by the Rev. Dr. Virginia Ann McDaniel
Today we’re taking part in a national movement—the National Preach-In on Global Warming, which means I’ve committed to focus the sermon today on global warming and climate change. I realize that for me to stand in this pulpit in this place to speak about the environment is like taking coal to Newcastle. So many of you have spent your whole lives in a close relationship to the land that almost anyone here knows a great deal more about the care of the earth than I do. You appreciate that concern for the environment is not a chic trend or a passing phase. Yet today the threat caused by global warming is perhaps the greatest moral issue of our time. I say that because how we respond to global warming is going to define the future. It’s simply not an option any longer to ignore the evidence of the degradation of our planet’s atmosphere. Our response to global warming is going to define what kind of a world the people who come after us are going to have.
There are many congregations which would first want to debate about the science of global warming, but I assume that you accept the scientific consensus that global warming is caused primarily by human activity… it is largely the result of emissions from burning fossil fuels… and that widespread climate change is already having significant negative impacts on human civilization. Climate change is a reality.
Realizing that you are well aware of the need to be responsible stewards of creation, I’m not going to try to convince you that we should “love our mother” (as the bulletin cover suggests). Instead, I’d like for us to approach the subject from a slightly different angle—from the standpoint of illness and healing because that’s where the lectionary passages take us. At first glance the two stories we heard this morning couldn’t be more different—one is about a man who seems to have it all and the other about a man who’s at the very bottom of the social ladder. What the two men share, however, is illness. They are both suffering from a disease which, although it doesn’t kill them, is both unsightly and debilitating.
The story in Kings tells of Naaman who is the commander of the Aramean army. He’s rich, powerful, and famous. He’s just been given victory in battle which seals his favor with the king. But for all his outward success, he has a problem. It is a big problem, too, one he can’t ignore. He has leprosy. Luckily for him, Naaman has a wife who obviously cares about him, and a slave who tells her mistress that what Naaman needs is to harness his chariot and head on over to Samaria for an appointment with Israel’s Number One prophet.
Now this mighty warrior might be too proud to take the advice of a slave. But no, she offers him hope where he had none. And so off he goes, carrying a personal letter of introduction from the king of Aram, and a caravan of riches. Alas, Naaman immediately goes off track and reverts to his old habits. Instead of going to the prophet, he makes straight for the seat of power and wealth, and pays a call on the king of Israel. Where else, of course, would a person of power and wealth go? If you are sick and have the means, don’t you head off to the best clinic if you can afford it? Why would you go to the village shaman?
This might be the end of the story for Naaman. His pride has led him into the court of the king of Israel, who suspects his foe is setting a trap. But fortunately for Naaman, he is saved when word comes through the prophet Elisha: “Let him come to me.”
Back on track (or so it seems), Naaman leaps on his chariot and high-tails it at last to Elisha’s house. He expects, of course, to be treated with the respect and admiration befitting a person of his importance, but Elisha doesn’t even come to the door. So Naaman waits, standing in his chariot under the burning sun, and then he waits some more. Finally a messenger comes out. He tells Naaman that the cure is to go skinny-dipping in the local mud hole, the silty Jordan River.
Naaman, who loves his importance more than his health, it seems, is enraged. What an insult! He had expected something more… Elisha cancelling his other appointments to be available to Naaman, Elisha coming and waving his hand—something!—and producing a cure on the spot. Go swim in the Jordan?! You’ve got to be kidding! There were cleaner, better rivers by far back home. And Naaman would have returned home without taking the cure were it not for the intervention—again—of his servants who urge him to give it a try. He dips himself in the Jordan seven times and he is healed. Rather than spending his ten talents of silver and his six thousand shekels of gold… the solution was as obvious and available as a backyard stream.
What might we take away from that little parable of illness and healing? It’s an interesting metaphor for our diseased planet and how different people view the problem. I suppose one could say that belief in a cure can be healing in itself. We in the richest part of the world are so accustomed to thinking about complicated and expensive treatments—because mostly we have the means to avail ourselves of the best and most advanced health care available—that we often overlook the obvious and simple. Like Naaman, we shouldn’t reject the suggestions that from parts of the world where people have less power and wealth and technology. The climate issue affects poor nations and poor people around the world in a much more severe way than it does wealthier nations and wealthier people. We will all be affected by climate change. But the poor, who contribute least to the crisis of global warming, are the ones who suffer the most. Like Naaman, perhaps the healing we seek will come from those unlikely corners of the earth. Solutions are possible to the problem of global warming if we recognize them and believe a cure is possible.
It’s as simple, and as urgent as that. Everything that we do today has an effect on someone else. Since we are called to love God and love our neighbors, if you love God, you are not going to pollute your neighbor’s air. You won’t pollute your neighbor’s air or water. And if we think of neighbors as the next generation, we have to start thinking how our behavior is going to affect the people that come after us. It’s kind of sad to think that we might care more about ourselves than we do our children. But sometimes we behave that way, when we’re not thinking how our behavior affects the next generation. Everything that we do, in response to the issue of global warming, is going to affect the future.
Scripture also calls us to serve one another. If we’re serving one another, we’re not exploiting them. Global warming affects poor nations and poor people around the world in a much more severe way than it does wealthier nations and wealthier people. We will all be affected by climate change. But the poor people, who contribute least to the problems, are the ones who suffer the most. It’s time that we learned from our poorer neighbors that it’s better to be efficient with our energy than waste it, just because we can afford to do so.
So I’m asking that we redefine what our role is in the world today, in light of the destruction coming from a changing climate. Our planet is ailing and we can no longer afford to ignore it. When we look at rising seas, drought, crop disruption, more floods, more severe weather patterns… all of these things are being caused by a changing climate. And if we’re called to love our neighbors and we’re called to serve people who have less than we do, then we really do have a moral responsibility to be the caretakers of creation.
When you leave the sanctuary this morning and go into Cook Hall you will have an opportunity to send a postcard to our senators urging them to “Love the earth” with their legislative actions. But what is much more important is that we recognize the simple cures that are available to us… and that we make the choices to live differently… not to waste resources even if we can “afford” to do so. Because you know what? The cure is available and inexpensive… but the illness will kill us if we don’t take action.
So there is one more thing I want you to do this morning. On the front of each bulletin is a pink heart-shaped sticky note. It’s intended to be a Valentine—to Mother Earth. As I read a list of simple cures for the illness that’s got our mother ailing, I want you to write down two or three things that you will do—changes in your behavior—to help heal our planet. Ready? Here’s the list:
101 Ways To Heal The Earth
1. Insulate your home.
2. Buy energy-efficient appliances.
3. Caulk and weatherstrip doors and windows.
4. Install storm windows.
5. Close off unused areas in your home from heat and air conditioning.
6. Wear warm clothing and turn down winter heat.
7. Switch to low-wattage or fluorescent light bulbs.
8. Turn off all lights that don’t need to be on.
9. Use cold water instead of hot whenever possible.
10. Opt for small-oven or stove-top cooking when preparing small meals.
11. Run dishwashers only when full.
12. Set refrigerators to 38°F, freezers to 5°F, no colder.
13. Run clothes washers full, but don’t overload them.
14. Use moderate amounts of biodegradable detergent.
15. Air-dry your laundry when possible.
16. Clean the lint screen in clothes dryers.
17. Instead of ironing, hang clothes in the bathroom while showering.
18. Take quick showers instead of baths.
19. Install water-efficient showerheads and sink-faucet aerators.
20. Install an air-assisted or composting toilet.
21. Collect rainwater and gray water for gardening use.
22. Insulate your water heater. Turn it down to 121°F.
23. Plant deciduous shade trees that protect windows from summer sun but allow it in during the winter.
24. Explore getting a solar water heater for your home.
25. Learn how to recycle all your household goods, from clothing to motor oil to appliances.
26. Start separating out your newspaper, other paper, glass, aluminum, and food wastes.
27. Encourage your local recycling center or program to start accepting plastic.
28. Urge local officials to begin roadside pickup of recyclables and hazardous wastes.
29. Encourage friends, neighbors, businesses, local organizations to recycle and sponsor recycling efforts.
30. Use recycled products, especially paper.
31. Re-use envelopes, jars, paper bags, scrap paper, etc.
32. Bring your own canvas bags to the grocery store.
33. Encourage local governments to buy recycled paper.
34. Start a recycling program where you work.
35. Limit or eliminate your use of “disposable” items.
36. Urge fast-food chains to use recyclable packaging.
37. Avoid using anything made of plastic foam. It is often made from CFCs, and it never biodegrades.
38. If your car gets less than 35 mpg, sell it, buy a small fuel-efficient model, and spend whatever money you save on home energy efficiency.
39. Maintain and tune up your vehicle regularly for maximum gas mileage.
40. Join a car pool or use public transport to commute.
41. Write to automobile manufacturers to let them know that you intend to buy the most fuel efficient car on the road.
42. Reduce your use of air conditioning.
43. Encourage auto centers to install CFC recycling equipment for auto air conditioners. Freon is released during servicing to become both a greenhouse gas and an ozone layer destroyer.
44. Remove unnecessary articles from your car. Each 100 lbs. of weight decreases fuel efficiency by 1%.
45. Don’t speed; accelerate and slow down gradually.
46. Walk or use a bicycle whenever possible.
47. Urge local governments to enact restrictions on automobile use in congested areas downtown.
48. Enjoy sports and recreational activities that use your muscles rather than gasoline and electricity.
49. Buy products that will last.
50. Rent or borrow items that you don’t use often.
51. Maintain and repair the items you own.
52. Use colored fabrics to avoid the need for bleach.
53. Use natural fiber clothing, bedding and towels.
54. Don’t buy aerosols, halon fire extinguishers, or other products containing CFCs.
55. Write to computer chip manufacturers and urge them to stop using CFC-113 as a solvent.
56. Invest your money in environmentally and socially conscious businesses.
57. Avoid rainforest products, and inform the supplier or manufacturer of your concerns.
58. Use postcards instead of letters for short messages.
59. Eat vegetarian foods as much as possible. Meat makes less efficient use of land, soil, water, and energy – and cows emit 300 liters of methane per day.
60. Buy locally produced foods; avoid buying foods that must be trucked in from great distances.
61. Read labels. Eat organic or less-processed foods.
62. Start a garden; plant a garden instead of a lawn
63. Water the garden with an underground drip system.
64. Support organic farming and gardening methods; shun chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides.
65. Compost kitchen and garden waste, or give it to a friend who can.
66. Inform schools, hospitals, airlines, restaurants, and the media of your food concerns.
67. Stay informed about the state of the Earth.
68. Talk to friends, relatives, and co-workers about preventing global climate change.
69. Read and support publications that educate about long-term sustainability (like this one).
70. Start a global climate change study group.
71. Educate children about sustainable living practices.
72. Xerox this list and send it to ten friends.
73. Go on a citizen diplomacy trip and talk with those you meet about averting global climate change.
74. Get involved in local tree-planting programs.
75. Join an environmental organization. If they’re not involved with climate change, get them involved.
76. Support zero population growth.
77. Support work to alleviate poverty. Poverty causes deforestation and other environmental problems.
78. Donate money to environmental organizations.
79. Support programs that aim to save rainforest areas.
80. Support solar and renewable energy development.
81. Work to protect local watershed areas.
82. Pave as little as possible. Rip up excess concrete.
83. Encourage sewage plants to compost their sludge.
84. Write your senator now in support of S. 201, the World Environment Policy Act.
85. Write your congressperson now in support of H.R. 1078, the Global Warming Prevention Act.
86. Support disarmament and the redirection of military funds to environmental restoration.
87. Write letters to the editor expressing your concern about climate change and environmental issues.
88. Support electoral candidates who run on environmental platforms.
89. Run for local office on an environmental platform.
90. Attend city council meetings and speak out for action on climate change issues.
91. Organize a citizens’ initiative to put a local “climate protection program” into place.
92. Learn how to lobby. Lobby your local, state, and national elected officials for action on climate change and environmental issues.
93. Organize a demonstration at a plant that uses CFCs.
94. In place of TV and the stereo, spend time reading, writing, drawing, telling stories, making music.
95. Live within the local climate as much as possible, rather than trying to isolate yourself from it.
96. Strive to establish good communications with friends, neighbors and family including learning conflict resolution skills.
97. Spend time seeing, hearing, and rejoicing in the beauty of the Earth. Feel your love for the Earth. Make serving the Earth your first priority.
98. Learn about the simpler, less resource-intensive lifestyles of aboriginal peoples.
99. Think often about the kind of Earth you would like to see for your grandchildren’s grandchildren.
100. While doing small things, think big. Think about redesigning cities, restructuring the economy, re-conceiving humanity’s role on the Earth.
101. Pray, visualize, hope, meditate, dream.
 One of the articles in Global Climate Change (IC#22), Summer 1989, Page 46, © 1989, 1997 by Context Institute. What can one person do to avert climate change? The answer is: a lot. This list of 101 suggestions doesn’t begin to exhaust the possibilities; use it as a creative jumping off point and come up with your own ways to make an impact.
The unifying themes here are changes in lifestyle that: (1) reduce energy usage and slow down the fires of industrialism; (2) protect and restore the environment so that its climate-stabilizing mechanisms are preserved; (3) increase individual participation in governmental and economic decisions; and (4) facilitate a deep personal commitment to caring for the Earth. The point is not to feel guilty for not doing all 101, but to use this list to empower yourself and your friends to take action. Find one thing you can do, do it, and then find another. By such incremental steps are long journeys made.
This list is distilled from three sources: “The Greenhouse Crisis: 101 Ways to Save the Earth,” published by the Greenhouse Crisis Foundation, 1130 17th St. NW, Suite 630, Washington, DC 20036; “Personal Action Guide for the Earth,” published by the Transmissions Project for the UN Environment Programme, 730 Arizona Ave. #329, Santa Monica, CA 90401; and Context Institute research.