Rio Reflection: Community

Ecclesiastes 3:19

For the fate of humans and the fate of animals is the same; as one dies, so dies the other.


Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

Two are better than one, because they have good reward for their toil. For if they fail, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help. Again, if two lie together, they keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone? And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one. A threefold cord is not quickly broken.

Acts 2: 4-8

All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability…. And at this sound, the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each….Amazed and astonished, they asked…”And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?”


Holy, loving, powerful God, we thank you for all you have created, for the many people and parts of creation that surround us and accompany us this day. For children playing, for youth protesting, and for older adults sharing wisdom, we give you praise. For sky and sea and sand, for living creatures of all types, we give you praise. For diversity of language, of ways of knowing, of culture, we give you praise. Help us to live in the companionship of creation, in all its diversity and complexity, and in ways that are generous and good. In Christ we pray, Amen.


Reflection on Community

Yesterday I walked the streets of Rio on my way to the World Council of Churches event for the People’s Summit. I noticed the beauty and uniqueness of the people around me. Three small children, dressed in superman and princess costumes, were running errands with a female relative. People of all shapes and sizes walked and swam and rode near the ocean. When I took advantage of the BikeRio ( system, I also appreciated the diversity of people (ages, races, genders, classes) using this system. Once at Colegio Bennett ( for the WCC event, I entered a room of nearly 30 young adults from all across Latin America who gathered to discuss and learn about eco-justice theologies. Neddy Astudillo, PCUSA minister, and Guillermo Kerber, WCC program executive for climate change, led the discussion and I listened in, mostly as an outsider, to this theological conversation in Spanish.


In all these experiences, I am reminded that God made us for community. We all have moments where we can embrace being the stranger, when we can admire people for their differences. Other times, we may sit with some discomfort or wonder how to resolve the honest conflict that comes from difference. However we experience these things, I think that we are meant to be with others: other people (of all ages and backgrounds), other living things, part of God’s earth. We are stronger (a threefold cord) when we are with others.


As people gather here at Rio+20, many may wonder if it’s worth it, if anything helpful will come out of this. Is this UNCSD conference only a small drop in the ocean, an ineffectual use of so many financial, time, and personal resources?


It is possible that not much will change with major governmental policies and international agreements. Many think that there is not much hope for deeply faithful forward movement.


Yet, I’m sitting with these images of the power of being people together, of living in the diverse community for which we were created. Yesterday afternoon, I was in a room of young adults who could have been anywhere at home doing many other things and yet they opted in, they put their bodies in this space, as a way to communicate something, a way to be part of whatever God is bringing forth.


In our theological tradition, we hold in tension both the truth of depravity and the truth of grace. In our biblical witness, we have Ecclesiastes (a declaration that all is vanity) and the prophets (a challenge to change the way things are). The prophets calling the people to account shows some conviction that the words may yet have an effect. Our words, our putting our bodies in certain places, may yet have an effect.


So while we do not know what the outcome from Rio+20 will be, we live in this tension between the reality that it will not be “enough” and yet somehow it is still vital, an expression of our human vocation to gather, to communicate, and to challenge systems, to try to make more space for the health and beauty of the world to break through the stranglehold of greed and power and injustice in the earth and particularly for vulnerable populations.


Perhaps we live as prophets, even with the reality of Ecclesiastes, because we can do no less as people of faith. We remain hopeful because of the declaration of God’s salvation of the world (John 3:16-17). We believe that being in these sacred spaces of community is worth it. It makes a difference. And, even if not the difference we precisely want, I believe we are called to be here anyway. Having faith sometimes invites us to act out our faith in a kind of holy foolishness, doing things that don’t always make rationale sense. While a Spirit filled church might cause some to ask “are they filled with new wine,” we still welcome the pentecosts God brings to us. God uses our efforts, our presence, our community to bring new life to the world. The Spirit blows in spite of and far beyond all our human efforts. Christ, who loves us, welcomes our humble attempts to be where we are called to speak truth to power, to build new community, to be transformed.


Where in the world is there an environmental justice situation that makes you feel hopeless? Why does it? And, where might God’s invitation to you be, in this situation? What Holy Spirit space might be opened for resurrection, Pentecost, the extraordinary breaking through the ordinary?

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