The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries
Lose It To Save It
If you were in church last Sunday, there's a good chance that you heard a challenging scripture text, Mark 8:27-38. That's the passage from the Lectionary that I used when I preached at a Lutheran church in the beautiful Colorado mountain town of Dillon.
In this snippet from Mark, Jesus first tells his followers that they need to "deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." In case you had any doubts, this blunt statement makes it clear that faithfully following Jesus (what we today might call being a Christian) is not a safe or easy thing. He explains this command by adding, "for those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it."
That sentence -- the seemingly paradoxical interplay of saving and losing your life -- is where I centered my sermon. In that sentence, I found a message which speaks broadly to faithfulness, gets to the heart of environmental responsibility, and extends beyond the personal to guide social ethics for climate justice.
As I summarize those thoughts today, I'll end with an example that is especially pertinent to voters in Colorado. (To the Notes readers who don't identify as Christian, this week has a "churchy" theme, but it makes a point that is important for secular ethics, too.)
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"Those who want to save their life will lose it." That short statement devastates much of superficial Christianity. If you're following Jesus just so that you can get saved, just so that you can collect the blessings of that relationship for yourself, then you've missed the whole point of what it is to be a follower. If you're in it for your own benefit, you'll never find the sort of rich and abundant life that Jesus offers.
But, Jesus says, "those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it." If you set aside attachment to your own welfare -- if you live in love and compassion, seeking justice, and always focusing on God's intention for the well-being of all creation -- then you will find a life of rich abundance in community, service and faith.
The life that you find probably won't look a lot like the life that you would have known and desired before committing to the gospel. You'll lose the kind of life that once seemed ordinary and familiar, and you'll find a better and more meaningful one.
It is only by letting go of what we think of as normal that there's a path to the fullness of life. The old way of doing things won't get us there. Only a major change of focus is life-giving.
We must not spiritualize the message of Jesus. This isn't only about our internal orientation. It is also practical, tied to the sacrificial, risk-taking way of living that Jesus called "taking up your cross." And while the call to sacrificial living is personal, I think there's a social message here, too.
For a societal form of that conventional way of living, consider what climate scientists call "business as usual" -- a way of life that we now know is suicidal. James Gustave Speth wrote at the very start of The Bridge at the Edge of the World [www.thebridgeattheedgeoftheworld.com],
all we have to do to destroy the planet's climate and biota and leave a ruined world to our children and grandchildren is to keep doing exactly what we are doing today ... Just continue to release greenhouse gasses at current rates ... and the world in the latter part of this century won't be fit to live in.
If we cling to the comfortable, familiar way of affluence and consumerism and our addiction to fossil fuels -- if we try to save that way of life -- we will lose it. But if we give up that comfort and privilege, we will have made a turn toward the sustainability that will bring life to the whole Earth community. That is a modern and social application of the message of Jesus. Attachment to your self-interest is never life-giving. Commitment to justice and the health of the community brings life.
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On Sunday, I pointed to the Our Children's Trust lawsuit as an example of the choice between death and life, between business as usual and a viable future. 21 youth have sued the federal government, saying that their constitutional right to a livable future is violated by US policies to increase fossil fuel production. That case goes to trial on October 29. (Justice for #EachGeneration is calling for more than a thousand sermons is solidarity with the youth's lawsuit. Can your pastor, or youth in your church, preach a message of faithful climate justice before the end of the trial?)
Today, I'll also point to Proposition 112, which will appear on the Colorado ballot this fall. If passed, it will change Colorado law to increase substantially the distance between new oil and gas wells, and all structures like homes and schools. Proposition 112 grew out of a concern for public health and safety in communities where drilling for fossil fuels is coming right into towns and neighborhoods. It is grounded in solid research that shows that a variety of health risks are increased close to active wells.
A year ago, the Eco-Justice Ministries board of directors voted to endorse the ballot process increasing oil and gas setbacks. We're deeply concerned about the impacts on communities with close-in drilling. We also affirm that the larger set-backs will reduce drilling, and thus reduce greenhouse gas emissions from producing and burning fuels.
Proposition 112 has strong and very well-funded opposition from the fossil fuel industry, which is fighting to maintain business as usual. They claim that the larger setback distance will devastate the industry, lead to the loss of an implausibly large number of jobs, and impoverish towns and counties that depend on revenue from their operations.
Oil and gas wells are showing up in the Colorado suburbs because there are finite amounts of those fossil fuels. Even with fracking, the companies are having to crowd into populated areas because they're having trouble getting to fossil fuel resources that can be extracted economically. The economic boom from this drilling will not last for long, but its pollution, health impacts and climate disruption will persist.
In the industry-led opposition to Proposition 112, I see those who want to save their life, and in that quest for business as usual, they will first cause damage, and then will lose the very thing they are trying to save as climate change destabilizes Earth.
Proposition 112, on the other hand, is an expression of those who let go of their attachment to business as usual, who seek a fast and fair transition to a sustainable society, who embrace healing and justice and the long-term life of communities. By letting go, by saying "enough!" to the relentless demands of fossil fuels, we have the hope of finding a new and different way of life.
"Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it." Those who want to save business as usual will lose our way of life as climate chaos devastates the planet. Those who lose their attachment to business as usual, for the sake of justice and sustainability, will find a way of life that can last.
For Christians who want to follow Jesus, losing our self-oriented life is an essential first step toward discipleship. There's a parallel practical truth for our entire society. In a time that calls for transformation of energy sources and cultural values, we need to lose our attachment to business as usual if we are to survive. May we have the courage to face that transformation.
Eco-Justice Ministries * 400 S Williams St, Denver, CO 80209 * 303.715.3873
Home Page: www.eco-justice.org * E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org