The Earth Cries Out . . .


UMW and Earth Day Sermon                                                  Claremont UMC

Linda J. Vogel                                                                                     April 17, 2016

Deut. 24:19-22; Hosea 4:1-3, 14:1-9; Acts 7:51-58

What a perfect day for UMW Sunday as we focus on Climate Justice, and prepare for Earth Day which is next Friday. This year’s Earth Day theme is “Trees for the Earth,” how appropriate since our Claremont trees are at great risk because of the drought.

I have felt for a long time that climate change and the urgent need to change our ways and work for the healing of the earth is perhaps the most crucial issue of our day. And then I read the UMW study book for this year’s celebration and my perspective broadened.

Pat Watkins, in an article on “A Biblical Theology of Creation Care” says, “Abuse of the poor and abuse of the land go hand in hand when it comes to lining the pockets of the rich. And, given the biblical witness, we’ve been at it for a long time.”[1] Flint, MI is a current and devastating example.

And here’s what became for me an “aha” moment. Gus Speth, former dean of the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale University addressed a group of religious leaders several years ago. [This] is what he said:

“I used to think the top environmental problems facing the world were global warming, environmental degradation and ecosystem collapse, and that we scientists could fix those problems with enough science, but I was wrong.

The real problem is not these three items but GREED, SELFISHNESS, AND APATHY. And for that we need a spiritual and cultural transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that. We need your help.[2]

Our scripture reading from Deuteronomy is quite straightforward. When you harvest your crops, leave some for “the foreigner, the orphan, or the widowed.” No handouts here. Just leave it in the field and on the vine so that those who need it are welcomed to harvest it for themselves. After all, Adonai says, “remember, you were slaves in Egypt.”  Do not forget, the implication is, that when you were suffering, God saved you. Now, pay it forward!

The eighth century prophets, including Hosea, are also very clear. There is “no fidelity of kindness, no knowledge of God.” Rather, there is “only cursing, lying, murder and infidelity—these things run rampant throughout the land, and mayhem begets mayhem.” Isn’t it amazing, how these same charges could be made to us in the twenty-first century?

Hosea speaks strongly about the sin and evil in his day. But then he offers some hope. If the people will return to Adonai, their God, if they acknowledge that their “corruption has been their downfall” and turn back to God—if they stop making gods of things their hands had made, then God “will heal their rebelliousness and love them freely.”  When the “prudent learn these things,” God’s compassion and forgiveness and presence will again bring blessings. But, Hosea warns, “the corrupt [will] stumble and fall.”

On days when hope seems far from me, I need to cling to the graciousness and love which God continues to offer to all who return to love of God, love for all peoples, and love for the earth.

So what does the account of Stephen’s martyrdom have to do with earth justice? Gene Boutilier reflected on this passage at a recent Eucharistic circle at Pilgrim Place and it spoke to the “aha” I was experiencing. For we mourn yet another martyr this Lent. Berta /, an indigenous Honduran environmental activist, was murdered just a few weeks ago. They broke down her door in the middle of the night and shot her to death. She was a well-known leader for the social movement in defense of the land and indigenous communities. We live in a world where greed, selfishness and apathy destroy beauty and try to destroy hope. Her blasphemy against the powers was words like these: “Our Mother Earth—militarized, fenced-in, poisoned, a place where basic rights are systematically violated—demands that we take action.” “We have to wake up! We have to wake up, Humankind! We’re out of time.” “Let us come together and move forward with hope as we defend and care for the Earth and its creatures.” Such words challenge those in power so that she must be murdered!

Caceres, spoke out against the powers much like Stephen did in his day. She led grassroots campaigns and built international support against the mines, the dams, the plantations, the expropriation and destruction of the land of the Lenca people in Honduras.

The point of terror, as the Romans and their local elite collaborators in Jerusalem knew, is to immobilize people with fear. The message to exploited communities everywhere, not just to Berta’s indigenous comrades in Honduras was do not resist. The message is also for advocates of ecology and sustainability and human and indigenous rights across the globe —do not resist. Lest we try to distance ourselves from this shocking murder, we need to remember that our own U.S. government has, for generations sponsored, trained, financed and benefited from the murderous repression in Honduras.

So, as we reflect on all of this, we need to reflect on the ways in which greed, selfishness and apathy led the Hebrews astray though-out their history. It fueled the religious and political leaders of Jesus’ day to kill the one who called on the people to love their enemies and to care for the foreigner, the orphan and the widowed. And it fueled those in Stephen’s day to murder him. It fueled the onlookers to shout and to hold their hands over their ears, and finally to stone him.

When do we shout? When do we “hold our hands over our ears”? When does our own apathy keep us even seeing the way the earth is becoming less and less hospitable for all living beings? When do we allow apathy to stop us from speaking out against greed and selfishness?

What can we do to live more lightly on the earth? When can we acknowledge and speak out about climate change that is already causing climate refugees to flee from their homes? How can we buy less and recycle and reuse? Fossil fuels and beef are major contributors to the destruction of our earth home. What are we willing to do about that?

It is estimated that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. Already there are giant—as in twice the size of the state of Texas—trash islands in the Pacific ocean where nothing lives in or below it. Check out the NASA web site for photos of these islands.

The earth is crying out—loudly in some places and in other places it has become only a whimper. What are we—good people, followers of Jesus people—willing to do today and this week and this year about it?


The wise writer of children’s books for all ages, Dr. Seuss, wrote in The Lorax in 1971, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” Listen, friends, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

And President Obama rightly claims that “change is brought about because ordinary people do extraordinary things.”

If we are to embrace resurrection faith this Easter, I believe we must commit to addressing the REAL problem: GREED, SELFISHNESS, AND APATHY. And I cannot image addressing these behemoths, this evil, without the compassion-doing, justice-seeking and hope-sharing that Jesus brings into our world.

I leave us with a song from another group of indigenous people. The  Southern Arapaho sing:

My children,

My children,

Here it is, I hand it to you

The earth,

The earth.[3]

[1] Pat Watkins, “A Biblical Theology of Creation Care” in Climate Justice: A Call to Hope and Action” ed. by Pat Watkins, p. 10.


[2] Quoted in Pat Watkins (ed.), Climate Justice: A Call to Hope and Action.

[3] Margaret Coel, Chief Left Hand: Southern Arapaho, The Civilization of the American Indian Series, University of Oklahoma Press, 1981.




I’ve found a soul-friend. We haven’t met yet (or even corresponded) but I have been moved, challenged and inspired when reading Kent Nerburn’s books dealing with Lakota life and spirituality and how one white guy struggles to be present with and learn from some wise old Indians!

Authenticity abounds as Kent struggles with his desire to be trustworthy and helpful while recognizing and being pulled by many of the ingrained values of the dominant culture of which he is a part. He is accused of having “a clock in his head” and he is constantly struggling with deep tension between his need to know and their need for silence!

Neither Wolf Nor Dog, The Wolf at Twilight and The Girl Who Sang to the Buffalo are all books that shed light on the life and lands of the Lakota. These high plains (and the Black Hills) in the Dakotas is land where our summer cabin is located—the Birds’ Nest is where we have been rooted and grown in the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota since 1971—truly “a thin place” that Native Americans have known and honored for hundreds of years.

Reflecting on the differences between the way the white boarding schools taught and the way the Native elders and families taught, Dan (the elder Nerburn is travelling with observes: “Learning’s about watching and thinking and asking and practicing and doing it again and again and again. Everything is here to teach us. Let the little kids learn the world whole, then take it apart and put it into boxes. Don’t make them learn the boxes first, then try to put it all together.” [The Wolf at Twilight, chapter seventeen]. This holistic way of learning makes sense to the educator in me. When we learn to see and to listen—to nature, to people, to all living things—then we will truly learn. After all, Jesus said, “Let anyone with ears to hear, listen!” (Luke 8:8 NRSV).

Those of us who truly want to learn deep truths from Native Peoples, have to be willing to hear hard things. We must listen and absorb without either trying to explain why or how this could have happened or to try to fix it. Unspeakable things were done by governments and by churches—by our government and by our Christian churches. Our task today is to listen empathetically and to learn from these despicable behaviors so that we truly learn from our history and do not repeat it in other places and ways.

Nerburn has other books that resonate with us. Small Graces (2010) and Ordinary Sacred (2012) sound a lot like our books—Syncopated Grace (Upper Room Books, 2002) and Sacramental Living (Upper Room Books, 1999). I am eager to delve into these books of his. LJV August 10, 2014

Reflections as One Celebrates 50 Years of Teaching


      Reflections as One Celebrates 50 Years of Teaching

I am retiring from eleven years of teaching as a Senior Scholar at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary (where I retired and became Professor Emerita in May of 2003). I’ve taught several intensives on campus and a few independent studies but most of my teaching has been the “on-line” section of a two year (four semester) course called “Vocational Formation and Church Leadership.” It is the academic component that is taken in conjunction with field education.

Most of my students lived and/or served in congregations at too great a distance to travel to the seminary weekly or they had work obligations that made it impossible to be on campus on Wednesdays when the on-campus sections are offered.

What I love most is sharing in the lives and ministries of my students—listening, helping them claim their own authority and voice, and asking questions that invite them to journey with the others in the class and with me as they

  • engage in collaborative teaching and learning.
  • claim their identity as persons called to be leaders in the church.
  • clarify the call God is making on their lives.
  • create a vision and strategies to embody their own calling into ministry.
  • develop leadership skills.
  • focus on developing and practicing spiritual disciplines.
  • attend to self-care.
  • find new ways of viewing and responding to conflict.
  • struggle with life in imperfect institutions.

Whenever I teach, I seek to develop a learning/teaching community that engages the whole person (both teacher(s) and students)! We establish a covenant of confidentiality so that what is shared stays within our group. Together, we create a safe space where feelings and questions are welcome and can be shared.

Journeying with students as they seek to discern and understand the claim God is placing on their lives is holy work. It is work that requires deep understanding and compassion as well as rigorous expectations that have consequences. Laughter and tears are welcome in my classes!

On-line classes offer opportunities for a weekly check-in, a blog-like thread where students are able to share what is happening in their lives, their prayer requests, and sometimes, to vent! Some amazing sharing has taken place across the years.

For example, the year of Katrina, one of my students worked in the only hospital in New Orleans that stayed open. Everything on the ground floor of her house was destroyed and her family lived in a FEMA trailer in their “back yard” for months. She said, “I would have lost my mind without this class!” And those of us in the class learned so much about how disasters affect the everyday lives of people and the kinds of stress such disasters put on churches and those who serve in them.

Students have found a caring, supportive place to be when they experience difficult decisions that impact their lives and vocations from judicatories and the seminary. Those students who are already working as professionals in ministry find a safe place to test their perceptions about difficulties they find in their congregations or other ministry settings. I believe all of us in these learning/teaching communities (called seminary classes) have both been blessed and have had opportunities to be a blessing to others! In general, the deepest sharing seems to take place in my on-line classes (which have some Google + Hangout engagement where we can be together both visually and verbally).

As I reflect back on fifty years of teaching in a college, in local congregations and in a seminary, here are a few of my most important convictions:

  • Creating a teaching/learning environment that is hospitable and safe is a task that requires a commitment from everyone in the group. Teachers have to be willing to share power.
  • It is possible to create safe space where confidentiality is honored.
  • Collaborative learning means that everyone has opportunities to engage and explore their own work and the work of others in the class. Self-critique and engaging in appreciative inquiry about the work of others is important.
  • There are three significant components in every class—the students, the teacher/facilitator, and the content. When the teacher and the content are merged into one, the possibility of critically engaging the content is greatly diminished. Teachers need not promote or defend any course content!
  • Key components required of good teachers are:
  • having clear goals and clearly stating expectations.
  • learning how to create and facilitate good processes.
  • making use of teaching/learning strategies that honor multiple intelligences.
  • setting boundaries and providing resources that both challenge and foster growth  intellectually and spiritually.
  • inviting students to explore their assumptions without fear of being asked to change them.
  • recognizing that teachers are midwives—students need assistance in developing their own theologies and skill sets which may be quite different from their teachers.
  • offering timely and constructive feedback to student work as well as creating ways for the students to respond helpfully to each others’ work.
  • finding new ways of viewing and responding to conflict.
  • praying for each student and the class.

I cannot conclude this reflection without giving thanks to those who have been my friends and have helped me always to become a better teacher:

  • my students, through the years and around the world
  • those teachers with whom I have team-taught, especially Dwight Vogel, Jack Seymour, Margaret Ann Crain, Lib Caldwell, Jim Poling, Lallene Rector, David Hogue, Reggie Blount . . .
  • my mentors, Ellen Oliver (a math professor at Westmar College) and Nelle Slater (Christian education professor who treated me like a colleague when I was a young, part-time undergraduate teacher of Christian education).
  • my beloved students who have become life-long friends (too many to name but you know who you are!).
  • my doctoral students who became my colleagues and who taught me much (especially Sara, Cheryl, Jeffery, Kimberly, Howard, Houston, and …).
  • those authors who have been seminal in my writing and my teaching—Tom Groome, Maria Harris, Bell Hooks, Mary Elizabeth Moore, Parker Palmer, Larry Daloz and so many more. . .
  • my wonderful friends and colleagues at Garrett-Evangelical—Jack Seymour and Margaret Ann Crain (both of whom could be in multiple categories here!); and all of the women faculty there, especially, Ruth Duck, Rosemary Ruether, Rosemary Skinner Keller, Lallene Rector, and Barbara Troxell.
  • my Deacon friends and colleagues in the United Methodist Church (especially Diane Olson, Sondra Matthaei, Ruth Ann Scott, Diane Eberhardt, Joaquin Garcia, Rosemary Davis, Martha Morales (who will soon be a deacon) and so many more.
  • My colleagues in the Christian Educator’s Fellowship of the United Methodist Church with whom I was privileged to serve as board president and my colleagues in APPRE and the North American Academy of Liturgy.
  • Sister Jeremy Hall, OSB, with whom I studied when we were on sabbatical at the Ecumenical Institute of Cultural Research at St. John’s Abbey and University and all the sisters at St. Ben’s.
  • Father David Fleming, SM, life-long friend, ecumenical dialogue partner beginning in 1963, travelling companion and so much more!
  • and, most of all, my beloved partner of 55 years who supported me through six years of graduate school, whose vocational path mirrored mine as we taught at Westmar College together for 20 years (we even shared an office!), served St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Dubuque, IA together (he was senior pastor and I was minister of education), who left this church he loved to join me in Chicago, and who ended up as Professor of Theology and Ministry and then Styberg Professor of Worship and Preaching and director of the seminary choir at G-ETS. He fathered our three children and has always been my best friend, my ardent supporter and always tells the truth in ways that help me grow!

Aging Is . . .


Pilgrim Place is publishing a book of poems by pilgrims on aging (we are all experts!!!). I am posting my reflections on aging at age 74 here:

AGING IS . . .

Aging is a universal human experience.
It is often said to be better than the alternative.
But my grandma told me when I was a little girl,
“Don’t ever grow old!”
While my aunt told me that “age is a state of mind.”

One of my students said “OLD is five years older than me.”
So to a five year old, a ten year old is “old”!
My ninety year old friend in the nursing home
points and says she doesn’t want to be with
“those old ladies over there!”

I find that “aging” brings both diminishment and wisdom.
It brings perspective and a sense of mortality.
Aging creeps up on me
and surprises me in startling ways!
My body sometimes says, “You want me to do WHAT?”

One looks back and remembers. . .
while facing the future with hope for a better world.
It brings both sadness and joy as I reflect on the
gifts and liabilities I am leaving to those who follow.
And I journey on in faith, gifted with each new day!

Eastertide, 2014




 The following article excerpt (italics and bold are by me) is not easy to read,  but I believe it tells the truth. Because I care deeply about my children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren and, in fact, about all of the earth’s inhabitants (humans, plants and animals), I feel compelled to continue speaking unpopular truth as I understand it. A deacon’s role is to build bridges and to advocate for those without a voice and that is what I must do! 

We taught in Bangalore, India for six weeks during the time of the Kyoto Climate Summit (you may remember, the U.S. did not participate) in the spring of 2007. There was a two inch high, bold, black headline in the Bangalore newspaper that said; “EIGHT YEARS TO SAVE THE PLANET.” Already, deforestation, water shortages and other abnormal weather patterns and events were causing serious disruption in that highly populated country. 

The blatant reality is that the poor around the world are already paying a hugh price for our impending social collapse. How can we continue to tolerate CEO salaries in the United States that are 425 times higher than the average employee in their company? How can we as citizens of the richest and most developed nation in the world (or so we are told) accept an infant mortality rate that ranks us in 34th place (UN Population Division: 2005-2010) among the world’s nations? How can we continue to compromise our water and air quality by refusing to deal responsibly with fracking, and with drilling and transporting fossil fuels? How can we continue to invest so little in rail transportation when we know that is the most ecologically responsible way to transport goods and people? How can we tolerate !% of our population  increasing its income by 400% between 1979 and 2005 while the income for the middle of the income distribution rose only 21% (according toPaul Krugman in a New York Times oped which cites a 2005 Congressional Budget Office report.)?

 I could go on, but you get the picture. The collapse of institutions and cultures is not pretty. I believe, along with many scientists, economists and other thoughtful folks, that this perhaps immanent (and I don’t know how many decades this may take, but If we don’t take drastic action, I do not believe it will be centuries away) collapse of civilization is fast approaching. Please, read this article:


NASA Study Concludes When Civilization Will End, And It’s Not Looking Good for Us

 The report, written by applied mathematician Safa Motesharrei of the National SocioEnvironmental Synthesis Center along with a team of natural and social scientists, explains that modern civilization is doomed. And there’s not just one particular group to blame, but the entire fundamental structure and nature of our society. [To learn more about the NS-ESC go to:]

Analyzing five risk factors for societal collapse (population, climate, water, agriculture and energy), the report says that the sudden downfall of complicated societal structures can follow when these factors converge to form two important criteria. Motesharrei’s report says that all societal collapses over the past 5,000 years have involved both “the stretching of resources due to the strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity” and “the economic stratification of society into Elites [rich] and Masses (or “Commoners”) [poor].” This “Elite” population restricts the flow of resources accessible to the “Masses”, accumulating a surplus for themselves that is high enough to strain natural resources. Eventually this situation will inevitably result in the destruction of society.

Elite power, the report suggests, will buffer “detrimental effects of the environmental collapse until much later than the Commoners,” allowing the privileged to “continue ‘business as usual’ despite the impending catastrophe.”


Charges against Bishop Melvin Talbert, Prophet and Faithful Minister of the Gospel


I am trusting that the Western Jurisdiction will be faithful to those parts of The Book of Discipline and the baptismal vows that every baptized United Methodist makes to “resist evil wherever it is found.” There seems to be no way to avoid bringing these charges but there are good ways to bring about a just and Gospel-mandated resolution to such charges. My prayer is that inclusion and compassion and love for ALL God’s children will be the outcome!


Formal complaints filed against Bishop Talbert

March 13, 2014 By  5 Comments

Bishop Melvin Tablert

Bishop Melvin G. Talbert

DENVER – Complaints have been filed against Bishop Melvin G. Talbert alleging he has violated the sacred trust of his office.  Acting in accordance with United Methodist church law, a supervisory response has been initiated by Bishop Elaine Stanovsky of Denver.

The Council of Bishops requested that complaints be filed against Bishop Talbert, of Nashville, Tenn., after he performed an October wedding for two men in Alabama.  The bishop of the region, Debra Wallace-Padgett, had asked him not to perform the ceremony.  The Executive Committee of the Council of Bishops also made this request.

Bishop Stanovsky, president of the Western Jurisdiction College of Bishops, has been assigned to guide the confidential supervisory process according to the provisions of the Church’s Book of Discipline.  Bishop Talbert is a member of the Western Jurisdiction, where he served before his retirement in 2000. Church law requires that complaints against bishops be heard in the jurisdiction where the bishop is a member.

The supervisory response is a review of the bishop’s ministry which “shall be directed toward a just resolution” of the complaint.  The supervisory team consists of two bishops working in consultation with one clergy and one lay member of the jurisdictional committee on episcopacy.

The supervisory team carefully maintains the confidentiality of the supervisory response, as guided by the Book of Discipline.  “We find that confidentiality protects the integrity of the process and provides the best hope of the parties reaching a just resolution and offering healing to the Church,” Bishop Stanovsky said.  “We need the whole Church to respect the supervisory process and uphold it in prayer.  Everyone involved takes their role very seriously and is working for a just, healing and faithful outcome.”

For relevant positions of The United Methodist Church go to: 

UMReporter Staff