I am a fan of the writings of Walter Brueggemann. He is an Old Testament Professor at Columbia Theological Seminary, an ordained minister of the United Church of Christ. Currently I am enjoying his recent book, A Gospel of Hope (Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2018), a compilation of previous writings gathered around specific themes, like ’Abundance and Generosity,’ ‘Alternative Worlds,’ ‘Anxiety and Freedom,’ ‘God’s Fidelity and Ours.’ Although not expressly a book about eco-reformation, it is very stimulating reading from such a perspective.
Consider these words:
Imagine that a small community set down in the midst of the empire and all of its aggressive militarism is a small community that refuses to participate in the anxiety of the world, because it imitates birds and lilies in the sure confidence that the Father in heaven knows our needs and supplies them. (p.24)
Or consider this passage about the place of Jesus in the world:
People wondered about Jesus. They sent and asked if he was the one who is to come, the one to be in charge. He refused a direct answer. He said, everywhere I go, true, best creation appears. The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the dead are raised, the poor have their debts canceled. Where there is a true lord, there is a true world. (p.51)
I want to spend some time with this next thought. Brueggemann makes a distinction between our being comfortable and our being comforted. Consider what he says:
The gospel is always against our being comfortable, in order to be comforted in our dis-ease. I invite you to think about this terrible distinction between being comfortable and being comforted, between our capacity to cope and our willingness to be held and embraced, to be nursed and cared for and suckled by this God who now speaks and holds us amidst our dark night of ache, holding our bodies that tremble with the tears of fatigue and despair.
Brueggemann goes on to describe a “mothering God”- “who says ‘comfort’ only in the midst of exile.” ( p. 43)
I am wondering why our church, and most of American and Canadian society, is so slow to acknowledge climate change, so slow to make any substantive decisions for change. Could it be we are too comfortable?
First, we are comfortable as we are, where we are. And we can’t imagine any need to change. Indeed, we resist change, denying responsibility; defending against the tide of homeless refugee people, fleeing hostility, famine, injustice, and environmental catastrophe. We’re not hungry enough.
Secondly, we’re comfortable in our capacity to cope; we are confident that our science, and technology, and global positions of social and economic power will solve our problems and maintain our comfort.
But we need not act too quickly. After all, scientists say we have twelve years! We’re content to talk about two degrees of global warming, disbelieving that such a small difference can affect the entire planet. In the meantime, for the sake of immediate profit, we’ll roll-back limitations on greenhouse emissions, restore burning goal reserves, build additional pipelines for the transportation of oil and gas, and continue to fly all around the world, dumping toxic emissions into the air. What we can’t see can’t hurt us. We’re comfortable.
Climate change? Getting warmer? Turn up the AC a couple degrees. Going to be a gold, stormy winter? Turn up the furnace a couple of degrees. Or, better yet, vacation in someplace warm, with all-you-can-eat buffets, luxurious, well fertilized and irrigated golf courses, and bright lights and blaring sound day and night.
I had hoped we would respond more sanely and responsibly. But I do not believe our technology – or our will – will lower carbon dioxide levels, reduce the rate of global warming, reduce the pollution of plastics or restore lost species of flora and fauna. We will not restore the ice caps. We will not turn deserts into gardens.
And someday we will not be comfortable. No matter how hard we try.
We have not yet experienced exile.
I grew up enjoying the fantasy of science fiction. I imagined lives of leisure, exploration and adventure. One day we would conquer the stars!
Now, I wonder whether a four-billion-year-old planet even requires the existence of this animal species we call humankind.
It’s nearly Christmas. And in our Canadian churches in our Canadian cities people are going about preparing for Christmas like we have always done.
Except we have neighbors to the northwest who have experienced horrific wildfires. Where is the smell of fir when it is lost to the stench of wet ash? What does “coming home for the holidays” mean when home is rubble and the table cannot be found among the debris?
Fire to the northwest. Tornadoes in mid-central. Hurricanes in the southeast. Snowstorms in the northeast.
Are we so comfortable in the mid-west, the prairie provinces? The potato crop is down in every Canadian province. Utility prices are going up again. Families are told to expect to spend $411 more for food next year. And, would you believe, greenhouses are shifting from vegetables to cannabis?
Meanwhile thousands trudge north, seeking to escape, seeking to find refuge, only to be met with a wall and tear gas. Parents who seek refuge, safety, a new beginning with some semblance of security, are separated from their children.
Who will suckle their children? Who will suckle us?
Where are the prophets among us who can point like John and say, “See! Behold the one who comes, the Comforter of the world”? Where are the Samaritans who bind up the broken and see to their wounds, their empty bellies, their tear-stained cheeks?
I want to see a creche this year wherein a mother and father sit exposed on a burned out hill, or under a piece of canvas on a cactus-studded bit of sand… And I want to see them approached by some visitors who bring gifts: a box of disposable diapers, a jug of clean water, a pail of hot soup, and a pile of blankets. These visitors have come because Light led them.
Is that possible?
I want to know that in church basements people are opening the scriptures to read the words, “Comfort, comfort my people…” and know that these words are meant for them. And for their neighbors.
I want our seminary students and professors and church leaders – with collars or without – to be a bit uncomfortable as they haul way the burned and broken in the northwest – as they repair the walls and rebuild the dikes in the southeast – as they shovel out their neighbors in the northeast and see that they have food and light and medicine and companionship.
I want to see people assisting at the refugee camps, serving meals at the homeless shelters, rocking children at the shelters for domestic abuse. I want people to know that the One who comes this Christmas comes as the Comforter to all those who are no longer comfortable.
Have you noticed that there are no stories like this? Or very few. Certainly not enough.
This Christmas, let the heavens ring with songs of praise and hope.
We have been comforted. We sing with the birds and the lilies, as Brueggemann reminds us, as Jesus promised us.
And we can comfort others. Indeed, in the love of the Father and the Mother, we can even choose to be a bit uncomfortable. Because this is life… this is love. This is hope.