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November 1, 2019

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As fires continue to ravage the California landscape, we must urgently move towards action before it is too late. 
California is burning and climate change is making it worse. Professor Michael Mann explains the connections between worsening forest fires, a changing climate, and why we need to respond:

1 Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. 3 Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” 4 When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5 Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6 He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. 7 Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, 8 and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 9 The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. 10 So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” 11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” 12 He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.”

-Exodus 3: 1-12

Fire carries both negative and positive connotations in the Biblical text. Fire can be a sign of God’s judgement and wrath, but it can also represent God’s proximity and light. The image of the forest fire itself is employed by the prophets to speak of God’s judgement against the community’s unjust deeds, such as in Ezekiel 15: 6: “Therefore thus says the Lord God: Like the wood of the vine among the trees of the forest, which I have given to the fire for fuel, so I will give up the inhabitants of Jerusalem.“

And yet, fire is also a Biblical metaphor for life, light, and even hope in our textual tradition. In the Exodus passage above, God’s nearness is revealed in a burning bush. During the Israelite people’s enslavement, God speaks words of  hope through flames. But the fire doesn’t just reveal God’s presence, it also calls Moses to action. God’s dwelling in the flames turns an image of destruction into a call for liberation. Perhaps we can view the tragedy of wildfires today in a similar, paradoxical light: reminding us of God’s voice and presence even in the moments of despair and destruction, calling us even now to work for justice for our planet, liberation, reconciliation, and peace. 

Support the work of Christians aiding the survivors of the California fires and working to prevent future forest fires, such as Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. Give to those lobbying to pass legislation to curb the climate crisis, such as

God of the Burning Things,
Of the ash that marks our faces and suffocates the embers of our apathy. We know that your creation is not well this day.

And so,
We pray for the victims of fires raging in California.
We pray for those working to quell the fires’ harm,
and we ask that your presence might surprise us again within burning bushes today.
We pray that somehow your voice might speak again through these flames.

Rekindling in us our calling to seek the good for our neighbors and our planet

Reminding us of the collective work of stewardship
Help us to find courage in the burning once again
Courage enough to speak difficult words
To foster courageous conversations
To steady our hands
And rekindle your flames of liberation and joy

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