profile and sermon: Chelsea Jackson — Climate Change, Faith, Challenge, and Transformation

Chelsea Jacksonphoto credit- Nori TadanoWith this post we are pleased to introduce you to Chelsea Jackson, who has begun working with PA IPL as a short-term Project Coordinator, supporting constituents who are raising hopes and concerns about  clean energy, climate change and the health of our Common Home with their legislators at Town Halls during the August Congressional Recess.

Chelsea writes “For the past four years I have served as an assistant pastor at a United Methodist Church in New Jersey, where I worked diligently to center faith-rooted conversation about climate change, and encourage the congregation I was serving to help protect the environment.  Earth care inspired many of the sermons I wrote, trips I planned and the two community Eco-Art Shows I created and curated.  As a person of faith I believe there to be a direct connection to how people view God and how they treat all of Creation, and I continuously tried to help my congregation see and make those connections for themselves.  Therefore, to understand me as a person of faith who clings tightly to Earth care, it may be easiest for you to dive into one of my sermons.  Below are excerpts of a sermon I wrote for the 2015 Interfaith Power & Light Preach-In.  The sermon was met with both thankfulness and angry outbursts.  Still: the most important thing was that it felt like a spirit-gifted message that needed to be said.  Please enjoy:

It’s no secret the Christian and Jewish Scriptures begin with the creation of the world, this ordering of Chaos into water and earth, light and dark, human and non-human creatures, and it is this Creation as a collective whole, that God deems ‘very good.’

The early Genesis story, along with countless other Bible passages, reveals that God is in relationship with the Earth itself, and often cloaks God’s-self with the Earth when interacting with humans.  For example, we see God emerge in fire, in a windstorm, a burning bush, as light or at the top of a mountain.  In these instances, as in so many others, it’s as if the Earth is a form of God’s expression; like a piece of art, and we often look at art as a part of the artist who made it.  We understand a painting isn’t the actual artist, but is rather an extension of who they are.  An imprint of the artist is in the art s/he creates, that is part of what makes it so beautiful and powerful.

What if it was the same with God?  What if we looked at not only humans, but also the Earth, as made in the image of God, as an extension of God’s-self?  How would we treat the Earth differently?

Would it change how often I drive my car?  How I use energy in my house?  Would it change how I interact with politics or how I raise my children?

Would it change how I act as a consumer?  Where I buy from?  How much I buy?  I mean everything we buy was at one time part of the natural Earth in some way; part of the original artwork of God.  And though using the Earth for provision is indeed necessary for our survival, when does production or consumption become empty of purpose, empty of thoughtfulness or meaning?

Eco-Art show installed at (1)If we dig deeper, recognizing God’s imprint on Creation would influence how we eat.  The most intimate way we interact with the Earth is how we use it to nourish ourselves; how we partake in, and literally internalize its provision.  That’s why it is so important to learn where our food comes from, and how both our plant and animal based food is raised.  Is it done in a humane, safe way that recognizes God’s artistry, or is it disrespectful and even damaging to the original work of art?

One of my professors really brought this point home when she talked about Communion and asked what it meant to partake in the body and blood of Christ when the grain was grown with pesticides or the grapes were farmed by someone who did not receive a fair wage?  How does it change the meaning of this sacrament meant to be loving and liberating?

These are all important and very difficult questions.  And when faced with them we can respond in a variety of ways.

1. We can become defensive:
When faced with the reality of climate change and all the ways poor environmental practices permeate our lives, we can automatically list off reasons why we can’t change our interaction with the Earth, including: “changing the way we do things is too hard,” “it would mess up the economy,” “climate change isn’t that serious and won’t affect us much in the U.S.”

All of these claims are not only false, they also ignore the larger issues at hand.  The fact is that real change is not a luxury at this point, we must change if we want to ensure survival for even generations 100 years down the road.

But even if we don’t want to focus on the impact of climate change on the future, another problem remains; treating climate change as a non-pressing issue means denying the reality, humanity, dignity and worth of the individuals and communities being affected right now.  The island communities forced to migrate due to the rise of sea levels, communities of color experiencing environmental racism, farmers across the globe and here in the U.S enduring drought and crop loss, these people matter, and choosing not to see and respond to climate change undermines their worth and demonstrates a privilege not all people have.  We must do more than sit in our complacency or act out of defensiveness.

2. We become stuck:
When we do recognize the gravity of climate change we can quickly become overwhelmed or fall into despair. Faced with the enormity of the problem, the high stakes and the difficult road ahead we may feel hopeless, and wonder what’s the point of trying to fix this massive problem.

In these instances we must support each other and keep moving forward, because giving up would lead to the same place as becoming overly defensive, nowhere.  So if you find yourself overwhelmed by the enormity of climate change, its threat or the complex solutions needed to address it, take a moment to practice self-care and reframe.  In the midst of such discouragement and burden, give yourself a little slack, know you are not alone, find others who are also practicing Earth care, and then get back up and keep going.

3. We seek change:
When we know the problem and are committed to facing it, we can then seek education, resources and opportunities that help us move toward a greater future.  When we learn about how our daily lives and our social systems contribute to the problem, without getting caught up in guilt, we can adapt.  We can make sacrifices, and give up a little of our own learned comfort and convenience for the betterment of the Earth, future generations and ultimately ourselves.  We can challenge our culture of convenience and consumerism and set higher standards for how we engage with the Earth as a society, nation and world.2015 Panel discussing Pope Francis' encyclical Laudato Si'

This type of change, change of heart, mind, self and society is the responsible choice, the moral response, and the option that recognizes God’s fingerprint on all of Creation and treats Creation as if it is God’s own art.  This is the choice we are called to make.

Each of these responses marks a milestone, a different place on the process of growth as we navigate Earth care.  And though we may experience each response, we mustn’t remain stuck in response one or two, we have to keep moving through our defensiveness and despair.  We have to act and transform.

That’s what we see in Mark 9:2-9 , as the disciples are called to move and grow.  In Mark 9 Jesus calls Peter, James and John to follow him up the mountain, and as soon as they witness the miracle of the transfiguration, this glimpse into who Jesus really is, they want to stay and build a booth (important in Jewish Festival tradition) so they could stay.  Despite what they had seen, they still didn’t quite get it, they didn’t yet know who Jesus really was, nor did they understand that they and Jesus had to return from atop the mountain.  They couldn’t stay, they had to continue on, using what they learned to continue growing and moving forward.

In this passage we are reminded of the temptation and the danger in remaining stagnant and complacent, and catch a glimpse of the good news and yes, the difficult transformation we risk missing, when we stop seeking and using knowledge that is given to us.

This is something that many of us may find challenging, seeking knowledge even when it is inconvenient, because such knowledge would require deep change and transformation.  Acknowledging that the Earth’s temperatures are rising, ecosystems are deteriorating and our consumeristic culture calls for more production and energy use than the Earth can handle, would mean real change if we were to take our responsibility to God, the Earth and future generations seriously.

And history is riddled with stories of people and cultures who continued walking down roads of destruction refusing to recognize the red flags and be proactively transformed.  But Christianity, Christianity is built on transformation.

Transformation is how Christians understand their story.  We believe in a God who transformed God’s very self to be human, to be a physical part of Creation, so that Creation will know love and will be transformed.  We believe in a God who took on the fragility of Creation so woman and man, plant and animal, lion and lamb may all experience a new heaven and Earth.

If anything, Jesus reveals this deep connection with the physical world, this imprint God has embedded within Creation.  Meaning, that if God is imprinted in the art of Creation, then when the Earth is in pain, when it cries, God cries too.  Viewed in this way, we are not called to haphazardly use the Earth, we are called to care for it, to co-create, responsibly and constructively with God, who is the ultimate artist.

10497052_10203247407404693_858250942722739004_oWe must continue to move forward, understanding that we can no longer veil ourselves to the realities at hand, but instead must look around, face the knowledge and reality at hand, so we don’t remain stubbornly rooted in one place of comfort, like the three disciples on the mountain were tempted to do.  Instead we must constantly be willing to move, to grow, to learn and to work, so that those humans and nonhuman creatures who follow us have the same opportunity, the same right to live on a planet of divine beauty, presence and provision that we were given.

I invite you all to join me, and PA IPL, as we work to care for the Earth.  I look forward to working with you all as we learn and grow together.

In Peace,
Chelsea Jackson
Explore more of Chelsea’s projects and writings on her website.