Laudato Si’- Living a Life of Praise

by Alexei Laushkin

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise (Psalm 51:17).

Laudato Si’ is about climate change, about the environment, and about our culture. The temperament of mankind is manifesting itself in profound brokenness and alienation as evidenced by abortion and how we tend not to esteem marriage, the well being of all children, our elderly, and certainly a whole host of vulnerable peoples. These are issues that the scriptures themselves would take us to task over, especially given that some of the main drivers of global influence and culture are coming from nations that in some way lay claim to Christian heritage, or even if they don’t at present have certainly been heavily influenced by Christianity. Even in our land, the United States we dare not forget the work of God through many people within our midst.

So what sort of life and faith is necessary for these times? Here’s Laudato Si’ addressing a portion of that question:

We are convinced that ‘man is the source, the focus and the aim of all economic and social life’.[100] Nonetheless, once our human capacity for contemplation and reverence is impaired, it becomes easy for the meaning of work to be misunderstood.[101]We need to remember that men and women have ‘the capacity to improve their lot, to further their moral growth and to develop their spiritual endowments.’ [102]Work should be the setting for this rich personal growth, where many aspects of life enter into play: creativity, planning for the future, developing our talents, living out our values, relating to others, giving glory to God (127).

Our capacity for contemplation and reverence is impaired, our spiritual vision has narrowed. In the words of scripture:

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness;  and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble,  and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:5-11)

We have become near sighted in our faith. We have very much lost the divine love that ought to animate our works of mission and our care for one another not to mention our family life and our life with those we are closest with. Not love of abstract ideas or zeal for salvation without transformation, but real rooted and anchored love that banishes sin from our lives and brings us into a holiness and wholeness of life. The sort of faith that in the words of Laudato Si’: “[that dares] to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it” (19).

So what do we do to return to a life of praise? What can we learn from the examples of St. Sergius of Radonezh, St. Seraphim of Sarov, St. Francis of Assisi, or even Brother William J. Seymour of the Azusa Street Revival.  Divine love was made manifest and so real in each of their lives that creation itself changed. The grace of God was so real and present and holiness so manifest that they each showed us the way to be Christ in their time and place.

Think of what happened in Los Angeles in April 1906 almost 100 years ago. America was still going to go through Civil Rights and years of needing to work through the sins of racism and indifference of other kinds of people that still plagues us to this day. And yet the Lord broke down barriers and brought heavenly unity, a foretaste of what Martin Luther King Jr. saw in hisI Have a Dream speech. A reality not brought about by legislation or clever ways to curb sin, but a radical heart transformation that allowed what was true in heaven to be true on earth.

Think of what happened with St. Seraphim of Sarov. On the eve of the great wickedness that would break out in Russia in the 20th century, the Lord sent this living example of humility, faith, and holiness to strengthen the church and God’s people for the times ahead. This account by Nicholas Motovilov is well worth the time.

Think of what happened with St. Francis of Assisi who was bothered and grieved by what he saw around him in his time, that the Lord used that and his purity of heart to bring something totally new back into the life of the church.

The example of being radical for Christ is at heart of these great saints and this is just a sampling of what God has done through many kinds of people and movements of his people to bring a sense of restoration and wholeness to times of crisis.

Let us not be self-deceived, we are in a time of crisis. The crisis as of yet is not manifesting itself in the same violence of the 20th century, but the crisis in some ways is more severe because the doors and clear teaching on how to become fully Christ like are quickly closing or vanishing from the earth. Think of what is happening to ancient Christian communities around the world, let alone the sort of veiled gospel that is too often preached in this land. We are failing to remember what it means to be God’s people and without that the gates of hell won’t be too far behind. Even today we are seeing the first fruits of this distancing from God in our midst. It is possible that as man tries to live further and further apart from God and each other that the worst days of human nature are just ahead, manifested in an imperial narcissism and indifference to the suffering and frailty that we all experience apart from God.

If we don’t know where we are in our cultural moment we can’t possibly rouse ourselves enough to wake up and turn. To repent and grieve to what’s become of the pursuit of God in each of our own personal lives and than more broadly in the lives around us. This is not for a form of arrogance, as the scripture rightly reminds us we need to look to the sin and log in our own eyes before we attend to our neighbors. But as we look, we ought to grieve, we ought to lament and cleanse ourselves of our own deep defilement before God.

Once we have repented, our eyes can more clearly see what is right around us, and we begin to take steps through small acts of justice and wholeness beginning with our families and than working outwards to our communities.

God has not abandoned us, but we must turn and strive with all our might to achieve another, more heavenly quality of life. That’s what I see as being essential for Laudato Si’ to take hold in the life of the church. We need to be reminded as Pope Francis himself is embodying, mainly what Christ looks like when he is fully present in our lives. What sort of generosity of spirit should characterize our living and being, and than with what patience and creativity we can than use for the life of the world and the life of God’s people and indeed all people on the face of the earth.

Come Lord Jesus, do a work in us that is necessary for the times we face.

Alexei Laushkin is the Vice-President of the Evangelical Environmental Network 

Second Take on Laudato Si’

by Alexei Laushkin

My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them (John 14:23)

The Trinity has something very profound to teach us about relationships. Have you ever thought about that? Ever been on the same page with someone so much so, where there is so much love, care, deference, trust, dependence, that you can act in concert together? Sometimes we see this in a particular friendship, certainly it’s how marriage was designed. When we live into these possibilities as Christians we are experiencing a reflection of the Trinity itself, and as the verse from the Gospel of John states we are invited to do so as we grow in our love and trust of the God who comes to heal and to save.

Can you imagine just for a moment when Jesus went away to pray during his ministry what things He, and the Father, and the Holy Spirit talked about. Knowing the problem of the separation between God and man so well, knowing the history of God’s people so well, knowing their rescue out of Egypt, their wanderings in the wilderness, their rejection of the prophets, can you imagine the creativity, the love, and intimacy that marked their fellowship as they discussed and discerned what to say, what to embody, how to set us on a new path of new life and new creation.

Let’s remember that  Jesus said that his words were the words the Father gave him to say. Sometimes in the gospels we get visual manifestations of the Trinity in relationship, as in the Baptism of Jesus, or on the Mount of Transfiguration, but those realities were all present to our Lord Jesus.

Healing and full fellowship. That’s the aim of the Trinity for us. My thoughts go to love and peace, life and contentment, or in other words the glory to glory of sanctification as I continue to reflect on ‘Laudato Si.

Here’s what I believe is one of the central points to ‘Laudato Si’ which is about the environment, but it’s as much about us, human nature, the challenges facing the church, and the grave challenges facing humanity:

The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together; we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation (48)

The causes aren’t just structural they are internal. Both St. Francis of Assisi and St. Sergius of Radonezh experienced a profound healing in their relationship with mankind, with God, and God’s creation. As Orthodox and Catholic commentators will say, they both experienced some return to the original state with God with some earthly manifestation of that reality. That’s incredible! A healing and love and intimacy so profound between God and man, in relationships that they had with other people, that it inevitably spilled over to the relationship with God’s creation.

Charles Spurgeon says something very similar on reflecting on these dynamics. He says when we look at why there is so much enmity between man and creation that really what we are seeing is God’s creatures take up their masters quarrel with us.

Well if we have ceased to quarrel with the master, if we have ceased to quarrel with each other, then naturally God’s creation will cease quarreling with us.

As many of you know, I was recently at the Vatican for several different reasons. During my trip I had up to 5 meetings with various senior officials.

A bit of background. Evangelicals have long exercised a degree of leadership on climate change and the environment. Also the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has done much to bring leadership and the full richness of Orthodox thought to our contemporary environmental challenges. I have many friends and colleagues who have done the same in the Roman Catholic world. Now the Papal encyclical offers fresh and compelling leadership. The encyclical itself opens the door for dialogue and action.

This is a unique time to build our heart muscles with each other. As Christians divided by human nature and sin, we have a unique opportunity for new dialogue and encounter. Who knows what God will do with these fruits? We do know that they can be in accord with the profound prayer for unity found in John 17.

Alexei Laushkin is the Vice-President of the Evangelical Environmental Network. 

The Jesus Who Came to Serve

by Jim Ball

But I am among you as one who serves.

Those were not empty words. And Jesus does not let us get away with projecting a false Christian servant-leader model. Jesus doesn’t let us fool ourselves with lame rationalizations by in effect saying in our own minds, “I can be a servant leader in my heart and at the same time continue to lord it over those within my power and influence.” His teaching and example are very concrete. To be the youngest is to be last in power and influence. Those who served at table were not those who did such service temporarily. No, they had a full-time, 24/7 servant status. They had masters whose power and influence they were under.

To be crystal clear, the Gospel of John reports that Jesus even washed the disciples’ feet. Afterward he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done for you? … You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am … I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (Jn 13:12-15).

In Philippians Paul gives us perhaps the greatest interpretation of Jesus’ example of service and how it is to inspire us to live out the same attitude. We should consider others not only equal to ourselves, but better than (or superior in authority to) ourselves (2:3) just like a servant in the first century would. He goes on to say:

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross! (Phil 2:5-8)

Jesus as a human being is not only the true image of God; he is also the preexistant Son of God, Creator of all things. He not only empties Himself of His Divine Sonship, “pitching his tent among us” or becoming finite flesh and blood just like us, he becomes servant to the servants (us), even unto death.

The Rev. Jim Ball is EEN’s Executive Vice President for Policy and author of Global Warming and the Risen LORD: Christian Discipleship and Climate Change.


Climate Change and International Adaptation

Climate change is a natural disaster intensifier. It makes floods fiercer, hurricanes harsher, and droughts dryer. The one thing the world doesn’t need are more victims of natural disasters, like the father and his family during the 2005 Niger famine found hundreds of miles from the nearest feeding station “I’m wandering like a madman. I’m afraid we’ll all starve.” During the same famine mother lamented as she watched her young daughter die “As far as I’m concerned, God did not make us all equal. I mean, look at us all here. None of us has enough food.”

The reason such stories should not simply touch us as compassionate individuals but rouse us as nations and as an international community is because of the scale of the impacts, which have important economic and security implications. Billions will be adversely impacted, making it in our common interest to overcome the causes and consequences of climate change.

Given that these impacts will fall hardest on the poor in poor countries, those who have done least and yet will suffer the most, it should not surprise you that the Bible speaks to our responsibility to help them.

In several accounts in the Gospels people ask Jesus what is the greatest commandment in the Law. In effect, they were asking: if there is one thing our lives should be about, what is it? What is the most important thing in life?

Jesus quotes Dt 6:4–5, something that observant Jews of his time recited in the morning and in the evening: “ ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength’ ” (Mk 12:29–30). Jesus immediately says, “‘And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ ” (Mt 22:39, quoting Lev 19:18). To make things perfectly clear, Jesus adds: “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Mt 22:40).

Why does Jesus add the second commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves? He does so because you can’t love God unless you love your neighbor, because while God loves you, He loves your neighbor, too. These two commandments joined together by Jesus are what the Church has called The Great Commandments, and from a Christian perspective they are what our lives should be all about.

In the Gospel of Luke’s version of Jesus’ teaching of the Great Commandments, one of the experts in the law asks Jesus a follow up question: “‘And who is my neighbor?’” This sets up one of the most memorable and loved of Jesus’ stories, the parable of the Good Samaritan.

During Jesus’ time Samaritans were considered by Jews to be heretical, traitorous, half-breeds and were regarded with utter contempt. By having the Samaritan be the one who demonstrated love by his actions, Jesus in effect says that everyone is our neighbor – even or especially others we hold in contempt. And furthermore, those of us who think of ourselves as religious, as doing the right things to appease God and look righteous to others better think again.

Here is where this parable intersects with climate change.

The priest and the Levite were not the ones who robbed the man. , just like in our time we didn’t necessarily create the poverty of the poor, a situation that makes them much more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. But the priest and the Levite did pass by on the other side. Righteousness and love are the presence of good acts, not simply the absence of bad ones. By not helping the man in the ditch, the priest and the Levite made his plight worse and failed to love God.

Today, collectively, we are in fact making the plight of the poor worse through our contribution to climate change. And knowing their plight and not doing what we can to help to overcome it is like passing by on the other side – something no morally mature individual or nation can do. We must be Good Samaritans.

Part of rich nations acting like Good Samaritans when it comes to climate change is by providing sufficient funding and assistance to poor countries to help them do two things: (1) achieve sustainable and climate-friendly economic progress, and; (2) adapt to the consequences by helping them enhance resilience and reduce vulnerability to climate impacts.

There are two complementary and sometimes overlapping ways to achieve adaptation, to enhance resilience and reduce vulnerability. The first is achieved by realizing the poverty-reducing and democracy-increasing dimensions of freedom, something that traditional overseas development assistance (ODA) should be helping to foster. The second is achieved through projects, processes, and mechanisms designed in whole or in part to address climate impacts. Both are needed. Neither can be neglected. Funding to help poor countries both mitigate/abate and adapt needs to be new and additional in comparison to traditional overseas development assistance (ODA) as required by the Bali Action Plan.

That the rich countries have a moral responsibility and opportunity to help the poor ones grow in a climate-friendly manner and adapt to climate consequences there is no doubt. We have the means. Let us now summon the moral will to be Good Samaritans on climate change.

The Rev. Jim Ball, Ph.D., is Executive Vice President at EEN and author of Global Warming and the Risen LORD

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