All posts by Rod White

Add a stanza to the “prayer for peace” — It’s a tough world

I have several copies of the “Peace Prayer,” attributed to St. Francis, on walls where I am likely to bump into it. (Don’t worry, you’ll bump into it down below, if you’ve never heard of it). I need to remember it in a world that is more about power than peace.

I do remember it. By now, after all that bumping, that prayer is etched on a convenient wall in my mind. So I had it on hand the other day when I needed it. And, like prayer often does, it inspired me to go beyond it. Maybe you’ll want to get someplace beyond what it usually offers you, too.

Some history of the Peace Prayer

There is no way Francis wrote “Make me an instrument of your peace.” For one thing, he rarely wrote anything about “me.” More relevant is the fact this prayer did not appear in general circulation until 1912. If a stray prayer of Francis of Assisi had been laying around for 700 years, someone would have known about it.

The prayer first appeared in Paris in small spiritual magazine called “La Clochette” (The Little Bell), the newsletter of La Ligue de la Sainte-Messe (The Holy Mass League). The league’s founder and editor of the newsletter was Father Esther Bouquerel (1855-1923). He published the prayer as written by “Anonymous” with the title of “Belle prière à faire pendant la messe” (A Beautiful Prayer to Say During the Mass). The author was probably Father Bouquerel himself, but the identity of the author remains a mystery.

The prayer was sent in French to Pope Benedict XV in 1915 by the aristocrat, Marquis Stanislas de La Rochethulon. This was soon followed by its 1916 appearance, in Italian, in L’Osservatore Romano [the Vatican’s daily newspaper] in the middle of World War I. Around 1920, the prayer was printed on the back of an image of St. Francis with the title “Prière pour la paix” (Prayer for Peace) but without being attributed to the saint. It was first attributed St. Francis in 1927 by a French Protestant Movement, Les Chevaliers du Prince de la Paix (The Knights of the Prince of Peace).

The first time it was published in English was probably in 1936 in Living Courageously, a book by Kirby Page, a Disciples of Christ minister, pacifist, social evangelist, writer and editor of The World Tomorrow. Page clearly attributed the text to Francis. During World War II and immediately after, this prayer for peace began circulating widely as the “Prayer of St. Francis,” especially through Francis Cardinal Spellman’s books. Over the years it has gained a worldwide popularity with people of all faiths. It was central to the gathering memorialized below.

Artwork memorializing the first World Day of Prayer for Peace in Assisi (1986), with Pope John Paul II hosting religious leaders from around the world.

Let’s pray the prayer

There are four major wars raging in the world right now. It is time for a prayer for peace. Each war has caused over 10,000 deaths, or more, in the past two years (Wiki). Over fifty conflicts with fewer casualties are also ongoing.

Last week Reuters said Russia doubled its 2023 defense spending to more than $100 billion — a third of all the country’s public expenditure. In July, the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, a German research institute, calculated the U.S. had, so far, spent $75 billion in assistance to Ukraine; included was humanitarian, financial, and military support.

“Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me!” In a world at war in large ways and small, shouldn’t that be our daily prayer? The peace prayer is that kind of prayer. Let’s try it out:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

In the 1970’s, Franco Zeffirelli and Donovan put music in the mouth of Francis along with the erroneously attributed words, which is how I usually pray the prayer, too.

Add your own lines

In the middle of World War I a hopeful priest wrote a beautiful prayer. People picked up on it over time, translated it, tweaked it here and there in the process, put it on prayer cards. published it in magazines and bulletins, and said it was authorized by St. Francis, himself. I love it. Mother Teresa and Desmond Tutu loved it.

But I don’t think a recited prayer is very alive unless people keep rewriting it.

The other day, I remembered my old favorite prayer and the erroneous depiction of my favorite saint praying it.  I was especially moved by  “O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console.” I had been feeling a bit inconsolable. The prayer helped me turn from my “side screen” to look at the “big picture” of my life [post on turning].

As I prayed, I began to see all sorts of other ways I should be praying the same basic prayer. Once it set me on a roll, I kept on rolling!  And I realized  neglecting to do so would result in a lack of peace in me and there would be that much less peace in the world, too.

I now have a longer prayer to use — at least until I need to add something else! Here is the new stanza I added especially for me. If you need it, nothing prevents you from praying it with me!

Lord grant that I may not so much seek

to be found as to find;
to hold out for what I deserve as to give;
to evaluate what meets the test as to accept;
to justify my temper as to be patient;
to resist possible disappointments as to collect small joys;
to sort out the weaknesses of others as to relish their goodness;
to protect my safety as to risk what it takes to connect.

What should you be adding to the peace prayer?

Be careful as you meditate on that question. Note that Father Bouquerel/Francis said “grant that I may not so much” NOT “Grant that I may erase my needs and desires.” We love others as we love ourselves. Erasing yourself does not make others more alive. Being unhappy is not a price you pay for making others happy. Turning into what is better is an everyday necessity — thus, we love that great peace prayer when we face all our conflicts, inside and out.

Peace is a lot more likely to take root in our hearts if we love others like Jesus loves us. And that love for others will be a lot more authentic when we are at peace in the love of Jesus. Pray: “Lord you are the instrument of my peace; make me an instrument of your peace.”

Memorial Day Psalm for Uvalde

 Old graves to decorate

Many towns in the United States claim they invented Memorial Day after the horrible Civil War, from which the country has never recovered, I’d say. All over the nation, graves were growing uncared for and many people thought that was shameful. Within 30 years the government made Decoration Day into a national holiday. It was placed at the end of May when flowers are in bloom everywhere.

Roughly 2% of the U.S. population, an estimated 620,000 men, lost their lives in the line of duty during the Civil War.  Taken as a percentage of today’s population, the toll would have risen as high as six million people. 

There are many people to remember on Memorial Day. It is hard to get a hold on just how many there are!

Most record keepers suggest that about 75 million people worldwide died in World War 2, including about 20 million military personnel and 40 million civilians. Many civilians died because of deliberate genocide, massacres, mass-bombings, disease, and starvation.

America has been in 19 known wars since World War 2. But just remember the death toll from three of the bloodiest conflicts: The Korean War, The Vietnam War, and the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The total death toll of people killed by American troops in all these wars put together is over 12 million.

Our war weapons are used on our own own citizens, too. 

This week last year, the sad facts of Memorial Day were heightened when we heard about 18 year old Pedro Ramos, who shot his grandmother in the face after they argued over how he did not graduate from high school. He then took his two legally purchased AR-15 automatic weapons to Robb Elementary and shot 36 people, mostly children in two adjoining classrooms, killing 21.

You probably don’t remember the details. There is a year-full of subsequent shootings. As of the end of April this year, in just four months, there have been 185 mass shootings in the U.S. (using the definition of 4 or more people shot in one incident). 254 people died. 708 were wounded. Untold numbers were traumatized. 

The Uvalde victims

I often say, “How could someone do that?”  But there are many terrible reasons. They are not all personal. Pedro Ramos lived in a country in which leaders of his state tenaciously protected his freedom to buy an automatic weapon in the name of freedom. He lived in a country which is committed to spending, if I calculated the unfathomable right, about $26,000 a second in 2023 to maintain by far the largest military in the world to protect Pedro Ramos’ freedom. You can do your own moral math about that and watch the country refight the  civil war on the “news.”

New victims to memorialize

I want to spend my Memorial Day tears on placing symbolic flowers on the graves of
people killed in Uvalde on May 24, 2022. I know the survivors are more overwhelmed by their losses than I can imagine, even a year later.   But I can imagine a lot.

Lord, I pause the fun at the lake.
I dare to look at my lively grandkids.
I force myself to look at the numbers,
at the evil statistics too horrible to know.

I will ask for forgiveness later.
But first I examine the sin, the heartbreak,
the wounds reopened every second
with every dollar spent on power,
spent on the mistaken notion the right to kill
makes Pedro Ramos free, like he must have thought.

Ten year old Nevaeh Bravo.
Her name was heaven spelled backward.

Nine year old Jacklyn Cazares.
Her first communion picture was offered to the press.

Ten year old Makenna Elrod.
Four sisters and three brothers will never forget.

Ten year old Manuel Flores.
His mother said, “He was very good with babies.”

Irma Garcia had taught at Robb for 23 years.
Two days after her death her husband died of heart failure.
Their children were told mom was seen shielding her students.

Ten year old Maile Rodriguez.
She died helping others to safely hide.

There are more Lord. Always more.
We are overwhelmed with more.
You bear the overwhelming sins of the world.

No amount of decoration on graves
will conceal the hideous truth.
Humanity chooses power over love,
even makes you a warrior God
instead of a suffering servant.

Can you forgive us who rarely forgive?
Can you save us who believe AR-15s save?


Death in the harsh desert

On day six of our MCC learning tour of the Borderlands in Arizona, we spent a stirring time with Brian Best, one of the Tucson Samaritans. They are devoted to saving the lives of migrants who are making their way through the treacherous Sonoran desert. We took a dirt track off the two lane highway to Sasabe and were soon off the beaten track. The following video gives you an idea of the terrain a migrant has to get through without getting caught by the border patrol.

Our group was ending a time of prayer and remembrance around a cross placed by artist Alavaro Enciso on the spot closest to a reported death of a migrant. Thousands of deaths have been verified since Pima County started carefully tracking twenty years ago; many more people have never been found.

A baby cholla invaded my shoe

Brian Best gave us three hours to get a taste of what it is like to try to make it into the US. For one thing, almost every plant has stickers. I stepped near a baby cholla and spent the next hour getting spines out of my foot and shoe. It takes days to get through the desert and no one can carry as much water as they need. It might be safer to travel by night but hard to navigate and avoid the dangerous plants. There are rattlesnakes, coyotes, scorpions and other animals you need to avoid. It is very likely you don’t have the best clothes or supplies because you can’t afford them. It is quite cold at night and very hot in the day. It is a miracle anyone gets through.

As soon as we exited our van to walk with Brian, we saw a backpack laying on the ground, and then a pile of camouflage shirts and hats nearby. From the bushes we extracted two little satchels we saw. One had three phones in it. Brian’s best guess was the Border Patrol tracked the migrants with hilltop cameras and drones until they emerged at a convenient place to nab them.

My heart broke for these poor, desperate, invisible young men. Most people do not care about them. But they deserve to be remembered like anyone else. I took comfort that God sees and loves them, just like you. But I suffered over the fact that most Americans don’t see migrants as people and feel obligated, for economic reasons, not to love them.

Further resources

In Sasabe we visited the recently-opened welcome center for migrants, Casa de Esperanza, a project of Salvavision. Sasabe is a sleepy little desert town, but it is still a point of entry for migrants and a place where removed people are set loose. While we were there we were treated to snacks in the Super Coyote convenience store down the street.

Sasabe is the starting point for the annual Migrant Trail experience, which you can join. One of our MCC leaders for our tour, Saulo Padilla, walks the trail every year. He would be glad to tell you all about it. (Read Open Your Arms: An Invitation)

Saulo Padilla 
MCC US Immigration Education Coordinator

The next day we had another feast at the Tucson table of compassion and activism. We met John Fife, one of the originators of the Sanctuary Movement, which has spread much further than sanctuary churches. (More history)

Education in Agua Prieta

I am in Mexico. I hope to share some of what I am learning about the border each day this week. Here’s the first story.

David Bonilla wanted to stop talking about the cartel members who protect the educational services the Frontera mission supplies to poorly-served elementary kids on the Mexican side of the border at Douglas, Arizona. He would rather talk about the souls he snatched from that devil. They don’t ask to be protected. But the cartel considers “places of peace” valuable.

He was being translated so I could have missed some meaning. But I know he recalled a young boy said he wanted to be a hit man when he grew up when he first arrived for the enrichment their program supplies. That profession is the kind he could see around him. The leaders of the cartel are like a huge business (perhaps like UPenn) which provides services to whole sections of a town. The kids aspire to work for their elaborate trade indrugs and migrants. In Agua Prieta the city government and the cartel have somewhat equal power. It is more peaceful to have just one trafficking business rather than a war for your town. Many kids would like to see themselves riding around in the fancy Jeep that sometimes pulls up outside the after school program to make their presence felt.

Here the school day is 8-12. It is not enough to make progress in overcrowded classrooms. MCC had a worker for several years creating this additional free opportunity for further learning. Education provides more imagination to young minds deciding who the are in the shadow of the wall under the threat of violence.

I am happy David gives his life to the cause. He was a pastor in Bogota in a section of the city so marginal the authorities would not provide it electricity and water. They expected it to slide down the mountain. Before it did, David and his wife applied to work with MCC in Mexico as they had helped in Colombia.

Further resources

While everyone seems to have a website these days the main resources I discovered in the borderlands were PEOPLE! There are MANY wonderful people caring for the helpless and hopeless crashing into the American wall. Many of them are associated with MCC.

David Bonilla is doing a good job of whipping Frontera de Cristo into shape with his administrative skills. He got connected via MCC in Colombia.

You might want to look up my new friend Emily Miller whose home base is Juarez, Mexico, across the border from El Paso. She is the Coordinator of projects and relationships for  Northern Mexico as part of MCC Mexico.

The blessing of your creativity: Apply it to the nearest ailment

In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield poetically reveals the wall everyone faces when they feel the urge to be their true selves, to give humanity what they’ve got. He names the foe “resistance.”

Our urge to co-create with our Creator meets with many obstacles. Freud even called resistance a “death wish” — a destructive force that rises up every time we want to be good and do good.  One of the great joys of counseling of every kind, of loving someone enough to struggle with them, is witnessing the emergence of a true self, a self not bounced off the wall. The Apostle Paul demonstrates this struggle when he tells the Galatians, “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you!” (Galatians 4:19-20). My amplification is: “You stopped creating and clamped the manacles of “law” back on? Why? Where is the true you?”

Why do we tend to do clamp on manacles, as a species? Why do 20%  of scripted dramas on TV have cops in the lead role? Why do parents abdicate their parenting and church members sit on the sidelines of their own body? Pressfield wonders whether humankind is even ready for the freedom they are granted to become their true selves and to give their gifts of creativity to the world.

“I wouldn’t be writing this book, on this subject, if living with freedom were easy. The paradox seems to be, as Socrates demonstrated long ago, that the truly free individual is free only to the extent of [their] own self-mastery. While those who will not govern themselves are condemned to find masters to govern over them.”

Pressfield is also perplexed about us, like Paul. But he is not deterred. He is gives his gift of writing to call out the best in us, to open us to inspiration that sparks our contributions. We are meant to bear fruit, fruit that will last.

“Fundamentalists” and their hate

Galatians is a masterful diatribe against the fundamentalists who promote a safer route than the freedom Paul insists upon. Pressfield says (language uncorrected),

“The fundamentalist reserves his greatest creativity for the fashioning of Satan, the image of his foe, in opposition to which he defines and gives meaning to his own life. Like the artist, the fundamentalist experiences Resistance. He experiences it as temptation to sin. Resistance to the fundamentalist is the call of the Evil one seeking to seduce him from his virtue. The fundamentalist is consumed with Satan, whom he loves as he loves death.”

Does any of that sound familiar? I think it should. The whole world is so distressed, so tired of the relative “freedom” of democracy, that government and all sorts of other institutions are running towards fundamentalism – both in religion and in the political right and left, and running toward authoritarianism — let the rules and rulers steer me.

Several people called me this week — out of the blue, really, to get some advice for how to survive on the other side of communities they cared about. They felt like they fought the law and the law won. One was summarily dismissed from a community group. One was stranded by the leaders of their church in a new “unapproved” territory. One was subject to leaders who are just a “new regime.” One was  subjected to HR maneuvers they did not imagine were even legal. I am not sure I gave very good advice or even demonstrated enough empathy.

But Pressfield has me thinking in the right direction, I think — the Apostle Paul was there for me, too. They both teach it is our innate creativity, freely exercised in spite of fear or criticism, which is the seed of the good we desire. The exercise of our creativity not only makes us feel better, it is the best antidote we contain for the poison of power used for safety instead of community, for coercion instead of trust building.

It is a good day to read all of Galatians 5 again, since the trouble Paul addresses is everywhere, it seems. He says,

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.
Stand firm, then,
and do not let yourselves be burdened again
by a yoke of slavery.

We’re set up for self-destruction

Capitalism, it must be repeated, is an economy best suited for slavery. The U.S. perfected that principle and became rich. U.S. Christianity has often been slaveholder religion. Most people assume capitalism is reality.

A truism in human development says things like, “The abused abuse.” And I think it is true, “The enslaved enslave.”  So Paul’s admonition is not easy to hear or heed, even though it is innately alluring. There is a lot of resistance to standing firm in our freedom.

Paul goes on to say:

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. (Galatians 5:13-15)

It is amazing how many extended families, churches and whole denominations are devouring each other right now! Even serving one another in love can easily be perverted into hate.

Howard Thurman cautioned against bearing the fruit of hate. For the oppressed, hate may be a first step out of slavery and into dignity. But there is no ongoing place for hate in such dignity.

“Above and beyond all else it must be borne in mind that hatred tends to dry up the springs of creative thought in the life of the hater so that his resourcefulness becomes completely focused on the negative aspects of his environment. The urgent needs for creative expression are starved to death. A man’s horizon may become so completely dominated by the intense character of his hatred that there remains no creative residue in his mind and spirit to give to great ideas, to great concepts…

Jesus rejected hatred. It was not because he lacked the vitality or the strength. It was not because he lacked the incentive. Jesus rejected hatred because he saw that hatred meant death to the mind, death to the spirit, death to communion with his Father. He affirmed life; and hatred was the great denial.” (Jesus and the Disinherited)

Live your creativity

Looking back on those phone conversations, I wish I had said better stuff.  My friends were struggling, up against a wall of their own resistance, innate to them but also reinforced by the godless society in which they live. That struggle is an old story Steven Pressfield tries to put in a new poetic form. He ends his book with this encouragement. I hope you can receive it.:

Are you a born writer? Were you put on earth to be
a painter, a scientist, an apostle of peace? In the end
the question can only be answered by action.

Do it or don’t do it.

It may help to think of it this way. If you were
meant to cure cancer or write a symphony or crack
cold fusion and you don’t do it, you not only hurt
yourself, even destroy yourself. You hurt your
children. You hurt me. You hurt the planet.

You shame the angels who watch over you and you spite
the Almighty, who created you and only you with your
unique gifts, for the sole purpose of nudging the human
race one millimeter farther along its path back to God.

Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for
attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the
world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your
contribution. Give us what you’ve got.

Fridays for the Future #3: Lithium is the new secret ingredient

“The climate is changing! We need to do something!” Put that reality into the media grinder and you get a thousand good podcasts enumerating the problems associated with taking action. I appreciated the first episode of a new podcast associated with the NPR Marketplace show called How We Survive. It starts out with the topic of batteries, which are crucial for storing the renewable energy and sustaining alternative technologies to replace using fossil fuels.   We need a lot of batteries and we need them fast if we want to make a difference — do you think we even have ten years left before it is too late? Batteries need lithium and China controls a lot of it. So of course, people in the U.S. are looking for American lithium.

The story of getting lithium is where this podcast begins its journey. As I listened to it, I wished I was binging it, since it made it clear we don’t have time to spend thirteen weeks finding out how we survive! Regardless, I want to give you a taste of an early episode and some of the morsels it provided.

Getting lithium means mining. In the case the podcast highlighted, it means a new mine outside of Orovada, Nevada near Thacker Pass on lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management. On the last Friday of Trump’s administration, the BLM approved it. The new Secretary of the Dept. of Energy, Jennifer Granholm, is a fan of the plan if the lithium is extracted responsibly (Review Journal). The New York Times, at least, thinks such responsibility is unlikely (their take).

George Ireland, Chairman of the Board

The proposed mine is a project of LithiumAmericas. You’ll probably want to look at their “About” page if you, like me, have little awareness of the people who dominate the land and air, and maybe the future. Their plan includes a hole the area of 5000 football fields. Plus, they plan to bring three trucks an hour 24/7/365 through Orovada full of sulfur for making the sulfuric acid needed for processing on site, then leaving with refined product. They promise they will build a fabulous new school away from the soon-to-be busy highway on which it now sits.

Opposition to the lithium mine

There is opposition to the Thacker Pass project. A couple of men associated with Deep Green Resistance are camped out on the pass to make their opposition known. DGR is a radical environmental group (with whom I have a lot of sympathy) which got organized after Derrick Jensen wrote the book by the same name. I first got wind of them in 2019 and here they are in Nevada trying to do something. They have a website and they have a philosophy. They think trucks running night and day, putting a big hole in native land, making millions of electric cars that produce a lot of carbon to make, etc. is a bad solution. They would rather we dismantle consumer society. We can’t build back the environment better by using the same philosophy and tools that ruined it.

If you want to get into this argument you could visit yet another podcast: This Green Earth where Max Wilbert, another spokesperson for Deep Green Resistance talks about a book he co-authored titled Bright Green Lies – How the Environmental Movement Lost Its Way and What We Can Do About It. The book explores the rift between two (stereo)types of environmentalists. The first being the “deep greens,” who want to protect Earth by cutting back on consumption and restoring natural landscapes, and the “bright greens,” who believe improved technology in the form of solar, wind, and battery storage are all we need to roll back climate change. I did not explore how the binary labels originated, but you get the idea.

So up on Thatcher Pass the decamped men look for allies. They have some among the nearby Paiute/Shoshone folks who have a long history with the whole territory. Other Native Americans are delighted with the prospect of the mine producing more jobs. They have been working in mining for decades. Those who have benefited from mining jobs are happy they no longer live in houses without electricity or running water.

My own experience with lithium centers on how it is the main component of a drug used to help people with bipolar disorder. It is a bit ironic that every goal in the U.S. needing  cooperation ends up with people labeling at least two camps that don’t get along — a bit bipolar? You can see why dealing with the climate crisis is not easy.

If each of us just brings it down to how willing we are to change, personally, in order to bring harmony and hope to the present climate crisis, it probably won’t surprise anyone that government-approved LithiumAmericas trucks will soon be displacing school children and various endangered species while locals wonder about property values. I don’t know what you are actually doing, of course, so pardon my disrespect. I just don’t think we are changing fast enough in general, and I do think we know more about property values than we know about lithium.

We named our church Circle of Hope a long time ago. How about yours? It might be “New Life” since that seems popular.  It takes a lot of positive expectation to follow Jesus in this trying time, doesn’t it! I hope you are banded together in your own protest and solution-oriented response to climate change. Nothing is going to be easy but it is certainly a great time to be a serious Christian in a life-giving church! When have true Jesus followers been more necessary?

Fridays for the Future #2 – Running into the commissioner

Do you know who sits on your state’s Public Utilities Commission? (Here’s PA). I still don’t know much about mine, but I have at least figured out they have quite a bit to say about whether my state will take any useful, expedient climate action.

Here is this week’s climate action story.

I decided it would be a service to find out what every elected official is doing about climate change (not just what they are saying). I might write every one of them or call them to find out. Maybe I will visit! In order to do that, I needed to find out who they are. There is so much government I am sure you do not know all the people who are leading the action or lack of action on climate change right now.

I began making a doc which I will eventually share with you (and maybe work on with you!) that lists all the officials, links to their sites and gives a blurb about what climate action they have taken or intend to take. I used the zip codes of each of Circle of Hope’s meeting places, which probably covers where you live if you are local. If you aren’t, this doc making would be a fun project for you and your elementary school kids, right? It is their future burning right now, after all.

First meeting March 25 2021

I brought up Governor Murphy’s info in New Jersey and noticed he had appointed members to the New Jersey Council on the Green Economy in 2021. I have to admit, I was rather unaware of the vast unelected government that either runs things or not. My elected officials are supposed to be leading them, but I have to wonder.  This particular Council falls under the Office of Climate Action and the Green Economy. That’s a new office in the Governor’s Office (not housed in one of the 16 NJ departments). The council is tasked with streamlining climate initiatives currently being pursued by various state agencies and leading New Jersey’s collaboration with federal agencies on climate issues. God bless you.

If you want to talk to someone about climate action in New Jersey, the members of the Council might be a good place to start

Joseph Fiordaliso

Jane Cohen is the Executive Director of the new office under which the Council falls. She used to be at Murphy’s right hand as an advisor on climate change. Shawn Latourette is the acting commissioner of the NJ EPA; he’s on it too. Then there is my man, Joseph Fiordaliso, president of the Board of Public Utilities. He has been a Commissioner since 2006 (Remember Governor Codey, who nominated him? Neither do I). Here is his 2021 report to the NJ Assembly. As you can see, I got fascinated by the board of Public Utilities. They make a difference.

Diane Solomon

The NJ Board of Public Utilities is made up of five commissioners. Here are their bios. Commissioner Diane Solomon is one of them. She used to be Commissioner of the South Jersey Transportation authority and is married to one of the New Jersey Supreme Court justices. She, in particular, caused me to imagine the parties these folks go to, during which they are approached by other powerful people to do these powerful jobs.

It took me hours to get a small feel for the government of New Jersey. It is big, and Joseph and Diane have a lot to say about whether Governor Murphy’s initiatives result in much action and how fast we can see something happen. I wrote to the assistants of these two commissioners . One did not have info listed but a Facebook group did! Here is what I asked: “What is the most important thing the BPU and you personally are doing in the effort to keep warming at 1.5 degrees or less?” We’ll see what they reply.

Fridays for the Future #1 — Greta Thunberg at the Youth4Climate event

I cannot sit back and watch the world boil over while I am waiting to see if it will. I think we all need to do all we can, not only with our personal lifestyle choices, but in order to change the path of the world’s leaders. Last week my friend and I agreed that the glacial pace of government is slower than the rate of glacier melting. It is an appalling response to an emergency.

Thunberg’s first strike in 2018 (click pic for story)

So one piece of what I want to do as my own response is to share a little story every Friday about what I and my friends are doing and discovering about climate action. I want to speak out on Friday because Fridays for the Future, instigated by Greta Thunberg, calls kids to a school strike every week until governments (adults in general) start doing something. I am on their side.

This week’s story is an easy pick. It is about Greta at the Youth4Climate event last Tuesday that preceded the PreCOP26 meeting in Milan which began yesterday. These summits are intricate but we’d better catch up on what is going on, since they are the biggest things happening, government-wise, to stop the warming. A COP is a “conference of parties” in United-Nations-speak. The 26th annual COP on climate change will take place in Glasgow in November. COP21 in Paris in 2015 was the big one so far. In Paris the parties agreed to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees and aim for 1.5 degrees, to adapt to the impacts of a changing climate and to make money available to deliver on these aims.  That was the first time in 21 years something significant resulted. That’s the agreement from which Trump withdrew and Biden rejoined.

Greta Thunberg is an inspiring leader. At the Youth4Climate event she used her fame to demand action: “Thirty years of blah, blah, blah is too much. Your promises are empty. You are destroying our dreams. It is time for the polluters to pay.”  Type in #GretaThunberg most any day and it will take you to a Twitter feed full of #ClimateAction. If you need Bible inspiration, here it is.

I’ve only been to two Friday strike events. But they helped set me on a course toward doing my part – for my grandchildren, for sure. There are amazing people all over the world, many of them in high school and most not out of their thirties, who are on the frontline of this terrible battle humanity is facing whether they want to face it or not.

Living Water for climate change action: The parable of the pines

A cheerful forest ranger told us amazing and troubling facts about the giant Sequoia trees we visited last week. She told us Native Americans knew how Sequoia reproduction worked, requiring fire to melt the seed cone’s covering and ash for a seedling’s first meal — but the “pioneers” ignored the natives, or did not bother to ask. The western states still haven’t become devoted to sustainable forest management.

Click pic for Fresno Bee article

That was not the most troubling part of the ranger’s talk, however. She added a line or two about climate change that kind of made me sick to my stomach. The striking landscape of the Sierras is somewhat despoiled by dead pine trees, as in the picture above. I could see the same thing if I went to the Pine Barrens in New Jersey. But those gray skeletons really stick out in my native California. Where are the trees of my youth? The bark beetles attacked them and killed them. You can read about the beetles here.

To my horror, I found out climate change (NYTimes link) is finally attacking the giant Sequoias, in like fashion, even though they have adapted and endured for centuries. A few of them might be over 2000 years old! They have withstood pests, fire and people, until now. The horrible air pollution of the Central Valley of California is ruining the air they breathe at 6000 feet! What is worse, the warming climate brings new opportunity for bugs seeking to colonize new trees. The drought in California weakens the amazing Sequoias. They can withstand periods of dryness but not what has happened for the last twenty years.  The bugs are just beginning to discover how weak they are after centuries of being remarkably impervious to insects.

I came away with a parable the trees told me. The story I hear is: Once there were trees planted by the water. They flourished. Humans disrupted the natural flow, even the cycle of the earth, and the land became dryer and dryer. The trees became susceptible to destruction by opportunistic forces. So it is with a people. So it is with a person who is not replenished with Living Water.

We need to act

My first application of this parable is to devote myself to advocating real action to reverse the processes that have warmed the climate. Like the NYTimes article linked above reports, we can’t stop the climate from warming a degree more; it’s going to happen. But we could stave off further catastrophe. If there is any reason to be born in the American Empire, it must be to demand that every power possible is exerted to save humankind from being weeded out like a pine forest. Covid-19 could just be the beginning of the disasters we face.

My starting place for action is the church, since that is where I find the faith, hope and love to do something, not just talk about it. The church is experiencing something of a post-Covid climate change of its own these days, in general, in which people mostly fight rather than find reconciled ways to act. But I don’t have another place to go since it is the body of Christ. That ecosystem is the most resilient and adaptable society on the planet so I trust it will survive the 20’s.

After the church, I have been looking for action-oriented groups with whom to partner. I can at least give them money, although I intend to give them more time and love. MCC has been attending to the need for years. I have been asking around and have begun to zero in on further good groups (see the comments for a few of them). I wish there were more. Big Christian organizations, big non-profits and governments all have an underfunded department, it seems, that pays lip service to climate change while the institution keeps talking about itself. Didn’t Donald Trump raise $100 million in the first quarter to keep blaming immigrants for the virus spike in Florida? (He decamped to New Jersey, of course, abandoning Mar-a-Lago). That’s an extreme example of talking about yourself. If you have a favorite association please add it to the comments so we can get busy!

We need Living Water

My second application of the parable is to check my bark and inspect my loved ones for signs of distress. When my ficus tree showed scale, the first treatment offered was “make sure you are properly watering  the tree.” Being well-watered is the tree’s first defense. This truth directly applies to the spiritual life that sustains direct action in a pestilence-ridden world.

  • If you are a fellow psychotherapist, you are dealing with traumas that will wear you out if you are not sustained spiritually. This does not mean listening to a podcast at the gym or procuring a proper thought somewhere; it means enjoying direct access to Living Water. You are involved in a spiritual restoration project with every client and it requires spiritual resources.
  • If you are a Jesus follower (as many of my clients are, as well as my directees), we need to pray. So many of us read a book, listen to a speech, or do things that require headphones and call that a personal spiritual life. It is not enough. Those habits, on their own, cause spiritual drought. All that learning and relating to wise people is good. But if it does not lead to our own relationship with God in real time, it is more like living in a polluted atmosphere of overheated thought instead of resting in the cooling, restorative Living Water. I think my “life in the spirit” category in the right column could provide further, practical help.

What do I do when I find beetles laying eggs in my weakened spiritual bark?

First, I need to look for them and not assume having little water and being bug-infested is normal. The world allowed millions of the trees it did not cut down to be killed by climate change. We are also susceptible to such destructive forces and need to fight for our lives inside and out. We have choices we can make. Even if they are small ones, they add up.

Second, I can stop cooperating with people and institutions that suck the living water out of me until I can gain enough strength to go back and provide some water. Married couples I counsel often refuse to admit that they can individually change the terrible dance they dance with their partner simply by refusing to mirror their partner’s steps! Change the pattern, turn into something better even if the present regime cries foul.

Third, I must spend enough time with God so my roots actually soak up living water. Like a tree, yesterday’s drink does not last forever. Our spiritual lives are organic like that; we need living water sources to live. We are often told our bodies are 90% water. In spiritual terms I’d say we are 100% living water and 100% organic or we are less than fully alive.

Fourth, I can fight off the bugs. We stand up against death in as many ways as we are all unique. Sometimes we get together like an army. I’m looking to join up with allies right now to advocate for effective action on climate change so my grandchildren have a habitable planet and so I do not disgrace myself before my Creator by doing nothing. I won’t be waiting until I am sure I am taking perfect action before I take some steps. This post is me taking a step in the way I do. But I will find even better ways to make alliances and act. When we take action, we solidify our good intention into real attention. Who and what we attend to makes a big difference as to who we are becoming and what we can do.

This past week I attended to myself, my family and the Sequoias. God was in the midst. Turning that way turned on some light and illuminated further steps along the way to wholeness. God bless you on your own journey into what is next.

Share what you know in the comments please.