ON WEDNESDAY MORNING Pope Francis made his first official speech inEnglish. Standing before the people of the United States, the Pope proclaimed words of truth and wisdom: that the Creator never abandons us, that humanity has the ability to work together to build our common home, that we need to lift up the vulnerable and support inclusive models of development so that “brothers and sisters everywhere may know the peace… that God wills for all his children”. Pope Francis also said,
Climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation.
In light of that, I want to share some thoughts I jotted down on September 4 (with some revisions):
Porque de tal manera amó Dios al mundo…
I love relationships. I love forming them, nurturing them, witnessing them, talking about them. Today I learned about a neglected but essential relationship: my relationship with la tierra (the earth).
This week Alex, Emily and I attended a conference on climate change for the churches in Latin America and the Caribbean. I’ve been nerding out even though I’ve only understood about five words (when Sarah our site coordinator isn’t available to translate). It’s been truly humbling yet refreshing to hear the discussion from a non-US perspective – a non-G7 perspective, a developing world perspective. As one can imagine, the US is not popular in this discussion. What does interest me is the ways the major concerns of participants and their understanding of the issues differ from mine.
We discussed 10 sentences from the Pope’s encyclical on climate change and ranked the ones that were most important to us. We indicated our choices with stickers on a poster with all 10 phrases. The results surprised me. While I had placed most of my stickers next to the statements addressing waste and carbon emissions, the phrases that resonated with the most people addressed inequality, suffering and the role of youth in creating change.
In the climate action conversations I’ve had in the US, the focus often centered on reducing harm and increasing benefits – tangible, measurable solutions to fix the symptoms of climate change. Decrease greenhouse gases! Reduce waste!
Here it seems that greater emphasis is given to systemic causes of climate change: inequality, Western imperialism, and exploitation of resources by the wealthy at the expense of the poor. One of the action items stated at the conference was: Overconsumption of the wealthy must end, as it continues to inflate our ecological debt. People with less access bear the burden of excess. Indeed, one conference participant said that developing countries see the problems of climate change as caused by the G8 (now called the G7: the 6 richest countries in the world + the EU).
As a person from the US, a country that accounts for 5% of the world’s population but consumes 25% of the world’s energy, I want to melt into my chair. I feel the same shame last year when I volunteered at an international development event in a highly air-conditioned convention center, overflowing with food and wine – removed from record-high temperatures, water shortage, floods, droughts and the very people we sought to help.
But it’s not all finger pointing here. This morning Reverend Doctor Neddy Astudillo called us back to a relationship with the earth. She reminded us of the love of God for the cosmos, i.e. all creation. (“Cosmos” is the original word translated as “world” in our English Bibles.) Throughout Scripture God moves through nature: saves Balaam through a donkey, cures Naaman by the waters of the Jordan, feeds Elijah in the desert by the ravens, confirms God’s presence through a dove… God uses natural phenomena to speak to us.
What I didn’t realize until today is that nature has dignity, in and of itself, because nature was created by God and proclaims the glory of God. The earth is living, breathing, and groaning for restoration.
For God so loved the world…
Jesus did not come just to die for humanity’s sin or to even fix humanity’s brokenness. Jesus came because God loved all creation – humans and everything else God made.
Sin breaks not only our relationships with God and each other but also our relationship with nature. For millennia we have dominated nature in harmful ways. And the maltreatment of nature has often come hand-in-hand with oppression. Inequality, imperialism and exploitation are all manifestations of broken relationships with God and one another.
The good news is this: God so loved the world that God sent Jesus to restore all relationships. God’s project is the fullness of life. For this we toil, so that the project isn’t just words but truth. God is true, and God will finish God’s project.