Sanctuary Earth – A Creation in Peril

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Altar Stained Glass Trinity 2020

East Wall Stained Glass Over High Altar – Trinity Episcopal Church, Everett WA

Over a period of five months in the spring and summer of 1892 [April to August], Trinity Episcopal Church grew from an idea in the minds of a few business owners into an incorporated parish with its own lumber-built church on the corner of Wetmore and California Avenues in what is now downtown Everett.

In 1911, the Trinity Vestry called The Rev. Edgar M. Rogers, who lead the Vestry in purchasing the current property at 23rd and Hoyt, breaking ground on the (former) parish hall on March 25, 1912. However, the work on building the church itself was halted as the working men of Snohomish County and many of its clergy went off to join the armed forces in support of the Great War. After Armistice was declared on November 11, 1918, survivors returned home picking up the remnants of old lives and building new ones as best they could.

Work resumed on building the church sanctuary, and the first mass was held in it the Sunday after Easter of 1920 – 100 years ago today. The final dedication of the new building was held the following year, presided over by Bishop Keater on Trinity Sunday, May 22, 1921. On that occasion a plaque was placed in the original entry dedicating the sanctuary as a Victory Memorial to those who died in the Great War.

At the time when the old church property at Wetmore and California was sold, the funds helped to support the work of the architect of the new building, E. T. Osborne. Meanwhile, the stained glass windows were designed and executed by Charles J. Connock, who designed the stained glass windows overlooking our high altar. Connock designed the windows with the theme of Resurrection in mind.

The risen Christ is depicted on the center panel, with Mary his mother to the left and Mary Magdalene and Mary mother of James on the outside left panel. To the right of Christ is Peter and to the far right is Joseph.  The middle panel – depicting the resurrected Christ – was given by the children of the parish in honor of mothers. Surrounded by doves and angels, with Roman soldiers giving up arms at his feet, the resurrected Christ raises a hand in blessing – etched in glass, immortalized in color and light. This blessing reminds us every time we behold it that there is no challenge so great that together we cannot overcome it.

The ancestors of this place dedicated (and gave) their lives to challenging global injustice and to upholding values of international peace and unity. During the years of WWI, Trinity’s parish hall had served as an active hub for community organizing in response to the war efforts – hosting Red Cross meetings, adopting war orphans, selling Liberty Bonds, and hosting an array of guest war time speakers and faith leadership dignitaries from all over the world, including Belgium, France, Greece and Russia. We have multiple photos of rows of scowling clergy to prove it.

Over the years that followed Fr. Roger’s time, the pursuit of justice took different forms in each generation. In the 1960’s issues challenging The Episcopal Church reflected the changing times. The movement for women’s rights, social justice concerns related to in human sexuality, and women’s birth control were foremost issues in international and domestic church meetings.

Voices were also being raised in the streets and in the pews calling for the formulation of environmental laws and policies that would address the then unregulated pollution of the air and water ways – including  the use of chemicals developed during wars being  used commercially as insecticides and herbicides that were poisoning ecosystems and towns. The early environmental movement in The Episcopal Church was in part informed by the Scriptural tradition of the Genesis – a story we heard just last Saturday evening during the Easter Vigil service. In the Genesis story of Creation, God created the heavens and the earth, as well as everything in them, each bit of Creation concluding with the refrain, And God saw that it was good. When finally all things in the heavens and the earth and their multitudes were finished, we hear that, “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.”

From the perspective of many faiths, philosophies, and sciences, Earth Day was a unified response to an environment in crisis — oil spills, smog, rivers and lakes so polluted they literally caught fire.

On April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans — 10% of the U.S. population at the time — took to the streets, college campuses and hundreds of cities to protest environmental injustices and demand a collective new way forward. It is still recognized as the largest civic event on our planet.

This year, this Wednesday on April 22nd, marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. The theme for Earth Day 2020 is climate action. Every thinking person with feet firmly planted in scientific reality, comprehends that climate change represents the biggest challenge to the future of humanity and all life on Earth.

The Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts were created in response to the first Earth Day in 1970, as well as the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Many countries soon adopted similar laws. Earth Day continues to hold major international significance: In 2016, the United Nations chose Earth Day as the day when the historic Paris Agreement on climate change was signed into force. At the end of this year, nations will be expected to increase their national commitments to the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.

The Paris Agreement entered into force on 4 November 2016.

However, the Creation that God judges as good, very good, has throughout the course of human history been subjected to much human action that is bad –  very, very bad.

On November 8, 2016, four days after the Paris Agreement entered into force in the United States, a new President was elected President of the United States. Only seven months later, on June 1, 2017, the new President announced that the U.S. would cease all participation in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change mitigation.

In accordance with Article 28 of the Paris Agreement, a country cannot give notice of withdrawal from the agreement before three years of its start date. So, on November 4, 2019, the new administration gave formal notification of intention to withdraw, which takes 12 months to take effect. So, the earliest possible effective withdrawal date by the United States cannot be before November 4, 2020. [The election for the next president of the United States is to be held the day before, on November 3rd. ]

When the President made his preliminary announcement on June 1, 2017, that afternoon the governors of several U.S. states formed the United States Climate Alliance to continue to advance the objectives of the Paris Agreement at the state level despite the federal withdrawal. The formation of the Alliance was announced by three state governors: Jay Inslee of Washington, Andrew Cuomo of New York, and Jerry Brown of California. The founding statement noted that: “New York, California and Washington, representing over one-fifth of U.S. Gross Domestic Product, are committed to achieving the U.S. goal of reducing emissions 26–28 percent from 2005 levels and meeting or exceeding the targets of the federal Clean Power Plan.”

To date 24 governors both democrat and republican have signed onto the statement, including Michigan, Wisconsin, Puerto Rico, Minnesota, Maryland, and Massachusetts among others. Several mayors and businesses have also signed onto the agreement.

Beginning with federal withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, the current administration has since rolled back 95 environmental regulations that effectively remove oversight of oil, natural gas, and methane and power production. All previous targets for standards set to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have been abandoned by the administration in its gutting of the environmental policies and the Environmental Protection Agency itself.

On January 9th of this year, the administration announced its proposal to obliterate the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA. NEPA is the nation’s first major environmental law, signed by President Richard Nixon in 1970. That law requires that our government consider the environmental consequences of its major actions, including those that impact our climate.

The current administration wants to ease up on fuel efficiency regulations and has subsequently increased the amount of permitted poisonous nitrogen oxides in the air. As air quality is goes down, respiratory illnesses go up. If the Earth is not healthy, life upon it doesn’t have a chance.

With regard to protected public lands, the current administration is responsible for the largest reduction in the boundaries of protected land in US history, including shrinking protected land at the Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument and Bears Ears National Monument, both significant sites in Utah. The changes open up both areas to mining and oil and gas development. Additionally, the administration is expanding more than 180,000 acres of the Tongess National Forest in Alaska, the country’s largest national forest, known as America’s Amazon, for logging and fossil fuel exploration and mineral extraction. The administration is actively seeking to open oil and gas lease sales in the environmentally sensitive Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The administration seeks to change the Forest Service’s Roadless Area Conservation Act to allow logging in our country’s largest and most pristine old growth forest and to allow the massive proposed Pebble Mine to move forward with catastrophic effects on the world’s largest fishery of wild sockeye salmon.

The federal administration currently managing the EPA announced that it will additionally rescind Clean Water Act protections from critical streams and wetlands. This follows on last year’s announcement by the Interior Department that significant changes are being made to the Endangered Species Act to allow for more oil and gas drilling, placing a cap on how much regulators consider the impacts of the climate crisis.

The administration has made changes to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which has severely limited any penalties for bird deaths across the United States, allowing the destruction of millions of birds and marking a radical departure from decades of federal policy that protected more than 1,000 migratory species.

The administration has increased the allowable levels of the herbicide Atrazine, which is used commercially to kill weeds on crops and lawns and which has the proven added effect of contributing to the loss of pollinators, bird populations, and contaminating water supplies and that has been linked to reproductive abnormalities including premature birth.

While our nation reels from the coronavirus pandemic, the current administration is accelerating an agenda that is extraordinarily harmful to all life on the planet — rollbacks that dismantle critical health and environmental protections, and that will inevitably deepen the climate crisis. The lives of American citizens are being impacted right now by a vindictive leadership that seems intent on taking vengeance on the governors and citizens of the states that dared to contradict the President on June 1, 2017 by supporting the Paris Agreement in the face of federal withdrawal. I believe the administration’s actions have been and are now intentional and malicious, constituting not only crimes against humanity but crimes against all life on Earth now and for generations to come.

The sanctuary of our church is 100 years old on its anniversary today. The stained glass windows of Christ’s resurrection are also 100 years old but carry the same message for our community today as they did for those who lived through the Great War and built a new world afterwards – there is no challenge so great that together we cannot overcome it.

Though we are not able to gather to celebrate in our church sanctuary today, we yet share the greater sanctuary of God’s Creation that shelters us all. Just as we few are tasked with caring for the heritage of our church building in memory of the sacrifices of those who have gone before for principles of liberty, fellowship, and peace, so we are bound as God’s stewards to protect the sanctuary of Creation on behalf of the liberty, fellowship, and peace of all the Earth. The national struggle in which we find ourselves today is not a matter of party affiliation or religious affiliation, it is not confined to our national boarders or even to our species – what we are called to confront in this present moment is a matter of life and death – whether the Earth as we know it can survive the impact of humankind or not.

I believe this Earth is the only one we have, I do not believe in the myth of a new Earth or new Creation that is anything other than made manifest in how we live together on this one. This. Is. It. And in the one mortal life we have upon the Earth, we must chose every day whether we stand with her or against her, whether we work with God as stewards of all that God has made or whether we turn our backs on God and let the sacred earth burn with human greed, with corruption, with the unrelieved fever of human illness in so many forms that must be challenged by every generation.

This church sanctuary is very beautiful, and we care for it as those entrusted with its care. How much more should we then care for the greater sanctuary of Creation where the God that unites us by the Spirit that rejoices in all that God has made, this sacred and glorious Creation where the Spirit of God entrusted to us truly lives  –  still.

Life On Earth vs. Death by Patriarchy

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Singing Bird

Top Song Birds in America – Song Sparrow photographed by Bill Leman

In the mid-1940s, environmentalist Rachel Carson became concerned about the broad use of synthetic pesticides in the United States. Many synthetic pesticides had been developed through the military funding of science following World War II, and Carson’s friends living on Long Island noticed that while the local application of DDT was killing insects, it was also killing birds.

Because of the impact on bird populations, the Audubon Naturalist Society actively opposed chemical spraying programs and recruited Carson to help publicize the U.S. government’s spraying practices and related research. Carson then began a four-year project gathering examples of environmental damage attributed to DDT. By the end of her research, she had investigated hundreds of individual incidents of pesticide exposure and the resulting human sickness and ecological damage. Her conclusions were published in 1962 as the book entitled “Silent Spring,” a metaphorical title suggesting a bleak future for the entirety of the natural world, not only the literal predicted absence of birdsong.

The development of chemical and herbicidal warfare gave rise to the domestic application of the same chemicals by the corporations that developed them. On September 20, 2016, top executives from Bayer, Monsanto, DuPont, Dow Chemical, and Syngenta testified before the US Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington D.C. asking federal regulators to approve mega-mergers between the corporations, which have today fundamentally reorganized global agriculture. (Executives from the sixth company involved in the consolidation, China National Chemical Corp., declined an invitation to appear at the hearing.)

The worldview that allows for and supports the exploitation of natural resources is linked with patriarchal socio-cultural systems that are characterized by competition for land, the control of women and children, and subjugating peoples of other cultures considered to be threatening to nationalistic concepts of racial and biological purity. Social power within patriarchal systems is all about control – of men and women, of resources, of economies, of leaderships, and of nature itself. The patriarchal system is preoccupied with structures of dominance and submission, a dynamic that has put both human societies and Earth’s ecosystems in peril.

Carolyn Merchant is an American ecofeminist philosopher and historian of science. She is most famous for her theory presented in her book, “The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution” (1980), in which she identifies the Enlightenment as the period when science began to objectify nature as an inert resource for exploitation that needed to be forcibly dissected in order to be made to give up its riches and power. Her book and theory continue to be relevant in today’s Anthropocene era of globalization and global climate change. I highly recommend Merchant’s book, and she is currently Professor of Environmental History, Philosophy, and Ethics at UC Berkeley.

Just a few days ago, I read an article by Catwhipple in “The Circle” (an online magazine for Native American news and arts).  The article, Sex, Fossil Fuels, and Matriarchal Economics, connects the dots between exploitation of the environment by the oil industry with the phenomenon of missing and murdered indigenous women plaguing the United States and Canada.

Catwhipple writes:

The man camps and the consistent violence against Native women which occurs at the hands of the fossil fuels industry is a huge issue, and it’s also the metaphor. “Let me shove this pipeline down your throat”. That’s basically what the MN PUC [Minnesota Public Utilities Commission] just said to Native people, with the approval of the permits for Enbridge’s Line 3. That’s what $11 million worth of lobbying will buy you in Minnesota. The rape of the north and the rape of Native women. How much more graphic than “let me shove this down your throat…” do I have to be?  Consent is consent. Consent is about sex and consent is about pipelines and megaprojects. In the old days, the company men and their governments used to just rape and pillage. That was how it went. It’s not supposed to be those days now.

Sadly, most people realize that the days of colonialism, racism, and patriarchy remain a powerful influence. However, the current national and global struggles may indicate the last stand of a system that perceives its immanent demise.  The truth behind climate change is that either our current socio-cultural system is radically transformed or this planet will die by our collective hand.

Affecting many nations, men and women who identify with the toxic system of patriarchal authority and privilege have girded their collective loins today for what seems to be a 12th hour stand against those who don’t see nature or women as ultimately expendable.  Women and nature are inextricably linked within the patriarchal worldview, which long has been the dominant system informing resource exploitation and the oppression of peoples. What once may have contributed to the aggressive survival of our species is now condemning all other species to death, along with our own.

The origin of the term ecofeminism is attributed the French writer Françoise d’Eaubonne in her book “Le Féminisme ou la Mort” (1974). Ecofeminist theory posits that a feminist perspective of ecology does not place women in the dominant position of power, but rather calls for an egalitarian society in which there is no one dominant group.

As d’Eaubonne defines the approach, ecofeminism relates to the oppression and domination of all marginalized groups (women, people of color, children, the poor) to the oppression and domination of nature (animals, land, water, air, etc.). The author argues that oppression, domination, exploitation, and colonization from the Western patriarchal society has directly caused irreversible environmental damage.  With the rate of species extinction growing exponentially with each successive generation of humans, the impact of human habitation has had a catastrophic impact on every habitat. As ecofeminism makes clear, any positive change of course requires an accompanying change of the basic socio-cultural structures and economic practices informed by the patriarchal influences in many developed nations.

Socially conservative and militant expressions of the Abrahamic faiths in particular need to be challenged. The development of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam each substantively arose within patriarchal societies as ideologies under-girding and legitimating the subjugation of women that accompanied the conquering of lands, including the habitats with all the species and resources therein.

Progressive Christian theologians and writers have long championed a rediscovery or socio-cultural archaeology of early Christian belief and context. We frame an understanding of the ministry and teaching of Jesus that emphasizes the transformational nature of love for one’s neighbor, care of community, and liberation from systems of oppression. The resistance to forces of empire calls for the social movement away from patriarchal structures and norms to those that emphasizes human equality, care of creation as a vital imperative, equitable economy, and governing principles that assure the same.

Recently, the current United States administration’s opposition to abortion has led to the watering-down of a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning rape as a weapon of war and reaffirming the UN’s opposition to sexual violence. However, the US – along with China and Russia – insisted on removing all references to women’s sexual and reproductive health or else the three countries would veto the resolution.

The US administration opposed all mentions of reproductive health on the grounds that health services for women victimized by rape during times of war implied support for abortion. The administration has taken measures to avoid supporting efforts and organizations that provide abortion services to women, including victims of rape.

CNN reported that the US move against the UN resolution is “just another expression of the contempt that this administration has for women’s rights and reproductive health and rights,” said Stacie Murphy, Director of Congressional Relations at Population Connection Action Fund. “It’s certainly typical of this administration when it comes to anything having to do with reproductive rights, sexual assault,” Murphy said.

The current administration of the United States is a casebook example of how the patriarchal worldview – supported in this instance by a conservative Christian belief system – is operating at this moment and in our generation to obliterate those voices, lives, and landscapes most affected by its consequences. Violence against women is not only aided and abetted, it is sanctioned and frequently legislated.

Women are not the only one’s negatively impacted and subjugated within patriarchal systems. Patriarchal norms place men at risk in terms of their physical, mental, and spiritual health. Emerging literature on toxic masculinity illuminates our country’s current struggles with gun violence, the prison industry, violence towards women, and racism – just to name a few examples.

A recent article in the New York Times by Wil S. Hylton describes how as a young man he was influenced by the behavioral modelling of a male cousin. The author was drawn to cousin’s strength, his bravado, his violence until his cousin physically assaulted him, placing his life in jeopardy. As Hylton shares his story, we learn how the episode forced him to come to terms with how that idea of masculinity poisoned his cousin’s life and his own. Reading Hylton’s story is like watching someone, with their last breath after a harrowing climb, plant a flag in the top of an unfathomable cultural iceberg. It’s chilling, and no man should have to endure it, but Hylton makes us have to look.

Jared Yates Sexton has written about the challenges that men have to “detoxify their masculinity” in his newly released book, “The Man They Wanted Me to Be: Toxic Masculinity and the Crisis of Our Own Making.” Sexton addresses toxic masculinity as, “An especially potent and toxic system of power and control that has subjugated women and minorities for generations via methodical and organized actions powered by misogyny and racism, a unique brand of maleness that has held sway over the United States of America since before its founding.”

Perhaps, the results of our 2016 national election and the resulting societal destruction over the subsequent years have helped to illuminate the psychology behind patriarchy. Additional social factors such as the unrelenting phenomenon of mass shootings in schools and in places of worship are social symptoms of a common cause affecting our entire national life and role on the world stage.

Our current administration has made legislative incursion into our national parks, lands previously set aside as wilderness areas, and treaty lands held by Native American communities.  The language of climate change has been deleted from government websites and reports, while traditional energy corporations continue dangerous resource extraction methods and alternative energy resources are resisted.  Incursions have been made into legislating control over women’s bodies, depriving LGBTQ persons of basic benefits and employment, consolidating control over natural resources, jeopardizing long-standing peace negotiations and historical alliances, criminalizing refugees, and protecting gun rights ownership over the rights of children.

The voices of scientists, physicians, ecologists, progressive theologians, journalists, park rangers, Native leaders, human rights advocates, international representatives working for peace and social justice – all of these voices are being vilified by those invested in preserving the worldview that is now killing all of us and all of life on earth. We must keep speaking, writing, resisting, and insisting on justice and equity for all and for Nature herself.

The hateful movement of conquer and divide must be replaced with the loving movement of resist and unite. We are in the midst of a critical historical moment of social transformation, and we must be willing to take the reins of our social direction and not accept the bit being forced upon us by those who claim that life is sacred when all their actions speak otherwise. We must strive beside one another for the change that brings greater justice to all people as well as to our waterways, lands, and air.

The desperate ultimate landscape presented in Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” has haunted my fears since I was a child and first encountered her prophetic work. I need the birds to sing, which is why I pledge to them every morning – as they greet the rising sun –  that I will do all that I can so that their song will not be lost, that every spring will hold their voices of hope, endurance, and perseverance. If they can speak with such resolve, so must I –  and so must we all.