Friday, December 6, 2019

Devotional for Second Sunday of Advent

Read Isaiah 11:1-10

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
    from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
    the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
    the Spirit of counsel and of might,
    the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord
and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.  
Isaiah 11:1-3a

The Stories of the Trees

There are many, many trees on the campus of Stony Point Center where I live as a member of the Community of Living Traditions, a multifaith community committed to the work of radical hospitality in the world and for all creation. Over the years I have learned the stories of several of the trees on the SPC grounds during community ‘tree walks.’  On these walks, we pause at a number of trees to share the stories and memories we have of the trees we encounter. We grieve by trees planted to mark the loss of good friends and children gone too soon. We note the beauty of those trees planted in grief, now firmly rooted like the memories of those they commemorate. We stop and celebrate by trees planted to mark the birth of babies; trees whose roots are nurtured by the placentas that sustained life in the womb. We offer gratitude at the base of some of the big, glorious maples on campus - gratitude for shade in spring and summer, for the blazing red-orange leaves of fall, for the sweet sap we collect in the cold of winter. The tree walks journey through all seasons of life and of creation. Together, we remember and are strengthened by the stories of Love’s presence in all seasons and of the new life that grows even from what we plant in our grief.

The trees we visit likely tell their own stories to one another.  Through networks of support invisible to us, the larger trees send nutrients to smaller trees not yet prepared to weather the harsh winter winds.  They signal one another when it is time to conserve energy and when it is time to put on the new green leaves of spring.  They care for one another, carrying one another through the seasons. 

The poem we read in Isaiah 11 is like the conversation between these trees and among the community that loves them. It is a message spoken on a tree walk, pausing at the stump of despair to let everyone know that new growth has been detected. All is not lost. In fact, a new inbreaking of justice for all creation is gaining strength to stand tall with deep, sturdy roots.  

And it is growing even now. This Advent let us pause at the roots, trunks, and fruitful leaves of justice and peace we see growing all around us and supply them with all the nutrients needed for the seasons ahead.

Tree of Life, invite us under the canopy of your love in this Advent season.  Gathered at your roots, may we remember the stories of your faithfulness in all seasons.  Send us out to nurture the inbreaking of a new order in which the voices of the vulnerable are heard and all creation is restored.  Amen.

Sarah Henkel is a Presbyterian pastor with roots in the Mennonite tradition. She is a resident of the Community of Living Traditions at Stony Point Center and currently serves as Parish Associate at White Plains Presbyterian Church (White Plains, NY). Sarah is a member of the Faith Working Group of the Alliance for Fair Food, a national network of people working in partnership with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers for farmworker justice, as well as a founding Support Team member for Proyecto Faro, a grassroots immigrant rights group growing in Rockland County. She is a birth doula and finds birth to be a powerful lens through which to expect and envision the new and just world always coming to life around us. Sarah works in a variety of hospitality roles at Stony Point Center and enjoys developing art and graphics for use in the community.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Devotional for First Sunday of Advent

Sing, O heavens, for the Lord has done it;
shout, O depths of the earth;
break forth into singing, O mountains, O forest, and every tree in it!
For the Lord has redeemed Jacob, and will be glorified in Israel.  Isaiah 44:23

Let's Bring Christmastime to Creation

Snow on evergreens
My Advent journey always begins with a prayer for the Vision of ‘What kind of Christmas I think I want to have’.  That Vision focuses me in the framing of my approach to…preparing.  As I reflect on my 2019 approach to the Manger, my focus is significantly seasoned by my experience this past summer as Music Worship Leader for the Presbyterians for Earth Care National Conference. Two days after the close of that Conference I was inspired to compose the song (Let’s Bring) Christmastime To Creation. 

As I reach to hear the Trees singing, they begin (even now) to sound like the Angels who serenaded the Shepherds…calling my attention into active participation as an instrument of God’s Orchestrated Plan to Heal the Land. I share a portion of the verse and chorus of that song as my prayer for this Advent Season; that a gift I the newborn King…will be the gift of a renewed sense of personal responsibility for the health, welfare and vitality of our Planet Earth. Let us indeed…Bring Christmastime to Creation. 

As we give the gift of presents and extol the manger birth
Let’s repent of all the things that we have done to Mother Earth
We have pillaged, we have plundered, we have poisoned every plain
And we’re having Christmas…We’re Still having Christmas…

So as we celebrate let’s participate in The Prayer 2 Heal The Land
As a mind can get true knowledge, then a heart can understand
That we’re running out of time – so let’s keep these things in mind
While we’re having Christmas…just because it’s Christmas…

Let’s bring Christmastime to Creation
From a manger place to the sea and the sky above
We need to love The Earth from every nation
So that The Children will still have an Earth to love.                        


Warren B. Cooper
©2019 Music Media Ministry

Prayer: Creator God, we are reminded of your love as we look, see and hear the beauty in the creation you have given us. At the same time, we see the damage we have caused and repent of all that we have done. Give us Lord, a sense of renewed responsibility for the earth so that all nations, and especially children, will have an earth to love. 

Warren B. Cooper is a Performance Artist, Producer and Music Minister who is dedicated to the creation of transformational art that is focused on redeeming humanity and healing the land.  He is based in Philadelphia, PA where he serves as Executive Producer for Music Media Ministry (  His new release CHRISTMASTIME 2 CREATION is available on I-Tunes, Google Play, Spotify and all digital music platforms.  Each download will result in a donation to resource efforts for protective environmental legislation.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Introducing PEC's 2019 Advent Devotional

PEC's 2019 Advent Devotional

23 Sing, O heavens, for the Lord has done it;
shout, O depths of the earth;
break forth into singing, O mountains, O forest, and every tree in it!
For the Lord has redeemed Jacob, and will be glorified in Israel.
Isaiah 44:23

I hate waiting. It seems like all we do these days is wait. Waiting in traffic. Waiting for people to call or text us back. Waiting in line at the grocery check-out. Waiting for our friends to get a clue and agree with us. And so we wait, in well-practiced squirmy, cranky and frustrated ways.

But is this the waiting of Advent?

This Advent we will be endeavoring to wait, not with a low-grade fever of irritation but with anticipation, like those who know their tickets to Disney have already been purchased, or the answers to their deepest need have been written and are about to be revealed. We will be waiting together in community, sharing strength with each other as we wait.

Ecologist, Susanne Simard, is a professor of forest ecology and teaches at the University of British Columbia. She is a biologist and has tested theories about how trees communicate with other trees. She explained in her TED Talk that the trees communicate below ground via an infinite number of pathways sharing information, water, nutrients, carbon, nitrogen, minerals and warnings. The young trees are supported by more mature mother trees. Trees talk to each other. That talk makes it easier for other trees to survive, to thrive in community. But what happens when trees are damaged or even clear cut? Then those left behind are weakened, left without the full capacity of the community to heal and to thrive. But trees allowed to stand with even a small part of their community intact tend to thrive.

Just like the trees, we are meant to live in community, sharing information and resources for the good of the community. We are planted in community and called to share resources, called to share the wisdom and grace of Christ as we grow together. When one tree falls another arises to carry on the legacy, to learn the wisdom and to share in the connectedness of the community of grace.

So this Advent we wait in community. We wait to soak up again the wisdom of the generations past, to tell again the stories of our faith in community. But we also wait with anticipation the renewal of those communities, the redemption of the land, the healing of scars and the emergence of the continuing work of our Savior in this time.  Perhaps the wait will end with renewed commitments to wholeness, to preservation, to stewardship and to the sense of peace that comes from believing in a God who can, has and will transform us again and again.

It is worth the wait!

Barbara Chalfant is currently the Associate for Mission for the Presbytery of West Virginia. She is a curriculum writer, artist, singer, and is prone to bouts of laughter. Having seen the direct effects of bad environmental stewardship as she works in disaster ravaged communities, Barbara has become proactive concerning environmental issues. She serves as the Central East Regional Representative on the Presbyterians for Earth Care Steering Committee. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Support the Fossil Fuel Divestment Overture

Act Now for a Fossil Free PCUSA
by rev. abby mohaupt, Moderator Fossil Free PCUSA

Fossil fuels are the greatest contributor to the current climate crisis and there are many ways to reduce/eliminate their use. As a denomination, an effective way for the PC(USA) to curtail the production and use of fossil fuels is to send a message to corporations by selling the Church’s investments in fossil fuel stocks – a strategy called divestment. Presbyterians for Earth Care advocates for Fossil Free PCUSA’s divestment overture to the 224thGeneral Assembly. This overture is circulating and already in process in several Presbyteries. Along with FossilFree PCUSA, PEC invites you to support this overture in your Presbytery by doing the following:
  1. Take it to your church’s session. Any member of session may bring an overture. If you aren’t on session, talk to the leadership of any relevant committees, or your pastor or stated clerk. The session can consider and pass an overture.
  2. After your session passes the overture, the session’s stated clerk sends it to the presbytery’s stated clerk, who will add it to the agenda for the next presbytery meeting.
  3. At that presbytery meeting, someone from your session presents the overture, and will usually be given time to share why they support it and are asking the presbytery to pass it.
  4. The presbytery will discuss and vote on the overture. If it passes, the stated clerk will send it to the General Assembly.
  5. If the overture has at least one concurrence*, it will go before the General Assembly
  6. Let Fossil Free PCUSA know where the overture is in your process on our tracking sheet
  7. Act soon! The deadline for Presbyteries to submit overtures without constitutional implications, including this one, is May 6, 2020.
*Since the 2016, GA all overtures that are approved by Presbytery and sent to the General Assembly must have at least one other presbytery who concurs, or also votes “yes” on that overture. The recommendation of the overture must be exactly the same, although the rationale can differ. Each overture that goes to the General Assembly must have at least one concurrence (i.e. the original presbytery + one more), but there is no limit to the number of presbyteries that can concur. In fact, if an overture has many concurrences from many different presbyteries it shows a wide support for the issue. Each presbytery that sends the overture may also send an Overture Advocate to speak on behalf of the overture to the committee, so overtures with many concurrences get more time in committee. 

abby mohaupt is a Teaching Elder in San Francisco Presbytery, PhD student at Drew University in New Jersey, and a farmer in rural North Texas. abby's heart work is devoted to living with integrity at the intersections of eco-feminisms, social justice, and spirituality. She regularly guest lectures on religion and ecology, with emphasis on the intersections of race and gender.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Renewing PEC's Advocacy Ministry

Friends of PEC and of creation!

I am writing to invite you to be a part of a meaningful ministry of healing for creation through the Presbyterians for Earth Care (PEC) Advocacy Team. PEC proceeds from the following convictions: 
  • Like you, we feel the growing urgency of our climate crisis, and that this moment in history is like no other. The crisis is real and so is the opportunity for common action! 
  • You are a blessing. PEC is so thankful for you–for your faith, your commitment, your action on behalf of all life. 
  • We believe that the community of faith, and PC(USA), have a unique, holy, and powerful role to play in an effort to bring healing and justice to all creation. 
  • PEC is called to be a prophetic voice for creation care in and through the church. 
  • We are faithful and more effective working together than we are individually or apart.
Our vision for Advocacy centers around three areas of focus: 
  1. We feel called to nurture discussion of systemic change for creation care in and through the church. The church is a natural place for us to tackle sensitive issues together in meaningful and loving ways. Using the Green New Deal (GND), we would like to facilitate a meaningful and substantive discussion in congregations and the wider church around the systemic change needed for restoring health to the environment. We believe that the GND, and the momentum currently around it, presents a golden opportunity to consider and advocate for systemic change. 
  2. We feel called to advocate for divestment from fossil fuels as an effective means of pushing for change in the church. One of the most effective tools we have in effecting change is using our $. We feel called to work with other PC(USA) Advocacy groups on making our denomination fossil fuel free in any and every way we can. We believe this is a clear and faithful path for change. 
  3. We feel called to leave room for the Spirit to lead us! There are many aspects of creation care, and we are open to partnership with others. What pressing issues need to be addressed in your region? Is there a need to press for a carbon pricing initiative? Is there a pipeline, or a fossil fuel facility that needs to be opposed? What’s your particular passion? While we will remain focused on the first two efforts above, we recognize that the Spirit may lead in new and bold directions, and we want to be ready to listen! 
Based on these convictions and vision, we would like to invite you to be a part of a meaningful ministry of healing for creation through the Advocacy Team of Presbyterians for Earth Care. We believe that the PC(USA) can be a denomination where creation care is at the core of life, and we believe that we (the Holy Spirit, PEC, and you) can help make it so. If you’d like to be involved in this renewal of Advocacy ministry in and through the PCUSA, please contact me.

Paul R. Heins
NW/Mountain Regional Representative for PEC
PEC Advocacy Team Leader
Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Port Townsend, WA
Church: (360) 385-2525
Cell: (435) 881-9337

Thursday, October 17, 2019

The Youth Climate Strike: A Dispach From the Front

The Youth Climate Strike: A Dispach From the Front

by Serena Worley

Serena Worley
When the United Nations report came out last November saying that we only had 12 (now 11) years left to prevent the worst effects of climate change, I knew I had to act. I read about how the coming climate crisis would create millions of refugees and felt the need to help as many people as possible. Unfortunately, I had almost no experience in activism, so I was terrified emailing Anya Sastry, a former state lead, asking to join the Illinois team. I had a million fears going in. What if I messed up? I was a high school freshman. They probably all knew so much more and had so much more experience than I did. Nevertheless, when Anya responded, I dove head first into the climate movement. My need to look out for others and for the natural world outweighed my fear and I offered to take a leadership position as the head of outreach. Those decisions to stay involved and keep taking on more responsibility were all terrifying, but I knew that they were the right choices. I didn’t realize until recently just how many of the lessons I learned growing up in my church were being reflected in my actions. 

I have to admit, when Michael Terrien asked me to write an article about how my faith and connection to the church has influenced my climate activism, I was a little worried. I’m not the most religious person, and I’m honestly not sure what I believe in theologically. I was worried that I would let him down and that I wasn’t the right person to do this. I’ve come to realize, though, that the values and lessons I learned from Sunday school and being involved in my local church, the First Presbyterian Church of Deerfield, are something I try to live by every day of my life. 

From about age ten until recently, I really had no clue what I believed. I’ve always been a pretty science-oriented kid, not to mention gay, so some of the more literal aspects of the Bible didn’t really sit well with me. My church was always welcoming and accepting of me and everyone in our congregation, so I never felt like there was something wrong, but it still made me feel a little weird. I’ve since come to the conclusion that the Bible and the teachings of Jesus Christ provide a great framework through which to lead your life. Being kind, helping others, not killing each other--that’s the kind of thing I can get behind. I’ve also realized that the sense of awe and wonder I get from looking at the stars, seeing natural wonders, and thinking about things like time and space can probably be called God. I used to struggle to understand what people meant by seeing the Lord in the most beautiful things in life, but I think I get it now. It’s the feeling of being such a small part of something so massive and beautiful that’s simultaneously incredibly comforting but also terrifying. I’ve always considered myself a Presbyterian, though now more out of the sense of community and the values I gain from the church than any theological beliefs I hold. 

Even while questioning my faith, mission and service has always been something I felt called to do. What I’ve come to realize in the last few years is that my relationship to a higher cause will always be much more about service than belief. I’ve decided that what truly matters to me and makes me feel connected to others is helping people. Volunteering has made up most of the most fulfilling experiences of my life. I’ve gone to Feed My Starving Children in Libertyville with my church and with my track team many times and made some great memories while feeling like I was really making a difference in the lives of others. My church runs a PADS homeless shelter on Sunday nights during the colder months, and I remember helping set up mattresses and room dividers during Sunday school in elementary school. Those were always some of my favorite days. No matter who I was helping, volunteer work has always made me feel connected to the world around me and brought me a sense of fulfillment. 

Helping to organize the climate strikes in Chicago has brought me a similar feeling of being part of something larger than myself. Our team was originally a handful of kids from the city and suburbs, most of them with some experience being a part of movements like these. We didn’t know much about what we were doing, but from our May strike with about 500 people to our strike two weeks ago with several thousand, we got our message out. Standing at the front of the march from Grant Park to Federal Plaza on September 20th, being somewhat able to see and very much able to hear the countless people behind me and those on the sidewalks ahead rushing to join us, that moment was one of the most spiritual experiences of my life. The knowledge that we had done that, that these people were with us all the way, that scenes even larger than this were playing out across the planet that day, all of that made me feel closer to God than I ever have. Just thinking about it now still makes me tear up. It felt historic and monumental. This movement is going to bring change. We’re going to make a difference. Those in power can no longer ignore us, and if they do, those who put them in office will hold them accountable for their reckless actions. 

My parents raised me from a young age to stand up and fight for what I believe in. As far back as I can remember, the majority of our dinner conversations have been about politics. This caused me to have a strange revelation at about age twelve that a debate over the merits of Brexit, which sounds like a lot of fun to me, is in fact most people’s idea of torture. This has, though, made me very good at having political discussions. For whatever reason, the older I get, the less my beliefs line up with my parents’. I honestly can’t tell if they’re more proud of me for coming to my own conclusions about the world or frustrated that I don’t agree with them on a lot of issues. Either way, they’ve been very supportive of my activism for the climate. They want me to be willing to loud and out there supporting whatever cause I think is a just one, even if it might conflict with their beliefs on occasion. 

Climate activism is important to me because it’s something that does and will continue to affect the entire world for the rest of all of our lives and could potentially ruin the lives of billions in the future. We have a perfect moment right now to act and save our planet from destruction, but too many are too cowardly to do anything. We tell ourselves we have more time, that this isn’t that pressing of an issue. I cannot understand Christians who claim that we don’t need to take care of the environment because it’s a gift from God to us, so He will take care of it. Why would the Lord want us to trash the beauty and wonder of this world? It’s certainly not essential to our survival; it’s the opposite. We need to take responsibility for the fact that it is our actions that created this crisis, and through our actions we can solve it. Ever since I first heard the phrase “caring for creation,” I’ve liked it. We need to take care of this planet. It’s not ours to destroy. This sense of entitlement to exploit its resources has brought us to a breaking point. Without systemic change, our society will likely collapse in a few decades, as depressing as that sounds. Hope is always a good thing, but with that hope we need a sense of urgency. 

It’s great to see organizations like Presbyterians for Earth Care recognizing this intersection of faith and activism. In my opinion, faith requires real action to back it up, and protecting the environment is a mission that helps quite literally every single person on the planet. I hope more Christians begin to understand that caring for God’s creation is one of the more important things we can do. Presbyterianism creates a sense of community like no other, one that fosters hard work and dedicated service to others. Participating in strikes, volunteering at things like beach clean-ups, and working with local communities to educate and promote more sustainable ways of living are just a few of the many ways churches can help in the fight to reduce the climate crisis. Presbyterians for Earth Care’s mission is exactly what we need to be pushing for in churches around the world to protect our planet.

Serena Worley is the director of outreach for the Illinois branch of the US Youth Climate Strikes. She’s a sophomore at Deerfield High School in Deerfield, Illinois, and a member of the First Presbyterian Church of Deerfield. 

A Dispatch from PEC’s 2019 Conference

A Dispatch from PEC’s 2019 Conference

by Elizabeth Fite and Diane Waddell

Elizabeth Fite, my 12-year-old granddaughter from St. Joseph, Missouri, was part of the Presbyterians for Earth Care Conference Stony Point and also attended a couple days of the conference at Menucha in 2017. A highlight for her was the hospitality of Rick-Ufford Chase and her first solo experience in a kayak. In September, Elizabeth drove with us to Salina, Kansas to hear Bill McKibben speak at the Land Institute's annual Prairie Festival, where he spoke about Greta Thunberg and the threats of climate change.  

“After I arrived home from Salina,” Elizabeth said, “I wanted to do something for the climate strike. My family and I designed a poster that said ‘CLIMATE JUSTICE,’ which we posted on Facebook and now hangs in a window in the front of my house so people can see it when they drive by. I am glad to know more about climate change as so many people are unaware. Our family uses reusable shopping bags and doesn't use plastic straws. We always use reusable water bottles, spread out our mowing as long as possible, and leave the leaves on the ground until late spring to help the pollinators.”

Thanks to Elizabeth and her family for their leadership in creation care!

Diane Waddell is Moderator of Earthkeepers for the Heartland Presbytery 

A Great Cloud of Witnesses

A Great Cloud of Witnesses

by Rev. Peter Sawtell

"Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us."(Hebrews 12:1) 

Greta Thunberg
We are not alone in facing a challenging world. Multitudes have come before us, and they have persevered through many trials. We are strengthened and encouraged when we remember historic communities of commitment and action.

The Book of Hebrews walks us through a long list of biblical characters who lived in "the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." After a recitation of well-known names and stories, the list gets more general, speaking of anonymous others who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and obtained promises. The text recalls still others who were tortured, suffered mocking and flogging, even imprisonment and death. 

The biblical letter calls those witnesses to mind so that we, too, might continue in the demanding path of faith. We remember them so that we can run with perseverance too.

In these days of climate crisis, I am encouraged – and prodded – by a great cloud of contemporary witnesses. With deep gratitude, I call to mind those who have led us to awareness and action against the destabilization of Earth's climate: the scientists and journalists who have witnessed to truth about the devastated state of God's creation; the prophets calling out our personal and cultural complicity in damage to natural systems; the tireless activists who demand bold and urgent action. Because we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, we, too, should run with perseverance the race that is set before us.

The cloud of witnesses for climate justice is global and diverse, and I praise God for all who have committed themselves to this work of protecting creation. For today, though, I ask us to be challenged by a new and effective part of this movement, the passionate witness of youth.

Certainly we must start the list with Greta. A year ago, none of us had heard of her, and now she is the single most visible individual in the fight against climate chaos. Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg sat alone outside the houses of parliament every Friday in a personal climate strike, insisting by her persistent presence that the Swedish government start acting. Her solitary witness inspired other students in Europe, then Australia, and on around the world to strike for the climate. As she has grown in prominence, Greta has been fearless in speaking prophetic words to those in positions of power and trust. Her blistering denunciations of greed and business-as-usual cut through complacency and excuses. 

This fall, building on Greta's at-first-solitary strike, over 7 million people took to the streets for a Global Climate Strike, the world's largest single day of climate action. Young people in schools and in community groups now articulate specific demands for climate justice in nations around the world.

Greta has been an inspiration, but this movement has not sprung only from her. One day after the September climate strike, hundreds of youth prophets and organizers gathered at the U.N. for a Youth Climate Summit. They came from the global north and south, from east and west. Through poetry, film, business enterprises, and political activism, they are speaking truth, organizing communities, and forming international organizations.

A political powerhouse of youth activism in the United States is the Sunrise Movement, "an army of young people to stop climate change and create millions of good jobs in the process." In just two years, these youth activists have been a driving force in birthing the political vision of the Green New Deal, shaping its goals, and pushing aggressively to get it introduced in Congress. Their focused political work has provided a framework for broad public conversations about how we might move rapidly toward a just transition and a sustainable society.

And we must celebrate youth who have taken the climate cause into courts. In 2015, twenty-one dedicated youngsters filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government. The case – moving slowly through the courts against desperate opposition from the government – says that decades of U.S. policy favoring fossil fuels has deprived them of their constitutional right to a livable future. Similar youth lawsuits also have been filed against all 50 state governments. Youth have brought the demand for climate justice into the heart of the U.S. judicial system.

The Letter to the Hebrews calls out to us. Inspired by a great cloud of witnesses, we can and must join in witnesses, too.

That familiar passage offers us encouragement, but perhaps it does not feel quite so reassuring when we read on a few verses: "In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood." (12:4)

We are not looking at an easy or a comfortable task. This work of faith and hope calls us far beyond changing light bulbs, driving less, and sending an email to Congress. The Bible challenges us to dangerous resistance – perhaps filing lawsuits, or risking arrest, or at least speaking with such truth and courage that we might upset our friends and fellow church members. But, surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, we are called to do that much, and more.

The letter to the Hebrews celebrates a long lineage that lived in faith and with perseverance. Not all of the youth who I celebrate as witnesses to climate justice are rooted in a religious faith, but they certainly live and act in hope. They have committed themselves to a just and sustainable future which is yet unseen.

We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, young people doing what I see as holy work. Inspired by their witness, may we, too, run with perseverance this race that is set before us.

Rev. Peter Sawtell, an ordained minister of the United Church of Christ, is the founder and executive director of Eco-Justice Ministries. Through that agency, one of Peter's goals is to help church leaders discern what it means "to be the church" in this time of great ecological and social justice crises. Peter is widely known for his weekly e-mail commentary, Eco-Justice Notes

Lawn to Life

Lawn to Life
by Don Coats
Creating a Pollinator Garden
Three public demonstration gardens near Centreville, Delaware—at Lower Brandywine Presbyterian Church, Brandywine Creek State Park, and Kennett Township Barkingfield Park—have been created as an outreach to homeowners, conveying how to convert part of their lawns to pollinator gardens - for personal enrichment and for reducing our societal debt to Nature. 
At issue is our cultural devotion to expansive lawn as a message of aesthetics and personal pride that has deprived Nature of home habitat for countless creatures, little creatures “that make the world go.” Dr. Douglas Tallamy 
“Man is the most insane species. He worships an invisible God and destroys a visible Nature, unaware that this Nature he’s destroying is this God he’s worshiping.” Hubert Reeves
The core theme of these gardens revolves around planting native plants for native pollinators. This simple theme has profound value; we should replace lawn space and popular ornamental plants (many of which are invasive) with plants that have evolved with the insect populations that forage on them as they have done so over millennia. The goal is to nurture this connection between plants and animals, reaching beyond insects as bird food. 
The three primary gardens involved in this project each has an attentive maintenance/monitor group and an internal dialogue plan to keep each garden thriving. The goal is to achieve landscape appeal and aesthetics, but matched with citizen science and data records of butterflies, bees, caterpillars, and even birds as dividends of the volunteers’ work and devotion. They are not experts but rather students of shared learning. 
It's interesting that younger minds are more easily engaged with the insect life than the details of blooms. It would seem that their attention span is lengthened when they actually connect with the purpose and goals of the activity. Catching butterflies in a net and cooling them in a refrigerator permits us to exam insects in detail as they warm to activity and fly away. It’s truly a spiritual experience.
Don Coats is an Elder at Lower Brandywine Presbyterian Church.

A Review of "The Great Conversation" by Belden C. Lane

by Belden C. Lane

Review by Nancy Corson Carter

The dedication of this book, “For Grandfather—and Elizabeth,” is accompanied by an arresting photo titled “Belden and Elizabeth in Grandfather’s Side.” Thus we know the name of this winsome child, and surely the broadly smiling bearded man is the author, but who is the invisible “Grandfather”?

The Great Conversation
Only by reading the Preface do we learn that the dark narrow band at the top of the photo is a sliver of Grandfather, the elderly Eastern Cottonwood living in a city park across the street from Belden C. Lane’s house. On nightly visits over the last quarter century to this tree he claims as a spiritual director, Lane has gathered the themes that animate this book. A Presbyterian theologian who taught with Jesuits at Saint Louis University for thirty-five years, he names himself in retirement as a “scholar-in recovery,” dedicated to spending “more time on the trail, moving into a deliberate contemplative practice.”

Thus he means to leave behind an academic immersion in words to undertake what desert saints called the “via negativa.” The intention is to intuit what the Earth community yearns to teach us about our vital interconnections if onlywe will humble ourselves to listen. Grandfather is the teacher Lane has chosen (or been chosen by) as he pursues a life of falling in love with wild things. They know languages, he asserts, that we desperately need to understand in these desperate times for the Earth. His grand-daughter Elizabeth makes him aware of the responsibility this work bestows upon us for the sake of generations to come.

The book is patterned after a great “soulcentric developmental wheel” shown in a figure in the Introduction which is built on the work of Bill Plotkin, Eric Erikson, and Joseph Campbell. Like a medicine wheel, it is divided into four sections for the cardinal directions and the yearly seasons, each with its major element and each representing a season of human life—from EAST/Spring/AIR/the Golden Child through to NORTH/Winter/EARTH/The Wise Elder. The whole wheel is divided into 2 halves, Spring and Summer for Ascent of the Spiritand Fall and Winter for Descent of the Soul.

This diagram provides the “bones” fleshed out by Lane’s stories of his journeys, often solo, to places like Escalante Wilderness canyons, the Western Australian bush, the wolf-elk-grizzly territory of Yellowstone, and a Missouri bat cave. But his continuing journey is with the single cottonwood who has introduced him to “a world that’s alive with wonder.”

Grandfather’s losing one of two great trunks growing from his roots and Lane’s mother’s dying first brought the two together he says. Beyond that, enumerating the anguish we share with the other-than-human world due to climate change, habitat destruction, record-breaking fires, floods, loss of species diversity and other woes, Lane hears “voices of a planet in travail.” They call us to a celebration of all still alive and “to a language of lament that gives birth to action.” He reminds us of the constantly interconnected inner and outer movements required by these understandings. 

He notes that Carl Jung has asked the great question of our time: “How do we find a way to get everything back into connection with everything else?” This is the longed-for “Great Conversation” of his title. Lane’s experience has taught him that it “will have to be pursued with long sleeves and thick gloves, with beekeeper’s head-net in place and snakebite kit within reach. It involves risk, a stretching of mind and body.” 

Lane finds that as we yearn to find an integrated life within the connecting web we require a spiritual practice.His is a commitment to wilderness backpacking. In the main part of the book he takes us with him on a wildly diverse dozen of his wilderness journeys. He has  selected twelve teachers from various world spiritual traditions as companions. I briefly discuss two of these journeys-plus-teachers as representative of his generous interweaving of the personal—his own celebrations and concerns, his joys and fears--with texts that expand that immediate experience into the wide realms of the cosmos.

Thus we meet Farid ud-In Attar, a great Persian Sufi poet (known for the medieval text, The Conference of the Birds)along with sandhill cranes on his journey along the Platte River in Nebraska. Attar’s narrative leads us to the birds’ discovery that the king they have spent lifetimes seeking, the Simorgh, is themselves.The story, along with the majesty and mystery of many birds he’s encountered, awakens in Lane a soul hunger to meet again the Jesus he encountered “as a ten-year-old boy at a revival meeting in the American South.” He tells us too of a recurring dream he had as a boy that he could fly. We’re reminded that the element of AIR, of euphoric joining with birds as teachers can re-unite us with “a vast ecology of the sacred.”

The journey closest to home fulfills his long-standing dream of spending the night in Grandfather’s branches. A climbing teacher shows him double-rope tree-climbing technique and prepares a hammock strung to limbs below the tree’s canopy. Then, on a March afternoon with a clear night coming, Lane makes it up 90-feet for an ecstatic experience. He’s an adventurous 70-year-old “backpacking” in a 100-year-old cottonwood. Hildegard of Bingen is the teacher he’s chosen to accompany him this time, a saint who considered trees as special teachers of holy things. As an herbalist-healer, a musician, a defender of a beleaguered Earth, she understood the soul as life force (viriditas) infusinggreenness into all the branches of the Tree of Life, God’s radiant Being. That evening, Lane delights at being in the heart of the waning sun’s radiance as he begins his night in Grandfather’s high embrace.

This is a very synthetic and inspiring book. I find Belden Lane’s words, especially those about approaching the wordless (!) richly evocative. They also challenge me. The closest I come to spiritual backpacking is working in the gardens around my home and occasionally hiking in  nearby parks. I’ve been in a number of the places he mentions, but not alone and rarely overnight outside on the ground. Still I practice listeningas well as I can, and I imagine each reader will be encouraged to do the same, stretching in the effort.

In the final pages, Lane urges us to listen to the elders who have been warning of the flood that’s coming. I think of the unforgettable film produced by National Geographic and narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio, THE FLOOD NEXT TIME. Lane optimizes: “But the elders also know, that a raging river brings new life.” 

He quotes Hafiz as a reminder that everything is sacred; everything matters:

                        There is nothing
                        Outside of my Master’s Body
                        I try 
                        To show reverence
                        To all things.

In closing, Lane reminds us of the importance of laughter: “It’s how the Great Conversation is reborn--acknowledging that we are a huge and hilarious community where laughter gives rise to magic, and magic to story, and story to hope. May it be so.

                                                #   #   #

(poem above from The Gift: Poems from Hafiz,trans. Daniel Ladinsky [New York: Penguin Compass, 1999], 173)

Professor emerita of Humanities at Eckerd College, Nancy Corson Carter, Ph.D., continues in her interdisciplinary vocation as writer, photographer, workshop and retreat leader, and environmental activist.