Sunday, April 16, 2017

The dream was really a nightmare

We watched as Donald Trump signed an Executive Order reversing his predecessor’s Clean Power Plan (CPP). Trump was right. Those “job-killing” regulations were unnecessary. Climate change was, in fact, a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. Liz Cheney told us, “Barack Obama is more interested in killing Wyoming coal that in killing ISIS.” Maybe Liz wasn’t just talking like a run-of-the-mill ideologue.

Barack Obama’s war on coal was over.

The joy was unbridled. Wyoming’s Governor convened a special session of the legislature. Giddy lawmakers repaired the damage recently done to the state’s economy in the face of Obama-caused revenue losses in the coal industry.

They reinstated millions of dollars they’d recently stripped from Wyoming’s schools. Class sizes wouldn’t have to double after all. Teachers forced into early retirement were rehired. Funds deprived to cities and towns were returned, potholes were filled, parks built. Legislators restored the tax rebate for the poor and elderly. Literacy centers, closed during the downturn, were reopened. Cuts in healthcare were reversed now that the state could afford those costs.

In Gillette, they were dancing in the street as hundreds of laid-off miners were rehired. Foreclosure notices on vacant homes were rescinded. Businesses that had been shuttered were filled with happy customers. New mines opened as orders for Wyoming coal poured in from China. Power plants that had converted from coal to natural gas converted back to coal. Alternative energy sources such as wind and solar were exposed for the trendy fraud they were.

Alas, my alarm clock went off. The dream ended. None of that happened except the part about Trump signing the Executive Order.

The dream could become a nightmare. Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, director of the Presbyterian Church Office of Public Witness, understands. Trump’s Executive Order was “a tragic turn for the future of this nation and for the entire planet.” This isn’t simply a political issue to be decided by pandering politicians. “Our concern as Presbyterians lies not only in our mandate to protect God’s creation, but in the knowledge that the ruins wrought by climate change will fall disproportionately on the backs of the poor, indigenous, and citizens of the Global South.”

Don’t take a theologian’s word for it. Ask a scientist. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s parroting of Trump’s views on climate-change causes triggered a review by the EPA’s Scientific Integrity Office. The science matters.

Nathan Hultman of the Brookings Institute reasons the Supreme Court’s ruling that the Clean Air Act required the EPA to regulate carbon dioxide was science based. Seems cleaner air is healthier. Who’d have known? EPA scientists knew. They found President Obama’s CPP would save billions in healthcare costs. “The EPA,” Hultman writes, “previously estimated substantial benefits from the CCP, including $14-34 billion in benefits accruing just to health.” Cleaner air prevents “3,600 premature deaths, 1,700 heart attacks, 90,000asthma attacks, and 300,000 lost work and school days” annually.

If Trump is going to get his way, he’ll have to convince the Court that these benefits are alternative facts. He also has to face changing energy economics. It’s not fake news that Department of Energy statistics demonstrate that while the coal industry employed 66,000 miners in 2015, nail salons employed 69,000, clean energy 3 million.

Rendering it unlikely Trump’s Executive Order will revive Wyoming coal is this fact: California uses 40% of the West’s electricity and expects that by 2030, half will be generated through green energy. Unlike Trump, California takes climate change seriously and can be expected to exceed that goal.
According to High Country News, “California’s climate change programs force the adoption of cleaner electricity across the West, because the state imports 20 percent of its electricity from states like Nevada and Wyoming and requires that power to meet its clean energy standards. This encourages the growth of large-scale renewable energy and the closure of dirty coal-fired power plants.”

Wyoming’s politicians choose to ignore the science and the economics. As Rocky Mountain Power invests billions in wind energy, the market continues to leave them behind.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Taking the Lord's name in vain

People have been misled into believing that calling out God’s Son’s name when banging your finger with a hammer is what the Commandment refers to when it says, “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.” It’s not.

God has bigger fish to fry. God is far more concerned about using God’s name to bolster sinful agendas. Take U.S. Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions for example. He recently stood near the border with Mexico and proclaimed what he called “The Trump era.”

It was as though he was attempting to channel Jesus as his sort commonly do. To paraphrase Mr. Sessions, “The Spirit of Trump is upon me, he has anointed me to lay down the law to the stranger; he sent me to break their hearts, to rip their families apart, and to preach deliverance to those who fear the strangers among us.”

Then he took the name of the Lord thy God in vain. “God bless all of you who do this work,” he said. “We ask God’s blessings on the success of this effort to improve the lawlessness and safety of our country.”

Who except a man once denied a federal court judgeship because of a racist past would consider asking God to bless an endeavor so contrary to scripture as the President’s crusade to round up and deport millions of what God called, according to Leviticus, “the strangers who sojourn with you.”

I understand the politics. God did as well, which explains why God was so clear about the matter. Politics is about finding a way to push people’s fear buttons. Few have been better at that than Donald Trump. He’d have us believe that the strangers among us are lurking, waiting to pounce on innocent Americans.

He told us “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

Looking back over the 2016 campaign, it might be Trump had the election in the bag with that declaration. For some it was a relief to know a presidential candidate shared their prejudices, a candidate who freed them from the “political correctness” that had bound them in chains.

Trump also freed them from Biblical correctness. As Trump and Sessions take the name of the Lord thy God in vain, they lead people to ignore the clearest hopes God expressed in the Hebrew Bible or the Old Testament as well as the Christian Gospels.

While this President often leaves us confused, God was perfectly clear.

“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Leviticus 19:33-34)
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells us to love our neighbor and was asked ‘And who is my neighbor?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.”
If Sessions and Trump want to take political positions contrary to scriptural directive, that’s their prerogative. But when they attempt to bootstrap those positions onto a higher plain by calling on God to bless the effort, that is taking the Lord thy God’s name in vain. 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Liberals need to stop boycotting the church

It’s time for progressives and liberals to stop boycotting the church.

I get it. Many of you had bad experiences in the pews. Like me, you grew up in churches that didn’t understand what Jesus meant when he said, “Love God and love your neighbor.”

You’ve seen Christianity represented by judgmental and hateful preachers like Franklin Graham and Pat Robertson. Too often they have been the face of Christianity on cable news and in the popular media.

But, we Christians are not all alike. Christians with whom I share church are polar opposites of these people. We aren’t “Christians” so much as “Jesus followers.”

And we need you to join us in these difficult times when a President, elected in large part by so-called Christians, is determined to implement the most anti-Gospel agenda in history.

If this is to be countered, it will require people motivated by more than their allegiance to a political party. The times demand action from people who understand there is a cause and a purpose greater than ourselves. You’ll find people like that at Highlands, people who share a belief that the Bible should be taken seriously but not literally, that we are called to serve others, that questions are more powerful than pretending to have answers.

At Highlands, we don’t try to be all things to all people. We know who we are and we believe it is who God calls us to be. Kathleen Norris wrote a book titled Dakota: A Spiritual Geography, an expose of spiritual life on the plains of South Dakota. Norris said small communities survive by not talking about controversy – by papering over disagreement, refusing to acknowledge its existence.

A couple of years ago, Robert Crocker, a retired Presbyterian pastor from New Hampshire came to our state. I went to Wyoming,” he said, “to study the American culture wars.” What he found was that most congregations were determined “not to talk about it.” The “it” included the toughest issues facing the church.

Rev. Crocker’s report quoted one Wyoming pastor. “I would not conduct a same-gender marriage, and I doubt that any pastor in the presbytery would.”

Not so. Highlands is the only “More Light” Presbyterian church in Wyoming, which means we are intentional about welcoming the LGBTQ community. One of the most joyous occasions we experienced was the wedding of two men who are valued members of our church.

Croker added this postscript, “Like many other mainline Protestant churches, the Presbyterian churches in Wyoming are trying to move forward, albeit slowly and deliberately, against strong cultural headwinds. In such a storm, there is a tendency to huddle together for protection. That is certainly one strategy for survival. Another strategy, such as the one adopted by Highlands, is to raise a progressive flag and say ‘This is who we are.”

It’s not just who we say we are. It’s who we think Jesus is.

Rev. Crocker noticed something else about Wyoming during his month here. “Wyoming is a wealthy state with many poor people. The discrepancy between rich and poor is notable, simply by looking at the disparate housing patterns. The Wind River Indian Reservation, the only reservation in the state and the home to both Shoshone and Arapaho tribes, is one of the poorest in the nation.”

At Highlands, we also notice that and we preach about it and are focused on mission and advocacy to address this issue and others. We are a Matthew 25 community. If you come, you’ll see we talk the talk while we walk the walk.

There are a lot of progressives out there who have rejected “church.” Now the progressive church needs you and in order to live out your calling, you need it. As Donald Trump would say, “What do you have to lose?”

Easter Sunday would be a good time to check out Highlands. Join us for a potluck breakfast at 8:30 followed by 10 A.M. worship services that I am sure will speak to your heart.