Did you notice the sea change? The climate change? The culture change? The water we drink, the air we breathe, our world, is increasingly polluted. And I don’t mean the climate change affecting (just) our water and air and world. I mean the change in our culture.
The United States climate has taken a turn for the worse. The number of violent attacks on people who are “different” is up. Lies are taken as truth. Values are dissed. Reputations are in tatters. Authenticity is hard to find. And all of these negatives threaten to take over. They are compelling; they demand our attention; they engender in us a desire to respond in kind. They threaten to bring about a change in us, rather than vice versa.
My jobs in the past five years have been in urban public charter schools. A big piece of what such schools hope to accomplish occurs in our climate; through our culture. We seek to build a place of mutual respect, of caring, of truth; a place encouraging us all—staff and students, to do and be our best selves.
I used to think our kids came to the charter school because their families were interested in education. But then a fellow staff member clued me in. Their home public schools are, many times, places of danger and violence, so they may come because, the last time they checked, no one had been killed or even seriously injured at the charter school. That is, the charter school’s culture and climate may be just enough better that they don’t fear for their lives there. And that alone is worth the change in placement.
Climate and culture are of great importance in our learning, living, working and worshiping.
How is the climate of the neighborhood? Do we know, support and help each other? Hide in our separate spaces? Assume the worst when problems arise? Ask what’s up?
What is the climate at work? Do we compete to work the longest hours, excluding any other life? In gossiping and complaining? In doing good?
What is the climate at church? Do we stay in our own little Christian enclave? Bolt the door against the world? Invite the world in? Say it all on Facebook and never face-to-face? Talk the talk and walk the walk, and even, when necessary, fight the good fight?
Rather than being changed by the climate/culture change, in Philippians 4:8 Paul proclaims we can work outside in: “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think on these things.” In “The Message,” Eugene Peterson paraphrases verses 8 and 9 this way:” Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.”
That is, even in this nasty and contentious climate, God still provides alternative things to think on. And with such disciplined thinking, we can keep on doing what we have learned and received and heard and seen in Paul. And Aretha. And John McCain. And others who talk the talk, walk the walk, and fight the fight–not without warts, worries, or failings, but with a consciousness that we are called—and empowered by God–to be and do better.
In such thinking and action, we not only espouse godly values, we put them into practice. We respond to words of calling that ground us in such values as: practicing power with, by and for the oppressed; cultivating hearts that hear voices that are foreign to our ears because they have been silenced and misinterpreted for so long; and putting legs under, and walking, the values we hold, underpinning our words with action.
Such thoughts and actions make us servants of the Kingdom of God, instead of serving ourselves and the interests of those we call “us.” Such thoughts and actions bring us into service to the kindom of humanity, a kindom including those we tend to call “them.”
This kindom is made up of God’s people of all races, stripes, creeds, gender identities, social positions, economic realities, dwelling places, and educational and life experiences. And such thinking and acting serves the whole of Creation, which also belongs to God: the actual climate, the tangible water, the literal air, the earth itself.
O God, empower us to be your people. Make us servants of your kindom. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Barb Hedges-Goettl is an ordained PC(USA) pastor currently working with special ed students at Chester Community Charter School outside of Philadelphia. She like to play in the dirt, in the liturgy, and with computer and board games. She is a fledgling blogger at bjhlog.
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