Thursday, October 20, 2016

Hurricane Matthew devastates Haiti

Lessening the Impact of Hurricanes
by Rick Randolph
Disasters are predictable, but not when, where or how they occur. What is predictable is that that they WILL occur and that has always been the case for Haiti. On October 4th, Hurricane Matthew struck the eastern end of the southern peninsula of Haiti with 140 mph winds, a strong storm surge and devastating winds. The same day, I flew as part of the Heart to Heart International advanced team to assess the damage to our existing programs in Haiti and to provide assistance in the worst hit areas. The damage was immense.  350,000 people lost their homes and were in need of assistance, over 1000 people lost their lives and 100% of the crops in the province of Grand Anse were destroyed. With the disrupted water and sanitation, cholera is now stalking the land and will probably cause more loss of life than the direct effects of the hurricane.
Hurricanes are a natural occurrence and have plagued mankind as long as we have lived near the oceans. What isn't natural is the increasing intensity and frequency of these storms. Up to 90% of the excess heat due to global climate change is stored in the upper levels of the oceans. Hurricanes are triggered by the atmospheric disturbances caused by the warm ocean water. The more heat in the ocean water, the more energy available to grow the hurricane. With the continued rapid warming of our planet, we are growing and will continue to grow increasingly severe hurricanes.

This mostly affects the poor. In the developing world, the poor live clustered to the ocean’s shore on the least desirable and most vulnerable land. They are typically the last to leave the path of a hurricane because of the difficulty in getting the news to them and their desire to protect their unsecured possessions. Their loss of life becomes another disaster that is again sadly predictable. 
Jesus said that the poor will always be with us, not as a statement of resignation, but a reminder that our responsibility to care for the least of these among us will never be over. For Haiti, this means doing all we can to slow global climate change and to help protect those who cannot protect themselves. Hurricanes will occur but we must work to lessen their impact. This is our call.

Rick Randolph, MD, is the Chief Medical Officer of Heart to Heart. For the past two decades, he has provided primary care, disaster response and public health in the US and globally. Rick holds a certificate in Public Health in the Developing World. Rick and his wife, Jo, are members of Grace Covenant Presbyterian, Overland Park, KS, an Earth Care Congregation.  PEC is grateful for their ongoing and invaluable  eco-justice work in the congregation, presbytery and with PEC and Environmental Ministries. 

Monday, October 17, 2016

Poetry and a book about water

Watershed Discipleship
by Vickie Machado

Vickie Machado is a member of the EARTH team and the EcoStewards Program. She lives in Gainesville, FL.
Book art by Char Myers
Be on the lookout! Activist theologian and biblical scholar Ched Myers announced the upcoming debut of his edited anthology, “Watershed Discipleship: Reinhabiting Bioregional Faith and Ethic.” The book includes more than 15 different authors and is set to be published by Cascade Books. “Watershed Discipleship” ventures beyond Creation Care as it takes into account education, advocacy and organizing to “learn, love and save real places.” It recognizes we are in a watershed moment and that we as Christians must “choose between denial and discipleship.” This book explores the grassroots initiatives people of faith are enacting and engaging in with regards to watershed discipleship in their areas.

More information about "Watershed Discipleship” can be found at here.

by Bobbie McGarey

Bobbie McGarey serves as pastor of New Life Presbyterian Church, Albuquerque, NM.

I think clouds love the prairie
Even small clouds
With the sun behind you 
You can cast a shadow to be seen for miles and miles. 

I think clouds love the prairie
If they are part of a storm they can be watched for hours or minutes as they come closer and closer 
And when they do 
They can drop their rain in sheets
Sometimes not even making it from the high sky to the ground 
That in its dryness 
Reaches up for the rain....

October EARTH-Keeper

Village Presbyterian Church
Environmental Action Committee (EAC)
by Diane Waddell, Moderator of PEC

I'm delighted to write about three EARTHkeepers! Village Presbyterian Church in Prairie Village, Kansas, has long been known for community mission engagement and social justice work.  The congregation is well respected both locally and nationally for their leadership.  PEC would particularly like to recognize the work of their Environmental Action Committee, which has served as a model for education, action, and community partnership in eco-justice advocacy.  They list their work as being a "bold witness by advocating environmental Justice for all creation."  They are a 6th year Earth Care Congregation and spearhead year-round programming in their advocacy. 

Their work has included organizing electronics recycling, and leading congregational education and action on climate change, water as sacred resource, and fossil fuel divestment. 

Al Pugsley, Chuck Gillam, Jerry Rees
The committee maintains a prominent permanent bulletin board highlighting environmental issues. Since 2009 they have granted Earth Stewards Awards, sharing 21 awards to couples, individuals, and one family who model Creation care in the congregation.  They have also gifted Green Bibles to all staff, sharing 30 to date.

Jerry Rees is currently chair of the Environmental Action Committee. He is a very active member of Earthkeepers of Heartland Presbytery and the Sustainable Sanctuary Coalition of Kansas City, an ecumenical, faith based eco-Justice organization which meets at Village.  Jerry is also a member of the Advocacy committee of PEC and was previously a Regional Rep for the Midwest Region. Jerry has worked tirelessly in encouraging people to be aware of environmental needs in the nation and region and helped organize and send environmental overtures through the Presbytery to GA.  Jerry does an excellent job of sending emails about eco-happenings and has been politically active in the Kansas capital in the area of environment. 
Al Pugsley has initiated a funding of many church solar installations in the Kansas City area and around the US.  He has very generously purchased multiple solar panels for Heartland Presbyterian Center in Parkville, MO; Mosier, Oregon; Poipu, Kauai, Hawaii, among other sites.  He has also tirelessly promoted electric transportation (connected to solar energy) and regularly organizes and hosts an Electric Car Expo at Village. Al enjoys weatherizing his home and encourages others to do the same. Al is also a member of the EAC, Heartland Earthkeepers and Sustainable Sanctuary.
Chuck Gillam is an active member of Village EAC, Earthkeepers and Sustainable Sanctuary.  Chuck, along with Jerry and Al, has also taught Sunday School classes and arranged for classes, Through "Village U", evening continuing Ed classes, in eco-Justice.  He has connected us with his daughter, Carey Gillam, a brilliant journalist who has been a true leader in sharing enlightening articles on environmental concerns such as GMOs.

I am very grateful for Jerry, Al, and Chuck, as members of Village and for being faithful supporters of Earthkeepers of Heartland Presbytery, our presbytery eco-justice team.  They have helped arrange for monthly meetings of Earthkeepers and, as founding members, have faithfully supported and attended meetings ever since. They are truly EARTHkeepers!

Aftermath of June Floods in West Virginia

And the Floods Came…
by Robin Blakeman

Rev. Robin Blakeman, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition Organizer, WV Presbytery Stewardship of Creation Ministry Team leader & WV Interfaith Power and Light Steering Committee member.

In late June of this past year, clouds settled over the mountains of West Virginia (WV), and rain began.  At first, this seemed like a normal summer storm system, but quickly reports of flooded communities were heard across the state news channels. Some communities got over 10 inches of rain in less than a day!

Photo courtesy of Vivian Stockman, OVEC (Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition)

Anyone who knows anything about WV topography knows that many of our communities are located in narrow river or creek valleys – in between the lush and beautiful mountains that interconnect across the Appalachian mountain chain. We are located in what is referred to as a “temperate rainforest region” – the second most diverse such region on the planet. Our intact mountains, forests and streams can actually serve as a sponge during normal summer storms, absorbing and filtering a lot of water.

This, however, was no “normal” rain event. This was especially true in the community of White Sulphur Springs, WV – where normally small and tranquil trout streams quickly swelled and converged into a torrent that looked more like the muddy Mississippi River! Unfortunately, many homes were in the flooded valleys and many people lost everything, including 23 people state-wide who lost their lives. There were multiple other communities in which homes, businesses and schools were heavily affected; the infrastructure in many communities was decimated. White Sulphur Springs, for example, lost its water main, and the town water tank was subsequently drained; there was no public water service available to the town for at least the first month following the catastrophic flood. 

Photo courtesy of the author

West Virginia is still in recovery mode; there will be rebuilding going on for years, and some communities will not recover well. Our state leaders are extending state of emergency declarations and appealing to the Obama administration for more federal aid, even as I write this article. This is ironic, considering the budget cuts and delays in establishing a budget that have happened in recent years in our state government. There are many people who want to call this past summer’s floods “1000 year floods," but that number is misleading.

If you knew that a flood event like this was ONLY going to happen once per 1000 years, a community could plan to cope, rebuild, plan for the next one WAY down the road. But, the fact is that climate science has been predicting an increased frequency of these type of catastrophic rain events for decades, and it is now happening. Some experts refer to these localized heavy rain events as “water bombs”! Floods from unprecedentedly high rainfall amounts are happening on a more frequent basis.  The link between Climate Change, economic cuts to infrastructure, decreased environmental regulations and disaster preparedness funding, and our recent floods is not a mysterious coincidence.

So, what role can churches and faith communities play in the midst of these literal and political storms? Some insights on this came from the Rev. Jeff Allen – a United Methodist, and Director of the West Virginia Council of Churches. Although he cautions against self-deploying during times of natural disasters, he says: “Local churches… in a very real sense… are our first responders…” (Hear more from Rev. Allen here.)

Photo courtesy of Vivian Stockman, OVEC (Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition)

In my opinion, it would be wonderful if our churches and faith communities could become advocates for Disaster Preparedness and Disaster Prevention, not to mention sustainable Climate Action. Many faith leaders sadly see this type of discussion and activity as “too political.”

Yet, it is almost a certainty that churches and faith communities will be increasingly called upon to help deal with these kind of tragic events – either in “first responder,” clean-up, rebuilding, or gap-filling (i.e. food pantry, utility bill assistance, etc.) roles. So, is it “too political” to speak out about the need to meaningfully address Climate Change at the state and national levels, in order to alleviate the suffering of those around us who are increasingly caught up in “natural” disasters? This is a question to which I believe we should use the formula “What would Jesus Do?” to inform our answer.

For more information on the 2016 West Virginia flooding, follow these links:
If you would like to support the work that Robin and others are doing to raise awareness about Climate Change and the need to prepare for more frequent disasters like this summer's floods, please contribute to OVEC at; including a note that your support is due to this article would be helpful.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Dakota Access Pipeline and Standing Rock

My Trip to the Camp of Sacred Stones

at Standing Rock Reservation

by Rev. Paul Henschen, PEC Steering Committee
Paul Henschen drove to Standing Rock Reservation, where tribes were camping to protest the Dakota Access pipeline, with water supplies and food from his Presbytery’s (Northern Plains) Earth Care Team. Here is part of Paul’s account, sharing what tribe elders had to say about the pipeline after a large delegation of Native Americans from the Northwest arrived bringing a huge Totem Pole they were taking to a tribe in Manitoba.

After the procession that brought the Totem Pole ended, everyone gathered with drumming, chanting and dancing.  Speeches were made to welcome everyone.  Elders from all the tribes formed a circle and took their turn delivering speeches.  They were very eloquent, and much of what they said was hard for me as a middle-class Caucasian to hear, but they spoke the truth.  They talked of how the present white-dominated society was harming the earth and that this pipeline was just another in a long history of acts of desecration of the Creator’s world.  They declared that this campsite was a place founded on prayer, and that no drugs or weapons were allowed.  They spoke of how their people had been on this land from the beginning, and how white society had tried to get rid of them, but that they, the Indigenous People, would still be there in the end.  They said that they would pray for what was happening at Standing Rock, and that they would especially pray for the whites, because they would need it when they came before the Creator and had to answer for what they have done to the earth.  All the elders expressed a strong sense of family and unity for the tribes gathered there, and that the stance by the Standing Rock Sioux against the Dakota Access Pipeline had made them a stronger family.  These and many other things were said—all of them with conviction yet with a calm and gentle spirit. Violence of any kind was forbidden.
After two hours of speeches, songs were sung and a prayer circle was formed--much of this in Native American language.  A press conference was held after which I left to return home.  Going home I took a northerly route toward Bismarck, ND, and about 20 miles north of the campsite a roadblock had been set up by police.  Why, I have no idea.  They were checking vehicles headed south toward Cannonball and the campsite.  The Native American elders had spoken of this roadblock and how many of them had to pass through it.   Days earlier, the North Dakota governor had also sent police to the protest because of unfounded rumors.  This roadblock seemed to be there as a reminder of police power—an action that was totally unnecessary.  The Standing Rock Sioux and the other tribes of Indigenous People had gathered peacefully to protest—as is their right.  Instead of coming together with them to learn, white society raised its ugly head in a show of force that created tension and resentment.  As I stood there listening to the elders speak, there was a great deal of wisdom being shared that our white-controlled society needs to hear.  I was personally challenged by what the elders said, and I am continuing to wonder how my life needs to change.  And what will be the response of our society?  Will we listen and learn from those who were here long before our ancestors arrived?  Or will we stay on the same course toward destruction of the earth and ultimately of ourselves?

Click here to donate to the Northern Plains Earth Care Team to purchase more supplies for them to take to Standing Rock. Mark your donation for Presbyterians for Earth Care Team and note that it is for Standing Rock. 

Friday, September 16, 2016

A Picture Essay on the Shore

The Shore
by Eric Beene

Rev. Eric Beene is Pastor of White Bluff Presbyterian Church in Savannah, Georgia.  He is also a hobby photographer. Photos (c) 2016 by Eric Beene. All photos taken at Blackbeard Island National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia. To see more of his work, including photo prints and note cards available for purchase, see his blog at

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Piece on Climate Change and Drought

The Cyclical Nature of Weather
by Katie Preston

Katie Preston is a member of the EARTH team 
and lives in Boston, MA.

What a year it has been. As we’ve seen for the past 16 years, record after record is falling for the “hottest month” each and every month. When I moved to New England last December, I was hoping for a mild winter to help ease me into the change from Southern life. And I received my wish – compared to the previous winter, things were pretty mild here in Boston. But now that summer is here in full force, it’s apparent that mild winter means brutal summer.

When we were in middle school learning about weather, I remember coming back from a snow day, and our teacher said it was time to stop learning about weather because the week before it had be 80 and she didn’t want to experience any more weather phenomenon we were studying! What we learned back then was that weather patterns are cyclical.  But weather is reliant on the climate – yes, they are different! Weather is “the state of the atmosphere, to the degree that it is hot or cold, wet or dry, calm or stormy, clear or cloudy.” Climate, on the other hand, is the study of weather over time. Local weather is a result of the climate patterns over time. As the earth’s temperature rises over time, what we refer to as climate change, local weather patterns change in comparison to historical averages and seasons. We are seeing temperatures rise in higher latitudes, a longer season for hurricanes and monsoons, and detrimental drought as well.

As people of faith who believe in the call to care for creation, we can no longer ignore the impacts of climate change, or wait to take action. Climate change and the weather impacts are upon us in full force. The drought in California and the current wildfires remind us how fragile life is. All the while Baton Rouge is flooded and thousands of people are displaced because of a freak amount of rain in a short period of time. And these are the effects we are feeling here in the US – but people all over the globe have been experiencing these impacts for years, and do not have the resources to mitigate or respond to climate change the way we do. We are called to care for the least of these, and to help our brothers and sisters in need.

The Presbyterian Hunger Program released a great resource to consider climate change and water that highlights some important things to know, and things you can do to help. While the climate will not change overnight, we can do our part to be better prepared to respond to the drastic weather phenomenon occurring across the globe, and reaching out to help our neighbors in crisis.

A sermon about water by J. Mark Davidson

The Spirituality and The Ethics of Water

by J. Mark Davidson

J. Mark Davidson: Pastor, The Church of Reconciliation, Chapel Hill, North 
Carolina; This is his sermon for the annual Earth Sabbath at New Hope Camp 
and Conference Center, May 8, 2016.

Augustine’s 4th c. classic The City of God drew a contrast between the human city and the city of God. The human city was human civilization, what we human beings have made of the earth, how we have arranged our life, our glories and our failures. The city of God, on the other hand, was God’s original design for human life, a blueprint for sustainable human flourishing, so often not followed. The whole message of Christianity is the ongoing redemption of the broken human city until it comes under the sway of the city of God... much as Jesus prayed... “thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” Two phrases from this morning’s scriptures – from Psalms and from John – help us understand: “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God;” that river is Jesus Christ and the streams are the true followers of Jesus spreading out into the world like thousands of tributaries of life and hope... as John put it: “Out of their hearts shall flow streams of living water.”

Just as Augustine went back and forth in his mind between the broken human city and the city of God, between the way things are and the way things ought to be, we too go back and forth between the damaged earth and our call from God to “tend the garden” of creation; between toxic waterways and the amazing gift of water, between the tragic Flint water crisis and the baptismal waters of healing and abundant life. You could say we go back and forth between “there is a river whose streams make sad the city of Flint” and “there is a river whose streams make glad the city of God.”

The basics of the Flint water crisis are well-known. Over 8,000 children under the age of 6 have been exposed for a prolonged period to unsafe levels of lead in the drinking water. A few parts per billion of lead is all it takes for a child to suffer permanent neurological damage, irretrievably lost IQ points, behavioral problems, learning disabilities, developmental delays, nervous system damage. The full cost of this exposure will not be known for years. We know this tragedy happened because state-appointed emergency managers switched from the Detroit water system to the unsafe Flint River in order to save money. It was a bewildering decision, since the Flint River had been badly polluted for nearly a century. It was considered one of the country’s most polluted rivers. Millions of gallons of raw sewage, industrial waste from paper mills and General Motors plants, pesticide runoff from agriculture, road salt runoff had been dumped into the Flint River. So polluted, in fact, it could not be chemically treated to make it safe enough to drink. It had been abandoned as a drinking water source decades before.

But, really, the root cause of this tragedy goes back to the decision of General Motors to abandon Flint. In other words, harmful economic policies poisoned Flint before lead did. The filmmaker Michael Moore took out a second mortgage on his home to tell this story. In his first documentary, Roger and Me, in 1989, Michael Moore showed the economic impact of GM CEO Roger Smith’s decision to shut down auto manufacturing plants in Flint. In 1978, GM employed 80,000 people in Flint with good- paying jobs with benefits; by 2015, it was down to 5,000. I remember visiting Flint on a family vacation in the 70’s. It was an “American success story,” one of the most prosperous small cities in the country; a thriving middle class, civic pride, good schools, bright horizons. But with the loss of so many jobs, home values plummeted, the tax base collapsed, the population shrank, and was followed before long by urban blight, high crime, rising alcoholism and drug addition, poverty, failing schools, and deep municipal debt. It became what Chris Hedges has called, “a capitalist sacrifice zone.” He documents how large corporations cut loose from long-term social contracts with their communities in search of cheaper labor overseas, where they often have a freer hand environmentally, fewer restraints, and higher profits. The cycles of poverty, powerlessness, and despair they leave in their wake are a direct result of capitalist greed. Personal enrichment at the expense of destroying environments, families, and communities. Taking a hard, painful look at “sacrifice zones” like Flint shows us what unregulated capitalism does and the inherent violence in this system. The same forces responsible for creating these “sacrifice zones” are responsible for destroying ecosystems. Obsessions with growth and profit at all costs have put our planet in serious jeopardy. Hedges says prophetically, “either you obstruct through nonviolent civil disobedience, or you passively enable monstrous evil.”page1image25408

Now that I’ve thoroughly depressed you, let us keep in mind this back-and-forth between the human city and the city of God. What we’ve just now been doing is reflecting on the human city, sinking down into the brokenness of the human city. But let us rise up to remember the vision of the city of God – God’s design for sustainable flourishing for all of creation – we need to spend some time by the river whose streams make glad the city of God.

I have a friend in Texas who is a spiritual director. As part of her work, she asks her directees to visualize their special healing place and go there often in their interior life and prayer... when they are in distress or have lost hope, when they need to experience the presence of God. She and I were remarking on how fascinating it was that many of the special healing places, these inner refuges, involve water – one spoke of a summer lake house, another of waterfalls, another of the ocean, one woman remembered a stream behind her grandmother’s house where she spent hours playing in the water. In her work with this particular woman, she invited her to imagine Christ speaking to her: “Go to your special healing place, your refuge, sit by the stream, put your feet in the water; I will be there with you... Be still, and know that I am God!” How interesting that at soul-level, in our deepest selves, we gravitate toward water to find our safety and be spiritually restored.page2image25696

Thomas Merton, mentioned by Pope Francis as an exemplary American Christian, in the mid-20th c., left the rush and the hustle of the human city and retreated to the slow and the quiet of the Kentucky woods. There he reconnected with the God and the natural world he found it hard to know in the blur of modern life. In a deep, lyrical moment, he writes about the simple, profound experience of watching and listening to the rain:
“Let me say this before rain becomes a utility that they can plan and distribute for money. By ‘they’ I mean the people who cannot understand that rain is a festival, who do not appreciate its gratuity, who think that what has no price has no value, that what cannot be sold is not real, so that the only way to make something real is to place it on the market. The time will come when they will sell you even your rain. At the moment it is still free, and I am in it. Nobody started it, nobody is going to stop it. It will talk as long as it wants, this rain. As long as it talks, I am going to listen... it is the voice of the present moment, the present festival... think of it: all that speech pouring down, selling nothing, judging nobody, drenching the thick mulch of dead leaves, soaking in the trees, filling the gullies and crannies of the wood with water... this wonderful, perfectly innocent speech, ... the most comforting speech in the world.”

There is enough concern and dread about climate change and all the costs it is bringing... and enough weariness with the brokenness of the human city – that it might seem to be enough to simply minister spiritually to our souls – remind one another of the city of God – God’s original blessing, God our refuge, even as the nations rage and kingdoms totter and the mountain shake in the midst of the sea. It might seem to be enough simply to help each other go to our special healing places, those water refuges, in real time and space while they still exist, and within our souls, where they will exist as long as we exist.

But my digging into the tragedy of Flint – and there is much more that could be said about it – taught me that if we are to be tributaries of hope, if the streams of living water flowing from our hearts are to make a real difference, in the human city then we have to demand an end to business as usual. We simply have no choice but to work and keep working to stop the damage. We have to work to change harmful economic policies which put profits ahead of people, efficiency ahead of children, greed ahead of sustainable futures. I know it’s easy enough to say, and so much more difficult to do.

But the tragedies of Flint, and the many other sacrifice zones throughout the world, require us to keep stretching beyond our comfort zones, resisting harm, and promoting in our own lives and in public spaces ideas and best practices that contribute to the long-term common good and sustainable futures. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God. May God give strength, wisdom, and courage to those streams, those tributaries of life and hope, and may they make glad the human city... while there is still time.