Cross posted on the Delta5Trial.org blog.
The message Abby delivered at the Climate Justice Sunday at The Woodland Park Presbyterian Church, January 10th, 2016.
Isaiah 43:1-7 — A lesson From a Prophet
God of LOVE… May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you.
In December 2015 leaders representing over 190 countries converged in Paris for the 21st annual United Nations Conference of Parties also known as COP21. For the first time in 20 years the Paris talks sought to achieve a universal agreement on climate. The countries each submitted their commitments to lower carbon emissions in an attempt to reach a new global deal with the goal to contain the global temperature rise of 1.5 – 2℃ above pre industrial levels. The low lying island nations of the world had developed a slogan, 1.5 to stay alive because these vulnerable nations would be the first to disappear from the sea rise if the world does not act soon. To set the tone for this conference, many individuals and groups did all they could to make sure leaders of the world knew that this conference had to be different that the last 20 annual UN meetings. This had to be the time when countries became leaders and submitted strong commitments to the world to meet the carbon emissions and greenhouse gas reductions that science requires. This had to be the year when countries would not only pledge large reductions but also to follow though and ratify their commitments for the first time ever.
In September of 2014 -400 thousand people marched in NY City along with over 160 other countries that participated in their own solidarity actions around the world. People come together to send the message that,” to change everything: it will take everyone. They were demanding good jobs, justice and clean energy for all.”
In May of 2015 Pope Francis gave the world a gift with his encyclical Laudato Si’ (On Care for Our Common Home)which was written not only for the leaders of the Catholic Church but for “every person living on this planet”. The Pope sounded the alarm for the Church and the world to acknowledge the urgency of our environmental challenges and to join together to take swift and unified global action towards a new path. Pope Francis persuasively argued, we must protect our home and care for eachother.
In our text today the prophet Isaiah is eager to convey how God is an amazing protector – so powerful that through flood and through flame the people would be protected. Isaiah was moved to convey how the people are loved so deeply- they are precious. There is no reason for the people to fear because God has their back – the only requirement is that the people must have deep faith that God is with them. With this knowledge, it seems that all is good. Who wouldn’t want to be on that team? But under the surface of this song of praise, it seems that God is disappointed with God’s people who have collectively gone astray because they were not living the lives that they were created to live. The people just didn’t seem to get it – perhaps the they knew too well that God loved them deeply and they could do no wrong…
Trouble ensues when the Babylonian superpowers, drive them from their homelands – only the vulnerable… those too poor to flee are left behind in Judah – it was the prominent citizens that were deported from their land. The Babylonian ruler, King Nebuchadnezzar was a powerful ruler focused on building his kingdom by dominating his people just as the many rulers of this time did. The King needed to destabilize these people so he could harness their power and use their gifts and talents to build up his impressive empire. The people endured separation and suffering as they tried to hold on to hope that God was with them. As time went on the people started to lose everything including their sense of place and familiar connection to their land, they had trouble finding strength to carry on. Things got tedious. They grew wearier by the day. As their losses piled up and the last glimmers of hope faded, they needed to find something they could hold onto. The fact that God was supposedly with them and would save them seemed all that they had left. There was nothing left to do but to wait.
Locally we have noticed that the powers and principalities are swiftly moving in, to develop a massive fossil fuel corridor along the west coast – right here in the pacific Northwest. The oil industry noticed that ,we, the people were able to use a protection in the law that made sure the energy resources we produced in this country would stay in this county. This protection was known as the crude oil export ban that had been in place for the last 40 years. President Obama explained that his energy policy was giving the US a chance at energy independence by producing our own energy, freeing ourselves from foreign oil by ramping up oil production domestically in the short term, to use as a bridge fuel while letting the new sustainable energy infrastructure catch up. Meanwhile lobbyists in DC worked on Congress and the 40 year ban to export crude was lifted on December 18th, 2015 helping to create a new market in another part of the world for North Dakota’s Bakken Crude.
Many of us who were actively defending the west coast from big oil knew this protection would be taken away. The oil companies and the railroad have become the superpowers building their empire along the west coast proposing over 20 fossil fuel expansion projects. In order to keep increasing profits the railroad had to dominate its people causing a few of their workers to be exiled from their jobs. This heavy rule causes fear in the other employees signaling them to be silent and do what they are told. The oil and rail industries have political power that could influence the government that was originally designed to protect the people. This is achieved by keeping industry friendly representatives in power and waging vigorous re-election campaigns against any politician that dares to speak truth to power. Sending the message to all, that if you speak out against this powerful industry- you might not be able to keep your job.
This story sounds familiar as powers and principalities oppress the people and keep them deeply entrenched in old ways. Science and Rail safety has told us that our window for change must happen now, yet people that have been working to make change have felt the losses pile up and at times we become discouraged. Some people feel that there is no way to take on these powerful entities so why even waste time trying? Some believe it is too late. It is easy to get discouraged. We get fatigued and overwhelmed. We have other pulls on our time. We care for aging parents,we raise our children, our friends need our support we need to earn money to pay our bills, our community has needs, we need to take care of ourselves and we should have some fun along the way too… How can a person feel like they can make a difference. Suddenly our individual gifts and talents don’t seem big enough to overcome whatever cause we are trying to change. We look for and wait for a hero – someone or something that can save us. We mourn for those leaders that we have lost. If only Harriet Tubman were still alive- or Martin Luther King, or Grace Lee Boggs perhaps we would then have a leader to lead us to justice and help us to take back our own power. They could organize and inspire us. We wait for science [technology? ] to catch up – just as soon as that battery is developed to have more energy storage or we engineer a process to capture the carbon that we emit – – putting faith in sequestration – just give it a few years…We need not change-we will just continue on as we are and wait for science to catch up or that next hero leader to emerge. We let ourselves off the hook just like the exiled Jews of Babylon waiting for a God to save them. ..We look for a God of some form that can lead us back to our homeland.
As many here know, on labor day in 2014 four people and I along with a large team of supporters erected a tripod structure on railroad tracks blocking a parked oil train that was on it’s way north to a refinery. The rail yard was called the Delta rail spur and we became known as the delta 5. We were arrested, went to jail and were charged with both trespassing and blocking a train. We did this because we believe we are in extraordinarily difficult times. We did not do this to become the hero or to become the savior we did this because we saw trouble. We were compelled to move toward the trouble so that we could tell the truth. We felt we had to trespass on those who are trespassing against us because we saw no other thing we could do to stop what is happening to the generation that come after us. Each of us have come to points in our lives were we simply could not be complicit any longer. We did this to shed light on the darkness. We did this because we have learned from others that have acted before us, and know that this is what love looks like.
In today’s passage, Isaiah reminds us even when it all seems lost, we must not be afraid. The prophet says we must not be afraid it does not say do not feel afraid. We are human and we feel fear. To feel fear and to be fearful are two very different things. When we feel fear we must let it move through us. We breathe it in and we breathe it out. We notice it. Let that be a signal to pay attention. To become awakened. How then do we act upon that fear. We cannot be fearful to try and even to fail. We cannot be afraid to make the changes that we want to see even if the problem is so big we cannot see the whole solution. We no longer have the luxury to linger in our fear. Each of our gifts are needed. We wait for those missing gifts. We cannot be afraid to act. We cannot be afraid of trouble. Trouble can transform people and bring ourselves to each other. When we bring ourselves to each other we become big. We can draw deeply on this cue to act radically in this emotion.
Now the delta5 are going to trial to face the consequences of our trespass, obstruction of a train and thousands of dollars in restitution. We move to the courts not to try to get out of trouble because we broke the law. I would argue that we moved towards the trouble to enforce the law.
The comment that concerns me most is when people say, “ you are so brave, I could never do anything like that” – and then the conversation ends… I get concerned that a person that says only that might take themselves off the hook and not listen to what it is they are called to do in this precious brief time we live here on planet earth. Not everyone is called to act in the same way. We each have unique qualities and it is our job to discern what and how we offer ourselves to the world. And when people come together and add their gifts and talents, when people move together….. that is God moving. That is what it looks like when God is saving.
It’s the part of God that lives and works in us. When we allow it to connect us fear cannot rule us. With the connectional and fear conquering spirit of the creator among us – we can re-member what the Hopi elders remind us – that we are the ones we have been waiting for.
With Fierce love. May it be so.