Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

No Joke
distributed 4/1/06 - ©2006

Last week, I promised a follow-up Notes on the theme of framing the environment in churches. That commentary is delayed, but it will come along soon!

Today is April Fool's Day, an occasion for jokes, gags, pranks and other silliness. God knows, we all need a laugh.

It seems that we're all a bit on edge these days, but gloom and stress are not products of our modern, frenzied way of life -- or, at least, not uniquely so. The annual presence of this tricksters' festival reminds us that the coming of spring (for us Northern Hemisphere residents) has long triggered a bit of playfulness, a touch of nastiness, and a dose of tongue-in-cheek social critique.

Humor is a wonderfully human was to cope with what hurts and frightens us. Laughter can disarm the most powerful, and express compassion for the hurting.

Even the weightiest topics can be opened up by a touch of humor. Indeed, editorial cartoons and late-night talk show hosts reveal that laughter can dig to the truth of the matter faster and more clearly than any other form of communication.

A "Bizarro" cartoon from several years ago shows the stereotypical TV weather guy, standing in front of a map with all the standard graphics of shining suns, puffy clouds and the pointy lines of cold fronts. The beaming broadcaster is saying:

Our extended forecast includes global warming and the catastrophic end of the human race. But for the weekend, it's looking like sunny skies, mild temperatures, and a general apathy toward environmental concerns. Back to you, Jim.

There's plenty of fodder for fun in the absurd ways in which humanity is dealing with catastrophes like climate change -- or more accurately, not dealing with it. Humor can buoy our spirits and name the all-too-painful truth.

The joke, though, always has to look back at us and at our failings. The global situation itself isn't funny.

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Time Magazine this week has a special report on global warming. If you haven't seen it yet, grab a copy -- or several -- before they disappear from the newstands. The magazine cover shows a polar bear on a very small chunk of floating ice. The text by the photo says, "BE WORRIED. BE VERY WORRIED."

It isn't just the bear who needs to be worried. Time devotes 26 pages to powerful photos, compelling charts, and solid journalism, all detailing how real and dangerous this problem is.

Having a reputable, mainstream news journal like Time put out such a special report is valuable in the factual information that is presented to a broad audience. As a feature issue, it may be read more carefully than a series of articles scattered through several weekly issues, tucked into categories like "politics" and "technology" where it is easy to flip by on the way to celebrity news.

The tremendous value of such an issue, though, isn't just in the information which is presented. The simple fact that Time sees the need to put out a Special Report on global warming speaks powerfully to people who will never even open the magazine. Millions of people this week will see the words, "Be worried. Be VERY worried" as they go through the grocery store check out line, or browse the magazines in an airport bookstore.

The dramatic cover on a special report announces to the world that "this is real." The awareness of the crisis, and the credibility of those who are trying to address it, just went up a notch, simply because Time devoted that much journalistic real estate to the topic.

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Awareness, knowledge, compassion and commitment come from many sources.

Every preacher knows that most sermons make their point through the use of a good story, not by a profound scholarly exegesis of an obscure text. I've commented often that most church people soak up more of their theology from the hymns they sing than from reading the Bible.

As we grapple with the reality of climate change, we need to use a wide variety of ways to communicate to our fellow citizens. Yes, we need scientists who will do the slow, tedious and essential work to understand and explain global warming and its far-reaching effects. But we also need cartoonists who will skewer the issue on the editorial pages and the funnies. We need stand up comics who will use laughter to inform, motivate and shame us. We need songs that will stick in our heads and our hearts. (Catchy compositions about climate are rare, though. There's a link to one example below.) We need street theater and posters and bumper stickers. We need compelling photos of retreating glaciers and flooded islands.

We need to use every tool and every resource, and we need to use them widely and assertively. We need to catch people rationally, emotionally, economically, spiritually, and in every other way that we can discover, because time is running out.

As the cover of Time says below the "very worried" statement, "Climate change isn't some vague future problem -- it's already damaging the planet at an alarming pace."

Global warming is no joke. But I pray that we can always laugh and sing as we work for the healing of God's warming, wounded creation.


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

-- A Few Fun Links --

Jill Sobule's wrote a "happy" song about global warming called Manhattan in January.

There are about 15 cartoons about global warming at the Health and Energy website. Click on the small images to get an enlarged version.

You can Google your way to some laughs and commentary with an image search that gives hundreds of hits, of widely varying quality.

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