Eco-Reformation: Grace and Hope for a Planet in Peril is offered on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in the hope of helping to create a paradigm shift for change similar to the one that Martin Luther started with his ninety-five theses, one that this time would center on ecological justice. The sixteen essays in this volume are written by leading English-speaking Lutheran scholars and offer a wide variety of perspectives and analysis. Among the disciplines represented in the collection are biblical studies, systematic theology, history, ethics, and pastoral studies.
The concept that holds the wide range of essays together is the need to reform our relationship with God’s creation. This is in keeping with the declaration by the Lutheran World Federation [LWF] that the year 2017 would commemorate the Reformation with three themes, “Salvation —Not for Sale; Human Beings—Not For Sale; Creation— Not for Sale.” Perhaps, somewhat ironically, but as a sign of the ecumenical shift that has happened since the sixteenth century, the new eco-Reformation voice that calls to Christians “today like that of the 1517 Luther” is Pope Francis, whose environmental ideas are referred to explicitly in seven of the essays as well as the foreword and preface (xii). His encyclical Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home is referenced in this volume more than the LWF themes and is, in many ways, implicitly the linchpin of the book. The encyclical’s call for all people to “dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet” and its critique of industrial capitalism, modernity, climate change, and care for creation weave their way through and connect the various discrete essays in Eco-Reformation.
As in any collection of this kind, the pieces vary in strength and depth of analysis, though all of them have something to offer readers. Individual essays will have strong appeal to different audiences. Pastors and other worship leaders will find much to consider in Lisa Dahill’s challenge to “rewild” the rituals of baptism and the Eucharist, as well as in James Vigen’s suggestion of using the seasons of Advent and Lent as times both to take stock of the suffering and injustice on our earth, and to focus on bodily health by understanding that climate change “is the largest public health crisis we have ever faced as a species, as a planet” (238). Those interested in ethics will appreciate Larry Rasmussen’s push to move beyond an anthropocentric mindset and Cynthia Moe-Lobeda’s appeal to respond to the structural sin revealed in both racism and climate change. University administrators and others involved in planning a liberal arts curriculum will be intrigued by Ernest Simmons’s call to rethink all education as an “ecologically entangled education” that prepares students for planetary citizenship (213). Although directed toward a Lutheran audience, David Rhoads’s “A Theology of Creation” will call all systematic theologians and professors of religion to rethink an Eco-Reformation that is “as mind-bending a challenge in perception as the first Reformation was for people of its time” (4). Community organizers and other eco-justice workers will find Victor Thasiah’s “Religion, Forestry, and Democracy in Rwanda after Genocide” an excellent illustration of the ways in which specific environmental actions—in this case a reforestation program—can also help bring about larger political changes.
Perhaps the most broad-based and widely appealing essay in the collection is Norman Habel’s “Ninety-Five Eco-Theses: A Call for Churches to Care for Earth.” This is a wonderful critique of twenty-first-century Christianity as it finds itself awakening to the “cries of our wounded planet” (273). Dividing his theses into ten key principles—of continuing reformation, cosmic ecology, earth as sanctuary, nature as revelation, eco-hermeneutics, restorative justice, being earth beings, eco-mission, deus crucifixus, and eco-reformation mandate—Habel sketches out for us what he thinks an eco-reformed faith might look like in our time. In doing so, he puts an unspoken challenge before all readers who care about eco-Reformation to create similar “ninety-five eco-theses” statement for themselves so that each can then declare: “Here I stand. I can do no other.”
Susan G. De George is professor of philosophy and religious studies at Pace University.
Over on RevGalBlogPals , Julie asks What is occupying you this weekend? And what five words could you use to describe it?
- (General) Assembly
- (stained) glass
- (environmental) justice
I spent some time this week up at the Garrison Institute as part of my continuing education work with GreenFaith. The program has given me a chance to begin to get to know about two dozen other GreenFaith Fellows who are working in a whole slew of different ways on issues connected with faith and the environment. It’s taken us on field trips of various kinds—to training programs and nature preserves and other types of settings connected with the environment. There have also been summaries of what various world religions say about our relationship with the environment, tools to work with congregations on climate related issues and more.
Most of the GreenFaith Fellows already have a very deep love of nature before they begin the program. Mine developed, I think, because of my grandmother. She, my mother, and I lived in an apartment when I was young. Along with the apartment came an optional small garden patch that was near woods where we could walk and hike. My mother would go off to work to support us, leaving my grandmother to watch me. Many late mornings, no matter what the season, my grandmother would often make the two of us sandwiches. We’d tie them in a kerchief, stick the kerchief on a stick, and she, our dog, and I would head out for an afternoon in the woods.
We’d walk for a while and then stop near something that interested one or the other of us. We’d stand or stoop and spend time looking at the way in which the nearby brook was wearing away a rock or the insects were eating through a dead log. We’d listen to their calls to discover what birds were in an area or pay careful attention to the wild flowers growing in a field through which we were passing. Most of these noticings and discoveries were done in silence. Partway through each day’s walk, we’d find a place to sit down and untie our kerchief. As we shared our lunch and our recent observations, my grandmother would find ways to tie what we’d seen to her belief that each and every one of the beings we were seeing was part of God’s creation and so deserved to be treated well. Though I was unaware of it at the time, I think that those days gave me the gift of finding and loving the Spirit so strongly present in all beings.
Each time I’m at a GreenFaith-type gathering, an image and a quotation run through my mind. I always recall the image of my grandmother, often in her black hiking shorts and sleeveless blouse, bent over a plant or insect, her face filled with pure joy. And I also think of a quote from Nikos Kazantzakis’s Report to Greco, in which “One divine spring day the windows (of the classroom) were open. A tangerine tree was in bloom across the street, and its perfume entered the classroom. Each of our minds had turned into a blossoming tangerine tree; we could not bear to hear anything more about acute and circumflex accents. A bird came just then, perched on the plane tree in the schoolyard and began to sing. At that point a pale redheaded student who had arrived that year from his village, Nikolios by name, was unable to control himself. He raised his finger. “Be quiet, sir,” he cried. “Be quiet, and let us hear the bird.” First and foremost, before we talk about the ways in which the divine and the earthly are connected in sacred texts or tools for getting congregations to be concerned about greenhouse emissions or better environmental choices, we need to go outside, where all the preaching and lecturing and strategizing stops and we can sit, stand, or stoop in silence to hear the bird sing, and through such singing, come to know the divine reflected in the world around us and in each of our lives.
- Willow Wilson’s Alif The Unseen
- Art Spiegelman’s Maus 1
- Julia Spencer-Fleming’s Through the Evil Days
- Al Gore’s The Future
- Peter Steinke’s A Door Set Open
- Mary Oliver’s Dog Song
- Denise Spellberg’s Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an
- Flannery O’Connor’s A Prayer Journal
- Roger Nicholson’s Temporary Shepherds
- Mary Piper’s The Green Boat: Reviving Ourselves in our Capsized Culture
- Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep
- Anne Lamott’s Stitches
- Patricia Cornwell’s Dust
- Jill Lepore’s Book of Ages: The life and Opinions of Jane Franklin
- Chris Pye’s Wood Carving: Projects and Techniques
- Charles Biederman’s The Beginner’s Handbook of Woodcarving
- Katherine Howe’s The House of Velvet and Glass
- Marie Dennis’ St. Francis and the Foolishness of God
- David Janzen’s Fire, Salt, and Peace: Intentional Christian Communities Alive in North America
- J. Tangerman’s Whitling and Woodcarving
- Helene Wecker’s The Golem and the Jinni
- Anna Quindlen’s Still Life with Breadcrumbs
- Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction
- Doris Kearns Goodwin’s The Bully Pulpit
- Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath
- Hans Kung’s Can We Save the Catholic Church?
- Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods
- Sue Monk Kidd’s The Invention of Wings
- Alexia Salvatierra’s Faith-Rooted Organizing
- John Kotter’s Our Iceberg is Melting
- Bruce Holsinger’s A Burnable Book
- Alexandra Horowitz’ On Looking
- Bill McKibben’s Oil and Honey
- Richard Louv’s The Nature Principle
- Susan Hill’s Howards End is on the Landing
- Jo Walton’s What Makes this Book so Great?
- Nick Hand’s Conversations on the Hudson
- Rosamund Zander’s The Art of Possibility
- David Haskell’s The Forest Unseen
- David Orr’s Earth in Mind
- Rob Hopkins’ The Power of Just Doing Stuff
- Terry Bisson’s Fire on the Mountain
- J. Cherryh’s The Pride of Chanur
- Django Wexler’s The Forbidden Library
- Rumi and His Sufi Path of Love
- Nevada Barr’s Destroyer Angel
- Walter Bruggemann’s Sabbath as Resistance
- Barbara Brown Taylor’s Learning to Walk in the Dark
- Robert Wilson’s The Chronoliths
- Rob Hopkins’ The Transition Handbook
- Andrew Zolli, Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back
- Octavia Butler’s Kindred
- Kim Robinson’s The Wild Shore
- Louise Penny’s Still Life
- Louise Penny’s A Fatal Grace
- Elizabeth Warren’s A Fightng Chance
- Louise Penny’s The Cruelest Month
- Gail Caldwell’s New Life, No Instructions
- Thom Rainer’s Autopsy of a Deceased Church
- Katty Kay’s The Confidence Code
- Deborah Harkness’ The Book of Life
- Suzanne Clothier’s Bones Would Rain From Heaven
- Patricia McConnell’s The Other End of the Leash
- Lev Grossman’s Th Magician’s Land
- Louise Penny’s A Rule Against Murder
- J. Cherryh’s Chanur’s Venture
- Lewis Dartnell’s The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Our World From Scratch
- Louise Penny’s The Brutal Telling
- Louise Penny’s Bury Your Dead
- Jason Czarneski’s Everyday Environmentalism
- David Levithan’s Every Day
- Alan Dershowitz’ The Case for Israel
- IPMN’s Zionism Unsettled
- Ari Shavit’s My Promised Land
- Katherine Howe’s Conversion
- Stephen King’s Revival
- Robert Lupton’s Toxic Charity
- Louise Penny’s The Long Way Home
- Lillian Daniel’s Tell it Like it Is
- Mark Wallace’s Green Christianity
- Pico Iyer’s The Art of Stillness
- Margaret Feinberg’s The Organic God
- Margaret Feinberg’s The Sacred Echo
- Barbara Ehrenreich’s Living with a Wild God
- Cynthia Bourgeault’s Encountering the Wisdom Jesus
- John Grim’s Ecology and Religion
- Jeremy Ben-Ami’s A New Voice for Israel
- Desmond Tutu’s The Book of Forgiving
- Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything
- Tim Jackson’s Prosperity Without Growth
- Jenny Jones’ All Roads Lead to Jerusalem
- Bill Evans’ Banjo for Dummies
- Pete Seeger’s How to Play the 5-String Banjo
- BK Loren’s Animal Mineral Radical
- Mary Oliver’s blue Horses
- Nathaniel Rich’s Odds Against Tomorrow
At RevGalBlogPals, Mary Beth Butler invites us each to sit quietly…as Mary sits in the photo above…and consider five things about Advent. They might be images, practices, hymns, anything you like. Here are my five:
1. For me, Advent is always a chance to focus on the Magnificat in one form or another, whether that’s preaching on it, listening to songs connected with it, paying attention to the wide range of art that has tried to capture that moment between Mary and Elizabeth, or presenting adult education sessions on it. I love the strength of it, the hope of it, the poetry of it. It’s Advent at its best.
2. In the last congregation that I served, one of my favorite events was the Advent party on the second Sunday of Advent, when a good percentage of the congregation ate together, packed items for Christmas Eve on the streets of New York City among the homeless poor, made crafts of various kinds, decorated a very large tree in our Fellowship Hall and sang Christmas carols along with the Mediocre Ensemble, an orchestra made up of musicians of all levels and ages. Some people played well and played regularly, some pulled instruments out of attics or basements and only played once a year, some knew all the notes and played them easily, and some could only play a few of the notes in each song. Some years I played guitar with them (though more often I was helping coordinate another part of the evening and couldn’t be with them for the rehearsal in the first hour). But when that orchestra played We Wish You a Merry Christmas and the lights went on for the first time on the tree, I knew we were in Advent.
3. For many years, Advent has also been a time that I associate with my workload ramping up big time and then slowing down a bit because the semester is coming to an end. In the third week of Advent, my academic semester ends. My grades are due well before Christmas so I’m swamped with papers, projects, and final exams to plow through in that week. But then, once they’re graded the pace and focus change a bit. In the many years when I was working in a parish it meant being able to move my attention entirely to parish preparations for Christmas and was a way for me to really focus on waiting and preparing for Christmas.
4. Nowadays, Advent means I begin to look forward to practicing for the Messiah sing-a-long. This will be my third year spending late November and early December getting ready for the New Westchester Symphony Orchestra’s Messiah sing-a-long and it’s beginning to become a new Advent tradition. The first year I was doing this, there were a huge number of notes that I didn’t yet know how to play, much less play in tempo, on my flute. Last year at this time, I had learned the fingering of all the notes, but getting the proper sound out of them was still a challenge. This year, it’s speed on some of the pieces like “Thou That Tellest Good Tidings to Zion” that is where I’m putting my effort.
5. Years ago, when Kathy and I first moved into our house in Dobbs Ferry, I ordered copies of Christmas carols for each of the instruments that our children played with the dream that, during Advent, we’d find time to take out our guitars, saxophone, violin, keyboard, and drum that were still being stored at our house even though most of the children had moved out. We’d sit in front of our Christmas tree, grab the carol sheet music, and play together. It never happened. The sax was taken to a new home, the drum was given away, and the music stayed stored with the rest of our sheet music. Last year, when Kathy retired she began to play clarinet and I ordered a clarinet copy of the same book of carols. This year, she’s learned enough that she can play with me. Even before Advent has arrived, we’ve begun to rehearse some of the carols. I’m looking forward to an Advent when we can sit in front of the lighted tree and play together.
I’ve just finished reading Katherine Howe’s new historical fiction novel, Conversion. Historical fiction is a genre I like a lot, so it shouldn’t be surprising that I’ve read both her The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane and her The House of Velvet and Glass. I bought an inexpensive used copy of Deliverance Dane in late 2013 and really enjoyed it. I was very happy to have bought the book because it was one I wanted to pass on to Kathy, who also likes historical fiction, so she could read it too. Early this spring I found a used copy of House of Velvet and read that as well. I again passed it to Kathy, saying it wasn’t as good as Deliverance Dane but it was still worth the read. In July Howe came out with Conversion. Not wanting to pay full price for a hardback of it, I put my name on the library list to read it. My copy came in last week. Now that I’ve finished it I can say I’m glad that I got a library copy of Conversion rather than spending the money for even an inexpensive used copy of it. I have no interest in passing the book on to anyone.
From my perspective, Conversion just doesn’t work well. The “interludes” back in the early 18th century didn’t grab me at all. I know Howe was trying to stick closely to the historical facts in those sections but none of the characters in those interludes seemed full people, much less worth caring about. The parallels (and lack thereof) between what’s happening to the senior girls and what was happening in 18th century Salem seemed trite. I know they were meant to make us rethink how an unexplained sickness among teenaged girls would be explained today (as people did with the 2012 LeRoy New York situation upon which the author admits she drew) but the whole exploration came across as superficial and trite. I hung in with the book until the end only because the 2012 storyline, set as it was in a Catholic girl’s school, reminded me some of my own high school experiences.
This weekend was the “Living Cosmology: Christian Responses to Journey of the Universe” conference up at Yale Divinity . The event was sponsored by the Forum on Religion and Ecology under the direction of Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim, both of whose work I’ve come to appreciate a lot since I’ve been teaching the World Religions and the Natural Environment course. The event was very academic, being almost entirely university speakers presenting their papers on a range of cosmology topics from Cosmology, Law, and Erath Jurisprudence to Seeds, Soil, and Food.
The two panels that I enjoyed most were the first and third on Saturday morning. In the first panel, “The Influence of Teilhard de Chardin,” I got a chance to hear Ilia Delio (Georgetown) speak about the contrast between a Christianity that is based on the Adam myth of original sin and a Teilhardian, mystical Christianity that sees Christ as the cosmic person. I was delighted both to have the chance to hear her—I’d tried to sign up for her weeklong workshop on Teilhard last summer at Maryknoll, but I’d been closed out—but also to listen to her take on the relationship between technology and religion.
The other panel that I found very worthwhile was the one on “Views of the Divine.” There several speakers were intriguing. Mark Wallace (Swarthmore) started by speaking about the woodthrush as a “singing monk” (In line with Tibetan monks and singing bowls in its song) and then went on to point out how Christianity needs to get back to claiming to be an animistic religion. (His definition of animism was that all that exists lives and is holy) to respond to the crisis of heart that the world is currently having. Wallace was a strong speaker about whose courses and writing I’d like to learn more. Catherine Keller (Drew) went on to talk about reimaging the divine and spoke from her process panentheistic perspective saying that at the moment her favorite term for God is “the supreme entanglement.” As in the other writing and teaching of hers that I’ve heard, her 12 minutes was dense (as in loaded with material to think about, not stupid) and gave me a lot to think about.
A lot of the speakers kept going back to the inadequacy of language for moving from a dualistic view of the world in which spirit and nature and separate rather than interwoven to a unified way of seeing creation. It’s an issue I’ve struggled with a lot, both in my teaching and in my leading of worship. I’ve also raised it several times in our Great Company and Green Sangha discussions so when it first came up at the Conference. I’d hoped there would be practical suggestions for ways to bridge the gap from one language to another. Instead what people said or implied was that someone would have to create a new dictionary to help us move into the non-dualistic world but no one wanted to make a start at that work.
Being at he conference made me feel as I often do when I attend workshops that are either connected with academia or with the parish—that I don’t quite fit in either world. As I listened to the academicians, I couldn’t help but wonder how most of what they were saying could ever be connected to the life of the average Christian. What, for example, would someone in the pews make of praying to God as “the divine entanglement?” I left hoping for more speakers who could connect wood thrushes with spirituality in everyday wording and unify head and heart.