We can’t just sit back and celebrate

“The Blue Marble”
Photo by NASA, 1968

By Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, director of News Services and associate editor of Messenger magazine for the Church of the Brethren.

We are in the month of April, which is Earth Month, and Earth Day was this past Monday, April 22. I’d love in this moment to be able to simply reflect on the beauty of God’s creation. We can appreciate our good Earth in this photo taken by a NASA mission in 1968—often called “The Blue Marble.” This is our beautiful Earth!

However, now is not a time when we can just sit back and celebrate. When your home catches fire, you don’t just sit back and wonder at its beauty, and celebrate as it goes up in flames. No, when your home is on fire, you jump into action and do everything you possibly can to save it.

This is one of the ways people have talked about our current crisis of climate breakdown: the analogy of a home on fire. I’ve also heard the analogy of watching a train wreck in slow motion. I like the home-on-fire version better because there are things you can do when your house catches fire. There’s not much that can be done when you are watching a train wreck, beyond standing in horror and fear of what’s happening right in front of you.

At this point in time, in April 2024, there are many things that can be done to mitigate the damage to our human home, the Earth, God’s good creation—even though climate change is occurring at an ever-increasing pace and scope. There are things each of us can do personally, in our work, in our congregations, in our communities, and in other areas of life where we have influence. I pose that challenge as much to myself as to anyone else.

But the time we have is short.

Here is a brief review of latest news on the climate front, since these are things all of us need to be aware of. And just as if a fire broke out in our home, it is appropriate to be scared. The truth is that our lives and the lives of our loved ones—as well as the whole of humanity, and rest of the living creatures that God has placed here on the Earth with us—are under threat. It is inappropriate not to be scared, and I pray that God helps us use that strong emotion to be eager to take action in response!

The most important number to watch: atmospheric CO2 in parts per million. CO2 (carbon dioxide) is one of the greenhouse gases that are steadily increasing the average temperature of the Earth. In this chart from NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) as published by the Guardian, you see the upward curve. That upward curve is what needs to be brought down by decreasing emissions of greenhouse gases.

Atmospheric CO2 chart - The Guardian

The next thing to know: our world is currently in a 10-month streak of hottest months. USA Today recently published an article about March 2024 being the hottest March on record “in data that goes back to before the Civil War. . . . It was also the 10th month in a row that was the hottest on record, itself an ongoing record-breaking streak.” In addition, the global average temperature is the highest on record, with the past 12 months being 1.58 degrees (Celsius) above preindustrial levels (www.usatoday.com/story/news/weather/2024/04/09/warmest-march-on-record-2024/73260522007).

The third thing to know: Simon Stiell, the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, says that the next two years are essential for saving our planet. This was reported by Reuters on April 10, 2024 (www.reuters.com/world/un-climate-chief-says-two-years-save-planet-2024-04-10).

The most important thing to remember: our planet is our human habitat. God’s good Earth is what keeps humans—us included—alive and well. Without the Earth as a healthy ecosystem, we cannot live.

So here is the challenge again, to me and to you: consider what we each can do—personally, as Christians, in our congregations, in our work, in our wider communities—to act on this information.

I recently completed the every-five-years clergy ethics training in Illinois and Wisconsin District. It was excellent, led by Ministry Office director Nancy Sollenberger Heishman, district executive Walt Wiltschek, and Naperville Church of the Brethren pastor Dennis Webb.

Out of the training emerged this question, for me: given the extreme danger that climate change poses, what is the ethical choice? Is it to be fully involved as the church in the most important work of Creation Care, and to engage in it together as disciples of Jesus Christ?

This reflection was offered as the devotions for last week’s Zoom meeting of the denominational staff. Brumbaugh-Cayford closed by sharing a performance by the Goshen Community Chorale (available on YouTube) of the song “Easy on the Earth” by Luke Wallace, arranged by Shawn Kirchner of La Verne (Calif.) Church of the Brethren. “Music is something I turn to when I need encouragement and energy to move forward,” she said as she introduced the piece.

Sign up to receive “Rooted,” an email newsletter produced by the Brethren Creation Care Network and staff of Peacebuilding and Policy that focuses on creation care: www.brethren.org/creationcare/#rooted.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Pruned by God

By Traci Rabenstein, executive director of Mission Advancement

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. . . . I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. . . . My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”
~John 15:1-2, 5, 8; NRSVue

Spring is here! Temperatures are on the rise. Plants and trees are budding. The earth is “springing” back to life after a few months of lying dormant.

Since my father retired, he has devoted more time to focus on his garden. He has started growing his own seedlings and talked about building a greenhouse. His enthusiasm has encouraged me to think about creative ways to plant vegetables at my home where I do not have the luxury of a couple of acres. In the meantime, I have houseplants that I do my best to keep alive.

All the plants in my home have meaning. Two plants were given to my family when my father’s mother passed away just over seven years ago. One plant was given to me a year before my mother’s mother passed. Another plant—an herb—I picked up near the Southern Pennsylvania District’s women’s luncheon last year. One plant I bought at the place where we met to celebrate my cousin’s pregnancy. The most recent planter was from a meeting held at Cross Keys Village – The Brethren Home Community. Each holds significance and sparks joy in me when I look at them.

Just like the seedlings and plants in my dad’s garden, my plants need to be tended and cared for (even beyond the times I remember to give them water). One thing I do consistently is check my plants each month for leaves that are decaying or discoloring, or parts that might damage the rest of the healthy plant if they aren’t removed. The process of doing this is called “dead leafing” when removing leaves and “deadheading” if you’re pinching off dead flowers, as I do with indoor plants throughout the summer. Both are ways of pruning plants.

Pruning is a method that allows the plant to flourish. It makes way for the nutrients from the soil and created by water and light to move toward the healthy parts without wasting energy on dead parts. Proper pruning is an investment in the long-term health of plants and in their overall appearance.

As we look to John 15 and read the words Jesus shared with his disciples, the language he used was intentional. He used the agricultural terms of “vine” and “vinegrower” to highlight the connection between God, himself, and the disciples. Just like other parables and references in the gospels, Jesus used the everyday, ordinary things to explain the Kingdom of God. God is the thoughtful and experienced vinegrower or gardener, Jesus is the main trunk that provides nutrients and stability to the entire vine, and we are the branches. If we’re deeply connected to Jesus through receiving spiritual nutrients from the Word, prayer, and the work of the Holy Spirit in the church, we will produce Kingdom fruit. And God will determine how to prune us so that we can bear fruit with increasing measure.

Even though God’s pruning is good for our growth, that doesn’t mean trials and hardships are fun to go through. In those moments of hearing a difficult diagnosis for yourself or someone else, grieving a loved one, losing your job, feeling bullied, being frustrated by what is going on around you, or whatever hardship you’re facing, we lean into Jesus even more to gather courage, to gain strength, to live fully in him so that we might persevere and flourish.

Looking back in time, I can identify seasons of pruning. I didn’t know it at the time when everything was so raw, but in hindsight, I can see what God was stripping away and allowing a new opportunity for the life of Christ to grow in me and fuel me for what was to come. In fact, it is because of a season of pruning that I now serve the larger church with the Mission Advancement office.

Whatever part of the growth cycle you find yourself in—lying dormant, being pruned, thriving, or all of the above—I pray your faith in God, the divine vinegrower, and Jesus, the life-giving vine, will grow. This spring and in every season, may we abide in Christ and bear much fruit, bringing honor and glory to God!

Learn about the faith-building and life-changing missions and ministries of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org/greatthings or support them today at www.brethren.org/give.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)