Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Devotional for Third Sunday of Lent

 Third Sunday Devotional 

Now the company of prophets said to Elisha, “As you see, the place where we live under your charge is too small for us. Let us go to the Jordan, and let us collect logs there, one for each of us, and build a place there for us to live.” He answered, “Do so.” Then one of them said, “Please come with your servants.” And he answered, “I will.” So he went with them. When they came to the Jordan, they cut down trees. But as one was felling a log, his ax head fell into the water; he cried out, “Alas, master! It was borrowed.” Then the man of God said, “Where did it fall?” When he showed him the place, he cut off a stick, and threw it in there, and made the iron float. He said, “Pick it up.” So, he reached out his hand and took it. 2 Kings 6:1-7


Photo Credit: courtesy of Crosby Palmer

On July 4th, 2019, I supervised residential campers on a special trip to watch fireworks from the field of a nearby ski slope. As the show ended and the darkness of the night sky settled once more, a camper announced he lost his retainer. There was a brief moment of panic before a voice bellowed, “let’s line up like the search and rescue teams do in the movies and scan the area!” Shoulder to shoulder campers and staff moved in sync searching for a clear retainer lost in an expansive field in the cover of night. It felt hopeless. Miraculously, however, the retainer was found. 

Miracles take our collective participation. Elisha didn’t retrieve the sunken axe head on his own - he invited his companion to assist in the miracle of a floating piece of iron. The companion responded to the invitation and reached out to retrieve the borrowed tool. I wonder what could happen if we had hoped an axe head could float or a retainer could be found. In a period where we increasingly long for the good news of Easter, what would it look like to practice hope by living in Christ’s footprints? What if we truly believed Earth can be as it is in Heaven - not as a truth in the distant future, but as a reality in the here and now? What if we responded to the invitation to collectively participate in miracles of care for creation?

When I walk the trails of North Carolina’s high country, I witness the snapping of Beech trees. I mourn this species that will soon be extinct from an unstoppable, deadly fungus and bug combination. Yet, I hold faith in the open canopy, and I hope in the invitation for new foliage to grow. I spread new seeds, and I know the fallen trees, the lost retainer, and the sunken axe head are not the last words. 

Prayer
God, Earth. Loss. Suffering. Longing. Chaos. Mystery. Hope. Change. Miracles. As it is in Heaven.
Amen


Crosby Palmer is an Austin College and Vanderbilt Divinity School alum who now works as Program Director at Holston Presbytery Camp and Retreat Center. Located in Banner Elk, NC, Crosby and their dog Turtle enjoy camping, hiking, rock-climbing, gardening, and playing capture the flag in the beautiful southern-Appalachian Mountains.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Devotional for Second Sunday of Lent

 Second Sunday Devotional 

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. 
Colossians 1:15-20

High on the mountainside about 10,000 feet above sea-level, we climbed steadily upward. The top of Mt. Wheeler loomed above, a sheer face dropping down toward a glacier and the talus slope of a glacier moraine. Before long, occasional gnarled trees appeared, bleached white or gray because of the wind. We had reached a forest of bristlecone pine, the oldest living things on earth dating back 4,500 years. The oldest grow in the harshest of conditions, forced by wind and water to grow slowly with a density of wood that resists invading disease. Tenacious trees.

Photo Credit: courtesy of Rick Goldwaser; Wikimedia Commons


We stopped near a tree. A fellow hiker paused as well, staring at the tree. Before long he reached out to touch the weathered wood, and exclaimed, “This tree was living when Jesus lived. Can you imagine that?” I thought about those trees. How old were they before the first human ever touched them? How long were they here converting carbon dioxide back into oxygen before the first human breathed in that oxygen? Here was a living tree whose life spanned centuries. I felt in the presence of something holy, enduring, and precious to God.

Modern science teaches us that each time we breathe, we inhale billions of oxygen molecules. In fact, these molecules have entered the lungs of every one of the 150 billion human beings and billions of animals who have ever lived. And the molecules we breathe in now will find their way into all the humans and other animals yet to come. Same air, same molecules. This natural, physical act reminds us that we exist in a miraculous, interdependent web of life created by God connecting us to God, to each other, to all of creation, now and over time.

This Lent as we reflect, discern, and reset our spiritual and moral compasses, take time to become mindful of your breathing. It will lead you to honor what God has done, and embrace God’s promise of what is to come.

Prayer
Creator, this Lenten season, open our eyes to the injustices around us. May we begin to build the foundation for a world that is honoring and pleasing to you. — one that removes fear and values everyone. Amen


For more than three decades, Rev. Bill Somplatsky-Jarman served the church in social witness ministries and as the first national staff for environmental issues. He represented the PCUSA at the Rio Earth Summit, and has attended all but one of the UN climate negotiations since 1995. Now retired in the red rock canyon country of southern Utah, he continues to serve on the World Council of Churches Climate Change Steering Committee.






Friday, February 19, 2021

Devotional for First Sunday of Lent

 First Sunday Devotional 

By the sweat of your face
You will eat bread,
Till you return to the ground,
Because from it you were taken;
For you are dust,
And to dust you shall return.
Genesis 3:19

We have been reminded this year that we are dust. Our frailty, our mortality, has felt so visceral and clear over the past 12 months. We have lived in the uncertainty of the unknown, suffered the pain of loss, and struggled with our own lack of answers. We have felt fragile, and the world has felt beyond our control.

And yet, I remind myself: COVID-19 is organic, it is evolution, and it is creation. The same breath that transmits this virus is the breath I have learned to think of as Spirit: ruach, pneuma, the same breath that moved over the waters in Genesis. The Spirit moves, even as we cover our mouths and noses to protect ourselves from a virus we struggle to understand.

 


Scripture tells us that we are dust, and to dust we shall return. The dust that greets my face on the wind during one of our gusty New Mexican spring days is the same dust to which I am intrinsically connected. Our relationship with creation cannot be separated, even as we struggle to understand how to be in relationship with a virus that seems to have no conscience.

I’m not sure how we begin to live in this creation in a new way. We have become accustomed to controlling--perhaps even conquering--nature, and this recent loss of control is scary and has resulted in so much pain and loss. Yet, when the book of Revelation talks about a “new heaven, and a new earth,” I wonder if this is our invitation into a new relationship with creation around us. Creation is a part of us, and we are a part of it. We cannot continue to live as if we are separate.

Prayer
Almighty God, Spirit moving around us, draw us into right relationship with creation. Give us eyes to see and ears to hear you calling us into the dust. Amen.

Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Luke Rembold is an avid hiker and explorer who seeks the beauty in God’s creation. Luke credits a year as a PC(USA) Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) in Tucson, AZ, for molding his call to ministry. He currently serves as the Youth and Young Adult Ministry Coordinator for the Presbytery of Santa Fe, guiding the Albuquerque site of the YAV program and supporting youth leaders in the vital work of youth ministry.

Photo courtesy of Luke Rembold

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Ash Wednesday by Rev. Rebecca Barnes

 

Ash Wednesday Devotional 

Today we bear a mark, the smudge of ashes, on our foreheads or hands.

Many of us grew up with an unappealing notion of “dirt.” Visible dirt smudged on our skin might be unfavorable. As a slang word for soil, dirt has a lot of negative connotations. Someone might be called “dirt” as a hurtful term about their essential worth. Being “dirty” means one must clean one’s self before being admitted into proper company. Or, alternatively, being “dirty” could be used to convey a spiritual or moral uncleanness. Dirt is associated with impropriety at best and shame at worst.

Shame is different than guilt. Guilt is related to having enacted a particular harmful behavior. Shame meanwhile is more about one’s essence, worth or deeper value. Being ashamed is different than being humble. Shame can impact one’s ability to keep and maintain relationships, work, and purpose. Shame can create great harm in a person’s life and in our world. Ashes should not be a mark of shame, but rather a mark of humility.

Humility is about knowing one’s right proportion in comparison to other things. Humility is not a rejection of self but a sense of the larger universe and of God’s presence. We are a part of something, even if only a small part. We are claiming we are earthy dirty, and connected to creation—which is actually a beautiful thing rather than a terrible thing.

Humility can be a relief, if we let it be. Being made from ash and returned to ash at the end of our earthly existence, we have an empowering and invigorating connection with God and God’s creation. It’s a reminder that the world’s problems aren’t all up to us, even if they depend on each of our contributions to make things better. God is in our midst.

In Revelation we look to a new heaven and a new earth, but not because we are shameful dirt that needs redemption. We look to a new heaven and new earth because being part of creation, we affirm that this world isn’t yet what God desires it to be. With humility, we mark ourselves with ash and commit ourselves to humble action. And even if we are unable to receive the imposition of ashes this year because of the continuing pandemic, we can always mark our hearts in its place. No matter how we choose to mark ourselves this year, by doing so we draw closer to the creation and to our Creator.

Prayer
Creator, this Lenten season, open our eyes to the injustices around us. May we begin to build the foundation for a world that is honoring and pleasing to you.—one that removes fear and values everyone. Amen.

Rev. Rebecca Barnes is the Coordinator for the Presbyterian Hunger Program.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Lent Devotional Introduction

Introduction to PEC's Lenten Devotional 

Revelations 21:1-4

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”


I remember the beginning of the 2020 Lenten season quite clearly. This was my first Lent as a seminary student, and the school was abuzz with anticipation. Students were discussing amongst themselves about how they might channel this period of abstinence into impactful action. The chapel worship team excitedly invited students, faculty, and staff to join together for the Ash Wednesday service. Some students even hosted Mardi Gras parties (yes, more than one) on that Tuesday night complete with colorful beads and a plethora of sweets. I was excited to be in this space where Lent and Easter wouldn’t just be Sunday morning references, but events to be reminded of and look forward to daily. Little did I expect, however, that I, along with people the world over, would soon be giving up much more than I had bargained for. 


Over the course of several weeks last March and April, we watched as the world collectively entered into what was previously reserved for an episode of the Twilight Zone. The streets were largely empty, restaurants and churches closed, elbow bumps and quick waves replaced handshakes and hugs, and people began hoarding toilet paper and hand sanitizer. As the weeks went on, we all watched as violence against our Black siblings sparked pent-up pandemic nerves to fuel social unrest and protests. Soon weeks became months, and masks became essential accessories, classrooms and church sanctuaries broadcasted from our computer screens, and political unrest took on a whole new meaning in our country on that fateful January 6th. Whether we like it or not, the world is a different place, and it has touched all of us. 


Considering all of the tension, changes, and sacrifices we have already had to make, it almost seems unnecessary to begin thinking about Lent once again. After all, what more do we have to give up? But let us not forget what the Lenten Season promises us: the culmination of Jesus’ earthly ministry in which he opens the doors and makes room for all of us in his Father’s house (John 14:2-3). Jesus promises us something new, a new way forward that leads to truth and life. Just as Lent is a commemoration of Jesus’ time in the wilderness (which might feel particularly apropos this year), this season is also reminder of Jesus’ promise for us, and a time to prepare ourselves for the new world Jesus brings with him. 


In Revelations 21:1-4, the scripture passage for this year’s devotional, John sees a vision of what Jesus promises. After visions of angels, plagues, and beasts, John witnesses the arrival of a new heaven and new earth to replace the old. This is a hallowed place marked as the home of God, free from all suffering, pain, and death. While ours is not paradise, we also see a new world around us marked with expectations and demands once largely unseen and unheard. We now have an opportunity to join in with the voices crying out for justice, mercy, and love, to join in the reimagining that is needed to build the new Jerusalem of our dreams. This reimagining is already taking place around us; in the face of isolation and violence, we have found new ways of building community, new networks of resiliency, and new understandings of how to better love one another and ourselves. 


Our work as stewards of God’s creation also requires us to imagine a new earth, to take back the land, water, and air away from polluting, extractive, and imperialist ways of viewing our home and neighbors and to create something sustainable, equitable, and compassionate in its place. The task ahead of us is colossal, but do not forget about the stories of environmental renewal that sprung up in the midst of the pandemic: fauna of all shapes and sizes returned to their old homes, cities recorded record-low levels of pollution, and people rediscovered the joy of gardening and cultivating the earth. Whether we work towards justice for our planet or for our neighbors, we have an opportunity now to embrace the new world around us. 


Whatever your Lenten practice might be this year, I pray that you will look to God for comfort and assurance in this ever-precarious world we find ourselves in. I pray also that you let the voices in this devotional move your heart, and to accept their invitation into joining in communion with all creation as we go forward. 


To the Glory of God,

Amen.


P.S. For those that did not know, 2020 was PEC’s 25th Anniversary. In commemoration of this momentous achievement, several of the writers in this devotional are past and present leaders of PEC ministries. Thank you so much to everyone who has supported PEC’s work. May God continue to bless us for another 25 years!





Jonathan Lee
is a second year Masters of Divinity student at Yale Divinity School. Born and raised in Charlotte, North Carolina, Jonathan’s faith and love for God’s Creation were simultaneously cultivated during a time in the Maine woods. In addition to considering a career in ordained ministry, Jonathan is interested in environmental and Asian American theologies. He is currently serving as Presbyterians for Earth Care’s Programming and Learning Fellow.


Sacredness of Earth

 Seeking the Sacred in Each Other

Dear wise and generous people of PEC,

After Pope Francis shared Laudato Si in 2015, our congregation’s Social Justice Team gathered together several denominations in St. Joseph, Missouri, meeting monthly to work toward improved social, economic and environmental justice in our community. Our group was based on the Pope’s words ‘integral ecology’ - the interconnectedness of everything. Our ecumenical eco-justice group continues to gather (virtually) and has been influential in our community.

       

John Philip Newell, a pastor in the Church of Scotland, which has Presbyterian roots, reminds us to seek the sacred in each other, in all beings, in Earth herself. Seeing the sacredness of Earth is vital to our under-standing of who we are and how we interact as God’s children. Newell states that we lost that sacred understanding due to the influence of Empire. Losing that connection has caused huge harm to Earth and continues to be a factor in the multiple social injustices of today.

Thoughts for 2021:

  • Thanks to our PC(USA) connected system, there is a group of PEC folk teaming up with Presbyterian Hunger Program (PHP) folk who are appreciating an idea brought forward by Rev. Jed Koball, Mission Co-worker in Peru. You will hear more later, but for now, consider adding to your Creation Care donation list the Restoring Creation for Ecology and Justice Fund, E865715, which is associated with the PHP. This has been recently activated as a fund which will eventually be used for Eco-Reparations!
  • Carey Gillam, is an investigative reporter and a major player on the global scene reporting the devastating effects of glyphosate. She is an author, speaker and activist....and now research director of U.S. Right to Know! Check out her work! (She is a member of Village Pres in Kansas City, as was her father, also a stalwart eco-justice seeker.)
  • Consider pulling together an ecumenical environment group based on Laudato Si!
  • Consider as key words/phrases - connectivity, integration, seeking the sacred, positivity and gratitude. Blending these with compassionate activism, prophetic witness, and seeking equity are key to helping heal Earth and each other.

Continued wisdom and strength to you, people of PEC.

Keep the Light of Christ shining brightly!

Diane Waddell,
Past PEC Moderator

Diane Waddell, RN, MSN, is a retired integrative nurse practitioner.  She enjoyed her years as past moderator of PEC and as a past member of the Advisory Committee of the Presbyterian Hunger Program. She currently moderates an ecumenical, a city and a presbytery eco-justice group. She and her daughters own the Center for Justice, Outreach and Yoga (JOY) in St. Joseph, MO and enjoy sharing that sacred space with the local community (during non-Covid times!)

Photo of Ghost Ranch taken by Diane Waddell in October 2019


Thursday, January 21, 2021

Founding Member, Ecumenical Eco-Justice of Saint Joseph, Inc.

 Janet D. Storts

Founding Member, Ecumenical Eco-Justice of Saint Joseph, Inc.

I spent most of my working years employed by an international oil company. I worked in budget preparation and expense explanation, and I did not spend time thinking about how they were contributing to the climate problems we were beginning to experience. (I left the industry in the 1990s.)

Since then, the oil company for which I worked has put a lot of effort into rehabilitating its image and publicizing its commitment to the environment. But as a 2019 article in The Guardian stated, the company’s objective is to get the public to trust it, not to reduce its production of fossil fuels.

After I retired, I became friends with some environmental activists and got engaged in advocacy work in my community. I went back to school for an MA in Social Justice. I continue to grow in my awareness that all justice issues are interrelated. Climate change and environmental degradation disproportionately affects people who are marginalized in other ways, such as through poverty and racial discrimination. 

I have mixed feelings about whether the fossil fuel industry can reform itself. This may be a case where working from the inside is not possible and change will depend on those outside of the industry – including those that have left or retired. I do believe that whatever oil companies do to promote good environmental practices is worthwhile. Their motives do not negate the positive impact. Perhaps it will influence people who will then take up the cause. 


Born and reared in Tulsa, Oklahoma, 
Janet Storts moved to Saint Joseph, Missouri in 2007. She is the daughter, great granddaughter, and great great granddaughter of Presbyterian ministers. After retiring, Janet graduated from Missouri Western State University with a B.S. in Sociology and a minor in Creative Writing and earned her MASJ (Social Justice) from Phillips Theological Seminary. She is a founding member of Ecumenical Eco-Justice of Saint Joseph, Inc. and a member of the City of Saint Joseph’s Sustainable Environment Advisory Committee.

Dana Myers, President & CEO, Myers EV

 Dana Myers

President & CEO, Myers EV

In my younger years, I used to think that when God gave mankind dominion over the earth, it meant we could do whatever we wanted to do with the earth.  Now I believe that dominion was more along the lines of bringing Garden of Eden beauty and order to a world of chaos. 

In the late 1800's, the transportation pollution concern was tons of horse manure. Thousands of gallons of horse urine and dead horses littered the streets of the world’s biggest cities.  Gas cars solved this problem. 

The world now has over one billion gas cars, and the accumulated emissions are harming human health and the environment.  Not very Garden of Eden-ish.  Now that we recognize this, we can do something about it.      

Electric cars are the next progression.  Unfortunately, many electric cars are more polluting than gas cars due to the large battery packs needed for long-distance trips.  Fortunately, most of our driving is short trips.  Short-range electric cars used as second household vehicles are cleaner than gas cars - and less expensive to buy. A new idea, perhaps, but ofttimes the way forward looks different than what we think we need.     

God created us in the divine image and gave us a mandate.  As we look to God – not to government or to others - God will give us the solutions we need to do what we were created to do.  And the answer is always one that makes life better for others as well as ourselves.  Through looking to God and practicing the Golden Rule in all we do, we can get back to the Garden. 


After putting together a team that built and sold 3-wheel EVs, 
Dana Myers founded Myers EV to build the perfect car for around-town driving:  the 4-wheel, 2-person, Point5.  He and his wife of 34 years currently attend Bethel Cleveland, an evangelical charismatic church. 

Past Chair, Missouri Sierra Club

 James Turner

Past Chair, Missouri Sierra Club


In 2014, six Midwesterners chartered a Trailways bus, headed for the People’s Climate March in New York City.  We soon had a busload, and walked with over 300,000 others, representing dozens of organizations.  Diane Waddell marched with Presbyterians for Earth Care and the Presbyterian Hunger Program, and I marched with Missouri’s Sierra Club.  Months later, when President Obama led America’s participation in the Paris Climate Accord, that arduous bus trip felt worthwhile.  

Popular support for climate protection keeps growing.  Market leaders see wind and solar power, electric-powered transportation, and energy efficiency as good opportunities for cutting costs.  But actions by our federal, state, and local governments are crucial, and strong political forces cling to gas and oil’s dominance of our economy.   

Grassroots support for energy reform is imperative. Presbyterian activists are helping by co-sponsoring meetings where technical experts educate a wider public.   But we of PEC must also show up in halls of governmental power, providing visible support for enlightened leaders who must flip the policy switches.  And we should wear PEC logos.  In 2014 the big March’s cultural diversity was visible in our tee-shirts and banners, and that diversity made our collective witness more robust.  Today, visibility of our PEC logo in those halls will likewise aid environmentalism’s work, and it will draw people who share our views and will support PEC’s witness.

PEC and our faith partners are essential strands in environmentalism’s defense of Earth's community, because we will broaden the persuasive reach of the coalition.  Being in touch with values and realities, we can be agents of reconciliation.

James R Turner is retired and lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where he serves as an Elder at Westport Presbyterian Church. He holds a BA in English, an MS in Accountancy, and a JD from the University of Missouri – Columbia.  In thirty years at Truman State University, Missouri’s public liberal arts university located in Kirksville, he taught business law, environmental studies, and accounting.  There he was Founding Secretary for Delta of Missouri Chapter, Phi Beta Kappa.  During 2006 – 2016 Jim was on Missouri Sierra Club’s Executive Committee, and its Chair for six years.  

Inaugural Member, The Faithful Climate Action Fellowship

 Colleen Schena

Inaugural Member, The Faithful Climate Action Fellowship

In a decade in which climate change is mostly seen yet often ignored, a positive environmental future may seem unlikely. Yet with any change comes a fresh wave of hope, that we might truly live what we value. So is the case for the 2021 shift in power – and environmental priority.

I cannot speak for anyone as to what shape a future of renewal may take. Yet in my own mind, this future explores and supports the development of renewable energy sources, whether as new as algal energy or as well-known as wind turbines. In the same hand, this is a future that actively seeks to replace ecologically destructive cultural habits with restorative, healthy actions and views. 

A future of environmental renewal protects what natural places we have the privilege to see, and expands those protections to the urban ecosystem, including parks and green spaces, even in the midst of cities. This future is alive with refusal to compromise the beauty, integrity, and goodness of Creation for the utilitarian whims of man. It is also filled with a recognized integrality of the natural world to the human incarnational experience. 

In this interconnected link, the future of environmental renewal and protection focuses on the vulnerable Creation, yet it does not end there. While seeking healing for the environment, this future power would focus on the poorest of the poor who suffer most in this ongoing crisis. Whether it would look like funding for rebuilding or assistance in relocating, this future, by necessity, is kind to the poor, to the vulnerable earth, and to those who are seeking changes for the good of another.

All this may not seem possible with a simple administrative change. Yet with a new year and new leadership, may we find the energy to project and protect Creation. May we have the strength to start our future.


Colleen Schena
 is an inaugural member of The Faithful Climate Action Fellowship, a collaborative project through the U.S. Climate Action Network. She is also a freelance journalist and a student of theology and biology. Schena recently concluded her thesis about the connection between human image and likeness to God (imago Dei), Creation, and stewardship as an embodiment of the imago Dei. She seeks to further immerse herself in topics of the environment and work for its betterment, whether that would be through public action writing or hands-on conservation work.