jesus didn’t go off talking about the slippery slope or the inerrancy of Moses or the danger of brains falling out of heads. He simply pointed to love—of God and of others. And the fact is, if I assume I’m totally correct and unmovable in all my beliefs, then I’ll never be able to move onto the ground where I can see my enemies as people of value. I cannot love them. Despite everything I’ve been told, non-absolutism is the way to love like Jesus.

I absolutely believe in non-absolutism.

Oh, wait. That’s a contradiction. “You can’t absolutely believe in non-absolutism” I got them from an apologist years ago. Well, I’m learning that “both-and” thinking is on a higher plane than “either-or.” Both-and allows things in the universe to move more freely. And many Christians believe a number of things that non-Christians find contradictory: like the Trinity, or death-that-leads-to-resurrection.

In the Star Wars Cycle, Anakin loses his faith in Anekan and goes over to the absolutism of the Dark Side—the Sith pursuit of ruthless greed and power. He loses his ability to see through his natural eyes, seeing the world only through a life-sustaining helmet. But at the very end of life, he chooses to remove that mask, deciding instead to embrace commonality with his estranged son. He ends his life redeemed. I hope I can remember to keep taking off the mask and seek the common humanity of everyone I face. Anekan / non-absolutism rocks.

Looking for Cairns Together

by Tyler Connoley

Almost twelve years ago, I moved from the Midwest to the Southwest. I had just finished a Master of Arts in Religion, and was starting a new adventure in a new place with my spouse of three years. I knew I would need a companion on the journey, who could help me discern my next steps. So I sought out a Spiritual Director.

Little did I know I was beginning a relationship that would last years. My Spiritual Director, Teresa Blythe, walked with me in those first few months in New Mexico as I found myself floundering in what I had thought was a vocational calling to full-time writing. (It turns out that’s a bad fit for an extrovert.) A few years later, she helped me listen for God’s voice when I began to feel a call to ordained ministry, and was with me throughout my Master of Divinity. She followed me into a long dark night of the soul, when a horrific church split rocked my theological foundations, and she helped me piece together a new theology that worked for me. Now, she’s walking with me as I move from the desert I love to a (yet unknown) calling in another part of the world.

In each of these steps on my journey, I found myself in need of some clarity. Having someone there who was trained to listen with me to the Spirit of Wisdom helped me find the path I should follow. It was as if I were walking in the desert, on a road marked only by cairns. When I lost the path, and needed to find the next cairn, I had someone there to help me in the search. I probably could have found the cairns on my own, but having a Spiritual Director helped me find them more-quickly.

Having an ongoing, years-long, relationship with a Spiritual Director also held other benefits I hadn’t expected. I remember one particularly hard December, when I was feeling quite “agnosticy” (my word for those times when I find myself bereft of God, and wandering in unbelief). Teresa, who had been meeting with me for several years by that point, gently pointed out that this was my third agnosticy December in a row. “Let’s explore why December might be a dry spiritual time for you,” she said. In the conversation that followed, I discovered that the busy-ness of the Holiday Season often leads me to set aside spiritual practices that feed me. So, it makes sense that I feel spiritually lost when I’m “too busy” for spiritual things. Now, I’m more careful in November and December — and I’m easier on myself when I’m feeling agnosticy.

If you’re a lay leader, an ordained minister, or any person who cares about your spiritual journey, I’d recommend finding a Spiritual Director who can walk with you. This relationship is so important that I schedule the next year’s worth of sessions every December, putting them on the calendar so I know they’ll be there when I need them. You can find a Spiritual Director who suits your personality and beliefs at Spiritual Directors International.

Whatever your journey, may you always have companions to help you find the next cairn pointing the way to the future.

Climate Change Awareness: The Fight for Future Generations

by Amos Smith

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.  -Proverbs 31:8 (NIV)

I was drawn to the United Church of Christ (UCC), because of its legacy of fighting for social justice.

The first anti-slavery tract ever written in America, called “The Selling of Joseph,” was written by the Congregationalist, Samuel Sewall. The first black man ever ordained in the United States was Congregationalist minister Lemuel Haynes in 1785. The first woman ever ordained in America was the Congregationalist minster Antoinette Brown Blackwell in 1852. The Congregationalist Church, a forbearer of the UCC, constantly stuck its neck out on behalf of those on the margins. Congregational Church members were on the forefront of Women’s Suffrage, Native American rights, the Civil Rights Movement, and Gay Rights.

Now there’s a greater threat to social justice than in any prior generation. At this precise point in history all future generations are threatened. We are hanging over a precipice. The precipice is climate change.

Ninety-seven percent of the scientific community in the United States and abroad agree that the earth’s temperature is rising and that it will continue to rise at an ever accelerating rate.Some will say, “Stop right there Amos. I have heard that the earth goes through cyclical climate change and that we are just in another cycle of heat that will be followed by a cooling cycle.” If you have heard this message it’s because the Koch brothers have spent hundreds of millions of dollars so that you hear this message. And yes it’s true that the earth goes through cyclical climate change. Yet, the industrial revolution and the rapid burning of coal and fossil fuels brought an abrupt change that is incomparable to the normal cycles of climate change of preceding generations.

Scientists tell us that 350 parts per million of carbon molecules in the air is sustainable. Back in the days prior to the Industrial Revolution there were 275 parts per million of carbon in the air. As I write this we are at 401 parts per million of carbon molecules in the earth’s atmosphere. And scientists predict that in one hundred years there will be 800 parts per million of carbon molecules in the air.

800 parts per million of carbon in the air will drastically change everything! Water tables will rise and whole countries will be flooded and obliterated.Masses of people will be displaced and reduced to refugee camps. And refugees are easy prey for sex traffickers, drug lords, and organized crime. The earth’s temperatures will continue to rise (the highest temperatures in recorded history happened in 2014!). And species sensitive to climate will go extinct at faster rates disrupting the delicate balance of numerous eco-systems. The book of Job says “Ask the beasts and they will teach you” (Job 12:7). The alarming rate of extinctions on the planet tells us something! Every decade we see an alarming escalation in the number of extinctions.4

Given our predicament it’s time for a whole new vision of what it means to be successful! The new vision will place resilience before growth, vision before convenience, and accountability in place of disregard.

A recent poll indicated that 83% of Americans think we should do something about climate change even if it costs.5

Proverbs encourages us to “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute!”

I am compelled to speak on behalf of future generations. We have a responsibility to the future!

We’re the first generation that’s aware of the time-bomb of climate change and the devastating effects climbing carbon levels will have on our world. We are also the last generation who can make a big difference in the trajectory of this time-bomb.

It will take the magic connective interplay of the Holy Spirit to change our current trajectory. People on opposite ends of the playing field (environmentalists and big oil) will eventually have to join together to save our skins. There’s no other way.

This is the current gridlock… Environmentalists say that all fossil fuel burning energy will have to be cut back by eighty percent over the next fifteen years. Then the response of big oil interests like the Koch brothers is to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to discredit the hard science behind climate change. The reason for this massive campaign to discredit sober scientific realities of climate change is that oil companies have calculated that they have roughly 22 trillion more dollars of oil that’s still in the ground. This is their anticipated profit over the ensuing decades.6

One thing is for certain: if the gridlock between environmentalists and big oil continues future generations are doomed.

The only way out will be for the gas and coal burning titans to realize that for their children’s sake and for their grandchildren’s sake coal and gas burning technologies need to be rapidly phased out! Then hundreds of millions of dollars (a fraction of the 22 trillion in anticipated oil sales) needs to be invested in top engineering minds at M.I.T. and elsewhere to devise means of leaching carbon molecules from the earth’s atmosphere.If Robert Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project could split the atom, then top engineering minds of today can find a way to leach carbon molecules from the atmosphere. This will buy us some time!

Settle down environmentalists! This is not a “technological way out that lets the oil companies off the hook.” This is called pragmatism! This is called paradoxical thinking! We let sophisticated engineering and sophisticated technology buy us some time. And meanwhile we plant trees, we convert massive tracts of land into land trusts, we buy electric cars,we buy organic food, we plant gardens, we invest in solar and other clean energies, we completely divest from oil, and we cut back the number of children we plan to have.9

The ensuing catastrophe of climate change will bring sweeping devastation to generations unborn.10 They matter! Their future matters. We must fight for them!

Every time there is a baby shower it should become a politicized event! And at the baby shower everyone should be encouraged to write their local and national representatives urging them to fight climate change!

Our Judeo-Christian covenant is to generations yet born: “I am making a covenant between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come” (Genesis 9:12). This is also called The Golden Rule 2.0: “Do unto future generations what you would have them do unto you” (see Matthew 7:12).

Our minds are hardwired not to evaluate huge abstract threats. That’s the conclusion of George Marshall’s book, Don’t Even Think About It. Yet, for the sake of future generations we are compelled by our conscience to think about climate change and act on it!

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, the top leader of the Eastern Orthodox Church, has been working on climate change since the 1990s. On June 18th, 2015 Pope Francis initiated an encyclical on the environment, which may prove to be the turning point for climate change awareness.11 Vatican Cardinal Peter Turkson, who helped write the first draft of the encyclical, recently called global inequality and the destruction of the environment the twin “greatest threats we face as a human family today.12 Pope Francis said, “we have a moral obligation to all creatures alive and yet unborn to care for all creation.”

I encourage you to do something after reading this essay. I encourage you, if you haven’t already, to get the ball rolling in one of three areas 1) move toward using public transportation more frequently or toward swapping out your gas-guzzler for a hybrid or emission free vehicle. 2) Put solar panels on your house or business 3) Pull your money from companies who profit from oil and invest in a green mutual fund.13

1 A number of the ideas in this essay were taken from climate change lectures of United Church of Christ Conference Minister Jim Antal on April 17th and 18th 2015 in Sedona, Arizona.

2 The American Association for the Advancement of Science has an eight page paper titled “What We Know: The Reality, Risks, and Responses to Climate Change

3 According to author Ross Gelbspan and others, lands that are the closest to sea level, such as the Marshall Islands, will be the first to go.

4 Wikipedia. “Extinction.”

5 USA Today. “Poll: 83% of Americans say climate is changing.” December 2, 2014.

6 In other words, currently 1% of the population is trying to maximize their profits and don’t soberly consider the  impact on future generations because it threatens their business and their way of life.

7 David Keith, CEO of Carbon Engineering, argues that spraying the stratosphere with sulfuric acid will cool the planet.

8 Better yet, buy a hydrogen powered vehicle!

9 See Bill McKibbin’s book on this subject titled Maybe One: A Personal and Environmental Argument for Single Child Families.

10 It’s hard to predict what will happen in future generations. Some phenomena are certain like errant storms and weather patterns, rising water tables, melting glaciers, extinction and waning bio-diversity. Yet, an unstable system will act in unpredictable ways. One possibility is a new Ice Age for Europe and the Northern Hemisphere…

11 You can read the English translation of the Encyclical and find resources that will help you interpret the Encyclical.

12 American Thinker Blog.

13 The leaders of green mutual funds are Green Century, Aquinas, and Domini.


That Voice

by Karen Richter

Do you know the lyrics to Amazing Grace?

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found; was blind but now I see.

Some folks in my faith community don’t like ‘wretch.’ And I see their point. For too long, the church used shame as a weapon, particularly against women, to encourage compliance with moral norms. But are we, in fact, wretched whether we like it or not?

I’m a big fan of Disney’s The Lion King. With its wonderful music and animation, Shakespearean themes, and redemption narrative, there’s a lot to love. At one point in Simba’s journey, he experiences a vision of his dead father. The message of Mufasa is short: “Remember who you are.” The strength of this vision compels young Simba to return to his family and assume his rightful place. Cue “The Circle of Life”.

The message Simba needed to hear, “remember”, is a common refrain in the Bible. Remember, you were once slaves and sojourners. Remember, you are the people of God. Remember, you are part of the body of Christ.

One of the best expressions of this remembrance is in the Psalms:

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?
Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honor.

On the one hand, what are these puny humans that our Creator is mindful of our existence? And yet, we are just a little less than divine, crowned with glory and honor. In other words, ‘wretch’ and daughter of God!

So the problem (to circle back around) is not that slave trader and clergyman John Newton thinks that we are all wretches. Simultaneously, the problem is not that we in our human arrogance think of ourselves as the pinnacle of creation. The problem is that we have such difficulty holding both ideas in the proper tension.

Wretch, yes!

Crowned with glory and honor, yes!

On good days, on days of amazing grace, we remember. Thanks be to God!

Stop Operation Streamline

by Rev. Randy Mayer and Christian Ramirez

(originally published on; reposted with permission)

The clank of chains resonates through the federal courtroom in Tucson, Arizona, as a group of 70 fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers shuffle along with shackles on their ankles linked to handcuffs on their wrists. This was just one of hundreds of draconian, rapid-fire mass trials of individuals, most of whom are only trying to reunite with their families in the U.S. or flee persecution in their home countries. This is the cruel and costly process of criminalizing migration, the most egregious form of which is known as Streamline.

While this version only happens in Tucson, brave people who make the decision to risk life and limb to provide for their families or find safe haven are now charged with illegal entry and illegal reentry nationwide. Nonetheless, the district of Arizona ranks second in the nation for immigration-related criminal convictions.

When lay leaders from the Good Shepherd United Church of Christ, a member- organization of the Southern Border Communities Coalition, first observed these proceedings a few years ago, they were sickened by what they witnessed.  Since then, it has become our spiritual obligation to bring fellow people of faith and conscience to the courtroom to be a quiet presence of solidarity for the migrants who are corralled through this unjust process. Over the years, we have watched the proceedings become worse, with higher charges and longer sentences. Often the scene is unbearable as the hopes of 70 families being reunited or finding safety from persecution unravel with the word “Culpable” or “Guilty” muttered by the individuals to the Judge.  

Migrants referred for these mass hearings meet with their court appointed lawyers for fewer than 10 minutes and make hasty, pressured decisions that impact their ability to reunite with their families and pursue new opportunities. By the glossy look in their eyes it is clear that most, if not all the people facing charges in the courtroom, have not had their rights properly explained and do not realize they are being subjected to a system of excessive punishment. Yet this is the purpose of Operation Streamline, to move so quickly that no one can object, to keep individuals in the dark, and to erode the 5th amendment of the U.S. Constitution which upholds due process as a fundamental American value.

These costly, unjust prosecutions for those hoping to be reunited with family or seeking safety are lauded as a successful deterrent strategy by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and other policymakers.  If politicians took the time to visit border communities and meet eye-to-eye with these family members, as many of the humanitarian groups such as the Samaritans, Kino Border Initiative, and No More Deaths do on a daily basis, they would see how these proceedings violate our nation’s basic principles of fairness and justice. A 2013 study by University of Arizona students, In the Shadow of the Wall, found that people will face any hardship to reunite with their families. Love and family ties know no borders, and criminalizing the basic human right to reunite with loved ones is shameful.

A recent Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General Report on Streamline found that Border Patrol is unable to demonstrate that Streamline prosecutions deter unauthorized migration. The report also found that Border Patrol may be referring asylum seekers for criminal prosecution, a clear violation of the government’s obligations under both domestic and international law.  

Operation Streamline has also drastically increased the profits of corporations that run both federal prisons and immigrant detention centers, some of which have recently started to jail mothers and children fleeing violence and persecution. These private prisons receive about $3 billion each year in revenue. Although the recent OIG report noted that government authorities do not know how many millions of taxpayers dollars are used to fund Streamline, estimates from the U.S. Marshals Service indicate that the incarceration costs in Tucson alone amount to $63 million per year.

In July, more than 170 civil rights, human rights, and faith-based organizations urged U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to end this costly, ineffective, and immoral program that erodes due process, violates human rights standards, and contributes to the unethical practice of mass incarceration for a profit in this country. Communities in the border region and faith communities from around the country are united in saying that this program needs to end.

Mayer is pastor of The Good Shepherd Church of Christ in Sahuarita, Arizona. Ramirez is director of the Human Rights Program at the Alliance San Diego and staffs the San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium and the Southern Border Communities Coalition.


It’s About Love

by Jeffrey Dirrim

Ruth 1:16-17 Message (MSG)
But Ruth said, “Do not pressure me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; Where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die— There will I be buried. May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!”

On the morning of October 17, 2014, U.S. District Judge John W. Sedwick’s ruled on two federal cases, declaring Arizona’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. Arizona’s Attorney General Tom Horne advised the state would not appeal the ruling and instructed the county clerks to immediately begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

That evening, there were tears of joy flowing like a fountain at our UCC Southwest Conference office in central Phoenix. Everyone in the packed room and those listening from speakers outside cheered as our then Conference Minister, Rev. Dr. John Dorhauer, announced to a standing-room only crowd that he had performed Arizona’s first legal gay marriage ceremony. As is John’s nature, he quickly turned the attention away from himself and focused on the true meaning of that historic day. “It’s about love,” he said.

The Spirit was thick in the room and I feel it now as I recall hearing that simple sermon over and over again. I first heard it on the radio that morning through Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton’s voice as he witnessed a judge marrying a gay couple in his office. I saw nervous brides and grooms at the Maricopa County Courthouse receiving this message when offered free flower bouquets and celebratory bubbles by Dena Covey and other laity. I first heard it in person while taking pictures for fellow clergy members Barbara and Rich Doerrer-Peacock as they co-officiated a lesbian couple’s service on the front steps of that same courthouse. And I read them in a beautifully colored sign waved gleefully by a young daughter as I married her two moms late in the afternoon.

The book of Ruth shares the story of hope through the unlikely pairing of two destitute foreign women. During a bleak famine in Naomi’s homeland of Judah, her family decides to move to the pagan land of Moab. Instead of answered prayers, she finds more misery over the course of the next decade. Her husband dies, her two sons marry Moabite wives, and neither marriage brings her grandchildren. Naomi feels God has judged her too as both of her sons die. It is in the deep grief of these tragedies Naomi decides to return home to Bethlehem.

Ruth is the young poor Moabite widow of Naomi’s son Mahlon. She understands the hopelessness shared by the much older and wiser Naomi who tries to persuade her to stay in Moab. But determined to support her, no matter the outcome, Ruth accompanies Naomi home responding “where you go, I’ll go.” There Ruth is working in the fields during the next harvest when a wealthy landowner by the name of Boaz first sees her. Based on the customs at the time Boaz is able to act as a brother to Naomi and eventually he marries Ruth. Like any good soap opera, Naomi’s shenanigans play a part leading to Ruth’s wedding. It isn’t until the conclusion of their misery-filled story we learn they have played a part in bringing God’s plan together for the future of the Israelites. Through Ruth’s and Boaz’s son Obed, father of Jesse, Naomi becomes the great-grandmother of King David and is a direct ancestor of Jesus. It’s a surprise to find that hope can be found in hopelessness.

What is hope? It’s expressed through the imperfect lives of Ruth and Naomi as being faithful, patient, trusting, kind, selfless, and even strong in conviction. It’s believing God will provide in the midst of great tragedy. It’s knowing in those seemingly Godless moments that we have a purpose and we keep moving forward. Hope is God’s love for each of us.

As we celebrate the first anniversary of legal same-gender marriages in Arizona, we’ll be celebrating it with newlyweds Nelda Majors and Karen Bailey. Nelda and Karen were the lead plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit that eventually overturned Arizona’s ban on gay marriage. In fact, Nelda and Karen were the first couple to receive a marriage license in Arizona. Karen told me the nuptials that followed a short time later “were a celebration.” They have publicly shared how they lived their lives in hope, but never really thought they would be allowed to legally wed. Nelda and Karen, like most of Arizona’s lesbian and gay couples who’ve married over the last year, have been together a long time. The State’s recognition of their relationship is simply an affirmation of what God has witnessed for decades.

Their journey began during the late 1950s with a new college friendship. Within the first year they became a couple and have now been together longer than they’ve been apart. Nelda and Karen share a love story of light even in the darker times they spent living in the closet. What I’ve witness in them is a faithful pairing. Two people that stuck together, determined to move beyond the odds. Two people that created a beautiful family. Two people whose heartfelt confidence in each other led to creating a better world for the rest of us. It’s true there are similarities between their journey and Ruth and Naomi’s story. While sweet, that is not what I’m left discerning on this historic anniversary.

I’m wondering why so many couples identify with the Ruth and Naomi story? Is it the early tragedies they feel and/or the hope they seek? Or are they merely wanting confirmation of a happy ending before they promise to stick around through thick and thin? While life is beautiful, the Bible reminds us it isn’t fair. And where do we fit in the story? Is it possible that Nelda’s and Karen’s journey offers us Naomi’s sage wisdom? What a wonderful representation of Naomi that would be today! And If so, does that mean we are Ruth in relationship to them? If our postmodern Christian faith rests in a call to action, what are we supposed to be doing after all the cameras have gone and we start moving toward Karen and Nelda’s second anniversary?

One of the most powerful pieces of the marriage liturgy we celebrate through Rebel & Divine UCC is a moment after the vows when the spouses are asked to turn and face all of those present. They recognize their chosen family of witnesses and realize, sometimes for the first time, who is there to support them. AND THEN the community creates a covenant with them. Through love they promise the newlyweds to be there in both good times and bad. The covenant is supportive, patient, forgiving, trusting, steadfast, and loyal. It recognizes the divinity within love. Acknowledges it is bigger than all of us. Knowing wherever we find love, we find God, and it is holy. Whether straight, gay, or somewhere in between.

Maybe the story of Ruth is calling us to do the hard back-breaking work in the fields as she once did? Can our first anniversary gift to Arizona’s same-gender loving newlyweds be a promise? Can we join with our churches to keep pushing our southwestern states toward full LGBTQ equality? First, by fighting for justice in healthcare, taxes, housing, adoption, and employment? Second, by practicing kindness through intentionally finding ways to recognize the milestones in the lives of LGBTQ families with simple rituals? Third, by remaining hopeful in the midst of great social change? This weekend we celebrate how our diversity makes us stronger. Ruth remained steadfast and loyal while living into a difficult decision and new way of living. Her patience rewarded everyone. Will we follow her lead?

Where You Go, I’ll Go! Ever faithful God of many names, languages, and voices. Help us to move beyond current laws and perspectives as we live into a hope-filled new world. A heaven on earth where we recognize you in our love for each other. This weekend we celebrate the first anniversaries of legally wed same-gender couples in Arizona. In doing so we ask you to bless them and all of the couples (straight, gay, and somewhere in between) whose life journeys are lovingly leading them toward the ever-evolving institution of marriage. Amen and let it be so.