Friday, January 12, 2018

Sustainable Agriculture and PEC

Theology and Ethic of the Land
“There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace. To avoid the first danger, one should plant a garden, preferably where there is no grocer to confuse the issue. To avoid the second, he should lay a split of good oak on the andirons, preferably where there is no furnace, and let it warm his shins while a February blizzard tosses the trees outside.”--Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac (1949)

My new year began on the right note the first weekend with a visit to the Southern Appalachian mountain cove farm that has been in my family since 1789. As the first generation to be born off this farm, I was blessed throughout my childhood and youth by monthly trips with my parents as they returned to their roots. By the time my late mother was a girl, one in two persons in the United States lived in urban areas. By the time I came along, that ratio had changed to two in three. For millennials, that percentage increased to four in five.

Even as people continue moving off farms and farther away from rural farms, a recent National Gardening Survey revealed that millennials’ interest in gardening has increased the number of practitioners of the nation’s #1 hobby to over 5 million.

My church, Caldwell Presbyterian, is one of at least ten congregations in the Presbytery of Charlotte with a community garden. (What better way to be relevant to millennials!)  Even so, our summer youth mission trip to Heifer Ranch in Arkansas was an enlightening experience for the youth. During group sharing times in the evenings after working on the ranch, more than one of our youth vowed to change their eating habits after their eyes were opened to the environmental and human costs of our food production system.

Presbyterians for Earth Care biennial conferences are often a rich source of information and inspiration on sustainable agriculture. One conference featured a breakout session on permaculture. During another conference, Duke Divinity School scholar Ellen Davis taught us to read the Hebrew scripture with agrarian eyes. And at another, Columbia Theological Seminary’s William Brown shared his translation of one of my favorite scripture verses, Gen. 2:15: we are called to “serve and preserve” the Garden, Creation.

This year, the federal Farm Bill is up for reauthorization for another five years. This comprehensive legislation includes a nutrition title that provides for programs that address hunger, and a conservation title that includes such provisions as incentives for farming practices that promote soil health while reducing soil erosion.

Our organization’s name includes the tagline, “An Ecojustice Network.” Working together with faith organizations and other groups that are advocating for a sustainable agriculture in the 2018 Farm Bill, Presbyterians for Earth Care is guided by Restoring Creation for Ecology and Justice, a major policy statement adopted by the 202nd General Assembly in 1990, which reads in part: "The churches have a historic responsibility to be supportive of land stewardship, farm people, and rural community life. An important dimension of this responsibility is educational—nurturing a theology and ethic of the land. The Presbyterian church working with other denominations. . . should foster responsibility for protecting and restoring creation by building awareness of what it takes to till and keep the land."

At Heifer Ranch, dining hall staff daily monitor food waste by weighing what’s left in bowls and on plates. Reducing food waste and adopting a plant-based diet—along with dramatically reducing emissions from home energy use and minimizing automobile and plane travel—were one of three commitments contained in “Walk on Earth Gently: A Multi-Faith Invitation to Sustainable Lifestyles” addressed “to all members of the human family and to leaders gathered at the COP23 climate talks in Bonn, Germany last September. Presbyterians for Earth Care was among the organizations signing this invitation.

This is time of the year when farm fields in much of the Northern hemisphere lay fallow. Resting. I close where I began here, with a word from the father of the land ethic, Aldo Leopold:

"A land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such."

Dennis Testerman

PEC Moderator

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Christmas Day Reflection

Water is the First Life

In the fall of 2016, I was swept into the Standing Rock water protector movement by the words of Kandi Mossett, a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nations. 
“Women, in my culture, are the keepers of the water. Men are the keepers of the fire. It’s no coincidence that when we’re pregnant, we carry our babies in water. And the understanding is that water is the first life. It’s our very essence. Our very being is made up of water. Flows through us. And it flows through from the rivers, to the sky, back down in that circular way. And it’s an understanding of the cycle and the natural order of things.
It’s just so much bigger, though, than just one pipeline. It’s the fossil fuel industry. It’s ultimately going to be something that comes back on us as humanity.
It doesn’t matter the color of our skin, it doesn’t matter our religious background, when we desecrate the water, we desecrate ourselves.
We’re all, as women, going to keep on holding that line, pushing forward. Hold the line for water. And for life.

Her words resonate deeply. I carried and birthed a daughter. Clean, pure, healthy water is needed by every person and deserved by every child.  Ordinary water becomes extraordinary in the Sacrament of Baptism. 

As an Oregonian, I know well the cycle of rain, evaporation and more rain. I have followed a river downstream where fresh and salt water mix in estuaries. Privileged with good water to drink, I am sad when I hear of people and places without safe, plentiful water. I become angry when greed and carelessness cause water shortages and pollute streams and aquifers.

On this day when we celebrate the birth of Mary's son, I think of the water, the umbilical fluid, which cushioned Jesus' donkey ride in his mother's womb and burst forth signaling the time of delivery; the water that bathed the newborn child; and the water which quenched Mary's thirst, hydrating her body so she could produce milk to feed her baby. 

In Kandi Mossett’s words,
“I am protecting the very essence of what I am made up of which is mostly water.
I am protecting that for my future generations – All those who can’t speak for themselves. Not just the babies but everything that flies in the sky, all those that swim in the waters, the four-leggeds. Somebody has to speak on their behalf because they don’t have a voice."

Prayer: For Christmas this year, may all of God’s children have safe, pure water. Together, may we be prophetic voices to protect water for all. Water is life. Amen.
Kathy Keener is interim pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Pendleton, Oregon. She grew up in Oregon’s ‘Ecotopia’ and attempts to integrate sustainable practices in her life.

Kandi Mossett is a Mandan-Hidatsa-Arika warrior mother from the Fort Berthold Reservation in South Dakota. She works with the Indigenous Environmental Network.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Fourth Sunday in Advent Reflection

Then the angel showed me the river of life-giving water, shining like crystal, flowing from the throne of God and the Lamb through the middle of the city’s main street. On each side of the river is the tree of life, which produces twelve crops of fruit, bearing its fruit each month. The tree’s leaves are for the healing of the nations. There will no longer be any curse.   Revelation 22:1-3a CEB

“It’s all about the water and I have seen it.”

Sam Davis spent the summer fishing on the Columbia River. With Nez Perce tribal rights, he set gill nets to catch salmon. This year, with warmer water temperatures, aquatic weeds and grasses tangled in his nets, so they could not be left in for the usual time. The nets became too heavy. The river bottom is filled with silt where it used to be fine pebbles that the fish liked.

Salmon used to travel from the Pacific Ocean up the Columbia, then up the Snake River to the Clearwater River and other tributaries to spawn on the Nez Perce Reservation. Sam remembers his dad and uncles casting off and catching salmon for dinner from the Clearwater River, on their property. But Sam has seen the salmon decline. “The dams started coming in there on the Snake River and we could tell that the fish were disappearing. The sockeye were going extinct. Where the fish used to swim, there was all clear water with no fish.” On the Reservation, at the Clearwater River they built the Dworshak dam. “And above the dam there are no fish. There is all clear water coming this way.”

In May this year, Sam came to fish the Columbia River, but the water was too high to fish. He went home to Idaho to fish the South Fork of the Salmon River, then he went up to the Sawtooth Mountains. Sam returned to the Columbia for the rest of the summer. During the weeks of the Columbia Gorge Fire, Sam continued to fish with almost zero visibility due to dense smoke filling the Gorge. 

Sam grew up chasing the salmon. On their way to the sea; and as they made the long journey to return home to spawn. “It is all about the water and I have seen it.”

Prayer: God, we read John’ revelation and Sam’s words calling attention to your water. We also see where restoration and new life are needed in your creation. As we await your return, may we together work for the healing of the water and land. Amen.

Sam Davis retired from the Lewiston, Idaho munitions factory in 1994. He began fishing regularly on the Columbia River and its tributaries. Sam is Nez Perce and has family living on the Nez Perce Reservation. He knows fishermen from many tribes, meeting them at boat launches and along the river banks. He encourages young people to learn the Native arts of fishing. “I’ve got grandsons and all my family; I think about them growing up. They were proud I got to go here. It’s a very spiritual place and I am a Presbyterian.”

Advent is about the need for Jesus and for God’s healing restoration of the world.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Third Sunday in Advent Reflection

Threatened Foods and Churches

Then God said, “I now give to you all the plants on the earth that yield seeds and all the trees whose fruit produces its seeds within it. These will be your food. To all wildlife, to all the birds in the sky, and to everything crawling on the ground—to everything that breathes—I give all the green grasses for food.” And that’s what happened.  God saw everything he had made: it was supremely good.   Genesis 1:29-31a  CEB

Water is the first food needed for life. Salmon is a major source of food for native people of the Columbia River Gorge and its tributaries. When the US Government moved Native People from their usual lands to reservations, less healthy foods (wheat flour, lard and salt) were the staples supplied/ introduced to tribes who were accustomed to a diet of salmon, deer, root vegetables and berries. Today, there is a growing movement to restore Native American health by reclaiming traditional diets and food-ways and increasing access to nutritious food.

Rev. Irvin Porter is Associate for Native American Congregational Support in the PC(USA). He is cultivating health in the 95 churches and chapels of Native American Presbyterians, which are part of the Presbyterian Church (USA). These congregations need sustainable resources to bring spiritual food to their communities.

Irv focuses prayers and his energy to the Native American Youth Conference and its Youth Council to form young leaders. Of the four adult advisors to the last conference, three were participants as youth and the fourth was the conference organizer! Most Native churches are served by older commissioned ruling elders (lay pastors) and retired part-time clergy. Irv is raising funds for an endowment to support the Youth Conference.

Prayer: God of all life, may our relationship with you recognize how closely our wellbeing is tied to that of all creation. May we honor the inextricable connection between nutrition, food, health, the land and the relationship of Indigenous People to the land and water. Amen.

Rev. Irvin Porter is descended from three Native American tribes: T’hono O’odham, Pima, and Nez Perce. He grew up in Phoenix, Arizona and has also lived on the Nez Perce Reservation in Idaho. He serves part-time for the PC(USA) as the Associate for Native American Congregational Support. Irv is also pastor of the Presbyterian Church of Indian Fellowship, an urban Native PC(USA) congregation in Tacoma, Washington. He is their first Native American pastor in the 141 years since the church was founded among the Puyallup Indians. Irv and his wife live in Puyallup, Washington.

Friday, December 15, 2017

PEC welcomes your support

Dear PEC member or friend,

“This lived up to the potential to be a Christ-centered experience in which we see Earth Care as part of our commission as Christians and Presbyterians.”

This comment was made about Presbyterians for Earth Care’s 2017 Conference held in September near Portland, Oregon and is similar to what we hear after every PEC Conference.

Donations from people like you have made these face-to-face experiences possible every two years or so for the last 20 years. As a non-profit we depend on your year-end donation so we can continue to prepare and present more “Christ-centered experiences.” The steering committee has committed to give $9000 to PEC and challenges you and your congregation to match it.

Your gift will also help us offer you more enriching experiences through our Advent and Lenten Devotionals, our new "Earth Action Reflection Theology and Hope" (EARTH) e-newsletter, the many Earth Care resources on our website, and conversations with your Regional Representative.

Please consider making a tax-deductible donation of $25, $50, $100 or more so PEC can spread the word about caring for God’s creation to more Presbyterians and congregations. No gift is too small.

Your interest and your efforts at protecting God’s creation are appreciated and honored. Thank you for walking gently on this planet that we all share.

With hope for our future,

Dennis Testerman, Moderator