Ash Wednesday is a day of conscience, repentance and conviction; a day when we take stock of our personal lives – and of our life together on the planet; a day when we confess our self-indulgent appetites, our intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts, and our obsession with consumption of every kind. It is a day of profound, private self-examination, and yet it also includes a public witness – an ashen cross on our forehead to remind ourselves, and the world, who we are and whose we are. On Ash Wednesday, Christians acknowledge that we are accountable to the God who gave us life and who entrusted the earth to our care.
That we have not done a good job with that trust is news to no one. In his Second Inaugural Address, President Obama declared, “We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity.” And he went on to say that our generation must respond “to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.”
Because our generation is facing an unprecedented challenge – a challenge of our own making – repentance is essential if we are to find a way forward.
Ash Wednesday is a good day to be arrested because civil disobedience is a form of repentance. It was repentance of the sin of slavery that prompted Henry David Thoreau to lay out the principles of civil disobedience in the mid-nineteenth century. One hundred years later, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and hundreds of others engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience to prompt this nation to repent of the sin of racism and segregation.
Our generation must now repent of the sin of wrecking God’s creation. Our decades of science denial have now been exchanged for widespread recognition of the community-crushing effects of climate disruption, whether by way of wildfires, droughts, or superstorms.
These are the conditions in which the conscience of a nation can be born.
The Rev. Dr. Jim Antal is Minister and President of the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ, the largest Protestant denomination in the Commonwealth. A climate activist, he provides national leadership in that area for the United Church of Christ.
For more on this story, visit: Ash Wednesday 2013: A Good Day to be Arrested as an Advocate for God’s Creation.