Hope and Climate Change

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What most climate scientists and climate justice advocates don’t want to publicly admit is that the die is likely already cast when it comes to catastrophic climate change. Given the amount of greenhouse gases we have already emitted into the atmosphere and the amount of warming that has been baked into the system, coupled with the fact that countries like the United States, Russia, Brazil, Australia, and Saudi Arabia are doubling down on our collective suicidal behavior of increasing fossil fuel use at a time when every climate indicator points us towards a moral responsibility of keeping almost all of the known fossil fuel deposits in the ground; it will take some sort of unforeseen occurrence or series of occurrences to keep global temperatures from moving us into a period of climate chaos in which human civilization as we know it will not survive more than a few more centuries.

We humans tend be hopeful creatures. It is difficult to live without hope. This has been one of the great strengths of our species, the ability to hold on to hope even in the midst of great challenges and be able to persevere. Hope has led us through dark times of war and injustice and given us strength to overcome numerous crises in the history of human civilization, even at times when all seemed lost. In some ways, however, when it comes to climate change, our ability to hope may have become a weakness for humanity. Perhaps our hope that the future will be better than the past has led us into a societal denial of the breadth and depth of the challenge we have been facing with climate change. Perhaps an overly hopeful attitude of a better future has led us further down the slippery slope towards a more and more unavoidable climate chaos.

Some of us have put our hope in God that somehow the Divine would not let us collectively ruin a livable climate for humanity, but surely we have seen enough evil and suffering play out in the world to realize that this is not how the Divine, whatever the Divine may be, works in the world. If this is how God worked in the world, we would not have had the Holocaust and other genocides, and we would not already be entering into the sixth great extinction on our planet. Whatever the Divine is, the Divine does not seem to take matters into the Divine’s hands in the way that those who hope God will deliver us from global warming would like to think.

Some of us have put our hope in political action and activism, believing that when it became obvious based on scientific evidence that human activity was driving climate change that we would come together as one humanity to make the necessary social and economic changes to avoid the path towards climate chaos. In the early 1990s, it felt like things might have been moving in this positive direction, but those of us who hoped for sweeping global political action for climate justice were perhaps caught off guard by the breadth and depth of global greed that hindered any meaningful action to address climate change before it is too late.

Some of us have put our hope in technology, believing that when we humans put our minds to it we are always capable of coming up with technological solutions to overcome challenges and adversity. We hoped that alternative and clean energy would be developed and utilized quickly enough, and now given that this scenario has not played out, we look to technologies that might help us geo-engineer the climate of the planet. Such desperate geo-engineering scenarios are becoming more and more acceptable as we have allowed the window to close on the possibility of shifting away from fossil fuels quickly enough to avoid climate chaos.

Realistically, when it comes to addressing climate change in ways that will avoid massive amounts of human suffering, economic and ecological collapse, and a significant die-off of human beings; there is not much hope left. The great ice sheets and glacial systems of the world are disappearing, the permafrost in the arctic is melting and releasing the potent greenhouse gas methane into the atmosphere, and arctic sea ice is declining with larger areas of open ocean leading to more absorption of heat and an increase in global temperatures; yet we seem more concerned about energy independence in the short run than we are about a livable climate in the long run.

As a person who has attempted to be hopeful for positive change in relation to our environment and climate change, it feels horrific to admit that we have likely come to a point of being hopeless, but I am afraid it is a truth with which we must begin to grapple. But whether there is hope or no hope, let’s at least not go down without a fight. Let’s take the climate scientists at their good word based on strong empirical evidence and take seriously their estimates that we have about 11 years left to make significant systemic civilizational changes to avoid the very worst of climate change. Let’s move on something like the Green New Deal that is being proposed by our most visionary elected officials. Let’s give ourselves every chance at survival that we can. Maybe we will be fortunate that some unforeseen natural events might assist us in arresting climate change and help us maintain a stable and livable climate. We do not fully know what the future holds, but we can be fairly certain that if we simply continue as we currently are that it really is hopeless.

Hope has so much power. As you can see, it is difficult for me to fully give up on hope, but we cannot allow what little hope we might have left to keep us from seeing the fierce urgency of this moment, nor can we allow a sense of utter hopelessness to sink us into a perpetual state of non-action. Against all odds, we still need to work together to give ourselves the best possible chance for a livable climate and somehow find ways to do all we can to treat one another with love, respect, and justice in the process.

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State of Emergency

Two things are clearly of great concern to our current president at the moment – low approval ratings and expanding investigations. Over the next year, Trump will become increasingly desperate to increase his ratings and stop the investigations, and he will need some sort of national crisis in order to accomplish both.

Trump’s manufactured “border crisis” is an attempt to create an excuse to declare a national state of emergency in order to shore up his base, expand his powers, and call for an end to the multiple investigations that are currently being conducted. Thus far, his attempt at making the case that we are experiencing a border crisis has been unconvincing to all but his unwavering base, but whether it be a “national emergency” of a “border crisis,” a war with Venezuela, or some unforeseen terrorism event; Trump has been intently looking for a way to expand his power in response to a threat whether real, manufactured, or completely fake.

When Trump makes his expansion of presidential powers move, we will need to do more than simply tweet our opposition. This would be a moment that would require relentless and massive opposition, for if Trump is allowed to get away with declaring a national state of emergency, we will likely be under such a state of emergency with expanded presidential powers until the end of his presidency.

The use of national emergencies is one of the most tried and true methods used by authoritarian leaders to gain, maintain, and expand power. Once given such expanded powers, authoritarian leaders do everything they can to keep them. They do not simply give the powers back, and they usually figure out ways to take more and more.

If you think our country simply will not allow any president to take such expanded powers, think again. We have already allowed him to ban persons’ travel based on religious discrimination, separate refugee children from their parents and put them in detention centers, shut down our government for the longest period of time in history putting families in financial distress, and meet alone with President Putin twice without any American senior officials present. Trump keeps crossing what should be red lines with virtually no consequences. We have given him very little reason not to continue doing so.

Tyranny and fascism can happen here, and it will likely happen here, unless we stop it; and when Trump declares a national emergency to expand his powers, it may be the one of the last opportunities, if not the last opportunity, we will have to stop it.

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The Golden Calves of the United Methodist Church

The amount of energy, organization, time, and money spent to keep persons who are LGBTQIA+ from full participation in the life and ministry of the United Methodist Church is shockingly high. This is the price of the idolatry of exclusion.

We United Methodists often refer to our General Conference as GC, but I think the GC may more appropriately stand for golden calf – the golden calf of exclusion. The ultimate price of this idolatry is the loss of our heart and soul and the loss of many lives of our LGBTQIA+ siblings. Many of us in the United Methodist Church have turned our backs on the work of social holiness for a Beloved Community to embrace an unholy and idolatrous project of discrimination, exclusion, and spiritual abuse of our LGBTQIA+ siblings.

For my whole adult life, I have witnessed individuals and groups in the United Methodist Church worship the golden calf of exclusion in various forms, often co-opting words that should bind us together in community for their project of exclusion – “Good News,” the “Confessing Movement,” the “Institute for Religion and Democracy,” and now the “Wesleyan Covenant Association.” Some persons have spent their whole lives and even made their livelihood on this idolatrous project of exclusion.

These same persons and organizations are scrambling in the last few weeks before General Conference 2019 to decorate the golden calf of exclusion just right so as to attract the requisite majority of delegates to worship at its hooves. The are trotting out the golden calves of the Traditionalist Plan and the Modified Traditional Plan, and they are adorning both with amendments so that more may bow before them.

Witnessing the power that their golden calves of exclusion seem to have over so many in our denomination, another golden calf of sorts has been created around the idolatry of institutional survival – the One Church Plan. It is in many ways a less pernicious idolatry insofar as fewer of our LGBTQIA+ siblings will find themselves trampled under its hooves. It is a golden calf created with the intent to do less harm. It is the pragmatic golden calf of many moderates and progressives in the denomination, and if it comes down to our being forced to choose between this less harmful beast and the extremely harmful golden calf of full exclusion, we may need to work with the One Church Plan golden calf, but let us not for one instant pretend that it is not a golden calf and that it does not continue to do harm. Let us not for one second believe that the One Church Plan golden calf is anything close to approximating the Beloved Community in which all are treated fully as persons of sacred worth.

The Simple Plan, the plan removing all discriminatory language and practices in relation to our LGBTQIA+ siblings, is the only plan being put forth at General Conference that comes anywhere near the Beloved Community vision. I am enough of a realist to know that the Simple Plan will not pass at GC 2019, but I am enough of an idealist to continue working for the Beloved Community that it represents. At GC 2019, the United Methodist Church will get nowhere near the promised land to which the Simple Plan points, but may our eyes continue to see the glory that is coming.

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Trusting God on Climate Change

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Like Senator James Inhofe, Sarah Sanders recently intimated that she is trusting God to take care of the climate. Perhaps she might want to consider that one way God “takes care of things” is through us, and maybe, just maybe, God is telling us something through our best climate scientists about what we ought to be doing to be good stewards of all creation. The Hebrew Bible teaches us the wisdom that God calls us to care for the community of all creation, not just treat it like crap and then expect God to clean up the mess. In the Hebrew Bible, that kind of attitude and practice would be characterized as sin.

When we get sick, we trust doctors.

When we take medicine, we trust pharmacists.

When we are passengers in airplanes, we trust pilots, mechanics, and aeronautical engineers.

When we are under threat by hostile powers, we trust the military to defend us.

When we drive over bridges, we trust civil engineers.

When we eat at a restaurant, we trust the cooks and the servers.

When we buy food at the grocery store, we trust farmers and grocers.

When we turn on our lights and use our appliances, we trust electricians.

When we drive our cars, we trust those who have assembled them and those who maintain them.

Yet when it comes to the climate, Sarah Sanders and Senator James Inhofe say we are not supposed to trust climate scientists, but rather simply trust God.

But why stop with trusting God to take care of the climate? Why not simply trust God to keep us from getting sick, to keep our planes in the air, to keep us safe from military attack, to keep our cars from falling into rivers, to cook our food and keep it safe for us, to grow and safely store our food for us, to make light for us and power our appliances for us, and to transport us wherever we need to go? Why not just give it all up to God and save ourselves a lot of hard work and trouble?

Perhaps this all has something to do with fossil fuel corporations and their executives being able to make trillions of dollars by keeping us from trusting what climate scientists are saying. Perhaps they think they can trust that these trillions of dollars will keep them safe when the climate is in chaos, but that is not trusting in God, that is trusting in mammon, and as the Christian Bible reminds us, “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” (I Timothy 6:10, Common English Bible).

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Drumming for Love and Justice

In regards to the incident on Saturday, January 19th in Washington DC relating to the Covington Catholic High School students, a group of Hebrew Israelites, and a group of Native Americans; I offer the following with the hope that all who were involved and all who have observed the many videos of the incident might find a way towards wisdom and reconciliation.

1. The particular Hebrew Israelite group that was involved behaved in an abhorrent manner. If that is how this particular group interacts with people, it would be appropriate for them to be identified as a hate group. Hopefully these men were not representative of all persons who identity with this religious group.

2. Why would a group of students representing a Catholic high school at a march in Washington D.C. be decked out in MAGA hats and sweatshirts? Was this an officially sponsored activity of the high school? If so, there are some serious issues here related to partisan political activity on the part of a religious organization.

3. Why would a chaperone of a group of high school students think that giving the go ahead for them to start yelling school chants would defuse the situation between the students and the Hebrew Israelites? This was not a wise decision.

4. The videos make it clear to me that initially the Native American group was attempting to defuse the situation by putting themselves in between the students and the Hebrew Israelite group. As the exchange between the Native American group and the students continued, there was a statement from one of the Native American persons about white people needing to go back to Europe and that this is not their land followed by this same person arguing with one of the students about this point.

5. The response of the students to the Native Americans was mocking and disrespectful. The continued taunts of the Hebrew Israelite members who apparently were trying to escalate the conflict were totally inappropriate. It reminded me of Westboro Baptist Church – truly hateful rhetoric.

6. Chaperones of youth representing a non-profit religious school at an event: Don’t show up at an event in partisan political gear. Don’t confront or react to groups like this particular group of Hebrew Israelites. That is what they want. Learn about how to deescalate situations like the one in this case.

7. The students were not innocent in this encounter. They acted in a very mocking way in relation to the Native American persons. It might have been racism or ignorance or a combination of the two, but whatever the contributing factors, it was still totally inappropriate.

8. Covington Catholic High School: Open up meaningful dialogue and interaction with Native American communities. Find opportunities for your students to learn as much as possible about indigenous peoples and cultures and cultivate relationships with them.

9. All K-12 educational institutions: See Point 8. We are all part of the same human family, and as the prophetic Martin Luther King, Jr once said, “We must live together as [siblings] or perish together as fools.”

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Why the Right and the Centrists Attack Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

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Here is one big reason why Republicans and even some corporatist/centrist Democrats are obsessively criticizing Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – they know that if younger generations ever fully realize and fully embrace that Democratic Socialism as practiced in the Nordic model actually works very very well (great education, great health care, strong economies, responsible care for the environment, and superb social security), then the Republican Party and the corporatist wing of the Democratic Party are finished.

Republicans and corporatist/centrist Democrats see Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as a threat, and they are correct in their perception. She is a threat – not to the United States of America, but to the oligarchs who have ruled American politics and economics for far too long. These American oligarchs have more in common with Russian oligarchs and Saudi Royalty than they do with the everyday hard working people of the United States, which is perhaps why they are willing to cooperate with Russian and Saudi elites more than they are focused on creating a better life for average Americans. They see AOC as a threat because she is a compelling messenger with a compelling message that things do not have to continue simply going the oligarchy’s way.

Representative Ocasio-Cortez is helping the young, the old, and the in-between to see that we do not have to live in a country with a crumbling infrastructure while the wealthy prosper like never before, that we should not have to fear that getting sick will lead to our personal and family financial ruin, that we should not have to worry that our life savings will run out before our life runs out, that we should not have to incur life crushing debt in order to receive a good education that contributes to both life giving personal and social flourishing, that we should embrace our diversity as one of the greatest strengths of our nation, that no one should go without food and shelter in the wealthiest nation on earth, that we can no longer afford to treat nature as a commodity instead of embracing it as our community, that human flourishing requires ecological flourishing, and that there is not a livable future unless we do all we can to maintain a livable climate.

The threat that Representative Ocasio-Cortez poses to the oligarchy is actually a great hope for people and the planet, but the oligarchy will not simply give up the power that they have worked systematically to maintain and strengthen for decades. They are obsessed with AOC because they know that she and the many others like her are creating a new movement for political action that will create a country and a world in which the oligarchs have less political and economic control. They will attack her mercilessly and relentlessly, and corporatist/centrist Democrats will likely do little to defend her.

What the oligarchs may not fully understand is that people like AOC who share deep passion and commitment for people and the planet are legion, and they will not simply go away because the oligarchs and their minions attack them on social media. AOC and her generation are much much tougher, smarter, and committed than most of us realize. They really do not care much about what the oligarchs think about them because they see clearly what the oligarchs are doing to the world around them, and they have seen enough to know that they have had enough.

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The 1950s Without the Happy Days

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From the 1950s to the early 1970s, there were some great things about the United States – strong unions, excellent K-12 public education, outstanding and affordable higher education, strong social security, post-Depression financial laws that kept the economy rather stable, increased efforts to assist persons in poverty, a movement towards greater civil rights and more women’s rights, a movement towards establishing more affordable healthcare for more people, laws established to protect clean air and clean water and to protect the environment and endangered species, and an outstanding infrastructure made possible by much higher taxation on the wealthy in our society.

From the 1950s to the 1970s, there were also some very problematic things about the United States – the military industrial complex was gaining more power, racism was rampant, Jim Crow was the law of the South until the mid 60s, women were seen as subordinate to men and had little economic and political power, persons who did not identify themselves as Christian were discriminated against, the rights of indigenous persons were a low priority, and persons who were LGBTQ were oppressed and deemed mentally ill.

The MAGA folks (under the influence of the American oligarchy) look back on the 1950s as a time in which America was great. The problem is that they don’t see that what was putting us on the path to being great from the 1950s through the 1970s are all the things that the Republican Party from 1980 to the present has been systematically dismantling – unions, public education, social security, voting rights protections, women’s rights, assistance for those in poverty, affordable and accessible healthcare, laws protecting the environment, responsible laws governing financial institutions, and a tax system that funded the best infrastructure on earth.

If we take away these things, we are not making America great again, we are simply making America more oppressive to workers, less educated, more racist, more sexist, less safe, more unhealthy, more desperate for the most vulnerable, more poor, more theocratic, less free for persons who orient themselves to religion differently, more militaristic, and less just for persons who are LGBTQ. When you combine all of this with a crumbling infrastructure, what you get is a 1950s minus all of the things that made those years bearable and provided hope for the future. This might be great for the oligarchs, theocrats, and racists; but for the rest of us, it is not so great.

The current agenda of the Republican Party is antithetical to the greatness that has at times, though never fully, manifested itself in the highest aspirations of our republic; rather it represents a capitulation to the evils that we as a nation have been attempting to overcome to create a more perfect union – racism, sexism, poverty, greed, militarism, religious discrimination, and environmental destruction. If our republic is to have a flourishing future, we must listen “to the better angels of our nature” as the founder of a very different Republican Party, Abraham Lincoln, once said, rather than regressing towards our original sins as a nation.

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