by Brian Drayton
August 4, 2012
Let us not speak falsely of our condition as a people. Jeremiah said, “The false prophets dismissively ‘healed’ the shattering of my people, saying “Peace, peace,” but where is there peace?” We Friends in New England often act and speak as members of an association or interest group do, not as members of one body unified by a common life, or as a people gathered by the workings of a precious and holy Spirit. But we also speak and worship together yearning for unity, for peace amidst our works and concerns, and for adequacy in the face of our lives and our times.
Friends, let us continually help each other remember that unity is not an accomplishment, or a product, but a process, a living process, which requires the food and care appropriate to itself. A living body maintains its health, in the face of abrasive, down-tearing, consuming forces, by constant up-building, nourishment, rest, and creative action. The result is a sense of well-being, of flourishing, which speaks of a body and mind in balance. When we live as members of one spiritual body, and that body is flourishing, we and our body will give evidence: patience, love, mutual forbearance, eagerness for good works, courage in the face of doubt or trouble, compassion, simplicity, truthfulness, teachableness, joy. If someone should examine our condition and find these alive in us, find them reliably to be true of us, then we can hope with some confidence that our flourishing has roots in the life of God flowing through us, which John’s gospel called Logos, which is God’s creating and healing power.
This in truth is the gospel, the power of God which works for our liberation, each of us, but also makes us know how and where we are one, and where we can be confident of that unity. Jesus’ last commandment was that his friends love each other as he had loved them, but in his prayer at the last supper, he asked that all might be one, as Jesus and the Father were one, and with them. Where daily waiting in silence and expectancy comes to be characteristic of us as a people, we participate in the process of challenge and transformation which prepares us for the unity Jesus prayed for, and equips us for it. If our worship does not work a change, so that we bear the fruits of the Spirit, and the marks of those who have met with a living power beyond and yet within them, then our worship is not yet true enough.
Worshiping in truth day by day, we can avoid mistaking the benefits of this powerful common living for its essence. From that unity we can speak with power, act with endurance, awaken the sleepers, and invite others to the great work of living justly, creatively, and without fear, in balance with the natural forces upon which our bodies and our cultures depend. But we cannot manufacture that power, that truth, that fearlessness, if we are not living in unity. Now, therefore, in a time when our unity feels fragile, let us practice unity by seeking each other’s well-being and faithfulness.
In recent years, New England Friends have grown more accustomed, as a people, to acknowledge that there are diverse gifts among us, but we have not yet gone far enough in this work. We are called further, to act on, act in, the expectation that all can be faithful stewards, for the gift’s sake, and for each others’. As we are diligent in our own faithfulness, and worship more and more in truth, we will grow ever more aware of how our own callings are bound up with the common life, and we find more ways not only to assert that connection, but also to affirm and forward it in concrete and specific ways. Let us receive concerns with joy, as the evidence of God’s action in our time, day, and measures, and be eager in praying for and nurturing these gifts, loving our neighbor’s concern as if it were our own. But we need to work to live up to the truth long taught in all spiritual traditions, that prayer is not just an interior event. For it to be a truthful transaction with the Divine, it must ultimately shape action. So let us challenge ourselves and each other often, asking, What concrete things have I done to show my welcome for another’s gifts, so that I rejoice to feel the growth of God’s life in him or her, and feel myself nourished thereby?
Friends, remember how Isaiah rebuked the people of his time:
This is a rebellious people, lying children, children that will not hear the law of the LORD:
Which say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits:
Get you out of the way, turn aside out of the path, cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us. (Isaiah 30:9-11)
Isaiah was sent to a people in whom spiritual and ethical teaching had grown unfaithful. The conventional prophets were committed to giving the people what they asked for — complacency and comfort, rather than speaking the truth for their troubled times, and pointing the path to life in harmony with God, and ultimately with each other.
But what would have happened if the people, yearning for spiritual health, had confronted these teachers prophetically, saying, “We are grateful for the motions of God in your life. Help us better know and live in the life of the Holy One. Tell us the truth in which we can be free. David once sang (Psalm 20), ‘Some trust in horses, and some in chariots, but we will call upon the Lord our God,’ seeking to learn from God the path of life. We want this to be true of us! Be faithful in your work, so that we can be faithful in ours. Be faithful in your life, so we can be faithful in ours!” What will happen if we can learn to listen prophetically in this way to the motions of divine life in each other, expecting and calling each other to occupy and live fully in our several gifts, knowing that we need each other’s faithfulness like a tree needs the sunlight and the rain?
Paul writes, “The eye can’t say to the hand ‘I don’t need you,’ nor can the head say to the foot, ‘I have no need of you.’ ” (1 Cor. 12) Feel into this: We need each other, as a body needs all its parts. And Christ, the head, needs our feet and hands and eyes — and these need the head, and the life that circulates and nourishes all parts in one enlivening stream. It is from this mutual need and experience of the common life that a witnessing body is fed and grows in strength, not by declaration or by assertion of unity—these articulate hope, or announce our condition, but cannot create or substitute for the shared living, the actual spiritual organism.
The Gospel life is one, as God is one, and so all God’s people, as they are in that life, are one. Sometimes we must take that on faith, when the unity is hard to see or feel. We can make a precious testimony, if we daily seek to feel where that unity lies, but also to enact it, as part of our discipline as servants of that Life. In this, Jesus promised we would find joy, as we can sometimes declare, out of our own experience.
In Christian love your friend,
August 4, 2012
Appendix on climate change science
There are many excellent books and websites that provide information on the nature of human-induced climate change. At the end of this appendix, I list a few, with comments about each. Here, though, I will just mention some key scientific findings to anchor some of the things I wrote in my letter.
1. Already by the 1890s, scientists had understood the physical mechanisms by which an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) would lead to climatic warming. The “insulating” effects of the small amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere are what keeps the earth’s climate hospitable for life as we know it. A surprisingly small increase, however, significantly slows earth’s loss of heat, so that the average temperature rises. The earth’s geography and its dynamic nature mean that this average temperature will be reflected in complicated ways, both directly and indirectly. At the beginning of the industrial revolution, which is also the beginning of significant and sustained use of fossil fuels, CO2 constituted about 280 parts per million (ppm) of the atmosphere. The present levels are just under 400 ppm.
2. There is a time-lag in the effects that come from thickening the atmospheric “blanket” with more CO2. The global temperature has risen about 1.5° (F) so far, owing to the rapid injection of CO2 into the atmosphere in the decades up to about 1930. There have been exponential increases in CO2 emissions since that time, and because of the time-lag, we are therefore already committed to at least 1-2 degrees’ more warming, even if we ceased all CO2 emissions right now. It is very likely, given the slow pace of political and economic action, that we cannot avoid reaching 450 ppm, or even higher. This might commit us to an increase of 6° F by the end of this century; the difference between our current climate and the last glacial period is about 9°F.
3. The 12 months from July 2011 through June 2012 were the hottest 12 months in the temperature record. Over the last several decades, each 10 year period has been hotter than any decade in the prior weather record. The 1980s were hotter than the 1970s; the 1990s were hotter than the 1980s; the decade from 2000-2009 was hotter still. The current decade will be the hottest so far.
4. Because of how the weather system distributes heat, the Arctic is warming faster than anywhere else. While New England has warmed about 2° in the past 40 years, the Arctic has warmed 8-10°. As the ice has melted, the ground and sea, darker than ice, have absorbed more heat, thus speeding the melt. The melting permafrost has started releasing its vast reserves of frozen plant matter as CO2 and methane, another very powerful greenhouse gas. This is speeding the warming. If we do not dramatically decrease human-caused CO2 emissions, the natural emissions from these and other sources will soon increase so swiftly that they will become the most important factor in the CO2 imbalance, and human activity will not be able to prevent the earth’s tipping into a new, stable operating condition, dramatically warmer than anything humans have ever had to deal with.
5. Ocean levels are rising as the water warms, and as ice-caps melt. The seas are absorbing CO2 and becoming more acidic at a rate that is astonishing researchers. Plants and animals are changing their ranges, or altering behavior, or going extinct, depending on conditions where they are, and their own physical constraints. Deserts are spreading in Africa and Asia. The great ice cap of central Asia is melting fast; this is serious because it supplies the Ganges and many other major rivers supplying water to China and south Asia.
6. Weather patterns are becoming more variable, with dry places mostly getting drier, and moist places (with important exceptions like Amazonia) getting wetter. Both precipitation events and droughts are becoming more extreme. Indeed, increased variability is a central expected outcome of global “warming,” because the increasing heat intensifies important weather processes like evaporation and cyclone formation. This is why the New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman, no radical, likes to refer to “global weirding” instead of “global warming.”
7. While the most important variable under human control is CO2 emissions from carbon combustion and deforestation, there is at present no evidence that humans are responding at the necessary speed and scale to prevent dramatic and indeed catastrophic changes in our climate which will last for at least a thousand years, affecting food supplies, biological diversity, and many other “ecosystem functions” which we take for granted and which are essential to our human systems. The best scientific analysis suggests that the worst case can still be avoided, if we take concerted action within the next 5-10 years.
For further reading
There are three blogs which are good sources of reliable information, and a gateway to many other sources of information, both more technical and less.
Skeptical Science (from Australia). Provides excellent scientific explanations, and up-to-date science news. Provides a very accessible and reliable discussion of “most used climate myths.”
Climate Progress. This is run by Joe Romm, a physicist with a long career in energy policy. Lots of current science news, and Romm and guest bloggers analyze new research findings as well as policy proposals, climate politics, and many other related topics.
A few things ill-considered provides a weekly roundup (often very extensive!) of climate change news across many topic areas, from the Arctic to Amazonia, as well as biodiversity, the world food supply, and many other related issues.
Also check out biosphereandclimate.terc.edu, a website that focuses on the biosphere’s reaction to climate change in New England, with links to many other resources and organizations.
Climate Central (2012), Global Weirdness: Severe Storms, Deadly Heat Waves, Relentless Drought, Rising Seas and the Weather of the Future. This new book is an excellent, step-by-step primer on the basic science and some of the possible solutions for climate change.
Hanson, James (2010), Storms of My Grandchildren:The Truth about the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity. Hanson was the first prominent climate scientist to sound the alarm about the reality of climate change. Very solid science, and interesting if controversial suggestions for policies that can minimize the potential harm of climate change.
Kolbert, Elizabeth (2006), Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature & Climate Change. Lucid, challenging, and engaging science writing about the science and impacts of climate change. Originally a series for the New Yorker.
Macy, Joanna and Chris Johnstone (rev. ed. 2022), Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re In with Unexpected Resilience & Creative Power. A powerful guide for engaging with “the Work That Reconnects” : Coming from gratitude, honoring our pain for the world, seeing with new eyes, and going forth. Very much in harmony with the spirit of my own concern. Draws on the authors’ years of “despair work” and other faces of the spirituality of healing wounded spirits.
McKibbin, Bill (2010), Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. Speaks in concrete and passionate terms about our present situation, and the challenge of responding constructively to the changes that are our present and future reality.
Seidl, Amy (2009), Early Spring: An Ecologist & Her Children Wake to a Warming World. A moving and well-informed exploration by an ecologist living in Vermont of the way that climate change affects the life and culture of New England.
Seidl, Amy (2011), Finding Higher Ground: Adaption in the Age of Warming. Another lucid book from Seidl, this time on how human and non-human organisms can adapt to the new world that is taking shape.