We were in Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris for Advent 1, en route to the United Nations Climate Change Summit, COP21, flying into a city that has been so recently traumatized. With some delays and transit time from the airport into the city we missed the Advent services at the American Cathedral we hoped to attend. Before going out in our neighborhood for dinner (at a little bar/café with simple, good menu and French hip-hop music), we read the Gospel lesson for Advent 1:
25 ‘There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in a cloud” with power and great glory. 28Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.’
29 Then he told them a parable: ‘Look at the fig tree and all the trees;30as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Luke 21:25-36
What caught my attention was the command, Stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near! The future as a time of hope – there are some who work on climate change issues who are hopeful but most of us are determined about making the best of an iffy present and a much worse future.
It is good that people are willing to be conscious of the real and worsening peril. At the same time some powerful criticisms have been made of the negative stance of many climate change activists: gloom and doom doesn’t convert people and it paralyzes creativity.
Just after reading the Gospel and before walking out the door to the bar my laptop beeped to tell me an email had come in. It was my professor and friend, Rick Tarnas letting me know that the wise, insightful, creative theologian and monk, Fr. Bruno Barnhart had died, on the eve of Advent. Fr. Bruno lived at the New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur. He was the author of the highly influential The Good Wine: Reading John from the Center as well as other important works.
Rick sent a YouTube link to a short (3 minute) video of Fr. Bruno talking about…the importance of the future as a source of creativity. Fr. Bruno saw the source of this creativity being Christ, not a figure of the past but of the future. Christ in the future has a kind of gravitational force that awakens creativity in us across time. This was the same message as we took from the Gospel for this first Sunday in Advent, a time of watching – yes, but also a time of hope for God will be with us in the future.
What does this creativity that the future can give us look like? What does it look like with regard to COP21, and in terms of how we engage climate change? The massive climate marches planned for Sunday, November 29 in Paris were canceled by the French government in light of security concerns. Canceling the marches brought out beautiful creativity, as well as rage. There were thousands of shoes, representing marchers, placed in the Place de la Republique, and women dressed as angels, Climate Angels, from Australia walked among the shoes.
This peaceful, thought-provoking street theater/protest took a lot of creative effort to bring off. What does our advocacy around climate policy look like if we were to be equally creative in that realm?
The Episcopal Church will have some delegates at COP21 advocating policies that have been resolved at several General Conventions of The Episcopal Church. There will be other Episcopalians here, like the Rev. Sally Bingham of Interfaith Power and Light; John McCray-Goldsmith, who has researched cap-and-trade extensively; and Tom Steyer, a trustee of Grace Cathedral who will be here with a contingent of California business leaders who will accompany the Governor of California – these are just some examples of how our Church will be represented here. All of these Episcopalians will join some 60,000 other attendees at COP21.
I see every one of these attendees as Climate Angels, people who have used their intellectual, moral, and spiritual resources creatively to move us out of a disastrous relationship to the planet and towards a sustainable future.
Please pray that during COP21 we, the people of the Earth, will not be paralyzed by fear but rather will hear the command to look up for our approaching salvation.
(climate angels photo by Maggie Miles)