By Rev. Paul Ostrem, Assistant to the Bishop
The morning headline in the Iowa City “Press Citizen” did not surprise me. “Scientists Say Warming Makes Storms Wetter.” I had thought and believed as much even before I heard of the sweeping devastation brought on by Hurricane Harvey.
Carol and I started our vacation in late August by attending with a group of friends the movie “An Inconvenient Sequel.” The documentary chronicles former Vice-President Al Gore’s work to address the climate crisis. It’s worth the price of admission. I remember days early in my ministry when “ban the styrofoam cup” was about the best the church could do to participate in environmental issues. I also remember the owl on TV telling us to “Give a hoot. Don’t pollute.” We have moved from there through many steps to encouraging folks to reduce their carbon footprint. All of this has been good and important, and as people of faith we do well to continue to do these things. But it has not gone and will not go far enough. The situation is so critical that the causes of the climate crisis created by human consumption must be addressed by political will and action. For people of faith, that involves advocacy at all levels. “An Inconvenient Sequel” gives examples of this all the way from a global to a local perspective.
For people of faith, caring about these matters is important for what I see as two key reasons. There are likely more. The first is that people of faith believe in the goodness of creation, that human beings have been entrusted with care – and not exploitation – of the earth and all its resources. In my last parish, a member – a farmer who believed strongly in conservation – often reminded us of Psalm 24:1, “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it.” We are caretakers, not owners. The second has to do with the fact that the effects of climate change will disproportionately impact the poorest places and people on this planet. Concern for our neighbor, especially the lowest and the least among us, calls and motivates us to address the climate crisis.
I urge all of us to do what we can to raise awareness of these issues. But as someone has said about another issue of great concern, namely racism, “Awareness is not enough.” Undoubtedly people in this church will pray for and respond generously through Lutheran Disaster Response to the needs of people affected by Hurricane Harvey. Could that flood of prayers and generosity be matched by a flood of phone calls, emails, letters to our elected leaders urging action to address the climate crisis? As we put our prayers into action by generous giving, may we also accompany our prayers with advocacy to our elected leaders.
Pastor Paul Ostrem has served as an assistant to Bishop Michael Burk of the Southeastern Iowa Synod since January 1, 2009, where he coordinates the mobility of rostered leaders and the congregational call process, works with people in candidacy, and works with the Commission for Church in Society dealing in particular with the issues of hunger and poverty toward the goal of manifesting what it means to be an “anti-hunger synod.” Prior to coming to the bishop’s staff, he served parishes in Hanlontown and Preston, and as Senior Pastor at Zion Lutheran Church in Muscatine for twenty-one years. He has served on numerous not-for-profit boards including Lutheran Homes in Muscatine, Lutheran Services in Iowa and the Lutheran Services in Iowa Foundation.