Last year, immediately after the 45th President’s inauguration January 20, 2017, people of faith in Madison, WI joined with multitudes around the country. They participated in prayer vigil events over the course of the first 100 Hours of the new presidency. They implored God to guide the new administration to “Keep Good Faith On Our Climate Commitments.” Prayerful reflection and thoughtful exhortation aptly drew from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words, life and spirit. People gathered in the shadow of his birthday and holiday as well as on the near eve of Black History Month. As then, so again now, the words offered up by Rev. Nick Utphall drew from Rev. King to speak timely truth to power and encouragement to those laboring for justice – racial, environmental, and economic. Despite disappointing progress and discouraging regress, God calls us to faithfully persevere NOW:
A lot depends on perspective in these days, and so depending on your perspective, you might find it either a fitting coincidence or grotesquely ironic that this week ending in inauguration began with the observance of Martin Luther King day.
Whether good or ill, I’ve been considering the Rev. King’s words and example amid this moment. There are, again, things both more and less helpful.
Less helpful to me feels that grand reassurance oft repeated by Rev. King, that the arc of the moral universe is long but that it bends toward justice. Overall, I have that hope in God’s blessing and promise. Yet we’re gathered in vigils around the country in these days particularly recognizing that we don’t have time for a long arc. We can’t wait for eventuality. The fate of so much well-being on our planet—on lives already as well as generations to come and the very shape of creation’s community as we know it—direly is demanding our concern.
On that note, Rev. King also impatiently resisted those who asked him to wait for more favorable conditions. He witnessed such revolutionary times where people all over the globe “are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression.” Almost 50 years ago he gave a famous speech explaining the challenge that resisting
racism connected to resisting war. Or—in others of his famous phrases—that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere and that we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.
We see today a similar expanse of overlapping categories and the calling to a common cause. Climate change is about saving polar bears from extinction, but climate change is also about native communities in Alaska melting through the permafrost. And climate change is about refugees and low-lying cities that are already facing expensive emergencies, and climate change is about women’s rights as villagers have to walk farther and farther for water, and climate change is about rural lives, as agriculture in Wisconsin will be battling more and more pests, and climate change is about health care facing pandemics for the poor and elderly, and climate change is about recreation and tourism, and avoidably about the Department of Natural Resources and the Public Service Commission (and their websites) and climate change is about politics and is about the economy, both tied together in the shameless greed of fossil fuel companies trying to profit in the face of impending disaster. Climate change is about the fullness of who we are, which also means climate change is about religion, is about God, about the faith we practice, about our sin and our hope, is about the deepest of our beliefs and corest of our commitments.
I’ll conclude with words Rev. King delivered those 50 years ago which speak for us here, now, and invite our ongoing devotion: We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. [he said]… Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful, struggle for a new world. This is the calling of the sons [and daughters] of God, and our brothers [and sisters] wait eagerly for our response. … [W]hatever the cost … and though we might prefer it otherwise, we must [act] in this crucial moment of human [and non-human!] history.
-Reflection for Vigil of First 100 Hours of a New Presidency on Climate Change, originally presented at The Crossing, Madison, WI January 20, 2017 by Rev. Nick Utphall, Pastor, Advent Lutheran Church, Madison, WI.