No Excuses: Solar On Every Church-Guest Post By Deacon Wil Ranney

Is there anyone out there that still needs to be convinced of the devastating effect that climate change has on the world’s poor? Is there anyone out there that still needs to be convinced that people (we) are creating the problem? Is there anyone out there not convicted by Scripture to be good stewards of the earth?

If you can answer yes to one of those questions, email me, we’ll talk.

The next question is a harder. Is there anyone out there who doesn’t feel like they can make a difference? This is where Solar comes in.

Solar’s PR Problem

Solar has something of a PR problem, one that’s cleverly perpetuated by fossil fuel lobbies. In the 70’s when solar first hit the scene, people quickly discovered how pathetic solar was at harvesting energy. They could only capture about 10% of the energy that was hitting them. However, even in the last five years, there have been major improvements made in Solar panel efficiency. Some of these improvements have been made right hear in Iowa.

The latest solar innovations are pushing 40% efficiency, meaning we’ve experienced a 400% increase! The cheapest mass market options are around 25% efficient, still great. This is not your parent’s solar we’re talking about!

It’s Too Cloudy in Iowa

Germany, has roughly the same cloud cover as Iowa, and had a day last month where 75% of their power came from solar! They average above 30%.

It Takes Too Long to Get Your Money Back

According to CleanTechnica, the average payback for a solar project in Iowa is 17 years. Remember, these figures are based on older technology. 17 years might seam like a long time, but divide that by 100 and you’ll see that your rate of return is about 5.8% a year! What other safe investment will give you that rate of return. You’d be lucky to get .58%.

Where Will We Find the Money?

This takes a little creativity, but not too much. There are investment boards (like the Board of Pensions) that are always looking for safe investments and would be natural partners. Not surprisingly, there are lots of finance companies that are popping up to help out with solar projects because to the reliable rate of the return. Many of these are non-profit. Also, you could always offer bond options to your congregants. Solar panels are hardy, and last more than 25 years, which means at least 8 years of pure profit.

It Doesn’t Look “Churchy”

Sure it won’t fit in with your Akron Plan, red brick building; but what says “churchy” more than putting your commitment to God’s justice on public display!

Do You Have the Will?

It all comes down to this question. There are no other excuses that make sense. This is the very picture of a “win win” situation. There is little know financial risk and you meaningfully reduce your carbon emissions. What are we waiting for Iowa?

Photo: By Dietrich Krieger (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Talk Is Cheap

“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” 
― Frederick BuechnerWishful Thinking: A Theological ABC

There are a lot of opinions out there. There are a lot of different ways to use our reason and our intellect to convince ourselves that we are OK, or that we are doing the right thing. There are myriad ways to read Scripture and interpret faith so that our own prejudices, biases, inclinations, and desires can be found comfortable, faithful and otherwise pleasing to our own sensibilities; to the sensibilities of our family, friends and neighbors, and can still conform to the tenets of our “doctrine” and  our “discipline.”

I can’t help but wonder, though, how our world might look if we each spent as much energy actually doing something about those things we argue about as we spend consulting our favorite gurus and posting our favorite memes to facebook.

For instance, in Iowa, there is a shortage of residential treatment facilities. There is evidence of human trafficking in both labor and sexual slavery. School food programs are all struggling, while students whose families are under physical, economic, and psychological distress continue to fall behind in the skills necessary to navigate an increasingly complicated world of credit lending and temporary employment. Youth mentorship programs do not have enough mentors to supply their need. People suffering from ongoing mental illness cannot receive the treatment they require. Air, land and water quality are degraded and deteriorating. Women in Iowa earn only 77% of what men make. Our churches, schools and neighborhoods are built more along the lines of separate and unequal, than along lines of an intentionally cross-cultural integration. Laborers work 16 and 20 hour days, while part-time employees without benefits are fired for refusing to work overtime.

And yet . . . there is a United Methodist Church in practically every community in Iowa. I find it impossible to believe that we, as a church, do not have the resources at our fingertips to actually provide a powerful and faithful response to the evil, injustice and oppression whose forms we meet on a daily basis. What if we decided to measure our faithfulness in lives transformed?  What if we looked to measure our righteousness such that every community in which we live is notably more compassionate than communities in which we do not live? What if we loved our neighbors so deeply and so radically we had no room left in our hearts for judgment?

There is a song by Casting Crowns with these lyrics,

But if we are the body
Why aren’t his arms reaching?
Why aren’t his hands healing?
Why aren’t his words teaching?
And if we are the body
Why aren’t his feet going?
Why is his love not showing them there is a way?”

Maybe we would get some things wrong. Maybe we would break some church rules and raise some eyebrows. Maybe our neighbors would look at us strangely and whisper about us behind our backs. But maybe, just maybe, our world would start to look a little bit more like the place God promises us it can be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taking Time for Sorrow

16thstreetbaptistchurchThis week I need to stop for Sorrow. These last few days, post-resurrection days, have been heavy days for many in my circles, and I do not think they are taking the time to fully grieve. I do not think they have decided it is OK to stop for Sorrow. They are going to “soldier on.” They are engaged in the important work of the church. There are challenges which need adaptation, and there are people (other people) who need them more than they need time for themselves. There are deadlines, due dates, and time cards which need fulfilling.

They are strong people, people who are tough enough to bear their own burdens in silence, with a grin, and an uptilted chin. Maybe for them keeping busy and being needed is more comforting than sitting by the doorposts in dust and ashes.

But the wise know we all have to make time for Sorrow. Otherwise it will  bleed grey into the colors of our lives. It will hang on our backpacks and slow our steps. It will steal heat and warmth from us, causing us to live nurturing the slow burn of disappointment and rage.

So, this week, the problems of the world can roll along their way without my regard. Instead, I am sitting still with Sorrow, with my friend whose husband went to the hospital this week. I am singing songs with Sorrow, for my friend whose dream died rather than being born. I am learning lament from Sorrow, for my colleague who had a death in her family. I am tossing pebbles into the pool with Sorrow, for the ones whose hard work has only led to discouragement and frustrating dead ends. Sorrow and I are painting with sand for those who have spent the last two weeks recovering from crippling and life-threatening ills.

I offer this post to them, my friends, and to you if you need it, along with this small gift:

A Parable On Modern Life from Anthony De Mello’s The Song of the Bird

The animals met in assembly and began
to complain that humans were always
taking things away from them.

“They take my milk,” said the cow.
“They take my eggs,” said the hen.
“They take my flesh for bacon,” said the hog.
“They hunt me for my oil,” said the whale.

Finally the snail spoke. “I have something
they would certainly take away from me
if they could. Something they want
more than anything else.
I have TIME.”

You have all the time in the world, if you would give it to yourself. What’s stopping you?

When Faith Leaves the Museum

 

Samuel House
Samuel House

Ai Weiwei, perhaps best known for his exhibit Sunflower Seeds, is a conceptual artist who creates “social or performance-based interventions.” He is one of a number of artists who have decided to take art out of the museum and into society. For Ai Weiwei, these interventions are a way of “merging his life and art in order to advocate both the freedoms and responsibilities of individuals.”

‘From a very young age I started to sense that an individual has to set an example in society’, he has said. ‘Your own acts and behaviour tell the world who you are and at the same time what kind of society you think it should be.’   (Tate Museum)

The Women Are Heroes project is another example of an artist using the real world social order as a canvas on which to paint challenging ideas. The artist, JR, did this particular project “[i]n order to pay tribute to those who play an essential role in society but who are the primary victims of war, crime, rape and political or religious fanaticism . . .”*

When art leaves the museum like this, it is transformed into social witness. It becomes something publicly available.  It eludes censorship, yet is  exposed to raw and sometimes violent criticism. It somehow moves back and forth across the line of legal and illegal, sanctioned and under sanction.  It is vulnerable and open to whatever interpretations, ideas and reactions it causes.

For these two particular artists, these interventions are also intentionally meant to give voice to the voiceless-to bring the lives of unimportant and disregarded people into public view. Their works expose inconvenient truths and somehow point to the cracks in our well-reasoned ideas about how the world is supposed to work and how it actually works.

I think that vital faith is faith which has chosen to leave the museum. It is faith which endeavors to give voice to the voiceless-to bring the lives of unimportant and disregarded people into public view. It exposes inconvenient truths and somehow points to the cracks in our well-reasoned ideas about how the world is supposed to work and how it actually works.

Vital faith, like the artwork of Ai Weiwei, JR, or Iowa’s own Rev. Ted Lyddon Hatten, shows the light of God shining through those cracks, and brings the world’s attention to it.

This work-this faith in the world work-this social intervention-is social justice.  It is faith made publicly available. It is faith which eludes censorship, yet allows itself to be exposed to raw and sometimes violent criticism. It somehow moves back and forth across the line of legal and illegal, sanctioned and under sanction.  It is vulnerable and open to whatever interpretations, ideas and reactions it causes.

Social justice is a public faith witness which has the the power to break hearts and inspire people to moral elevation and awe. It paints compassion, grace and the irrational and extravagant love of Jesus on the canvas of the world.

On Earth As It Is in Heaven

250px-The_Civil_Rights_Memorial,_Montgomery,_ALI was recently asked, “What on earth or in heaven does ‘Climate Justice’ have to do with winning souls for Christ?”

This question has been sticking with me, mostly because the connection seems obvious to me yet clearly was not to the person who asked. I think the question also points to some of the other responses that come my way: suggestions that advocacy, mission, social witness, and civic activism are politically motivated rather than that they are rooted in a commission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

In searching for a response to this question, I googled social justice and evangelism to see what other people had to offer. There are a lot of perspectives out there, and a great deal of intellectual and theological debate. Not surprisingly, most of the articles I found suggest that social justice and evangelism are either/or forms of discipleship, and that to be for one kind of discipleship is to be against the other. But I think that assumption is a false one.

Maybe, then, I  need to turn the original question on its side. Maybe it is not so much a “what” question, as it is a “how” question. So how do I answer Jesus’ command to go and make disciples, and why does writing about [Climate] Justice matter?

My first motivation to do as Jesus asks is that I love God. That love was born at the bottom of a hill in my home town, from a completely irrational and altogether mind-shattering revelation of God’s prevenient grace. Even before I knew God, I heard the call to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves. That call has only gotten stronger and more life-giving as I have pursued Christ.

As I look at the world I live in, I see not only that there are  poor, imprisoned, blind and oppressed souls that have not yet heard the good news, but also that  there are pervasive diseases and afflictions that continue to impoverish, torture, maim, and burden human beings and beloved creatures all across the planet.  Diseases and afflictions, evils, injustices and oppression, which would make a liar of God and a mockery of salvation.  So, while it is true that Jesus tells us to go and baptize, he also gives us power and authority to heal every kind of disease and illness.

That is why, for me, the commission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world is a call to systemic, social transformation, “to build a world where love can grow and hope can enter in,” as one of my favorite songs puts it. [Welcome (Let’s Walk Together)]

And I do not think we are left alone to do this. The Holy Spirit and God’s grace not only make us right for this work, but also make us holy to do it. And by actually living into Christ’s call on our souls-a plea to go to the prisoners, the sick and dying, the broken and demon-ridden among us and to love neighbors, strangers, enemies, and creation itself so much that we would give our only child simply to set it right-we might actually see the Reign of God.

So, to offer an answer to the question as to what on earth or in heaven  ‘Climate Justice’ has to do with winning souls for Christ, I want to answer that for myself, I see the connection most strongly every time I pray the prayer we have been taught:

Our Father, which art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done,
in earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those that trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever.
Amen.

What Are We Going to Do About It?

Conversations

A significant part of my job involves travelling long distances in my car, and I have found that I really enjoy listening to podcasts of TED talks during those times.  Here’s why: they expand my world, and they make me aware of the amazing capacity of human beings for doing marvelous things. The ideas and perspectives of the speakers can sometimes hurt because they are so different from my own. It is as if my own ideas have been running barefoot on a treadmill and suddenly find themselves out on Bear Lake Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park in the early Spring: the view is amazing, but it is steep, rocky, cold and their feet hurt.

Across Iowa, there is a sense that people are really struggling to make ends meet. Churches have seen increases in the number of people coming to food pantries and free meals. Food banks are asking for more donations. Especially in rural and bedroom communities, more of us are unemployed, underemployed or precariously employed. I don’t know the statistics. I am simply reporting what I have been hearing: “People are hungry and hardshipped, and my church can’t seem to get on top of it.”

So, what are we going to do to get on top of it? There are ideas out there. There are Bible verses and trained theologians that can help us out. There are connective structures in place so not one of us has to do it alone. There are city, county, state, and local agencies that want our help. So, what are we going to do about it?

I think it may be time we started expanding our world a little bit. Let’s start celebrating the marvelous ingenuity of God’s creatures in God’s creation, and look for the startling and unexpected possibilities in our midst. Can we challenge ourselves to reach beyond the narrow scope of the NRSV and steal the coolest ideas from disciplines outside the church: architecture, zoology, and biomendicine? Is there a way to transcend our own biases toward particular economic or political models to simply gather concerned people together and start having conversations? Asking questions? Discovering skills, abilities, and ideas for engineering solutions for our eroding economies?

What would that look like? Who would you invite to the conversation? Are we prepared for the discomfort and adjustment that may occur? What’s God got to do with it? What might it look like for something to change for the better, and what would we feel like when it did?

Climate Justice

-Isaiah 58:6-12

In the Spring of 2009, a friend and I walked into the Federal Building in Des Moines, IA with two copies of a petition urging our Senators to support comprehensive energy reform related to carbon emissions at the the UN Climate Summit in Copenhagen which was scheduled for later in the year.

Our petitions were made out of plywood and were about 3 feet square. They were cutout in the shape of the logo for 350.org, a global, grassroots organizing effort started by Bill McKibben. From their own website:

The number 350 means climate safety: to preserve a livable planet, scientists tell us we must reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere from its current level of 400 parts per million to below 350 ppm.

On those plywood cutouts, we had collected signatures from concerned people in our community, people who, like us, believed that not only individual conservation, but also significant political and economic will needed to be marshaled to respond to increasing climate crisis across the world.

First, let me say that if you have never hand-delivered a petition or letter to one of your elected representatives, you should definitely do so.  Taking the time to deliver our petitions and sit down with aids of both Senator Harkin and Senator Grassley was a profoundly empowering experience.  To know that we, as citizens, have such easy access to our elected officials is amazing.  To walk two 3-ft. plywood petitions past security guards, step on an elevator, walk down a hall, and sit down in the offices of those we have entrusted with political power, to exercise our own rights and responsibilities as voting Americans is amazing.

The petitions were not the beginning of our action, however, but rather its culmination.  My friend, after seeing McKibben at a Christian Educator’s Fellowship event in Albuquerque, NM, was on fire to push for change. She came back to Ames, IA and started organizing a climate awareness event. She pulled together interested people and we met to make signs, engage public speakers, plan intergenerational activities, and offer people the opportunity to voice their opinion about climate change, fossil fuel emissions, energy policy and our global commitment to the poorest and least industrialized nations of the world. Together, a small group of people planned a half-day of activity, learning and action set for a Saturday in late May.

I wish I could say we had an overwhelming turnout. I wish I could say that our United Methodist Church members swarmed to add their names to the petition. I wish I could say that the Bishop’s Call to Action titled God’s Renewed Creation: A Call to Hope and Action had motivated many of our United Methodist connections to offer to help host, fund, or simply participate in the event. I wish I could say that our relationship connections were strong enough that our UM friends and colleagues simply showed up because we asked them to.

If you follow the news on climate change, you will know that the UN Climate Summit did not make any substantial change in the ways in which carbon emissions are regulated. The decision was made to “wait until 2015” instead.

In November of 2013, members of the Philippine delegation, along with members from 132 other nations walked out of the Warsaw climate change conference after discussion about “loss and damage” stalled.  Naderev Saño, lead negotiator of the Philippine delegation, went on a voluntary fast , declaring,

“In solidarity with Filipinos who are now scrounging for food back home, and with my brother who has not had food for the last three days, with all due respect Mr. President, I will now commence a voluntary fasting and I will refuse to eat food here during this COP, until a meaningful outcome is in sight.”

This conference was held a mere 13 days after Typhoon Haiyan made landfall in the Philippines.  Typhoon Haiyan is the strongest typhoon ever to have made landfall. [*] United Methodist Committee on Relief, of course was there. Is there. American United Methodist donations of goods, energy, time, and dollars, the “loss and damage” recovery side of mission, are there.  We are people who care.  We respond.

But . . . .

Why don’t we speak up more here at home?  Why aren’t we advocating, legislating, organizing, boycotting, fasting, resisting, educating, and changing the conversation as it relates to climate change? As it pertains to environmental degradation? Why is it so much easier to spend the dollars of pity, than it is to invest in the bonds of kinship?  Why, when it comes to signing petitions, talking with our elected leaders, or discussing the latest crop prices, aren’t we more aware of the importance of thinking not first of ourselves and what we may have to lose, but rather of those whose homes, livelihoods, lives, and very existence are being lost as you read this?

As we celebrate Human Relations Sunday and lift up the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., I want to echo his sentiments that social action is a moral imperative, that

“Non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good.”[*]

When our brothers and sisters in island nations, such as the Philippines and the Republic of the Maldives say, “We need change,” why can’t we take them at their word?  When our brothers and sisters in North and South Sudan are pushed to war because of the growing band of desert across the Northern part of the African continent, why do we insist that climate change isn’t real?   When the acres of arable land are no longer sufficient to feed the people of the planet, how do we entertain notions that it is OK to plant sugar cane for fuel or to ignore the voices of farmers who, through proprietary technology and corporate patents, are no longer allowed to save seeds?

I hear you saying, “Wait.”  I hear you saying, “Now is not the time.”  I hear you saying, “I’m just not convinced.”  I hear you saying, “‘Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.'”[*] Yet, as I look at all the photographs from the Philippines in 2013, from the East Coast in 2012, from Joplin in 2011, from Iowa in 2008, and from Louisiana in 2005, I feel compelled to commend these words from Martin Luther King, Jr. to you: 

“I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate . . . Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection. . .

So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.” [*]