Monday, July 26, 2010

RIP Cap & Trade

by Kurt Nelson

Harry Reid has announced that, even in the wake of the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the Democratic Party will abandon its efforts for a robust bill to cap carbon emissions, and instead seek a pared down bill to make for safer future drilling.

I'm filled with a somewhat familiar sort of legislative depression.  A good portion of which takes the form of the question, "what do I now do?"  I will, of course, continue to reduce my consumption of fossil fuels and pursue a more sustainable lifestyle.  But all such actions frequently seem largely symbolic (or merely an attempt assuage my personal environmental guilt).  And larger scale action, even on my one small home, is almost entirely outside of my income bracket.

Indeed, in the wake of a public disaster and a congress which (at least rhetorically) supported a capping of greenhouse gasses, creation of green jobs, and an end to our oil addiction, we must all, I think, ask ourselves what we ought do now.

Blame is easy to cast.  And it's been done by many, to many.  Those moved primarily the development of green technologies (for example) are already reminding the country that cap and trade was merely a means to an end - to raise prices on low-cost, high-waste resources like coal and oil, so that newer, cleaner technologies could take their rightful place.  Others might rightly respond that, in fact, the creation of green technologies itself is merely a means to a end - to curb pollution and climate change.  But we might rightly point out that the halting of climate change is still only an instrumental good.  But this is where it gets a bit unclear, in my opinion.

We struggle more when it comes to ultimate goods.  Are we seeking simply to continue life as we know it?  Are we seeking to maximize human flourishing? (Because there to be those who think a little warming will, perhaps, make us better off.)  Are we seeking to preserve the diversity of species?  Or glaciers?  Or polar bears?

It is this articulation which, I believe, is most importantly lacking.  In the face of vociferous, well funded opposition, we have to not only create a road-map for a sustainable future, but also a vision of what we hope that might look like.  Personally, I would think the good which we seek is a more just, equitable and healthy world.  And I cannot ignore the disproportionate effects that pollution and climate change have, and will have, on those segments of the human population that are already struggling to make ends meet and find enough to eat.

But as we look beyond cap and trade I would happily stand beside those seeking to maintain biological diversity.  And those seeking a sustainable capitalist economy.  And those looking to create jobs.  And those concerned with arctic peoples and habitats.  But without such visions, I fear we will face further disappointment and delay.

Effective Prayer - Richard Crocker

Effective Prayer
Hanover UCC
Richard R. Crocker
July 25, 2010

Scripture: Genesis 18:20-32; Luke 11:1-13

You may have heard this joke. Forgive me if you have.

A man was driving down the street in a sweat because he had an important meeting and couldn’t find a parking place. Looking up to heaven, he said, “Lord, please help me find a parking place. If you do, I’ll go to church every Sunday and I‘ll give up alcohol, I promise. Suddenly, a parking place appeared. The man looked up again and said, "Never mind. I found one.”

This sermon is about prayer. Prayer is something that all of us know about and that many of us practice. Yet there is a great deal of confusion among religious people about the efficacy of prayer, about its purpose and its practice. I hope this sermon will help you think about prayer more clearly and perhaps value it more dearly.

The Most Important Thing - Richard Crocker

The Most Important Thing
Hanover UCC
Richard R. Crocker
July 18, 2010

Amos 8:1-12, Luke 10:38-42

Amos was not fit for polite society. Like many prophets, he was erratic, irritating, and disturbing. Some would have called him a crazy man; others called him a troublemaker; others a traitor. Yet, despite his being so politically incorrect, so troublesome and irritating, so infuriating and so uncharming, he was judged, by the later compilers of the Hebrew scriptures, to have been a true prophet, one whose words were worthy of preservation for all time, because he spoke the truth. He told a nation that thought it was prosperous and thriving that it was really putrid and dying. He told a people who were confident in their wealth that they would lose everything. He told people who ignored and exploited the poor that their behavior would lead them to ruin. Those words were hard to take then, and they are hard to take now.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Reflection on the Good Samaritan - Richard Crocker

New eyes, new ears
Our Savior Lutheran Church
Richard R. Crocker
July 11, 2010

Luke 10:25-37, Deuteronomy 30:9-14; Psalm 25:1-10; Colossians 1:1-14

Probably most of us have heard the story of the good Samaritan 100 times at least, and we have listened to many sermons on the subject. Perhaps there are some in the congregation hearing it for the first time. It would be nice if this were true. But I am assuming that all of you, like me, suffer from the problem of over familiarity. We do not really listen to the story because we have heard it so often, and we think we know what it means. So as soon as the scripture lesson starts, we may tune out. There is nothing new here for us. Only an exhortation. We listen, and we carry away from the story an admonition to “go and do likewise.’ And that admonition means that we are supposed to be like the Samaritan and be attentive to the needs of anyone we encounter – especially people we are supposed to dislike. Well, that message doesn’t gain much traction in our lives, does it? Help out anyone in need – that’s what it means to be a neighbor, right? Isn’t that what we take away? And don’t we try to do that by giving money to our church and to other charitable organizations – and by having the Friday night community dinners and giving to Oxfam and UNICEF etc? Now I would not for a minute discourage those charitable activities, but I have discovered after listening to the story of the good Samaritan for many years that I have been hearing it wrongly. Perhaps you have too.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

"Ground Zero Mosque"

by Kurt Nelson

I'm beginning to suspect my reluctance to post more frequently has less to do with lack of time and effort and more to do with lack of desire to publish unfinished thoughts.  But I'm trying.  I really am.

I find my thoughts turning frequently in recent days and months, to our public conversation surround the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque."  (one take  or another or yet another).  Public demonstrations and furious blog posts have cropped up all over, and Peter King and Rick Lazio have decided to invest their political energy in opposition to the construction of this Islamic Community Center.  As far as I can tell, there's little to debate from a policy standpoint.  Precedent would suggest that the first amendment, though it appeals directly only to Congress, would apply, and we would not "prohibit the free expression" of this religious community.  (It should be noted that NYC officials have, so far, admirably supported and approved the effort.)  But the vociferous backlash remains, and is, in my opinion, drowning thoughtful voices of support.

But I'm moved and struck by a couple of questions which more directly relate to my work.  I take great pride in the Dartmouth students I work with.  I trust that they have had meaningful experiences of religious and inter-religious community, have delved more deeply and thoughtfully into their own senses of faith, spirituality, meaning and purpose.  But I wonder how well we (or I) have prepared and educated them to take on the challenges of religious difference in the world directly?  To what extent have we developed 'religious literacy' or 'interfaith understanding' as a goal our our liberal arts education?  Are we building a movement that is prepared to take on the next religious conflict as they enter their careers and lives?

This is, no doubt, an emotional issue for those who lived through the attacks on the World Trade Center.  And without meaningful education and contact with members of the world's religious traditions, I might have been swayed by those who claim that they will be willing to allow a Mosque on the sacred Ground Zero, when churches are allowed at Mecca.  But it is our collective job to remind the country that it is precisely our adherence to religious freedom (and press, and expression, and many others) which makes us a great, pluralist nation, and give us countless opportunities not afforded elsewhere.

No doubt, meaningful steps have been taken, but there's much more to do.  This is a goal not just for those who have an interest in multi-faith work, but is a value we must seek to promote for all people - Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Baha'is, Atheists, Agnostics, Seekers, and everything and anything else.

Until we do, I suspect a good portion of the country will remain convinced that the "they" that attacked the Twin Towers are the same "they" that are seeking to building a Mosque on sacred American ground.

(Viewer Discretion Advised)

Monday, July 19, 2010

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


by Kurt Nelson

As I sit in my 95 degree office in normally-frigid Northern New England, I find myself reflecting on three small paradoxes in my current life.  (Note: they may be too small to be paradoxes.  Perhaps ironies, or simply silly things that I've noticed recently.)

The first is, of course, that I've never been so hot as I am this week.  In warmer climates, we're better prepared for a week if 95 degree + temperatures.  But here in the snowy hills of New Hampshire, we simply bake in our homes.  In our offices.  Staring listlessly and trying our best to carry on normally.

The second:  I've recently become the car commuter in my family, while my wife now walks to her work.  And I've never been so frustrated with traffic as in this small town.  Not on the interchange between I-91 and I-95 in New Haven, CT, which I don't think has ever been clear.  Not on the Beltway around Washington DC.  Nothing compares to waiting for minutes on end to get past the 3 lights in Hanover.  Pedestrians crossing against lights.  People stopping to chat.  Too many cars in too little space.  Where are they all going?

And finally, and (hopefully) most significant, I was recently told by a faculty member who teaches about religion that he has "no patience for piety."  I suspect it was meant to be a controversial statement, but I found myself empathizing to a certain degree.  Don't get me wrong, I have plenty of patience for piety.  But I hardly see piety as the root or point of my work.  I'm left with clear images of wealthy scribes making public donations, and of the hollow, public prayers of politicians.  I'm certainly more interested in what faith and religion and belief mean for people than what they look like.

Perhaps this is what we're all after - scholars, preachers and teachers of religion.  But my particular hope for inter-religious work rests in our ability to move past the surface and delve more deeply with one another into questioning the source, meaning and value of our traditions, practices, values and ethics.