From Becoming Rooted: One Hundred Days of Reconnecting with Sacred Earth by Rev. Dr. Randy Woodley [Used with permission]
WATER, SACRED TO US ALL
When the well’s dry, we know the worth of water.
For several years, we packed up our kids and a few belongings in an old van and traveled from one Indian reservation to another as we served Indigenous people in a variety of ways. On our trips, we learned in new ways the way that water is sacred to America’s Indigenous people. Water is sacred to us all.
One year, we were honored to be present for a blessing ceremony on the Big Grassy Reserve in Ontario, Canada. In the early spring, the Ojibwe community blesses the lake. They say prayers, sing songs, and speak words to reestablish any lost connection in that great circle of life, which includes the people and the fish and the lake.
Across Turtle Island is Hopiland. In the Bean Dance, as with most ceremonies among the peoples of the Southwest, the Hopi nation prays for rain. And I think that’s about all the Hopi would like said about that. With deep gratitude to the Hopi, we were their guests for the Bean Dance.
Traditionally, Cherokee people do a going-to-water ceremony, during which songs are sung in the morning to greet the day at the creek or river’s edge or next to a spring. These ceremonies continue to this day. I am among those who continue to practice the Cherokee water ceremony, if even in a small way.
Among the Pacific Northwest nations of Indigenous peoples, borders disappear during their annual Canoe Journey. Canoe Journey is a chance for those various tribal peoples to reestablish themselves once again. The Pacific Ocean, with its bays and inlets and beaches, has provided so much for the people over millennia.
You have a daily relationship with water. Perhaps we all can agree on a few simple truths:
• Our aquifers are being over pumped well beyond their recharge rates.
• Rising temperatures are boosting evaporation rates.
• Rainfall patterns are now severely altered, and inadequate snowmelts are not properly feeding rivers and streams in the dry season.
• Water tables are falling, with whole lakes now disappearing.
• Glaciers are melting at alarming rates. The tundra is melting.
• Water shortages translate to food shortages.
• Global water consumption doubles about every twenty years. The UN expects demand to outstrip supply by 30 percent in 2040.
• Global corporate opportunists, who see the absolute devastation coming, are attempting to buy up the world’s water supplies for profit.
Water is sacred. No one can live without water.
Savor water enough to save it for everyone. Today, try to use less water as you wash, cook, or clean. Become active politically on behalf of water.
[An added note from Randy Woodley]:
Each of us has a relationship with water. The relationship may be built upon respect and care or perhaps on disrespect and carelessness, but we are all in a relationship with God’s good gift of water. What is your relationship with water today and every day? While it is estimated that residential water use is only about 10% and industry uses about 20%, the remaining 70% is used by big agriculture! Big Ag also wastes the most water and pollutes the lion’s share of our most precious resource.
While it is important for each of us to do everything we can personally, we must also act corporately within the world’s systems in order to save water. What can you and your church, or other affinity groups do to protect the earth’s water? If you care-act! Perhaps you are already acting on behalf of water. If you or your group are active for the rights of water, what can you do to share that model to inspire others? When we respect water, we are respecting and preserving the whole community of creation. When we respect the whole community of creation, or any part of it, we are respecting and honoring the Creator.
Rev. Dr. Randy Woodley, PhD is a farmer, activist/scholar, distinguished speaker, teacher, author and wisdom keeper. Dr. Woodley currently serves as Distinguished Professor of Faith and Culture at Portland Seminary. He and his wife are Co-sustainers of Eloheh Indigenous Center for Earth Justice and Eloheh Farm & Seeds in Yamhill, Oregon. www.eloheh.org
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
By Nicole Taylor Morris
Melanie L. Harris describes ecowomanism as, “the reflective and contemplative study of the eco wisdom that is theorized, constructed, and practiced by women of African descent. The discourse validates their lives, spiritual values, and activism as important epistemologies (i.e., sets of knowledge) in ecowomanism.” Harris goes on to draw parallels between the ways that settler colonialism has and continues to harm and impact the Earth, just as it continues to harm and impact the lives of Black womxn, who often face the most severe forms of marginalization, globally, in her book Ecowomanism.
The core of Womanism, which is often used as a theological framework, offers both a theoretical lens and practical applications for centering the voices and experiences of Black womxn and those most marginalized by oppressive systems. It prioritizes actively listening to those voices and experiences toward repair and transformation, individually, communally, and systemically. Eco-womanism extends these principles beyond the experiences of marginalized human bodies and calls for a deep acknowledgment of the “voice” and experience of the Earth, of land and water, and living beings beyond humanity that have been subjected to the iterations of ecological violence due to white supremacy and capitalism. It also calls for a deep listening and attunement to the way that the Earth is an expert in its own healing and for a return to the decolonized, Afro-Indigenous ways of creating a symbiotic, not dominant, relationships amongst humans and the living beings and bodies that make up Earth.
"Eco-womanism extends these principles beyond the experiences of marginalized human bodies and calls for a deep acknowledgment of the “voice” and experience of the Earth, of land and water, and living beings beyond humanity."
Ecowomanism is rooted in justice and equity. It offers an insightful perspective and lens to Creation Justice by ultimately acknowledging that not only are the marginalized bodies of Black womxn and the Earth reflections and embodiments of God, but that there is a universal necessity to treat them as such in order to effectively move toward ecological restoration. This sentiment is reflected in Scripture from the Bible: “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14, KJV). We are called to be stewards to the land as reflections of God, who are “called by [God’s] name”. Our relationship to land is intended to be directly symbiotic and is also reflected in the ways that we treat one another; humility by transforming the systems of power we’ve created ultimately leads to a restorative forgiveness and “healing the land”--our voices must be heard and uplifted by one another, by God, and this will impact our ability to restore the environment.
Ecowomanism prompts us to reimagine the present by returning to ancestral practices and by challenging the influences of white supremacy on our thoughts and actions in relation to ecology and society. It prompts us to reconsider statements that pose climate change and environmental disasters as “threats” to humanity, to an understanding that climate change is a direct result and symptom of the long-term destructive nature of settler colonialism, exploitative systems of oppression, and the consistent marginalization and neglect of the Earth and non-white bodies as “other”. Creation justice encourages us to consider how human systems and societies have actively harmed and are complicit in perpetuating harm to the environment and for us to approach restoration through healing and accountability, rather than defense and continued domination. Ecowomanism is at the core of what Creation Justice must be; a call for reparations, healing, and transformation of both society and its impacts on the health and well-being of the planet by deeply listening, honoring, and returning to practices that uplift those whose lives and humanity are most often disregarded and the Earth itself, as God.
"Ecowomanism is at the core of what Creation Justice must be; a call for reparations, healing, and transformation.."
Though the need for intervention is urgent and requires deep re-imagining of how best to approach societal and planetary healing on a global scale, many communities and societies have maintained and reclaimed ancestral and Afro-indigenous practices toward a Creation Justice of healing with the land. One embodiment of Creation Justice through the lens of Ecowomanism is the urban farm cooperative space, the Common Good Project located in the Neponset Tribal Territory of what is popularly called Dorchester, Massachusetts. The Common Good Project was founded and is led by Black women and women of color who face the daily challenges and impacts of systemic marginalization, neglect, and isolation of living in an under-resourced community of a heavily-resourced metropolitan area. This project is rooted in the concept that liberation from these structures can be found by learning and intentionally returning to an Afro-Indigenous symbiotic relationship with the Earth and land as a space that provides oxygen, food, and the physiological benefits of ecological engagement in right relationship with the Earth, but also a space that must be nurtured, honored, and heard. Not only does this project and similar community-based offerings provide an avenue forward for improving the well-being and seeking justice at a community-level, but also they provide insight to the ways that we can begin to actualize Creation Justice for planetary well-being. Efforts like these continually reemphasize the equity of humanity and ecology and the ways that they are interwoven through a lens of Creation Justice and Ecowomanism; they are tangible pathways forward for both survival and healing.
1. Melanie L. Harris (2016) Ecowomanism: Black Women, Religion, and the Environment, The Black Scholar, 46:3, 27-39, DOI: 10.1080/00064246.2016.1188354
2. Alice Walker (2011). In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens: Womanist Prose. Open Road Integrated Media.
By Dr. Steven Bouma-Prediger
Rivers and trees. The Bible begins and ends with rivers and trees. Genesis 1-2 and Revelation 21-22. Rivers and trees bookend the Bible. Why is this striking fact not more well known among followers of Jesus? And what might this text teach us about creation justice?
In this mind-bending vision of God’s good future (Revelation 21:1 to 22:7) John the Seer speaks about the river of the water of life, cascading from the throne of God and the Lamb, right smack-dab through the middle of a heaven-on-earth city. Rekindling the vision of Ezekiel 47, John reminds us that wherever this sacred river flows, every living creature flourishes. On each side of the river is the tree of life, with twelve kinds of fruit, one for each month, sustenance all year long. No more hunger or famine. No more worry about if or when you will get the next meal.
"...wherever this sacred river flows, every living creature flourishes."
The leaves of this magnificent tree are for the healing of the nations--the soothing, restorative reconciliation of all ethnic groups and peoples. And this healing includes all creation. Respect for rights and care for needs—human and nonhuman alike. In short, the leaves of this tree foster God’s good future of shalom: justice, love, the flourishing of all things.
Can we even begin to imagine what this would be like? No more trees felled to make battering rams to lay violent siege to medieval cities. No more trees cut to make sailing masts for colonial slave ships. No more trees pulped to make paper propaganda to fuel the fires of ethnic cleansing and human hate.
In sharp contrast, this tree brings healing and wholeness to all. Medicinal uses of biochemical compounds extracted from leaves or bark. Beautiful wood used to make melodious guitars and sturdy garden hoes. Generous forest canopies that provide us shade and offer homes to warblers and bromeliads and tree frogs. Sinuous streams and life-filled lakes that provide habitats for crabs and trout and loons. The leaves of this tree are for the healing of the nations and the good of all creation.
An essential aspect of our faith is hope. And an integral feature of hope is imagining a good future. May this rarely read but powerful text infuse our imaginations with an earthy and earthly vision of all things as God intends them to be. Shalom. The reign of God. Creation justice.
By Sarah Augustine
Each morning my son and I watch the sunrise. I was taught to do this by elders – to give thanks at the beginning of the day, to acknowledge the gift and miracle of life every morning. My ancestors practiced reverence in this way, and in turn I share this with my son. The spiritual tradition I have been taught explains that God’s nature is revealed in creation. To walk with God is to acknowledge God’s plan revealed in creation.
Romans 1:19-20 explains, For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
God’s eternal power and divine nature are clearly perceived. I take this to mean that God’s nature is made clear in creation. With each sunrise, God reveals God’s faithfulness, blessing the earth with warmth and light, the ongoing process of creation. The life support systems we depend on – soil, air and water – work together in a precious balance that demonstrates interdependence. These life support systems express the boundaries of reality that we must live within. For human beings to live, we need clean air, water and soils. Indigenous Peoples, across our numerous spiritual traditions, acknowledge we are embedded in creation, interdependent with it, not separate from it. In the cosmology I understand, this is reality.
"These life support systems express the boundaries of reality that we must live within."
'In the dominant culture, I have learned a different view of reality. In this alternate view, my self-interest justifies participation in disabling the systems of life. I am told that if I work hard, I deserve all that I earn. I can earn money and accumulate land and assets, which belong to me and which I can discharge as I see fit. My success is marked by the accumulation of wealth. I can pass down property, money, and investments to my descendants and they are entitled to these assets, which they are free to discharge as they see fit. Those fortunate enough to hold investments passively participate in the destruction of life-support systems, since investment portfolios are often dominated by extractive industries.
Extraction of oil, natural gas, minerals and metals discharge carbon into the air, changing the climate. Extractive industry pollutes waters human beings are dependent upon to live. Toxic chemicals used in a variety of industries, including agribusiness and mining, destroy soils humans are dependent upon to grow food.
All of this destruction to vital life support systems is done in the name of progress. In addition to the destruction to the life-support systems of earth, entitled self-interest further results in racial inequity named by the Black Lives Matter movement. The delusion we choose to live in was created to serve the lucky at the expense of the oppressed. The stubborn belief that we are entitled to financial security – that the destruction of vital life support systems is worth the cost – is killing the world. Individuals feel entitled to status bestowed by unjust systems passed down from one generation to the next, just as we feel entitled to wealth accumulation justified as financial security. Hard work, thrift, investing, whatever the cost, are considered to be wise. We are rewarded in the dominant culture for pursuing self-interest.
Romans 1: 21-22 goes on to say, For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools.
Meanwhile, Indigenous Peoples around the globe striving to live in balance with systems of life – the boundaries of reality – are considered to be poor, ignorant and in need of rescue by international development. Indigenous water protectors, from the tar sands to the Amazon, are dismissed as radical or unrealistic.
What the dominant culture imagines is reality – competition for scarce resources, financial security that destroys ecological systems humans depend on for survival – is destructive and delusional. We have to reimagine, remember reality.
"We have to reimagine, remember reality."
The belief that we (the privileged) have worked hard for all we have, that we deserve all we have – regardless of the inequity that advantages some over others, regardless of the cost to life support systems and generations yet unborn – is killing the world. The belief that our assumptions are grounded in truth rather than a brittle and unrealistic ideology, is killing the world.
Are we, the privileged, ready to remake our values, our ideologies, our political and social systems, our understanding of God – so that they are consistent with the rules of the universe – the reality that we are dependent upon systems of life? Psalm 90:14 reads satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. I sincerely hope we are ready to be satisfied each morning, so that our descendants may sing for joy.
Translation and reflection by Dr. Ellen F. Davis
This is a psalm, an ancient poem-prayer, for a moment of profound threat, such as the one in which I write. At this moment, Hurricane Ida is landing in Louisiana, the second storm in a year to make modern history in that state with its brutality. Psalm 85 speaks to this immediate situation and likewise to the long-term global tragedy of which Ida is yet another piece of unwelcome evidence. Our land, God’s earth – “your land” (v. 2) refers to both – is in desperate need of God’s restorative work. We, God’s people, must hear and enact God’s word of shalom, which is not “peace” in any simple sense, but rather a comprehensive condition of wellbeing, one that binds together people, land, and God in a covenanted unity.
Many psalms appeal to our visual imagination, but none offers a more vivid picture than this one. Covenant-loyalty, truth, righteousness, and shalom are here embodied attributes – divine and human, heavenly and earthly – all actively engaged in the work of restorative living. All must be fully enacted on earth, and enabled from heaven, if we are to turn firmly and forever away from the “stupidity” (v. 9) that has made us humans a deadly threat to God’s earth and all its inhabitants.
John August Swanson offers one picture of restorative living, with people, animals, plants, earth, and sky bound together in the dynamic interaction that the psalmists call tsedeq, “righteousness” (vv. 12, 14). Tsedeq is an essentially relational term – not just playing by the rules, but living creatively in order to further the wellbeing, the shalom, of our fellow creatures, human and nonhuman. In contemporary English, “sustainability” might be the word that best captures the psalmist’s intent, to denote the kind of creaturely living that invites God to enter into our world and walk with us the difficult path ahead.
Ellen F. Davis is Amos Ragan Kearns Distinguished Professor of Bible and Practical Theology at Duke Divinity School.
Copyright 2003 by John August Swanson
Serigraph, 24” x 28.75”
By Karyn Bigelow & Avery Davis Lamb
“Creation justice” may be a new term for some, but it is a concept deeply grounded in Christian theology and practice. It captures both the depth of our interconnectedness with everything and the necessity to partner with God in the healing and restoration of all -- God’s Shalom.
Using the term "creation" instead of "eco," “nature” or "environment" demonstrates that we are intimately part of the created order, and constantly working alongside our Creator to redeem and sustain it. When we say Creation, we mean all Creation -- justice for God’s people and God’s planet. Seeing the world as Creation is a radical act that counters modern notions of nature as either a resource to be exploited or as something entirely separate from humanity.
What we read in Genesis is that Creation is a gift from God that humans are existentially linked with and tasked with serving. In Genesis 2:7, God creates the first human (Adam in Hebrew) from the soil (Adamah in Hebrew) and breath. Adam, that first prototypical human, is made from the soil! Even the name reflects intimacy with the dirt: Adam from the Adamah. We learn in these opening chapters of the Bible that Creation is not something “out there,” separate from our human life, but the very ground of our human life! We are in creation and creation is in us.
Later on in that same chapter, God instructs Adam to “till and keep” the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:15). In an agrarian society, this instruction means much more than to maximize yields. Ellen Davis offers a compelling translation of this verse, writing in Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture that God is instructing Adam to “work it and serve it, observe it and preserve it.” Creation is a gift which we are to lovingly and skillfully care for. The work of this care necessitates the fight for justice among God’s people and planet.
Seeing the world as Creation is a radical act that counters modern notions of nature as either a resource to be exploited or as something entirely separate from humanity.
The Genesis creation story is only the opening chapter -- the “creation” -- of creation justice. Using the term "justice" rather than "care" indicates our commitment to not only heal, tend, and restore God's creation, but to ensure the protection of God's planet and God's people from exploitation, as well as provision for the remediation of the damage that has been done. The call to creation justice is a call to protect, restore, and rightly share God’s Creation. We see these as the three “E’s” of creation justice: Ecology, Eschatology, and Economy.
By protecting God’s creation, we revere God’s ecology -- the interactions between creatures that make up this beautiful world. We are facing a catastrophic decline in the wellbeing of creaturely life. This era of ecological devastation, which some refer to as the “Anthropocene,” is an insult to the Creator and the gift of Creation. When we protect God’s creatures and places, we protect that which God loves. That’s creation justice.
By restoring God’s creation, we create Heaven on Earth. Eschatology is the field of theology concerned with where humanity and Creation is headed. In scriptures, we read that the trajectory of creation is not upward, moving away from Creation. Rather, we read about a Creator who is constantly coming into closer intimacy with creation, until, as it says in Revelation 21:3, “the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them.” In the eschaton, all Creation is restored and comes to rest in God. Yet, eschatology also makes a claim on us in the present. Jesus calls us to build the Kingdom of Heaven on earth (Matthew 6:10). By restoring creation -- God’s people and planet -- we are creating Heaven on Earth. That’s creation justice.
By restoring God’s creation, we create Heaven on Earth.
By rightly sharing creation, we participate in God’s economy. Economy is the way we order our collective household. The word comes from the Greek root “oikos” which means family or household. God’s economy is not the economy of the dollar. God’s economy is the collective flourishing of all things. This year, the theme of the global Season of Creation celebration is “A home for all? Renewing the Oikos of God.” God’s economy is one in which creation is shared equitably with all creation. That’s creation justice.
This Season of Creation, we invite you to join us in the journey of creation justice. Over the next four weeks, we’ll hear four different theologians address the question, “What is Creation Justice?” You can find their reflections above.
Karyn Bigelow and Avery Davis Lamb are Co-Executive Directors of Creation Justice Ministries.
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.