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The Environment: a Big Topic of Conversation at St. Luke's

by Joe Scarry.

There is a growing eco-justice conversation at St. Luke’s.

starscapeIn September, 2012, we had a very rich observance of the “Season of Creation,” leading up to a screening and discussion of the film “Gasland,” about fracking.

Around the same time, several of us started work on a Climate Control Conference, which culminated in an event in which about 100 people from Chicago and the surrounding area participated last week.

St. Luke’s member and retired Lutheran pastor Rev. Dr. Robert Goldstein spoke on the “Roots of the Problem” panel at the Climate Crisis Conference. He talked about the role of faith in dealing with the environmental challenges we face. He quoted Gus Speth, who co-founded the Natural Resources Defense Council and founded the World Resources Institute, who said:

I used to think the top environmental problems facing the world were global warming, environmental degradation, and eco-system collapse, and that we scientists could fix those problems with enough science. But I was wrong. The real problem is not those three items, but greed, selfishness, and apathy. And for that we need a spiritual and cultural transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that.

Bob went on to explain, “Progressive Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist traditions, progressive versions of these traditions, provide a deeper ethic in meeting the crisis we face.  Religions have a way of unmasking the lesser gods that rule our lives.  The gods of selfishness, greed, and apathy.  Gods of despair, gods of false salvation through idealistic or violent political systems, the petty god of religions seduced into self-righteousness.  The gods of self-satisfaction, patriotism, arrogance and pride.”

Those were important words. Personally, I left the conference seeking desperately for a source of optimism. In particular, I began to question whether humans have the ability to respond to situations that threaten not so much them individually, or even their families or local communities, but the species as a whole.

I thought I was having a marvelously modern insight, and then a few days later I heard the words of Abram in Genesis.  Abram turns to God and says, in effect, “What do you want from me? Sure, I get it, you’re Mr. Big, you’ve done it all, but — universe schmuniverse — what’s it to me? I’ll be here a little while longer, and then poof! Gone! Hey, I’m just passing through, after all.”  (His actual words were, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.”)  And God’s response to Abram is, in effect, “Stop inventing limits for yourself. Open your eyes and see what your real reality is. Maybe past, present, and future, infinitesimal and infinite, have a different meaning — and it’s within your grasp.” (God’s actual words were, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them. So shall your descendants be.”)

Not totally comprehensible, but a start.  A source of inspiration.  And a possible point of departure for continued conversation.

Those words pointed me toward the possibility of continuing to work on these issues with other people, and drawing strength from our faith tradition.  At the conference, Bob Goldstein also said, “Religion is personal, but it is really essentially communal.  As a Christian I know that it is in the gathered community that I hear the word of forgiveness and the power of hope to go on fighting for that vision of goodness.”

I’m looking forward to working on these issues further with others at St. Luke’s.

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Comments (1)

  1. M. Ross Adams


    Religious folks do not have a monopoly on living ethically aware lives. I am an atheist and humanist, and I’ve found that people of my persuasion are quite good at unmasking selfishness, greed, apathy, despair, violent political systems, self-righteousness, self-satisfaction, patriotism, arrogance, and pride. 15% of our population now admits to not having a religion any longer (and I suspect the number is probably much higher). Let me tell you, it takes a lot of courage, reflection, and analysis of our culture to conclude that we don’t need a god or threats of hell in order to behave ethically, morally, humanistically. We understand implicitly the necessity of people working together in cooperation and peace in order for our species to survive. We do not need religion to have the power of hope to go on fighting for visions of goodness.

    So please, do not exclude us from the work of saving our species – and the birds, whales, apes, and butterflies.

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