Greetings, SBT Readers!
Tomorrow, October 31st, is Halloween --a day for mischief, trick or treating and general misrule. It is also the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, a day which marks the beginning of COP 26, the UN's Climate Change Conference; hosted by the UK in partnership with Italy, it will run until 12 November 2021 in Glasgow, Scotland. A major concern for this conference is that to reach the 1.5C goal of the Paris Agreement, there needs to be a 55% reduction in emissions by 2030; so far, countries have only pledged a 7.5% decrease and this means that the world could face a 2.7C temperature rise this century. Such a temperature rise would bring further catastrophe to an already suffering world -- hurricanes, floods, fires, famine, water shortages, economic chaos, countless displaced people, destroyed habitats, the extinction of species...
As individual citizens, we might think we have little to contribute to the outcome of this conference and to the direction we are heading in as a global community. I disagree. Each of us has a sphere of influence in which we can make a difference. For some, this might mean teaching or preaching on climate change; for others, it might mean sharing information with friends and colleagues or raising our children to be aware of how every action we take has an impact on the planet.
I invite you to share with me a 12-day challenge: to do ONE THING each day, for the next 12 days, to reduce your carbon footprint. If you're not sure how to calculate your carbon footprint, then take one of the following quizzes (or both!) This will give you some idea as to how YOU can bring about change:
I would love to hear what steps you end up taking! Please share your thoughts!
One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him,
"Which is the first of all the commandments?"
Jesus replied, "The first is this:
Hear, O Israel!
The Lord our God is Lord alone!
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind,
and with all your strength.
The second is this:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no other commandment greater than these."
The scribe said to him, "Well said, teacher.
You are right in saying,
'He is One and there is no other.'
And 'to love him with all your heart,
with all your understanding,
with all your strength,
and to love your neighbor as yourself'
is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices."
And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding,
he said to him,
"You are not far from the kingdom of God."
And no one dared to ask him any more questions.
It is difficult to wrap one's head around the mandate to love God. The commandment to love one's neighbor is much more understandable: we can see in the "other" a reflection of ourselves and, knowing ourselves, we instinctively understand what the "other" might need on a spiritual, emotional, intellectual and material level. The Golden Rule, a maxim found across cultures and religious traditions, demands that we should treat one another as we would have others treat us. Today, we might add a slight variation to this rule: Treat others as they would want to be treated! In other words, we cannot assume that our neighbor has identical needs to our own. For example, if we decide to feed the hungry, we should not impose our culinary tastes or preferences on an individual or group. As a vegetarian with many dietary restrictions, I would be better off donating money to the Chicago Food Depository than dishing out arugula and goat's cheese to Chicago's hungry -- and they would be better off, as well! Current thinking acknowledges treating others with kindness and compassion, but avoiding imposing our "likes" on them.
But back to loving God. This mandate is more challenging because few of us get to SEE God and some --even professed religious-- never get to EXPERIENCE God. We learn to praise God, to thank God, and to ask for our daily bread and more; we learn the Ten Commandments and, even if we stray, know we can ask for forgiveness and that new beginnings are always possible. None of this, however, quite equates to loving God. We learn the rituals, recite sacred texts, and keep the holy days; we receive the sacraments, read devotional literature, attend retreats, engage in conversations about God -- but do we LOVE God? Love and duty are not synonymous; nor are religious observances proof of our love for God -- at least, not the kind of love to which Jesus is pointing. Quoting from the most sacred text in Judaism, Jesus articulates what it is to be in love with God:
"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength" (Dt 6:4-9).
These words have nothing to do with mere religious observance and everything to do with utter and complete self-giving to the Holy One who is the source of our being. The Holy One does not need our sacrifices but only our hearts; there is nothing we can "DO" for God because God does not need our "doing" but, instead, desires our unconditional love. While organized religion promotes religious practices, what God really desires is nothing less than our full, passionate response. Sadly, this message seldom makes it to the pulpit nor to religious education classes; as a result, we continue bombarding heaven with prayers instead of being the prayer the Beloved longs to hear.