Sisters of St. Joseph of CarondeletOctober 17, 2017

Earth Concerns News

Climate Change and the Sisters of St. Joseph by Sister Mary Lou Dolan, CSJ


Climate change! We are all aware if it and have been learning what we can do about it in this year's Home/Land Committee's articles. However, it is always instructive to ask "What does this have to do with me as a Christian, as a Sister of Saint Joseph?" It is this question that I would like to consider.

All of us are aware of our 2007 Acts of Chapter. The acts focus our efforts within the broader Christian message about who we are and how we are to live in the world. They express our way of being "in right relationship" with "the dear neighbor."
 
Climate change, as we know, is having global impacts upon food, water and habitat availability. Climate change impacts biodiversity and health. As we are aware also, there are large discrepancies between those persons who are responsible for the crisis and those who are suffering its consequences.
 
As Sharon Begley says (Newsweek, 9/7/09, p. 14), "Nature always batters the poor more than the rich ... The rich can afford to move, build sea walls, turn on the air conditioner and buy more expensive food; the poor starve, drown in typhoons, see their shanties swept away in tidal surges and die in the heat waves and disease outbreaks that will become more common in a mercury-rising world."
 
We Americans, five percent of the world\'s population, are responsible for 25 percent of the planet's carbon-dioxide emissions. The carbon footprint of the world's poorest billion people is three percent of the total human footprint (Lancet, 373:1693, 5/16/09). Ecological issues and justice issues are intimately connected. They involve right relationships with the dear neighbor.
 
It is in this context that I would like to share some insights from A New Climate for Theology: God, the World, and Global Warming (Fortress Press, 2008) by Sallie McFague, distinguished theologian in residence at Vancouver School of Theology. Her thesis is that climate change is not only a moral issue but also a theological one, "a problem coming from views of God and ourselves that encourages or permits our destructive, unjust actions" (p. 31). She contrasts a series of models of God which essentially stress God as transcendent with a model of God as transcendentally immanent in the world, her "world as the Body of God" model. She further suggests that the Protestant revolution, market capitalism and American values of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for each individual have narrowed Christian theology from being concerned with all creation to being concerned primarily with relations between God and the individual human, so that both individually and systemically as Western societies, we believe and act as if we were separate, independent beings.
 
We have learned, however, from disciplines as diverse as ecology, psychology and theology that we are not independent beings, but we are connected to everything in a community of relationships. "We live in, with and from the earth" (p. 89). Moreover, the imminence of a transcendental God means that "We and God are in the same place and ... We share responsibility for the world" (p. 63).
 
As we are aware, Jesus often referred to this world as the Kingdom of God, often using banquet language and parables to describe it. "For Jesus, the kingdom of God was epitomized by everyone being invited to the table. The kingdom is known by radical equality at the level of bodily needs."(p. 92). This characterization of the "kin-dom" of God, it seems to me, describes the connection between ecological and justice issues. It describes how our right relations with the dear neighbor connect to climate change.
 
When, then, we re-imagine the domain of "right relationships" and "dear neighbor" as planetary domains, when we see ourselves as sharing responsibility for the world, our enmeshment in climate change deepens. All humans and all beings share our planet. All are invited to the table that is our earthly home.
 
Our views of God and our view of ourselves, as has always been true, lead us to the inevitable question of "How do we act?" Since we live in widening circles of participation, there are individual, home, workplace, congregational and neighborhood (local to global) answers to this question. Our lives necessarily impact climate change, primarily through our energy and food choices and our advocacy for political and economic policies that affect global warming. Our actions will be as varied as we are; many excellent ones have been suggested in previous articles.
 
Let's help one another be good neighbors!