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Month: November 2016

The Land Mourns

The Land Mourns

My reading these days of Jeremiah is motivated by a question. What does it mean to bear prophetic witness in 2016 in North America? My concern is that many church leaders do not offer a word from the Lord and participate in symbolic actions that point toward God’s kingdom and rule. As a result, we remain mired in compromises and endless discussions without a strong sense of spiritual direction.

 

Jeremiah was a prophet of God between 626 and 587 (BCE). He lived in Jerusalem during a tumultuous period that concluded with the destruction of the city and the forced exile of thousands of people. It strikes me that Jeremiah was a sober realist about the threat of foreign armies along with the moral corruption of monarchs, priests, prophets and elders. He has biting comments about the false security of formal religious practices and the idolatry practiced by many people. I cannot help but think of the modern tendency to practice the ideologies of consumerism while still maintaining some connection with a local church.

 

This week I have been struck by Jeremiah’s understanding that human evil inflicts damage on the environment. I will give you once example:

 

How long will the land mourn,
and the grass of every field wither?
For the wickedness of those who live in it
the animals and the birds are swept away,
and because people said, ‘He is blind to our ways.’ (12.4)

 

The prophet attributes life to creation. The land is in mourning because of the evil of humans. He gives examples: (1) the grass has gone dry because of the lack of rainfall, (2) animals have disappeared, and, (3) birds are no longer found in the area around Jerusalem. I presume that these are all signs of the devastating drought that Jeremiah wrote about in 14.1-6. Jeremiah connection between human evil and environmental destruction lacks the critical tools and knowledge of scientists in our time. But we know even more than his original audience that human behaviour impacts soil productivity, plant life, and animal life.

 

I am puzzled and disappointed at the silence of today’s clergy. Many have postgraduate degrees. They understand that humans are responsible for polluting inland water sources, creating dead zones in oceans, depleting underground aquifers, the extinction of plants and animals, contaminated air quality, the sending toxic garbage to poor countries, and the slow creation of the carbon blanket that is changing weather patterns. Yet these pastors and preachers largely remain silent. I wish they would take on the mantle of Jeremiah and have the courage of a prophet.

 

This week’s news has been alarming. Bolivia has declared a national emergency because of water shortages. Raging wildfires are burning in Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia after months of below average rainfall. Here in Canada, Artic ice is failing to form because of temperature increases. Winnipeg has never waited so long for snowfall.  Thunder Bay had record rainfall that caused flooding. Grain farmers in Northern Alberta are trying to calculating their losses. Significant acreage could not be harvested due to weather conditions. Additionally, the quality of grain harvested suffered because of unusual weather conditions. A friend from Kenya, who works with farmers, told me that the customary “long rains” were low and uneven. An estimated 1.25 million people will be acutely food insecure and dependant on outside assistance.

 

None of this is clear proof of climate change. But it is increasingly hard to deny cumulative evidence that (1) global climate change is taking place, and (2) there are human fingerprints at the crime site. Let me provide the following chart on CO2 atmospheric concentrations since the industrial revolution (taken from marketbusinessnews.com). CO2 acts like a blanket keeping the sun’s heat in the atmosphere. Thus, weather patterns are distorted and violent storms become more common.

 

co2-concentrations-since-industrial-revolution

 

I urge pastors and church leaders to use materials from Christian environmental organizations such as A Rocha Canada (https://arocha.ca), The US counterpart has been intimidated into dropping all references to climate change due to the influence of Donald Trump. I encourage pastors and Christian leaders to become advocates of creation care.

 

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Prophetic Preaching, Speech, and Action

Prophetic Preaching, Speech, and Action

I participated in a pastors’ conference last week in Banff. The scenery practically invited praise for the handiwork of God the Creator. The human story was less inspiring. Many of us were stunned at the election of Donald Trump. We wonder what it means for America and the world.

 

Anna Robbins, a theologian from Acadia Divinity College, spoke into our uncertainty. She argued that the popular theme of the church in exile failed to recognize that Christians in North America enjoy the benefits of affluence and the freedoms of our democratic states. We are not in exile. We are in the empire. Anna spoke of the unsettling earthquakes of culture change taking place around us. She stated that we have the capacity to choose and shape our response as Christian leaders and church members. She characterized our options as (1) fearful withdrawal, (2) willing complacency, and (3) critical engagement.

 

I think these are perilous times. It seems likely that Republicans will respect Trump’s strange victory by (1) denying climate change and refusing to support action to protect creation, (2) condoning racial violence of the white majority population, (3) withdrawing from international collaboration on global issues, (4) increasing the growing disparity in the world, and (5) encouraging harsh rhetoric rather than meaningful dialogue.

 

Anna’s presentations in Banff drove me to reflect on prophetic preaching, conversations, and action. I am reading these days from the book of the Hebrew prophet Jeremiah. I am asking the Spirit to reveal what it means to live prophetically in a troubled time. The first chapter serves as an introduction to the prophet and his social situation. There are some profound themes for Christian leaders and church members.

 

  • The prophet served God during a period in which his nation was in moral and social decline. He would witness the defeat of Jerusalem and the forced exile of thousands of leading people.
  • God gives him a message for the nations. His words had meaning for the complex context of his country and the regional empires surrounding Judah.
  • There would be resistance from high places. He would need courage and faith. There is a sober warning in his calling. “Tell them everything I command you. Hold nothing back. If you break before them, I will break you.”
  • The prophetic task involves destroying ideologies and narratives of national security. However, Jeremiah must also build with a new vision. He is more than a social critic. The prophet must point the way forward to a better future.

 

I will leave it up to my readers to prayerfully consider these themes for our time and circumstances. There is no doubt that we need prophetic voices in our countries and churches. Pastors must make the choice between being chaplains or prophets. The challenge is that there will be a cost if we are called to be prophets of God to our people.

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Famine or Feast

Famine or Feast

We have become complacent with global hunger. This was the conclusion of Amartya Sen, Nobel prize winning economist and Cambridge scholar. Sen wondered how the world seemed to have an easy tolerance for hunger.

 

Last week I spoke on global hunger at an event called Famine or Feast in Vancouver. I used four numbers as a means to gain insight into hunger and under nutrition in our world.

 

Nine: One in nine people in the world is hungry. These people have gone 12 months with insufficient daily kilocalories for even a sedentary lifestyle. There is also the factor of hidden hunger. Two billion people suffer from a serious lack of micro nutrients like Vitamin D. In Canada, over 800 thousand people a month depend on food banks.

 

Seventy: Seventy percent of hungry people, men, women, and children, live in rural areas where food is produced. These people are poor. Some are landless. They feel the impact of climate change in tropical and semi tropical countries.

 

Eighty: Eighty percent of the produce consumed in Africa and Asia comes from small farms. Farmers with small landholdings play a critical role in feeding the world’s expanding population.

 

Twenty-five: There has been a twenty-five year decline in development assistance to agriculture. This is surprising because the World Bank has shown that assistance to agriculture has the greatest impact on the economies of developing countries. Here in Canada, our government has reduced foreign aid to agriculture by 25% since 2010-2011.

 

Our scriptural tradition addresses hunger and food in deep ways. Jesus called himself the bread of life in John’s Gospel. We nourish our lives and find strength for our journeys through faith in him. Jesus pronounced a blessing on those that hunger and thirst for righteousness. Our longings for mercy, justice, and righteousness begin to find their fulfillment as we follow Jesus into a broken world of violence and disparity. Jesus called on his followers to share their tables with the poor. He was concerned for people that were hungry and isolated in their communities. He wanted his disciples to take action on their behalf.

 

One action we can take is to advocate to our governments for greater assistance to farmers with small landholdings in the global south. This can be a prophetic act of speaking for the poor. I recommend two websites for further information:

www.unbendthetrend.ca

www.foodgrainsbank.ca

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