Saturday, February 29, 2020

Devotional for First Sunday of Lent

Seeing as God Sees

God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw everything that God had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. 
Genesis 1:29-31

Do you remember spitting watermelon seeds as a kid? Taking a big bite out of a delicious, red juicy watermelon; moving the seeds first to the side and then the front of your mouth; pressing them against the back of your teeth with your tongue while you swallowed the good stuff, and then curling your tongue around the tiny black teardrop and blowing? 

I have been asking children whether they know how to spit watermelon seeds -- at a recent wedding rehearsal, on the playground after school, in the park near my house. Nothing. My own son remembers eating a watermelon with seeds in it “a couple of years ago.” How about you? When is the last time you spit a watermelon seed?   

Photo credit: Creative Commons
Today, only 16 percent of watermelons sold in grocery stores have seeds. Many people today don't even know that watermelons have seeds, let alone how to spit them. Recently developed hybrids do not need seeded melons for pollination. The iconic, black-studded watermelon wedge is disappearing; and with it, creation’s own power to produce new life.

In the beginning “God saw everything that God had made, and it was very good.” The world is good, yes, but “the goodness of the world,” writes Ellen Davis, “is presented not as simple fact, nor even as an authoritative pronouncement, but as a divine perception.” And Genesis invites us to “see like God;” to notice the earth itself possesses a fruitfulness, a sustainable fecundity that perpetuates life. And, by extension, to think about whether and how we dare interrupt that for our own convenience.

Philosopher Erazim Koh├ík suggests the root of our ecological crisis is chiefly a failure to perceive what is good. This Lent look attentively. What do you notice?  What goodness will you work to preserve?  What goodness will you seek to restore?

Creator God, enable us to see the earth as you see it, as good—even where it is fallen—and to imagine what we can do as a part of this good creation to serve and preserve the goodness that you mean the earth to embody.

The Rev. Jeff Geary is the Senior Pastor of the White Plains Presbyterian Church, a progressive multiracial, urban earth-care congregation in the Bronx River Watershed of New York. When he is not working, studying or parenting he can be found long distance hiking, biking and rock climbing—anything to be close to creation. 

Photo credit: Creative Commons

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Devotional for Ash Wednesday

Our Chosen Fast

Is not this the fast that I choose:
    to loose the bonds of injustice,
    to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
    and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
    and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
    and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
    the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
    you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.
If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
 if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.

Isaiah 58:6-11

Educator and poet Clint Smith began his 2014 TED talk by reminding the audience of the words of Dr. Martin Luther King: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” 

As a high school teacher, Smith wanted his students to know about the importance of speaking up and the danger of not speaking up. Growing up as a Catholic, he had been taught to fast during Lent from pleasures like sodas, French fries, and French kisses. One year, he decided to give up speaking. But he quickly came to realize that in a larger sense he had given up speaking a long time before, telling people what they wanted to hear instead of what they needed to hear. When a friend was beaten up for being gay, he put his head down and walked on by. Seeing the lock on his locker, he realized the lock he had on his heart and mouth. 

I must confess that I too have kept silent at the cost of others’ needs, dignity, and freedom. But on this Ash Wednesday, Isaiah is challenging us to consider fasting in a new way. Have we fasted from our fear of speaking up against oppression? Have we fasted from our privilege and instead challenged systems of injustice? Or have we diminished our light and hidden it under a bushel? Have we kept God’s desire “to loosen the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free?” 

Silence allows injustice, discrimination, hatred, and environmental degradation to continue. “Shout out, do not hold back!” as the prophet says. “Lift up your voice like a trumpet!” Ash Wednesday reminds us of our mortality and death. May we die to fear, complacency, and silence. 

Dear God, lead us on this Lenten journey. May our chosen fasting, giving, and prayer be the light that break forth like the dawn. May we not fast from speaking up and living out Your bountiful vision for all in Your good creation. Amen. 

The Rev. David Shinn was born in Taiwan and immigrated to the US when he was 11. Currently he serves as the Associate Pastor for Congregational Care at Westminster Presbyterian Church in beautiful downtown Minneapolis, MN. He is the proud father of two college age sons, Enoch and Ethan, and husband to Julie. He finds peace and joy in reading, opera, running and spending time with his family.

Photo credit: Alancanonj2006

Introduction to PEC's 2020 Lenten Devotional

God Provides Enough for All

Our family recently moved from the Louisville area to Henryville, Indiana, population 1905 humans, but teeming with wildlife. More tree and shrub species than we can catalog; owls, hawks, turkeys, woodpeckers, coyotes, fox, deer, monarchs, turtles, ladybugs, and the bobcat that appeared on our game cam the first night.

Living in such abundance, I find myself talking to creatures and even to trees, mostly expressing gratitude. I don’t expect them to respond, of course. So I am awed when one seems to accept my existence, when a hummingbird flies up to look me in the eye, or a nuthatch continues to feed nearby. 

If we think we live in a different world from other creatures, we’ve been conditioned to do so by centuries of human solipsism, trained to see nature as existing far away, irrelevant. But such distance is an illusion we’re waking from now, as we find creation reacting with violent force to our disrespect for its laws and norms. 

Human distance from nature is an illusion Scripture’s writers do not share. Scripture prompts gratitude for the abundance God offers through creation. Our first lesson in that abundance comes on the Bible’s first page: “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food” (Gen. 1:29-30). In short, there is enough for all. For all people across the world, and for all creatures who inhabit the world with us. Tragically, primarily because we who are rich take more than we need, this abundance is unequally distributed, so that it seems like fearsome scarcity.

Simplicity is key both to Lent and to environmental sustainability. Lenten tradition suggests a fast from some dimension of the overabundance endlessly surrounding the wealthy: from food, or from a destructive habit, recognizing our dependence on God for all we have and are. An ecological fast during Lent might involve dining closer to the ground—eating vegan or meatless, or reducing food waste. It might involve consumer goods—fasting from online shopping, or reducing single-use plastic. Or fasting from cars or planes, walking or staying put instead. Or from screen time, looking up to observe the vibrant world around us. Or from contributing to injustice, as Isaiah 58 suggests.

Whatever your Lenten practice is this year, the writers of these devotions join you in praying that in 2020 we may become channels of God’s peace for the earth and its inhabitants.

The Rev. Dr. Patricia K. Tull is A. B. Rhodes Professor Emerita of Hebrew Bible at Louisville Presbyterian Seminary and author of Inhabiting Eden: Christians, the Bible, and the Ecological Crisis and Isaiah 1-39. She and her spouse Don Summerfield have six children and four grandchildren, live in a zero-energy home, and enjoy growing much of their own food. 

Sunday, February 9, 2020

PEC Award Nominations Now Open

Make a Nomination for PEC’s Annual Earth Care Awards 
by March 31

2019 was another year of climate disasters, rollbacks of environmental regulations, and more people experiencing climate grief. Despite the dire predictions for 2020, many people of faith are handling their grief by taking extraordinary actions to care for God's creation. Presbyterians for Earth Care presents three awards each year to honor these remarkable people: two for individuals and one for an organization that promote best earth stewardship and environmental practices. As a member of or donor to PEC, you are invited to make a nomination for PEC’s Annual Earth Care Awards by March 31.

The William Gibson Eco-Justice Award honors an individual who:
  • Has a long history of being a good steward of the earth
  • Promotes sustainable practices for individuals or organizations
  • Motivates and inspires others to care for God’s creation
  • Demonstrates active care and concern for the sacred bond that exists between all things, living and nonliving. 
The Restoring Creation Award honors an organization that:
  • Demonstrates sustainable practices and models them for other organizations
  • Operates in a manner that is consistent with good stewardship of God’s creation
  • Partners with other organizations to leverage resources for greater impact
  • Encourages continuous environmental efforts within the organization.  
Ashley Bair received the Emerging Earth Care Leader Award in 2019
The Emerging Earth Care Leader Award is given to an individual, age 18 to 30, who expresses care and concern for the sacred bond between all living things, and
  • Demonstrates sustainable practices and motivates others to care for God’s creation.
  • Expands earth stewardship and sustainable practices through organizing, developing, and/or presenting one or more activities, projects, publications or events.
  • Incorporates care and concern for the sacred bond between all living things.
 An individual does not need to be a Presbyterian to be considered for an award. If you would like to make a nomination but aren’t already a member, you can join or make a donation now. Please see our previous award winners to get an idea of who would be a worthy nominee. This year’s Earth Care Awards will be presented on June 23 at our 25th Anniversary Luncheon at the PC(USA) General Assembly in Baltimore.

You may also mail your nomination to PEC, 501 Valley Drive, Durham, NC 27704. Download the nomination form here. 

PEC appreciates your care of God’s creation and is grateful to be able to honor individuals and an organization for their good stewardship of our common home. Please make your nomination for a PEC Annual Earth Care Award by March 31, 2020.