Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A World Awash in Weapons

I love James Winkler's 'Word from Winkler' in the United Methodist Board of Church and Society. His message today was so eloquent and so persuasive I felt it deserved reposting here in its entirety.
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Word from Winkler

An intensely personal ministry
By Jim Winkler, General Secretary, General Board of Church & Society


I’ve become increasingly convinced that a new, deeper level of spiritual consciousness will be needed to confront the growing crises facing the planet. Going to church each Sunday and reading the Bible will not be enough.
Going to church each Sunday and reading the Bible will not be enough.
Today, the United Methodist General Board of Church & Society (GBCS) is resourcing the Council of Bishops as it works to revise its seminal 1986 document against the nuclear arms race, “In Defense of Creation.” The bishops are viewing the challenges facing the whole world through the lens of what former Yale chaplain William Sloane Coffin described as the real axis of evil: pandemic poverty, environmental degradation and a world awash in weapons.
It may well be that the urgency of these problems will force us to change the way we live, especially those of us in the wealthy nations. The prophet Isaiah said:
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
     “Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
     God will come with vengeance with terrible (retribution).
God will come and save you.”
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
     and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like deer,
     and the tongue of the speechless sings for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
     and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool,
     and the thirsty ground springs of water;
the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,
     the grass shall become reeds and rushes.
                                                                 — Isaiah 35:4-7

Living out our values

The changes required are really conservative in nature; they are about living out our values: care for others and the land and the seas, involvement in the community, love of neighbor and stranger, challenging racism, materialism and consumerism, and raising our children to do the same.
We cannot, however, continue to operate as a highly individualistic culture.
We cannot, however, continue to operate as a highly individualistic culture. It is disastrous. Too many have been fooled into believing if they pursue their own self-interest, without regard to others and the larger community, that all will be well.
I see signs of hope. Africa has declared itself a nuclear free zone. The Pelindaba Treaty establishes a legally binding obligation to not only refrain from developing, producing or otherwise acquiring nuclear weapons, but also to not test, allow, assist or encourage testing, dump radioactive waste or station nuclear weapons on the territory of any of the member states of the treaty. This treaty is significant in and of itself, but even more so because the United States has established an Africa military command and is searching for a place to base itself on the continent.
GBCS continues to urge the U.S. Congress to pass strong, clean-energy legislation this year. It was a major victory to secure passage of the House bill that would, for the first time, require the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Even more important, though, we were successful in including provisions protecting low-income consumers in the United States from higher energy costs and funding to assist developing nations to adapt to the realities of a changing climate.

The faith community

It was the faith community that first raised the impact of energy reform on those living in poverty. Were it not for our persistent advocacy, these critical anti-poverty provisions would not have been included.
The faith community first raised the impact of energy reform on those living in poverty.
The week of Sept. 21 was “climate action week.” A major interfaith worship service was held on Tuesday and key speeches were made at the United Nations by world leaders.
Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed told U.N. delegates:
On cue, we stand here and tell you just how bad things are. We warn you that unless you act quickly and decisively, our homelands and others like it will disappear beneath the rising sea before the end of the century. In response, the assembled leaders of the world stand up one by one and rail against the injustice of it all … But then, once the rhetoric has settled and the delegates have drifted away, the sympathy fades, and the indignation cools, and the world carries on as before.
The president of the Earth Policy Institute, Lester Brown, wrote on Sept. 20:
In the past, I’ve been considered a pessimist in my work on mounting population pressures and looming food crises. I’m still very concerned about these issues. But today the improving numbers on carbon emissions are not debatable. Although Congress is considering legislation that would cut emissions only 15% or 20% by 2020, it’s clear to me that with just a little effort, the United States could far surpass this. Given the potentially catastrophic climate change the world is facing, we should push in Copenhagen for an 80% reduction by 2020.
One hundred fifty-one wind farms have come online in the United States in the past year and a half; solar cell installations are growing at 40% a year. About 30 statewide Interfaith Power & Light programs now exist. Bishop Ken Hicks told me recently that Arkansas has just established the newest one.
Other signs of hope exist around the world, but we will have to apply concerted pressure to confront global warming.

Creation is out of balance

And, even as our economic model is based on ever-expanding economic growth, we know that Creation is out of balance. If we do not change the path we are and have been on, we face environmental catastrophe. Basic changes in the lifestyles of those of us in the wealthiest nations are required to sustain life on God’s good earth.
In the end we are confronted with the question: How is love lived out in our world?
Daniel Deffenbaugh, associate professor of religion at Hastings College in Nebraska, is author of Learning the Language of the Fields: Tilling and Keeping as Christian Vocation. He has written: “Our hope for the future lies not so much in what we are able to give, but in what we are willing to give up; not in what we are able to do, but in our willingness to do without.”
As I reflect on our life and ministry at the General Board of Church & Society, I believe in the end we are confronted with the question: How is love lived out in our world? It’s all well and good to discuss it, even theologize about it, but how is it lived out in your life, in mine, in the community? While we address a lot of public policy issues throughout the world, GBCS’s ministry is intensely personal.
As we build our relationships with each other, within our congregations, and with others in our faith, we should remember we are here because God calls us to live our faith in community. God calls us to love one another so that we can experience strength, courage and vitality in our lives and our faith.
The life of Jesus modeled this vision. He ate with tax collectors and prostitutes, condemned the rich, called the poor blessed, criticized the powerful and praised the confessions of common folk. He mingled with foreigners and told stories about those who were far off; he embraced children, decried piety and noticed tiny acts of sacrifice in the name of friendship.
Jesus constantly pushed against the powers and principalities that denied justice. He also loved and welcomed those who were different from him, especially those whom society deemed unclean or unworthy.
This means, I think, that the Gospel calls us to go to the margins of our own spirits and sensibilities to discover what love is all about. We are not called to love where it is simple, acceptable and easy: in the heart of our own heart. We are called to go to the places where love is complex, difficult and even a little messy.
St. Paul advises in his letter to the Corinthians to “make love your aim." Make love your aim more than faith, because faith will come. Make love your aim more than hope, because a world of love is one of hope.

Editor’s note: This column is drawn from Jim Winkler’s General Secretary’s Report on Sept. 24 during the fall meeting of the agency’s Board of Directors in Lake Junaluska, N.C.
Date: 10/6/2009
©2005-2009

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