Reflection on Hope

Offered by Harrisburg PA IPL chair, Rachel Mark, and member congregation Unitarian Church of Harrisburg, 12/31/17

On the subject of hope, I pondered what I thought about it and how I personally relate to it. If you know me, then you would assume I was going to make a climate change connection. But everyone has heard that before. So I thought about how hope ties in to world peace, how hope relates to equality, and how it relates to any number of social justice issues. However, for me hope is deeply connected, not just with aspiration, but with action. So yes I did indeed come back to climate change.

On October 16, when I traveled to the small Susquehanna River town of Columbia in Lancaster County, with intrepid UCH member Barbara Van Horn [photo and article], I did not have a preconceived notion of what I intended to do that day. I only knew I wanted to be present with a group of people who over the course of several weeks, had inspired me with their stories, their vision and their determination. As we gathered that morning and listened to instructions, options, and possible consequences of civil disobedience, it became clear to me that I needed to stand with those in the “no trespass zone”, in the way of pipeline construction, and to risk arrest.

I felt a deep resolve to stand in support of new and old friends, who were committed to taking action against an injustice to their land and neighbors, an injustice to their children, an injustice to the climate. With this community, I have now shared a prison cell, sang songs, stood in the rain, and froze our butts, all of which has restored my energy and hope. I have discovered that where there is resolve, where there are still options and choices to be made, there is hope.

Active hope, in community with others, seems to me the healthiest and perhaps only sane way to live in the face of an uncertain and daunting future. Daunting, not just in terms of climate change, but in terms of our democracy and civilization.

Several days ago in my email box, there was a short message written by a writer familiar to many UU’s. Rebecca Solnit is an American writer whose book A Paradise Built in Hell was read by many UU circles. The email message read:

Dear Rachel,

It’s a race. And you’re in it; it’s your race too, to win or lose.

A race between the increasingly ominous news about how the climate is changing and the extraordinary measures being taken to slow that change and transform our society. That’s one of the challenges of this moment: to feel the despair and the hope, both, together. And then to choose hope.

Hope doesn’t mean pretending that climate change doesn’t exist or that we can erase it. It means we can fight for the best outcome instead of settle for the worst.

Leonard Higgins, a Unitarian Universalist from Oregon, has been convicted and faces sentencing for his involvement in pipeline action. Leonard was one of five activists, so-called Valve Turners, who turned the valves on pipelines in four northwestern states, and halted the flow of petroleum for one day. Leonard faces a prison term of up to ten years.

About hope, I think I most resonate with Emily, another one of the five valve turners. She says, “to be honest, I’m not sure what I hope for, except that humans can be as loving and sane and brave as possible in the coming decades—to each other, to the world. I look into the future, sometimes to think about how life might start to reestablish something like the abundance and magic that’s here now. “

Hope is the opposite of resignation, of giving up. It is about resolve, about looking for those actions that work to bring about our vision.

To further quote Rebecca Solnit in her book Hope in the Dark:

“Hope means another world might be possible, not promised, not guaranteed. Hope calls for action. To hope is to give yourself to the future. Anything could happen and whether we act or not has everything to do with it. I want to start over, with an imagination adequate to the possibilities, the strangeness and the dangers on this earth in this moment.”

As long as there are visions, options, and further actions to be done, there is room for action—and hope.

—Rachel Mark

More about the site and history of the pipeline protests in rural Lancaster County here. The Adorers of the Blood of Christ have been leaders, as have Lancaster Against Pipelines, which is led by a Mennonite clergyperson.

Rachel appears in a photo at the Day 5 verse (that’s the Golden Rings one) of a fun 12 Days of Christmas rewrite by Lancaster Against Pipelines.

Thanksgiving.

Republished email, sent Nov. 21, 2017.  Get added to our mailing list!  

Thanksgiving is our shared national holy day.  It is fitting that it is rooted in gratitude —a practice that grounds all of our faith traditions.  Refocusing ourselves there can help us drink in all that is good about this time of gathering, even as we hold and seek healing for the close-in aches of illness, loneliness, or challenging relationships and wider-circle aches of wounded communities and ecosystems that can can be especially visible in contrast.  Thanksgiving is a day when these things are juxtaposed: the bounty of the harvest, the voice of an old friend or beloved, the holes where things are not whole, and the spaces where the commercial world is banging at the door to chase us from gratitude and to acquisition.*

We invite you to join PA IPL around the table this week, too.  Enjoy your food.  Eat all the leftovers.  Then also hold a few moments or hours to get out into the slanting light of November. Go slowly.  Breathe deeply — we’re breathing with you.  Feel the solid ground holding you up.  Savor one small specific moment and share it with us, via email or on our Facebook page.  Perhaps you will make something beautiful.  Perhaps you will clear a little space for a native plant to breathe.  Perhaps you will heal a small corner of a place.  Or bless the grass.  Or laugh at an active squirrel.  When you come back indoors, share the moment, however you wish to do so — a photo, a sketch, songs or poems that you sing, or read, or write, or maybe even a 6-word story.

(The photo we’ve shared here is a grand sweep rather than a small moment.  It was taken just a few weeks ago by the Rev. John Creasy, a member of our Board, on the farm he manages on a hillside directly below a water tower right in Pittsburgh —  a gift as he was working on the harvest.)

For those of you looking for prayers of harvest or thanksgiving, in a past year we gathered a good group still collected here.  Extend the season of gratitude by printing or forwarding them, and reach for a new one each day before a meal, or as you return home.  Looking for tools for conversations instead?  We collected a few of those in a previous year, too, and just today ran into this piece about a longtime skeptic changing his mind.

*Those who were able to attend our 2017 Annual Conference got a beautiful glimpse of shared practices in the work of Joanna Macy, who always begins with gratitude. A conference statement from the program book introduces one part of her work.  More is available at The Work that Reconnects and we’d be happy to connect you with one of the many talented folks in our networks who has studied with Joanna Macy to help design a workshop in your neck of the woods.  Just ask!

A Jewish Teaching on Esau’s Birthright and Climate Action

On November 15, 2015, Board Member Susan Frant offered the following d’var (sermon) at a board meeting of Congregation Beth David in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania. The Torah portion for that week was Toldot, Genesis 25:19-28:9. In Susan’s teaching, she focuses on Genesis 25:27-34, which centers on Esau spurning his birthright. How does this relate to climate disruption and our need to act? Read on to find out.

Beth David logoWhen Isaac’s twins grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the outdoors; but Jacob was a mild man, who stayed in camp. Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the open, famished. Many translate this as “tired” or “exhausted,” not “famished.” And Esau said to Jacob, “Give me some of that red stuff to gulp down, for I am” tired. Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” So he sold his birthright to Jacob. Jacob then gave Esau bread and lentil stew; and he ate and drank, and he rose and went away. Thus did Esau spurn the birthright. (Genesis 25:27-34)

Certainly there were benefits associated with the birthright, but there were also responsibilities. From Rashi we learn that Esau’s exhaustion is more spiritual than physical. He is tired of the obligations of family life, tired of the responsibilities associated with Jewish living, and weary of the limitations placed on him daily by his pledge to the future. Would it not be easier simply to ignore tomorrow and live only for today? And so, with the stew as collateral, Esau abandons his future.

Many commentaries point out that Torah admonishes us not to live exclusively for the moment lest we forget that tomorrow will bring new challenges and new blessings. The Torah portion Toldot highlights the struggle between this instant and the thousands of tomorrows that follow.

I relate this Torah portion to the very serious issue of climate disruption where birthright is a sustainable, livable—that is, inhabitable, G-d given planet. Related to this we could talk about farmers who allow fracking to “save the farm” when fracking leads to contaminated water and earthquakes. We could cite drivers who buy gas guzzling vehicles when driving them leads to an increase in greenhouse gasses that contributes to climate disruption. We could point to eating red meat where it was reported in 2012, that the world’s 1.5 billion cattle contributed nearly 18% of all greenhouse gases, more than cars, planes and all other transportation put together. We could talk about powering our digital, electronic world with fossil fuels where wind and solar power do not emit greenhouse gasses and therefore, the total cost to humankind is much less than burning fossil fuel.  We could go on. But I won’t.

Rather, let me conclude by asking you to raise your hand if you believe you are a contributing member of the society. Look around. We are the people that are referred to in the statement that says: we are the FIRST generations to witness and feel the effects of climate disruption AND the LAST generations to be able to take actions that will have a significant impact on mitigating the magnitude of what is to come. Let me repeat: the first to witness the effects and the last to be able to take significant action.

I hope when our children or grandchildren ask what we did to change the trajectory of global climate disruption, to preserve their birthright of a sustainable, livable, beautiful G-d given world, I hope our answer doesn’t include that we were busy eating stew!   Thank you.

___________________________

Things to read and to watch:

This Changes Everything* by Naomi Klein

The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Colbert

Merchants of Doubt* by Eric M Conway and Naomi Oreskes

Laudato Si by Pope Francis**

*also a movie

**on YouTube

8 Days of Hanukkah, my True Love said to me:

“Please Heal My Earth”

 image source
image source

This year, Christmas and Hanukkah converge for the first time in nearly four decades.  Both Christians and Jews will light lights in the darkness tonight, on December 24.  Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center suggests a re-visioning of the menorah as a symbol of our ability to do all of what we need with only 1/8th of what we thought we needed, and suggests eight days of actions which we all can embrace.  Let them inspire you to action, whether these very actions, or some others, rooted in your own faith, wisdom, and traditions.  Reb Arthur: 


Hanukkah brings with it again this year three crucial teachings about healing our Mother Earth from the ravages of global scorching.

The Green Menorah, a Tree of Light that is a fusion of human craft and Earth’s growth. On this Shabbat we read the Prophetic passage from Zechariah (2:14 to 4: 12) that emplaces the Temple Menorah as part of a tiny forest of olive trees that give forth their oil straight into the Menorah.

We breathe in what these Trees of Light breathe out; they breathe in what we breathe out. We Continue reading 8 Days of Hanukkah, my True Love said to me:

Compost: The Story of the Heap at St. Martin-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church

Collaboratively written as the Heap completed its first year, by PA IPL members, Barbara Granger of Tikkun Olam Chavurah , Northeast Philadelphia, and Greg Williams, PA IPL board member, formerly of St. Martin’s, now finding a new church home in Central PA.
VIDEO at the end of this post!

While one parishioner was the spark at St. Martin-in-the-Fields, located in the Chestnut Hill NW section of Philadelphia; there was significant tinder within the church community to help composting become an everyday part of church life. After exploration and planning for a compost heap, the combined efforts of the Wednesday Community Supper volunteers, the enthusiastic support of the Treble Choir and their choirmaster, the Church’s Climate Action Team, and the Rector, who was already composting for his garden, initiated an experience of direct action building a compost pile as one part of the church’s efforts to “go green.”

composter-3-bin-2The first step was to make use of the Wednesday night Community Supper (open to the community) near Earth Day (2015) where attendees learned of a new plan — to use the materials and left overs of the evening supper for composting as a celebration of Earth Day. The compost materials from that night would be brought to a local farm used to educate school students. Children from the “Treble Choir” sang at an Evensong before this dinner calling for donations which they determined would go to help an environmental concern about elephants in Africa. Attendees wondered why Supper was using paper plates. Learning that the dishwasher was out of commission, a volunteer from the parish stepped forward to fix it so that dishes could be used (less trash), thus more “green.” It was a great start.

composter-finished composter-finished-2Over the next several months there was planning among the parties of interest considering the many ways that ongoing composting could work at St. Martins and how to put it into action. A machinist from the community volunteered to design and build a compost container  made up of 3 bins. That is, composting materials are collected, then turned every 3 months – bin 1-1st collection; bin 2 first turnover; bin 3 second turnover; next 3 months take compost from bin 3 and make use in gardens and all that grows around your area.

compost-heap-blessingIn October at the equinox, the first bin was initiated. A celebration, playfully called The Blessing of the Heap,  took place. It included the Treble Choir, special prayers, and incense and holy water. This celebration was videotaped and can be viewed here. The initiation of these compost bins on church grounds began to have an effect on other aspects of the church’s everyday life. For example, the church staff collected their lunch scraps the valuable coffee grounds, and the sextant, who was initially skeptical, contributed grass cuttings and leaves providing critical nitrogen sources. 

People had to learn the practicalities of maintaining the “heap” which meant learning what was in and what was out.  The Wednesday night community supper attendees had to learn how to scrape their plates – that is, left over veggies yes, left over chicken no. There was greater interest in the community suppers where initially there were more women involved in “cooking for the community,” now there were some men stepping up after experiencing the larger mission of these community events. 

In March, there was the next turning, and then this past summer (2016)  the first batch of fully matured compost materials went into the rector’s corn and pumpkin garden outside the rectory. Some found their way to the street trees planted the previous Spring as part of Earth Day Fortnight 2016 celebrations. The practical implications of this one decision to have a compost heap has generated creative spiritual and broad educational experiences concerning “going green” and the personal responsibility we can do to take care of our Earth.

Postscript – Fall of 2016 – As happens in churches, time has passed, the leader who provided the spark that began the composting program has moved, but the heap remains. Composting is still a part of the staff’s every day life. Composting still happens at Supper. New leadership will hopefully emerge to keep the composting fire going and vibrant while they also move on to considering solar panels, weatherizing the church, etc. 

Part 1: Intro to the wonders of composting and the Decomposition Hymn (found at 1:45)

Blessing of the Heap by the Rev. Jarrett Kerbel, using texts from the Book of Common Prayer

Why PAIPL?

johnbechtelFor new readers, we are one of 40 state chapters of Interfaith Power & Light (IPL).  While we have four related purposes, for me our primary mission is to mobilize all people of faith who feel an urgent moral duty to reverse the trend of climate change.

PA IPL is a fledgling. Born in 2010, we were under the wing of a “parent” until August 2013, when stand-alone non-profit status was secured from the IRS.  Our membership, budget, and staff are still small — small enough that your donation, participation, and membership matter.

We aim to grow tall and run fast, before we all run out of climate time.

My involvement began in 2012 as a member of the Finance Committee. Now I’m a newbie on the Board. In that capacity, I am sort of the self-anointed point guy to expand and diversify our presence in my region of our state.

I have lived in south central PA since 1974.  I know only too well that the topic of climate justice is still a hot potato in most church settings around here.  Yet at the same time, I sense that in our churches today a growing body of younger members want to break the silence on the subject, but are at a loss on how to do so in a spirit of shalom.  That’s the dilemma and the demographic I’ve been thinking about a great deal lately.

Soon I hope to introduce PA IPL’s cause to a “green justice” leadership group, at the Conference level of a leading denomination of our region.  These faith leaders in turn will know the best way to interpret PA IPL to their churches and recruit the “climate justice converts” of those churches to lend their voices and hands to our work.  So far, so good; we are knocking on the door.

But what happens when the door swings open?  What will PA IPL offer to this faith group?  What value can we add to their good work so far?  What might they accomplish, in mutual ministry with us, which could not be done without us?

The scope of the answer may surprise you, but here’s how I see it: PA IPL offers all of us the unique chance to get in on the ground floor in the making of a moral movement.

Movements rise on four wings:

1. Steeplechasers, not Sprinters
It took King, Abernathy, and Rosa Parks 11 years (1954–1965) to end legal segregation. Gandhi, Nehru and Patel needed 17 years (1930 -1947) from the salt march to the end of the British Raj. We at PA IPL are here for the long haul. We know that God may be slow, but is never late.

2. Youth, not Age
Rosa Parks was 31 in 1954. King was only 25. Nehru was 41 in 1930. Gandhi and Patel were older, but you see the point: we need Barb Donninis and Cricket Hunters more than John Bechtels in order to make the movement grow.

3. The Faithful, not the Faint-hearted
Mother Teresa was once challenged in a friendly way by a U.S. Senator, who asked how her good work could possibly make a difference in a place like India, where the needs are so great. She replied, “Well, Senator, we’re not always called to be successful, but we’re always called to be faithful”. I doubt Rosa Parks had success in mind when she took a seat in the front of that bus in 1954.

4. Pacemakers as well as Peacemakers
You may have to sit down in the front of the bus. You may have to stand up and march to the sea. You may have to divest certain stocks from your portfolio, as the United Church of Christ church body has formally called upon its members to do. You may have to take a public stand, in a visible action in Philadelphia  during Holy Week and Passover, as a  group of PA IPL leaders feel called to do.

Building a movement calls first for architects, then for artisans. The founders of PA IPL put us on our feet in record time.  Now it’s time to march.  Gandhi and Nehru got “Swaraj” going in the 1930s; but Patel’s the one who got it running.  We are now at that next stage.

One “Patel” who is worth all of the Darjeeling tea of India is the Rev. Dr. William Barber, the heart of the “Moral Monday” Movement in North Carolina. Here is what Rev. Barber recently had to say about the staying power of movements (and why Barb Donnini and Cricket Hunter roar):

“Every movement in America that has made a significant impact has had a deep moral framework. The fight against slavery had a moral center. The fight for labor right had a deep moral center. In the fight for women’s suffrage, one of its leaders, Sojourner Truth, emphasized herself to be in God when she said in her famous speech “Ain’t I a Woman?”: “Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with him.” All these movements drew on the interconnected tenets of faith, righteousness and justice. “

We do not strive for climate justice because it’s the smart, profitable or popular thing to do. We strive for climate justice here in Pennsylvania, as Rev. Barber strives for social justice down in North Carolina, because it’s the right, the moral, the holy thing to do. We feel a moral and holy duty to be here, and we aim to stay here, until the good work is done.