The Bible and ecology

by George Clifford

Reflecting on forty years of preaching, I realized that the content of my sermons has changed in several ways. One of the most important changes is that I talk less about experiencing the divine presence in and through nature and more about human responsibility for the natural world. Four theses influenced my homiletical shift.

First, God created the world and thought it good. This thesis is basic Christian theology. Yet, too often Christians (like me) have only paid it lip service. Scripture, tradition, and reason agree that any creation of a good God would possess an inherent goodness and value. Consequently, all nature—whether alive or not—is both good and valuable.

This thesis complements my prior homiletic emphasis on natural revelation. Emphasizing natural revelation does not preclude highlighting nature's goodness and value, but my earlier thinking, preaching, and teaching seldom explicitly addressed those ideas. Instead, I tended to speak of the earth and cosmos as a means of revelation (that is, an instrumental good) ignoring that they also possessed an inherent goodness in their own right.

Second and a corollary of my first thesis, when God delegated dominion over nature to humans, God appointed humans as God's stewards. God thereby entrusted us to act on God's behalf in caring for and preserving nature. I consciously reject the notion that this delegation of authority justifies the unlimited exploitation, perhaps even destruction, of nature. Polluting rivers so badly that they burn (an obviously unnatural condition that happened with the Cuyahoga River more than a dozen times since 1868), air to become so foul that it causes severe respiratory problems for creatures (including humans) whose very life depends upon breathing, and extirpating species at an unprecedented rate is both sinful and indisputably bad stewardship. Even as a youth, while cherishing Maine's scenic beauty that surrounded my home I keenly felt the irony of living less than half a mile from one of the nation's ten most polluted rivers.

The prevalent first century Palestinian concept of stewardship, the concept of stewardship that Jesus presumably had in mind when he talked about stewards and stewardship, presumed that a steward had a right to draw a living from the assets that the owner had entrusted to the steward's care. In other words, good stewardship is prima facie compatible with the general principle of using nature to sustain and to enrich human life. However, this prerogative does not mean that humans have an unfettered, unlimited, unilateral claim to the earth and all that dwell thereon. A good steward cares for and preserves the assets the owner has entrusted to the steward.

The greater the analytical granularity, the less certain are our moral judgments about what good stewardship requires, permits, and prohibits. For example, Christians divide over whether good stewardship of God's valued creation enjoins, allows, or bans humans from eating animal flesh. Instead of wasting time and energy attempting to transform religious resources into pseudo-scientific sources, or to seek uniformity in the midst of ambiguity and uncertainty, Christian communities can more profitably anticipate, encourage, and benefit from discussions of diverse opinions about the specifics of stewardship.

Third, the biblical concept of stewardship presumes a covenantal relationship between God and humans. In that covenant, God both delegates responsibility for stewardship of the earth to humans and commits to joining with humans in caring for and preserving nature. I am hopefully optimistic about the earth's future primarily because of God's involvement and secondarily because I think that humans will eventually fulfill their stewardship responsibilities with the requisite wisdom, commitment, and perseverance. Incidentally, covenant engagement with God as earth's stewards constitutes an initial step toward reclaiming an essential ethical principle that the Church too often has marginalized by equating stewardship with giving God gifts of treasure (and sometimes time and talent) in the annual pledge campaign.

Richard Niebuhr's succinct summary of the purpose of the Church and its ministry (to promote the love of God and neighbor) has shaped my ministry. Connecting the purpose of the Church and its ministry to the principle of stewardship begins to identify loving God and neighbor with practical steps. Good stewards of the resources entrusted to their care (time, talent, treasure, and the earth itself) seek to promote the love of God and neighbor in the most efficient and effective ways possible. Efficient denotes using the fewest resources to achieve a specific goal; effective denotes achieving the goals likely to produce the greatest gains. The criteria of efficiency and effectiveness are one of way using human reason, in light of scripture and tradition, to discern God's calling. These criteria advantageously offer more practical, and potentially more reliable, heuristics for discerning God's will than do alternatives such as taking the first opportunity that presents itself, doing what feels right or appears appealing, etc. Efforts count, but so do results.

Finally, I consciously situate this stewardship ethic within the context of ecological science, because science is the only reliable lens for understanding earth's condition and the dynamics that affect it. Unlike religion, science proceeds by articulating a theory, testing the theory's reliability and validity, and then revising the theory as appropriate. For example, science alone provides the best prognostication about the amount of water that humans can annually draw from an aquifer without depleting it. Astrology, crystal balls, and prayer are no help in answering such questions. The Bible, ethics, and theology are completely silent on these topics. Instead, religious and spiritual resources, unlike science, point to the mysterious author of existence (the Creator God), offer value judgments (nature is good), and call/motivate people to be good stewards of this earth, "our fragile island home."

Indeed, ecology's capacity to illuminate potentially efficient and effective ways in which human stewards can best fulfill their covenantal responsibility to care for and preserve the earth is a vital dialectical intersection between science and religion. More broadly, the rapidly accumulating scientific evidence about the earth's deteriorating condition and diminishing capacity to support life underscores the urgency of this dialogue. Additionally, Christian scientists and activists concerned about earth's well-being have repeatedly told me that our political leaders not only welcome, but particularly listen, when people of faith speak out about ways in which we can better care for and preserve the earth.

Thus, I now intentionally and consistently strive to weave these four themes into my ministry:
(1) God created and values all nature;
(2) God appointed us stewards of the earth and all that dwell thereon;
(3) God assists us in fulfilling that stewardship;
(4) Ecological science identifies ways in which we can be good stewards by most efficiently and effectively caring for and preserving the earth.
These themes have opened the windows of familiar scripture texts in fresh ways, allowing God's light to shine with unexpected intensity and clarity.


George Clifford is an ethicist and Priest Associate at the Church of the Nativity, Raleigh, NC. He retired from the Navy after serving as a chaplain for twenty-four years, has written Charting a Theological Confluence: Theology and Interfaith Relations and Forging Swords into Plows: A Twenty-First Century Christian Perspective on War, and blogs at Ethical Musings.

Urban stewardship: an incarnational approach

by Sarah Raven

I was taken aback when I recently posted a comment on Facebook about being a steward over the earth and a fellow Christian remarked that I was trying to redefine “stewardship”. Stewardship as a concept often comes up in our churches and people offer a variety of definitions for this term. One might hear a sermon about being a “good steward of God’s creation” in church on Sunday and the theme of said sermon could be about environmental protection, loving one another, or perhaps more often; tithing. A steward could be an employee on a ship, train or plane, someone who is the financial advisor for an estate, or the person appointed to care for an entire household. Simply put, to be a steward means to take care of what has been entrusted to us. When talking about sustainability and our collective responsibility to the environment, I do not believe that it is a stretch to talk about stewardship. As Roman Catholic priest Fr. Robert Sirico points out in his forward to Environmental Stewardship in the Judeo-Christian Tradition, the creation account found in Genesis reflects the nature of the relationship between humanity and God’s creation.

Genesis presents a radically different picture of how the world is put together. In this account, God is the source of all values-in truth, he is the source of everything, calling it into being out of nothing by his powerful word. Man is part of this order essentially and, what is more, by the virtue of his created nature is placed at the head of creation at its steward. Yet this stewardship can never be arbitrary or anthropocentric, as the old canard goes, for this notion implies that man rules creation in God’s stead and must do so according to his divine will (Sirico, R. 2007)
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Father Sirico’s assertion begs the question, “If humans are only to look after God’s creation according to God’s divine will, how can we discern the will of God with respect to our environment?”

If you expected that I would attempt to answer that question, you are giving me far too much credit! After talking to Fr. Robert Hendrickson (Missioner of Ascension Church, Curate at Christ Church New Haven) I realized that if we believe that money, plants, and animals are entrusted in our care, then we must have responsibility for the milk we consume that comes from animals. If we are responsible for the milk, then we must be responsible for the used container. Now, holding the container we face a commonplace yet critical choice. The fact that we often do not see this as a critical choice reflects our inability to seriously wrestle with the question of divine will and our environment.

I would argue that the divine will as described in Genesis urges us to ensure a sustainable environment for all life on the planet and future generations. Stewardship and sustainability are intimately connected in the life of the church. We are urged to bring a percentage of our financial trust back to God during annual stewardship campaigns. Simultaneously, we should be thinking about our organic trust, the very planet on which we live, breathe, and take our last breath.

As humans across the globe are increasingly flocking to urban centers, urban stewardship is on the hearts and minds of many. But how do we Christians who live in cities and inner cities, connect our story to a text filled with agrarian and pastoral images? How do we encourage urban sustainability or remain confident that it is within God’s will, when the bible is replete with stories of cities being damned, cursed, or utterly destroyed? I think the answer to this, lies in humanity itself. In our society there is an economy of worth that is too often applied to the value of human beings. How much a person can contribute to society by working and paying taxes is counted, measured, and categorized. We often find people in urban environments being discounted. Every once in a while a “rags to riches” story catches the American imagination where a once downtrodden individual has some undiscovered talent and becomes “valuable” overnight. We know that these children of God were always valuable, always precious in God’s sight. Priceless in fact, because each one of us bears the imago dei, and reflects God’s very image wherever we go. As Father David Cobb asserted, the promise of the carpenter from lowly birth who became our king and savior, is that even when humans mistake the true value of what we see; God, in the person of Christ knows our true worth.

People are sometimes over-looked as we walk briskly on our way to work; rarely pausing to acknowledge one another. It is no surprise then that plants, animals, and inanimate things often get tossed about it our cities as if they have little value. When I worked in downtown New Haven I would often walk to work instead of taking the bus. On one of these wayfaring voyages, I stopped for a second by a trash can on the sidewalk and noticed a bright-copper contraption sitting on the very top of the bin. I picked it up by the hook on its apex and immediately was drawn to this odd double-helix shaped piece of metal refuse. When I looked at this rescued item, I did not see a piece of garbage; I saw a world of possibilities. My first thought was to turn it into a wind-chime, then I thought I might keep it as it was and just patch up the few spots of rust. I proudly walked to work having hooked my shiny discovery on the outside of my coat pocket. It was not long until I generated inquisitive stares and even shouts from people I passed.

“Nice earring!”

“What is that thing?”

“What are you going to do with that?”

I was both amused and confused as to why my simple act of municipal waste defiance was causing such a stir. By the time I arrived at work I had made the decision to give my found treasure away to the administrative assistant.

“This is awesome!” She proclaimed. “It goes perfectly with my new lamp!”

I did not realize it that day, but this simple act of recycling that brightened my co-worker’s day, would help to solidify my determination to listen even closer to God’s still small voice, and to take very seriously the call to urban stewardship.


Sarah Raven is program director of GARLiC and graduated from the Iliff School of Theology in 2011, with a concentration in Anglican Studies. After graduating from Iliff, Sarah moved to the Hill neighborhood in New Haven and completed an internship with Christ Church at St. Hilda’s House and is now a member of the Ascension House intentional community.

Rio+20: is this the future we want?

by Luiz Coelho

I remember “attending” Eco-92, the first United Nations Environment-related summit in Rio. I was only a child in 1992, but took part of several activities available at the People's Summit: a big showcase of NGOs and major institutions that took place in Flamengo Park while world leaders discussed the future of the planet in special plenaries on the other side of the city. It was a moment of great excitement for Cariocas (those who were born in Rio). After years of decadence, the city known as some sort of hidden paradise where colonial architecture, forests and beaches lived next to high crime and sprawling slums had been picked to host a major international event. There was also a sense of hope for the planet. So many world leaders were here, discussing about what could be done to save nature from human activity and make sure that future generations would be able to respect and care for the Environment.

Of course a lot has changed. Eco-92 was the first of a series of successful events that turned Rio into a “global city”. It is not clear if such megaevents brought real growth to the city, which led to the reduction of some of Rio's major problems or if the fact they had been scheduled meant that some action had to be taken, otherwise the city would not be profitable for those who are investing in it. One thing can be said though. This is now Rio Inc., the “corporation city” marketed as the place to be, to build, to party and to do business. It competes to show it's the best in everything. Unfortunatley, its social problems are still there. Slums still exist. They continue to be plagued by poverty and crime, and they fail to get proper reurbanization, especially in those slums far away from rich, touristic neighborhoods.

Rio+20 is also a different matter. The sense of hope many had back in 1992 is gone. After so many years of endless talks, boycotted agreements, empty documents and unsuccessful round tables, there is less hope in possible change for the planet. For Rio+20, key concepts were “sustainable development” and “green economy”. In practice, both presuppose an inherent ability of exploiting natural resources and using the environment at will. The only difference is that enough should be saved so next generations will be able to do the same. In other words, it's “business as usual”, albeit with a certain concern for our fragile planet. Too little, too few.

But even this mild concept often gets corrupted. The lack of precise definitions and international agreements on the meanings of concepts like those mean that not rarely services, products, policies and certifications labeled as “green” rely only partially on renewable resources or presuppose a mere reduction on the emission of pollutants, among other measures that do not nearly mitigate the problems that endanger our planet. This is often known as “greenwashing”.

So it is not a big surprise to realize Rio+20 issued a final document that lacks concrete objectives and is regarded as weak in many aspects. The model that is presented to us still relies on an old order of growth mostly economically measured, reliance on big corporations’ good behavior and minor changes in conventional consumption patterns. Such patterns are gradually including more and more people from countries under development, as they become part of a global, consumeristic society. This is actually seen as good, and as a proof of poverty reduction. “Leaving poverty” is a concept often associated with “having purchasing power”.

Real change requires us to rethink this whole model by reducing our consumption of natural resources, decreasing the expenditure of energy and relying more on local, natural and seasonal food sources, among several other measures that would invariably break the conventional order of big corporations and governments competing for global dominance. The difficulty of implementing bolder measures is that the powers of this world are never willing to cede. After all, we are experiencing corporation-cities, corporation-states, corporation-regions and corporation-countries: all competing to showcase they are better, more interesting, more attractive and more desirable for the economic powers of the world. At Rio+20, I was able to learn about several wonderful initiatives that intend to restore environmental enconomic justice to governments' agendas. Unfortunately, most of the bolder initiatives do not get past the decision-making process. The sad reality is that environmental policies are dependent on a series of factors that go beyond basic ideals of justice and fraternity.

Which is why the Church must have an active voice in promoting change and preserving this world for future generations. First, because all natural beauties that surround us are God's creation and we must be their stewards. As Anglicans, we have in fact reiterated this concept in several documents and, most importantly, as one of the five marks of mission. But also, as a universal Church (and this applies even more to Communions like ours), we possess an ability of communicating and exerting pressure that goes across local, regional or national borders. The Church Catholic can, and must be an active partner in sponsoring ethical initiatives that help promote socio-environmental balance in this even more unequal world.

Rio+20 has shown there is a clear limit on how much the powers of this world can, and will do. But as Christians, we trust that there is a Kingdom that goes beyond local divisions that make no sense in the heart of God. We are all citizens of this Kingdom. It's up to us to cooperate with God as we mobilize and work for a better world. But how can we be effective if our churches – both on the local and wider levels – still promote (or tacitly condone) consumerism, greed, unfair competition, unethical divertments and other practices contrary to a Gospel that must be preached to every creature. It is time to boldly proclaim this Gospel, and to act once for all as a body of people committed to making sacrificial changes that will require us to consume less, spend our money more wisely and take part together as an effective partner in decision-making discussions by placing values such as justice and dignity above economic interests. It has never been so necessary to act local and also act global. Or, should I say: act local and act catholic?

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Luiz Coelho is a Brazilian Geomatics Engineer, with a MSc in Informatics applied to Environmental Sciences and is pursuing a PhD in Urban and Regional Planning, who currently works as an auditor of environmental and urban planning policies for the Municipality of Rio de Janeiro. He is also a candidate to Holy Orders and was able to attend Rio+20 both representing his job and as an Anglican Christian. His personal website is Luiz Coelho

The hummingbirds of public life

By Marshall Scott

This has been a hard summer. It has been the hottest summer of recent, and perhaps not so recent, memory. The gardens have suffered, both at church and at home. With a blessing and a little water we’ll get zucchini and crookneck squash, and perhaps a few watermelons in the church garden. The bush beans will survive, as will the poblanos and the sweet peppers. On the other hand, cucumber beetles have brought wilt, not only to the cucumbers, but to the musk melons.

Trying to get the most out of the church garden has meant the garden at home has been neglected. Beans and butternuts are doing well, and I have hope for my hot peppers; but the squirrels got more peaches, and the robins more blueberries, than we did.

The heat has been hard enough on the plants themselves, but it’s also been harder on us. However great the commitment, when the temperature is approaching 90 degrees, and the “misery index” 100 by 9:00 a.m, the most intrepid of us are as wilted as the cucumbers, and at greater risk. It has been a hard summer for the garden and the gardeners.

And life goes on. The best evidence is around two glass cylinders hanging in the back yard. They are hummingbird feeders. They have been up for a while, although it’s been too early for many hummingbirds. We thought we might see a few migrants early, or perhaps an individual strayed from a nest. But while we’ve waited, the feeders have still been busy. We have been feeding The Sisters. “The Sisters” is our family term for social insects we encounter. Right now, it’s honeybees. We’re happy to have them, of course. Despite the heat the beans and peppers are blooming. On top of that, we think – we hope at least – that we’re sustaining a hive in a time when colony collapse is taking too many.

And now the hummingbirds are starting to arrive. We have seen two. If this summer is like the last two, we’ll have three, four, even five at a time. We will hear the hum and see flashes of green and red – and go through an awful lot of sugar.

What we find most dramatic about the hummers, at least in our back yard, is their aerial combat. It’s easy to see why the Aztecs identified their god of war with hummingbirds. They are territorial, and will fight one another with a ferocity that might seem shocking in so small and bright a creature. In our presence two have collided in midair with a thump we could hear ten feet away. We have seen one hummer drive another to the ground from eight feet in the air.

What is striking about this is that they appear to be territorial for its own sake. I don’t really mean that they have a concept of “territory.” It’s just that they’re not territorial for any of the reasons we expect. There is more than enough food to go around. By the time it’s all over, we may have four feeders out, feeders that we’ll fill every day if we need to. There are also the beans and the peppers. Their young have already fledged, and so they’re not protecting nests. Anyway, we’re too far from the streams where they nest.

No, more than anything else it seems that they can’t stand one another’s company, at least when they’re not breeding, and they want control of their space and its resources. They will stake out territory and spend great amounts of energy – energy that is surely precious to a creature that lives so fast! – to keep others away. It’s not about a functional need, at least not one visible in my own back yard. It’s just instinctual.

I could wish, I suppose, that we had that excuse, we humans. We are quite prepared to stake out territories of our own, territories based not on perceived need but on an assertion of rights or of rightness. And when we do, we are also prepared to defend them fiercely, even at the expense of resources that we know we could better use in other ways.

Look at all the recent unpleasantness in our own government. I find it fun (if not perfectly apt) to think of our members of Congress, and especially in the House of Representatives, like hummingbirds. Granted, some are flashier than others. However, they are, as a class, creatures focused intensely on a short season – from one election to the next. And all too many seem to have staked out “territories” in the “marketplace of ideas” (not to mention the territories of their own offices), territories that they defend as if there were no tomorrow, and not enough of today to go around. When I think about it, I can identify with Paul in Romans 9 when he expresses his despair: “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people,* my kindred according to the flesh.” (Romans 9:2-3)

After all, these are my representatives. I know I didn’t vote in each election, or even vote for all of those who officially represent me and my district and my state. Still, I am within the real territory, the geographic and not the ideological territory, that they have been elected to represent.

Sadly, and all too consistently, they claim their ideological territory not their own names but in mine. Worse, these days they claim it to be in my interest. My problem is that what they want to claim is not in my interest. Even without reference to faith, it’s demonstrably not in my interest. Look, for example, at the information collected for Notre Dame’s Science of Generosity Initiative. That’s where I found a paper on “The Health Benefits of Volunteering.” It’s also how I found my way to a working paper at the Harvard Business School, “Prosocial Spending and Well-Being: Cross-Cultural Evidence for a Psychological Universal” (Aknin et al). According to the abstract, “Analyzing survey data from 136 countries, we show that prosocial spending is consistently associated with greater happiness…. In contrast to traditional economic thought—which places self-interest as the guiding principle of human motivation—our findings suggest that the reward experienced from helping others may be deeply ingrained in human nature, emerging in diverse cultural and economic contexts.”

But, of course, I can’t simply consider this without reference to faith. As a Christian I am reminded again and again that I am called to share with others, and not simply defend my own territory. I am told that all that God intends can be summarized in demonstrating my love of God by loving neighbor. I am reminded that what God wants of me includes doing justice and loving mercy and walking humbly – not fiercely, not defensively – before God. With each new Episcopal brother and sister I commit again and again to seek and serve Christ in all persons, and to respect the dignity of every human being, and not simply those in my territory. It seems to me that I am called to pursue this end with all my resources – including those that I pay out personally, those that I delegate to the Church to use, and those I delegate to my government to use.

When I’m sitting on my deck, the aerobatic combat of the hummingbirds can be entertaining and in its own way beautiful. When leaders start acting like hummingbirds, defending ideological territories and hoarding resources, it ceases to be productive, much less entertaining. When they claim to do it in my name, it becomes offensive. God grant me grace to work, pray, and give for the spread of the Kingdom, as much in my civic life as in my personal and ecclesial life – and to call to account those who fail in that effort, claiming to do so in my interest. For it is not hoarding and selfishness that are in my interest, but generosity and giving, as a person, as a citizen, and as a follower of Christ.

The Rev. Marshall Scott is a hospital chaplain in the Diocese of West Missouri. A past president of the Assembly of Episcopal Healthcare Chaplains, and an associate of the Order of the Holy Cross, he keeps the blog Episcopal Chaplain at the Bedside.

Environmental ethics

By George Clifford

Self-interest dominates political debate in the United States. Generally, that means each individual looking out for his or her interests, often narrowly defined. People sometimes most effectively achieve that goal by affiliating with likeminded individuals, a practice that has greatly contributed to the emergence of increasingly pervasive special interest groups in America, groups myopically focused on benefiting their members. And when people do adopt a broader focus, that focus typically translates self-interest into national interest, i.e., what is good for the United States will, by implication, be good for individual citizens.

Episcopalian and Yale Law School professor Stephen L. Carter has observed, “The ethic of self makes the religious task more difficult … but also more necessary. With a more vibrant religious voice in our politics, we should be able to do better. We could, indeed, hardly do any worse.” (Stephen L. Carter, God's Name in Vain )

On no issue is the need greater for a genuine global perspective that values our neighbors as much as ourselves than on environmental ethics. The environment does not recognize nor adhere to the arbitrary local or national borders that humans establish. Whether a shared watershed (e.g., the Rio Grande River between the U.S. and Mexico or the Jordan River between Israel and Syria), atmosphere (winds blow pollutants indiscriminately across boundaries, e.g.), or oceans (think floating islands of trash) much environmental degradation obviously represents a global rather than local or national problem.

Even many issues that seem prima facie to be strictly national concerns are, upon closer examination, international or global in scope because of oceanographic or atmospheric, e.g., deforestation results in increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and pesticide use can harm migratory waterfowl. The global push to ban the use of chlorofluorocarbons, which resulted in twenty-five nations agreeing to the 1987 Montreal Protocol, with additional nations subsequently signing the Protocol, represents an example of a pollution problem that the international community recognized required a global solution.

For Christians, environmental ethics begin with God's repeated affirmation in the Genesis 1 creation story, This is good. Similarly, the Genesis 2 creation story implies that God found creation good. Regardless of whether one interprets the creation stories literally or mythically, the theological message for humans is the same. God's goodness ensures the goodness of God's creative activity, a quality evident not only in the beauty of creation but also in the value of each created thing. Plants, animals, the waters, the earth itself, the planets, and the stars all have intrinsic value because of God's creative activity. Human self-centeredness leads to the mindless exploitation and destruction of other life forms and the earth. This diminishes the beauty of creation and devalues other living things, including other humans, animals, and plants in addition to future generations.

The scriptural warrant that grants humans dominion over the earth is not a carte blanche to use or destroy the earth and other living things, exclusively thinking of our personal enjoyment or benefit. Christianity calls us to model ourselves after Jesus. Jesus’ parable of the vineyard entrusted to tenants implicitly speaks to our responsibility to care for the earth as God's tenants. The prospect of God carelessly raping and pillaging God's own creation seems ludicrous; clearly, God desires humans exercise a stewardship of creation, attempting to balance the needs and rights of the earth and all living things, including future generations.

Jesus, as a Jew, inherited the Jewish ethical concern for the environment, an emphasis Christianity too often lacks in spite of Jesus’ teaching. For example, the Jewish scriptures prohibit, after a military victory, cutting down the enemy’s olive trees, a slow growing tree economically vital because of the oil, food, and wood the tree produces. Although economic concerns probably provided the original impetus for this injunction, the rabbinic tradition cites this teaching as evidence of God's desire that humans be good environmental stewards.

Consistently, clearly, and fully emphasizing the ethical dimension of human stewardship of creation constitutes a unique contribution that Jews and Christians can make to environmental debates. First, in our secular society an ever-growing number of people believe the cosmos simply exists. By firmly asserting that God created the cosmos, we assert the cosmos’ inherent value, otherwise widely disregarded or not perceived. Affirming the cosmos’ value avoids on the one hand the extreme of valuing only humans and on the other hand the extreme of valuing all life forms/creation equally. The latter view, held by a distinct minority of environmental activists, is an unrealistic and untenable position. Bacteria, for example, are collectively vital. Nevertheless, each individual bacterium is not universally and invariably of equal value with each individual among the more complex plant and animal life forms. Killing specific bacterium (but not all members of that species) to preserve a human life is not only morally justifiable but also usually imperative.

Second, human stewardship focuses on the inter-relatedness of the planet and the life forms that it hosts. Greedily or rashly exploiting resources or other living things for the personal benefit of the few constitutes an abusive exploitation of others. Many human actions have widespread repercussions; the true cost of an action is not only its adverse effect on the actor and his/her kin but also on other living things, the planet, and future generations.

Third, framing the discussion of environmental issues in terms of stewardship puts issues of fairness on the environmental and political agenda. God's preferential option for the poor and disadvantaged means that fairness connotes proportioning the costs of sound environmental policies according to ability to pay. This approach contrasts starkly with the connotations of fairness preferred by people who place self-interest above all other concerns, i.e., paying as little as possible and certainly no more than a per capita equal amount. The United States, one of the world’s ten wealthiest nations on a per capita basis, has produced a hugely disproportionate share of greenhouse gases related to energy generation (30% from 1900-2005). Therefore, fairness dictates that the U.S., which sold that energy for less than its true cost when the cost includes harm to the environment, should bear a disproportionate share of the remediation cost.

Finally, by constantly illuminating with God's light the human responsibility to be stewards and care for God's good creation, religious people helpfully raise the standard of political discussion and action. Politics is the art of the possible, frequently entailing compromise. Stephen Carter in God's Name in Vain repeatedly laments that when religious voices accede to the demands of the political arena, those religious voices compromise their authenticity and integrity, usually settling for trivial wins with little real significance. Environmental issues are too important to allow this to happen.

In negotiations, the party that generally makes the first offer (an executive bargaining for salary, a consumer purchasing an auto, unions/businesses negotiating labor contracts, etc.) sets either the upper or lower boundary for all future negotiations. The other party may conceivably have been willing to accept that initial boundary as a final offer, but is no longer willing to do so once it is offered as an initial position. My observation of religious groups attempting to influence public policy matches Carter’s analysis: religious groups consistently and ironically receive the short end of the deal if they begin by offering what they believe is a politically acceptable compromise.

Moral arguments rightly exert influence in the public square. Moral arguments informed by religious belief can exert even greater influence in the public square. But when those arguments and their proponents compromise their moral integrity in an effort to wield power, they lose their moral integrity and cogency.

The history of the Episcopal Church might have been much different had its twentieth century debates about the status of women, people of color, and GLBTs, emphasized theological ethics rather than the language of rights. The latter is an important form of philosophical moral discourse. However, it is a form of discourse foreign to scripture and the Christian tradition. Drafting and debating theologically informed moral arguments about the status of women, people of color, and GLBTs might have required more effort but would honor the Church’s own language and tradition. Such arguments would have made null and void claims that the Church by changing to include everyone fully in its life was simply responding to a secular agenda.

Let’s not repeat that mistake with environmental issues. Let the Church speak with its moral authority and leave the inevitable compromising to others. By insistently communicating its unadulterated moral message the Church can potentially raise the level of discourse away from self-centeredness, concurrently avoiding marginalization and helping to reduce any loses from compromise.

The Rev. Dr. George Clifford, Diocese of North Carolina, served as a Navy chaplain for twenty-four years. A priest in the Diocese of North Carolina, he is a visiting professor of ethics at the Naval Postgraduate School and blogs at Ethical Musings (http://blog.ethicalmusings.com/).

Are human beings outsiders on this earth?

Summer hours continue. Daily Episcopalian will publish every other day this week.

By Sam Candler

I spend as much of each summer as possible on a deep, cold lake in northern Ontario. The true natives of the province call it the “Near North,” since it is not definitively the region known as Northern Ontario, which stretches much, much further up from our little lake. It is simply above the southern, urban regions, and it is above “cottage country.”

Still, it is north enough for a Southerner like me; and it is primitive enough, too. Our cabins or cottages are not insulated; they are simple structures built of varying degrees of aged and weathered pine. We have electricity now, and even some telephones, but I remember summers when most of us did not. The water in our pipes is not drinkable, since it is pumped up from the lake where we swim and motor our boats. The diehards among us still bathe daily in that cold, black lake, no matter the weather: rainy, cold, still, sunny, or windy (and, in fact, it can be quite hot and sunny).

I meet all kinds of people here, from the local villagers who are steady and sincere to summer residents from all over the continent who cover the spectrum of sophistication. Most of us agree that sophistication does not cut it up here, even if we are very good at sophistication in our various roles during the rest of the year.

We are here because life is simple and direct here. Daily needs are clear and straightforward. We need food, water, and a little bit of electrical or gasoline energy (the young water skiers here need much more gasoline energy). We need to tend responsibly to garbage and waste. Our pieces of ground are called “camps.” We need to keep clear of varmints and nuisance animals – from mice and raccoons to porcupines and bears—animals to whom I easily concede ownership of our little cabin. Being here, at most, only two months of every year, we cannot claim ownership; our little place actually belongs to the mice and creatures who live here six times as long as we do! Each summer, we gently re-stake our claim.

In short, I am an outsider here. Maybe that is why I return each summer. I realize again how small I really am compared to the grandeur of this country and this water and this rock and these gloriously green forests. Rock and water and trees.

Last week, I was privileged to meet Joseph Boyden, an author known especially for his first novel, Three Day Road. His family, a First Nations family, is truly from Northern Ontario, where his Cree and Ojibway ancestors trapped and lived simply on the land. Now, Boyden actually lives part of the year in New Orleans, where he writes and teaches.

Three Day Road is a work of fiction, set in World War One, where at least one Canadian First Nations soldier was historically known for amazing sharpshooting. The novel is terse and severe, much like life in these dark woods, but also because it is a novel about war and about hard relationships. There is a beautiful and severe relationship between two brothers. There is a wary relationship between Canadians and others during the war. There is the always tense relationship between First Nations people and the wemistikoshiw, the white man (wemistikoshiw means the white underside of a fish).

My time in this country teaches me the humility of being an outsider. And, during our conversation last week, Boyden mentioned another humble feature of humanity’s relationship with the world. This feature seems to be well acknowledged in First Nations lore, but many of us in more developed, industrial cultures have never realized it. Joseph Boyden, himself a Metis (mixed-blood Indian) said that, “among all the animals in the world, human beings are the only species which no other species needs.”

“Human beings are the only species in the world which no other species actually needs.” That is to say, the bear needs the fish, the fish need smaller fish, the beaver need the foliage, etc., etc. But no other species actually needs human beings for their existence.

That makes all of us humans, it seems to me, rather like outsiders on this planet. Do any other species on God’s earth actually need us in order to survive? (Outside of our domesticated pets?) It is even more sobering to acknowledge that humankind has the capacity to change the earth’s environment to the detriment of our earth animal neighbors. (We share that characteristic, by the way, with beavers, another great Ontario denizen.)

Wendell Berry once captured this situation with an exquisite title to one of his books: What Are People For? That is to say, what values are we meant to provide on the earth? What do we add? What do other species need us for?

The near north area of Ontario –and any area out in the wild—teaches us, then, the challenge of how we might actually add something to God’s creation. If we are not being the actual food for some of our earthly neighbors, maybe we are meant to provide something like true stewardship. Maybe Genesis 1:26-28 really means that we are to provide, not dominion over the earth in a rowdy, tyrannical, irresponsible way, but, rather, true stewardship and tender care of the earth. Maybe the earth itself really needs our husbandry in a conserving way, not in a consuming, self-rewarding way. Eugene Peterson, in The Message (2002), translates Genesis 1:28 as “Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air, for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth.”

I am wary of the human tendency toward arrogance, and I realize that even believing that we are “responsible” carries with it a temptation toward arrogance and hubris. But the ability to be responsible, the ability to see a larger picture and extended time frame, may indeed be a distinctively human contribution to God’s created world. If so, responsibility always needs humility.

Surely our souls need humility. Maybe each of us needs a regular experience of being an outsider, maybe a stranger, in a place whose grandeur and wildness highlights our smallness. That humility might teach us another degree of true stewardship for God’s earth and for God’s people.

The Very Rev. Sam Candler is dean of St. Philip's Cathedral in Atlanta. He chaired the House of Deputies' Committee on Prayerbook, Liturgy and Church Music at the General Convention. His sermons and reflections on “Good Faith and Common Good” can be found on the Cathedral web site.

Focusing on the cross

By Greg Jones

There are so many distractions. Don't you feel them? So many things are shouting at us.

Maybe your job is shouting at you. Maybe your health. Your marriage. Maybe you're shouting at people.

There are so many noises here in the streets of the world -- it's hard to focus on God.

The sky, the sun, the creation all cry out to the glory of God, but mostly we find ourselves on the busiest street corners of the cities of mankind surrounded by our own handiworks, and our works rarely tell of the mighty things of God.

Consider, the Grand Canyon, the Smokey Mountains in Fall, a starry sky at night in the countryside: these things witness to God, the living center of the universe and all else.

But New York? Washington? Kabul? These cities range from scary to great, but bear witness to humanity more than God. They tell of vanity, success, failure and pride, of July 4th or perhaps September 11th, but not eternity.

No, we live mostly in the city of Man, and the distractions shouting all around us are what we do. We make distractions for ourselves and others, which keep us unfocused on God, the center of all that is, was and will be, whether we know Him or not.

It's hard -- for us -- to bridle our shouting tongues: either in town hall meetings, sessions of Congress, or in that raging inner forum of our minds.

It's hard to focus on God: to hear, to listen, to obey. And, to be honest, it's hard to even want to. Sometimes, most times perhaps, I'd rather fulfill my own needs, desires and urges than focus on hearing and heeding the Word of God.

Can you relate to that?

And that's why Jesus died on the cross my friends.

They didn't want to hear or heed God in the flesh, looking like Jesus did: all humble and poor. The Pharisees didn't want that. The Romans didn't want that. The disciples didn't want that.

Nobody wants to focus on God that much, especially if God's call to us costs us what we desire. Which is why God did it. Which is why God demonstrated how He is, by becoming what we are and living here.

Christ's death upon the cross was and is still the center of that demonstration of who God is. And not only in Mark's Gospel, where that clever writer put the first mention of the cross in the exact middle of the book (yes, 8 chapters into a 16 chapter work.) The cross is the center of the meaning of Jesus Christ, because it is there that Jesus fulfilled our very last bit of mortal reality: every pain, every hurt, every distraction of sin, and he conquered there these deathly distractions of sin not by force and power, but by mercy and power poured out for us.

Because of the cross of Christ, all the shouting in the world cannot keep us from the love of God, even when our focus on Him is so poor.

If you are at all glad to hear this -- that God has relentlessly pursued us in passion and sacrifice -- if this touches you at all and makes you feel any bit of gratefulness at all then rejoice! For Grace has indeed gotten through, and you have heard the song of the Cross that sends this message to all who need it -- and that is all of us. The Cross has called to you in its passionate voice, and you have noticed, and Grace has tickled your insides, and now you must be asking yourself, "what do I do now Lord?"

And in this context, it makes sense to hear Jesus say: "If you want to follow me, deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me."

None of us will succeed in denying ourselves and putting God first of all. But Grace will close the gap for we who respond to what Grace initiates within us, and the gap between our discipleship and Christ's lordship will indeed be bridged by the cross-shaped bridge that the Lord has put there himself.

The Rev. Samuel Gregory Jones ('Greg') is rector of St. Michael's in Raleigh, N.C., a trustee of General Seminary and the bass player in indie-rock band The Balsa Gliders — whose fourth studio release is available on iTunes. He blogs at Anglican Centrist.

Ecology, prayer and belief

By Martin L. Smith

I was taking a quiet day at a seminary a few weeks ago, and it set me thinking about the energy I brought to the launching of my own ordained life, almost 40 years ago. What were some of the first things I wanted to commit myself to? Not just in theory but in practice. I began to remember what it meant to me to become chaplain, in 1970, to the new wetland nature reserve that local volunteers were creating from old watercress beds near my parish. Maybe I was one of the first nature reserve chaplains at a time when ecological consciousness was dawning, just eight years after the publication of Silent Spring, the book that helped to launch the environmental movement.

Later I volunteered to devote my first vacation as a butterfly catcher to the great European survey of butterfly populations, one of those groundbreaking explorations of the effects of atmospheric pollution on wildlife. The survey needed volunteers who had no expertise or biases about butterflies to catch them randomly in their thousands so that experts could take a scientific tally of species distribution and numbers. So I spent some weeks darting around meadows in the Massif Central in France, and all over the vast marshes of the Camargue, swirling my net, and bringing my catch to my expert companions for counting and identification. I can remember the feeling at dusk, standing outside my tent, shoulders aching, watching the vast flocks of pink flamingos on the marshes, praying and wondering about what kind of future lay in store for them and us in the world we were relentlessly degrading.

Well, that was 40 years ago, and now the ecological movement is in full swing. My commitment back then was practical, mirrored today by the thousands of people who work hard to support or protect wildlife. Where would my commitment be now? I think it is up to me to respond more deeply to what might be called the mystical dimension of ecological awareness.

There is no lack of voices that witness to the pragmatic, the practices we need to embrace to forge a viable way of life for the planet. Schoolchildren can reel off recommendations for the habits we should adopt to reduce energy, waste and pollution. In the church we can’t be content with merely echoing what is commonly and publicly recognized as sound practice. And there is no lack of voices that witness to the need for new technological solutions. We are bombarded with programs and articles about the highly technical solutions that scientists are exploring to counteract the effects of global warming and inaugurate a new era. Economists propose complex schemes of offsets, researchers investigate ways of sowing protective substances into the atmosphere, and Christians as Christians have no special angle on any of it. So where might our contribution be one that is in fact intimately connected with our praying and believing?

One way is by forging a spirituality that is deep enough to help people change the way they experience the world around them. A faith centered on the Cross should give us deeper insight into human brokenness — alienation from the natural world, estrangement from the creatures that share our planet. This is the brokenness underlying resistance, indifference and apathy in the face of the ecological crisis. Christians might be the ones to help people recognize the terrible loss to the human spirit we have inflicted upon ourselves by creating an industrialized and technological culture that has contempt for the ecosystems. We need the spiritual resources of lament, God-inspired grief, and that is totally different from the fatal religious impulse to moralize and to berate and condemn people for their consumerism and selfishness. We need to help people recognize the depth of our loss, our emotional and spiritual numbness to the splendors and intricacy of the natural world in which we are embedded. A great philosopher once said, “By the little that now satisfies the soul, judge the extent of its fall.” How pathetic that the little pleasures that come through endless fiddling with our handheld electronics seem to be enough, when in reality we are victims of a tragic isolation from nature and from the daily beauties all around us that carry an infinite freight of meaning and bliss.

Through grieving comes the dawn of new possibilities, and unless the church is a healing environment in which people are coached to shed their insulation and be re-sensitized to the beauty of God’s intricate net of life, we have little to offer. Everyone knows we need to change many of our lifestyle habits. Everyone knows that the utmost ingenuity of our scientists will have to be deployed. But not everyone knows how to have their eyes re-opened and their hearts reconnected with the natural world. Do we, as bearers of the Gospel? Isn’t this another reason why spirituality is at the heart of mission?

Martin L. Smith is a well-known spiritual writer and priest. He is the senior associate rector at St. Columba’s, D.C.

Loaves and fishes, salmon in particular

By J. William Harkins

It is late summer, and as we speak, in rivers and streams all along the Pacific coast, salmon are returning home to their native waters after journeys of up to 6 years—and thousands of miles—at sea. Some time back, I took a sea-kayaking trip to Alaska, just about this time of year. Our group journeyed to Tebenkof Bay, deep into the wilderness of southeast Alaska, for a week-long sojourn based on mindfulness practice.

One of the most memorable experiences for me was watching salmon return to their ancestral birthplaces to create new life. Very early one day, after our morning prayers and Qigong, led by my priest colleague Gordon Peerman, we set out in our boats across the bay. A gentle Alaskan summer rain was falling. Raven called out as seals and otters followed our small flotilla of kayaks. Ducks and loons eyed us curiously, and eagles flew overhead, framed by snow-capped coastal mountain ranges, their glaciers emptying into the bay.

Soon we found ourselves in the delta region of a small but fast-moving river as it tumbled out of the mountains into the sea. We paddled upriver as far as we could, now protected from the gently falling rain by fir and spruce scented forests. Beneath our boats, swimming upstream in numbers impossible to count, was a river of salmon within the river, coming home to spawn. Upstream a hundred yards or so, a solitary Alaskan Brown Bear expertly harvested fish. Kurt Hoelting, our wise and patient guide whose deep spirituality informed every phase of our trip, gave us an impromptu streamside lecture on the ecology and culture of salmon nation. As he talked I remember thinking; “This is more than a story about a particular kind of fish….this is a parable about a deep ecology of connection and relatedness.”

Kurt quietly explained that salmon are amazing members of God’s creation, and this is especially true of Pacific salmon. Leaving their fresh-water birthplaces they journey out to sea where they roam the salt-water oceans of the world, returning, studies have confirmed, to spawn at or near the exact spot they were born years—and thousands of miles--earlier. How do they navigate their way home—and why? We aren’t completely sure. It may have to do with smell, or the stars, or some combination of these and other navigational cues about which we know little. Once they return to fresh water and spawn, their condition rapidly deteriorates, and they soon die.

I’m sure most of you have seen the dramatic scenes of Chinook and Sockeye salmon making their way up roaring waterfalls to their native pools against tremendous odds, including foraging Alaskan Brown bears and other predators. At certain points in the season as many as 20 vertebrate species, including elk, deer, and bear, feed directly on salmon, re-cycling those ocean borne nutrients directly into the soil of the forest. Incredibly, some salmon born in central Idaho will make their way over 900 miles inland, and climb 7,000 feet from the Pacific Ocean as they return to spawn.

Much more than food for bears, or ravens and eagles, or humans, salmon are in fact a metaphor, a parable of a deeply mysterious, complex, and life-giving set of inter-woven relationships. DNA from Pacific salmon has been found in groves of Aspen at the top of the continental divide. The trace minerals from their ocean journeys, such as nitrogen, feed salmonberry bushes miles inland, and virtually every level of the food chain of the ecosystem will reveal evidence of the gift of salmon.

Over 137 species of animals in the Pacific Northwest rely on salmon as part of their diet. When salmon die they generate the most biologically diverse forests on earth, honoring future generations with the gift the journey that is at the heart of all they are. “They leave branches of streams no larger than a broomstick,” the author Richard Manning has said, “and make their way to the ocean for years, returning weighing up to 60 pounds of biomass harvested from the sea. They bring this mass of nutrients back to the forest to feed it, and the generations to follow.”

I have come to think of this narrative as evidence of the creativity of God delighting in God’s own creation—a sort of cosmic playfulness at the level of ecological communion, connection, and transformation. The grace that I find in the story of the salmon is evidence to me of deep, sacred connections of life-sustaining nourishment at multiple levels. As the poet Mary Oliver reminds us, “Let me keep company always with those who say “Look!” and laugh in astonishment, and bow their heads.”

That morning in Alaska, we did just that. It is no wonder that cultures as diverse and far-flung as Pacific Northwest Indians, Norse, and Celtic mythology found in the story of the salmon symbolic and religious power. I see God watching all the permutations and combinations of salmon connections, and I imagine God laughing with joy. The gift of their lives—and the cycle of living, and dying, and rebirth in myriad forms is moving, and powerful. Make no mistake, a salmon is not simply a fish—but a metaphor of the deep ecological mystery of God’s creation—a timeless reminder that in the cycle of life and death lies the deep, abiding connections of all living things, and of transformation, and renewal.

It is fascinating to me, then, that on another shore, this time near the village of Capernaum, Jesus gives a sea-side homily on the nature of bread, and living, and a metaphorical lesson on what really nurtures and sustains our souls, and the mystery of those connections. On this day following the feeding of the 5,000, the impromptu picnic was over, and Jesus and the disciples were looking for a quiet place to rest, and recover.

The people, however, had other ideas. They were not inclined to let him fade back into the Capernaum hills without finding out more about what he could do for them. They had been hungry, and they had been fed—more than enough—we are told, and yet they did not know the depth or sources of their hunger. He had given them bread, and they had their fill, but perhaps he could do more in the way of fulfilling basic needs of shelter, clothing, and the ambiguities and uncertainties of daily life. The possibilities were unlimited.

And somewhat disingenuously, when they find him they say, in essence, “What a surprise! Imagine finding you here! When did you come here?” Jesus will have none of it. “You worked hard to find me, and I know why. But I am more than a free lunch, and moreover, that is not what you really need. You ate your fill, and now you want more, but you are missing the point. The bread you seek won’t last. I am the bread that endures, and addresses a deeper hunger. All you have to do is believe.” “Prove it,” they say, invoking Moses and the manna in the wilderness; “Give us a sign.” “You don’t get it,” Jesus says to them…”Remember where the bread Moses gave you came from.”

It is not always easy to see beneath the literal to the metaphorical and symbolic, especially when our basic needs and fears often determine what we see, and how. Jesus knows we are hungry on many levels, and we are often scared, and wilderness can take so many forms.

The psychologist Carl Jung, himself deeply interested in religion, once said: “I have seen people remain unhappy when they content themselves with inadequate or wrong answers to the questions of life. They seek position, reputation, outward success, money, and remain unhappy even when they attain what they have been seeking. Such people are usually confined within too narrow a spiritual horizon.”

Our wise Alaskan guide said to us, “Broaden your horizons. Think creatively. The Salmon is much more than a fish—it is a sign of something mysterious, complex, and life-giving in the ways of the connectedness of God’s creation. They live their lives, and they give themselves away.” Jesus says to us, “Broaden your spiritual horizons. I want to be more than a provider of physical bread. I want to fill the hunger of your hearts. I want to fill the emptiness you try to fill up with lesser things…to satisfy those Holy longings you often attempt to quiet with substances and material goods; to quiet the anxiety that finally comes to possess you, rather than allowing yourselves to be placed in God’s compassionate, outstretched, open arms. I want you to remember where that bread in the desert really comes from. And then I want you to feed one another, in love.”

Like the salmon that journey so far to come home to their native streams, Jesus is to be broken, blessed, and shared with the world. He gives himself away, each moment, and like the Eucharist we celebrate he is more than a provider of physical sustenance. Our river guide said, in essence, “Pay attention; look around you at the connections; see, and you will believe.” Conversely, Jesus says to us, “Seeing is not always the same as believing; Sometimes you have to believe, in order to really see.” Paradoxically, both of them are correct. And both point to a similar truth: Salmon may be signs of a first principal of an ecological paradigm of altruism and gratitude. The only way to have a full life, and keep it, is to give it away. Jesus embodied this in the sharing of his life, in which we are invited to be creatively compassionate, in deep gratitude. “Every day,” Wendell Berry says, “you have less reason not to give yourself away.” Jesus said, “I am the Bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry.” Amen.

Bill Harkins lives in Atlanta, where he teaches pastoral theology at Columbia Seminary, and maintains a private practice in pastoral counseling and marriage and family therapy.. He is a priest associate at the Episcopal Cathedral of St. Philip. Bill is married to Vicky, and they have two sons, Justin and Andrew, with whom he delights in getting outdoors.

Finding community at the riverside

By Jean Fitzpatrick

What a treat it's been this summer to take my walks at Croton Landing, a brand-new park along the Hudson. Honeysuckle and beach plums there provide a foreground to sailboats and kayaks floating on sparkling waves. The river is tidal (the original inhabitants called it Mohicanituck, or "the river that flows both ways") and on the brackish water you see gulls, cormorants and even great blue heron. It's all part of what will one day be a 50-mile RiverWalk from the Bronx to Peekskill, where there used to be not much more than old factories, trash-littered industrial sites, and the Amtrak and Metro North railroad tracks, built a century ago to transport the robber barons from Wall Street to their palatial homes overlooking the Palisades. The place isn't paradise: Trains still rumble by every so often, horn blaring. Jetskiers slap against the waves. Mosquitoes nosedive straight to my ankles. But our new park is a giant step toward reclaiming the river's breathtaking natural beauty.

Actually, human nature may well be the most wonderful part of the scene. On a recent afternoon, flocks of ducks and geese paddled across a rocky inlet while kids on the path zoomed by on bikes, scooters, training wheels and skateboards. A middle-aged South Asian couple strolled along, deep in conversation. Teens sunbathed on the grass as poodles and terriers strutted past with their walkers. A small boy in a yellow T-shirt clutched a fishing line; a group of men talking in Spanish unloaded tackle-boxes and coolers from their car. Under a weeping willow a man in short sleeves and headphones played electric guitar. Near some girls playing with hula hoops, a woman I'd never seen before called me to the water's edge and pointed to a hawk on the rocks who'd captured a small brown animal; neither of us could see his prey well enough to identify it. Everyone nodded or said hello. As we watched the sunset put on its show -- purple-tufted clouds with undersides fiery pink -- perfect strangers smiled at one another, saying, "Isn't this park great?" It's as though we were not only happy to have our stretch of the river back, but also grateful for the opportunity to experience it together.

Walking along, I found myself thinking about healthcare. With 45.7 million uninsured -- roughly one out of 6 Americans -- I tried to imagine who that one vulnerable person was: the kid on the scooter? The guy with the guitar? The woman watching the hawk? Strange to think how easy it is in a public park -- and how hard, apparently, in a town hall meeting -- to recognize that what benefits some of us benefits us all, that when we work for the common good we're all better off. Discouraging to see how so little compassion can exist in a nation where some 80 percent identify themselves as Christian. Sad to realize that the all-too-widespread emphasis on personal salvation -- the product of our individualistic age and not of the biblical vision that calls us into covenant with one another -- must surely contribute to this sorry state of affairs. How important were the words of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori's opening address in Anaheim, when she spoke of individual salvation as "the great Western heresy." "I am because we are," she said, "and I can only become a whole person in relationship with others."

We're recognizing this every day at Croton Landing. Watching those flocks of ducks and geese paddling by is humbling, in a way. They've been smart enough to know it all along.

Jean Grasso Fitzpatrick, L.P., a New York-licensed psychoanalyst and a member of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors. A layreader in the Diocese of New York, she is the author of numerous books and articles, including Something More: Nurturing Your Child's Spiritual Growth and has a website at www.pastoralcounseling.net.

"Every bird that cuts the airy way"

By Kathleen Staudt

My spiritual practice in the summer is to begin each day on my patio, in the cool of the early morning, sip my first cup of tea of the day, sometimes write in my journal, and watch what is going on in my back yard. We have a regular wildlife sanctuary this year, on our fifth-of-an-acre suburban lot. In the yard of the abandoned house next door (awaiting new construction), grass and shrubs have grown up, and a family of deer has taken up residence there. There’s now so much growing next door that they don’t even come into my yard any more. The rabbits, on the other hand, have eaten down just about whatever will grow – and yet there is something lovely, peaceful about them, browsing on the clover in the grass, in the early morning light. As I watch them, and the growing light, the sound of birdsong around me increases – cardinals, catbirds, crows and mourning doves, gradually drowning out the not-so-distant hum of cars on the capital beltway, half a mile away.

But what I most love is watching the birds on the feeder each morning. Though the English sparrows and grackles can be aggressive, a wonderful variety of birds visit each day, sometimes fighting over the black oil sunflower seeds, sometimes perched beside each other, simply being fed. Purple finches, goldfinches, house finches, cardinals, sparrows, downy and hairy woodpeckers, a flicker and occasionally a red-headed woodpecker, the occasional blue jay – and, this morning, hovering briefly over the bright pink and orange potted zinnias beside me, a tiny hummingbird!

I don’t get tired of watching them, even when they’re fighting over roosting spots or charging each other off with a flap of wings. Rather, I have the sense that I am being admitted into another world, watching them from my patio. They have their issues and their competitions but there is such a variety of species, colors, shapes among them – all birds, but abundant in their diversity. I find myself delighting in just seeing them all there together in all their variety – and I wonder, sometimes, how they see each other – across species and families yet within their bird-world. My feeling, watching them from the outside, is delight. They seem to be giving to another way of being, beyond my understanding. They invite me to watch and pay attention.

William Blake wrote somewhere, “How do you know, but every bird that cuts the airy way is an immense world of delight, closed by your senses five?” He’s on to something there. Watching the birds each morning is a contemplative practice, bringing me to the limit of what I can see and observe, fascinating me, offering a glimpse into a beauty, a mystery, I cannot name, and teaching me to sit still and pay attention. In this way it is a contemplative practice. It is one of the things that I love most about the summer months –this time to sit outdoors, before the air becomes too warm, to watch and wait for the birds to invite me into the mystery of prayer.

Dr. Kathleen Henderson Staudt keeps the blog poetproph, works as a teacher, poet, spiritual director and retreat leader in the Washington DC area. She is the author of two books: At the Turn of a Civilisation: David Jones and Modern Poetics and Annunciations: Poems out of Scripture.

Earth Day: Living as stewards in God's house

By George Clifford

Wednesday, April 22, is Earth Day. Began in 1969, Earth Day was instituted to call attention to the global environmental crisis. In the intervening forty years, awareness has grown. Embarrassingly, much of the Church has remained indifferent while environmental problems have worsened, often taking a back seat to other, purportedly more urgent issues.

Today, the economic crisis cries for center stage. However, the economic crisis and environmental crisis intertwine inseparably with one another, as theologian Sallie McFague emphasized in her 2001 book, Life Abundant: Rethinking Theology and Economy for a Planet in Peril. McFague describes two worldviews, the neo-classical economic and the ecological economic, first explaining the connection and then suggesting theologically responsible responses.

The neo-classical economic worldview emerged from market-based capitalism guided by the invisible hand of self-interest, which Adam Smith first outlined in the eighteenth century. Theoretically, independent, acquisitive individuals eventually work out, albeit unintentionally, a society’s optimal production and consumption solutions to the benefit of all. McFague helpfully observes that this worldview focuses on monetary gains as its sole aim, excluding the values of the fair distribution of profits from the earth’s resources and global sustainability.

For the world’s entire population to enjoy a Western, middle class standard of living, we would require the resources of four more earth-type, earth-size planets. We in the West – about one in six people globally – typically see ourselves as consumers. More is better. Newer is better. The most and the newest is best. McFague reports that 93% of U.S. teenagers say shopping is their favorite pastime and that the U.S. has an amazing sixteen square feet of shopping space per resident. All of this consumption aims to create personal happiness.

Yet, consumption does not translate into personal happiness. Certainly, some amount of consumption and wealth are essential for human well-being and happiness. Humans have obvious needs for water, food, clothing, shelter, and healthcare. Humans have less obvious but equally real needs for education, social structure, and enrichment, including art and spirituality. Some modest level of personal wealth generally enables one to obtain most of those goods, goods that the poor live without or only have in insufficient quantities. However, surveys indicate that U.S. personal happiness peaked in 1957, even though consumption has more than doubled since then. People with six figure incomes sometimes feel poor. One root of the current economic crisis was excessive consumption by the avaricious, those whose greed far exceeded their needs as they sought happiness racing along a pathway named “More is better.”

I do not think it coincidental that the unhappiest parish, as measured by personal attitudes and social problems (alcoholism, broken marriages, troubled children, etc.), that I have known was also the wealthiest. People were so busy pursuing material goals that they had little time for self or others. Consumption had become their ideology, even the de facto religion of many.

The emergence of market-based economies signaled the emancipation of the individual and a developing, healthy emphasis on human rights. However, the neo-classical economic worldview myopically emphasizes individuality, birthing planetary problems. The top three of those are diminishing biodiversity, rapid population/consumption growth, and global warming. Continued, unbridled exploitation of natural resources, including other life forms, to maximize consumption driven economies will only exacerbate those problems.

The ecological worldview that McFague sketches sharply contrasts with the neo-classical economic worldview. She defines ecological economics as the allocation of scarce resources to keep the planet working indefinitely. She characterizes the planet as God's house, a household that must support all of its members over the long run. God intends humankind to serve the planet (the house) as stewards.

Ecological economic presumptions differ starkly from those of neo-classical economics. Neo-classical economics begins with unconstrained distribution of resources to competing individuals, confident that over time, if all compete, issues of fair distribution and sustainability will work themselves out. Ecological economics begins with community, focusing on sustainability and distributive justice, believing individuals of all species, including humans, can only thrive as part of the planetary community. Ecological economics entails balancing community and individual, not subordinating one to the other, avoiding the consequences of exalting the individual at the cost of the community and the futility of attempting to exalt the community at the cost of the individual. In other words, healthy mutual interdependence replaces radical individuality.

Ecological economics does not discard market-based capitalism; instead, ecological economics views market-based capitalism as one of many tools in the economic toolkit. Like any good craftsperson, the steward of God's house will choose the tool that best fits a particular job. Not every job requires a hammer.

Humans who view themselves not primarily as consumers but as members of a planetary household will perceive a circle of life and aim for a spiral of sustainability rather than the linear progress associated with increased consumption and production. Sustainability embraces all life and thus requires distributive justice. Furthermore, sustainability emphasizes the indispensability of all types of capital (financial, physical resources, knowledge, relationships, etc.). Poverty, the lack of financial and other forms of physical capital, like the consumption that neo-classic economics promotes, destroys sustainability. For example, poor people often use environmentally destructive slash and burn agriculture in a desperate struggle to survive. Poverty, contrary to neo-classical economic theory, is increasing. The income gap between the world’s richest and poorest fifths has exploded from 30 to 1 in 1960 to 74 to 1 in 1997.

By the standards of neo-classical economics, i.e., measuring gross domestic product per capita, the United States ranks 10th in the world; the top nine nations, except for Norway, are small countries, such as Liechtenstein and Qatar. Canada ranks 21st. (CIA - The World Factbook -- Country Comparisons - GDP - per capita (PPP)) However, compared using the United Nations Human Development Index, Canada ranks 3rd and the United States 15th. (Human Development Reports (HDR) – United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)) The Human Development Index better gauges ecological economics, including not only per capita income but also education and life expectancy. Admittedly, Canada has its share of problems and challenges. Nevertheless, the reversal in rankings between Canada and the U.S. with respect to per capita gross domestic production and the Human Development Index highlights an inherent weakness of neo-classical economics. Maximizing consumption does not maximize quality of life, let alone sustainability.

Faith communities are rightly addressing the concerns of those whose livelihood, dwelling, or well-being the current economic crisis imperils. More importantly, faith communities should attempt to use the economic crisis as a catalyst to shift worldviews from neo-classical economics to ecological economics. Ecological economics affirms the importance of both community and individual. Ecological economics replaces an ethic of human dominance with an ethic of human stewardship that values all life and all creation. Ecological economics enriches life for all, in a sustainable manner. Finally, ecological economics, unlike neo-classical economics, emerges out of a profoundly Christian understanding of creation.

McFague enumerates three simple rules of ecological economics that if adopted by everyone as part of his or her spiritual discipline would transform them and the planet: (1) take only your share; (2) clean up after yourself; (3) keep the house in good shape for future occupants.

The Rev. Dr. George Clifford, Diocese of North Carolina, served as a Navy chaplain for twenty-four years He taught philosophy at the U. S. Naval Academy and ethics at the Postgraduate School. He blogs at Ethical Musings.

The Good Earth Hunger Mission


“I don’t write for people who farm. I write for people who eat.”--Wendell Berry

“We tend a small piece of dirt for our brothers and sisters in need. In the process we look to Christ to take shallow, compacted, or thorny ground and make it a deep, fruitful soil.”—Paul Clever

All of them look to you
To give them their food in due season.
You give it to them, they gather it;
You open your hand, and they are filled with good things.--Psalm 104:28-29

By R. William Carroll

I ruined some trousers and a pair of shoes the other day, and I’ve never been happier. Allow me to explain.

With other Christians, assorted friends from the surrounding community, and passersby on a local, public bike path, I spent the better part of the afternoon working on an organic farm. I helped plant broccoli, onions, and cabbage, and I lay down smelly raked leaves from a parishioner’s home between the rows as mulch. Others, including our former junior warden, put up a fence to keep the deer out. We are in Appalachia, the far southeastern corner of Ohio, closer to Parkersburg, West Virginia than we are to Columbus. And, unlike what you may have seen on Diane Sawyer (don’t get us started!), we have a positive story to tell about what people are doing in our community.

Athens is at the hub of many interesting experiments in sustainable agriculture. It has one of the best farmers’ markets in the country. It has several nonprofits that are working in sustainable economic development, environmental justice and remediation, and strengthening local food systems, including Rural Action, where some of our parishioners have been deeply involved as staff members, board members, and volunteers over the years, and where I currently serve as a board member.

More recently, two parishioners in their twenties, Paul and Sarah Clever, have begun renting and rehabilitating a 170-year-old farmhouse from a local farmer, who is generously sharing his time and equipment and letting them have access to unused fields with top quality soil. Lately, they’ve been joined by another parishioner, A. J. Stack, who's the chair of our outreach committee. A.J.’s roots in Athens County go back generations. With wonderful support from our bishop and his staff, they and some others are thinking about forming an intentional community, and I have been charged with providing local pastoral support. Paul and Sarah have worked on organic farms before. Sarah is a faculty member at a local community college. A.J. is a social worker. All three are part of the leadership team for our Shepherd’s Alternative campus and young adult community. Our parish, the Church of the Good Shepherd, sits right on the Ohio University campus.

With support from our vestry and the diocese (we recently passed a sustainable agriculture resolution inspired by his work), Paul has been establishing a ministry called the Good Earth Hunger Mission (no website yet, but they do have a Facebook page). The purpose of this ministry is to grow food (they also glean excess produce for local farmers) and help God feed the poor. Making use of an existing distribution network run by another local nonprofit, they contribute food to local free meals, food pantries, and domestic violence shelters. In their first year, with a shortened growing season and a limited number of acres in production, they managed to grow or glean 5,000 pounds of food. This year, Paul tells me that a conservative estimate is 25,000 pounds. That’s twelve and a half tons of food!

But that’s not the most exciting thing about the ministry to me. One thing that excites me is the way that it transforms our outreach, which has always had a focus on feeding the hungry, in a sustainable and socially transformative direction. I think about it in terms of the Millennium Development Goals. One of the easiest ones to effect through local action is number seven, “ensure environmental sustainability.” We have always been strong supporters of our local food pantry. Three parishioners are board members, and we make substantial financial contribution every month, along with shopping and packing. In addition, four teams of parishioners and friends from the community (many of them in their eighties) routinely feed a free nutritious lunch to over a hundred people each week. The Good Earth Hunger mission is now supplying food to these and other ministries. More importantly, they are trying to involve those who are served, working side by side with our parishioners and other community volunteers, in producing their own food. There is considerable interest by the other parishes in our deanery (we’re having a deanery work day on May 2), and the ecumenical community. Paul is inviting youth groups and young adults to come to the farm on pilgrimage (youth groups must bring an adequate number of adult chaperones), and has a growing e-mail list and Facebook group to promote weekly volunteer opportunities.

Another thing that excites me is the way this ministry connects the Gospel to some of the fundamental ethical concerns in our community. In his recent address to the Diocese of Washington, “the Episcopal moment,” Brian McLaren speaks about how people, especially youth and young adults, are looking for ways to serve God without hating other people. I see the work of the Good Earth Hunger Mission as being on the front lines of our ministry of evangelism with students and young adults. We are not so much concerned with building up the Church, though I think that will happen. Churches can grow when they have a clear sense of mission and purpose. We are focused on doing the work of discipleship, “getting in on what God is doing” or “engaging God’s mission,” and trusting that God will bless those efforts that are responding to the Holy Spirit.

As chaplain, I intend to do work in spiritual formation on the farm as part of their exploration of life in intentional community and the development of a rule of life. We already have a plan to do some of this work and an exciting bibliography that we hope to work through in the next couple of years, along with a provisional rule with some balance, to guide the initial experiment. I am hoping that as the community develops, worship and Christian formation will always be an integral part of working on the farm. I believe that this community, if it endures, will combine Franciscan and Benedictine charisms, as well as the central insight of the new monasticism: “inhabiting the abandoned spaces of empire.” (Appalachian communities find it hard to forget how American prosperity comes at great price to the land and people of our region. Rather than focus on these deficits, we choose to focus on assets like family, faith, community, a rich artistic heritage, and the land.) I believe that the Good Earth Hunger Mission and the associated community may evolve into something like the early Catholic Worker farms, “agronomic universities” as Peter Maurin called them. We need to reintegrate faith, learning, and practice, prayer and work as the Benedictines would say. The farm will also be, in addition to a place of hard work, a place of peace and profound hospitality, without for a moment leaving the brokenness of this age behind, becoming an eschatological sign that another world is possible.

This charism for Benedictine hospitality (“receive all visitors as Christ”) was confirmed for me, when clothes still filthy and funky, barely able to wash the dirt of my hands, we sat down for evening prayer and a simple meal of rice and beans. Paul, Sarah, A.J., and I, gathered round the table, together with my wife Tracey, our two children, and two Quaker friends. I have had other close experiences with Christ in the past couple of years, but none closer. I believe that the Holy Spirit is doing something wonderful in our midst.

For more information about the Good Earth Hunger Mission, please feel free to visit their Facebook page (website forthcoming) or to call me at our parish office (740-593-6877). Just ask for Bill! I’ll be happy to put you in touch with Paul by e-mail or phone. He welcomes all inquiries and is also available to consult about setting up similar ministries in your local area. He would also welcome contact with existing ministries of this kind. He has studied several rural and urban models, but it’s always helpful to know what’s out there.

The Rev. R. William Carroll serves as rector of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Athens, Ohio (Diocese of Southern Ohio). He received his Ph.D. in Christian theology from the University of Chicago Divinity School. His sermons appear on his parish blog. He is a member of the Third Order of the Society of Saint Francis.

Earth Hour isn't long enough

By Luiz Coelho

Another Earth Hour is over. In several locations around the world, houses and businesses turned their lights off and avoided energy consumption for one hour. But, at the end, did anything change?

I wrote about this same subject last year (for another publication), and, even though I do not have precise statistics about Earth Hour 2009 right now, it is reasonable to say that there will be similar results to the ones obtained last year, with some cities announcing energy consumption reductions of more than 10% during the event.

But, is that true? In 2007, Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bold disagreed. He argued that “a cut so tiny was trivial - equal to taking six cars off the road for a year”. Also, David Solomon, a PhD student at the University of Chicago, claimed that, in fact, “more than 67 per cent of the apparent decline during Earth Hour was due to factors operating throughout the entire day”. This would change the estimated reduction in electricity use during Earth Hour to a tiny 2.1 %.

Of course, both statements can be wrong, and need to be scientifically verified. However, even if we sustain the 10 % reduction, there are 24 hours per day, and 365 days (and 8,760 hours) this year. A 10% energy reduction for one hour, when seen within the context of a whole year of waste and disrespect for the environment, is basically irrelevant.

The point is clear. If Earth Hour happens only once a year, and for one hour, then it is a huge failure. Worse than that, the whole feel-good propaganda around it distracts many people from the serious danger the environment is in. It is almost like giving a placebo to a very sick patient. It is a medication that does nothing concrete, but takes away fears from people's minds, and allows them to go back to their daily environmental unfriendly activities, once the Earth Hour is over.

Earth “hours” can be only relevant if they happen frequently and consistently. We, as concerned people, have to demand from the institutions we are affiliated with (including the Church) that policies are taken so that real reductions in energy consumption happen. We also can do much more. Measures such as reducing lights, heat, taking shorter showers, buying organic and locally grown food, and boycotting products from countries or regions that are clear agressors of the Environment are surely helpful. One thing, however, is clear. What we do now (including the Earth Hour), is far from being enough to save our planet.

As a final reflection, I close this text like last year's, with a poem by Julian of Norwich, 14th Century mystic, who “lived several Earth hours” in a much more reasonable, dynamic and spiritual way than we probably do.


Be a gardener.
Dig a ditch,
toil and sweat,
and turn the earth upside down
and seek the deepness
and water the plants in time.
Continue this labor
and make sweet floods to run
and noble and abundant fruits
to spring.
Take this food and drink
and carry it to God
as your true worship.

Luiz Coelho, a seminarian from the Diocese of Rio de Janero, spends part of the year in the BFA program at the Savannah College of Art and Design. His Web site includes his art and his blog, Wandering Christian, on which he examines "Christianity in the third millennium, from a progressive, Latin American and Anglican point of view."

Is individualism sustainable? Is it Christian?

By Derek Olsen

Recently I've found myself caught up in the question: "what is saving what from what for what?" I know—it seems a little strange so allow me to explain where my mind has been wandering."

A story from TheOilDrum has been nagging at my brain for the last few days. It described the steps that one family was taking to meet the perils of peak oil/environmental troubles/social collapse, etc. and included what I consider a "typical" homesteading plan: a passive solar-enabled house with solar panels around, wells, cisterns, several acres under cultivation—you get the picture. Essentially they had created the kind of homesteading setup I used to dream about as a kid flipping through the Back to Basics book. But several things came out in the article and subsequent comments that gave me significant pause.

The couple was childless (by choice). They were isolated. They were heading into their 70's.
Two thoughts popped into my head with these revelations. The first from Ecclesiastes:

Then I returned, and I saw vanity under the sun. There is one alone, and there is not a second; yea, he hath neither child nor brother: yet is there no end of all his labour; neither is his eye satisfied with riches; neither saith he, For whom do I labour, and bereave my soul of good? This is also vanity, yea, it is a sore travail. Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. Again, if two lie together, then they have And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken. (Eccl 4:7-12)

The second thought was: And you consider this sustainable?!

Who will care for them in their old age? What happens when they can no longer maintain a small veggie plot, let alone several acres? If one gets sick, injured, or dies—what then?
Thinking more broadly, the mindset that this couple has embraced strikes me as one rooted deep in the American psyche. It's literally the rugged individual striking out on his own to carve his own destiny by the strength of his hand. The writer prefers the term "self-reliant" and does note a number of things that he can't do on his own—create metal tools, etc.—but at the heart of it lies the notion of the individual.

Looking to my initial rumination, under this paradigm, these individuals are saving themselves (or their immediate family) from just about everything for the sake of themselves.

Again—is this paradigm fundamentally sustainable? I don't think so...

Doesn't this rugged individualist paradigm of survival have strong roots within American expressions of Christianity? I'll say it does!

Thus I'm naturally reminded of Noah for in some sense he's the spiritual father of this model: just God and me (and my household and whatever I can get on my boat). We don’t hear a whole lot about Noah before the flood and that’s a shame because later interpreters therefore have to assess Noah on the basis of no data. All that we’re told is that he was “a just [or righteous (tsadiq)] man; perfect in his generation” (Gen 6:9) and that God tells him “for thee have I seen righteous (tsadiq) before me in this generation” (Gen 7:1). As a result, Jewish and Christian interpreters through the ages have tried to weigh the proper valence of two bits of evidence: “righteous” and “in his generation”. Indeed, ancient opinion was pretty well split on Noah. A number of New Testament and post-biblical texts focus on the “righteous” bit and assert that Noah preached salvation and repentance to all who would listen—and therefore suggest that no one did. Others suggest that Noah wasn't actually so great, emphasizing the "in his generation" bit. They see Noah as the best there was at the time, and that he doesn't quite measure up to later, better, standards precisely because we don’t hear of him reaching out to others.

The Zohar, a mystical Jewish treatise from the thirteenth century, states:

When Noah came out of the ark, he opened his eyes and saw the whole world completely destroyed. He began crying for the world and said, "Master of the World! If You destroyed Your world because of human sins or human fools, why did You create them? One or the other you should do: either do not create the human being, or do not destroy the world!"

The Blessed Holy One answered him, "Foolish shepherd! I lingered with you [before the flood] and spoke to you at length so that you would ask mercy for the world! But as soon as you heard that you would be safe in the ark, the evil of the world did not touch your heart. You built the ark and saved yourself. Now that the world has been destroyed you open your mouth to utter questions and pleas."

This tradition, then, (and others recorded in the Talmud and elsewhere) regards Noah as the least of the patriarchs for while Abraham, Moses and others argued for God on behalf of the others, it is not recorded that Noah did likewise.

Are we Noah?

Either in our theological thinking or our secular scheming—do we hearken after Noah more than the other patriarchs?

In looking for other paradigms I still think that the secular environmental paradigm of the Transition Town movement presents a better way forward. For its suggestion is that local communities should be addressing energy and climate issues as a whole for the sake of the whole. Nobody's retreating into a canyon in the California hills here; rather, neighbors are meeting one another and talking through plans. There's a part of me that's suspicious of this, because it means entrusting potentially crucial matters to other people—who knows if they can be trusted to come through? But then, come to think of it, that's how our world functions now anyway.

Realistic thinking about a lower-energy, non-fossil fueled world means a recognition of our interconnectedness. A recent group that participates in replicating a functioning Victorian community with an eye to a non-fossil-fuel world suggests that no less than 200 separate specializations are required to keep it functioning.
Checking back to the theological side, it seems that this sort of endeavor is far more in line with the heart of the Christian tradition, the one with baptism at its center. In the ancient world, even the notion of "individual salvation" wasn't constructed in the way we build it now. Yes, individuals (and households) were baptized but that was the start, not the end. Individuals were baptized into a community, into a family, into a Body. This family, in turn, created a new community that transcended the old—sometimes bitter—divisions:

But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-11)

Communities are harder to live with. They have disagreements, arguments, all sorts of unpleasantness. And yet they're workable—sustainable—in a way that individualism just isn't. Too, it is in the pushing, prodding, give and take of community life that we get pushed to make choices that give life for those beyond our selves and our little circles.

Derek Olsen is in the final stretch of completing a Ph.D. in New Testament (with a healthy side of Homiletics) at Emory University. He has taught seminary courses in biblical studies, preaching, and liturgics; he currently resides in Maryland. His reflections on life, liturgical spirituality, and being a Gen-X/Y dad appear at Haligweorc.

Save a tree. Shrink your Sunday bulletin.

By Peter Carey

Can we have Spirit-filled liturgy without millions of reams of paper discarded each Sunday?

What would it take for us in the Episcopal Church to stop producing millions of pages of bulletins and service booklets every Sunday? We all know how costly it is for our environment to keep producing paper, to say nothing of the cost of making and maintaining computers, printers, copiers, sorters, and duplicators. And then there is the human labor that is put into production of these bulletins and booklets. In recent years, in many churches I have visited, the prayer book liturgy is basically copied and pasted, perhaps with a slightly different version of the psalm, or some inclusive language included in the Eucharistic Prayer. Without even entering the discussion of whether the liturgies fit with the canons of our church, is it really necessary to produce so much paper? The bulletins I have seen some places look and feel like books. I wonder if churches, deaneries and dioceses have even considered the cost of this production of paper that is quickly discarded (hopefully recycled) shortly after parishioners leave for coffee-hour, and afternoons of family and football?

When I have brought this up with other folks who run churches, I hear that it is more hospitable for visitors to be handed a bulletin that does not force people to turn the pages in the Book of Common Prayer, only then to have to pick up one or another Hymnal, and then turn back to the Book of Common Prayer. Ok, I’ll concede that we are a bit crazy in our beloved church with the number of books to negotiate. However, these visitors are the same folks who drive their car, talk on the cell phone, listen to the radio, and eat a snack while driving. We are all multi-taskers Are we really saying that people can’t follow the along our liturgy, with a few instructions, while sitting in the pew?

I am part of the problem. As I prepared for services to begin the year at our school, I produced a leaflet for each person who attended our opening service. I came close to not making them, but I felt like it would be a lot to spring on new teachers if they had to fumble around with all the books. I also worry about the sense that our church can, unwittingly, project an “in-crowd” type of attitude, despite our “Episcopal Church Welcomes You” signs! However, perhaps we need to step out and actually welcome others once they get in the church.

I am concerned about the waste of paper and the cost of this production. Where else could all this money be going? Could we increase our mission? Could we offer some to the MDGs? Where could that budget line go?

I wonder if as a Lenten discipline next year every church could take just one or two Sundays “off” from producing any bulletin beyond a one-pager? Could we also practice the discipline of hospitality for visitors to our churches? Could we risk speaking to the visitors and offering help with our many colored prayer books and hymnals? How much money would be saved in just one or two weeks of using no bulletins? How many reams of paper might be saved?

I know, I know, it’s a crazy idea, but maybe it’s crazy enough to try – even for a couple of weeks. Who’s with me?

The Rev. Peter M. Carey is the school chaplain at St. Catherine's School for girls in Richmond, Virginia and is also on the clergy staff at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Richmond. He blogs at Santos Woodcarving Popsicles.

Thy neighbors' trash

By George Clifford

Each Tuesday, the city of Raleigh collects trash and recyclable items in my neighborhood. People place their rubbish and recycling bins curbside Monday evening or early Tuesday morning. After a windy Monday night or on a windy Tuesday, material blown from open recycling bins and from overstuffed trash bins litters the neighborhood. On my Tuesday jogs – with advancing age and declining speed I no longer presume to call my daily four miles a run – I frequently stop to pick up litter, depositing it in a convenient bin. Nobody has yet asked me what I am doing, what gives me the right to put litter in their bin. More surprisingly, nobody else whom I see on my Tuesday excursions picks up litter. Dog walkers, runners, people in their yards, lawn care service employees, children waiting for a ride – all seem equally oblivious to the litter. As the neighborhood stays relatively litter free, either homeowners eventually pick up the litter or wind patterns carry most of the litter elsewhere.

Perhaps another sign of my age is that I jog without an IPOD, phone, or other electronic device. Through decades of busy days in which my run often provided me with my only private time and, on many days, was a much needed stress reliever, I cultivated the habit of using the time for reflection and prayer. On a recent Tuesday, I reflected about litter, why it bothers me, and why I interrupt my jog to pick up somebody else’s trash.

Although the Bible speaks of humans receiving dominion over the earth from God, that dominion has never struck me as authorizing humans to destroy the earth. The Navy gave me authority over sailors. My commission – like that of all Navy leaders – was to help those sailors develop, not destroy them. The Navy is generally very clear that its sailors, no matter how eccentric or troublesome, are not the nation’s enemies against whom the Navy may one day have to wage war. In this day of joint warfare operations, the Navy even acknowledges that soldiers and airmen are friends, not foes (Marines have always been part of the Department of the Navy, a fact both sailors and Marines are sometimes loathe to admit it!). Parents have dominion over children. Again, the intent is to develop the child, not to destroy. The same principle – to develop not destroy – seems to express the intent of human dominion over the earth.

The analogy of sailor (or child) and earth seems particularly apt when one considers that both are composite, living entities. A human being has approximately one trillion cells. Over the years, new cells replace many of those that die; some cells malfunction (e.g., a cell that becomes cancerous); other cells are sacrificed for the greater good (e.g., removal of an appendix about to burst or cells that would form webbing between toes). The body can withstand much use and abuse but that has definite limits. For example, most of us survive multiple falls with little or no permanent damage but could not survive a truck hitting us at 55 mph as we walk across a street.

No analogy is perfect. A person is his/her body. The earth is not a person. Yet the earth is like a living organism with parts too numerous to count. Change, as with a human, is endemic to the earth. The earth’s geology, weather, flora, fauna, etc., all constantly evolve. The earth is amazingly resilient. It endures and overcomes a remarkable amount of use and abuse, whether from humans cultivating food, building shelter, dumping waste in the ocean, or conducting atmospheric nuclear weapons tests in the last century. But we are approaching – some would say we have even passed – the earth’s ability to absorb our unthinking abuse. Like a human, the earth has only a finite capacity to absorb abuse. The signs of our surpassing that capacity are manifold: climate change, persistent smog, once fertile fields stripped bare of their topsoil, once potable watersheds from which we now pump only toxic water, etc.

What awoke me to the problem of the abused earth was seeing a June 22, 1969 morning newspaper photograph of the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, OH, burning. Although I was still in high school at the time and my education far from complete, I knew enough science to know that rivers do not burn naturally. Something was grievously wrong. My awakening continued with reading Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and discovering that I, who thought I lived in an idyllic, friendly wilderness –Maine – in fact lived near one of the nation’s most polluted rivers. The river’s water was so toxic that fish no longer lived in it; a person who accidentally fell into the river often required medical attention. My environmental awareness has given me an abiding and deep appreciation for the phrase in Rite II Eucharistic Prayer C, “this fragile earth, our island home.”

Too many people continue to act as if human “dominion” authorizes the use, abuse, or even destruction of the earth. As a Christian and as a priest, I understand the transformative power of words. One way to change the attitude underlying those actions is to change our words, to identify earth as “Mother Earth.” This affirms earth’s living dimension, associates a nurturing yet powerful metaphor with earth, and recognizes the absolute truth that without the earth, human life as we know would be impossible. “Mother Earth” connotes the totality of this planet and avoids the more limited images some associate with the older, emotionally laden “Mother Nature.” Instead of asking people to be environmentally responsible, we should ask people to treat their Mother well and with love. Christians steeped in ecclesiastical history know that in centuries past, Christians have on occasion referred to the Church as their Mother. In our secular culture with generally ill-formed Christians, the metaphor of Mother Earth probably speaks more powerfully than Mother Church. Objectors do well to remember that a child having more than one mother is no bad thing – unless the child wants to get into mischief! (I’m not advocating polygamy, simply affirming the great benefit that comes from having more than one woman fill a mother-like role in a child’s life.)

Another way to move people away from attempting to exercise dominion over the earth is for those of us committed to caring for Mother Earth to lead by example. Following the leader – adopting a moral exemplar upon whom to base one’s life – is a time-honored approach to the Christian moral life popularized in the question, “What would Jesus do?” I admittedly lack the wisdom to know what type of vehicle, if any, Jesus would drive. I am confident, however, that Jesus would stoop once, or perhaps even several times, per day to pick up litter that disfigures, even temporarily, Mother Earth. A person committed to leading the way towards more fully and completely caring for Mother Earth would do well to audit his or her life for ways to reduce destructive impact and to enhance caring. Maybe one day somebody will ask me why I pick up litter, affording me an opportunity to explain that individual acts done by large groups can collectively make a huge impact (and perhaps to feel a trifle self-righteous!).

Collective action is yet another way to move people away from dominion toward respecting Mother Earth. When Maine enacted a law mandating a deposit on all beverage containers, the state within a matter of months became much cleaner. Non-profit groups and individuals picked up litter and earned money simultaneously. Retailers, bottlers, and others opposed the proposed law. Today, Maine people still consume beverages in bottles and cans, retailers collect and refund deposits, a cottage recycling industry has developed, and Mother Earth is looking better and a little healthier for it. Surely a nation that can send humans to walk on the moon and bring them home safely can find more ways, large and small, to help preserve restore our fragile island home to health.

The Rev. George Clifford, a retired priest in the Diocese of North Carolina, served as a Navy chaplain for twenty-four years.

Blood sacrifice

By Heidi Shott

One recent, magnificent Saturday, the temperature hit 85 degrees here in midcoast Maine. I spent some time fiddling in the garden, admiring the green pea shoots popping up through the dirt. My son Marty and I walked to the neighborhood fish ladder and watched thousands of struggling alewives ascending, in little fits and starts, the tortuous 42 vertical feet from the tidal Damariscotta River to the concrete dam that marks the southernmost shore of Damariscotta Lake, their birthplace. Once over the dam and into the mill pond, these mackerel-like fish spawn and then late in the summer they slip and slide back down the ladder and out to the open sea. Next spring they’re compelled to do it all over again.

At one point I pulled out the hammock, set it up for the season, and just lay there enjoying the welcome warmth and the view of the mill pond and the repeated whoosh of my son Colin whacking the heads off the dandelions with a badminton racquet. The ecstasy lasted about ten seconds before the black flies found me.

The black fly. The bane of what passes for spring in Maine hovered around my hairline and behind my ears with the intention of extracting little droplets of A Positive. I hauled myself out of the hammock with a sigh and walked down to the dock where there was a wisp of breeze. Every few seconds the skin of the mill pond flickered as a newly-arrived alewife struck a black fly on the surface. Down below the dam, where the fish are the thickest, the gulls and cormorants feed from the sidelines on the fish that get waylaid on the rocks. If you’re lucky, once or twice during the alewife season, which runs the month of May, you might look skyward at just the right moment to see one of the neighborhood eagles flying by with a fish clutched in its talon en route to its nest over the far line of pine trees.

Black flies, alewives, and eagles. I stood on my dock looking at the chill, black water thinking how superfluous we humans are to this particular chain of connections. But then a black fly started to suck a bit of blood from the tender flesh at the corner of my right eye. Instinctively I squished it with my index finger and flicked it away to the pond. At that moment it occurred to me that my blood and my family’s blood and the blood of my-until-recently-cooped-up neighbors is what feeds this remarkable system. In May we come out of our homes en masse, feed the black flies who, heavy with our donation, skim the water to be eaten by alewives who are in turn eaten by eagles and osprey eager to feed their young. One sad spring several years ago, the eaglets died of hunger in their nearby nest because the alewives were delayed in making their journey up the river. It’s true. I have neighbors who monitor these things with high-powered binoculars.

Back on the dock, I felt a twinge of guilt for squishing my tiny fly friend. What’s a bit of pain and an unsightly red welt when I could help to feed the eaglets? It’s a small price to pay to live amid this natural wonder and beauty in a setting that would resemble a photo in the L.L. Bean catalogue if only we had nice lawn furniture and professional landscaping. By letting myself be chomped, I can be a living sacrifice – a little of my life given freely will support a little of theirs. Of course the sacrificial life, particularly when it involves blood sacrifice, has fallen a bit out of fashion over the past couple of thousand years. But in this natural setting, it represents a yielding, deferential way of life that does not much diminish me as a giver but rather offers my small oblation up to the world.

Last Tuesday night, after the local school budget passed, my seven years as a school board member ended. Over the years my sons resented my absence on the second Wednesday of each month. I didn't help them with their homework or read to them or put them to bed on many weeknights. But it gave them a little guy time with their dad. They get to break the rules, stay up late, play pinball after 9 p.m. All in all my community service has equaled a very small sacrifice. I can think of dozens of people who give much, much more out of the substance of their lives for the benefit of others, not to mention a lot of black flies and the alewives who, wittingly or not, give up the whole thing.

Still I worry that my modern children won’t learn about sacrifice, blood or otherwise. Come summer I know that Colin will walk around the house with a flyswatter and recite Ogden Nash’s couplet, “God in his wisdom made the fly/but then forgot to tell us why.” Maybe in time he’ll take a larger view, but until then, all I can say is I’m glad Colin isn’t in charge of the universe.

Heidi Shott has served as press officer to Bishop Chilton Knudsen of Maine since 1998. Communications director of the Genesis Fund, a revolving loan fund that provides expertise and low-interest loans to nonprofits engaged in community development, her essays about trying to live a life of faith may be found at Heidoville.

Sowing, reaping, eating, thinking

By Marshall Scott

It's garden time at our house. My wife loves to garden, while I love to harvest. There is, as I'm sure you know, a price to be paid for the opportunity to harvest. For me, it's the heavy labor. So, some of the tilling is done. The raised bed is built, as is a trellis stout enough to hold butternut squash. There's more to do, of course, but things have started.

It's garden time. Seeds started in peat pots and customized potting soil are thriving on the seed benches. Tomatoes, beans, eggplant, and peppers show their promise. Soon they'll be spending daylight hours hardening off, adapting to the rigors of the world outside.

Last year's blackberry stakes are, starting to leaf out, as the new stakes of the blackberries and raspberries break ground. The blueberries are greening up and blooming. And the peach tree is spectacular this year. Blossoms are as large and as plentiful and as floridly pink as I can remember.

Perhaps that's because they suffered so last year. Last spring, just as the peaches and blueberries bloomed, we were hit by an ice storm. Blossoms were literally frozen on the bough. While the ice covered them, they seemed preserved in glass. When the ice was gone, the blossoms were gone as well, and with them a year's harvest. There were no local peaches or blueberries or apples to be had last year because of that storm.

We do eat from our garden, if as supplement rather than subsistence. We were saddened by the loss of peaches and berries, but nothing like the costly losses to the orchardists in our region and beyond. But we were certainly aware of our loss, and more sensitive to theirs.

We make some effort to “eat local,” from our garden or from local farmers or from the few supermarkets that have discovered that there’s a market for it. While it’s not the only reason for the effort or the expense, we are certainly more aware of where our food comes from and how. A generation ago a large pressure canner or a large dehydrator would have been a remarkably unromantic birthday gifts. Over the last couple of years those are the gifts my wife has cherished most. And I will say as a cook there are a number of pleasures to take in having one’s own canned tomatoes and dried basil. I take a particular pleasure in the dried herbs, perhaps because I don’t have all that good a sense of smell. There is a visceral pleasure when, instead of shaking a small jar, I fill my palm with dried leaves and rub them to powder between my hands, allowing the tiny bits to fall into the hot skillet. When all the spices are in – basil and tarragon and oregano – I can put my face in my hands and breathe deep. The scent fills my nose, and my kitchen; and on my better days, I will smell it for hours, every time I come in from outside.

Long ago, as an undergraduate I participated in a class experiment. We fasted from solid food from the end of the Tuesday class to the beginning of the Thursday class. Much to my chagrin, I discovered that I was never hungry. My routine was somewhat disturbed, but I could always find something else to keep me occupied. I learned much, although not what was originally intended. I had gained no sense of identification with the poor and hungry. I was so well fed that I had not suffered at all. I had learned instead just how blessed I was. I also learned what a false effort it would be, for me at least, to attempt to “show solidarity” by some temporary experiment. It might offer some intellectual stimulation, and even some moral compunction; but it wouldn’t come close to identification. Perhaps it was one of the first times I realized why, later as priest and chaplain, I could never say, “I know how you feel.”

The garden, I think, takes me closer. It’s still not enough for identification. I am not a farmer, much less a subsistence farmer. At the same time, I know what effort I put in. I know how often I bark my knuckles in the process; and so I know some of my sweat and blood feeds the roots of the peppers. I know what it means to put in two hours in the hot sun; and if I don’t know what it means to put in twelve hours, I do know that my life would be very different if I had no choice. I know how I feel about the squirrels in the peach tree and the robins in the blueberries and the rabbits in the beans; and if I can only imagine what it would be like to have my family’s life on that line, I have at least some basis for that imagination.

And so I am more aware of the news about food, at home and abroad. I am aware that rice exporting countries in Asia are withholding exports to protect their own people and their own stability, while rice importing countries scramble. I pay attention to the food riots in Egypt and Haiti. I note the news of cold snaps that damage the fruit crops in California. I realize the increased costs of fuel raise the costs of food around the globe. I am conscious that while these changes are, for me, a matter of what I eat, for many they are matters of whether they eat.

As an Episcopalian, I am conscious that my church has spoken to issues of hunger and food many times. I was struck by this simple resolution, passed in 1976: “that this General Convention encourages simple eating lifestyles for all those scheduled to attend the 66th General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Denver, 1979.” (1976:D071( [link: http://www.episcopalarchives.org/cgi-bin/acts/acts_resolution.pl?resolution=1976-D071] Still, in all our current troubles, it’s easy to lose our voice on these things. We have passed our commitment to the Millennium Development Goals. At the same time, resolutions on food security (2003-A016) [link: http://www.episcopalarchives.org/cgi-bin/acts/acts_resolution-complete.pl?resolution=2003-A016] and on eradicating hunger in the United States (2006-D085) [link: http://www.episcopalarchives.org/cgi-bin/acts/acts_resolution-complete.pl?resolution=2006-D085] have died for lack of concurrence at the end of General Convention.

Each of us is called, I think, to consider how our lives affect the lives of others. If we watch how this plays out in our eating – whether the cost of oil for transport or fertilizer, or how that affects use of food crops for ethanol, or how industrial agriculture affects issues from the environment to immigration to small farmers – we will recognize the ways, perhaps new ways, to “think globally and act locally;” and to continue to “seek and serve Christ in all persons,” however far away they may seem. I’m not sure I would agree with Dorothy Frances Gurney that

“One is nearer God’s heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on earth.”

But if it is true, for me it is not because of pious rapture but because it puts me that little bit closer to those who struggle for their daily bread. And I am certain that God is there.

The Rev. Marshall Scott is a chaplain in the Saint Luke’s Health System, a ministry of the Diocese of West Missouri. A past president of the Assembly of Episcopal Healthcare Chaplains, and an associate of the Order of the Holy Cross, he keeps the blog Episcopal Chaplain at the Bedside.

Thoughts on the eve of Earth Day

By Jean Fitzpatrick

We've finally switched to reusable grocery bags. Bright green. I think of it as conspicuous conservation.

Let's face it, we need all the conservation we can get: according to TIME, it takes some 14 million trees in a single year to keep the U.S. in paper bags, and 12 million oil barrels for plastic. Treehugger.com says over 100,000 birds die every year after encounters with plastic debris, much of it plastic bags.

You'd think using the green bags would be a simple step, but then you'd be forgetting the human factor.

Today at the supermarket I arrived at the cash register and realized, as usual, that I'd left my green bags in the car. Ordinarily -- if there's no one behind me -- I ask the cashier to wait a second while I race out to the parking lot, but this time I was in a rush: I only had a few minutes to grab some groceries on my way to work. "I don't need a bag," I told the cashier, figuring I'd carry my few items out to the car and slip them into a green bag in the trunk.

“She doesn't need a bag," the cashier called out. I glanced around, not sure whom she was talking to. That's when I saw that Juliet, the supermarket's most reliable bagger, had stepped up to the checkout counter. I always bag my own groceries unless she's there. Juliet, a middle-aged woman with a blond ponytail who has Down syndrome, always arranges the items in the bag so they're not squashed, leaky, or missing when you get home. By now she'd already popped my basil, fish and fruit into a plastic bag. As soon as she heard the cashier's announcement she frowned and pulled them out again. "Thanks, Juliet," I said, but, her frown deepening, she looked away. I swiped my debit card and, clutching my groceries in both hands, beat a hasty retreat.

All the way home I pictured Juliet's frown and decided that if I ever found myself in that situation again, Juliet's feelings meant more to me than one plastic bag. I'd forced myself into a bogus trade-off, of course. Had I not scheduled my day down to the last nanosecond, it would have been easy enough to run outside and bring in a green bag, which Juliet would have packed with her usual efficiency and good cheer. When I neglect to show myself compassion, I realized, I tend to short-change others as well...not to mention forgetting all about the planet.

Back home, as I put the shrimp (shrink-wrapped and farm-raised) along with the basil and fruit (each stuffed into an oversized plastic package) into my hefty side-by-side fridge (how much of an EnergyStar can it really be?), the whole effort seemed absurd. Can a few green bags really lighten my carbon footprint? I wondered. Is there any point to making such a small change?

Well, even if we save a few hundred paper or plastic bags a year, that's a start. The bags aren't a solution, but, along with some other changes we're making to our daily routine, they're a first step. More than that, maybe, when I'm all caught up in rushing around, the green bags broaden my perspective. I'm keeping them beside me in the passenger seat these days, hoping I'll remember to bring them into the supermarket, but also letting them remind me of the choices I seek to make. They're part of a sacramental way of life: in the midst of the day's obligations and busyness, the green bags open me up to a caring connection with the earth, one that is interwoven with all my other relationships...with Juliet and the cashier, with the people I love, and with the loving energy that sustains us all.

Jean Grasso Fitzpatrick, L.P., a New York-licensed psychoanalyst and a member of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, sees couples and individuals in her private practice. A layreader in the Diocese of New York, she is the author of numerous books and articles on the spirituality of relationships, including Something More: Nurturing Your Child's Spiritual Growth and has a website at www.pastoralcounseling.net.

Putting creation at risk

By Reid Detchon

Our material comforts give us so much to be grateful for. Kings and queens, in days gone by, never knew the luxuries we take for granted. Most of us live and eat so well, our biggest threat is overdoing it.

And yet our little empires, our cars, gadgets and homes, are built on something that threatens to bring it all to ruin – the production and use of energy. Our personal freedom and mobility depends on oil and electricity that comes mostly from coal and natural gas.

These three fossil fuels, formed and accumulated underground over millions of years, are being extracted, combusted, and injected into our atmosphere with ever-increasing speed, and the world is growing steadily warmer as a result.

Like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, we are experimenting with magic we can’t control. We have put in motion processes that we cannot stop or reverse, and we are putting God’s creation at risk.

The Arctic ice cap drives our hemisphere’s weather, but in less than a decade, it may be gone. The warming tundra is preparing to release gases built up through eons of decomposition, trapped no longer beneath a frozen cap. The mighty oceans warm and expand and, as ice melts on Greenland, rise along our coasts.

What are we doing to our world, to ourselves, to our children’s future? What are we doing to each other?

When the climate changed and the rains failed in Darfur, herdsmen moved onto farmers’ land and started fighting. When the climate changed and an unrelenting heat wave struck Europe in 2003, more than 14,000 died in France alone. When the climate changed and the Gulf of Mexico warmed, its energy was taken up by Hurricane Katrina.

When we say it’s just the weather, we are like children plugging our ears and saying, “Nah, nah, nah, nah” to block out what we don’t want to hear. The energy we use – when we start our cars, boot up our computers, heat and cool our homes – is killing people. We are killing people – by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.

This is tough to hear – because it threatens the regal comforts we all are so grateful to have. Do we really have to give them up to save the world?

Energy is a great blessing. It has brought billions of people out of deprivation and misery. Doing without it would harm far more people than global warming.

Thanks to God’s blessings, we need not do without. All energy is not alike. Some kinds of energy are harmful, but others are not. Every day God provides, through the sunshine and the rain, the wind and the trees and plants, far more energy to the Earth than we could ever use. We call this energy renewable, because God continually renews its supply, like manna, for all who reach out their hands. It may cost a bit more to gather, but what is that against the cost we are incurring, the harm that we are doing?

We can change our ways. We can make a choice – at home, at work, in our churches and schools. There may be some sacrifice, some small additional price to pay for cleaner energy. But the reward is large. It is, in fact, the whole world.

Reid Detchon, a vestry member at St. Columba’s in Washington, D. C., is Executive Director, Energy and Climate, at the United Nations Foundation.

The art of being still

By Heidi Shott

In 1979 a small island in the Southern Caribbean made a bold move by designating the real estate between the high tide mark and 200 feet below the surface a national marine park. Rules require dive boats to use moorings instead of reef-damaging anchors and make illegal spearfishing and the use of diving gloves, lest divers be tempted to touch vulnerable coralheads.

Nearly 30 years later Bonaire, one of six islands that comprise the Netherlands Antilles, has done more to preserve the complex ecosystem of the coral reef and the variety and abundance of fish life than anywhere else in the Caribbean. Not only have the Bonairians preserved their natural resource, but they have also ensured steady economic growth by drawing divers to their pristine underwater park year after year. My family has returned to dive off the island ten times over the last 15 years. We’re in a rut, but it’s an awfully nice rut and very affordable once you get there.

Diving is something my husband Scott and I have shared throughout our life together. The thrill of seeing a sea turtle or a eagle ray or to swim in the midst of a huge, flock-like school of silversides or to have dolphins frolic along side our boat, binds us in a way that is hard to explain. Scott learned to dive at 14 in the mid-seventies in the murky lakes and frigid quarries of West Virginia. I learned in 1985 in the tropical waters off the Micronesian island of Saipan when we were first married and teachers at the island parochial school.

During our most recent trip in January, our twin 14 year-old sons learned to dive. Finally we could dive together as a family. We spent two weeks diving, reading, playing scrabble and gin rummy, and watching the sun set from our porch with boat drinks and snacks – no phone, no email, no computer games, no TV, no diocesan or hospital emergencies that required our response. When we awoke in the morning, the drill was not the mad morning rush to school and work but to drink some tea with a slice of toast, gather our gear bags, squeeze into the bottom half of our wetsuits, and make our way down the dock to the happy camaraderie of the dive boat. “So where we goin’ this morning?” the day’s dive leader would ask.

“Salt Pier!”

“La Dania’s Leap!”

“Carl’s Hill!”

“Anywhere, it’s all good!”

Under the Caribbean sun we would arrive at the dive site and hoist our air tanks onto our backs, the acrid smell of hot neoprene in our noses. How delicious to let the weight of the gear flip us backwards off the side of the boat into the cool ocean.

As a diver, one skill I’ve paid close attention to over the years is controlling my buoyancy. I’ve learned to rise and fall in the water by gauging the amount of air in my lungs and to control my pitch and yawl by the flick of a fin or the twitch of a hand in the water. I’m not an expert – I don’t dive enough for that – but after a dive or two the fluency comes back. By maintaining neutral buoyancy a diver can get close to things…really close. This is important because so much of what goes on in your average coral reef neighborhood is tiny and complicated and if you want to get a sense of the intricacies of life on the reef, you need to be as close and as still as possible.

What an honor to be a visitor to this little corner of creation. It takes hundreds of years for the coral reef to grow: one generation of a hundred of species of coral dies to form a minute layer over the great exoskeleton of the reef, a millimeter at a time. One of my favorite things to do, and I taught my sons to do it as well, is to kick back from the reef into the deep water and pause to take in the whole wide expanse of the scene. We’re looking at part of creation that was in this very place doing its silent, magnificent thing at the same time Henry VIII was beginning to grow a teensy bit dissatisfied with Catherine of Aragon, when our boys were shooting themselves to bits at Second Bull Run, and when my grandfather was in the trenches faraway in France. For millennia tiny blue-lipped blennies have bravely defended their two inches of territory, orange frogfish have extended their deceptive lures, the spectacular and shy spotted drum has swum in and out of the hollows of brain coral…over and over and over again. For the past 60 years, since M. Cousteau and his friends figured out how to breath underwater, we humans have been privileged to observe this world for up to 75 minutes at a time.

Last month, on the day before we were to fly home and resume our life in Maine, I jumped off the dock with my fins, mask and snorkel. We’d made our last dive earlier in the day and were now allowing all the dissolved nitrogen built up in our blood to dissipate before we flew." (Getting the bends in an airplane is a seriously dumb, seriously dangerous rookiesque thing to do.) Before long, I was swimming 30 feet above the terrain I’d dived inches from a half dozen times in the past two weeks. From the surface I recognized certain distinctive coral heads, a large prickly West Indian Sea Egg, brilliant purple stovepipe sponges and delicate, translucent vase sponges, five different species each of parrotfish, angelfish, damselfish, and butterflyfish, and little groupers called Rock Hinds. I recognized them from 30 feet above only because I already knew them intimately from close at hand. Fish we don’t recognize at depth, we study in our fish books when we surface so we will know them the next time. Divers sport the geeky enthusiasm of birders, we just don’t often talk about it in public.

As I paddled around in the gorgeous turquoise, warmer than our mill pond ever gets at mid-summer, I started to finger this essay in my mind. Out of habit and propensity, I often contrast whatever situation I’m find myself in to the state of the Episcopal Church or the nuttiness of trying to live like a Christian in this complicated world. It’s an annoying habit and I’ve tried unsuccessfully to break it. I’ve compromised by only writing about one in five ideas that wash over me. Still, what I was thinking was something like this: If one part of God’s glorious creation - such as the ecosystem of the tropical coral reef – is so amazingly complex and fragile, doesn’t it follow that other parts of creation – the family, the congregation, the diocese, the Church, the Communion – each would be just as complex. Think of how nuanced and complicated the life of any congregation or diocese is. Yet, if we’re on the outside, how easy it is, with a little bit of distant observation, to feel we have captured the nut of a place in the palm of our hands.

As a diver at depth, so careful with my breathing to remain close but not intrusive amid the life and death action of the reef, I can observe a world that I don’t belong to. I can learn a lot, but I’ll never be a fish. I’ll never know what causes the Pederson’s Cleaning Shrimp to climb onto that particular anemone. As a snorkler 30 feet above, I can see the bigger coral heads and the bigger fish, but I’ll never see the two-inch blenny defending his little home in the crack before darting back to safety or the baby spotted moray eel poking its head and mouth full of teeth from a burrow.

But my inability to really, really know doesn’t stop me from pretending I know the undersea world. In his song, “Laughter,” Bruce Cockburn sang, “A laugh for the dogs barking at our heels, they don’t know where we’ve been. A laugh for the dirty window panes, hiding the love within.” I’ve always loved that line because he calls us on how willing we are to be dismissive of people with whom we don’t agree or with whom we have little in common. We’re especially good at that in the Church.

I don’t know how to change that, but scuba diving provides some good lessons: control your breathing, be still, watch carefully, and, for God’s sweet sake, don’t open your mouth.

Heidi Shott has served as press officer to Bishop Chilton Knudsen of Maine since 1998. She is also communications director of the Genesis Fund, a revolving loan fund that provides expertise and low-interest loans to nonprofits engaged in community development. Heidi's essays about trying to live a life of faith may be found at Heidoville.

A carbon fast for Lent

By James Jones

Traditionally people have given up things for Lent. Last year in the Diocese of Liverpool many parishes took part in a Carbon Fast. Through it we were able to focus on God’s Earth and its poorest people in whom, Jesus said, we were to find him.

This year, in Lent 2008, we invite as many as can to join us in a Carbon Fast (For details, click Read More at the end of this entry.)

Over the years I’ve been able to visit some of the countries most affected by the changing climate. I’ve sat with village elders in Africa, India and Central America and asked the simple question, “Has the weather changed in your lifetime?” With the answer “yes” has come stories of cyclones, rivers drying up, harvests failing and flooding.

Whatever is happening to the planet there’s no disputing that we’re putting more carbon into the atmosphere than ever before and that this is adding to the blanket that’s trapping the heat around the earth.

On World Environment Day, I was in Tromso in the Arctic Circle for a service in the Ice Cathedral. Desmond Tutu was preaching next to a block of ice that had fallen away from a melting Ice Cap, and reinforcing our responsibility for God’s creation.

St. Paul tells us everything has come into being through and for Christ. This doctrine gives us the ethics of caring for the earth. It is Christ’s environment, not ours. He stands at the centre of all creation – as both creator and redeemer.

As the climate changes and impacts the earth it is clear that the poor are already suffering. The tragedy is that those with the power to do something about it are least affected and those who are most affected are powerless to bring about any change. That’s why there’s a moral imperative on those of use who emit more than our fair share of carbon to rein in our consumption.

It’s estimated that in the U.K. we emit 9.5 tons of carbon per person per year whereas in Ethiopia the average is 0.067 tons and in Bangladesh 0.24. Apparently the earth can sustain 0.8 per person! Reducing our carbon footprint is therefore a matter of justice.

When Jesus fasted in the wilderness he kept company with wild beasts and with angels who ministered to him. He came out of that experience with a clear sense of the Kingdom of God which he preached with passion.

As we pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it’s done in Heaven, the Carbon Fast will be a practical step towards a fairer world, a sustainable planet and the earthing of Heaven.


The Rt. Rev. James Jones is Bishop of Liverpool.

Read more »

Everyone talks about the weather

By Steven Charleston

I do not remember when I first heard the old saying that everyone talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it. It is just one of those truisms that seems to have always been there. Until now.

Now we are not just talking about the weather. We are, in fact, doing a great deal about it. We are changing it. And not in a good way. The recent national experience of fire storms in California, drought in Georgia, floods in the Midwest and record heat in New England reminds us that climate change is not a myth, but a formula. With a grim mathematical precision we are mutating our weather patterns into new and unstable combinations. The disasters we have witnessed so far are only the first products of that deadly equation. There is much more to come.

Of course, we have heard those predictions before. For many years now scientists and environmentalists have been sending up flares to warn us about how our behavior was impacting the world around us. For just as many years, most of us ignored those warnings and went about business as usual. Now we are paying the price. But before we spend too much time with self recrimination, we should glance at the global clock ticking loudly in the corner. We are close to midnight when it comes to reversing our situation, but close is better than being there, being at the point of no return. We still have a chance, if we choose to take it.

Will it require whole cities burning down or drying up to motivate that choice? Do we have to lose Atlanta or San Diego to get us moving on environmental action? As people of faith, those citizens in the larger society who profess to have a spiritual motivation built in, now is our chance. We are the people who are supposed to listen to the prophets. We are the community that is already organized to not only offer pastoral care to those hurt by disasters, but equally ready to advocate on their behalf. We have the vision of a holy creation and the network of local ministers to turn that vision into action.

While many, if not most, of us have waited until the evidence of global climate change has literally fallen on us, we have an opportunity now to redeem ourselves by using the resources at hand to do something about it. We have been changing the weather for the worst, not we can start changing it again for the better. Slowing down the effects of global warming is possible in the short run. Stopping it altogether is even possible in the long run. We have the ability to act if we choose to do so. And there are few communities better positioned to make those moves than the people of faith.

Will we stop talking about the weather and do something about it? Will the church lead the way? Will we finally muster the national willpower to put our prayers to work on the environmental agenda that is so obviously staring us in the face? Personally, I believe that we will. As much as the disasters sprouting up around us create a climate of fear and loss, they create opportunities for mission and witness. Our finest hour as the people of God is at hand. This is our moment, our chance. The choices we make will determine future in a way that our ancestors could never have imagined. We have an historically grave responsibility, but one that God would not have called us to if we were not up to the task. The destruction we see around us is not an accident. But then, neither is the fact that you and I have been placed here to do something about it.

The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston, former Bishop of Alaska, is president and dean of Episcopal Divinity School, and keeper of the podcasting blog EDS's Stepping Stones. A citizen of the Choctaw Nation, Bishop Charleston is widely recognized as a leading proponent for justice issues and for spiritual renewal in the church.

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