by Rev. Dan Paul
“The prophetic message addresses a deadened present with implications for an energized community in the future” –Dr. Margaret G. Alter, Resurrection Psychology
Each week as soon as visiting church youth groups arrive at the Blue Theology Mission Station they are walked to the rocky shore of the Monterey Bay and asked to find a quiet place to sit and soak in the view of the magnificent Ocean. And while each pilgrim settles into the soothing sound of waves, wind and seagulls, each young person is asked to write down a response to this question “How does the Ocean remind you of God?” Responses are easily found and a sense that the waters themselves are sacred flow into each consciousness. As the week progresses, each person finds an understanding that the Monterey Bay is not only a sacred place, but also a place of resurrection.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, sardines, whales, abalone, elephant seals and the adorable sea otters (which Rev. Talitha Amadea Aho in her book In Deep Waters: Spiritual Care for Young People in a Climate Crisis describes as “problematically cute”) were all vigorously hunted with unbridled exploitation. The once thriving sardine industry that put Cannery Row on the map dwindled due to overfishing and ignorance of sustainability. Ecosystems on the bay were tragically altered due to loss of key species such as the abalone and sea otters. A spiritual darkness crept on the bay – our sin on display.
But then, prophetic voices rose and a grassroots effort to repent resulted in sea otters, elephant seals and other species getting federal protection. In 1992, the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary was established with a good portion of the energy to create the National Marine Sanctuary provided by coastal churches. In a marine sanctuary (people of faith – don’t you love that the word “sanctuary” was chosen to describe the management of Ocean ecosystems?) various environmental agencies keep a watchful eye on the delicate balance of the many ecosystems found within the sanctuary.
Fifteen years ago, the Blue Theology Mission Station was established on the coast of the Monterey Bay to offer learning/serving experiences in Ocean Stewardship to church youth groups. During the week, an understanding that “dominion over the earth” is not about domination, but more about accepting God’s gift of the Ocean with a deep sense of responsibility and interdependence. The Blue Theologians learn that managing ecosystems is indeed holy work. The Blue Theology Mission Station is a beacon along the sacred waters where Science is not considered antithetical to Spirituality, but rather specifically at the Blue Theology Mission Station current Marine Science informs our faith.
This past year, with the help of Creation Justice Ministries two Blue Theology Outposts were established on the Gulf Coast in Texas City, TX and on the Back Bay of Newport Bay in Newport Beach, CA. Plans are underway to create two more Blue Theology Outposts – one on the shoreline of North Carolina and another on the coast of Cape Cod. Each of these locations are becoming increasingly knowledgeable about the unique ecosystems in which they find themselves and will tailor their learning/serving programs accordingly.
Ocean ecosystems are still out-of-balance, key species in these ecosystems are still on the endangered species list, the sea level is still expected to rise a full foot by 2050 and don’t even get us started on the massive islands of plastics in the Oceans gyres. Yet, prophetic voices will continue to be raised with hope abiding that Dr. Alter’s quote will be true – this deadened present will establish and embolden energized communities of faith and the resulting repentance on our part from those prophetic voices will assist the sacred waters of the Ocean to a glorious resurrection.
Dan Paul (he, him, his) is an ordained minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and a graduate of the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, CA. Dan is the director of the Blue Theology Mission Station – www.bluetheology.com .
Wild Church Movement: Restoring Sacred Relationship with Earth
by Rev. Victoria Loorz
The old story, as eco-spirituality pioneer Thomas Berry said 30 years ago, is no longer effective. A story of domination and separation expressed through violence of racial and species superiority is unraveling. And a new story is emerging. Everyone affiliated with the Creation Justice movement is involved in that emergence. We are living in a time of liminal in-between. We know that the layers of crises and cruelty we face will not be solved with technological, political, or economic strategies alone. That a deeper transformation of heart is necessary to welcome in a new story.
The Wild Church movement is part of that transformation. Moving away from a worldview and a way of life that treats others as a “collection of objects” toward a new way of being human that participates honorably in a vast “communion of subjects” is what Thomas Berry called “the Great Work.”4
The Great Work is spiritual at the core. It is a shift beyond stewardship, which is still rooted in a hierarchy of superiority, as if we humans are the ones who know what is needed to make the necessary shifts of survival. What’s ultimately required is a change of heart, a shift in how we relate to each other and to the whole of the living Earth. It is a shift from mind to heart, from theory to experience, from stewardship to relationship.
Restoring sacred, kindred relationship with the land where we live is the core theological practice of wild churches. While there are diverse expressions of a Church of the Wild, creating, restoring, adapting spiritual practices that reconnect us with the rest of the alive world as a beloved community is at the root of the movement.
Wild churches include a time of wandering. An embodied movement beyondthe circle of humans to listen for the voices of the others, to hear the voice of the Sacred through the wind’s conversation with leaves, through the crickets call, through the airplane’s trail in the clouds. Like virtually every single spiritual leader in our sacred stories captured in the Bible, a call into wilderness is simply the pattern of calling into leadership. Jesus went into (not just in…eis, the Greek preposition used in every single account of his going to pray is a relational word meaning into) the wilderness, the garden, the lakeside to pray. The children of Israel wandered into the wilderness not just as an act of punishment, but as a tender remembering of who they are in relationship with the whole created world. The word wilderness, midbar, after all, in Hebrew means “the organ which speaks.”
Wild churches create spiritual practices that invite relationship. Beyond caring for creation or stewarding Earth’s “resources,” it is entering into an actual relationship with particular places and beings of the living world that can provide an embodied, rooted foundation for transformation.
The new story is rooted in a worldview of belonging—a way of being human that acts as if we belong to a community larger than our own family, race, class, and culture, and larger even than our own species. The apocalyptic unveiling happening in our world right now makes it difficult even for those who have been sheltered in privilege to look away from the reality, both tragic and beautiful, that we are all deeply interconnected. Humans, trees, oceans, deer, viruses, bees. God.
Re-placing our spirituality back into the actual sacred world, where it has been rooted for most of history, is a way to restore our place in the life-thriving systems of Earth. Wild Spirituality is a practice of remembering what we have forgotten: we are part of Nature, not separate.6Wild church replaces a human “kingdom” paradigm of hierarchy, monarchy, and inequality with the power systems of Earth, which can be described as a “kin-dom” of cooperation and kindred reciprocity.
Church of the wild is one way to help us live into a new story of a kin-dom of God that includes the whole system of life and regards all humans and all species as inherently good and valuable. In this kin-dom we love neighbors—all neighbors—as ourselves. We do unto others—all others—as we would have them do unto us.
Victoria Loorz, MDiv, is a Wild Church Pastor, an Eco-spiritual Director and founder of the Center for Wild Spirituality, Seminary of the Wild and the ecumenical Wild Church Network. Her book, Church of the Wild: How Nature Invites Us into the Sacred, is an invitation to deepen our commitment to a suffering earth by falling in love with it--and calling it church.
Reflections on Gonna Trouble the Water
by Dr. Miguel A. de la Torre (Adapted from an interview at the Southern Festival of Books)
Water is Sacred
There's a sacredness to water that all too often the religious sensibilities of the West simply cannot grasp. In the West, water is a commodity: something to use, to abuse, to make money off of. But in many indigenous cultures, water is a spirit in and of itself. So many Indigenous cultures around the world have a reverence for water, see water itself is a deity. Among the Yoruba people, the rivers are known as a goddess, and it is to her that one gives honor by respecting water. The act, then, of polluting water is not just polluting water, but desecrating and blaspheming against the deity. The spirituality and sacredness of water is present in so many traditions, and we are poorer as Christians for not having that.
Water is Life-Giving
The second thing that becomes obvious is that there are rights—not just human rights to water, but that the water itself has its own rights, just because it is water. And it's not just the rights of the water and the rights of humans; it's the rights of everything that has life. Animals also have a right to water.
I want you to really grasp the idea that water is sacred and life-giving. Scientists tell us that we all originate from water—it is the giver of life. For us to abuse water, as the African indigenous religions have taught me, is to blaspheme against the Creator of all!
Water is Power
Of course, the third thing that becomes obvious is that water can be abused to the point of abusing other human beings. For example, we see the abuse of African-Americans in Flint, Michigan, the people who have been suffering the most, because of lack of clean water. This year alone, the Western part of the United States is literally on fire, burning down because there is not enough water in the atmosphere. At the same time, on the Eastern side of the country, hurricanes and flooding are overwhelming the coastal areas, and shores are being destroyed and sinking into the ocean. So water—the lack thereof in the West, the abundance thereof in the East—is wreaking havoc on our environment, with our country, with our security as a nation. All the while, there are people who want to continue to insist climate change is a hoax.
Water + Theology
“Western Christianity's understanding of stewardship and domination as subjugating nature contributes to the present ecological challenges that humanity faces. The belief that the destiny of human beings is to reside with God in heaven and that the earth is but a place of sojourn until we reach our celestial destiny, has encouraged—at the very least—neglect of our environment. The greatest threat to the environment comes from those who hold a view of the end of time (an "eschatological" view) where the destruction of the earth is welcomed for it indicates Jesus's "second coming" when he raptures (takes away from the earth) those destined to be saved. If the world ends in a conflagration and such an end is close at hand, why then worry about the environment?
“Contrary to these fundamental Christian views, most indigenous religions from the Global South maintain a sacred respect for creation, a respect lost and historically abused by many Western religions like Christianity. Indigenous traditions that understand water as living entities, if not deities, remind us that within the circle of creation, all are equal in value to the Creator. Or as George ‘Tink’ Tinker writes: ‘A chief is not valued above the people; nor are two-legged valued above the animal nations, the birds, or even trees and rocks.’ Even the stones cry out the praises of creation. Human relationships to creation become a matter of life and death, balancing one's needs and place within the world while seeking to preserve the world for one's descendants who will live ‘seven generations from now.’ While one takes from the plenty of creation, something must always be returned to maintain balance. If we are going to appropriate from nature, we must reciprocate to maintain a mutual relationship.”(Gonna Trouble the Water, page 7–8).
Dr. Miguel A. De La Torre – international scholar, documentarian, novelist, academic author, and scholar activist. The focus of Dr. De La Torre’s academic pursuit is social ethics within contemporary U.S. thought, specifically how religion affects race, class, and gender oppression. Since obtaining his doctoral in 1999, he has authored over a hundred articles and published forty-one books (six of which won national awards). He presently serves as Professor of Social Ethics and Latinx Studies at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver.
“Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”
When was the last time you felt you were standing on holy ground? Perhaps it was in your garden, feet planted alongside Kale and Squash. Maybe it was at the beach for summer vacation, feet sinking into the sand as the water washes over them. Wherever it was, go there right now in your mind’s eye and try to feel what you felt in that moment. Feel the presence of God in that thin place where heaven and earth nearly touch.
The lands and waters of this world are sacred places. We know it when we rest in them and we know it from our sacred texts. As Christians, to see the world as creation is to see the world as sacred.
We read in Genesis 1 that when God created the world, it was called good. This inherent goodness declared by God means that the lands and waters that were created on the third day are sacred in themselves, even before the creation of other creatures and humanity. This is affirmed in the stories of the prophets who time after time decry exploitation and injustice that destroys the land. In Jeremiah 4, the prophet looks out across the desolation of the land and cries “my anguish!” in response to death and destruction wrought by those who “are skilled in doing evil, but do not know how to do good” (Jeremiah 4:19, 22). The fullness of sacred lands and waters is filled through Jesus Christ, who came to save and redeem not only humanity, but the entire cosmos (John 3:16).
The world reverberates with the love of God and the light of Christ. The lands and waters of this creation are imbued with sanctity through their creation, protection, and sustenance.
Theologically, we know the world is sacred. But what does it mean practically to say the world is sacred?
To say the world is sacred is to recognize that the lands and waters of the world are valued on their own accord, not merely because of what can be extracted, produced, or experienced on them. They are sacred because they are created by the love of God and perpetually sustained by Christ (Colossians 1:17).
To say the world is sacred is also to recognize that we have obligations toward it. In his recent book This Sacred Life, Norman Wirzba writes that being accountable to the sanctity of the world is central to our collective call: “The fundamental task of our humanity, we might say, resides in witnessing the sacred life that pulses through every place and everyone, and in that creative witness committing to the liberation, nurture, and celebration of each other” (This Sacred Life, 140).
Indeed, witnessing the sacred and rejoicing in it is important, but it is not the end of our work. We are to respond to the invitation of the sacred by committing to the liberation, nurture, and celebration not only of our fellow humans, but of all the creatures, lands, and waters that constitute God’s creation. The work of protecting the lands and waters of this world is a sacred task.
An important initiative in this work of land and water protection is “30x30,” the goal to protect 30% of lands and waters in the world by the year 2030. This global initiative promotes biodiversity, climate resilience, equity, and a healthy relationship to God's creation. Rooted in current science, this initiative aims to protect habitats and create sanctuaries where life may thrive amidst climate and environmental threats. As a country, the United States has committed itself to the 30x30 goal and several states have followed suit. To learn more about 30x30 and how to advocate for land and water protection, visit creationjustice.org/what-is-30-x-30.
This year for the Season of Creation, Creation Justice Ministries is exploring the theme “Sacred Lands, Sacred Waters.” Throughout the month we’ll be featuring perspectives from theologians, activists, and spiritual leaders.
We are grateful to be celebrating the Season of Creation with you, and we wish you the blessings of wonder, conviction, and action as we go about this month.
By Karyn Bigelow and Avery Davis Lamb, Co-Executive Directors
About this Blog
This blog shares the activities of Creation Justice Ministries. We educate and equip Christians to protect, restore, and rightly share God's creation.