Happy (early) Earth Day 2016

by Donald Fausel

bird in hand

Just a reminder that Earth Day for 2016 will be celebrated during the week of April 17 to April 22. Many of us can remember April 22, 1970 when the first Earth Day was celebrated. It was the brainchild of Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, and was inspired by the antiwar protests of the late 1960s.  Earth Day was originally aimed at creating a mass environmental movement.  It began as a “national teach-in on the environment” and was held on April 22 to maximize the number of students that could be reached on university campuses. By raising public awareness of air and water pollution, Nelson hoped to bring environmental causes into the attention of the legislators. The first Earth Day had close to 20 million participating. Future Earth Day celebrations were global.

If you want to bring some nostalgia into your life, here’s a five minute video narrated by Tom Brokaw titled A Quick History of Earth Day and an Interview by Hugh Downs with Senator Gaylord Nelson and Several other Activists .

When I look back at 1970, I wish I could say that I was one of the activists who followed Senator Nelson’s foresight. As far as the environment was concerned I was more focused in learning about the sciences of ecology and cosmology as a way of thinking about the world.  I spent time reading books and articles by Thomas Berry, Brian Swimme and other ecologists. Two books that I still pick up frequently which you might be interested in are: Living by Surprise: A Christian Response to the Ecological Crisis by Rev. Woody Bartlett who has served as a director of community ministries for the Episcopal Diocese in Atlanta, with an emphasis on poverty and environmental issues. As the book’s cover reads “This book lays out four Dynamics of creation that can help humankind reconnect with its origins.”

The second book edited by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, Spiritual Ecology: The Cry of the Earth, is a collection of 20 essays. The book was given a strong review by Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org. He wrote, “It’s hard to imagine a wiser group of humans than the authors represented here, all of them both thinkers and do-ers in the greatest battle humans have ever faced.” If you go on Vaughan-Lee’s website you can see his article on Pope Francis’ Encylical: Hearing the Cry of the Earth . It was originally first published on Huffpost Religion.

To steal Bill McKibben’s phrase above, at that time in my life as far as the environment was concerned, I was more of a thinker than a do-er.  My interests were more academic than insurgent. My activism was focused more on Welfare Rights, Civil Rights, Mobilization for Youth, the Vietnam War, and other social justice issues.  Besides making a modest donation to the Sierra Club or The Friends Committee on National Legislation, I didn’t get involved personally in the environmental movement until I became a resident at the Beatitudes Campus in Phoenix.

Three years ago, another resident, Gerald Roseberry and I co-founded the Elders for a Sustainable Future. Our mission is:  a solution-based effort to: 1) involve elders as stakeholders for future generations, and Mother Earth;  2) take action through education and advocacy; 3) contribute to reducing global climate warming, and supporting sustainable solutions. We meet twice a month to discuss climate change issues from fracking to divesting from fossil fuels and depositing our money in “Green investments”.

We also participate in rallies at legislators’ offices to challenge their positions on environment issues or at the Arizona Corporation Commission when Arizona Public Service (APS) was trying to raise prices on customers who were already using solar energy. At that rally we carried signs that read, “The Lord Giveth and APS Taketh away.” That was our way of letting them know that they didn’t have the ownership of the sun.

Many of the members of the Elders for a Sustainable Future are on a committee of residents that is planning for the 2016 Earth Day at the Beatitudes Campus.  I’d like to share with you some of the material that we’re considering might be helpful for your celebration of Earth Day.

This first reference, God’s Earth is Sacred: An Open Letter to Church and Society in the United States was an effort in 2005 by a group of American theologians, convened by the National Council of Churches USA to negate what they called a “false gospel”. They called on Christians to confront the seriousness of environmental disgrace and take concrete steps to prevent abuse of Mother Earth. The letter lists a series of norms to guide Christian involvement, including “…justice, sustainability, generosity, frugality, solidarity and compassion.” The letter to Church and Society ends with a Call to Action, for “…healing the earth and providing a just and sustainable society.” They end with a prayer, “In Christ’s name and for Christ’s glory, we call out with broken yet hopeful hearts:  join us in restoring God’s Earth-the greatest healing work an moral assignment of our times.”  I say Amen to that! Although the letter was published eleven years ago, I believe its message still needs to be heard and followed today. 

Thoughts and Actions for Earth Day 2016

Here’s a three minute speech on Earth Day, 2015, Every Day is Earth Day by Rev. Sally Bingham, President and Founder of Interfaith Power and Light followed by two minutes of videos of what climate changes is doing to God’s Earth.

How about a toe-tapping Love Song to the Earth by Paul McCartney, Jon Bon Jovi, Sheryl Crow and More Call for Action on Climate Change.

Your children or grandchildren might like this four minute cartoon type song, I AM the EARTH , and so do I.

I’ve saved this for last! 12 TED TALKS to Watch this Earth Day. That’s right 12 TED TALKS for Earth Day! And they have some heavy hitters doing the talking and they don’t talk more than 27:44 minutes or less.

James Hansen’s topic is Why I Must Speak Out about Climate Change.  As far back as 1988 he “…saw it as his moral imperative to speak out about the rapid changing plane he saw in his work.”  I read his book, Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth about the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity back in 2010 when it was first published. Robert Kennedy Jr. called him, “…the Paul Revere to the tyranny of climate chaos-a modern-day hero who has braved criticism and censure and put his career and fortune at stake to issue the call to arms against the apocalyptic forces of ignorance and greed.” I second Kennedy’s accurate description of James Hansen.

Coincidently, I will hear Hansen’s lecture on February 25 at Arizona State University’s Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability. His topic is, “Climate Change and Energy: How Can Justice Be Achieved for Young People and Nature?”

Last but not least is a TED TALK by Al Gore, titled New Thinking on the Climate Crisis . You remember Al Gore, he was the former vice president who wrote and starred in the environmental documentary An Inconvenient Truth. He opens the documentary by greeting the audience by saying, “I am Al Gore; I used to be the next President of the United States.” In this TED TALK presentation he shows “…that the impact of climate change may be even worse than scientists had predicted.”

I hope you can use some of this information in your celebration of Earth Day 2016.   Shalom.

Why I Need You to Survive

by Davin Franklin-Hicks

Last week was awkward and hard. It really was. It was one of the weeks where nothing seemed to synch up for me. From attempting to greet an acquaintance with a hug, but instead elbowing them in the nose to forgetting about a meeting I was supposed to be at while I was just chilling at home as though I hadn’t a care in the world. I set my alarm for 6pm instead of 6am not once, but twice. I woke up with this pit in my stomach and sense of dread, but it wasn’t connected to any thought. It just constantly felt like something was wrong and I couldn’t put my finger on it.

I wasn’t the only one feeling this way last week. I have two friends that I talk to every single day over text regardless of rain or shine. Sometimes it is lengthy, sometimes it’s short, but we always connect. As I texted my, sometimes humorous, often complaining texts to them last week, I received very similar responses. Each of us said at some point, “What the heck is going on? Is something in the air?” Nothing was synching up.

I was avoiding things that week. I was eating less, not much of an appetite. I was walking under a plume of strangeness without knowing why. I caught myself walking very quickly through my living room as I came home, a sense of urgency to get into another room. I noticed it and wondered what the heck was wrong with me. Why am I feeling compelled to avoid so much? I walked back into my living room and realized the source of anxiety was the TV. It was the news anchor. It was the images. It was the terror in the world.

And I cried.

This thick pall that I was in the midst of was the sense of helplessness in the face of unimaginable suffering. I felt shame for the human race. I felt absolute rage for the vulnerability that is exploited and crushed. I was avoiding the pain of living in this world. There isn’t even a starting place that makes sense to me to begin to hold what is happening in the world around me. So I check out entirely. And when I do, I step out of the flow of life. My fears increase, my reasoning decreases. I am ill-tempered and checked out. I am withdrawn. All of this leads to me living out of synch.

My pastor, Rev. Delle McCormick, said something incredibly profound the Sunday after the attacks in Beirut and in Paris. She used the phrase “unsettled ache” repeatedly in her sermon and that resonated very strongly with me. The reality is I am impacted by all of this pain and violence in the world. The reality is you are too. Even if we are avoiding knowledge of it or attempting to distract, it is the thing that greets us when there is a quiet moment. It’s just on the edge of our awareness more often than not and it impacts the way we interact with the world around us.

My starting point to engage in the world again was the awareness of this very simple point: you impact me and I impact you. We do not exist in a vacuum. We do not live the individual lives that we are constantly trying to tell ourselves we are living. This is a global community.

We say something to each other at Rincon Congregational UCC that I have never said to anyone before. Often after service, during the benediction, we are encouraged to look at one another and say, “I need you to survive”. Regardless of what word you put the emphasis on in that statement, it is true and powerful. I need for you, my dear one, to survive. I also need you, my dear one, for my own survival. We are connected. It is unsettling. It is life.

image credit: Roy DeLeon