Complicated Celebrations

by Owen Chandler

24 October 2016
Camp Taji, Iraq

Beloved Saguaro Christian Church,

Greetings brothers and sisters! On this somewhat comfortable day here in Iraq, I carry my hope for you onto the pages you now read. Each day I wake with prayers for you on my heart and rejoice with you all the ways that God continues to shape and guide your lives and ministries. Celebration seems to be the theme these days. There is much to celebrate in the life of Saguaro. You held special services of worship to honor all the ways you are addressing hunger at the church’s doorstep.  Many of you experienced the beautiful renewal of a spiritual retreat. The celebrations continue as you welcomed back Sarah Williams from India. In a world where people often wonder whether the spirit of the Living God still moves, it is meaningful to know that your ministries harness this spiritual gift.

Please know that I am doing well and that I am safe. No surprise, but I still miss my family terribly. Watching birthdays over FaceTime is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, you actually get to witness the celebration, a privilege which many soldiers before me did not have. On the other hand, that tiny screen makes it painfully obvious that you are not there.

Thankfully, the weather is finally beginning to cool, which is a welcome reprieve. For whatever reason, the break in heat has decreased the intensity of the smells around here. I look forward to the day where I am not overwhelmed by the smell which I call, “Essence of Dirty Dudes and Toxic Dust”. At this point in the deployment, it is really about focusing on the small victories.

Celebrations are not always free of complications. These days our attention keeps a close watch on the happenings in Mosul, and the turning of the calendar which promises our return home. We spent successful months helping prepare the Iraqis for the fight. As we go about our day-to-day, one can’t help to look at the television screens and see the evidence of our logistical support for the effort up there. We resist the temptation to celebrate our efforts knowing that the fight there will be fierce and prolonged. I ask for you to pray for the families that are caught in the crossfire. It broke my heart to hear of a small village being massacred after the liberating forces moved too soon and DAESH circled back into the middle of the celebration leaving few alive. I cannot imagine such an evil, but I force myself to pray that God might change their hearts.

Like you at Saguaro, this past month was a time of celebration for me as well. The new Resiliency Center opened. We had a beautiful ceremony that was well-attended. Honestly, the Center (and especially the chapel within) is probably the nicest military-use building in Iraq. I called in all my favors for this project! Already we have uniquely increased the capacity of our  care for the soldiers here in Iraq. We are learning that we are only scratching the surface of the Center’s full potential. When I hand over the Center soon, I pray that the new chaplains will take renewed energy and keep the momentum going. I hope that God will give them vision to see the opportunity this tool gives them in caring for our soldiers. I am thankful to be able to leave behind such a legacy.

Additionally, the time for my deployment personnel evaluation came due this month. Nothing brings back flashbacks of middle school more quickly than when the evaluations are conducted. The effort I provided was rated as Lieutenant Colonel quality work and I earned the highest evaluation, “top blocked”. I am not trying to boast, but I worked hard for the evaluation. That is the funny thing about the Army. You get report cards. When you get a good one, it is hard not to rush home to the people you love and pin it to the refrigerator!

I’m not going to lie; these days are a strange brew of emotions as I consider all the ways celebration manifested itself in October. It occurred to me last night on my walk back from the chapel that this week marks the 10th anniversary of my ordination. It seems like just yesterday. I remember waiting for the service to start at my home church in Henderson, Kentucky. Emily, my lady friend soon-to-be wife at the time, peeked her head into the office where I was sitting to let me know that the church wasn’t on fire. She guessed God was okay with the proceedings (I may be misremembering the exact details of this moment but it is more fun this way). I do remember clearly a retired minister sitting across from me. He smiled, “This is the official start of a great and challenging journey!”

As I type these words in Iraq, I can’t help but think that his observation was the understatement of a lifetime. Ministry has seldom been what I thought it would be – good and bad. Over the years I’ve made many mistakes and I’ve witnessed blessings beyond reason. And yet, here I am, thankful for the journey which humbles, bewilders, and stretches. It appears that God has not given up on me and neither have you.

We are getting closer.

Hope of Seeds

by Abigail Conley

My church is kicking off a stewardship campaign this week. We chose the theme, “From seeds to fruit.” Today, I finished up posters with images of those steps. Mostly, though, I’ve been thinking about seeds.

I grew up on a farm, with a father who worked at a farm supply store. I remember being in the back of the store with giant bins of seeds. I’m pretty sure most people, when they think of seeds, think of the kind you plant. They think of seeds that create corn, beans and pumpkins. They think of seeds that are distinct. They think of seeds that can often be eaten or planted.

When I think of seeds, though, I think of the tiny ones that are sown. Sowing seeds sounds so eloquent, biblical even. In reality, it’s far more chaotic. Seeds that are sown are tiny, and more or less strewn into rows, or maybe seedbeds, or small pots. They’re never carefully placed like seeds of larger varieties. The tiny seeds that would be sown were the ones that filled up the bins in the back of the farm store of my childhood. I never got my fill of running my hands through them. My dad knew what each one was, of course. Many of them were grass seeds. I remember the way they flowed through my hands, softer, silkier than any fabric could ever be.

Believing those tiny seeds could produce anything was an act of faith. The seeds were so tiny, no one was even worried about the ones that spilled onto the ground when they were bagged for a customer. Of course, I recall Jesus’ words, “…faith the size of a mustard seed…”

Those of us who live apart from the rhythm of sowing or planting, waiting, and harvesting, miss out a little. We miss out on the beauty of a small plant peeking out of the ground. We miss out on the worry of too much or too little water. We miss out on the goodness of going out and picking our food to eat that very night. We miss out on that rhythm that offers a deep hope in the order of the world. It is a rhythm nearly as old as humanity, after all.

So I think about seeds, seeds that point to that rhythm, and let my body grow calm and my mind cease its worry. The anxieties of life run deep for me, as they do for most of us. There are many things to be done in my own life—and after all, if not me, who? I wait for an election days away, wondering if the outcome drastically alters my life. As they should, my friends remind me of the things I shouldn’t let slip from my view because they are the things of God. They are voting early in suffragette white. They drive by the places where people of color were killed, forgotten by most only days later. They call me to vigils for those things and others, like domestic violence, one of those things that is supposed to draw our awareness this month.

I know they struggle to remember those things, too, among jobs, and marriages, children to take care of, and babies on the way.  

And I remember seeds.

I trust in the promise that they hold: our future is full of hope. Some days, that hope is evident, like a bit of green breaking the dirt for the first time. Some days, that hope is realized, like the bite of an apple when the first hint of cool is in the air.

And some days, that hope is buried beneath the earth, waiting. Just waiting. The rhythm of life long established will take over at any time, as holy as God’s ordering of the world in the first days of creation.

So today, I think about seeds.

Buddhism and Christianity

by Don Fausel

Several years ago when I was writing my memoir, From Blind Obedience to a Responsible Faith, I ran across a book by Paul F. Knitter titled, Without Buddha I Could Never be a Christian. Knitter has held the Paul Tillich Professor of Theology, World Religions and Culture at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, and has been a leading advocate of globally responsible inter-religious dialogue. His book is described on back cover as “…a moving story of one man’s quest for truth and spirituality authenticity: from the nature of prayer to Christian views of life after death.” He was ordained a Catholic priest in 1966 and granted permission to leave the priesthood in 1975. His book is his personal exploration of Buddhism as a way of dealing with these issues and with blending of Eastern mysticism.

Knitter’s book proposes how the Buddhist perspective can inspire a more person-center understanding of Christianity. The preface of the book is titled Am I Still a Christian and rather than focusing on rigid dogma and rituals, its center of attention is religious experiences, and how a Buddhist approach can enliven Christianity and benefit worship, and social action.

In my naivety when I first read Knitter’s book, I was surprised that Buddhism didn’t have a God! It became apparent that I needed to research more about Buddhism. Knitter suggests we need to become familiar with the Buddha’s first sermon, which he preached sometime around the 500s BCE. The subject matter was The Four Noble Truths, which Knitter states “He (Buddha) preached it shortly after his Enlightenment…” The Four Noble Truths are:

  1. Suffering (dukkha) comes up in everyone’s life.
  2. This suffering is caused by craving (tanha).
  3. We can stop suffering by stopping craving.
  4. To stop craving, follow Buddha’s Eight-fold Path (which consists essentially of taking Buddha’s message seriously, living a moral life by avoiding harm to others and following a spiritual practice based on meditation.)

Let me suggest several books and articles that I found helpful in connecting the Four Noble Truths with Buddhism and Buddha with Jesus:

Jesus and Buddha: The Parallel Sayings, edited by Marcus Borg . In the preface of his book Borg warns the reader that although he is an “expert” in the study of Jesus but, “In my understanding of the Buddha, however I’m an amateur. I do not know the scholarship surrounding the Buddha as I do Jesus.” Having said that, he goes all the way back to a Dutch writer named Ernest de Bunsen who wrote a book in 1880 titled, The Angel-Messiah of Buddhists, Essenes, and Christians—up to the Dalai Lama himself when he wrote The Good Heart: A Buddhist Perspective on the Teaching of Jesus in 1999.

The rest of the book has eleven chapters including: Compassion, Wisdom, Materialism, Inner Life, Temptation, Salvation, The Future, Miracles, Discipleship, Attributes and Life Stories.  Each chapter has at least ten examples of Jesus’ and Buddha’s moral teaching. For example under Compassion on page 14, is Jesus’ speaking about compassion, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” LUKE 6.31. On page 15 is Buddha’s thoughts about compassion  “Consider others as yourself.” DHAMMAPADA 10.I.  Here’s another saying on pages 36 and 37 under Wisdom.  Jesus is quoted as saying “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” LUKE 6. 41.42. Buddha is quoted as saying, “The faults of others are easier to see than one’s own; the faults of others are easily seen, for they are sifted like chaff, but one’s own faults are hard to see. UDANAVARGA 27.1.

Here’s an article, Jesus and Buddha on Happiness that starts out by the 29 year old Prince Gautama Siddhartha (563-483 BC) , who later was called the Buddha (the enlightened one) left his family and set out on a search for the meaning of life, and for lasting happiness. Since he had no God happiness for him was being free from desires induced by suffering (dukkha). Jesus’ answers are very different than Buddha’s when a rich young man sought Jesus directions for eternal happiness. “You lack one thing: go, sell all you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasures in heaven; and come follow me.” (Mark 10:21)

The article goes on to say, “Jesus and Buddha agree that pursuing happiness is transient things is futile. But they direct us to opposite solutions. The Buddha say satisfaction is treasuring no thing. Jesus says it is treasuring God. In God we get all things. In no thing we get nothing.”

I found this article in a website titled All Well Within. The article is  The Buddha’s Essential Guide to Happiness. The article starts out by saying, “You don’t have to become a Buddhist to benefit from the essential teachings of the Buddha because they are universal in nature. Moreover, they remain highly relevant to successfully modern life and finding the deeper sense of happiness and contentment you deserve.” Even though it doesn’t deal with both Jesus and Buddha, I thought most of us know a lot about Jesus and this article is worth it. It’s seven pages long, but again, it’s worth it. Plus I learned that “…the Buddha encouraged his followers to carefully examine his teachings and only accept them when they rang true, rather than following his guidance out of blind faith.” That sounds close to my memoir that I mentioned in the beginning of this blog.

I hope this blog inspires you to look deeper into Buddhism. As a present, here is a TED TALK The Habits of Happiness  by biochemist turned Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard who says we can train our minds in habits of well-being, to generate a true sense of serenity and fulfillment. It already has 6,470,020 readers. It’s worth listening to.


Rising from Ash

by Davin Franklin-Hicks

I met my nephew AJ when he was two years old. His mom was dating my younger brother and I was very excited to have a potential nephew in my life. I couldn’t have been more happy when that wish became a reality and they both joined our family.

AJ was seriously adorable. He had more energy than all my family combined. The kid was the sweetest to his mom. This ended up extending to all parts of his life and relationships. AJ was and is full of light and life.

When he was six I picked him up from an after school program to take him to karate. We were getting in the car when I heard a woman saying his name. I looked up and a woman was walking toward us with a little boy in tow, likely the same age as AJ. The little boy was wearing a helmet and had some facial disfiguration. I don’t remember this child’s name so we’ll call him Josh.

I got out of the car, uncertain of this woman’s intentions in calling out for him and approaching him.

She asked “Are you AJ?”
He nodded.
She said, “Josh has been talking about you all the time. He says when kids tease and hurt him that you tell them to stop and you are very kind to him. I want you to know how special you are. Thank you for being so sweet and kind.”

Each word filled my heart.

I asked him on the drive how he felt about what she said to him. He said “I just like Josh.” This little guy sure was amazing. Such a beacon by just being fully himself and choosing love.

AJ’s mom and my brother ended up separating and later divorced. I know divorce. I have experienced it quite a few times in my childhood. I knew how hard it would be. As everyone tried to figure how this next season of our lives would work, we lost regular time with AJ. It became the occasional holiday and outing.

When AJ was 12 we stepped up the relationship to being in his life regularly. I remember being nervous picking him up the first time after having seen very little of him in the few years prior. Quite simply, I wondered if he would still like me.

AJ initiated conversation right away, telling me a story from his life. So easy and light. It felt like we had never lost contact. And I really liked him. A lot. He was funny and thoughtful. He was and is a huge guy, but such a gentleness and openness. He’s unmatched in that area.

As the years continued we spent time as often as we could. Sometimes it was frequent, sometimes a dry spell. Regardless of the amount of time that had gone between our visits, we picked right up where we left off and there was always laughter.

The events of the past year made some conversations in my family and friend group very intense and hard. I had endured a sexual assault that massively leveled me. We had talked to all the adults close to us. I had no idea, though, how to tell AJ. I felt protective of him and did not want to hurt his heart. I did not want to burden him.

As is characteristic of this dude, he sensed something was wrong and asked me direct questions about it. I answered honestly. He took it in. He sat with it and we talked about all the other things going on as there was A LOT going on for him.

AJ was turning 18 and he was readying himself to join the Marine Corp that July 2016. We held space for honest talks and then maneuvered to humor. Good stuff. Honest stuff. Life giving stuff. And what an incredible emotional intelligence he showed throughout all of it.

The time I had with AJ between January and July was precious and sacred to me. As my focus began to turn outward to support AJ, I felt relief from the intensity of my internal world that was reeling and begging for healing. By loving AJ and showing up for him, I was healing. Love is funny that way. Loving action changes a heart and circumstance better than any New Years Resolutions ever could.

As the day approached that he was heading out to Boot Camp for the Marines, I was feeling the reality that AJ would be leaving. It never feels like the right time for those you adore to leave you. I knew releasing him was important and love lived out.

AJ sent me tons of things to prep me about what he was going to endure. He was signing up for such a hard time and yet he was facing forward. He was meeting life and saying yes. Unswerving and resolute. He was prepared and ready for what was next.

The three months he was away were actually the hardest for me since the assault. I didn’t necessarily link this to his leaving, though that worry and pain was fully there, too. The hard time just was what it was. Trauma recovery does not ebb and flow in a way that makes sense. It’s painful and overwhelming. It is also necessary to walk through that pain.

AJ endured an exhausting, all encompassing season and landed on the other side. He was officially declared a Marine on 10/14/2016. I couldn’t wait to see him!

I picked him up the very next day and noticed that nervousness rising again. Is it going to be weird at all? Is he going to still like me? He got in the car and said, “I have so much to tell you!” And he did.

Stories of how AJ had overcome, what felt triumphant, what the funny moments were, what comrades he now had filled our conversation. He held his head differently. He walked with the confidence that comes from living the life you challenged yourself to live. I got that familiar surge of pride that I had when he was six years old, reaching out and being loving.

Some other emotions rose up within me, too. Admiration.

I had been feeling shame about how hard the last three months had been, chastising myself to heal faster. I imagined AJ in the Boot Camp circumstances, pushing through, embracing the season of difficulty as a necessary one, and just meeting life with agreement and willingness. As I saw him this way, I saw myself in a new light. He was still standing and so was I.

The constant overwhelming circumstances hurts. The exhaustion hurts. The self doubt hurts. The loss of all things familiar hurts. And yet the human spirit is remarkably resilient and full of life.

This year has been a season of leveling for me, a burning down of life and a wonder if I will survive that heat and pain.

Am I forever broken?
Am I ever going to enjoy life again?
Will I ever be able to live again?
Will I ever rise again?

My nephew held up a mirror of sorts as he shared his lived experience. I started to believe the reflection of healing, living and thriving that was emanating from him and reflecting back to me. I found room in my heart to believe that it could be mine as well.

My nephew is pretty special in that he lives his life as a determined and steadfast participant, co-creating his world with the best next step being his main focus.

My nephew no longer goes by AJ. He gave that up around age 11.
My nephew’s name is Ashton.
I call him Ash.
He helps me rise.


One Big Idea

(reprinted with permission from a Facebook post by Diana Butler Bass, author of Grounded: Finding God in the World)

Ten years ago, in Christianity for the Rest of Us, I shared a vision of institutional church renewed by vibrant spirituality. That vision emerged from three sources: 1) my own experience, 2) dreaming of a different sort of church, and 3) solid research.

Community renewed by vibrant spirituality. That’s the dream. That’s the big idea. An old idea. But an idea that needs new life today when institutions and communities are struggling and can’t find their way.

It is really pretty simple. Christianity for the Rest of Us was about spirituality embodied in practices — ten beautiful practices of faith. Communities that found new heart by choosing to do good.

People’s History of Christianity was about the same thing — the life of institutions being renewed through vibrant spirituality — this time, it was about the life-giving power of those practices throughout history as the real “thread” of faith, a living tradition. The heartbeat of Christianity at its best.

Christianity After Religion argued that the future depends on us getting this right — that spiritual experience and touching the holy is not only a path to renewing the church but is part of a larger story about the renewing of our culture — an awakening.

And Grounded opens the door to spiritual experience,”storied” by religious traditions, as a path to full humanity and renewal of the earth.

That’s it. One big idea: the whole point is experiencing the power of the sacred, of trusting and following the Spirit as it moves toward love of God and neighbor. Of eyes open, awake to love and joy, hearts “strangely warmed.” And if we do this, we can get across the dangerous chasm of our times and find ourselves on the other side of a bridge — the side where there is more love for the earth, more love for each other, a kind of community that can be accepting and peaceable. We can set a bigger table for the future. It is real.

One idea.

One idea that has called my heart since I was a child. One idea shared in speech and story. But not my idea. It is OUR idea. For so many thousands and thousands and thousands of us know this idea in our bones, we’ve ached for it, prayed for it, worked for it. One idea of justice and grace and goodness in a renewed way in transformed community.

And we can measure our progress. Not by attendance, but by measuring the spread of the conversation, by tracking things like spiritual depth, gratitude, awareness of awe and wonder, and our understandings of meaning and purpose of our lives (for instance, Pew “measures” these things in polling). We can figure out if we are successful by framing the questions differently, by looking for alternative forms of “success” and transformation. We can do this — there are ways of introducing these ideas into communities and congregations and discerning the changes in people’s lives.

And it is lovely. It is a way full of stories, laughter, unexpected surprises, everyday heroes, tragic mistakes — it is like living the play we are writing — everyday enacting grace in the world’s theater. It is magic. It is the greatest drama, comedy, farce, thriller, ballad, and romance ever.

And it is hope. Hope, hope, hope.

Do NOT give up. The current ugliness is because the greater vision beckons, the new possibilities are closer than ever. A more hospitable world, a more just humanity. It isn’t about fixing the church. It is about renewing our life together — and our life with the planet — by experiencing God with us.

A Life of Response

by Amanda Petersen

I recently saw a brief video about a woman who, through a set of movements, opened a theater for dance in the middle of a desert town of less than 100 people. Often no one would come, so she would just dance in the empty theater. Eventually she painted in an audience and the place is beautiful. (the video is at the end of this blog). As I watched I felt a kinship with this woman. Her life was one of a response to Life.

As I get ready to celebrate 10 years of Pathways of Grace, the celebration is more of a gratitude for a life of response to God. When I began, I literally sold much of what I had, including my car, and downsized to a life that would hopefully be supported by this sense of creating a safe place for people to listen and share deeply to their own responding to the Divine. At that time, I called this Creative Journey 3.  Many of you remember calling my cozy home the “hermitage of heretics”: a place you could voice your ideas, doubts, and responses to Infinite Mystery in ways you couldn’t elsewhere.

As the years have passed, the groups and my spiritual direction/coaching practice has grown and we have this beautiful space. The fun part is that others who are responding to God are showing up and sharing their dances. I can’t tell you what a joy it is to dance with others and watch the new energy of the Spirit create something that none of us fully knows how it will end up. This celebration is a time to highlight some of the new people sharing their gifts. I look forward to your meeting them!

With this Energy comes new and deeper releasing into the movement of Infinite Mystery. As I watch this unfold, I realize Pathways of Grace, rather than “building” something, is a about responding to Love. What is created out of that is co-created rather than master-planned. This celebration, we will be sharing some of the new movements that we will be practicing.

Through the years there are times when the group doesn’t materialize, yet I dance anyway. The audience becomes the great cloud of witnesses and the Presence of Love. I will continue to dance as a response of gratitude for the gift of creating a space to dance authentically. Thank you all for joining me on this amazing journey. Ultimately, this celebration is a time of gratitude for each of you being willing to respond to Love’s call to dance.

Here is the video:

Climate Change Awareness: The Fight for Future Generations

Climate Change Awareness: The Fight for Future Generations[i]

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.[ii] 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.[iii] 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.[iv]

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.[v]

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.[vi]

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.[vii] 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,[viii] 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.[ix]

The ensuing catastrophe of climate change will bring sweeping devastation to generations unborn.[x] 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.[xi] 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.”[xii] 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.[xiii]


[i] 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.

[ii] 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”

[iii] 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.

[iv] Wikipedia. “Extinction.”

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

[vi] 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.

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

[viii] Better yet, buy a hydrogen powered vehicle!

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

[x] 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…

[xi] You can read the English translation of the Encyclical and find resources that will help you interpret the Encyclical here:

[xii] American Thinker Blog.

[xiii] The leaders of green mutual funds are Green Century, Aquinas, and Domini.

Holding Out for a Hero

by Karen Richter


Since I read A Wrinkle in Time in the 5th grade, Madeleine L’Engle has been my favorite author. In high school, I graduated from the Time Quartet and into Ring of Endless Light. In college, I took up L’Engle’s Crosswicks Journals, adult novels, and spiritual writing.

I loved her. In my head, she was my wise grandmother, full of literary references and charming idiosyncrasies. So imagine my dismay, sadness and confusion when I read the 2004 New Yorker profile. Her book jackets describe a family life of “charming confusion,” but the whole story includes adultery, resentment, alcohol abuse, convenient memory lapses… and perhaps most egregious: the use of family stories and heartbreak in service to her novels.

It took me a while to integrate the story of the real person, her novels, and my idealized image. It was hard work, and I still miss the soft focus Grandmother Madeleine from my adolescent fantasy.  Like any person we love or idolize or hate, she was human. Madeline died in 2007.

Were you watching politics last week? After the debate on Sunday October 9, online media anointed Ken Bone, an undecided voter who asked a question about climate change and economic growth, with many accolades:

  • The Real Winner of the 2nd Debate: Ken Bone!
  • Ken Bone: The Hero America Needs
  • Adorable Sweater Wearer Ken Bone (OK maybe I made that one up)

By the end of the week though, Ken had fallen on hard times. Turns out, Ken has some questionable opinions about race relations and an unfortunate online history including pornography. Many Americans are re-thinking their Sexy Ken Bone Halloween costume. It happened so fast: discovery, putting on a pedestal, taking over social media, more discovery, anxiety, disillusionment.

We humans seem to have a deep need to find heroes… or make them. I’m thinking about how this is related to the Myth of Redemptive Violence – how our dualistic and immature thinking encourages us to sort people around us into boxes labeled Hero and Villain. But that connection is the subject of another blog (perhaps after the election!).

For today, I just want to observe this pattern is and suggest a response when we notice it happening.

  1. The Cycle Begins: Who is this person? Why are they suddenly all over the news and social media?
  2. Meme-ification: the boiling down of a flesh-and-blood person into a funny shareable graphic. Case in point: Notorious RBG.
  3. Hmm. This is the pause of awareness. You might notice your eyes narrow into a squint or your forehead wrinkle. Maybe you feel an urge to scratch your chin thoughtfully.
  4. Deep Breath. And deep breath again.
  5. Go Deeper. Why is this person suddenly the cause of many, many problems or the solution? What is it about this person that’s appearing to meet a need in me or in our culture or group?
  6. Compassion. Is it overwhelming to be this week’s Ken Bone? How is that person expected to cope and adapt? Why am I susceptible to this pattern? How can I better acknowledge and meet my own needs?
  7. Listening. We do need heroes and inspiring figures. Heroes remind of us what’s wonderful about being human and what’s possible for all of us. So FIND SOME. We don’t need to look far. When we listen to the stories of those around us, we discover that everyone has something to teach us.

Find a hero this week. Listen to their story and instead of boiling it down to a slogan, look for the complexity. Strive to really see and accept the people you admire.

Be a hero this week. Share your own story humbly and honestly. Acknowledge the complexity in your life. Strive to live a life worthy of your calling.

The readers of the SWC blog aren’t going to overwhelm the hero-making, hero-destroying culture of the Internet all by ourselves. But we can add to the peace and spiritual maturity of the circles in which we move. And that’s a very good thing.

Hope in Solving Border Issues

by Ron Cammel; a freelance writer and journalist. These are his reflections after participating in the Southwest Conference/United Church of Christ Border Immersion and Convergence events with his partner, Designated Conference Minister Bill Lyons.

Last weekend I witnessed American citizens join with undocumented immigrants to demand humane treatment for migrants. I heard stories about migrants who tried to escape violence or extreme poverty and then were jailed in the U.S. and deported. I heard stories from tearful migrants who were trying to reunite with their fathers or husbands who were locked in detention centers unsure of their fate.

I haven’t paid enough attention to the issues of illegal migration, refuge, deportations and border security. Migration is probably the world’s largest humanitarian crisis right now. Arizona is a hot spot. Now that I have connected more faces and stories to what I casually followed in the news, I find myself questioning the conventional thinking about securing borders and controlling immigrant numbers.

Also affecting my thinking is a place: Nogales, Arizona, where a formidable wall divides the city from another part of the same community in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. A military-like presence of towers, huge lights and guards is nearly inescapable on the American side. It’s a lovely town in its own character-filled way, though not wealthy. The people seem friendly and cheerful. The tacos are awesome. The water, drinkable.

The day I visited, Mexican children stuck their smiling faces between the rusty steel beams of the wall, hoping for any reaction from those nearby. In the evening, young people sat on each side conversing. Traffic moved steadily through the one border crossing, a gateway between nations but a single road connecting an oddly divided community.

The wall continued forever in both directions through the desert, over the scrubby hills and down the grassy valleys.

I know some of the reasons for trying to “protect” the nation’s borders this way, but soon after I reached that wall I found myself praying for its destruction. It was like a subconscious reaction. The wall is so wrong, so anti-community, so anti-peace. I envisioned the city with a linear park, instead, along the border – a wavy pathway meandering both sides where children could run along and shout, “I’m in America! I’m in Mexico! I’m in America! I’m in Mexico!”

I envisioned the grey-green desert without its current blockade, where wildlife could move freely to maintain healthy ecosystems.

And I envisioned border residents moving more freely, as I assume they did before the wall went up. (I learned of ranchers unable to hunt now and homes stuck south of the wall but in the U.S.!)

communion served by Southwest Conference Minister Rev. Dr. Bill Lyons at the border immersion and Convergence eventsDespite the wall’s imposition, it doesn’t work well. Yes, it does keep many people out. Illegal crossings are way down after many controls – sensors, more guards, more walls, etc. – were added in the past 10 years. But many people still make it to America. Drugs are transported. Human trafficking continues.

The wall fails to promote any American value, such as freedom, human dignity, equality, inalienable rights. We’ve spent $132 billion on securing the Mexican border the past decade to promote a rigid idea of security and have not addressed the reasons people are willing to leave their families and homes, risk arrest, risk dehydration and heat exhaustion and live in practical hiding in a foreign country. The security efforts have led to about 200 deaths per year in the desert. Others live in fear and are unable to reach their potential as a person because of the deportation risk.

Congress even waived 37 laws so contractors could extend the wall without pesky hindrances such as protecting water, respecting land rights and saving archaeological sites.

Could some of that $132 billion have been better spent to solve the root problems? Peace-making and true problem-solving require creative minds.

I learned last weekend about the sanctuary movement. Similar to the Underground Railroad from slavery days, it helps desperate people find work and shelter. Sometimes it helps them get to Canada, where they can live more freely. Churches, colleges and even entire cities take part. There is nothing illegal about these activities. We have come a long way from the Fugitive Slave Act.

I learned of other creative efforts to help our neighbors in need, or “the least of these.” These efforts contrast with actions like sending undocumented immigrants caught in domestic disputes to a land they barely know anymore, and taking young men caught in drug offenses to the border and ordering them to cross over where drug workers will seize upon their vulnerability. I learned of one deported man who didn’t even speak Spanish – his parents had failed to do the paperwork when he was little, and now a crime that would land a fine for most resulted in banishment from his homeland.

“Pax” and “esperanza,” someone painted on a wooden cross that activists tied to the wall. Peace and hope. There is much hope for change. Even when we can’t seem to get away from the word “illegals,” as if a human being can be reduced in such a way, a movement is stirring to preserve dignity and to challenge the powers that be to act more humanely and morally responsible.

featured image courtesy of  ©2016ScottGriessel/Creatista

Living in Uncomfortable Places

by Amanda Petersen

Last week I highlighted staying in uncomfortable places. In the midst of this political season, and events both far and near, we don’t have far to go to practice staying in these places. The question is, how do we stay without falling in hopelessness or wanting to run away? What I have noticed is the call to want to do something to make it feel better. What if you can’t? How do you make hate, environmental disaster, or divided people into a manageable situation?

To begin with, one must change the question. Our brains and egos want to make all pain better so the questions tend to revolve around that. The reality is that in many situations there is no fixing some pain. So why even get involved? Instead of asking, “How do I make it better?” try asking, “How am I called to love?” When there is love, one can stand in places they never dreamed. The thought of sitting vigil while someone dies may sound overwhelming until it is someone you love. Then you are willing to sit and be. When love is the connection, we will go into these places and sit with the reality and the tension of not being able to solve it. The movement then becomes standing as a witness to the pain, in love.

Still, it is helpful to have something tangible as a symbol of love. This can be a word, a listening ear, just being kind or donating goods needed. I would like to highlight the gift of anointing. Often seen as something only ordained or trained people do, it is truly something anyone can give to another. Especially during times of deep pain where someone is suffering or they are on the opposite side of an issue. The act of touch, scent, and words of blessing, healing, and love creates a deep and unexpected space that allows everyone to stay in the pain and realize they are not alone. This Saturday, Michelle Jereb is leading a workshop on the gift of scent and touch and prayer or blessing in seasons of both pain and joy. This is an important workshop for those who want to learn more about staying in the uncomfortable as well as how to stay in blessing. It’s not too late to sign up, yet space is limited. Take a moment and check it out.

This week how are you being invited to answer the question “How am I called to love in this situation?” How does it help you stay in the uncomfortable?