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**NEW** Preaching on Creation: Sunday July 3-9 in Year A (Carr)

Taking on Rationalization Amy Carr reflects on donkeys facing war horses.

Care for Creation Commentary on the Common Lectionary 

Readings for Sunday July 3-9, Year A (2020, 2023)

Zachariah 9:9-12
Psalm 145:8-14
Romans 7:15-25a
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

There is both utopic political imagination and Machiavellian rationalization at play in today’s scripture readings. We need the former if we are to minimize climate catastrophe, and ways of reckoning with the latter if we are to enact the kind of collective transformation we need to bring down global temperatures.

On one hand, in our first reading, we have Zechariah’s ludicrous vision of a coming humble king who will exercise dominion while riding a donkey, on whose back he somehow defeats enemies riding mighty war horses. Jesus casts his own authority likewise as that of one who is “gentle and humble in heart, even as “[a]ll things have been handed over to [him] by [his] Father” (Matthew 11:29, 27). The juxtaposition of immense authority and humility is jarring, yet abruptly trust-evoking. Koan-like, the pairing of dominion and humility startles us into a new awareness—a tangible sense of how collective security can be based on mutual trust rather than coercive force.

On the other hand, Jesus wryly observes that “this generation” rationalizes its opposition to the prospect of God’s emerging humility-rooted kingdom by making whatever argument seems to suit the person or the moment: John the Baptist’s calls to repentance are hushed because he was weirdly austere (“neither eating nor drinking”), so he must have “a demon” (Matthew 11:18); yet Jesus’ calls to repentance are ridiculed as hypocritical warnings of a “glutton and a drunkard” because he enjoys “eating and drinking” (Matthew 11:19). Indeed, in every generation, we can be blind about the shifting ways we rationalize a cynical complacency, especially about a call to turn in a radically new direction as a species. We can be tempted to portray every visionary as somehow dangerous or corrupt, and thereby dismiss their message.

If Jesus keenly names the kind of hypocrisy that might drive a Machiavellian will to power, Paul gets at why we might be drawn to going along with those who speak of securing the current order of things, even if we know it’s less than ideal for all. Paul peels back the mask to call out the sheer absurdity of rationalizing our resistance to acting for the common good:

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members (Romans 7:21-23).

Perhaps rationalizations that are rooted in selective, belittling observations of prophetic leaders are themselves a mask for despair about our individual or collective ability to act more justly toward one another and toward creation. We see there is a better way, but we feel unable to pursue it—so we justify our sense of stuckness.

It is precisely this inability that Paul believes is healed by baptism into the corporate body of Christ: “Wretched man that I am! Who will heal me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25a). When we who “are weary and are carrying heavy burdens” come to Jesus for “rest,” and take Jesus’ “yoke” upon us and “learn from” him as  one who is “gentle and humble in heart,” we will “find rest for [our] souls,” for his “yoke is easy, and [his] burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). To walk in the way of the Torah, to walk with Jesus as the living Word of God, is to be empowered to do that which we cannot do on our own—or when we are addictively in league with the “law of sin” that we express in entrenched, institutionalized patterns of injustice in our lives together.

Taken together, today’s scripture readings testify that a vision of a just and peaceful creation—and the resistance to that vision—are both collectively negotiated. The current climate crisis only intensifies an awareness that the prophets, Jesus, and Paul are calling us not to an individual escape from the tensions of this world, but to living together from the power of peace that cannot be broken by—but can begin to crumble—the powers that sustain collective paths to destruction.

What deeper corporate call to repentance have we ever had than one that asks us to reorient our everyday material world so that we can live more lightly on the planet—so that all species can keep breathing? The call is corporate because it requires wide-scale technological transformation—not simply a collection of individual choices to reduce, reuse, or recycle. Only government policies will enable the particular “monumental shifts historians call ‘energy transitions’” away from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. Although the shift is more possible and affordable today than it was ten years ago, we still need $800 billion of “investment in renewables . . . each year until 2050 for the world to be on course for less than 2ºC of warming.” And politicized rationalizations for a failure to invest persist—such as in the decision of the Trump administration to roll back EPA monitoring of air pollution in the name of not overburdening companies amid the pandemic. (Quotes are from “Not-so-slow burn: The world’s energy system must be completely transformed,” The Economist, 5-23-20, https://www.economist.com/schools-brief/2020/05/23/the-worlds-energy-system-must-be-transformed-completely).

In the summer of 2020, maybe we can draw ecojustice inspiration from two places we can perceive the Spirit’s breathing today in winds of swift collective change: through our global calls to let fellow human beings breathe, by preventing deaths from the coronavirus whose symptom is difficulty breathing, as well as deaths by racist ways of policing that manifest in unnecessarily suffocating or killing people of color. Responses to both the pandemic and racist police brutality have found expression in a global sensibility. We have watched ourselves transform the texture of our social relations almost overnight through lockdowns and social distancing. We have witnessed a sudden surge in multiracial protests around the world demanding an end to systemic racism—sparked by the humble witness of 17 year old Darnella Frazier using her cell phone to film a Minneapolis police officer suffocating George Floyd.

Frazier is riding a donkey against the war horses of systemic racism in policing, as Greta Thunberg has done against the more invisible resistance of governments to enacting the kinds of rapidly intensive changes in energy infrastructure that we need to mitigate the disaster of climate change. Like Jesus riding a donkey into Jerusalem amid Passover crowds, both Frazier and Thunberg have cheering crowds attending them and the vision to which they bear witness. Both also come up against rationalizations for the status quo, and efforts to dismiss them or their prophetic messages.

The protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd, like the 2019 school walkouts for climate change, express an eschatological vision—a glimpse that another way of being is globally contagious and possible, and grounded in a more accurate vision of our shared humanity and planetary condition. We stand with Zechariah in our capacity to behold human beings—and our belonging to creation—without the distortion of a kyriarchical hunger for power over resources and people.

But as Jesus and Paul suggest in today’s readings, those who stand with Zechariah come up against the subtle war horses of minimization and rationalization that prevent meaningful policy changes, be they about the environment, racism, or public health. On these fronts, to take on the yoke of Jesus is to engage in both the humbling inner soul-searching and the persistent collective organizing that address each of these manifestations of sin. Then indeed “wisdom is vindicated by her deeds”—or by her “children” (Matthew 11:19).

Dr. Amy Carr
amyreneecarr@gmail.com

Fifth Sunday after Epiphany (February 4-10) in Year A (Ormseth)

Meeting  the “Creational Need” of Nature Dennis Ormseth reflects on salt and light in this Sunday’s readings.

Care for Creation Commentary on the Common Lectionary (originally written by Dennis Ormseth in 2017)

Readings for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, Year A (2017, 2020, 2023)

Isaiah 58:1-9a [9b-12]

Psalm 112:1-9 [10]

1 Corinthians 2:1-12 [13-16]

Matthew 5:13-20

As the reading of the Sermon on the Mount continues for another eight verses this Sunday, we extend our exploration from last week’s comment, to see whether Jesus’ teaching provides further support for an “Earth-honoring faith” (See that comment for a statement of what such faith requires, following Larry Rasmussen’s description in his book by that title). Although this Sunday’s readings do not offer us an “Earth-honoring” metaphor comparable to last Sunday’s first reading, the prophet Micah’s “trial before the mountains,” there are nonetheless strong echoes here of themes we found significant for such a faith.

In the first reading, for instance, the prophet Isaiah similarly announces Jahweh’s rejection of the pretense of the wealthy who come seeking God’s presence, while they do nothing about removing the “bonds of injustice” and the “yoke” of oppression, poverty, and homelessness they place on the those below them.  The text thus again rejects the master and slave ethic, which, as Rasmussen suggests, in the industrial age has been extended from social and economic relationships to “other-than-human nature” in a “paradigm of domination that renders nature essentially a slave to humanity, its steward and master” (Larry L. Rasmussen, Earth-honoring Faith:  Religious Ethics in a New Key. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013, p. 100).  Those who choose to break with this pattern of domination and the false worship to which it is coupled, will be, in the prophet’s image, “light” that “shall break forth like the dawn” (cf. the Psalm, 112:4); they will share in a restoration of both body and habitat (The Lord will … satisfy your needs in parched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.”  58:8, 11).  Their relationship with Yahweh will be fully restored, and as they “take delight in the Lord,”  Yahweh will make them “ride upon the heights of the earth.”  Thus in the end, here, too, with their abandonment of their rebellion over against God, the mountains receive them on behalf of the Earth. Their city restored, the people will be “called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in” (58:12).  Restoration of the people’s relationship to Yahweh is accompanied by restoration of the relationship with the creation in which they live.

The second reading, in turn, brings back the theme of the power of God.  Paul disavows human wisdom and power in favor of “a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that [the Corinthian congregation’s] faith might rest, not on human wisdom, but on the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:4-5).  He speaks “God’s wisdom, secret and hidden,” he writes, which ‘none of the rulers of this age understood…, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”  The wisdom and power of the crucified Christ, revealed by the Spirit, is accordingly contrasted to the wisdom and power wielded by the politically and socially powerful in pursuit of their imperial interests. With respect to our concern for care of creation, this contrast relates to perhaps the greatest imbalance of power in the modern world, that involving control over the development and flow of energy in the global fossil fuel industry, access to which, along a long chain of investor and consumer connections, is a major source of conflict and oppression in the world, much to the destruction of habitat for both humans and other-than-humans.  The development of climate science over the past century has brought about a revelatory disclosure of these great power imbalances and their destructive impacts on the communities of creation.

So how do the sayings of the Sermon on the Mount relate to this situation?  From last Sunday’s beatitudes, this is how:  blessed are the poor in spirit, who despair over their powerlessness to liberate the earth they love, no less themselves, from the domination of the fossil fuel industry; they know themselves enmeshed and even enslaved to it by virtue of their inescapable participation in the global economy. The power of God’s presence restores them. Blessed are those who mourn, and thus do not hide or deny their grief over such terrible losses to habitat and species. God shares their pain. And blessed indeed are the meek, who do what they can in their own place, to secure space for their neighbors, both human and other-than-human, that is free from all such diminishment of their shared well-being. Theirs is the future of the earth.

Turning to this Sunday’s teaching, in so doing, the followers of this way will be regarded as “salt of the earth.”  As Warren Carter points out, the image of salt has considerable polyvalence in scripture: “Sir 39:26 identifies ‘salt’ as one of ‘the basic necessities of human life.’  It seasons food in Job 6:6.  In Lev 2:13 and Ezek 43:24 salt and sacrifice are linked.  Elisha uses salt to purify drinking water (2 Kgs 2:19-23).  In Ezra 4:14 sharing salt seems to suggest loyalty (so also ‘salt of the covenant’ in Lev 2:13 and Num 18:19.)”  As “salt of the earth,” Carter suggests, “the community of disciples, not the ruling elite or the synagogue, is to live this flavoring, purifying, sacrificial way of life committed to the world’s well- being and loyal to God’s purposes (Matthew and the Margins:  A Sociopolitical and Religious Reading, p. 137). Building on the image’s polyvalence, Robert Smith suggests that it is precisely “the people who hear his words and follow him” that are “‘salt of the earth,’ and that means salt for the earth” (New Proclamation Series A, 1998-1999, p. 148.  Emphasis added).  This is the second time the Earth is mentioned in the Sermon, the first being the reference to Earth as that which the “meek” will inherit (5:5). “Salt for the earth” can then in turn be understood as pointing to those who are loyal to the earth and help to sustain its life in all its rich diversity and beauty.  The Earth, Carter emphasizes, is where the “disciples live, in the midst of the poor in spirit, the mourning, the powerless, and the hungry and thirsty, dominated and exploited by the ruling elite (5:3-6).”  It is where the community embodies God’s empire as opposed to human empire, in mercy, purity, peacemaking and persecution, as it lives out its alternative existence (5:7-12; Matthew and the Margins, p. 138).  And as we’ve seen in our second reading, restoration of this “saltiness”, this “Earth-loyal” faith happens by drawing on the wisdom and power of God, as disclosed by the Spirit in the cross and resurrection of Jesus.

Just so, according to the Sermon’s teaching, with this Earth-loyal, Earth-honoring faith, the followers of Jesus “are the light of the world” (5:14).  For the second time, Jesus unexpectedly applies to the disciples an image that we have seen Matthew and the other evangelists use primarily for Jesus himself.  They are to continue the task first given to Israel, as our first reading reminds us (“light shall break forth like the dawn”; Isaiah 58:8, cf. Isaiah 42:6), and then assumed by Jesus as “light shining in the darkness.” The point of these two images of salt and light is clear:  as Robert Smith writes, “Through Jesus, God is laying healing hands on the world to make it ‘all right’ and to summon us to live lives of ‘all rightness” (Smith, p. 150). Those who follow Jesus up the mountain are called to manifest, for all to see, the life that leads to the fulfillment of all righteousness for all creation.  With this as his goal, the teaching of Jesus does indeed fully conform to the nature and purpose of the law and the prophet, as he claims in the closing verses of our reading (5:17-18):  gracious gift of God, fundamentally personal and inter-relational in character, meeting the needs of all creation, not a matter of abstract rules but rather grounded in the narrative of Israel’s experience with God that itself provides both guidance and encouragement for such action (For a description of these several aspects of Torah, see Terry E. Fretheim, God and World in the Old Testament. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2005, pp. 148 – 150). 

It is also shown, importantly we might add, to be highly consonant with the contemporary ecological understanding of life, which is likewise fundamentally inter-relational in character and meeting “the ‘creational need’ of nature. “

Stewarding your Church “Property” as an Earth Community

by David Rhoads

I recently participated in the spring convocation at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg (April, 2012). The convocation centered on the theme of “Getting Green Faithfully,” and it included such notable speakers as Gil Waldkoenig (Professor of Church in Society at Gettysburg), Cynthia Moe-Lobeda (Professor of Environmental Studies, Theology, and Religious Studies at Seattle University), and Fletcher Harper (Executive Director of GreenFaith). All of the lectures, workshops, and worship were meaningful and invigorating. I was challenged by all of them.

The reflections that follow were stimulated by Gil Waldkoenig—as a way to begin to extend his conceptual reflection on land use among churches with some practical suggestions. His lecture (see the Fall, 2012 Cross Currents issue devoted to eco-theology)  was called “From Commodity to Community: Churches and the Land They Own.” In this presentation, he challenged the ELCA “to affirm greening that has been taking root in its congregations, to reorient to creation, and to join the public efforts for environmental restoration and wilderness participation.” He outlined a number of steps to take as means to think ecologically and theologically about land that belongs to congregations (and other church organizations) and how that land might be assessed and stewarded in wise ways.

I want to begin by honoring the folks in every parish who serve on the committee that cares for the (building and) grounds. Often it is a thankless job, with hard work that needs to be done on a regular or seasonal basis—mowing, raking, shoveling, sowing, weeding, harvesting, trimming, clearing, cleaning, among many other things. Many of these folks have specialized skills and use them wisely in their commitment to their congregational vocation and their exercise of good stewardship. They see their work on the grounds of the church as a sacred trust, and they take pride in their work.

Generally speaking, however, we are all caught up in a treatment of land that comes from the culture rather than from our theological traditions. As Gil’s title suggests, we see our land as a commodity. We look at church “sites for development.” We consider its commercial value. We talk about “owning” the land, and we have “Property” Committees. We “maintain” the property based on various cultural values of attractiveness—which lead us often to treat the lawn with weed-killing toxins and to plant non-native trees and shrubbery based on appearance alone.

Now we need to “reorient” our views, as Gil says, in order to see ourselves as stewards of land that is God’s good Earth. In the biblical creation stories, God made the land and called it good before creating humans. Creation was valued for its own sake, apart from human use of it. God created humans last to exercise responsibility for Earth, and God commissioned humans “to serve and to protect” creation. Our Lutheran theology affirms the goodness of the material world. We claim that the movement of God is toward becoming incarnate in, with, and under creation. We consider God to be present and creating in an ongoing way by “working for good in all things.” As such, God is earthbound, and the Earth is filled with God’s glory. We Lutherans have a sacramental theology affirming that the “finite can bear the infinite.” Our sacraments witness to the conviction that since Christ is present in such ordinary elements as grapes and grain and water, then we can be sure that Christ is present everywhere—in all places, in all things, and on all occasions. And our theology claims that the Holy Spirit is the giver and sustainer of life.

The consequence of these convictions is that we see our church land and all living things that share this space together as sacred. Land is not simply the measured square footage with 8 inches of topsoil dirt. Land is not soil apart from the microbes, worms, grubs, beetles, that inhabit it, the trees, shrubs, flowers, and grasses that are rooted in it, the insects, birds, small mammals, and rodents sustained by it—including the humans who depend on the soil and on all that lives out of the soil for sustenance, beauty, and breath itself.  This is an Earth community, and we are part of it.

Because all of it is sacred, we who share this space are enjoined to treat the land of our congregations with reverence and to care for it in such a way that all of life thrives there. Our reverence for the land is the right basis for our use of that land. We need to have knowledge of the plants and animals on the land and to understand our impact on their habitat. We need to be aware of the impact of our choices on other humans, especially the vulnerable in our society and in the world. We need to understand the principles and actions of conservation and preservation. And we need to see our relationship with life around us as one of kinship and communion.

Furthermore, we are called to pray to God and give praise to God in accompaniment with the soil and the elm trees and the rhododendrons and the tulips and the grackles and the raccoons and the mice that share this land with us. Just as the Bible calls all living things to worship by thriving in their space, so too we are commanded to worship together with them: “Let all creation praise the Lord” or “All creation! Praise the Lord!” Such a reorientation in our relationship to life around us will lead us to echo the words of Jacob when he wrestled with the angel: “Surely God was in this place and I did not know it.” Now we know!

Gil affirms the importance of place when he lifts up the question God asks Adam and Eve in the garden: “Where are you?” Our answer to that question is this: Here we are—an integral and inextricable part of this garden Earth. Ecological thinking affirms such a reorientation toward the land. Everything is connected to and interrelated with everything else. We share a common heritage in the universe. We are all made up of stardust. We share similar DNA with other higher primates. We have an intimate communion of interrelationships with all things, whether we are aware of it or not.  Beyond our commonalities, each church community holds a particular time and place in this larger system of things. We can see ourselves and the life immediately around us as a small piece of Earth community in which we acknowledge ourselves as mammals and embrace our kinship with all other creatures. We can recognize our human dependence on the land for food and on the life of the land for oxygen that enables breath itself.

This perspective leaves us with a deep sense of place. The mandate is this:  Know the region of which you are a part, learn its geological and natural history, and understand how your land relates to and inter-acts with the larger terrain around and how it is part in the local watershed. Know the ecosystem of your church land—its native trees and other plants, the insects, birds and other small animals that share this sacred space with you. Draw on local experts to get an assessment of the land and soil and native species as a basis for making decisions that impact the land. Consider land use around the church in its urban, suburban or rural context. Be aware of the green spaces around you—or the lack of them! Assess your proximity to corporate or industrial processes that affect the land in your neighborhood and city.

This entire reorientation means that we are part of an Earth Community that shares our land together and that we know this land as the true sanctuary in which we gather and worship. One congregation includes pictures of trees and birds and small mammals from their land as part of their church directory of “members.” Another church took pictures of their trees, enlarged them, and framed them as artwork for the church—so that people would notice their trees as creations of beauty. Churches can cultivate an awareness of and a love for all things natural around them.

So what practical actions might a congregation take to show reverence for the land and all its flora and fauna and to serve and protect it with humility, gratitude, and grace? Here are some ideas to consider.

  1. Know your space: Learn all that you can about the land, its plants and animals, and its make-up and history.
  2. Preserve and restore the natural state of the land. Identify the native plants, and protect and nourish them. Planting trees or shrubs or flowers or grass for appearance sake alone does not foster the life of the native eco-system. A Japanese flowering tree draws virtually no native life to its vicinity. By contrast, Douglas Tallamy of the University of Delaware estimates that a native oak tree will attract 252 native species of insects, birds, mammals, rodents, and other plants!
  • Plant a prairie area: Many churches have taken a segment of their land and turned it into prairie. This requires careful planning and some maintenance, but it restores the land and reminds us that life will thrive everywhere when there are wild places somewhere.
  • Design a beautiful landscape of native trees, shrubs, flowers, and grass. This will create a rich eco-system to celebrate. Planting native does not mean that the results are wild or unruly looking. People thrive in the midst of natural beauty.
  • Plant appropriate trees to clean the air by absorbing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen.
  1. Serve and protect your lawn.There are many resources available to build an attractive lawn in Earth-friendly ways.
  • Native grasses will root deeper, stay longer, require less water, and need less mowing.
  • Avoid pesticides or herbicides or toxic weed killers
  • Learn and use Earth-friendly techniques of sowing and natural fertilizing for developing a healthy and attractive lawn.
  • Consider Earth-wise driveways and parking areas: Install permeable cover, use gravel, or space some islands of trees and drainage areas throughout the parking areas.
  1. Gardens
  • Vegetable garden. Practice organic gardening. Share produce with food pantries. Local movements that focus on food and gardening will provide plenty of master gardeners to teach you. Engage the entire congregation, the neighbors, and especially the youth in the garden work. Partner with a church that has little access to land. Where possible, plant seasonally. Even a small garden bears a witness to good land use. Treat the land with reverence so that it will be nourished and re-nourished. Let the land lie fallow every seven years!
  • Flower gardens of native species. To enhance beauty. For selling to raise money for a food bank or giving to shut-ins. To decorate the altar rather than getting flowers that have been shipped from a distance and preserved with refrigeration. Put potted flowers throughout the church.
  • Plant an orchard, small or large: A story goes that Martin Luther was once asked what he would do if he knew that the world would end tomorrow. He reportedly replied: Plant an apple tree.” Now there’s an investment in the future! Again, this is for the hunger needs in your community.
  • Roof top gardens: depending on your roof and access to it, consider rooftop gardens to make the most of the space and to moderate building temperatures in all seasons.
  • Container gardens. If you have unused blacktop, consider small plastic swimming pools or wood frame containers along with intense gardening techniques to give members or provide neighbors with a space to plant some food for their tables.
  • Greenhouses. Churches are beginning to extend their growing season and maximize their garden productivity with greenhouses.
  • Rain gardens: Rain gardens are small, strategically-placed areas (often near roof run-off) in which native plants with deep roots are clustered. They absorb water deep into the ground so that the water is cleansed by nature—rather than carrying toxins on the surface into the local watershed. Rain gardens also serve to minimize the accumulation of water in flood plains. Local environmental organizations or universities can assist in setting these up, providing plants, and even perhaps offering a grant.
  • Specialized natural spaces. Some churches have set up space with selected native plants to serve as a butterfly garden or as a way-station for certain migratory birds.
  • Peace garden. Many churches are setting up small or large peace gardens with lovely native trees and plants to form a kind of sanctuary with benches for small-group worship or personal meditation. Sometimes they include a labyrinth as a guided walking meditation.
  • Memorial garden. This may be a way to maintain a cemetery. Some churches have places for the burial of ashes or simply an inscribed brick or plaque to commemorate a loved one. Soon churches will be setting space aside for natural (green) burials.
  1. Best Practices.
  • Local foods. When you have coffee hour with healthy snacks and potlucks, seek to encourage the offering of fruit or dishes made from foods grown locally. These can sometimes be accompanied by recipes designed to encourage seasonal cooking with locally grown foods. Also, consider wine for communion from a regional winery and bread from grain grown in the area.
  • Compost. Some churches provide compost for their garden from lawn clippings, leaves, and food scraps. One church has a very large worm compost area for members to bring food scraps for composting.
  • Rain barrels. Rain barrels strategically placed under downspouts can collect a large amount of water for use on gardens and church lawns. They are not expensive and can be installed easily.
  • Church schools, kindergartens, child and adult day care programs. Incorporate and teach Earth-friendly perspectives and practices in the programs you sponsor as a congregation.
  1. Extend your commitment beyond church land
  • Farmers market: My own church has such a large garden that they began a farmers market, badly needed on our side of town. Now seven or more vendors come to our parking lot each Thursday afternoon in the summer months. In addition to selling produce, church members make baked good and crafts for sale. Much of the proceeds go to a food bank. Again, a farmers market encourages eating locally grown foods.
  • Community Supported Agriculture. Supporting local farmers and the eating of locally grown foods are both outcomes of the Community Supported Agriculture programs, which match individuals, cooperatives, and organizations with local farmers. Your church may serve as a weekly drop-off point.
  • Urban food production. Some churches are working together to transform vacant lots into community gardens, raising vegetables in an hydroponic context indoors, and raising fish in indoor pools.
  • Gardens and lawns at home. Sponsor classes or workshops for members and the local community that teach organic gardening for home gardens and lawn care. Develop a pledge for members to make—a “covenant with creation”—that solidifies their efforts to carry out best practices for their yards and gardens.
  • Local projects: Engage members with opportunities to restore natural habitats, carry out reforestation, or plant trees in the city. Support your community in becoming a Bird City or a Tree City. Cooperate with local environmental organizations in the effort to strengthen the Earth community in your larger neighborhood.
  • Avoid unnecessary waste in the local landfill. Reduce, reuse, and recycle as thoroughly as possible. Use ceramic plates and utensils or purchase ones that decompose (and do not discard them in sealed plastic garbage bags!) Avoid the use of toxic cleaning products in the church that will go into the landfill or watershed. Avoid use of or properly dispose of all dangerous products.
  • Throughout the ELCA. Work to extend the practices you have developed so that they may be used on the land of other organizations and institutions of the church—colleges and universities, outdoor ministry camps and retreat centers, social ministry organizations, synod offices, and so on.
  • Spread the word. As opportunities arise, let your commitments and practices be known throughout the larger community through news outlets and word of mouth.
  1. Land trust:Consider placing your property in a permanent land trust, whereby it will be preserved from development in perpetuity.
  2. Public Witness:
  • Local Advocacy: If your church or community is near mining industries or fracking sites or land development or agribusiness sites or logging or brown fields, consider leading or joining conversations or protests that work toward safe environmental practices. Be especially aware of the human cost in ecological injustice and environmental racism.
  • National advocacy: Connect your efforts to be good stewards of your land with efforts to support laws and policies that maintain national parks, preserve wilderness areas from development, protect endangered species, and support efforts on behalf of clean air, pure water, and fertile land.
  • Global advocacy. Become aware of the problems created on lands around the world from global climate change, degradation of land from agribusiness, stripping of rain forests, and use of toxic spray to enhance food production.
  • Places of moral deliberation: Where controversy exists, seek to have your congregation become a place where the issues can be discussed in respectful and constructive ways.
  1. Cultivate a relationship with nature. God made nature for God’s own delight. When we despoil nature, we diminish the capacity for nature to praise God by thriving. When we restore nature we magnify God’s pleasure.
  • Enhance health. A relationship with nature improves the health of mind, body, and soul. Blood pressure goes down, recovery from illness quickens, and depression can lift in the time spent in natural settings.  See a relationship with nature as part of the church’s ministry.
  • Enjoy nature. Love it for its own sake. Worship outside. Display a nature map of your land and make an inventory of all that is on it. Encourage members to learn the trees and plants so that they can appreciate them and worship with them. Have a naturalist give your members a walking tour around your land or your neighborhood.
  • Celebrate your gardening. With a sowing celebration in the spring and a harvest festival in the fall. Have a meal, provide activities, and invite the community. Raise funds and gifts of food for the poor.
  • Bring nature into the church building and the worship space. Trees and plants purify the air and delight the senses. Consider an aquarium or gerbil cages.
  • Go to local green spaces: organize outings to local nature preserves or parks or the zoo. Talk about your experience. Hold a council or congregational retreat in a natural setting.
  1. Learn about nature. Martin Luther said there were two books of revelation, the Bible and nature. In the 16thcentury reformation, Luther put the Bible into the hands of the laity. Now it is time to put nature into the hands of all of us.
  • Educational programs. Incorporate a relationship to the land in the educational program of the church for all ages: adult forums, Bible study, book groups, youth activities, and vacation church school.
  • Stewardship. Revise your vision of stewardship to see care for creation not as an add-on but as the larger conceptual framework in which all other stewardship takes place. Incorporate care of creation into annual stewardship programs.
  • Church library and reading groups. Stock the library with books and videos that explain our eco-systems on Earth and inspire us to action. See the list brief below.

In sum, we need the conceptual theological framework that teachers like Gil Waldkoenig are providing us as a theological basis for our care of the land. We also need some practical ideas to carry out the mandates that arise from such reflections. In all of this, the goal is to create an ethos of Earth-care embedded in the identity and mission of the whole congregation—such that members are able to say: “This is who we are. And this is what we do!”

Selected List of articles, books, and videos

See the article: “Means and Scenes of Grace” by Gilson Waldkoenig in Dialog: A Journal of Theology (Winter, 2011) http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1540-6385.2011.00633.x/abstract. The issue is dedicated to eco-theology and includes articles by Norma Wirzba, Christopher Chapple and Whitney Bauman. A follow-up article to “Scenes and Means,” tentatively entitled “From Commodity to Community: Churches and the Land They Own,” will appear in the forthcoming Cross Currents Fall 2012, which will also be dedicated to eco-theology.

Norman Habel, David Rhoads, and Paul Santmire. The Season of Creation: A Preaching Commentary (Fortress, 2011)

Ben Stewart, A Watered Garden: Christian Worship and Earth’s Ecology (Augsburg Fortress, 2011)

Douglas Tallamy. Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants [latest edition} (Timber Press, 2007).

Anthony Westin, Back to Earth: The Environmental Movement in the Twenty-first Century (Temple University Press, 1994).

Jeff Wild and Peter Bakken. Church on Earth: Grounding Your Ministry in a Sense of Place (Fortress, 2009).

Norman Wirzba. Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating (Cambridge University Press, 2011)

David Rhoads, ed. Earth and Word: Classic Sermons on Saving the Planet (Continuum, 2007). Contains a number of sermons directly dealing with our relationship with the land.

 “Dirt! The Movie.” Narrated by Jamie Lee Curtis, this movie explores the soil beneath our feet. Interviews with Wangari Maathai, Vandana Shiva, Wes Jackson, Alice Waters, Majora Carter, and others trace connections between dirt, food, community, spirituality, social justice, and environmental sustainability.

 “The Journey of the Universe” An epic story of cosmic, earth and Human transformation. For information, go to www.journeyoftheuniverse.org.

“Earthbound: Created and Called to Care for Creation” (2009).Earthbound is a six-part series on DVD that looks at Christians’ complex relationship with God’s creation. Many Lutheran voices and case studies of the greening of Lutheran Institutions.  The series is available from Seraphim Communications http://store.seracomm.com/.

“Urban Roots” (2011). Directed by Mark MacInnis, this film tells the uplifting story of dedicated and diverse citizens, allied with environmental and academic groups, who are reclaiming post-industrial Detroit by growing food and cultivating community.

Tools for Talking and Acting on Climate with Faith-based Language

Blessed Tomorrow’s Moving Forward Guide

ecoAmerica helps leaders from the local government, the public health sector, and faith-based cohorts figure out how to usher people into urgent action on climate change. This brief guide provides you with information and resources to reduce energy use, to build resilient houses of worship as refuges from a changing climate, and to encourage support for policies that better care for creation.

See especially the section: Roadmap to Clean Energy by 2030 for clarity on steps to make once your congregation affirms the need for urgent action.

Public Witness: from hand-wringing to actively loving neighbor

The 2019 ELCA Advocacy Convening (April 29 – May 1)  gathered over 100 lay and rostered  leaders to be trained as advocates. The theme: “Prepared to Care: Our Advocacy in Light of Disasters Intensified by Climate Change.” Below are some highlights as I, Phoebe Morad, experienced them. Thanks to those who support Lutherans Restoring Creation and help get our voice on the scene and for sharing this information and inspiration with your congregations and communities.

April 29th, after an 8 hour train ride from Boston: (The passenger next to me said I was taking the train such a long way to “make AOC happy,” but I said I was doing it for my kids.)

Opening worship at the glorious new space of St. Matthew’s in DC set the stage. This part had to include a bit of hand-wringing; admitting that we are full of fear and that it paralyzes us.  Director of ELCA’s Advocacy office, Amy Reumann shared that message of moving past fear in her sermon.  Washington D.C. April 2019 Service (great hymns and sample litanies)

During dinner together we heard from Lutherans across the country and globe dealing with fires, floods, immigration and agricultural devastation.  A disturbing collage of stories that are all magnified (if not caused) by a changing climate.  The positive take-away from that evening: with our combined forces of ELCA’s Global & Domestic Mission, Disaster Response, Advocacy, AND the people power in the congregations (go LRC Green Shepherds!)  we are uniquely poised to attack these issues on all fronts.

It was also terrific to have Bishop Elizabeth Eaton serve us communion as well. Photo: South Dakota Synod

 

April 30th, day two, of our training was focused on forcing ourselves into other people’s shoes.  How do we talk to people who think differently, have difference perspectives/priorities? Ani Fete-Crews from ecoAmerica’s Blessed Tomorrow’s presentation on 15 Steps to Effectively Talk about Climate utilizes current statistics about what people actually hear (which isn’t always what you say).   Time spent learning and practicing Talanoa Dialogue offered a tool for church leaders to bring back to communities with disparate views and learn how to listen to one another and find common solutions.  Hearing from pivotal leaders from island nations surrounded by the threat of rising seas and our neighbors to the South fleeing from long-term drought made the current impacts on our neighbors very real.

Her Excellency Dr. Thelma Phillip-Browne shares her concept of LIGHT from Saint Kitts & Nevis.
Conflict is not what many flee from in Nicaragua… a valley of drought for over a decade pushes families to find food.

The last day (May 1) of the convening we started out at a Mexican restaurant for (an awesome breakfast) and to be officially sent into the world – specifically to ASK our elected officials to consider the human toll of climate change.  What exactly did we ask for? Download the 2019 Advocacy Ask here which led us in conversation with our public servants.

Photo credit: Hunger Network-Ohio “Food security is tied directly to the environment and natural disaster. Droughts around the globe have led to conflict and our polluted waterways make the water impossible to drink. The Hunger Network is #Preparedtocare with ELCA Advocacy as we stormed Capitol Hill to meet with our Senators and Representatives to talk climate changes impact on our most vulnerable communities impacted by natural disaster.”

 

The energy was palpable in the ELCA DC Advocacy office as cohorts came/went to the Hill, and, it felt like  – at least for a day – we were being heard.  Bumping into other Lutherans among the offices and around the Capital was a thrill (maybe because I’m a public policy nerd).  However, the reality of complex conversations and endurance needed for collaborative work hung in the air after hours of meetings.  It was quite a refreshment to then be invited to a vibrant, grassroots reception in an inner-city church basement. With dozens of partner organizations invited to the Interfaith Power & Light’s event, we could be restored in each other’s company and be inspired by one church acting as a beacon of hope in the city.  Reformation Lutheran Church was a not only a host to this rejuvenating event, but also invited us to transformational experience called the Healing Blanket Exercise, facilitated by Prairie Rose Seminole,  ELCA’s American Indian Alaska Native Program Director.

Rooftop party with solar panels, the ELCA Advocacy Director of Energy and Corporate Responsibility and Rev. Mike Wilker.

In a contrast to the “bottom-up” mentality of the evening before, May 2nd offered a very hopeful glimpse of what is happening from the “top-down”.  Fortunately, our grassroots movement is in partnership with ecoAmerica which connects leaders from the health, policy, and religious realms so that we can leverage each other’s assets. There are MANY vignettes I would be happy to share in our next Connections Call, but if you can take the time to explore the recording below please do. Rep. Whitehouse (Dem-RI) shared a very clear understanding of what is the hold-up in his “habitat,” Dr.  Gail Christopher shared a staggering account of the impacts on health care costs, and Rev. Dorhauer talks about privilege as an impediment to the church.  If nothing else, let Shantha Ready-Alonso lead you through a guided visualization of why any of us do this work (start at minute 15 below).

Thanks again so much for being a part of this movement and helping ensure the concerns, efforts, and strengths that come from the Caring for Creation ministries within the ELCA are heard.  Meeting with leadership from all sectors of our church in person and focused on the urgent issues of climate was more effective than dozens of conference calls and hundreds of emails.  I returned home (via train of course) with a full plate of next steps and a full heart of hope.  

Voices from the ELCA – Caring for Creation Today

God’s work. Our hands. from ecoAmerica on Vimeo.

ELCA churches across the country are working to serve our neighbors and to ensure that how we live does not harm others, including those yet to be born, vulnerable populations, and even life other than human.  We have an ELCA Social Statement written over 25 years ago on the topic, but how do we live that out?  The compilation of voices above give some examples, but it is clear we need to do more.  Lutherans Restoring Creation can help you determine what next steps your congregation can make. Click here for a Step by Step guide to begin work now from your pulpit, pews, and personal life.

Transportation: “On the Way” Bible Study

Opening Prayer: Gracious God, we have gathered here from many places. Thank you for safe travels. Bless this time together. Amen.

Introductory discussion: Much of Jesus’ ministry took place on the way from one place to another. Thus, transportation is an important aspect of the Gospel stories.

What might inhibit us from thinking about transportation as an opportunity for living out our faith? (Isolation in cars? Transportation as simply a means of getting from here to there? Competition for road space? Stresses of traffic? “Road rage”? Etc.)

Reading and discussion: Read Luke 24:13-32 (The Road to Emmaus).

Why do you think the disciples fail to recognize Jesus?

What does it mean to meet Jesus on the way from place to place?

How can we understand the meaning of this story in light of car culture?

Reading and discussion: Read Luke 10:29-37 (The Good Samaritan). Jesus regularly taught with parables like this one.

Why do you think the priest and the Levite neglected to help the suffering man? (On the way to an important engagement? No time to spare? Social expectations?)

How can we understand the meaning of this story in light of car culture? How might we identify the neighbor given current transportation habits?

Reflection: What would it take to be faithful on the way from place to place?

How might we reconsider our transportation habits to provide for more opportunities to encounter Christ, to encounter the neighbor?

Do we have nonhuman neighbors? How does our mode of transportation affect how we encounter them?

Closing Prayer: Gracious God, we thank you for your vast creation, of which we are a part. Hold your creation in mercy and love. Amen.

 

 

Metro NY Synod Resolution on Energy Stewardship (2010)

A Resolution on Energy Stewardship – Metro NY Synod

Whereas, we in the industrialized world are consuming energy and Earth’s resources in a way that is both unsustainable in the future and unfair to those in the developing world; and there are disturbing scientific reports of environmental degradation, global climate change, a record rate of species extinction, and a depletion of non-renewable resources that should give us pause; and

Whereas, human activity, especially the over-consumption of energy and resources, appears to be a critical driver in these changes in climate and environmental distress, both causing harm to God’s creation and exacerbating already difficult situations for millions living with poverty and hunger, as weather extremes such as flood and drought increase; and

Whereas, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, recognizing the gravity of these threats, has long been committed to addressing environmental issues as part of our call to justice, sustainability, and solidarity with affected communities and, along with our partners in the Lutheran World Federation and Lutheran World Relief, committed to working to alleviate hunger, poverty, and unsustainable living conditions globally; therefore, be it

RESOLVED, that the congregations, administrative offices, and outdoor ministry facilities of this synod be encouraged to offer a public witness of energy stewardship by: (1) Measuring the greenhouse gas emissions (i.e., “carbon footprint”) of the facilities they own, to establish a baseline starting point; and (2) With the guidance of the synod’s Environmental Stewardship Committee [see Addendum to this resolution], conduct an energy audit to determine what options there are for reducing energy use; and (3) Make a commitment to decrease their carbon footprint by a certain percentage over a specified period of time through energy conservation, efficiency, or clean energy measures; and be it further

RESOLVED, that the congregations, administrative offices, and outdoor ministry facilities of this synod be invited to share this information with the Environmental Stewardship Committee, synod office and, where applicable, on ELCA congregational reporting forms, and subsequently also share what energy-saving steps were taken, and what measurable energy savings have been realized, as evidenced in a lower carbon footprint measurement; and be it further

RESOLVED, that this synod memorialize the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America at its 2011 Churchwide Assembly to challenge all expressions of the ELCA to reduce their energy-related greenhouse gas emissions by at least 5 percent per year with the ultimate goal of reducing these emissions 25-40 percent by 2020, and to share this commitment and steps taken to achieve it in a public way in official publications and communication channels of this church.

—Submitted by the Environmental Stewardship Committee of the Metro New York Synod

Committee Recommendation: Reference and Counsel recommends adoption of this Resolution.

Approved unanimously May 14, 2010

Resolution on Caring for Creation: North/West Lower MI Synod in Assembly 2004

WHEREAS, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America adopted the social statement “Caring for Creation: Vision, Hope, and Justice” by a more than two-thirds majority at its third Churchwide Assembly on August 28, 1993 in Kansas City, Missouri; and

WHEREAS, the 1993 Social Statement:

1) Offers a vision of God’s intention for creation and for humanity as creation’s caregivers;

2) Provides a solid biblical, ethical, and theological rationale for caring for God’s creation;

3) Acknowledges humanity’s separation from God and from the rest of creation as the central cause of environmental crises;

4) Recognizes the severity of current environmental crises; and

5) Expresses hope while calling the church to effective action on behalf of restoring and protecting the integrity of creation; and

WHEREAS, there is currently only one churchwide full-time staff person to address both environmental education and advocacy; and

WHEREAS, a Churchwide consultation, convened in November 2003 on the tenth anniversary of the “Caring for Creation” social statement, urged the ELCA through its congregations, synods, Churchwide organization, and institutions to strengthen its resolve to implement faithfully the commitments that it made in the social statement in 1993;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the North/West Lower Michigan Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in Assembly commends the “Caring for Creation” social statement and its subsequent implementation strategies recommended by the 2003 consultation, available on the ELCA’s Division for Church in Society website, to our congregations for prayerful review, study, and action;

AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that this Synod memorialize the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Assembly 2005 to offer increased attention and support to both churchwide and synodical programs and ministries for environmental education and advocacy, so that this church might more faithfully carry out the vision, hope, and justice goals of the 1993 statement.

Resolution on Caring for Creation

Approved – North/West Lower MI Synod in Assembly

May 14-16, 2004

Evangelical Lutheran leaders argue for Ohio energy efficiency and renewable energy

The president of a major Lutheran seminary and one of the three bishops overseeing the 550 Ohio congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America are opposing a bill that would stall efficiency programs and the further growth of wind and solar power mandated since 2009. [Read More]

Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change

Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change by Elizabeth Kolbert (New York: Bloomsbury, 2006)
Long known for her insightful and thought-provoking political journalism, author Elizabeth Kolbert now tackles the controversial and increasingly urgent subject of global warming. In what began as groundbreaking three-part series in the New Yorker, for which she won a National Magazine Award in 2006, Kolbert cuts through the competing rhetoric and political agendas to elucidate for Americans what is really going on with the global environment and asks what, if anything, can be done to save our planet.

Now updated and with a new afterword, Field Notes from a Catastrophe is the book to read on the defining issue and greatest challenge of our times.

Last Chance: Preserving Life on Earth

Last Chance: Preserving Life on Earth by Larry Schweiger of the national Wildlife Federation (Golden, CO: Fulcrum Publishing, 2009).

“This is an unabashed call to each and every American to moral duty for the future of life on earth,” begins National Wildlife Federation president and CEO Larry J. Schweiger in this stirring exposé and call to action. Speaking to us not just as a conservation leader but also as an outdoor lover and a parent, Schweiger describes the causes and effects of global warming on our wildlife, ecosystems, and human life as we know it.

Forecast: The Consequences of Global Climate Change, from the Amazon to the Arctic, From Darfur to Napa Valley

Forecast: The Consequences of Global Climate Change, from the Amazon to the Arctic, From Darfur to Napa Valley by Stephen Faris (New York: Henry Holt, 2009).

A vivid and illuminating portrayal of the surprising ways that climate change will affect the world in the near future—politically, economically, and culturally

While reporting just outside of Darfur, Stephan Faris discovered that climate change was at the root of that conflict, and began to wonder what current and impending—and largely unanticipated—crises such changes have in store for the world.

Forecast provides the answers.

An Inconvenient Truth: The Planetary Emergence of Global Warming and What We Can Do About It

An Inconvenient Truth: The Planetary Emergence of Global Warming and What We Can Do About It by Al Gore Emmaus, PA: Rodale, 2008).

An Inconvenient Truth—Gore’s groundbreaking, battle cry of a follow-up to the bestselling Earth in the Balance—is being published to tie in with a documentary film of the same name. Both the book and film were inspired by a series of multimedia presentations on global warming that Gore created and delivers to groups around the world. With this book, Gore, who is one of our environmental heroes—and a leading expert—brings together leading-edge research from top scientists around the world; photographs, charts, and other illustrations; and personal anecdotes and observations to document the fast pace and wide scope of global warming

Climate Change Begins at Home: Life on the Two-Way Street of Global Warming

Climate Change Begins at Home: Life on the Two-Way Street of Global Warming by David Reay (New York: MacMillan, 2005).

Packed with provocative case studies, calculations and lifestyle comparisons, this entertaining and authoritative book makes the complexities of climatology understandable and challenges readers to rethink their notions of ‘doing their bit’. The paperback edition features a new preface from Mark Lynas, author of High Tide: News From a Warming World

Green Living: The E Magazine Handbook for Living Lightly on the Earth

Green Living: The E Magazine Handbook for Living Lightly on the Earth (New York: Penguin, 2005)

Knowledge of environmental issues and sustainability is increasingly important as industrialization and climate change continue to wreak havoc on our ecosystems and our psyche. As temperatures rise—and icecaps shrink and storms lash our coastal areas into oblivion—being smart about carbon footprints, waste streams and consumer choices becomes increasingly important for all of us.

Green Living, from the award-winning editors of E: The Environmental Magazine, offers a thorough, step-by-step plan for every making aspect of your life earth-friendly, from the laundry room to the kitchen.

10-Minute Energy Saving Secrets: 250 Easy Ways to Save Big Bucks Year Round

10-Minute Energy Saving Secrets: 250 Easy Ways to Save Big Bucks Year Round, by Jerri Farris (Gloucester: Fair Winds, 2005)

Energy bills are going to be sky-high this year –that is, unless you are prepared! 10-Minute Energy Saving Tips will arm you with hundreds of easy, innovative ways to cut your heating bills (and your cooling bills next summer!).

A New Climate for Theology: God, the World, and Global Warming

A New Climate for Theology: God, the World, and Global Warming by Sallie McFague (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008).

A New Climate for Theology not only traces the distorted notion of unlimited desire that fuels our market system; it also paints an alternative idea of what being human means and what a just and sustainable economy might mean. Convincing, specific, and wise, McFague argues for an alternative economic order and for our relational identity as part of an unfolding universe that expresses divine love and human freedom. It is a view that can inspire real change, an altered lifestyle, and a form of Christian discipleship and desire appropriate to who we really are.

A Moral Climate: The Ethics of Global Warming

A Moral Climate: The Ethics of Global Warming by Michael Northcott (Maryknoll: Orbis, 2005).

In this groundbreaking book Northcott examines theological attitudes to climate change, from the complacent to the apocalyptic, and the ethical implications for all Christians.

Christianity, Climate Change, and Sustainable Living

Christianity, Climate Change, and Sustainable Living by Nick Spencer, Robert White, and Virginia Vroblesky (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2009).

Amounts and patterns of consumption and production in the West have reached a level that cannot be maintained. Lifestyles based on our present way of creating and using energy are no longer environmentally sustainable – and are threatening the health and well-being of both planet and people. Our activities and the policies that shape them need to change. In light of those realities, Spencer, White, and Vroblesky offer serious Christian engagement with the emerging issue of Sustainable Consumption and Production. They analyze the scientific, sociological, economic, and theological thinking that makes a Christian response to these trends imperative and distinctive. And they offer a practical conclusions that explore and explain what can be done at the personal, community, national, and international levels to ensure that next generations will have the resources necessary for life. Firmly rooted in the good news of the Christian faith, this is, above all, a constructive and hopeful book that offers a realistic vision of what the future could and should look like.