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

Come Back to Me
distributed 12/18/09 - ©2009

'Tis a week before Christmas, and all 'round the Earth
the people are hoping, awaiting new birth.
The movements are growing -- 350, Avaaz --
Insisting on justice, on action, for "paz".
The science is solid, the changes are real.
The climate is warming, we must make a deal.
But the leaders of nations, in Denmark, are stalled.
No treaties, just "frameworks", will come from those halls.
Persistence, O people! Continue to speak!
Continue to witness, to protest, to teach.
The cause it is urgent, essential and right.
Persistence, O people! Continue the fight!

It is hard to write on this Friday morning.

This is the final day of the climate negotiations in Copenhagen, and MSNBC reports that a "diplomatic frenzy grips" the conference. The outcome of the meeting is not clear, except to know that it will not achieve what is necessary.

It is hard to offer thoughtful comments on a deal that is still being shaped. Will a last-minute proposal allow some sort of a breakthrough? Will the big polluters and affluent nations take larger steps than they have offered so far? Will the awareness of the absolute need to do something in this time of crisis force the delegates to craft a framework that will keep negotiations going through the next year? Or will these two weeks of negotiations fail to create any statement that can be affirmed in consensus? It is hard to know what to say about those shifting sands.

It is also hard to write today on an emotional level. I'm struggling to hold together (1) an honest appreciation of how far the world has moved in just a few years, and (2) my deep-seated frustration, anger and grief at the lack of transformative action. I know that both of those perspectives are essential. I know that both sides of the balance are true.

An authentic message on this day needs to be one of both/and. It must acknowledge contradictions and confusion. The tension between hope and anger is an ancient one.

+     +     +     +     +

As my poor poetry acknowledges, it is exactly one week before Christmas. For Christians, this is the season of Advent -- a time of faithful reflection grounded in both anticipation and repentance. It is a season when liturgy and spirituality often draw on the Hebrew prophets.

This morning, as I try to make theological sense of our global situation, I find my thoughts returning again and again to Hosea. You may recall the way that God called the prophet: "Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord." (Hosea 1:2)

The unfaithfulness of Gomer is stunning, and Hosea's words of judgement are scathing. This is not a prophetic message about small failings. It is ontological, about a totally misplaced reality. The prostitute finds her identity and her livelihood in superficial things, in fickle lovers. She cannot comprehend commitment and stability.

I will only suggest the similarities between the biblical description of Israel's whoredom, and a contemporary judgement of the nations (and the businesses and individuals) who know themselves only by measures of economic growth, and who ply the trades of unsustainable consumerism. Surely there is a modern whoredom in chasing after profit and prosperity while the biosphere of our planet is being destroyed.

The judgement of Hosea is harsh -- but that is not why Hosea stands out among the prophets. The remarkable message of Hosea is about unshakable love and grace. The astonishing witness of Hosea is not that he marries a prostitute, but that he acts to restore her. After she rejects the marriage, he takes the initiative to buy her back at a substantial price. In the embodied symbolism of that marriage, Hosea acts out the persistent and unshakable love of God.

The heartbreaking word from God at the end of the book of Hosea shifts from a husband/wife metaphor to one of parent/child. God speaks as mother to Israel:

When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more I called him, the more they went away from me. Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk ... I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them. ... How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? ... My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger. (Hosea 11:1-9)

That message of unshakable love in the presence of rejection is expressed in Gregory Norbet's moving hymn, a tune that runs through my head and heart today. "Come back to me with all your heart. Don't let fear keep us apart." That same message of unshakable, persistent, embodied love is proclaimed in the Christmas good news of God's incarnation.

Over and over again, God calls out, "Come back!" It was called out to Israel the whore. It is called out to us, to our world, when our identity, values and actions are at least as reprehensible as those of ancient Israel.

"Come back" is an invitation that includes judgement. It does not say that "I'll meet you half way", or that "an imperfect agreement is better than none." Come back calls Gomer/Israel back to fidelity. Come back calls our society back to God's shalom embodied in ecological health and global justice. Come back demands repentance and transformation, and it offers us joy in better ways of living.

Copenhagen will not accomplish what Earth needs. My nation, the United States, cannot comprehend what it means to be a part of Earth community. I feel grief and anger, and I find those emotions vividly expressed in Hosea. That is part of the truth for today.

But the prophetic word calls me to claim the other side of the message, too. Along with the pain and frustration, there must be persistence. If the judgement is rooted in real love, then it is not possible to turn away. No matter how often the harlot returns to her trade, no matter how many times the nations knowingly accelerate global warming, we cannot turn away.

If we love God and God's creation, then we must persist in the call. We must repeat the call to "come back" to Earth community. Come back to justice and sufficiency. Come back to your senses. Come back to the negotiating table. Come back. Come back.

The prophet embodies God's persistence. God calls over and over, even when there is no response, and even when the response is outright rejection.

We must be persistent -- and we can find encouragement in the changes that are happening. No binding agreement will emerge from Copenhagen, but there is a growing recognition that an agreement must be reached. The US and China are far from where they need to be, but they are talking. There are grassroots movements that span the globe, and they are building real political strength. There is news that can sustain us. We can see evidence that the persistence is paying off.

"Come back" is a persistent message that embodies the both/and needed for today. It joins judgement and love, fear and encouragement. "Come back" is the faithful, practical call that must always be voiced when the world is on the wrong track.

May the love that we have for God's creation give us the strength to persist in that call.

Shalom!

Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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