Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During September and October, Leanne Pearce Reed is curating a month of blog posts exploring stewardship of all creation. Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!
By Leanne Pearce Reed
A large mirror with a fading gilt frame hangs above the piano in our living room. There’s nothing remarkable about it at first sight. It came from my grandparents’ home, a little cottage on St. John’s bayou on the Alabama Gulf coast. My grandfather, a retired merchant marine, loved fishing and shrimping and the view of the water there.
In 2004, just a few months after my grandparents died, Hurricane Ivan hit the Gulf coast. The house where I spent so much of my childhood was left standing, but too severely damaged to restore. The roof had been torn off and debris was everywhere. Yet the mirror still hung on the wall, unscathed, reflecting the blue sky shining through the gaping hole in the roof above.
That mirror reminds me of my grandparents and the place we loved, now gone. It also reminds me that “extreme weather events” are not an abstract concept. They affect real people and places.
Climate scientists warn that these extreme weather events are increasing. Since Ivan, we have seen Hurricane Katrina, Super Storm Sandy, tornados in Alabama, the typhoon in the Philippines, drought in California. The increasing extreme weather is part of a larger pattern. The best scientific evidence indicates that climate change is happening, and human activity is a major contributor. As warming continues, sea ice is melting and sea levels are rising. These changes pose real threats to agriculture and human health.
Many of us find that our own experiences and observations bear out the scientific claims. For some, it is a first-hand experience of a hurricane, flood or drought. For others, the signs are more subtle. Gardeners notice shifts in the season, as perennials bloom sooner and the last frost date creeps earlier and earlier. Bird watchers observe changes in the birds they see and when and where, as migratory patterns shift.
We turn to science to help us understand what is happening to our earth and what is likely to happen in the future. But as thoughtful people of faith, we do not stop there. We also seek the perspective of faith to help us discern how to respond.
We stand in a tradition that sees science and faith as two compatible and essential modes for understanding the world. Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, compares science and religion to the two sides of the human brain. The left brain is strong in logic and analysis; the right brain is strong in empathy, emotion and forming relationships. The two sides of the brain have different functions in our human life, yet both are needed. In the same way, Sacks suggests, we need both science and religion. They are two different modes of engagement with the world: Science takes things apart to see how they work. Religion puts things together to see what they mean. They are as different and as necessary as the twin hemispheres of the brain.
So what does a “whole brain” response to the challenge of climate change look like?
We seek out the best scientific evidence available. We also ask the questions of faith: What does this mean? How do we respond? How then do we live?
This month on the NEXT blog, we will explore a variety of ways the church is answering these questions as people respond creatively to the challenge of climate change and our call to care for creation. We’ll meet students exploring a vital watershed at a presbytery retreat center, church volunteers changing lightbulbs and tracking the impact, worshippers connecting creation with our celebration of the sacraments, and Presbyterians in the U.S. joining a global movement for just trade. May their stories inspire our own “whole brain” response to the challenge before us.
Leanne Pearce Reed is Pastor of Montevallo Presbyterian Church, an Earth Care Congregation and one of the first Energy Star certified houses of worship in the nation. She and her family wake up to the rooster crowing at their home in Montevallo where they care for chickens, dairy goats and assorted rescued creatures. Contact Leanne at email@example.com.