Reporting from Paris During COP21: A Haunted Sabbath

This past Sunday—day four of COP21—was a day off for the summit although no one believed that any of the principals were really resting. What we hoped is that they were conferring, negotiating, reading, thinking, acting outside of the spotlight, which is now on them. The best reporting concurred.

Amy Goodman on Democracy Now reported on the Nicaraguan minister explaining why they weren’t publicizing or offering their national carbon reduction goals. “Because we are going green on our own and don’t want to participate in the farce of rich countries asking us to pay for their abuse of each other and the earth.”

The New Republic once again put out its superb daily report, showing that coalitions were indeed developing between nations around their carbon goals. GreenFaith did its daily broadcast, once again targeting the bad guy of Saudi Arabia and wondering how they had spent their Sunday. They did not appear to have a brunch invitation. I walked by a totally dark Chinese embassy, which, nonetheless, had enormous security, and a totally lit French Assembly. They were working there.

I also made the visit I didn’t want to make to Place Republique, knowing that it would be like things were after 9/11. Messy candles, hand written notes, lists of the dead, shoes from the dead, stuffed animals that had been rained on and lost their fluff. People on bicycles stopped to shed a tear. Several asked why the sign from Kashmir had a misspelling: ‘We denonce the tragedy and we declare it wrong.’

Really? Arguing over a misspelling when people are discussing climate catastrophes at every table in town, if they are not talking about mass murder? Misspelling?

For me, it was the second Sunday in Advent. Thus I went to the American Cathedral for church. Fletcher Harper, the lively Executive Director of GreenFaith—which is doing a phenomenal job of communicating here—was the preacher and he nailed it. “The Moral issue of our time.” “No way to avoid thinking about it as it will knock on your door soon.”

(You might also enjoy checking out this very lively church in the heart of the 8th in Paris. Both of the top clergy are female, which should begin to give you the drift. The Very Reverend Lucinda Laird, Dean of the Cathedral, gives a marvelously confident absolution after the confession. The Reverend Mary Haddad, Cathedral Canon, was away in Canada dealing with visa problems. I went to their site to get directions to the church and ended up listening to several excellent sermons, including one the Sunday after the bombing at La Republique.)

On this Sunday, Rev. Harper covered asserted multiple times and ways that politics and religion are siblings, not enemies. The Baruch 5: 1- 9 text mattered: “Take off the garment of our sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem, and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God. Put on the robe of righteousness…put on your head the diadem of glory….”

The communion table was open and all were welcome to come. Plus, “Gluten free communion wafers are available.” and there was a request from the altar guild, “ If you wear lipstick and can wipe it off or blot it before communion, it would be much appreciated. The communion cup is wiped clean after each person’s sips, but it’s really hard to remove lipstick from the linen purificators (towels). Merci.

I was thrilled by these words, right in the middle of the liturgy, because it meant I was in a real congregation. The choir was stunning as well.

Rev. Harper’s sermon excelled at motivating us for the hard stuff that is coming this week. Nobody thinks the war of the temperatures will result in anything even near the 2 degrees Celsius, which is most desirable, if not essential, if we are to avoid large global catastrophes in low lying places. He did spend a lot of time confirming his partners in their enthusiasm for the cause. He had some good jokes about the various Buddhists who have signed on with Greenfaith. “Who knew Buddhists cared about who was listed first?” He called my denomination, the United Church of Christ, a “Fringe movement,” and I don’t think it was a compliment. His point was that you could expect people like us to sign on to GreenFaiths”s strong and inclusive positions. He was proud of how wide the religious coalition he has masterfully organized has become. Mazel Tov is the only thing to say, even if you are part of the tefillin of the movement.

When it comes to the Catholics, the Franciscans are doing the most extraordinary work and are very much inside the negotiations. I’ve already loved up the Jesuits, so I am going Zen on the accolades.

Our off day ended with the first bad meal I’ve had in France. It was served 45 minutes after being ordered, causing us to miss all but the final “Alleluia” of Handel’s Messiah, back at the American Cathedral. There the chorus master did something that was just right. He allowed the packed house to sing the Alleluia chorus twice. Once for good measure and twice in this year of climate and terror, where we don’t know which is worse, and we know both are bad. “King of kings and Lord of Lords” belted out the expats who make up the congregation. There has to be something more important than any or either of our fears. I was proud of them. I was glad to be with them, and I don’t wear lipstick.

Maybe I’ll go back to using the word “Lord” again.