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: http://www.climatewitness.org/pope-francis-encyclical.html

[xii] American Thinker Blog.

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

Patrick: A Model for All People of Faith

by Kenneth McIntosh

It’s no wonder that celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day is huge in America, where people of Irish ancestry outnumber the population of Ireland 5 to 1. Saint Paddy’s festivities take the nature of a celebration of ethnicity, in large part due to the fact that the Irish had to struggle against prejudice in order to be regarded as equal in this country. But there’s often something lost in the celebrations of ethnic pride and the bacchanalia of Saint Patrick’s day: we forget the spiritual legacy of an exceptional historical figure. Patrick is a model not just for Catholics or Irish but for all people who value justice and faith.

There is a curious contradiction in studies of Patrick: one the one hand, we know him better than any other person who lived in Western Europe in the 5th century. He alone bequeaths us an autobiography that reveals the inner psychology of a person who lived in that time and place. Yet it is also true that we know very little about him; Patrick tells us only what he deemed valuable to reveal under a particular set of circumstances. Patrick’s Confessio is, like the epistles of Saint Paul, written to address a specific occasion (in Patrick’s case, a summons to return to Britain for a church trial). There are many things –which modern audiences are interested in– that Patrick saw no reason to reveal.

Patrick was born sometime between 360 and 400 CE. Historians have long opted for the latter date, but recent revision of dating Patrick’s writing advocates an earlier timeframe. For this article, I’m favoring a birth date around the turn of the century.

One thing we do know, he was NOT born in Ireland. The person most associated with Ireland was born as a Briton, in a town called Bannaven. Patrick’s own statement about his birthplace is unfortunately impossible to correlate with a modern place, since his is the only reference to Bannaven. There is strong reason to believe it may have been in modern day Wales, likely in Pembrokeshire; yet other historians argue for a birthplace in southwest Scotland, and I have an English friend who is sure Patrick hailed from Cumbria which is now part of England. It seems everyone wants to claim Patrick as their hometown hero.

He came into life as a Romanized Celt, part of the far-flung Empire. After three centuries of occupation he would have dressed, followed customs, and spoken like a Roman. Officially, the entire Empire was Christian following the edict of Theodosius and Gratian in 380, making Christianity the Imperial religion. Although all citizens of the Empire were now ostensibly Christian, for many their forced conversion was only skin deep and Patrick by his own confession was only nominally Christian.

In the year 410 the Roman Legions completely withdrew from Britain. For three centuries Rome had striven to demilitarize the occupied populace, to discourage rebellion; thus when the Imperial armies withdrew the Britons were left as sheep for the wolves (Irish, Pictish and Saxon) who rushed in to divide up the island. Large numbers of people living on the West coast of Britain were taken as slaves by Irish raiders. Patrick, 16 years old, was one of those captured.

Patrick spent six years in Ireland as a slave. Lacking human solace, his nominal faith became real. He says that he prayed more than 100 times each day. He not only spoke to God, but he learned to hear God’s voice speaking inside of him, and that led to the first great miracle of his life.

When he was 22, Patrick heard an inner voice, telling him “Get up! Your ship is waiting!” The boat that God indicated as his escape from bondage happened to be on the other side of Ireland, more than a hundred miles to traverse alone, an escaped slave who faced torture and death if caught fleeing. Nonetheless, Patrick acted upon this revelation and fled, eventually reaching the boat and—after a circuitous 2 year voyage—returning home to his family and friends in Bannaven.

His return was unprecedented: for someone to escape bondage in Hibernia and return to the Roman Empire was akin to Lazarus returning to life. Yet this is where the story takes an unexpected turn. Back among his kin and the culture of his childhood, Patrick had dreams at night. He heard “the voice of the Irish” in the local dialect of his captors saying “Come walk among us again” to share the Good news of Jesus.

It was beyond daunting to think of returning to the island of his bondage, especially as there was still a death threat on his head for escaping, yet incredibly Patrick obeyed the summons to go back to Ireland. Prior to his return there was a time of training and ordination; Patrick offers no details but there is speculation that his training might have taken place in France where Egyptian spiritual traditions had earlier taken root.

Patrick was enormously successful at sharing his faith among the Irish. Though he was—as far as we know—unarmed, he survived and flourished even as an escaped slave. His Confessio tells us that he observed the Irish custom of giving honor-gifts to regional chieftains, seeking their blessing for his ministry in each clan territory. His very presence attested to the authenticity of his message—risking death among the Irish, he modeled the reconciliation of Christ that he proclaimed.

Perhaps most important, Patrick held Irish culture and customs in high regard. The Imperial means of evangelism was to occupy a territory (usually urban) and enforce Roman culture—and Christian faith—upon the populace. Patrick, by contrast, came without force and sought cultural bridges, ways that Christianity could be understood from an Irish cultural perspective. In the fifth century Hibernians had a complex society, extraordinary fine arts, and a nature-based religion. Scholars in the Roman Empire saw all those outside the Imperial fold as “Barbarians” but this largely reflects their xenophobia. Patrick, by contrast, was able to see the beauty in Irish society.

In Ecclesiastical art, Patrick is most often portrayed holding a three-leaf clover, due to the legend of his using the shamrock to communicate the concept of Trinity. There are no extant accounts of his doing so that date to the Early Middle Ages. However, this legend may be seen as typical of the general attitude Patrick had toward faith-sharing; that is, when explaining the new faith, he would have used experiences common to his audience.

By the end of his life, Patrick persuaded great portions of the Irish in the central and northern parts of the Island to receive Christ as their heavenly sovereign. However, this tremendous achievement seems to have been poorly received by his Christian colleagues back in Britain. He was summoned to an Ecclesiastical trial of some sort. We don’t know the details. Were his fellow church workers jealous of his success? Was he creating the wrong kind of Christian churches—not Imperial in nature? Did the gifts that he gave to chieftains cost too much, so that his mission ran over budget? We don’t know the answers to those questions, but we do know that the summons upset Patrick terribly. “I almost fell into the wreckage of sin” he tells us.

Patrick’s faith was bolstered by another voice from God. “We are very angry with them” (IE, the church authorities in Britain) God said—and that gave Patrick strength to carry on. Notice how in each crisis of Patrick’s life, it was a direct experience of God’s voice—not through another priest nor through the Scriptures, but directly heard by the saint—that enabled him to fulfill his extraordinary mission.

After his death, Patrick left behind an amazing legacy. He ushered in the so-called “age of saints and scholars” lasting from 500 to 1100 AD in Ireland. This included a great tradition of scholarship. Patrick regarded himself as “rude and uneducated” yet he established faith communities in Ireland that became the centers of literacy and scholarship for all of Europe during the Early Middle Ages.

He championed social justice. Because of his time spent in slavery, he despised oppression. When King Coriticus—theoretically a Christian monarch—took captives to be slaves, Patrick wrote a letter damning the king. “If you don’t love your neighbor, you are not a follower of Christ” he told him.

An often overlooked aspect of Patrick’s legacy is his mysticism. He certainly valued the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments—in his relatively short writings there are hundreds of allusions to the Bible—yet in the great existential decisions of his life it was an unmediated Divine voice that guided him. If not for these direct communications from God, he would never have escaped from Ireland, never have returned to Ireland, and would not have stayed to complete his mission there. The Celtic Christian tradition that followed in his wake has been characterized as a form of “nature mysticism.”

So what can Patrick mean for us today? According to the latest Pew survey, the largest religious grouping in the US is now comprised of those who identify as “no religion.” What can a fifth-century saint say to that reality?

I believe Patrick’s concern for social justice is more important than ever before. Violence, prejudice, climate change, and poverty threaten humanity. Religious leaders in diverse traditions—from Pope Francis to the National setting of the United Church of Christ—call us to action on behalf of the poor, and of refugees, and those who are still slaves in our world today.

At the same time, Patrick’s mysticism may be the most relevant aspect of his legacy. Jesuit Karl Rahner, one of the most important theologians of the 20th century, predicted that “The Christian of the future will be a mystic or will not exist at all.” Patrick’s experiences hearing the Divine voice throughout his life testify that “God is still speaking” in the 5th century and the 21st. Many activists became embittered and desperate in their struggles against the tides of injustice—work for God’s peace can devolve into the shrill rhetoric and anger of unenlightened political action. The mystical experience of the Divine word, encouraging and guiding action, is an essential component for the spiritual pursuit of social justice.

So I wish all of you a glorious celebrations of Saint Patrick’s Day. And, in the midst of the green beer and parades, I hope you will pause for a few minutes, take stock of your spiritual practice, and ask yourself “What would Patrick do?”

photo credit: Kenneth McIntosh; Medieval Sculpture of Saint Patrick at Rock of Cashel, the seat of Irish Christianity in the Middle Ages.

Stop Operation Streamline

by Rev. Randy Mayer and Christian Ramirez

(originally published on thehill.com; 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.

 

Solidarity in Mission

by Amos Smith

Church of the Painted Hills, UCC (CPH) has had a long term mission focus on Casa Maria Soup Kitchen, which is a Catholic Worker House inspired by Dorothy Day. Casa Maria focuses on feeding Tucson’s homeless population.

On October 30th, 2014 CPH invited the Casa Maria Kitchen workers to CPH for a dinner that we provided. The dinner gave us a more intimate look into the faces behind Casa Maria.

Each of the workers talked about what brought them to Casa Maria. We heard stories of terrible circumstances, such as Mexican border crossings in bloody shoes, abandonment, and finding food in dumpsters. Then, the workers shared how Casa Maria got them back on their feet, and how their works of mercy filled their hearts with joy.

Through the years, CPH has made sandwiches for Casa Maria on the third Tuesday of each month (many thanks to Nancy Ullrich’s leadership). Last Christmas the church also rallied and bought items Casa Maria needed: a huge new soup pot, two ladles, and a large capacity coffee maker.

Through the years, many people at CPH have volunteered at Casa Maria—hauling in deliveries of produce, making and serving soup, making sacked lunches… To continue that tradition I called Brian Flag at Casa Maria and asked him when volunteers would be most appreciated. He said that they tend to be short-handed on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.

So, some interested folks and I zeroed in on Fridays. At present, Mary (pictured above), Amos, and Connie are volunteering on the first and third Fridays of each month. And Denise and Karen are volunteering on the second and fourth Fridays of each month. So at present CPH has Fridays covered at Casa Maria!

On average Casa Maria feeds 500 homeless per day and delivers 2,000 family grocery bags per week!

CPH Dinner for Casa Maria Homeless Kitchen Workers | October 30th, 2014
CPH Sandwich Making Assembly Line for Casa Maria | 2013
Large Soup Pot, Coffee Maker, & Ladles CPH gave to Casa Maria | Christmas of 2014
Amos and Mary bagging lunches for homeless at Casa Maria | September 2015

How May I Serve You?

by Jeffrey Dirrim

John 13:13-15 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
“You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am.  So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”

How May I Serve You?

On a recent Sunday evening at Rebel & Divine UCC, one of our homeless young adults took a shower and put on a new outfit he’d picked up at our clothing bank. I noticed him with dripping wet hair, standing somberly over a large dark trash bin. He was holding the outfit he’d been wearing continuously for the previous seven days. After standing there for a few minutes in deep thought, he opened his hands and released the clothing.

Moving closer I started a conversation with him. He shared that the t-shirt was his favorite article of clothing “ever.” It was well worn and frankly a tad ripe. He expressed frustration that he could only take with him what he was wearing. His backpack was so full of his essentials that its seams were starting to split. I respectfully asked if I could take the discarded clothes home and wash them for him. Looking at me in a peculiar manner, he walked off saying, “Whatever you want.”

I washed the clothes, with bleach, several times. I tumbled them dry with springtime fabric softener sheets. The clothes were bright and fresh when they were returned to him with little fanfare a few weeks later. An hour must have passed before he pulled me aside. With a bit of machismo, he said, “You didn’t have to fold my clothes.” and “Thank you — I can’t believe you folded my clothes!” I noticed the teary eyes accompanying his smile.

Jesus often spoke to his disciples about ministry. He didn’t charm their egos with visions of celebrity and certain wealth. He referred to the ministry as diakonos, which at its most basic level means to be a humble servant. It was defined by the powerless roles women and children were required to play in society at the time. Becoming one of his followers meant to set aside your own authority. In this way kings, religious leaders, and tax collectors were brought down while waitresses, pedicurists, and maids were lifted up.

That dapper young homeless man looked at me like I’d performed a miracle that night. Not because I had done anything out of the ordinary, but because I’d done something for him that no one else had ever done. In folding his newly laundered clothing, he began to feel worthy. That young man invites all of his friends to attend church with us, not because we told him too, but because he wants them to have that same experience. We continue to grow.

In other church circles these days I’m hearing a lot about fear. People want to know what that next “big” thing is they will have to do to survive. I wonder if church in this postmodern age is actually a return to the basics? Imagine a place where the least of these feel safe to be themselves. Imagine a place where the voiceless are asked to lead the discussion. Imagine a place where the hungry literally break bread and share the cup. Imagine a place where the naked are clothed and dirty leave clean. Imagine a place where the pastor’s sermon is witnessed, not just heard.

Imagine a place where lives are transformed.

Jesus loved people, very different from himself, into wholeness. Acting in his place in our world today, this new church 3.0 concept really isn’t something to fear. It doesn’t require concert stages, rock bands, and nightclub light displays in our sanctuaries. Maybe it’s actually church unplugged? Maybe it’s focusing less on Sunday morning’s show and prioritizing the building of relationships? Maybe it’s setting aside the first time visitor gifts and offering to wash, dry, and fold our guests’ clothing? It seems the only requirement to ministry today is that Christ be witnessed in each of us.

PRAYER
Holy One, we celebrate your unlimited and unconditional love. Yet we seem to have forgotten the role we play in keeping that love alive in our world today. Assist us in witnessing Christ’s everyday miracles through our humble service. Amen & let it be so!

Rev. Jeffrey Dirrim is a graduate of the Pacific School of Religion(Berkeley, CA) and is currently serving as the Founding Pastor and Executive Director of Rebel & Divine United Church of Christ in Phoenix, Arizona. It is an incredibly diverse missional faith community focused on the health and wholeness of at risk(especially LGBTQ) youth/young adults. Those he serves lovingly refer to him as their “Pomo-homo-genderqueer Pastor!” To learn more visit the church’s website.

Follow Jeffrey on Twitter and Instagram.

God is still speaking!

A White Boy and His Toys

by Tyler Connoley

When I was fourteen, I got my first computer — an Apple IIe. Actually, it was my family’s computer, and my dad used it pretty much all day doing his work. However, at night, I was allowed to play on the computer. I remember one time when I stayed up all night writing a simple program in BASIC. The next day, I proudly showed off what the computer could do, as it went through it’s paces of answering questions based on the users “Yes” or “No” inputs. I thought about that Apple IIe this week when I heard the story of Ahmed Mohamed’s arrest for building a clock and bringing it to school.

You see, when I was a geeky teenager, no one thought anything of it. Kids like me — white boys — were allowed to be geeks, and were allowed to dream of building robots like R. Daneel Olivaw, who captured my imagination when I was sixteen. My parents joked with their friends about my silly BASIC program, and everyone thought it was funny and cute and a sign of great things to come. I was on my way to becoming the smart, successful man I was expected to be.

If I had been a girl doing the same thing in 1984, people might have thought me strange. There might have been a worry that I was too masculine. (Believe me, that was never a worry with me, but that’s another story for another time.) I sometimes wonder what my sister could have done with our Apply IIe, if it hadn’t been hogged by her brother who figured she should be doing girly stuff anyway.

Or what if I’d been born a person of color? We now have the rise of the Blerds, but in 1984 — five years before Geordi La Forge — black nerds were unheard of. Even today, we feel the need to give them a special category and their own term, because we find them so exotic. What message does that send to a young black man who loves to goof around with technology?

And then we have Ahmed Mohamed. Like me, at fourteen, he spent the night creating a fun project that he wanted to show off. However, unlike me whose white skin is a blank slate onto which I’m allowed to paint any future I want, all people could see in young Ahmed was a potential terrorist. He kept saying, “It’s a clock,” and everyone around him kept looking at those wires and those digital numbers and thinking, “It looks like a bomb.”

I also remember my first digital watch. My Grandma gave it to me for Christmas, and it made me feel like James Bond. It never occurred to me that someone might think of me as the villain in the story, because I didn’t have a deformity, or an accent, or brown skin, or boobs. That’s what happens when you grow up in our society as a white boy.

I pray for a day when the same is true for every little Ahmed or Levar playing in his room with wires and digital clocks or reading books into the wee hours of the morning.

Rev. Tyler Connoley is the pastor of Silver City United Church of Christ, a new church start in Silver City, New Mexico. Tyler has a Master of Arts in Religion and a Master of Divinity, both from Earlham School of Religion, and is the co-author of The Children Are Free: Re-examining the Biblical Evidence on Same-Sex Relationships, which has been translated into multiple languages including Spanish (Dios Nos Ha Hecho Libres). In 2014 and 2015, Tyler worked as the Immigrant Care Coordinator for the Southwest Conference. He lives in Silver City with his spouse, Rob Connoley, who is Chef at the Curious Kumquat, a restaurant they own together.