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
email: pastorpaul@mac.com 

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. 

Anti-Creation Narrative

Anti-Creation Narrative

by Lauren Wright Pittman

Anti-Creation Narrative
"It's really easy for me to focus on the beauty of creation in my artwork. I love painting the intricate feather pattern of a pelican, or the various shades of glittering greens in wetlands grasses. More recently I've realized, however, that my sole focus on beauty and the heartening, breathtaking facets of this wonder-filled world has been a sort of numbing practice. If I focus on what is good and remarkable in the world, I don't have to think about the ways in which it's being torn apart—the ways in which I'm tearing the Creation apart. I can build protective walls around my heart with the roses bordering my front porch and the squirrels that scamper about gathering acorns. I can insulate myself to the point of calm as fires burn brighter, hurricanes grow stronger, and water levels reach higher.

Although I want my artwork to elicit positive feelings about the gift of Creation, and I certainly hope it will continue to do so, I have been increasingly challenged by the boldness of young climate activists who have not sugar coated their words. Autumn Peltier, Greta Thunburg, and many others have stared into the eyes of power and have demanded hardened hearts to soften.

I am a Founding Creative Partner and Director of Branding for a collaborative, creative arts ministry, called Sanctified Art. Through this ministry I am able to create Biblically inspired images and reflections that reach congregations across the country and abroad, who represent various denominations and world views. Patrons who engage with this image and reflection might deny climate change exists, might be immobilized by fear and hopelessness, or might be climate activists who need inspiration and help in enlisting others. Below is my artist reflection accompanying the graphic art image, "Anti-Creation Narrative" inspired by Exodus 5:1-2; 7:8-23. This image is included in Sanctified Art’s customizable worship series resource bundle called, “Unraveled”.  

As I sketched this image of Pharaoh, I realized how cartoonish and irrelevant this character had become in my mind. I asked myself, "What would Pharaoh look like today?" [Of course the obvious images came to mind, world leaders who turn a blind eye to climate change and heads of corporations clinging tightly to the almighty dollar.] I continued to sit with this question as a creeping sense of irony came over my body. I would argue, to my surprise, that a modern Pharaoh might look a bit like the reflection in my mirror, and maybe in yours.

This story of Pharaoh’s hardening heart leads to a kind of anti-creation narrative—one where the world is coming undone and actively being destroyed. Sound familiar?

As a society, we are actively undoing God’s creation through our consumption while clinging to ease, convenience, and our power over our environment. We harden our hearts to the ways our actions cause harm. We value our comfort over the health of our coastlines while the first climate refugees flee their homes due to rising tides and sinking land. As water becomes scarce, violence will increase. Many will have to fight for their basic needs. I believe Pharaoh’s hardening heart is prophetic. This narrative reveals to us how a person’s clinging to power can literally unravel creation. We often undo the threads of creation, while God entreats us to become co-creators. We have seam rippers in our hands when God wants us to have needle and thread. There is a difficult hope in the narrative, however. Our own unraveling of God’s dream for creation is not strong enough to thwart God’s plan. Ultimately the Israelites find liberation. In this image, the waters of the parted Red Sea frame the chaos of the plagues. We will succeed, with God’s help, in healing the earth. We just need to allow God to soften our hearts, to take initiative in changing our perspective, and to welcome the challenge of restoring creation."

Lauren Wright Pittman is Founding Creative Partner and Director of Branding for the collaborative arts ministry called Sanctified Art. Sanctified Art works collaboratively to bring scripture and theological themes to life through film, visual art, curriculum, coloring pages, liturgy, graphic designs, and more. Lauren lives in Anderson, SC with her husband Chad and their dog Rumi, where they spend their days traveling, hiking, and kayaking. 

Thursday, October 3, 2019

A Reflection on the Food Week of Action, Oct 13-20

Allowing Communion to Shape our Everyday Lives
by Shannon Spencer

In the words of institution that we pray during communion we are reminded that Jesus broke the bread and poured the wine. We celebrate and remember the way in which Jesus lived, died, and will come again.  It's a meal that happened over 2,000 years ago that continues to nourish us in order that we might be the disciples we are called to be. It's a sacrament that showers grace over all who gather.

What if this meal is also meant to form us - mold us into the people God has created us to be in the here and now?  What if the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup is also designed to model for us what it looks like to be God's Manna people? Would God's abundance get equitably distributed like in the feeding of the 5,000?   

In the words of the farmer and poet, Wendell Berry, "What we need is here." God has given us the resources we need to care for our neighbors and His creation. We simply, but profoundly, must allow communion to shape our every day lives - to not take more than we need, to share what we have, and to always give thanks to God.  

With nearly 40% of our food being wasted and nearly a third of our population struggling with food insecurity we must find ways to rescue and redistribute. Asheville Poverty Initiative's 12 Baskets Cafe aims to do just that by serving a daily free lunch using only food that would have otherwise ended up in the landfill.  It's a small step but proof that each of us has something to share (resources) and something to gain (care for our environment) in creatively (and communally) addressing justice issues especially as they relate to something as primal as food.  

The next time you partake in the sacred act of communion, open yourself to hear the invitation anew to follow Jesus: take what you've been given, give thanks to God for it, break it apart and pour it out.  When each of us lives in this way all of God's people have enough and no one goes without.  Thanks be to God!

Rev. Dr. Shannon Spencer is an ordained UCC pastor who currently serves as the founding director of Asheville Poverty Initiative - the non-profit that runs 12 Baskets CafĂ© and as a chaplain at Swannanoa Correctional Center for Women  But most importantly, she is the mom to two beautiful and amazing girls!

Observing Food Week of Action, Oct 13 - 20

October Actions for Food Justice

“Good and gracious God, You are gathering this community from across the earth, asking us to pour out our lives on behalf of those who hunger. For hope. For justice. For daily bread…”[i]

In “A Green New Deal for Food and Farming”, Ahna Kruzic, Communications Director of Pesticides Action Network North America says, ”Globally, today’s food and agriculture systems are responsible for more climate change-contributing emissions than the world’s cars, trucks, planes, and trains combined. At the same time, we’re confronted with evidence that climate change is wreaking havoc on agricultural production—and unraveling systems of the natural world that have evolved over millennia to create a habitable planet.

The Green New Deal, a non-binding resolution that calls for dramatic shifts in our economy to carbon-neutralize the U.S. by 2030, highlights ‘working collaboratively with farmers and ranchers in the United States to eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the agriculture sector.’ This is a very good idea.”

The Presbyterian Hunger Program (PHP) and Presbyterians for Earth Care agree with Ahna and are co-sponsoring the Food Week of Action, October 13-20, 2019. The vision is “a world where everyone has enough affordable, healthy and culturally appropriate food, where no one is hungry, and where all who work in the food chain are fairly compensated, respected and celebrated.”

PHP has identified three action areas for 2019:
  • CLIMATE JUSTICE: The climate crisis calls for action at every level — personal, institutional, national and global. 
  • FAMINE: The resurgence of famine and extreme hunger in several parts of the world requires a rapid response.
  • FOOD SOVEREIGNTY: Actions to expand agroecology, food justice, and food sovereignty, cool the planet and meet people’s need for sustenance, livelihoods, and agency. 
You and your congregation can observe the Global Food Week of Action including World Food Day on October 16, International Day for Rural Women on October 15, and International Day for the Eradication of Poverty on October 17. PHP has provided numerous resources on their website to help you plan and carry out actions. For example, see: 
Please share what your congregation is doing with a photo and PEC will post on our Facebook page. Send to pec@presbyearthcare.org

“…Gather us together so that we may remind each other of your intent for this earth. Gather us so that we may pour out our lives in Christ’s name, as Christ does on behalf of those who hunger. For hope. For justice. For daily bread. So that it will be on earth as it is in heaven. For now and for always.“

Thursday, September 19, 2019

PEC Elects New Steering Committee Members

Introducing New PEC Steering
Committee Members

PEC is pleased to announce Barbara Chalfant as the new Central East Regional Representative and Dave Wasserman as the new Southwest Regional Representative. Also elected to another 2-year term are Moderator Dennis Testerman, Treasurer Sue Regier, and Northwest/Mountain Regional Representative Paul Heins. They were elected by the PEC membership in July and Barbara and Dave started on the Steering Committee in early August. We are grateful for the 6-years former Central East Regional Representative Nancy Fayer served and the 2-years former Southwest Regional Representative Jill Slade served.

Barbara Chalfant is currently the Associate for Mission for the Presbytery of West Virginia. Her responsibilities include ministry to older adults, peacemaking, social justice, hunger action and disaster response.  She is a graduate of Union Presbyterian Seminary, a certified educator and holds a certificate in older adult ministry from Columbia Seminary. She has served congregations in Virginia, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania. 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, human caused disaster and damage, and working to reverse climate change. She can be reached at PECRepCE@gmail.com.

Dave Wasserman (Rev. Dr.) retired from active ministry in 2013. He has served as a county jail chaplain, associate pastor and new church development pastor twice (with his wife Marney). For 25 years, Dave continued in Administrative service as a presbytery executive in Michigan, Oklahoma, Texas and Arizona.  Since retiring, Dave’s ministry has focused on earth care education and advocacy.  Last year, his latest book Riding the Blue Marble was published. His sailing days showed him the coral bleaching in our seas, and life in the mountains has unearthed the challenges of drought, fires, and methane release.  Dave enjoys music, woodworking, photography and walking/hiking. Dave can be reached at PECRepSW@gmail.com

We also appreciate the continuing work of Vice Moderator Bruce Gillette, Southeast Regional Representative Tama Eller, Northeast Regional Representative John Preston, and Midwest Regional Representative Rick Person. Presbyterians for Earth Care is governed by a Moderator, Vice Moderator, Treasurer and six Regional Representatives who are limited to serving three two-year terms. Elections are held annually with half the steering committee being elected each year. One of the benefits of being a PEC member is the privilege of voting in these elections. 

Thursday, September 5, 2019

To everything there is a season

"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace." Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (NIV)

You are probably familiar with this verse from Ecclesiastes - if not from the Bible than from the song “Turn! Turn! Turn!” made popular by The Byrds in the 1960’s. The Season of Creation is a time for all these activities. A time to tear down fossil fuel burning plants and a time to build sources of renewable energy. A time to weep for the irreparable damage humans have caused to God’s planet and a time to laugh at the folly of climate solutions such as sucking carbon dioxide out of the air with direct carbon capture technologies. A time to mourn the species that have been lost and a time to dance when one has been saved from extinction. A time to be silent while you are learning about climate impacts and solutions and a time to speak when you feel called and are ready to make your voice heard.

The Season of Creation started on September 1, the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, and ends on October 4, the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. The Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios I proclaimed the first of September as a day of prayer for creation for the Orthodox in 1989. Pope Francis joined the observance of the day in 2015 for the Catholic Church. Since that time, Christian churches have been celebrating the Season of Creation in various ways.

The theme for this year is “the web of life: biodiversity as God's blessing,” reminding us that all life is interconnected. Animals (including humans) and plants are most directly connected through breath. Animals breathe out carbon dioxide for plants to breathe in, and plants breathe out oxygen for animals to breathe in. One cannot survive without the other.

The Season of Creation website offers many theme-based resources for celebrating and observing the season including a prayer for 2019, ideas for prayer and worshipa sustainability eventsustainable living, and a campaign. Also, remember that the Climate Strike is September 20 where you can take your faith voice to a gathering near you. Consider what activity you might engage in as an individual, family or church during this Season of Creation. 

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Lament, Hope and Resolve

Conference Keynote Leads Participants through Lament, Hope and Resolve
by Ann Owen 

Photo credit: Richard Copley
With insight, interpretation and inspiration, keynoter Rev. Dr. William Brown skillfully brought to life the theme of the 2019 PEC Conference, Peace for the Earth: From the Bible to the Front Lines. Over the course of three plenary sessions, Bill took participants from lament, to hope, and to resolve, using stories and scholarship to illustrate how we can take Biblical truths and transform ourselves into peacemakers for the earth.

Bill, professor of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia and a leader in the Green Seminary Initiative, selected passages from both parts of the Christian biblical canon, to bring “text to table” (around which we all sit), and “text to relevance.” Using Psalm 104:1-35, as well as references to endangered and extinct animals, Bill reminded us that “all flourishing is mutual,” and that “every species is a world in and of itself; that with every extinction, a universe passes away.”

Bill lamented that, “God’s joy with the world is diminishing at an unprecedented rate,” as “we are reshaping life on this earth in terrifying, apocalyptic way.” But Bill said he finds hope in the work his daughter, Ella, is doing in Indonesia with endangered orangutans and slow lorises. He said that he also finds hope in passages from Isaiah 41 and 43, which indicate that our path leads to greater communal diversity and flourishing, and that the image of “streams in the desert” facilitates such transformation -- “it’s a call for coalition building in the care of creation; we are all in this together.”

Through the story of Job, “a patriarchal supremacist” who experienced his own ecological disaster, according to Bill, we are shown how we can experience ecological disaster and be transformed from “wound to wonder, trauma to comfort.”  The value of creation became obvious to Job, as he realized that God is there sustaining all life as subjects, not objects. The book of Revelation ends with the image of an “urban garden,” the river of life and the tree of life in the New Jerusalem, as the final sign of the apocalypse.   Bill concluded by saying that the church’s greatest calling is to be a “sign of the new creation – not the social club we call church," because "we are the beloved community for the biotic community.”

Ann Owen is a former Southwest Regional Representative for Presbyterians for Earth Care and continues to serve as an active volunteer.

Monday, August 12, 2019

PEC Award Winners for 2019

PEC Honors Three Award Winners at
National Conference

Each year, Presbyterians for Earth Care (PEC) recognizes two deserving individuals and one organization for their exceptional environmental achievements. This year, awards were presented during a reception at PEC’s national conference, Peace for the Earth: from the Bible to the Front Lines, on August 7 at Stony Point Center in Stony Point, NY. The William Gibson Eco-Justice Award was presented to Natalie “Lee” Pippin, a visionary and activist from South Carolina. Ashley Bair received the Emerging Earth Care Leader Award for a young adult, and Westminster Presbyterian Church’s Earth Stewardship Ministry Team received the Restoring Creation Award for an organization. Continue reading for more about each of the award winners.

Natalie “Lee” Pippin, William Gibson Eco-Justice Award

Lee Pippen has been described as a quiet, steadfast and persistent force for earth care. Not only has she consistently led her church, Forest Lake Presbyterian in Columbia, SC, since 2005 to be a creation care leader in the community and denomination, she also actively promotes environmental stewardship in SC Interfaith Power and Light, Presbyterian Women, Church Women United, and her Midlands of SC community organizations. At her church, Lee led her team of volunteers to become a PC(USA) Earth Care Congregation in 2011, and Forest Lake was awarded Presbyterians for Earth Care’s Restoring Creation Award in 2015. Lee has motivated many people to incorporate sustainable lifestyle habits that are healthier for individuals and for the environment. She has also been a motivator for congregations—both Christian and Jewish—to incorporate a focus on the environment into their programs. Lee accepted the award from her home via a ZOOM connection.

Ashley Bair, Emerging Earth Care Leader Award

Ashley Bair is an associate pastor at Central Presbyterian Church in St. Paul, MN and embodies the values of the emerging earth care leader award. She is at the beginning of her ministry career and chose a call that would allow her to build on her experience and skills in organizing around climate justice and peace issues. She works with both religious and secular groups to advocate for climate justice. Ashley is a member of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship Activist Council and helped organize the PCUSA Walk for a Fossil Free World. She is also an active participant in the Sunrise Movement, organizing and advocating for the Green New Deal and other environmental justice efforts. Ashley is committed to this work and ministry and will encourage others to follow her example through this Emerging Earth Care Leader Award. Ashley is pictured with Emily Brewer (left) and abby mohaupt (right) who nominated her for the award.

Westminster Earth Stewardship Ministry Team, Restoring Creation Award

The Westminster Earth Stewardship Ministry Team provides education and environmental actions for members of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Dayton, Ohio since 2006. In addition to recycling and switching to LED lightbulbs, the teamof eight sponsors various adult education classes, and encourages a yearly Earth Sunday with stewardship-based sermon, local flowers and after-church presentations. In the spring, they organize a group to help with a park clean-up. Each month, they sell fair trade coffee, tea, and chocolate and collect electronic waste and batteries for recycling. During Advent and Lent, the group offers short eco-oriented meditations or suggestions in the Sunday bulletin. The church has won local awards and received a city beautification grant to help defray the cost of improvements. Westminster Presbyterian has been an Earth Care Congregation since 2017. Laurie Leach accepted the award for Earth Stewardship Ministry.

Congratulations to this year's award winners! Their conference registration was waived as a reward for having been selected to receive an award.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Can Climate Change Affect Mental Health?

An Unspoken Effect of Climate Change

Dr. Susan Clayton will speak about how climate change can affect our emotional well-being at PEC’s Conference on August 7, 7-8 PM EDT. You may watch her talk live by registering in advance. Below is an excerpt from Mental Health and Climate Change: Impacts, Implications, and Guidance that Dr. Clayton co-authored.

The ability to process information and make decisions without being disabled by extreme emotional responses is threatened by climate change. Some emotional response is normal, and even negative emotions are a necessary part of a fulfilling life. In the extreme case, however, they can interfere with our ability to think rationally, plan our behavior, and consider alternative actions. An extreme weather event can be a source of trauma, and the experience can cause disabling emotions. More subtle and indirect effects of climate change can add stress to people’s lives in varying degrees. Whether experienced indirectly or directly, stressors to our climate translate into impaired mental health that can result in depression and anxiety (USGCRP, 2016). Although everyone is able to cope with a certain amount of stress, the accumulated effects of compound stress can tip a person from mentally healthy to mentally ill. Even uncertainty can be a source of stress and a risk factor for psychological distress (Greco & Roger, 2003). People can be negatively affected by hearing about the negative experiences of others, and by fears—founded or unfounded—about their own potential vulnerability.

Compromised physical health can be a source of stress that threatens psychological well-being. Conversely, mental health problems can also threaten physical health, for example, by changing patterns of sleep, eating, or exercise and by reducing immune system function.

Although residents’ mental and physical health affect communities, the impacts of climate on community health can have a particularly strong effect on community fabric and interpersonal relationships. Altered environmental conditions due to climate change can shift the opportunities people have for social interaction, the ways in which they relate to each other, and their connections to the natural world.”

Clayton, S., Manning, C. M., Krygsman, K., & Speiser, M. (2017). Mental Health and Our Changing Climate: Impacts, Implications, and Guidance. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, and ecoAmerica. 

Dr. Susan Clayton is Whitmore-Williams Professor of Psychology at the College of Wooster in Ohio. She has written or edited six books, including most recently Psychology and Climate Change (2018; co-edited with Christie Manning).