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2023 Lenten Preaching Series 1: We've Come a Long Way Baby

In 1968 Phillip Morris launched the very first cigarette brand marketed specifically to women. You’ve come a long way, baby was the slogan that instantly caught on. You may remember that the ads featured an old-fashioned photograph of repressed women smokers behind a colorful, vibrant “New Woman” free of oppression, smoking proudly. Smoking Virginia Slims was freedom, so the ad conjectured.

We may use that same line; you’ve come a long way baby when we think about life in the Garden of Eden … when the LORD God planted a garden and placed there the man whom he had formed. It’s a beautiful image to think that out of the ground the LORD God made various trees grow that were delightful to look at and good for food. Those of you who have a green thumb may experience this personally … seeing, smelling and tasting the work of your hands, in your own little garden of Eden.

And while our faith story from Genesis on is long and consistent, the world, our Garden of Eden, our gift from God, has become a very different place … we’ve come a long way baby.

Unlike the initial beautiful image and place in the garden created for us, pollution of all kinds is threatening our world. It is undisputed that the industrialization of the developing world is creating unsustainable pollution levels. And the solution requires a technological and an intellectual revolution; an alternative route to economic prosperity that preserves resources and limits carbon emissions. And these must be developed before it’s too late.

Each of us personally, and all of us together in cultures and companies and nations – have been entrusted with an ability to make decisions that have enormous consequences. These decisions affect us as individuals and as a community, and the planet on which we live. Lent reminds us of that capacity and calls us to ponder the consequences of our decisions individual and collective. This Lenten season we will be focusing on these themes, aided by Laudato si', the Pope’s encyclical. Pope Francis really blows the whistle on us.

This First Sunday of Lent suggests that we see ourselves as Adam and Eve standing before a wondrously beautiful and potentially enriching tree. It asks:

· Are we using the technocratic power we have developed over time as we should?

· What norms are we using?

· What responsibility are we accepting for the consequences?

Adam and Eve made decisions based on what pleased them, but in doing so they inflicted deadly consequences upon the rest of humankind – we call it original sin. Are we continuing in the same vein? Does our malfeasance or even our nonfeasance toward the created world continue to sin against God and one another? Are we just as disobedient to the call of God to be fertile and multiply?

Adam and Eve were tempted by the serpent to defy their obedience to God and choose against him. Who are the serpents of our day? Who are they that continue to tempt us not to believe that climate change is real? Further, who are the ones who have given us permission not to do something about it?

Here are some facts we should understand about climate change:

1. Climate change is caused by humans

It’s not caused by the sun nor is it a part of a natural cycle. We have learned a lot of amazing things about how our planet functions—and other planets, too. The data is available, the results have been published in peer-reviewed papers and in popular press. We are responsible.

2. It's not too late to fix the damage that's been done.

We can turn off the road to disaster as soon as we use our collective efforts to put on the brakes and commit to wanting to be a part of the solution, not perpetuating or denying the problem.

3. Climate change affects everyone—including you.

Although some may feel the impacts of climate change more than others, everyone experiences its impacts. Any simple google search demonstrates region by region of the world how we are all affected. Take some time to do the research!

4. Certain issues can have more than one cause

Sometimes people create binaries where it must be one or the other or that it's not responsible to blame everything on climate change. There are many causes, and surely many ways to help change it.

5. There are plenty of fossil fuel alternatives

Solar technology has improved in the past few decades and keeps getting better. Electric power can be made with effectively zero emissions. New technologies for storage and distribution are advancing every day. Powering our society with clean electricity will be a challenge, but we can do it – if we want to do it. It is no longer a technological impossibility, just difficult politically.

Jesus was tempted to make decisions that would bring him comfort, prestige and power. However, he refused, and so became a source of life and salvation. Lent gives us an opportunity to reflect on our decisions and their consequences – in the past, the present, and the future, and that includes our decisions toward the environment.

No doubt, there are plenty of myths about climate change out there. Myths can help people feel in control of something that's complicated or frightening. Some myths may fit comfortably into the pattern of one’s life.

As believers, let’s not let the myths rule the day. Let’s not surrender to those who have vested interests in the status quo. Let’s not be manipulated by emotion, but rather take a real, hard look at the truth and the facts and then do something about it.

Let's work together to ensure the future of our planet for our children.

Let us take time over these next forty days to see how we can be more responsible to our sisters and brothers near and far, those born and yet to be, and to all of God’s creatures with whom we share our beautiful planet – "our common home."


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