“Defiant Hope – Our Faithful Response to the Climate Crisis”

Two Thoughts (that say pretty much the same thing” to Ponder in the Beginning:
I used to think that if we threw enough good science at the environmental problems, we could solve them.  I was wrong.  The main threats to the environment are not biodiversity loss, pollution, and climate change, as I once thought.  They are selfishness and greed and pride.  And for that we need a spiritual and cultural transformation…”


James “Gus” Speth


Psalm 24:1:

The earth is the LORD’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it;
II Corinthians 3:1-6
Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Surely we do not need, as some
do, letters of recommendation to you or from you, do we? [2] You yourselves are
our letter, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all; [3] and you show
that you are a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink but with the
Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. [4] Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. [5] Not that we
are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our
competence is from God, [6] who has made us competent to be ministers of a
new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives

Love is the most powerful force on earth. Motivated by love, each of us can make
profound, fundamental changes in what we do with the one precious life we have been given.

  • Love can drive us to re-direct how we use our assets.
  • Love can inspire us to embrace a new vocation.
  • Love can overcome authoritarian regimes and topple dictators.

Persistent, unrelenting love can transform the economics of a family, a town, a country.

            Today, I’m asking you fall in love with a world that is dying. I’m asking you to face your feelings of pain and grief – and use them as a gateway to action.i  I’m asking you to open your heart to a love so alive and active that it can drive out despair. What does faithfulness look like as we are living amidst the 6th great extinction? Faithfulness looks like active love. Falling in love with a world that is dying – and re-purposing our lives in order to re-build our home – not on life-canceling tar-sands – but on life-promoting zero-emission renewable energy.

The youth are leading

Millions of young people in every country are showing the world what this love looks like– and they are birthing a new world. Inspired by 17-year-old Greta Thunberg [b. Jan 3, 2003], they have done what God is calling each of us to do. They have: accepted the science, harnessed their resources and re-purposed their lives. The youth movement is leading:

  • Because they have known nothing but a climate crisis all their lives. They recognize that the planet is broken… and it’s the only one we’ve got.
  • These youth are leading because they’ll accept no substitute for a livable world.
  • These youth are leading because they realize that this is NOT someone else’s problem. As they frequently say, “What happens next to us… is up to us”
  • And these youth are leading because, like all true leaders, they offer hope…

But it’s not what many of us understand as hope. These young people – affiliated with groups like: the Sunrise Movement and the Extinction Rebellion – these young people understand hope as engagement. For them, hope has no connection with optimism. They realize they can’t control the menacing juggernaut of the climate crisis. For them, hope is not focused on a future state of affairs. Hope is manifest right now

  • By walking out of school and out of work and into the street with millions of others in the biggest protest the world has ever seen;
  • Hope is manifest right now… by refusing to be paralyzed by despair;
  • by no longer eating meat;
  • By choosing not to fly;
  • By confronting those in charge;
  • By boycotting and divesting from banks and protesting universities that support the fossil fuel industry; and
  • By suing the state and federal governments for failing to assure an inhabitable planet.

You and I have been given the gift of life at the most critical moment in the two million years humans have walked on earth. Living as we are on the hinge of history, it falls to us – our generation – to determine the fate of the earth and all its inhabitants.

This is not hyperbole. The religious leaders of a quarter of the world’s population agree.  I’ve heard it from the lips of the head of the Orthodox church – Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew… and Pope Frances has twice convened the corporate executives of Exxon Mobil,  BP and other fossil fuel companies to hear – from his lips – that humanity is facing a challenge  “of epochal proportions” and that it is their responsibility – as corporate leaders – to embrace this immense opportunity for a rapid transition to clean, renewable forms of energy.

In January 2019, when those same executives gathered with the world’s richest people in Davos Switzerland, they were treated to an even more pointed message – this time from the young woman who would become Time Magazine’s Person of the Year. Greta Thunberg did not fly to Davos on a private jet. She took a 32-hour train ride from her home in Sweden. And she did not stay in a swank hotel. She slept in a tent outside — in the sub-freezing cold. Her message was unqualified and unnerving… and I quote:

We must change almost everything in our current societies. The bigger your carbon footprint, the bigger your moral duty. The bigger your platform, the bigger your responsibility…. I don’t want your hope …. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.ii

If you think Greta is a little over the top, listen to what the climate scientists say we’re up against:

  • The five hottest years on record are the past 5 years. (2015-2019)
  • Since 1950, the number of floods across the world has increased by 15 times, extreme temperature events by 20 times, and wildfires seven-fold.iii
  • Our oceans are warming at a rate almost half-again-as-fast as we thought only five years ago. iv
  • A quarter of the world’s population are one drought away from running out of water.v
  • The Greenland ice sheet is now melting seven times faster than it was in the 1990s.vi
  • 70% of CO2 emissions come from the richest 20% of people in the world.vii
  • And the ways our current leaders of the Federal government are wrecking God’s creation are too numerous to mention.viii

Because we are living in an age of loss disguised as plenty,ix it’s difficult to face our current reality. And yet more and more people are paying attention! 80% of Americans now (Sept. 2019) accept that human activity is making the planet warmer.x

So: what does faithfulness look like in a climate crisis world?

  • It looks like a climate strike organized by kids from over 185 countries that drew over seven million people into the streets of over 6,100 cities and towns calling     for climate action now.xi
  • Faithfulness looks like the people of Ethiopia planting over 350 million trees in just 12 hours.xii
  • Faithfulness looks like 9 states and hundreds of cities committing to transition to 100% renewable energy.xiii
  • Faithfulness looks like ordinary people like you and me talking to our family, friends and co-workers about climate change every day. If it’s the greatest moral challenge humanity has ever faced, how could we not?
  • Faithfulness looks like churches hosting community conversations about shrinking our personal carbon footprints and paying for carbon offsets. xiv  And let’s not stop there.
  • Faithfulness sounds like people of faith recognizing that as we move from an age of loss to a time of consequences – we are neither choiceless nor powerless.
  • And faithfulness sounds like the UCC becoming the first Christian denomination to declare support for the Green New Deal. xv
  • Yes – it will take a lot to get Exxon Mobil, Shell and the other fossil fuel companies to forgo anticipated revenues of over $33 Trillion over the next 25   years. But in the six years since the national UCC Synod became the first national body and the first religious body in America to vote to divest from fossil fuel stocks, investments worth over twelve trillion dollars have purged their portfolios of fossil fuel stock.xvi  Bill McKibben is right when he says, “Money Is the Oxygen on Which the Fire of Global Warming Burns.xvii And the divestment movement is beginning to cut off the oxygen supply.
  • Yes – it will take a lot to end America’s “addiction to oil” — as George Bush called it. But since I was arrested in front of the White House with 1,253 others in    2011, the Keystone XL pipeline has yet to be built, and we have already prevented well over two billion barrels of the dirtiest crude from being extracted and burned.xviii

It’s up to us…

  • we who have been given this precious moment,
  • we who now face this unprecedented crossroads,
  • we who are living amidst this unconscionable vulnerability…

it’s up to us. While physics and chemistry are telling us that the arc of the universe is bending towards extinction, our generation still has the power to bend the moral arc of the universe towards justice as we revive creation.

Expressing our faithfulness, in July 2017 – one month after our President pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accords – 97% of UCC delegates from all over the country voted to accept a resolution that I wrote, affirming:

  • that clergy need to preach on climate change; and
  • that we have a moral imperative to resist all expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure.xix

Now let’s be clear, while 97% of people in the United Church of Christ say their religious beliefs compel them to address climate change, only 13% of Americans consider climate change a religious issue. xx (Last time I checked, the first verse of Psalm 24 says, “The earth is the Lord’s!”)

And when people ask me, “What is God doing amidst this climate crisis?”

I respond like this: Amidst our climate emergency, with creation on the brink of destruction, God is doing what God always does in response to human crises and emergencies: God is calling people into action. God is extending to each of us a fresh invitation to harness all our gifts and blessings in service of rejecting the status quo, changing the system, imagining and thereby creating a new future…

  • a future in which each of us decides to accept God’s invitation to change the course of history;
  • a future in which YOU are the answer to the climate crisis… YOU along with everyone else who is alive today.

TOGETHER, we all need to live our lives as people who welcome the opportunity our generation has been given to determine what life will be like for tens of thousands of years to come.

The importance of the witness God is calling you and I to make could not be more obvious!

Sharing yoke of defiant hope – WWII example of urgent change

Perhaps that’s why for several years (since Nov. 2016) I’ve been signing my emails “Sharing the yoke of defiant hope.” Defiant hope believes that we are called by God to envision new possibilities and act upon them as if they were inevitable xxi — and that God has given us everything we need to engage.

Let’s remind ourselves of what we’re actually capable of:

If Franklin Delano Roosevelt had gone to the auto industry in 1939 and asked them to stop doing what they were doing and instead, build the largest industrial plant in the world and use it to construct something they’d never built before – something with over a million parts –and do this with such urgency that within six months not only would the building be fully constructed, but they’d actually be assembling one of those new things every 24 hours… if FDR had said this in 1939, Edsel Ford would have said, “Mr. President, you’re nuts!” But when FDR said it in 1941, Edsel knew that things had grown much darker; and within six months the Willow Run manufacturing complex was churning out a B-24 Liberator Bomber every 24 hours.

Do you see what I mean when I say, “We can do this!” Can you say it with me: “We can do this!

But to do this, every day, each one of us needs to do two things:

  • we need to face the challenge…
  • and we need to join with others to take some action.

And one thing more: defiant hope inoculates us against the epidemic of despair that sooften accompanies the release of the newest climate science or the shock when a government official denies it. xxii But this reality is not the final word – because the future is not yet written.

And if any Government official denies science, or deletes climate data, or forbids the sharing of ongoing scientific investigation, or supports policies that will rob from our children their future… none of this is the final word – because the future is not yet written.

Can you say it with me: “The future is not yet written!”

And remember: God has given us everything we need to engage.

And while God doesn’t promise success, God promises unswerving support while we engage our calling.

Yes – this is how we write the future… this is how we shape history: by envisioning new possibilities and acting on them as if they were inevitable. And all the while remembering Gandhi’s wise counsel: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

Now let’s be clear – Gandhi doesn’t offer a time line! And many of us may not live to see the fruits of our actions to protect God’s creation. But we know that courageous moral witness will inspire others as they receive the power of the Holy Spirit.

And that brings me to today’s Epistle. Just as Paul declares to the Christians in Corinth, so I say to you: “You are my letter.” And more importantly, you who have taken Christ’s name as your own, you are the letter which Christ is writing to the world.

And so I say to you: In all your endeavors, let your life be a sign of defiant hope:

  • rooted in love;
  • immersed in gratitude;
  • infused with joy;
  • propelled by wonder;
  • and always seeking the truth —

because the truth will set you free – free to make full use of all your gifts and capacities in partnership with others – and guided by the Holy Spirit – to protect God’s great gift of creation.





i Climate grief is drawing increasing attention: https:www.latimes.comsciencestory2020-01-11feeling-distressed-about-climate-change-heres-how-to-manage-it
ii https:www.theguardian.comenvironment2019jan25our-house-is-on-fire-greta-thunberg16-urges-leaders-to-act-on-climate
iii https:www.bbc.comnewsscience-environment-47203344
iv https:www.nytimes.com20190110climateocean-warming-climate-


v See https:www.nytimes.cominteractive20190806climateworld-water-stress.html?te=1&nl=climate-


5d0ec335500390fea2530&regi_id=5432833420191225 and https:www.ipcc.chreportsrccl
vi https:www.washingtonpost.comclimate-environment20191210greenland-ice-losses-have-septupled-are-pace-sea-level-worst-case-scenario-scientists-say vii Naomi Klein

viii https:www.nytimes.com20191114opiniontrump-republicans-pollution.html?smid=nytcore-ios-share and


ix This elegant phrase is borrowed from Nathaniel Popkin’s NYT Op Ed 122718, “A Forest of Ancient Trees, Poisoned by Rising Seas.”

x https:www.washingtonpost.comclimate-environmentamericans-increasingly-see-climate-change-as-a-crisis-poll-

xi https:globalclimatestrike.net4-

xii https:psmag.comnewsethiopians-tackle-the-climate-crisis-with-350-million-new-trees xiii https:www.sierraclub.orgready-for-100commitments
xiv http:www.myfootprint.org xv https:www.ucc.orgnews_ucc_general_synod_first_christian_body_to_endorse_green_new_deal_06232019

xvi https:gofossilfree.orgmajor-milestone-1000-divestment-commitments Link for updates:


xvii https:www.newyorker.comnewsdaily-commentmoney-is-the-oxygen-on-which-the-fire-of-global-warming-burns

xviii 92011-92019=8yrs x 365days x 830,000 barrels = 2.42 billion barrels x 42galsbarrel = 97 Billion Gallons of oil.

The approval of KXL is still a possibility: https:www.nytimes.com20190823uskeystone-xl-pipeline-nebraska.html?utm_medium=email&utm_source=actionkit

xix https:www.bostonglobe.commetro20170704united-church-christ-approves-emergency-resolution-climate-

xx http:climatecommunication.yale.edupublicationsclimate-change-american-mind-march-20182 March 2018 report.

xxi This insight comes from Walter Wink’s lectionary meditation “These bones shall live – Living the Word” in Christian Century Magazine 1994. (Volume and date of issue unavailable)

xxii In a recent Op Ed piece, Bill McKibben worries that the impact President Trump’s decisions are having on the climate could mean that his term will last forever.