A Confession from a White Male Progressive Pastor

By Bruce Barkhauer

The day after the election, I noticed that the servers and waitstaff, none of whom appeared to be “from here” (Dallas, TX), were very quiet in the hotel restaurant on the post election morning. They went about their duties politely, but with a countenance of uneasiness.  In the afternoon, as I waited for my plane, people of color and ethnic diversity looked back at me with questioning, almost empty eyes.  

I am a white male, close to sixty, a bit overweight and on whom clothes never hang quite right -  and for all the world to guess, one who looks like he voted to elect Donald Trump President of the United States.  “The Donald,” who by his own words has made these people to feel unwelcome, unworthy, un-American – and somehow un-human.  I wanted to apologize to every single one of them.

A gay couple clung to each other in the terminal as if they would crumble if they dared to let go.  It is hard to speculate what the future will be like for them with an electorate that has handed all the levers of power to people who think they should not be able to love each other or enjoy the same rights and protections that my wife and I do.  I fear for my daughter, who is gay and married to her partner.  I wanted to tell them, all of them, that I have their back and that I am glad that they are a part of the fabric of our country and that they make us better and stronger for all their diversity. In the worst way I wanted to make eye contact with them to assure them they did not need to fear.  I felt unclean, ashamed. I wanted a shower - but this will not wash off.  The privilege afforded by my race and gender is the judge and jury of the sin from which I most often benefit, but did not choose.

The ugly truth is that I cannot promise them that they will be okay and safe from their neighbors or their government. But I will stand with them. I cannot promise that the undocumented will not be deported, that the LGBTQ person will be safe from abuse or that their elected leaders will protect or even care about them if they are. But I will seek to protect them. I cannot promise a place for the refugee family fleeing the terror of war and the broken covenant of a government that will neither protect or provide for them. But I will try to make a place for them.

For women who already suffer from a culture that glorifies their sexuality while denying their right to their own bodies; a society which tells them their contribution in work and creativity is worth less than a man’s labor for the same endeavor; and an pervasive attitude that says they should accept unwanted advances and physical contact as “just the way it is” because boys will be boys - I honestly don’t have a word of encouragement that this will change.  We have elected to our highest office one who by his own behavior expressed these very “values,” and thus we continued to affirm those twisted values to be normative and acceptable. I will name it for what it is and that it is wrong.

For the kid bullied at school, I cannot promise you that your pain and exclusion will stop since we have chosen a bully to sit in the oval office.  But I will stand up for you.

Tears well in my eyes - but they just won’t fully come.  It would be a welcome catharsis. With my shame there is also anger.  Yes, I am angry at those who chose this candidate because in their desperation for a change they could control in our halls of governance, and their fear of a change they could not shape in our world, they accepted the high cost of moral bankruptcy as a fair exchange.  

I am angry with evangelicals who since the 1980s have made “character matters” their mantra but gladly sacrificed it all on the alter of the Supreme Court nominees. It is idolatry of the most subtle sort because it seems so righteous.  

I am angry at the media for making this election about everything but the issues and who found more value in reporting news as entertainment instead of accepting the high calling of journalism.  Without unbiased reporting, fact checking, and public accountability, a democracy cannot flourish and is subject to tyranny. We forget this at our own peril.

I am angry that emails became more important than tax returns. I really do believe where your treasure is that is where your heart can be found.  Money, and what we do with it, reveals character.  That information was kept hidden from us for a reason, and somehow that became acceptable. We should have been asking persistent serious questions and demanding they be answered.  His opponent was figuratively stripped naked and paraded down main street via congressional hearings and federal investigation so that no secrets could have possibly remained.  Every dark corner of her life received the light of sordid exploration.  It revealed her imperfections, which oddly paled in comparison to her opponent’s without anyone noticing.

My real anger, however, is directed at myself.  I placed my hope in the wrong thing.  In my own progressive optimism, I began to believe that the government of my country could reflect the values of my soul.  Perhaps “Washington” really could support an egalitarian community that saw commonwealth as primary, and thus individuality as a fruit of rather than the goal of liberty.  With gains made in recent years suggesting greater inclusivity, I became both encouraged and lazy.  I also saw the attempts to restrict the voices of minorities as Jim Crow raised its ugly head, but I believed our better angels would win the day because the attempts were so blatant that decent people would never allow it to stand. In my imagination, a new Supreme Court justice would help undo this mess, as I too crafted an idol from an empty chair on the high court. 

I was wrong and I confess it to all who will read these words. The error was placing my hope in something less than God.  As a theologian, I know that putting trust in anything less than the Ultimate will lead to ultimate disappointment. I want this country to reflect my values, but believing that putting someone in the White House or the Statehouse could make that possible was destined to be disaster.  It doesn't mean it is not important, just that is not an end in and of itself.

We do well to remember our own history.  It was the government that killed Jesus and sought to eliminate his movement of “the way.”  When it could not stop Jesus’ movement, the government co-opted it to secure its own hold on power and to preserve its own values.  A motive from which we seemingly have never fully escaped.  Being too close to the seat of power carries great risk.  Distance allows for prophetic perspective. 

Creating a culture of generosity, welcome, justice, grace, and one that affirms the value of every person as a child of God is not the work of government – it is the work of the church.  We can wish that our government could someday be the catalyst that makes this the law in our land - but we cannot place our hope there alone to make it so.  And in the end, the law for all of its benefits, cannot legislate the province which is the human heart.  That is reserved for the work of transformation, which again, only God can do, and do so only with the willing.  

Bringing a compelling word about a better way of being is the only real hope of living up to the values we claim for ourselves as a nation. We need to engage not just in campaigning but in the work of conversion. 


And so we can acknowledge our anger, grief, and sadness at the result of the election.  But despite this crushing blow, we are not without hope.

Hope has always been a slim shimmering light in the darkness of despair, a courageous whisper softly spoken against the din of populist provocation, a tender branch unbroken thoughwhipped by the blustering winds of earthly principalities, and above all a belief that what might be is greater than what now exists. 

This election should serve as a reminder to the Church - you have what the world needs, the change that it longs for but does not recognize. This is not the time to be paralyzed by our grief, or bound up in our anger, but with resolve on our tear stained faces to get to work as stewards of the good news of the Gospel. 

It is up to us welcome to the stranger, create safe spaces for LGBTQ people, to care for the poor, to tend to the needs of the sick, to protect the earth, and by our living in beloved community to leave no doubt that all lives matter.  We can pressure the government to conform, but we cannot worship at its alter nor stand voiceless against its abuses.  The faith we proclaim believes that the cross and resurrection are less about us getting into heaven, and more about getting heaven into us, and through us, into the world.  

I’m embarrassed to be a middle-aged white guy today - but not at all ashamed that I voted for the first women to represent a major party for president.  I am deeply disappointed, but I am not without hope.

What's next?

By Rev. Mindi

I had hoped to be writing a completely different article, and much earlier in the evening. As it is, I'm typing this at 11:19PM PST, with the race all but called. 

What do we do when we feel so defeated and dejected? When a candidate endorsed by the KKK wins an election, the popular vote, among our neighbors, coworkers, and friends?

What do we do when the freedom to marry, to use the freakin' bathroom, is at risk of being taken away for LGBTQ folk? With deportations only to increase and a wall to be built? When the Supreme Court has a slot unfilled going into this new presidency?

We cannot give up. We cannot stop.

Start locally. Look at local referendums and state policies to protect the rights of transgender folks. Know your state representative and senator by name and speak to them often, and not just email--call them. Arrange to visit with them one on one. Go visit them in their congressional office if you are able to. 

Find other organizations and individuals to partner with on local legislation to support public education and healthcare, and services for disabled and senior folks. 

Don't stop working now. Take the day off and breathe. Tomorrow get back to work, because God is not through with us yet.

Mental Health and Ministry

By Dr. Mark Poindexter

At the recent Regional Assembly of the Christian Church in Virginia, there was an Interest Group titled “No, I’m Not Crazy!” Affirming Those with Mental Health Issues.  It was the Interest Group I decided to attend.  Not because I thought I needed to learn how to affirm others, but because I wanted to feel affirmed.  Throughout my adult life, I have waged a battle with depression.  I know the struggle that comes with feeling thoroughly overwhelmed in mind, body and soul by what seems like nearly insurmountable sadness.  I understand what it is like to be nearly paralyzed by the weight of the darkness that engulfs someone suffering from severe depression.  My battle with this form of mental illness has been costly in my life.  I believe it was a contributing factor to the end of my first marriage.  In addition, some colleagues could not understand the depth of my depression and thought I just needed to “snap out of it.”  When I couldn’t do that, they decided I was not someone they should have in their life.  The words I heard was that “I bring them down.”  Also, at one point, I had to take a year away from ministry.  The depression had reached a point that I lost my voice to preach; my own sense of being spiritually lost made it very difficult to lead others in the journey of faith.

                After the workshop, I went up to our Regional Minister, Lee Parker, and told him I was grateful for the church’s willingness to address this important matter.  I also shared with him about my own personal battle with depression, along with a couple of articles I had written about my experience.  He called the next day, after having read the articles, and asked if I would write something for the Virginia Christian about ministry with those who have mental illness.  The question for me became, do I write about my own journey or do I give some practical advice about how to be present with others who are going through this painful experience.  I decided that sharing about my own personal struggle with depression was of primary importance because it would help to pull back the stigma and cover of secrecy that all too often accompanies mental illness.   Out of fear of being judged by others, those suffering from mental illness often try to hide their struggles which can lead to an even deeper private pain and a further sense of isolation.  In my life I have become keenly aware that if I am to overcome this illness I have to be willing to address it head on and I need the support of friends and family who are willing to walk with me.

These are a few things I have learned in my journey.  Though there will always be some people “who just don’t get it” there are others who will have an understanding and compassionate response - some of them precisely because it is their battle as well.   I need to surround myself with such people when the darkness is deep.  In my last period of a depressed state, it was the companionship of some former church members, a couple of friends from my seminary days, the presence of my children, and the tenacious love of my sister that brought light to me.  Though loneliness was a struggle during that time, I was never completely alone.  They walked with me and in their presence I felt the presence of God.  For that I am grateful.  I have also learned that with my form of depression the complex relationship between genetics and environment is not clear.  Both play a role in my illness.  So both medicines and talk therapy are vitally important in helping me maintain a sense of well-being.  In addition, one reason I am able to face my illness directly, is because I will not allow it to become the defining characteristic of who I am.  Though my depression has gripped me fiercely at times, I live an abundantly fulfilled life.  I love to laugh and spend time with my children.  I enjoy exercise and running road races.  I love the work I do as pastor.  Congregational leadership has again become life giving to me.  Reading the book, Lincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled his Greatness, allowed me to see that my own battle with depression does not by any means disqualify me from leadership.  In fact, for my life as a pastor, it has helped me to become a more compassionate and understanding person.   And though I lost some relationships because of my struggles, the door has opened for other relationships to begin.  Again, I am grateful.

I will not live in fear and silence when it comes to the fact that I have a form of mental illness.  As some people’s journey consists of diabetes or Crohn’s disease or cancer and they must undergo medical treatment and receive various kinds of support, so does my illness require the same. I also hope that my willingness to share openly about my situation will help to show others who have similar battles that they are not alone.  They need not fear what others might think or believe that they should not ask for help.  The journey toward wholeness and well-being is a journey all human beings are on.  It can, at times, be a difficult journey, but it is one that can lead to a full life if embraced with a courageous and honest spirit, an abiding faith and a community of support. 

 

A Story of Forgiveness: A Chapter From The Relationship With My Father

By Dr. Mark Poindexter

The only story any of us can truly tell is our own . . . and yet all our stories are part of another’s story. The chapters of our lives are chapters in the lives of others as well. This is my story of how I learned about forgiveness.  It involves the story of my father and his father also.  My grandfather died two years before I was born. I tell it so it might become part of your story.  Most of us have a chapter or two from our lives that involve forgiveness.  Or at least we should. Maybe this will help you write yours.

My father was an alcoholic.  During the years that I and my siblings were at home, Dad drank on a regular and excessive basis.  The alcohol was a true demon for him.  It brought out anger, cruelty and bitterness.  There were many a night that our home was filled with voices yelling and threats being made.  Once, when I was seven years old, I remember my teenage brother and my Dad screaming at each other and a butcher knife being held in my brother’s hand. I buried my child’s head in the couch.  I do not remember how it all was resolved. I do remember the sound of the yelling, the smell of the liquor, the rage in the eyes, the hot air as I cried into the couch, and the knife.

We were all hesitant to have friends over because we didn’t know what kind of shape Dad would be in.  If it was not a good day for Dad, it was not a good day for anyone.  There were nights after work when he didn’t come home, nights when his entire paycheck was lost on drink and losing at the pool table.   It was only many years later that I realized how hard all this was for my mom.

As you can imagine, Dad’s alcoholism affected our family in numerous ways – the efforts to keep it hidden from others, the inability of our family to ever deal with it directly or in a healthy way, the guilt and shame that comes to nearly everyone who lives in a house where unaddressed addiction is a dominant member of the family.  Four of us grew up in that home where indeed love and faith were present, but also deep human brokenness that evidenced itself through drunken anger and cruelty.  Each of us have had to deal with it in our own way. 

I know I had a deep sense of anger at my father for many years, and some of those years we barely spoke.  I spent many hours in a therapist’s office dealing with the dynamics of my family and the shame, guilt and depression that arose in my life, at least in part, because of those dynamics.  But there came a precise moment when I began to understand things differently and see my father in a new way.  It was not a moment that came from the wise counsel offered in a therapist’s office.  It was a moment that came at our family’s kitchen table and the words that changed things were spoken by Dad.

It was the summer of 1989.  It was an especially difficult year for my family that involved divorce, tragic death, and bouts with severe depression.  The moment came on a warm July evening.  Late one night, I found Dad crying at the kitchen table.  His forehead held in the palm of his hands.  We started talking about all that was happening in our family and in the midst of the conversation, Dad said to me – what prompted it I do not remember -  “When I came back from the war my father told me he wished I had been killed so he could have gotten the government money.”  Then Dad just cried, and cried and cried.  I sat there completely stunned as he got up from the table and headed back to his bedroom.  Dad’s tears that night were about all that was happening to our family, but they were also about the painful and horrible words spoken to him more than forty years earlier.

The next day, I asked my mom if Dad had ever shared that with her.  She said no.  None of my siblings had heard it either.  It had lived painfully within him for all those decades.  He kept it a secret within himself.  Like many young men in that time, Dad came home a hero from WWII.  A chest full of medals including two bronze stars.  But when he got home his father said, “I wish you were dead, so I could have the money.” In that moment at the kitchen table I learned why there was a whiskey bottle in the garage, and why that drink released such bitterness and anger in my father.   It is simply true, hurting people often hurt others.  Learning of my father’s own emotional pain, brought on by the words spoken to him by his own father, helped me to understand Dad differently.  It helped me to forgive him in a way that all the hours of counseling never made possible.  And I think it helped Dad to speak of his pain, because it was about that time that he quit drinking and for the last twelve years of his life, he never touched a drop of alcohol again. 

As we live the stories that are our lives and our chapters become interwoven with the chapters of others, there are often aspects of someone else’s story that we do not know.  Maybe things they have buried so deeply that they themselves do not talk about them, but those things still affect how they live.   A note to this story is to tell you, that I bear no ill will toward my grandfather for what he said to my father.  Chilling words whose impact was profound on my family.  As I said, my grandfather died two years before I was born.  All I can do is wonder about what terrible thing happened in his life that caused him to say such a horrible thing to his son.

As you encounter people whose ways are painful to others, there is likely a story that you do not know.  It doesn’t excuse their behavior.  It doesn’t make their behavior okay.  But knowing that there might be a story that you are unaware of, it can help you to understand.  It helps you to be slow to your own anger.  It can help you to break the cycle of blame and guilt and infliction of hurt that we continue in too many of relationships.  It helps you to have grace. Understanding that you don’t know all the chapters of anyone’s story, well, it can help you to forgive.

Forgiveness has the power to free both the one forgiven and the one who forgives.  I came to love my father deeply and knew his great love for me and for all of his family.  I came to have deep admiration for the courage he showed in his victory over the demons that haunted him for so many years.  After he stopped drinking, the kind and gentle man that we had seen glimpses of over the years, shined through beautifully.  We spent many hours after that fishing together and laughing and telling stories to one another.  But we never mentioned again that night at the kitchen table and what was said there or forty years before. I think we both knew nothing else needed to be said about that night.  That chapter in our lives had the end that it needed to have.

So much of what I understand about grace, forgiveness and love are not the result of study in a seminary classroom or from the works of the great theologians. They are lessons learned from the brokenness and the healing, often painful, of our lives.  I suppose it is the only way we really learn.                 

You're Not Alone: Finding Friends in Ministry

By Rev. Mindi

I graduated from seminary fourteen years ago, with ninety credits and one unit of CPE under my belt. Though I had loved my Biblical Studies courses more than anything, I made sure I took the more practical courses: Church Administration, Stewardship, and of course, Pastoral Ministry Ethics. I figured those would be the courses that would help me in my day-to-day ministry.

Until I came to a church that didn’t want to talk about money or stewardship.

Until I came to a church that had too large of a governing structure for its body.

Until I came to a church that had no internal governing structure for its body.

Until I came to a church that had unhealthy power dynamics within the staff and within the lay leadership.

Until I came to a church that was barely surviving.

You get the picture. In the variety of calls I have served, I have encountered situations that “they didn’t teach me about that in Seminary.”

And even though I am an outgoing person and have immediately sought out clergy groups, sometimes it is hard to relate to other clergy who have had a different experience in ministry. I find it hard at times to relate to clergy in which they were always paid a full time salary with benefits, or were always able to attend continuing education events and their regional and national governing bodies. We all know that relationships are the key to ministry, and if who you know matters, how can you move to a new call when no one at the regional or national level knows who you are because you have never been able to afford to attend? Or how can you compete with pastors who have D.Min’s or other credentials when your continuing education budget is small?

Ministry can be lonely, even when you have colleagues.

Sometimes, you have to build what you envision. “Built it, and they will come.”

A few years ago we began a great local “younger” clergy group. We are small. We can fit around a dining room table. We gather once a month for lunch and to check in with one another. We bless one another when they leave a call, or transition to something new. We honor one another by listening and not judging. We pray for one another when we are going through difficult times. We have built a beautiful support network that I could not minister without.

I also joined another clergy group, with clergy of different ages, but also different cultural and language backgrounds. Many of these colleagues I have been able to relate to in my experience of finding time for ministry while working another job. I have also had a good listening ear from my recently retired colleagues in this group, who get that ministry has changed from when they entered and that those of us in our early years of ministry need more support than ever.

But perhaps the greatest support network I have been part of is UNCO. The UnConference (and yes, I keep blogging about this here, and here, and here) began a few years ago as a “built it, and they will come” event that brings together clergy and church leaders without a keynote speaker. We share our ideas and our concerns in ministry and form breakout sessions based on those topics. All those things I didn’t learn in seminary? I’ve learned more from UNCO than any other continuing education conference. And, it’s affordable! It’s under $500!

Ministry gets awfully lonely at times, and sometimes we feel we are going it alone into uncharted territory, especially as the traditional church wanes and something new is birthing. What is coming forth? What is our role? UNCO is helping us to figure that out for each of us, and I always receive encouragement and support, and even enthusiasm as I return to my ministry setting. And the support continues, through Facebook, Twitter, and Google Hangouts. Sometimes we even pick up the phone and call the old fashioned way, across time zones and denominations.

UNCO West is October 24-26 at San Francisco Theological Seminary. The cost is $350 per person including meals and room for 3 days and 2 nights. There is KidUnco (the BEST!) and there is still space available. Register now!

America Can Be Great, But Not "Again"

By Dr. Mark Poindexter

One of the candidates for the office of the President of the United States has used as his official campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”  If you want you can go to his official website and buy a baseball cap with that phrase on it.  Depending on which hat you pick it will set you back anywhere from $3.03 to $25.00.  Of course, you have to pay for shipping and handling too.  Once you buy that hat, you can wear it and promote the idea that America has a former period of greatness that we just need to rediscover.   As for me, even though I love baseball caps because they hide my baldness, I am going to keep my money in my pocket.  And not because I think this candidate has more than enough sources of income already, but because the word “again” is just not something I can buy into.

I have learned over the course of my life that history is always interpreted from the perspective of those who have power.  And the idea that our nation has a former period of greatness which we just have to rediscover comes from the perspective of white male privilege and the desire to hold onto that power.  I am fairly certain if we were to ask some other groups to identify when our period of national greatness was, we would be met with silence.  If we were to ask the Native American population this question about America’s greatness, they might refer instead to the ravaging of the land they hold sacred, the many treaties that have been broken, the genocidal Trail of Tears on which many of their ancestors died.   The mistreatment of Native Americans continues today as the current battle over the oil pipeline in North Dakota shows.  The proposed pipeline will go through a sacred burial ground and also has the potential of devastating local water supplies.  Can you imagine the uproar if a pipeline was planned to run through Arlington National cemetery?  Centuries of our violence and broken promises to Native Americans continues even in our day, as peaceful pipeline protestors were met with attack dogs and pepper spray.  Or what about our African-American citizens?  Is there any period of our history that they want to return to because it was great for them.  Was it the brutal days of slavery when they were held in human bondage?  The humiliating days of Jim Crow laws? The time not too long ago, within my lifetime, when beatings and lynchings still happened without fear of punishment for those white men who perpetrated such atrocities?  Is there an American past that African-Americans want to rediscover because of its greatness?  When it comes to these two groups of people American greatness is not something to be found “again.”  As a former United States President once said about the American treatment of these two groups of people:

What we have done with the American Indian is in its way as bad as what we imposed on the Negroes. We took a proud and independent race and virtually destroyed them. We have to find ways to bring them back into decent lives in this country.

We could mention other shortcomings of greatness as well.  The fact that women weren’t allowed to vote until almost 150 years after the United States began.  The children who filled the coal mines and textile mills for meager wages while the owners gained further wealth. The internment of Japanese-American citizens during World War II.  Our nation’s greatness is not something that lies behind us, except in the minds of those who want to disregard the full history of our nation as they seek to hold onto the power that they feel slipping from their grasp.

If there is a greatness to our nation it is found not in any historical period, it is to be found in the idea of our freedoms which allow us to have a voice about what is wrong with our nation and the opportunity to work and correct it.  Our hoped for greatness lies in continually striving after the foundational idea that “all men are created equal and possess certain unalienable rights given by the Creator – among these rights being life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  When Thomas Jefferson penned those words, he could not have known that 250 years later we are imagining a fullness to his words that he never even dreamt of.  Originally those words meant that only white male, land owners were equal and had certain rights.  Our possible greatness lies in our continual work to expand our understanding that human equality and rights exist for all people. 

As a person of faith in America it is the striving after a greatness that lies before us and is inclusive of all people, that my faith and my patriotism can work together.  Every week when I stand behind the communion table and invite people to share in the meal of bread and cup, I say that the Lord’s Supper is for everyone, that all people are welcome.  As an American I believe that equality and God-given rights are for all people – all genders, all colors, all creeds, all sexual orientations, all educational levels – everyone gets to be included in the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness.

Our national greatness doesn’t lie in our past.  It is not something that can be discovered “again.” It lies in our ideas of freedom and equality for all.  Ideas that we have never completely lived out, and at times we have quite shamefully failed them.  Yet, the ideas of freedom and equality are something we can always strive toward and work for.  Any greatness that the United States of America might attain is yet before us.  So may we work ever harder toward fulfilling the great idea of a more just and inclusive nation for all

Environmental Degradation and Racism

By Rev. Mindi

I returned to Alaska last week to visit my family and the places I grew up, and inevitably, the conversation turned to climate change. 

My brother’s snowmobile sits covered up near his cabin, and he never started it up last year because there wasn’t enough snow.

The change of climate in Alaska has made the national news. In 2016, the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race didn’t have enough snow for the ceremonial start in Anchorage, so snow was brought in by train (however, they did get a dumping of snow the day before). The race for years would restart in Wasilla, my hometown. In 2008, the restart was officially moved from Wasilla to Willow, 30 miles north, because there were too many years where Wasilla didn’t have enough snow.  But in 2015, the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race had to restart in Fairbanks, 300 miles north of Willow—because there wasn’t enough snow across most of Southcentral and Western Alaska.

Sea levels are rising, and entire Native villages are being forced to make the decision to move. This story on the village of Shishmaref aired on NPR days before I returned home.  Houses are collapsing in villages because the permafrost—which is exactly as it sounds, ground that is supposed to be permanently frozen—has begun to thaw, causing sinkholes. Even in areas close to Anchorage, wells and septic systems are failing because the ground is warming up and pipes are breaking as the ground collapses.

Growing up in Anchorage and Wasilla, Alaska (I lived there from 83-95), it almost always snowed by the second week of October, and the snow stayed through April. In the late 90’s, when I came home at Christmas from college, I could already see the changes. One Christmas it was 30 degrees out and we were all wearing sweaters instead of our winter coats (it’s a dry cold, and +30 seems balmy compared to 20 below). One Christmas there was no snow on the ground. Since 2000, the winters have been warmer, and now, my dad and brother told me about how most of the time in January it rains—then it freezes, which is much more dangerous than the snow and cold we used to have.

Summers have been warmer, and warmer for longer—last week, it was in the 70’s by the time we left. There is a beetle that has infested the birch trees—my mother was telling me that scientists are not too worried about it, they believe the winter will kill it, but it is something that traveled north with the warmer weather and infected the trees so the leaves didn’t turn the normal golden yellow—instead, they became brown. But the rest of the land—especially up in the mountains, where in previous Augusts, the tundra shrubs would have turned to brilliant reds by this time of year—are still green because autumn is coming later.

Glaciers that I used to see from driving on the road are no longer visible. Portage Glacier, a famous glacier less than an hour south of Anchorage, receded in eight years what they had expected it to take 25 years to do (hence, a very expensive visitor’s center that was built, along with a boat to go look at the glacier, had to change purposes since you can’t see the glacier any longer, not even from the boat on the lake. When we first moved to Alaska in 1983, there was no lake—the glacier was right there by the road).

Exit Glacier is known outside of Alaska because President Obama visited there on his trip to Alaska. I have been to Exit Glacier three times: 2003, 2010, and a week ago. I have shared pictures here so one might see the dramatic changes over the years.

Climate change must be the church’s responsibility. God gave us the earth, to have dominion over it the way God has dominion over us—and we continue to abuse that gift and deny our responsibility. Our addiction to fossil fuels is not only warming our planet, but is killing the most vulnerable. Environmental degradation is part of racism, as seen in the events in Standing Rock, North Dakota, where currently the Dakota Access Pipeline and Energy Transfer Partners have bulldozed sacred ground, including gravesites, and provoked protestors and attacked them with dogs and mace. Or lead in the water supply in Flint, Michigan. Or the above article on Shishmaref, Alaska. Climate change is affecting Black communities, Native American and Native Alaskan communities in disproportionate ways. Sure, rich folks live by the seashore, too—but generally speaking they have the resources to protect their homes, or to move. Poor folks have no place to go.

Environmental degradation is part of racism, and we must work not only to reduce our own waste and reliance on fossil fuels, but to support the Sioux of Standing Rock and all Black and Native communities affected by this injustice and our continued failure to live up to God’s intention for us: to be the earth’s caretakers, to truly love our neighbors as God has loved us.

Me at Exit Glacier, 2003

Me at Exit Glacier, 2003

Exit Glacier 2003

Exit Glacier 2003

Exit Glacier 2003. This was as far as they would let you walk, but you could walk right up to the face of this glacier and the trail gained no elevation.

Exit Glacier 2003. This was as far as they would let you walk, but you could walk right up to the face of this glacier and the trail gained no elevation.

Exit Glacier 2010--the viewpoint used to be where you see the river below. The viewpoint has now moved 1/2 mile up the trail on the mountain (elevation hard to make out from this angle)

Exit Glacier 2010--the viewpoint used to be where you see the river below. The viewpoint has now moved 1/2 mile up the trail on the mountain (elevation hard to make out from this angle)

Exit Glacier 2010

Exit Glacier 2010

Exit Glacier 2016. 

Exit Glacier 2016.