Ringing the bell for creation Oct. 24: A symbolic act

I had several reasons for taking this unusual step. When I was in my early teens growing up in Santa Barbara, Calif., I witnessed the ecological devastation of the massive oil spill in the Santa Barbara Channel in January of 1969. I also witnessed the expansion of the environmental movement including the first Earth Day in 1970 and was particularly impressed by the negative impact automobiles had upon the planet. Rather than putting money I made from various jobs into a car, gas, and insurance, I used my earnings to go on short-term international humanitarian missions during my high school and college summer vacations.

Like giving something up for Lent, this symbolic commitment took some discipline. I walked, rode my bike, and occasionally hitchhiked; I was very fit as I mostly used my own legs to travel everywhere. My discipline meant that there was just a little less pollution and consumption of petroleum. I often had a chance to explain my reasons for not having a license — teachable moment as result of this symbolic act.

On October 24, I will participate in another symbolic act for the sake of the environment.

Thousands of churches around the world will be ringing their bells 350 times in solidarity with the “350.org” movement. The 350.org movement is a campaign to address the issue of climate change, influence governments to take action to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere from the current amount of 387 parts per million (ppm) to a safe 350-ppm. The 350-ppm is a rate scientists have stated as a safe level and would address the crisis of global warming. 350.org Co-founder Bill McKibbon has reached out to faith communities in particular because of their historic record in successfully bringing about positive societal change. If enough people participate with this action on October 24, policy makers gathering at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen this December might take notice and integrate the 350-ppm goal into their final agreements.

I would encourage you to spend some time at the www.350.org Web site. It is full of information and resources that provide the background for taking this action, everything from scientific papers documenting the rationale for the 350-ppm figure to multi-media resources. The Web site is constantly updated and at the time of this writing, Bill McKibbon’s appearance on the Colbert Report television show was just posted. Planned actions from around the world are listed so it is easy to see the impact of this movement. You can sign up to demonstrate your personal support and receive e-mail updates.

Presbyterians have long taken the leadership in environmental action. From a number of General Assembly policies to the establishment of a network of Restoring Creation Enablers, Presbyterians have demonstrated care for the earth. For Presbyterians, participation in this action on October 24 would be consistent with this long-standing commitment to God’s creation. If your church does not have a traditional bell tower, utilize hand bells. Make this a teachable moment, allowing young and old to come together to care for our planet for future generations. There are many resources and ideas for churches at the 350.org Web site in the “Faith” section.

Tustin (Calif.) Church has developed its own plans for celebrating that day. I have co-authored a liturgy with its pastor, Rebecca Prichard, and it is available for your use at the church’s Web site, www.tustinpresbyterian.org/. Our liturgy has readings of Scripture based upon the seven days of creation, responsive readings, prayers, opportunities to give witness and singing. The ringing of the bells is interspersed as sets of 50, seven times during hour-long service. The church’s “Green Committee” has developed a complete program of activities around this International Day of Climate Action. This historic church does have a bell tower and being situated on Main Street in Tustin, their bell ringing will be heard by many in the community, which happens to have a major street festival that dovetails with the service. The program is set to begin at 11 a.m. and will include giving away 350 drought-resistant plant seedlings to attendees.

As I think of ringing a bell to get attention, I recall the ending of the 1986 movie “Witness.” Harrison Ford played a tough Philadelphia detective named John Book. After discovering corruption by officers in his department, Detective Book had to escape the city; he had been shot and wounded by a corrupt fellow police officer. Book hid out in at a farm in the Amish community near Lancaster, Pa. When the corrupt officer and two co-conspirators finally tracked Book down at the farm, a young Amish boy saved the day. The boy rang the farm’s bell, loudly and repeatedly. Hundreds of Amish neighbors heard the alarm and rushed en masse to surround Book and his host family and the crisis came to an end.

Our planet is in peril and we need to ring our church’s bells as our symbolic act on October 24. If enough of us participate, the alarm will be heard at, and influence, the United Nations Conference in Copenhagen.

Let’s take advantage of this teachable moment. Will you join me?

DAVID DOLAN is a Caring for Creation Enabler and is the official liaison for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to 350.org. He can be reached at daviddolan [at] aol.com.

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