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BY SARA HOLLIDAY, n/OEF

June 30, 2019


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How are we living in a country where it’s OK to pay mere lip service to the potential end of civilization?
"Climate activists said they will extend a protest outside the Democratic National Committee headquarters on Thursday to demand global warming gets more attention in the party’s debates, after the issue received just seven minutes in the first two-hour face-off between Democratic White House hopefuls on Wednesday." - via Reuters/the New York Times, emphasis mine
“For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God...” – Romans 3:22-23
First, for many Pride Month peaked this weekend – loving greetings and general encouragement to all my Queer siblings in Christ! A reminder that recent issues of this newsletter are archived on this page – here’s our recent celebration of Pride, for instance.
 
This weekend is special to me for an additional reason. The other night I took novice vows in the Order of Ecumenical Franciscans, an inclusive Third Order for people who want to live in a God-centered way, amidst family, job, and regular daily life, in the spirit of St. Francis and St. Clare of Assisi.

St. Francis referred to his Third Order as the Brothers and Sisters of Penance. The Principles of the Order of Ecumenical Franciscans state,
"As the successors to the original “brothers and sisters of penance” (the original name of the Third Order), and motivated by the dynamic power of the gospel, let us conform our thoughts and deeds to those of Christ by means of that radical interior change which the gospel itself calls “Conversion”. Human frailty calls us to strive for this conversion daily."
 
To contemporary ears, talk about penance can sound over the top, even a little unhinged. The word penance might take us straight to those Monty Python and the Holy Grail guys whacking themselves in the head with planks. And goodness knows that some of our traditions emphasize personal sinfulness and guilt in a disempowering way. We get the deep-down impression that either we have to be (or appear) perfect, or we’re automatically beyond all hope. This is contrary to both Paul, in the chapter quoted above, and Francis.
 
Because here we are, being alive right now when the structural injustices of our society have never been clearer, and when our whole way of life is taking a long walk off the short cliff of rising seas, mass extinction, pollution, and waste of resources. And where even the people we look up to as leaders don’t want to tangle with the possible crashing end of civilization.
 
And I get that, because, God help us, it’s a downer. We suspect that talking about climate change is a guilt trip...because it is. And penance is a way to cope healthily with the guilt, because we are all guilty – it’s not about you (or me). There’s a reason that generations of humans have done things like confession and fasting: they’re powerful psychologically as well as spiritually and socially. We make sacrifices and work on our carbon footprint not because one individual’s avoidance of plastic straws is going to save the planet – but because acts of penance are a gift from us to God, and a gift to us to help us move foward. They’re a structure for embracing the sin we all share anyway, and a way gradually to grow out of our personal fragility and defensiveness. They’re a willingness to take responsibility, in community with others, for the weight all of us bear. “There is no distinction...all fall short.”
First, sign the Sunrise Movement's petition toward a Democratic debate on the climate crisis. 

Then look into an act of sacrifice that can do the work of penance for you. You could check out a (planet-friendly!) Daniel Fast. (And if it saves you money, give that money to a good cause.) Or if you want to work on lowering your overall ecological footprint, here's what some climate scientists are doing.
Most High, glorious God
enlighten the darkness of my heart
and give me true faith,
certain hope, and perfect charity, sense, and knowledge
that I may carry out your holy and true command.
- St. Francis of Assisi
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