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The Green Church


Solar panel at St. Anselm’s, Lafayette, California is just one of the Episcopal Church’s responses to global warming and the energy crisis. We are quietly refitting our buildings all over the country, from cathedrals and seminaries to high schools and church camps. Now it’s time to be less quiet about it.

The Episcopal Church needs to radically reposition itself to help 21st century people with the death-defying 21st century problems we now face, as well as the vexing quandaries that are perennial to human existence.

We are becoming the Green Church. Environmentally friendly. Cutting our carbon emissions in dramatic and meaningful ways. We are the leaders in this, because our unique history and ethos help us understand a little better than the competition that human beings are just not allowed to mess up God’s Creation.

While other churches are still screaming about evolution and the sanctity of marriage and all the other Falwell leftovers, Barack Obama just swept the White House. I bet he carried Episcopal “precincts” 3-1.

There are no such exit polls, of course; the media are only interested in “evangelicals,” Catholics, Jews, familiar racial and gender groups—not the views of mainstream Protestants. I haven’t heard of any Muslim or Hindu exit polls either.

Episcopalians have been moving the Green way for 30 years now. We didn’t just catch the Obama wave, although most of us probably welcomed it.

Further, although we’ve got much in common with other mainstream Protestants, we’ve been working through human rights and ecological issues for long enough that we’re able to do some real teaching and sharing on them now. I think of Eugene Sutton, the Episcopal Bishop of Maryland, who’s not only Black, he’s Green.

Episcopalians have slowly been working through the racial divide that was sadly in evidence in this presidential campaign, and we’ve come to consensus on it. We still have work to do and we always will have; but there’s no racial controversy anymore. The most overt racists walked out on us in protest 30 years ago.

The same is true of women’s issues, and it’s increasingly clear that we’ve done the same with LGBT issues; we’re not done yet, but we’re ready to move, while other mainstream Protestant denominations have lagged behind watching what Episcopalians do, because they’re even more afraid than we are.

The other day the Episcopal Diocese of Quincy, Illinois decided to secede from the rest of us because we’re too liberal for them on Gay people. I doubt anyone outside Quincy said a word about it at church on Sunday.

We know we still have anti-LGBT folks in our churches, but they’re opting out now, leaving the rest of us to keep doing what we’re getting halfway good at, learning to really welcome human diversity and celebrate our commonalities.

Church politics, which has garnered a lot of publicity the past few years, is now just background noise. They’re here, they’re queer, we’re used to it — heck, we’re over it! Meanwhile we have real issues with how we treat this earth and whether God’s Creation can survive humans’ ignorant and greedy self-destruction.

Yesterday in The New York Times there was a blogpost about an open letter sent to Obama by two well-known ecology professors at Stanford, Paul and Anne Ehrlich. (Read it all here.) I don’t necessarily endorse their predictions or prescriptions (one about Afghanistan really got to me as presumptuous, as if they’re experts on war strategy), but I found their questions fascinating.

I also felt like many are the exact same things we wrestle with every day in church. That may surprise you, but see for yourself.

The Ehrlichs’ Prescriptions (edited by me)

1) Put births on a par with deaths. …As been done in many family planning programs, the happy family should be promoted as one that limits its numbers. But the change should be in the motivation. Traditionally the small family was supposed to supply a higher standard of living — including more stuff for each individual. The new approach could be to promote it as a multi-generational unit that in each generation limits its size in order to maximize the chances of each following generations’ retaining a happy, sustainable life style.

To move in that direction, humanity must rapidly expand programs to educate and give job opportunities to women, make effective contraception universally available, and develop public support of population policies.

2) Put conserving on a par with consuming. At any given level of technology, there is a trade-off between how many people can be born into a society and the level of per capita physical affluence that can be sustainably supported. The more people there are, the smaller each one’s share of the pie. One way of dealing with this trade-off would be a cultural shift away from creating ever more gadgets to creating more appreciation and better stewardship for Earth’s aesthetic assets.

3) Transform the consumption of education. (snip)


5) Rapidly expand our empathy. We’re a small-group animal, trying to live in large groups…. People are gradually gaining more empathy toward those others distant from us in skin color, gender, religion, class, culture or physical space, but our ability to inflict harm on them has also increased. Cultural evolution is not rapidly enough reducing this discounting by distance (caring less about situations the further away they are). The same can be said about discounting by time — not caring enough about the world we will leave to our children and our descendants in the more distant future.

6) Decide what kind of world we all want. What are the ultimate goals of our lives? Are Americans really happier traveling to work an hour or more each day wrapped in a few tons of steel and breathing smog that threatens their lives?

7) Determine the institutions and arrangements best suited to govern a planetary society with a maximum of freedom within the constraints of sustainability. …In the 200,000-year history of Homo sapiens, states are a recent invention, existing for only a tiny fraction of our existence. In their modern form as nation states, they are only a little more than 200 years old. We need to look closely at possible alternatives that could combine greater awareness of the problems of living at a global scale while regaining family-style psychological comfort. More cooperation at a global level is clearly necessary for civilization’s long-term survival.

In the Episcopal Church we talk a lot about human rights, consumerism, peace and justice issues, and the ultimate goals of our lives. As Christians we believe we’ve got some real clues about them. All of these questions have religious and ethical aspects, and we deeply believe that the Biblical record speaks with remarkable clarity today on timeless issues which people have always faced. No, the Bible never says, “All churches should now switch to compact fluorescent bulbs and decrease their carbon footprints.” But it does say, “The earth is the Lord’s” (and you better not screw it up).

Because we don’t read Scriptures with literalistic or legalistic lenses as other Churches do, the Bible opens up a vast treasure trove of ancient holy wisdom to apply to new discoveries. And we’ve simply been applying it a little better and a little more widely than anyone else, because we’re no longer wasting our time over whether it is moral to distribute condoms for AIDS prevention. We don’t have a foreign dictator to keep happy till he’s 90, and we’re not busy building our megachurch supermall/media empire.

The Episcopal Church is not the Mensa Society, but we do attract highly-educated, involved people actively finding ways to live more simply, more generously, in harmony with each other and the universe, and the Holy Spirit whom we believe hums through every human body, every rock and rill.

It’s time we shared these resources much more widely.

Let us engage our theologians and artists and marine biologists and economists and businesspeople and soldiers and teachers to develop Christian ways of life in this century.

And yes, let’s find a marketing hook the general public can actually understand, and keep repeating it till it becomes familiar: the Green Church.

Tom Friedman has some interesting things to add in an interview with the Huffington Post about the massive international effort going Green will take human society, as opposed to environmentalism as a fad. I don’t want the Episcopal Church to “jump on the Green bandwagon”; I’m saying we are early adopters, and that Christians should be among the earliest leaders precisely because we bring some views that secular economists and engineers and entrepreneurs don’t necessarily share. We help connect the newest technology to the oldest human aspirations.

Take my next-door neighbor Tony, a machine operator who breaks big rocks into little rocks for a living. He’s just as concerned about the air his daughters breathe as a bunch of Starbucks Episkies are. He voted for Obama too. I guarantee Tony worries about what happens when the oil dries up and the price of heat goes through the roof and the Chinese add a new coal plant every week and Antarctica melts and the world economy collapses.

What he doesn’t know is what to do about it besides voting—how to alter the human attitudes, power structures and frank desire for sin that keep us on this destructive course we’re on.

No, we’ll never substitute “politics” for Jesus Christ, much less Barack Obama. We need sacraments and Creeds, community and prayer to keep us from jumping off the nearest bridge, much less opening a door to real spirituality. But consider this equation:

S=W²DW³G (∞)

“Stewardship is what we do with what we’ve got, all the time.”

I can understand it, so can Tony, and it came right from an Episcopal Church.

We are sitting on a 2000-year inheritance earning compound interest every day. Our magnificent storehouse of resources makes Wall Street in its heyday look dingy and drab. Conservative rejections and defections have made us keep our doors shut for a long time, wondering why no one comes to our fabulous feast.

Now Episcopalians are learning to share, to speak out, to invite, to organize from the grassroots up, and it’s time we opened the big green doors of God’s mansion and invited everyone in.++

Home & Garden: New Door, Scallions and Radishes in

The last three days have been home improvement time at my house. On Thursday my carpenter installed a new, energy efficient back door. This eliminated a 1950’s storm door that no longer hung correctly and the 1922 back door that was original to the house. One day a few months ago I was down on the kitchen floor with a view of the back door, and I could see daylight underneath. I stood on my little step stool to look over the door and yup, daylight there too. Cold air was blowing through the old-fashioned keyhole, where Sherlock Holmes could have squinted inside to see what I was doing. No wonder I was paying $700 a month to heat this house!

I wadded an old towel along the bottom of the door, stuck a piece of Scotch tape over the keyhole and ordered a new door. It fits tight as a drum, though the carpenter had to rebuild the frame, which was an odd size. That was cheaper than ordering a custom-sized door. Fortunately the carpenter is a smart guy, and before I ordered he asked me what I wanted the door to “do”: just be an energy-efficient entrance and egress? Make a fashion statement to neighbors and the home’s next buyer when I get ready to sell? Open a window to my backyard so I could enjoy it? Or protect my privacy?

The answer turned out to be that I want the door to open itself when I’m coming in with a load of groceries or luggage from the detached garage. Every time it rains I have to set down my shopping bags on the wet porch and fumble with keys. So my head gets wet, the bags get wet, and one time I managed to drop my keys, which fell through the crack between my wooden steps and the house. I never did find those keys, but I did have an extra set.

So for the new door I bought an electronic lockset with a 30-foot radio signal. I can stand in the garage doorway, hit the button, pick up my grocery bags, shut the garage door behind me and dash into the house, using my elbow to unlatch the back door. Cool!

We figure I’m the first person in town to have a remote-controlled back door. Everyone else has a big high-def flat-screen TV, but I’ve got a door that actually improves the quality of my life.

Friday the overhead door repairman came up from the nearest city 50 miles away; that’s life in a small town, the trip alone cost me $60 plus the service call at $140. But an hour later I have a functional garage door again. Six weeks ago I plowed into it while backing my car out; I hit the button to raise the door, it started and stopped but didn’t raise up all the way, and boom! This left me with a garage door that wouldn’t raise or lower and a nice scrape on the roof of my Accord. It was embarassing, and the empty garage told all my neighbors I wasn’t home. I’m glad to get the thing fixed, even for $200; the door is better than ever.

Since it’s April I have been eager to get out into the garden. I’ve done some prep work on warmer days lately (above 50º F.) but I’ve really wanted to get something into the ground; in April a farmer’s thoughts turn to planting. (And with dirt like ours, honey, we’re all farmers here, even when we live in town.)

At Murphy’s Food King, the local grocery, Colleen has started her garden shop. The lean-to greenhouse is up in the back of the lot, the 20-pound bags of mulch are piled high and the first shipment of flowers has arrived; pansies of course, because they love cool weather. So now is definitely the time when gardeners’ juices start flowing.

I recently learned that it’s okay to start radishes and scallions before the last frost, as soon as the ground is workable. It’s also a good idea to stagger their planting by a week to 10 days so you don’t end up with more veggies than you can deal with; I’ve never heard this before. Last year my friend Peter sent me lots of vegetable and flower seeds from Holland, and I planted a couple of rows of radishes and onions in May, after the last frost (I live in Zone 5). I was delighted with the results, but now it turns out I could have planted much earlier, and then kept planting every 10 days and had produce all summer long. Isn’t the internet a great thing? (H/t University of Illinois @ Urbana-Champaign Extension. Their gardening pages are much more practical than Purdue’s, which are all about science and academic credentials instead of how to grow radishes.)

Yesterday it rained, but today is sunny and 60º, so I’ve just spent an hour or so clearing this year’s radish and onion bed, which last year grew petunias. It’s a small bed, 4’x3′, right next to the back deck with a western and southern exposure, lots of afternoon sun. I’d already removed most of the petunia stalks. I gathered up all the pine bark nuggets I put down last year and threw them underneath my lilac bush nearby; its leaves are ready to pop any day now. I used my little hand claw to break the soil, then dug deeper with my hand trowel, uncovering bunches of earthworms; what friends they are, nature’s own aeration machines. I didn’t hurt any of them, and they all burrowed their way back into the dirt, no doubt wondering what the human was up to now. Neighbors on both sides of me were out and we all said hi.

The soil in this bed is a little different from the rest of my yard, which is incredibly rich black loam—the reason to live here, some of the most fertile soil on earth. The northern part of this county is largely sand, blown down over the eons from the Indiana Dunes of Lake Michigan. But our south county dirt is black gold, wet and rich, the kind you love to get under your fingernails. This little bed, unlike the rest of my yard, has a little clay and a little sandy loam. One of the things we learn in this county is how to distinguish among soil types, and here’s one of our bragging rights: two years ago a team from our local high school won the Soil Judging National Championship—and yes, signs into our town announce this as if we were basketball stars.

The small amount of sand and clay in this bed is not enough to worry about. Once I turned the topsoil, I stuck two fingers in, making two rows every 3-4 inches about a foot from the house; I could have planted more but I wanted to save room for the next batch ten days from now. I dropped two of Peter’s scallion seeds in the first row, then two of his radish seeds in the second. Covered them up, stomped them down with my sneakers, then watered a little from my garden can with the diffuser. Sat on my butt and smiled at what I’d just done.

Cleaned up my tools, went inside and wrote this. Smiled again.

It’s not so good to use year-old seeds which may not germinate. That’s why I planted two in each hole. But I expect that most will come alive and in a month or two I’ll be cheerfully carving radishes into rosebuds and chopping green onions into stir-fry. The great news is the advice from UI-UC, keep planting! Once the sprouts appear I’ll add another couple of rows and lay down some fresh pine bark from Murphy’s.

In the heat of summer it will be important to harvest my radishes and onions as babies, because the longer they’re in the ground the hotter they’ll get, and I’m not one who likes hot stuff. I’m a Hoosier; this is a temperate zone and we like things fresh and sweet. Better to get them while they’re small and tasty; I remember my Grandma’s icicle radishes in July, inedible even though you’ve got to clean your plate. Those things were nasty.

I’ve started my garden! Praise God from whom all produce flows.++

Baptizing Prejudices: How Bush’s War Drags Down the Religious Right


Charles Marsh, a professor of religion at the University of Virginia, has written a great essay published by the Boston Globe. You can find it here.

He notes the near-universal support for Bush’s invasion of Iraq by white American “evangelicals,” and the near-universal condemnation of it by all other Christians around the world (including the Episcopal Church):

Why did American evangelicals not pause for a moment in the rush to war to consider the near-unanimous disapproval of the global Christian community? The worldwide Christian opposition seems to me the most neglected story related to the religious debate about Iraq: Despite approval for the president’s decision to go to war by 87 percent of white evangelicals in April 2003, according to a Pew Charitable Trusts poll, almost every Christian leader in the world (and almost every nonevangelical leader in the United States) voiced opposition to the war.

He quotes Christian Bonhoeffer, the German Christian executed by the Nazis, who foresaw the complete irrelevance of “evangelical” Christianity:

“The time of words is over,” he wrote. “Our being a Christian today will be limited to two things: prayer and righteous action.”

Professor Marsh might have done just as well to quote LGBT people today—because we have told the world for decades that what the religious right does is to baptize prejudice.

But no, Dr. Marsh can’t get his mind around that, or maybe he’s smart enough to know that he can’t quote Gay people to “evangelicals” and hope to get a hearing.

Yet what is that, but baptized prejudice?

I’m glad he’s finally decided that maybe progressive Christians in the USA have something to say, something worth listening to, about the Gospel and state-sponsored terrorism. Bush’s War has hurt the United States as much as it’s destroyed Iraq. Americans will spend decades cleaning up after this Worst President in History. And who gave us George W. Bush? The self-proclaimed “evangelicals.”

Their movement is dead. Americans don’t believe a single thing TV preachers say anymore.

What made these empire-builders think they could get into bed with the Republican Party and not get screwed? Governments have always loved religion when they can use it for their own purposes. That’s been true for millennia! What made “evangelicals” think they’d be any different?

“Evangelical” Christianity is run by hucksters who get rich off baptizing and exploiting popular prejudice. From Ted Haggard to Richard Roberts to Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker, the landscape is littered with lying crooks. How many times do we have to tell you?

To hear the actual voice of prophecy, you have to go to a nation’s most despised minorities. They’re the only ones who can tell you the truth about your country.

Marsh drags out Martin Luther King Jr. again; Marsh is one more White Southerner saying (40 years late), “Oh, I found out we were wrong. How disconcerting.” Why don’t you quote someone alive today, Dr. Marsh?

I can take you to Gary, Indiana; you can talk to all the Black folk you want. They’ll tell you exactly what’s happening, right here and now. All you have to do is show up and ask, on any streetcorner in town.

Or I can take you to the Castro (before the Straight people completely take it over) and let you talk to some Gay folk; come on, it might be fun. You’re a former “canon theologian” at an Episcopal cathedral; don’t be scared.

A hundred years after we’re all dead, your Southern Baptist Convention may get around to apologizing for its constant support of war and Gay-hating bigotry; or maybe not. How many Southern Baptists voted for George W. Bush? Did you, Dr. Marsh?

The “evangelical” movement is finally starting to go green—in part because they need a socially-aware issue to distract from their homophobia and war-mongering. A new generation of “evangelical” leaders is starting to replace the old, tired dogs of the past. But why didn’t they listen when Episcopalians talked about stewardship over creation 40 years ago?

Now mind you, Dr. Marsh is not the problem; he’s written an important essay. I think he veers away from the best possible conclusion when he says “evangelicals” ought to take up with concerned atheists and humanists, although he’s right; but first they ought to listen to their fellow Christians.

Start with Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists and Roman Catholics, Dr. Marsh; we’ve been telling Baptists the truth this entire time. But you haven’t had ears to hear.

Once you listen to professed Christians in the mainline, to the Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, take a little time to talk to the nearest LGBT person you can find. In five minutes they’ll make your ears burn. You’ll find out “evangelicals” have been as wrong about Gay people as your family was about Black folk in the ’60s; and as you’re now telling us, four years late, “evangelicals” were wrong about Bush, wrong about the war, and wrong about Jesus Christ.

Pick up the pace, Dr. Marsh. It’s easy to criticize the war now that it’s already lost.++

Real Gays Don’t Do Styrofoam


Last month my diocese had its 170th convention, and one resolution they passed concerned the environment; parishes are requested to do an energy audit, write an action plan to reduce their carbon footprint and, as the diocesan newspaper put it, “to cease using Styrofoam materials.” That rattled around in my head for awhile, because I’d just bought a package of Styrofoam sandwich plates.

I wasn’t at the convention, so I just heard about this.

I looked up Styrofoam on Wikipedia, but the entry’s just a stub from Dow Chemical, which invented the stuff and still sells it to insulate pipes, houses, even roadways. The main purpose of the entry is to protect Dow’s brand name. But I kept digging and eventually found a website, Californians Against Waste, that started to answer my questions.

The thing is, I try hard not to foul the environment. God created a beautiful earth and I don’t want to mess it up or cause global warming. I replace incandescent bulbs with mini-fluorescents, I recycle like a madman, and I don’t buy much stuff, so I don’t generate much garbage. I have one 32-gallon garbage can that I put out once a month; my neighbors, a family of four, put out 5 garbage cans a week.

Now my church is telling me I screwed up with the Styro plates!

Episcopalians don’t do guilt, but now I’m regretting the plates. I needed them, but I shouldn’t have bought Styro. Like all plastics it comes from oil, and unlike some plastics you can’t reuse it.

Here I thought I was doing so good…

A couple of weeks ago I had two friends over for dinner. We were in the kitchen while I cooked, and I used the last of a box of table salt. Without thinking I pinched together the little aluminum arms of the pourspout, lifted it up and out, then deposited both the cardboard box and the spout in my recycling bin—all while chattering away. And Scott said, “Josh, you are the most hardcore recycler I’ve ever met.” Well, that kind of got my attention. Tom said, “What’d he do?” and Scott described it exactly, down to the aluminum on the spout. He’s right, y’know, that’s what it’s made of, so it’s recyclable.

Members of Scott’s family run the local grocery store, where they always ask, “Paper or plastic?” and I always say paper. I’m glad they ask, because their nearest competitor automatically loads your groceries in plastic unless you cry out at the precise proper moment, “No plastic!” I’ve even been known to tell employees at my preferred store, “You know, plastic bags are illegal in some places.” (San Francisco, Oakland and just this week a bill was introduced in New Jersey to ban plastic bags altogether.) According to those Californians, people toss away a trillion plastic bags a year!


There are pros and cons of paper vs. plastic; paper’s recyclable and comes from renewable trees, but it costs more to make, buy and store and requires more energy during production—energy as in fossil fuels. But I prefer the paper because it’s easily recyclable, it doesn’t come from the Middle East—and you can carry a bag of groceries in it without crushing your loaf of bread.

The best bags, of course, are reusable ones, but I haven’t got to that point yet; no one here sells them. Meanwhile I recycle all the bags I get, both paper and plastic; my town doesn’t take plastic bags but a store 15 miles from here does, and I shop there occasionally.

So I’m left with my grief; I bought the wrong disposable plates. Maybe I should just buy more china, ya think? I like the disposable plates because, being single, sometimes I run out of sandwich plates before I’m ready to run the dishwasher using XX watts of energy.

One thing I know: the costs of global warming will only go up.

Meanwhile it’s 29º right now in the state capital, and my furnace is on. People have a right to warmth in winter, and I’m glad to have natural gas to burn. You will never, ever catch me going cold.

And this just in: The New York Times’ automotive writer, reporting from the L.A. car show, gives a rave review to Honda’s new hydrogen-powered, no-emissions Clarity. (I own a very low-emissions Accord.) They start leasing these babies next year. Maybe it’s what we’ll all be driving once the hydrogen “filling stations” come online.

Finally, is it just me, or is God making more and more Gay people to correct for overpopulation? That’s a certain cause of global warming, heteros f—ing the planet to death.

“Be fruitful and multiply”? That’s the one and only commandment humans obey. Every other commandment they violate.

Where in your great Bible does it say, “Be careful, don’t destroy my creation.”? It doesn’t say that anywhere.

Woe to you Bible-worshippers who destroy the environment. God created this planet and he does get pissed off.