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

Vignettes of Hope
distributed 12/4/15 - ©2015

This week's issue of Eco-Justice Notes is underwritten by Jerry Rees and Sallie Veenstra of Leawood, Kansas. Their generous support helps make this publication possible.
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My mind and my heart are full today. The last few weeks have been packed with important, complicated and emotionally charged events.

This morning, I offer a few vignettes of hope. I draw on a variety of recent local events from my personal engagement or my home community. Others are global. I invite you to share images of hope and encouragement from your own experience. (Facebook users: this is a great opportunity to post comments!)

For Christians, the pre-Christmas season of Advent is a time of hope and expectation for the inbreaking of God's realm of shalom. In the spirit of this season, I lift up these few examples as signs of the already-but-not-yet present among us.

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At the top of my list, I must speak of the wonderful rally held in Denver last Sunday afternoon, as part of the Global Climate March. On the day before the COP21 negotiations began in Paris, our Colorado community joined with over 2,300 other settings to give voice to our passion for strong and urgent action from Paris.

(Disclaimer: I'm highly biased about this event. Eco-Justice Ministries assumed the role of coordinating the rally just 3 weeks in advance, with none of the necessary organizing in place. I spent at least half-time through November working with a great set of volunteers on the logistics of the event, and I must say, it was great!)

On a cold afternoon at the tail end of the Thanksgiving weekend, an estimated 500 people gathered in a Denver park. By Colorado standards, at any time of the year, that's a big crowd for climate action.

We were led in energetic songs and chants by an expert in music for social change. (The No Enemies project is a sign of hope in itself!) We heard brief comments on climate justice, and options for activism ranging from the global to the very local. We had a group photo taken which has been displayed on giant screens in Paris.

Just a two days before the rally, the international organizers put out an invitation: create a 30-second video, addressed to your country's head of state, voicing the message of the rally and the movement. We scrambled to create a script and find a volunteer video producer, and we were able to close the event with three takes of our concise message. Five speakers, interspersed with crowd chants, said: "President Obama! Commit our country to 100% renewable energy. Provide the Green Climate Fund with the resources it needs. Mr. President, let this be the conference when our planet begins to heal. From Denver, from the US, from the world." Three times, the crowd roared back: "Yes! We can do it now - now - now!"

I am inspired, encouraged and strengthened in hope by the diverse coalitions represented that afternoon, by the passion of those taking part, and by the experience of joining in a vibrant global movement. (A slideshow of photos from our event are on the Avaaz website. [https://secure.avaaz.org/en/event/globalclimatemarch/Denvers_Global_Climate_March/] Our video is on the Facebook page for Global Climate March - Denver. [https://www.facebook.com/GCMDenver])

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I was invited to be part of an "Encyclical to Action" gathering held in Denver two weeks ago. Motivated by Pope Francis' call to deep dialogue about care for our common home, Hunter Lovins, of Natural Capitalism Solutions, called together about 35 community leaders (interfaith, business, government and thought leaders) for an encyclical-inspired session of sharing and strategizing.

I see hope in the ongoing influence of the encyclical, which inspired a globally prominent business-oriented agency to assemble a mix of leaders unlike any I've encountered. We spoke theologically and practically about climate, community, politics and transformation. In four hours, new partnerships were formed, and new insights shared. I am encouraged by the gathering itself, and by what can emerge from it.

In passing, Hunter mentioned a pair of numbers that I had not heard expressed so clearly before. At the end of the Copenhagen climate talks in 2009, the minimal carbon reductions pledged by nations pointed toward an 8 degree temperature rise by the end of the century -- a catastrophic level. Heading into the Paris talks, the pledges now indicate a 3.8 degree rise -- still double what might be manageable, but half of what was expected six years ago. That does represent hopeful progress, even as far more needs to be done.

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Yesterday, in Denver, our mayor unveiled a revamped climate action plan including a commitment to cut carbon pollution by 80%, against 2005 levels, by 2050. The announcement was made at the 2015 Sustainable Denver Summit (which I did not attend!) The 35-page plan has specific benchmarks in a wide variety of program areas.

The mayor said, "This summit is about doing what is needed right now, right here." This sort of local action is essential in making real progress on emission reductions. I am hopeful about Denver's commitment, and I find even more hope in the fact that it is mirrored in many other cities across the US and around the world.

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The terrorism in Paris three weeks ago led to extreme measures in that city to enhance security during the climate talks. All large gatherings were banned, including a massive protest that had been scheduled for November 29.

Movement leaders in Paris found a creative way to make the public visible. People in Paris, in France, and beyond were invited to send a pair of shoes, with a note tucked inside expressing commitments for climate justice and action. Ten thousand pairs of shoes filled the plaza in Paris where the mass protest was to be held. Among the shoes was a pair of plain brown loafers from Pope Francis, and a pair from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. I am filled with hope when passionate people refuse to be silenced, and bring wonderful creativity to expressing their commitment and demands.

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I don't spend all my time and attention on climate justice issues -- quite! Yesterday afternoon, I attended a hopeful gathering on another issue of great importance.

Recent events, especially the terrorist attacks in Paris three weeks ago, have ignited fears about radical Islam. Countless Muslims -- ordinary people living lives of peace -- once again are subject to insults, hatred and violence. And countless others -- with no knowledge of the peaceful core of Islam -- experience fear about what they do not know.

At sunset yesterday, an interfaith gathering was held at Denver's largest mosque. We gathered for Christian, Jewish and Islamic prayer, to exchange symbols of community and concern, and to encircle the mosque with a candle-lit ring of solidarity and peace. It was a moving expression of support for our Muslim neighbors, and an important witness against groundless fear.

I find hope when communities speak and act boldly to counter fear and hatred.

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My mind and my heart are full this day. We are surrounded by great struggles and enormous problems. God's shalom can seem very far away. Yet over and over again in the last few weeks, I find evidence of good, of peace, of transformation, of community, of progress.

I am filled with hope -- hope to sustain us in the work that lies ahead.

Shalom!

Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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