A letter to future generations?

By Nattu, cc via Flickr

The climate in America continues to be politically charged and nowhere is this more evident than when it comes to the topic of climate change. There seems to be a real disagreement over scientific facts in the mass media that is growing almost daily.

We wrote about the denial of climate change a few months ago in looking at President Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Accord. In reading this month’s review of the book The War on Science: Who’s Waging It, Why It Matters, What We Can Do About It, there is clearly a need for faith communities to think about what they can do to negate the denial of evidence-based facts that the sciences provide.

I have thought about what I would include in a letter to my great grandkids. They may wonder whether the folks in the pews even discussed climate change or if they did why they choose to seemingly do nothing. As I sit and type in an “eco” friendly café housed on the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago campus, I am seeing some positive changes that are forcing me to make better choices. For instance, no plastic cups are available so I use a real glass for my water and in my hunt for a napkin I couldn’t find an abundance of paper products. Sustainability was the theme in the “Sola Café”.

(There is a lack of electrical outlets too, but that may be due to the age of the building rather than limiting our consumption of electricity!)

But what really got me thinking about what I would like my great grandkids to know about the time we are living in was a reading from Deuteronomy at our church’s Thanksgiving Eve service. “You shall eat your fill and bless the Lord your God for the good land that he has given you. Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God, by failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances and his statutes, which I am commanding you today,” Deuteronomy 8:10-11.

As my son quietly played beside me throughout the sermon, it got me wondering whether we are simply paying convenient lip service to some of these key issues of planetary stewardship. It is easy to forget that we have eaten our fill and have built our houses on what was once corn fields and before that prairies and forests.

We live in a world where the Snows of Kilimanjaro will be the stuff of fairy tales and nursery rhymes. And where snow in the upper Midwest that is traditional around Thanksgiving and Christmas has shifted to New Years’ Eve or later. Again, that trend may be a nice convenience for those traveling during the holiday season, but 60 degree days in November are troubling signs environmentally speaking.

But, what we may tell the little ones?  Will we say we did our part because we recycled, relied on public transportation and purchased eco-friendly products? Will we admit we are sorry we did not do more, but defend ourselves by noting that we  could not do more without making our lives frankly less comfortable?  But will they press us asking: but what else could you have done?

The book that Dr. Sara Miles reviews this month has a handy checklist for pushing back against the so-called “war on science.” A good chunk of what the author proposes is political action.

In a public lecture on “Reformation and Responsibility in the World”, Rev. Dr. Antje Jackelén, who is now the Archbishop of Uppsala and Primate of the Church of Sweden, gave a fair assessment of the times we live in. A long-time theology and science scholar, Jackelén headed up the Zygon Center housed at LSTC for four years before accepting her election as Bishop of Lund in 2007.

Jackelén, in talking about hope for the future given our post-truth society, lifted up themes rooted in the Reformation that she believes are critical for taking responsibility in a democratic society. These include attention to education and politics.

“To take the question of challenge of climate change, as a good example. Only if politics, science, technology, business, culture and religion work all together there is hope.” The pertinent questions of democratic society must incorporate a spiritual nature and neglecting that is detrimental, she says.

In referring to Luther’s concept of the “two kingdoms”, she noted that often the secular realm, falsely, has been viewed as cleanly separated from the realm of the church. On the contrary, Jackelen corrected, it is very much part of Reformation theology to distinguish but seek the right interrelationship.

The work of the church includes work in the political realm. She used the example of the Church of Sweden mediating between the Sami people and the government in negotiating how to return the remains of Sami ancestors that were dug up and placed on display in museums.  The Church, she said, was able to ask the right questions and enable conversations that are finding ways that respect both the scientists in their research and the leaders of the indigenous peoples.

Perhaps the church’s role in America can be that of mediator between those who are struggling to come to terms with the effects of climate change and those in power who would argue against the idea that weather patterns are indicative of large scale change.

This may require navigating the political realm — which is a place where both scientists and communities of faith often have neglected to participate. In a post-truth society, this may be a necessity rather than a nicety.

Should our children wonder if we or our church cares about the climate, we only have ourselves to blame. Our faith has made us free to be people of God as the liturgy says. That freedom is also freedom from fear, as Jackelén reminded us, adding that there is a righteous fear that is also necessary to prompt action.

As for my letter, I’ve stopped composing it for the moment. I am afraid it reads as a laundry list of excuses that blames politicians in Washington. I think rather, it is time to shift the blame and move forward in dialogue and action. And that is why scholars such as Jackelén show us why the Reformation is as important today as it was 500 years ago.

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