Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas Day Devotional: Luke 2:7 and the Blessing of Animals

And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. (Luke 2:7, NRSV)

There was no room for Him among people, in the inn. And so He was born among the animals. The most humble yet warm and inviting place, a manger, a feeding trough, we imagine stuffed with hay, a soft and inviting place for a newborn. No newborn nursery for Him. Nothing fancy. Nothing even ―human. He was born among the animals.

On this Lord’s Day, we confront an earthy reality: the Lord of all dwelling among the beasts. He was to meet beasts again, in the wilderness of Judaea, where wild beasts dwelt (Mark 1:13). And he had a love for the creatures with whom we share creation: birds (Matthew 6:26; Luke 3:22; John 2:14), sheep (Luke 15:4ff.), foxes (Matthew 8:20), cattle, oxen and donkeys (Luke 13:15), just to name the ones in Scripture. By inference, if on the day of his birth He lay in a manger, we may assume there were sheep, and perhaps goats and donkeys as well, and maybe even horses and camels, since this was an inn.

How beautiful and mysterious that the incarnation took place among animals. They welcomed Him, we may presume. I find that my friends who are dogs, cats and horses generally welcome me without judgment and accept me with eager anticipation. A new-born baby must have been a cause for great curiosity among them!

There is a legend that the animals can speak on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I wonder what they would say to us. Would they thank God for the gift of Christ, as we do? They will if we show the same love and respect and trust for them as Jesus did, daring to be born among them. When God came to walk with us in the per-son of Jesus, God started among animals, sharing space with them. I wonder if we can learn to share our space with them lovingly, respectfully, gratefully, kindly, responsibly.

We are called as followers of the Lord Who came on Christmas Day to live lives of gratitude,
and to love our neighbors. And our neighbors are not just our human neighbors, though they are our nearest kin. We share the earth in a delicate balance with neighbors non-human, who outnumber and pre-date us by a great order of magnitude. Our particular gifts, skills and adaptations do not make us better than our animal neighbors: they give us a greater responsibility to enjoy, defend and live in dynamic harmony with the biosphere. Seven billion humans have placed a great load on this planet; can we so live as to love all our neighbors, sharing resources, habitat and lifestyles mutually energetic and life-giving?

Instead of piling up stuff on Christmas day, give the gift of love, respect, fun and generosity by including animals as God did on the very first Christmas. Be merry!

What can we do?

  • Consider blessing animals on Christmas Day. This is easily as good a day as St. Francis Day, or the Environmental Sabbath in June. Say “thank you” to the animals for welcoming Jesus.
  • Give a gift to your local Humane Society or Animal Shelter.
  • Consider volunteering time with an organization working with animals: a therapeutic riding center, a raptor rehabilitation pro-gram, or a dog rescue group. Support and volunteer with an animal rights organization such as the World Wildlife Fund, the Audubon Society, or the National Humane Society.

More Information:

  • Readings from a Christian perspective include Christianity and the Rights of Animals (New York: Crossroads, 1987) and Animal Theology (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1994) by Andrew Linzey; and Ask the Animals (Harrisburg: Morehouse, 2006) by Elizabeth Canham.
  • From an interfaith perspective: Blessing the Animals (Woodstock, Vermont: Skylight Paths, 2006) by Lynn L. Caruso.
  • From scientists, three wonderful and thought-provoking books: Reason for Hope (New York: Warner, 1999) by Jane Goodall; The Ten Trusts (New York: Harper One, 2003) by Jane Goodall and Marc Bekoff; and The Animal Manifesto

O God, in Whose love we celebrate today, thank You for Your great-est gift, the gift of Yourself in Jesus Christ. We are grateful that You came to walk among us, embracing the whole of creation by being born among the animals. Give us a childlike delight and joy in our animal neighbors. Watch over and protect them. Help us to always live kindly and respectfully with them, taking delight in their amazing abilities, their beauty, their play, and their right to share the earth with us unmolested. On this most holy day, we thank You for all our neighbors, and ask that the generosity You have shown to us may be the mark of our lives as we live on this earth; through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Stan Adamson is Pastor of St. Andrew Presbyterian Church, Boulder, Colorado, the first PC(USA) Earth Care Congregation in Colorado. He has been blessing and welcoming animals in the worship life of St. Andrew for two decades. He shares his life with his wife Clare, his Cairn Terrier friend Maggie, and three Arabian horses, Kally, New Moon and Kara.



Find us on Facebook.

Christmas Eve Devotional: John 10 & Gift-Giving Traditions

… I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly. (John 10:10)
Christmas is traditionally a time of gift giving. After all, God gave us His Son on Christmas Day, a helpless baby, heralded by angels and visited by kings. As Christians we prepare to receive God’s gift through prayer, readings, candle-lighting, and reflections during the four weeks of Advent that precede Christmas.
The custom of Christmas gift giving dates back to the 4th century when St. Nicholas, a bishop in Turkey, gave handmade gifts to the less fortunate and also to children. God has been giving us gifts year-round since the beginning of creation and we love the gift of His earth and how it provides food and water and clothing and shelter for our needs. But instead of honoring God and taking good care of the earth so that future generations will have what they need, in our sinful nature we take more from the earth than we need and leave less for generations who come after us. We dig and bore and explode to get to ores and oil and coal and metals and in the process foul streams and rivers and lakes, harm the landscape, destroy mountains, contaminate the land, pollute the air, and overextend the natural renewal of the earth.
Being the generous God that He is, our God also gave us the gift of His son, Jesus, who would ultimately die for our sins. Sins of greed and gluttony and arrogance and self-centeredness would all be forgiven. Isn’t that the best Christmas present we can imagine - that our God, who gave us this beautiful planet Earth to be our home could forgive us for dishonoring Him by not taking care of it?

What can we do?
  • Shift the focus of celebrating Christ's birth from exchanging gifts to spending quality time together: bake cookies to share with friends, go caroling at a nursing home, invite a single person to attend a musical performance or a play, build a snowman with your neighbors, or have friends and family over for a potluck dinner.
  • Remember that the Christmas season lasts until the Epiphany on January 6.
  • Minimize consumerism at Christmas and all year by giving alternative gifts such as a donation to a charity, a coupon for a service, or a locally produced, hand-made (by you!), or fair trade product.
More Information:
Let us pray for forgiveness: Heavenly Father, on the eve of your only Son’s birth, we praise you for the universe you created for us. We thank you for the special home you made for us on Earth and for how interdependent you made all living things. Help us to understand how we are to live in harmony together, so that all may have life abundantly. Today we celebrate the love you have for us and anticipate forgiveness of our ecological sins through the human form of your baby, Jesus.

Jane Laping is Vice Moderator of Presbyterians for Earth Care. She is active in creation care at her church, in her Presbytery and with the denomination. Jane is co-author of Earth Care Congregations: A Green Guide for Presbyterian Churches.
(Photos courtesy of the author.)

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Fourth Week of Advent: Can you hear the angels?

In the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary.

Painted by He QiThe angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob's descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”

“I am the Lord's servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. (Luke 1:26-38, NIV) (See also Genesis 1 & 2)

As I write these words, the world’s population has reached 7 billion. The last thing I want to do is to turn to the Bible and encounter ―the angel of fertility at work! But there he (or she) is, in the Advent-Christmas story and other places, impregnating barren women as a sign of hope. And so, I wonder if God is paying attention to the global population explosion of our day. Let’s turn to the beginning of the Biblical narrative (Genesis 1 and 2), where humanity was visited by ―the angel of sustainability. Can you hear what he (or she) says to us today?

Painted by James B. JanknegtI am the angel of sustainability…
I was there when the Lord God
made earth and sky,
giving you grounding and shelter.
I was there when the wild plants
appeared and the field crops grew,
giving you nature and nurture.
I was there when the streams
and rivers flowed,
giving you refreshment and irrigation.
I was there when you were charged with caring for creation
giving you a calling and an occupation.

What can we do?
  • Promote a “going green” campaign with your family, place of work, and church.
  • Raise awareness about the need to practice the three Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
  • Adopt a project that promotes learning about sustainable food, such as hosting a farmers market or partnering with neighbors for an organic garden.
More Information:

God of good news and inconvenient truths,
we admit that we have not cared for creation.
You asked us to multiply your good works,
but instead we have divided the human family
into haves and have-nots.
Our selfishness leads us to hoard goods,
while many of your children are homeless.
Our carelessness leads us to waste food,
while many of your children are hungry.
Our apathy leads us to close our eyes
while many of your children are sleepless.
Forgive us, Master Gardener,
and uproot from our lives
the weeds that drown out your image
and interfere with your intention.
As we till the soil and water the seeds,
may we discover that true happiness comes from caring.
As we gather the crops and harvest,
may we discover that lasting health comes from partaking.

Rev. Magdalena I. GarcĂ­a is Pastor of Ravenswood Presbyterian Church, in Chicago, where she has served since 2003. She is a graduate of McCormick Theological Seminary (M.Div., 1989). She has served as preacher, keynote speaker, and worship leader for national and regional church events. In 2008, she was honored for her “visionary work in transforming the church and society” as a recipient of the 2008 Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Women of Faith Award. She is the author of the compendium Toward a Liberating Faith: Introduction to Mujerista Theology, published by the Women’s Ministries Program Area of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Third Week of Advent: Psalm 126 and Dreamers

Devotion by Abby Mohaupt

When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, "The LORD has done great things for them." The LORD has done great things for us, and we rejoiced. Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like the watercourses in the Negeb. May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy. Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves. (Psalm 126:1-6, CEB)

I think God has a special connection with dreamers. Maybe it’s just that we let our guard down as we drift into the world of dreams—maybe we just leave a little more space for God to get in.
Over and over in the story of God speaking to God’s people, God uses dreams to communicate. These dreams are full of peril (like Joseph’s in Egypt) and these dreams are full of promise (like a different Joseph’s). God uses those who dream.

Before I went to seminary, I read some of the writings of other religious leaders who wrote about the need for people of faith to care for the planet. Their convicting words reminded me of all the summers I spent leading worship at a summer camp. At camp, I deeply felt the connection between my love of God and my love of creation. Surely God felt closer to me when I was hiking the hilly trails or gazing at a summer sun-set. I am always overwhelmed with joy at the beauty of God’s creation. It did not occur to me—until I read these writings—that God might be closer to me when the earth is not so pretty. Could it be that I felt God when I encountered clear cut forests, endangered species, and oil refineries? Could it be that I might also be overwhelmed by the depth of the destruc-tion of God’s creation?

We have destroyed much of God’s creation. We have forgotten how connected we people are to the rest of God’s creation. When I remember, I am overcome with a sense of inadequacy. Whatever seeds of change I plant will not be enough. And I weep, like the people in the Psalm. I have no hope.

But I have dreams. After I finished reading these writings by other people of faith, I dreamed of people who are Presbyterians who also feel connected to God’s creation. And now, in seminary, I have met many of these Presbyterians who are working to plant seeds of change, of hope, of plenty. I have met people who are fulfilling my dream.

I am certain that what we do together will not be enough. But I am also certain that God does not leave us alone to do this work. Christ comes so that our work does not leave us in tears of sadness but in tears of joy. Christ comes so that we might be restored. Christ comes so that we might dream of a better world with God. Christ comes so that we might know that—even in our sins of destruction—God loves us. God is with us—in the sunsets and in the refineries. God is with us, and God loves us.

More information:
For information on connecting worship and education to caring for God's creation, visit www.webofcreation.org
To learn more about the ministry of Presbyterian Summer Camps (connecting God's people to God's planet), visit http://www.pccca.net/

Holy God, blessed be Your name for the works of Your hands in all the world. Thank you for loving us and calling us to dream for the restora-tion of Your creation. Remind us—in this season of the Coming Christ—that You are with us. Thank you for the trees, the birds, the stars, the rivers, and the squirrels. We love you. Come, Jesus, Come. In Christ’s name. Amen.

Abby Mohaupt received her M.Div. from McCormick Theological Semi-nary in May 2011. She is currently pursuing a Masters of Theology with an emphasis in Environmental Theology at McCormick. She lives in Chicago amidst the bounty of God’s urban world.
Photo by Jane Laping.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Second Week of Advent Devotional: The Peaceable Kingdom

The Second Week of Advent

Devotion by David Siegenthaler

1A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. 2The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. 3His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; 4but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. 5Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. 6The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. 7The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. 9They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. 10On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious. (Isaiah 11: 1-10)

And so we anticipate a savior who will turn things around. We did then, and we still do today. Things just aren’t right – they’re downright backwards in many ways. The wealthy become wealthier, the poor become poorer; the powerful flaunt their might, while the weak suffer in anguish. Things need to be turned around so radically that no relationship would be untouched by the remedy. Many think of this “peaceable kingdom” as a utopian vision of reconciliation with and within nature.

But the vision is symbol and hyperbole at best, and at worst it is blind to the goodness inherent in the world as it is. The “peaceable kingdom” from an ecological point of view, is arguably not respectful of any of the individuals pictured in it; not the lion nor the lamb, nor the calf, nor the wolf – nor even the human. From the perspective of what makes a human being, just think how boring life would be without moral challenges, without appreciation for our temporality that leads us to value the time we have, without appreciation that can only come from discernment of a spectrum of values.

Photo by David Siegenthaler

What power does this symbol of a peaceable kingdom, that we reenact every year in our depictions of those gathered around the manger in Bethlehem, exert on our perception and life in the world? To some, the idea of wild animals in proper ecological relationships has no meaning. Animals are mostly objects, like the rest of material being, for our use and manipulation. Others tend toward more of a kinship feeling toward other creatures, leading to harm to both wild animals

and humans. Whether or not such an attitude is really informed by the scriptural sources, many have such visions that function to influence how they interact with wildlife. Could the vision that comes from our deep longings for relief from those things that sorrow us, distort our view – actually get in the way of our discernment of God’s will for the world now?

Thus we come to the crux of the problem: how do we love the world, without imposing our own designs on it? At the same time, how do we prevent ourselves from hating the world and despairing that we will ever achieve greater degrees of justice for those things we know are the result of selfishness or abuses of power? Is it even our place to make such decisions for all of creaturely existence?

The new ruler anticipated in Isaiah and at this time of year, is a ruler who will lead us to understand and to live in new relationships of solidarity, respect, and care. The new life to which we are called, is inclusive of all creation, and it will be characterized by respect for the integrity of each living being. For the time being, our vision is still clouded, our envisioned utopias still a bit short of the mark. We eagerly watch and listen for the day when we will know everything is all right. In the meantime, we seek clues to how we can move things forward in the right direction, while we celebrate the opportunity to respond to the challenges of the day.

What can we do?

  • Get to know the place where you live. Even the most wild of wilderness preserves has no chance of survival unless we love the place where we live.
  • Feed your sense of wonder: develop/practice skills of natural awareness: sensory perception, observation of details, patient and quiet waiting.
  • Join others in your area who are champions of the preservation of place, open space, parks, and ecosystemic communities.

More Information:

Look in to organizations such as the Resource Renewal Institute/Defense of Place.

Participate in the Earth Charter Initiative.

Become familiar with the Healthy Parks, Healthy People Initiative.


Much more realistic than Isaiah 11, and respectful of animals as they are, is Psalm 104 – where it is celebrated that “…the young lions roar for their prey, seeking their food from God.”

“Oh Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures…” who “…all look to you to give them their food in due season.” Lord, we long for the complete joy of your kingdom, anticipating your presence among us, and the realization of a peace that is everlasting throughout your creation. Help us resolve our confusions over whether your kingdom is a future fulfillment, or a present reality to be lived.

David Siegenthaler is the PEC Pacific Regional Representative and volunteers as an eco-justice minister in the Presbytery of San Francisco. He is employed by the National Park Service to coordinate the Federal lands to Parks Program for the Western Region. David holds a Master’s degree in Environmental Resources Management, a Master of Divinity, and a Ph.D. in Systemic and Philosophical Theology.

Click here to access the whole 2011 PEC Advent Devotional in PDF format.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The First Week of Advent Devotion: Environmental Justice and Loving Neighbors as Ourselves

The First Week of Advent Devotion by Sue Smith

“‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40, NRSV)

I saw a lone fir tree last week, looking like it was ready to be decorated for the Christmas season. But it is not. It is planted in soil covering a cement cap that shields soil so contaminated by dioxin, it could not be remediated. This is the former manufacturing home of DDT and Agent Orange.

I saw this on a tour of the Ironbound section of Newark, NJ, named because it developed inside the railroad tracks crossing the city. Today the majority of the population is African American, Latino and foreign born, moderate to low income, and approximately 75% of the population has less than a high school education. People who don’t live there know this
section as having the best Portuguese restaurants in the state, yet it is a food desert. On this tour, what I saw was environmental racism. This is not the reflection of a person who has experienced the injustice in this community, but of a white, middle-class person who toured it one day and saw circumstances that would not be tolerated in my neighborhood. What I saw is a community that suffers from the cumulative impacts of multiple injustices:
  • The dioxin-laden site, along with other pollutants from numerous old industrial sites, contaminated a 13 mile stretch of the Passaic River. In many neighborhoods, the rivers play a large part in the community, this river does not.
  • The Ironbound abuts Newark Airport and is surrounded by five major New Jersey highways its air is polluted by emissions and noise.
  • Port Newark is also adjacent to the Ironbound and 7,000 trucks regularly service the port.Trucks idle for hours at the port waiting to load cargo and drive through the Ironbound. Community members did a truck count once for 2 hours at 6 intersections and counted over2,000 trucks.
  • Port Newark is also a visual reminder of the US trade deficit, with towering piles of emptyshipping containers (a visual eyesore as well).
  • There is a lack of recreational opportunities – not many parks, others closed because of contamination. One chemical company, as part of restitution, built a recreational center. The pool had to be suspended above ground because of the contamination in the soil at that location.
  • Covanta operates the largest incinerator in the state here (over half of the trash comes from New York City). And the air scrubbing equipment is not as advanced as the other installations in the state.

In this season of anticipation of the birth of Jesus, I am drawn to his commandments. If we love God, we need to love all of God’s creation. Can we do this and tolerate multiple injustices to the earth in one place? Can we love our neighbor and tolerate multiple injustices to our neighbor’s community?

But in this season of hope –I saw great hope. The Ironbound Community Corporation is very engaged in helping residents organize and advocate to remediate the current problems, and prevent further cumulative impacts. They provide awareness tours. They advocated keeping a medical waste facility from being built. They are involved with the planning process for the restoration of the river banks. They are saving the few parks they have.

In this season of anticipation of the birth of Jesus, I am drawn to his commandments. If we love God, we need to love all of God’s creation. Can we do this and tolerate multiple injustices to the earth in one place? Can we love our neighbor and tolerate multiple injustices to our neighbor’s community?

What can we do?

  • Always respect a community suffering from environmental injustice and how they are working to make their situation better.
  • Provide support by writing letters and standing with the community when asked.
  • When you throw out your trash, think about how to create less going to incinerators.

More Information:

Gracious God, in this season of anticipation and hope, care for those who are impacted by environmental injustice; keep them safe from further injustices; give them strength in their work for justice. Open the eyes of the unaware. Help us all to tend your wondrous creation, working towards a healthy earth that will lift everyone. Amen

Sue Smith is the Treasurer of Presbyterians for Earth Care, a member of the First Presbyterian Church of Rumson, NJ, a GreenFaith Fellow, and a student at New Brunswick Theological Seminary.

Click here to access the whole 2011 PEC Advent Devotional in PDF format.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Gift for You: PEC Advent Devotional

Dear Friends in Earth Care,

Our Update this month is an Advent Devotional with a new twist: integrating the mysterious beauty of Advent (and Christmas) with the mystery and beauty of Creation. Through this PEC devotional, we invite you to experience Advent through your spirit, heart, mind, and your senses – and to experience it deeply. Click here to read the Advent devotional.
You might take a few moments daily to reflect on the devotional offering for the week (or day). Consider the reflection inwardly, breathing in and out with a sense of birth/rebirth.

Experience the star(s) in a deep way, knowing that we are all stardust, knowing that we are all part of the mystery.

Recall St. Francis of Assisi's words..."Most High, all powerful, all good Lord. All praise is Yours, all glory, all honor and all blessings...Praise be You my Lord with all your creatures...Brother Sun...Sister Moon...Brothers Wind, Air, and Fire...Sister Water... Praised be you, my Lord through our Sister, Mother Earth who sustains and governs us..." (Canticle of the Sun.)

Consider creating a special space at a table and adding some elements from Earth that symbolize soil, water, air, and the other amazing animals that share this planet. Add those to symbols which you hold most sacred in your relationship to Christ: a cross, Bible, meaningful texts, pictures. Add elements which contain fragrance such as pine branches as well as different textures -- a bowl or pitcher of water (or a picture of snow), a candle, feathers, maybe in white to represent a dove.

Invite others into your special space this Advent—especially children and youth—as you share gratitude for Christ and Creation. The space may be your heart or your table space. It may be in person or through a letter, email, or prayer. Breathe in the opportunity for deepening relationships with others, as well as with Creation.

Dear friends, may the mystery of this holy season be integrated in your heart and mind. May the blessings of God's Creation hold and renew you. May you know this Advent/Christmas as one of Rebirth as you share the Gift with others in the family of God.

Many thanks to those persons who have written a reflection for this version of the "Update.” Particularly, I want to thank our new newsletter editor-in-training, Abby Mohaupt. Abby is a student at McCormick Theological Seminary with an emphasis in Environmental Theology. We appreciate the skills she brings to this volunteer position, along with her enthusiasm, graciousness, and energy.

We are sharing this Update both in printed version and through e-mail. Each week of Advent, we will send you the reflection, as well as the daily reflection for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Click here to read the Advent devotional.

May the blessings of Christ and the richness of Creation be with you,
Diane Waddell
Moderator, Presbyterians for Earth Care

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

“The Global Food Crisis You Will Always Have With You...” But Why?

By Andrew Kang Bartlett, Associate for National Hunger Concerns, PHP

The 2008 Global Food Crisis was a wakeup call for politicians around the world and for the hundreds of Presbyterians who joined in the PC(USA) church-wide fast. Now in 2011 food prices have risen again to record highs. Why? Because the causes of the crisis have not yet been addressed.
Eating has turned into a multi-trillion dollar industry with supply chains that can reach halfway around the globe. Small-scale farming still provides half or more of the calories people put in their mouths, but the US’s “get big or get out” approach has been spreading globally.

For centuries, local production has been a primary food security and safety net for people living on the edge of poverty. As more and more farmers are pushed to produce for the national and often international export markets, this safety net has been destroyed. Countries formerly self-sufficient in staples and other crops are now net importers, and people suffer immediately when prices rise. When this happened in 2008, 100 million more people joined the nearly 900 million children, men and women who were already suffering from chronic and debilitating hunger. Now it appears that high prices are here to stay.

Various international gatherings of thr UN, national leaders and multilateral organizations have declared the dire need for large increases in funding for agricultural research, training and production for Africa and countries throughout the Majority World . Billions have been promised and millions are slowly making their way to struggling countries, but it is critical that these approaches avoid the mistakes made in past decades and meet the needs of smallholder farmers.

A story from Guatemala illustrates the brokenness of the system and how deep changes must be made to bring prosperity to communities throughout the Global South.

In May, Felicity Lawrence from the Guardian UK told the story of Marina Tamupsis, her two-year-old daughter, Yessica, and her husband, Domingo, who live in the village of Willwood, Guatemala. Despite living in a fertile farming area near the Pacific Ocean, the family often goes hungry. The family is a victim of the global food crisis.

Domingo works to harvest sugar for a Guatemalan firm that exports agroethanol so you and I can fill up our fuel tanks. Domingo works 60-70 hours a week, but earns so little that he sometimes subsists on the fallen mangoes he can collect. Marina was hungry throughout her pregnancy and last year birthed a stillborn child. A friend had to lend them the money for a coffin. The Tamupsis family was blessed to be born in a beautiful country with rich volcanic soil, yet they are so poor the doctor had to lend them bus fare so they could return to bury their third child, Marvin Orlando.

Not only has the food and agriculture system impoverished their family, it has deepened the divide between the few rich and the masses of Guatemalans. Like much of the world, the poorest Guatemalans spend up to 80% of their income on food and are hit hardest as world food prices shoot up. Countries like Guatemala exemplify the tragedy where food is in abundance and still children go to bed hungry. In fact, tiny Guatemala is the fifth largest exporter of sugar, coffee and bananas. Yet half of the population lives in extreme poverty on less than $2 a day, and half of Guatemala’s children under five are malnourished. International traders are trying to cash in on the US and EU demand for agrofuels, and rural areas are seeing a palm oil boom, but neither the food, much less the profits, make their way to those like the Tamupsis family.

The current commodified, market-based approach to food and agriculture determines that only those with enough cash in pocket will eat. As believers, we say no to such cruelty and assert that the gifts of God are for all people, including future generations. All people have the right to healthy, culturally appropriate food, produced in ways that sustain God’s creation.

Let us together build local food economies that provide for all – both in the U.S. and around the world. Take action locally and connect with national and international food justice efforts by joining the Presbyterian Food and Faith Group and the US Food Sovereignty Alliance. Might the October 10-17 Churches Week of Action on Food and World Food Day be a launching pad for broader engagement? Learn more at www.pcusa.org/food, justice.groupsite.com and www.usfoodsovereigntyalliance.org.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

World Food Day

Dear friends and co-workers in environmental justice,

Social and environmental justice are bonded, woven together in the great web of life. They are a 'dynamic duo'. We, as humans, are part of the environment. We care for ourselves and each other as part of caring for Earth. I am grateful to be in a partnership of people who care for Earth because we want to, and also because we have to!

Food is one of the basic bondings we have. Oct 16 is World Food Day, a day for improving public awareness of the problem of hunger in the world.
Some of the unfortunate facts:
  • Almost one billion of the 6.93 billion people in the world face chronic hunger – (not including “short-term” emergency situations due to war or natural disasters)
  • The world already produces enough food calories for 12 billion people.
  • Nearly two billion people are obese or overweight worldwide.
  • People in developed countries consume on average over 60 per cent more than they need.
  • Worldwide, 40 per cent of the food produced is wasted before it can be consumed.
  • 700 children die every hour as a result of hunger.

I am privileged to be a member of the Presbyterian Hunger Program (PHP) Advisory Committee. We meet twice yearly with the staff of the PHP. I am consistently amazed at the breadth and depth of the work of the program. PHP helps empower persons in the local community to work with projects that are sustainable and are aimed at the root causes of hunger. The PHP Advisory Committee reviews grants submitted to help fund programs both in the US and abroad. My heart is warmed by the number of grants written which support local organic farming and sustainable agriculture. In fact, one of the 5 guidelines is "a commitment to upholding the integrity of God's creation." I have also appreciated the tandem work between Environmental Ministries and PHP; it’s a great partnership.

A few weeks ago I attended the Prairie Festival, an annual event sponsored by the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas. The Land Institute works on sustainable agriculture, based on the use of perennial native prairie plants. They have developed perennial sorghum and Kernza, which is made from an intermediate perennial wheatgrass, and continue to work on other grains as well. It is a very slow process, but done with love and passionate commitment. My presbytery's environmental justice team, Earthkeepers of Heartland Presbytery, has written an overture to bring to the 2012 GA which supports this type of perennialization of grains. (Please let me know if you would like a copy of this overture in case you would like to concur or just study the concept.) The overture is based on the following booklet called "A Fifty Year Farm Bill".

We must continue to work diligently; to be faithful, to hold fast to the bond. Check out the Presbyterian Hunger Program’s work as well as its partner organizations listed on the website. Remain steadfast, knowing that hunger can be alleviated….and it can be done in a sustainable way. And as we work toward and meet that goal, Earth and its inhabitants will come rejoicing. For, in the words of the Spanish poet Frederico Garcia Lorca, “the day that hunger is eradiated from the earth, there will be the greatest spiritual explosion the world has ever known. Humanity cannot imagine the joy that will burst into the world on the day of that great revolution.”

To learn more about faith and the global food crisis, you can read this post on PEC's blog, written by Andrew Kang Bartlett, Associate for National Hunger Concerns at the Presbyterian Hunger Program.

Strength to you as we work towards environmental and social justice,
Diane Waddell, Moderator
Presbyterians for Earth Care

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Dear PEC Members and Friends,

Announcing --- our third PEC Update for 2011!!

This Update is partially a reflection of our 2011 Conference at Highlands Conference Center, “Too Big to Fail? A Conversation among Faith, Science, and Culture.” The conference was informative, energizing, and truly transformative. We are grateful to all who participated!

Many thanks as well to all who were a part of producing this Update. We particularly hold up Jenny Holmes, immediate past PEC moderator, who planned the edition and gathered the articles, as well as Will Layton, Eco-Justice Fellow, NCC Eco-Justice Office, who edited and prepared the layout.

The final Update for the year is underway. It will be in a different format, as we are offering an Advent/Christmas Devotional. There will be a weekly devotional reading for each week of Advent plus one for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. It will come both through electronic media as well as printed format.

The Earth is greatly in need of our care-giving now, and many advocacy issues ‘out there’ needing our attention. There is much in the way of eco-justice and social justice to do.

Strength and wisdom to you in your journey of Earth care.

In hope and faith,

Diane Waddell
Presbyterians for Earth Care

New PEC Steering Committee

Dear friends in the Presbyterian earth-care community (and beyond),

Greetings from the Steering Committee of PEC. Our 'new' steering committee is on board and working towards offering excellent leadership for the future. I am certainly boosted by the amazing energy and dedication of others in the Executive Committee -- Jane Laping, Vice Moderator and Sue Smith, Treasurer. Jane has served as an at-large member and has certainly served PEC well as chair of the fundraising and membership committees. Sue has been exceptional in her work as treasurer. We officially welcome our new regional representatives, Andrew Plocher (SE Representative) from the Bethesda, Maryland area, Holly Hallman (NW Representative) from the Seattle area, and Ann Owen (SW Representative) from Little Rock, Arkansas. Additionally, Fred Milligan from Traverse City, Michigan has recently joined us as an at-large member of the Steering Committee. To learn more about our Steering Committee members, visit the PEC website.

I am also grateful as well for our very organized and forward-thinking coordinator, Shantha Ready Alonso. You have met William Layton in our last e-blast who is volunteering as a fellow in the NCC Eco-Justice Office until next July. (Hurray for volunteers!!)

Our conference at Highlands Conference Center was excellent, not only through education and information shared about eco-justice in MANY ways but also through beautiful, meaningful worship, excellent field trips, and lots of networking. We are so grateful to everyone who planned, participated, and became a deeper part of our community.

Overall, there is MUCH to do. It is a great feeling to be part of such an organization as this which can make such an impact on both environmental and social justice issues. PLEASE do keep in touch with us, particularly as you note projects, plans, and advocacy needs mentioned on the e-blasts. We DO need your input as we move forward together in this beautiful but fragile world.

From "For the Earth and Her Creatures", a prayer by Marjorie J. Thompson, from Prayers for the New Social Awakening: Inspired by the New Social Creed, edited by Christian Iosso and Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty:

Merciful Lord, open our ears to the groaning of creation:
glaciers melting into a rising sea,
polar bears swimming to exhaustion in search of ice,
wetlands drying to parched cracks,
songbirds seeking ancient sanctuaries in vain,
coral reefs bleaching in polluted waters,
whales beaching themselves in despair.

Awaken us, Good Lord, to our responsibility
for this earth over which you made us stewards . . .

In the name of the One through and for whom
all things have been created,
and in whom all things hold together.

The Peace and Passion of Christ be with you all,
Diane Waddell
Moderator, Presbyterians for Earth Care

Friday, August 5, 2011

Earth-Honoring Faith Series at Ghost Ranch

By Rev. Janet Parker
Janet Parker is pastor at Rock Spring Congregational Church in Virginia. She is working on her new book: Becoming Human Again: A Pastoral Theology for a Changed Planet. Below is an excerpt from her "Becoming Human Again" blog post about her teaching at the Ghost Ranch, a Presbyterian education and Retreat Center (and working ranch) near Abiquiu, New Mexico.

Teaching at Ghost Ranch was an extraordinary capstone to an extraordinary sabbatical. The very same Ghost Ranch where Georgia O'Keefe lived and painted her landscapes. These photos are just a glimpse into the high desert beauty of this place.

I was at Ghost Ranch to serve as one of the faculty members for the course, "This Planet as Paradise: Beauty and Ecological Restoration," the fourth in the "Earth-Honoring Faith" series organized by my former doctoral advisor, Larry Rasmussen. What a privilege it was to teach alongside Larry, Rita Nakashima Brock, Dan Spencer, Barbara Rossing and Marty Haugen!
I hereby invite everyone who reads this blog to join us next year, when the topic will be "Food, Glorious Food!" The course is always held the fourth week in June. See the Ghost Ranch website for the course listing, under the "Earth-Honoring Faith" section of the courses and retreats tab.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

McCormick Seminary Certificate in Environmental Ministry Program Equips Religious Leaders with Tools to Make Their Impact on the Earth More Sustainable and More Just.

Deep personal commitments to environmental ministry and a strong belief that the care of creation must be a vital ministry of the Church led four McCormick faculty members to develop this program that blends the study of Science, Theology, Bible, Ethics and Action as a means of equipping persons of faith who are passionate about ecological concerns. The Certificate is targeted to those who seek to shape policy, who are looking for deeper biblical and theological foundations for their practices, and are interested in pursuing these questions with a group of committed peers and colleagues.

Read what the faculty that developed this program has to say about its importance to the church and its leaders and their contributions to it:

"Many pastors and congregational leaders feel some sense of urgency about responding to our current ecological context. But where to begin? The scientific, theological, and practical aspects of the issues can be intricate and complex, and we may quickly feel overwhelmed. I hope that participants in this program will be able to engage the ecological context (and lead others in doing so) in an integrated way, with practices that have real effects on the ground, theological depth, and spiritual significance. I also hope that the certificate will contribute to the building of a dispersed community of energized, informed, and committed religious leaders who can shape the next phase of the religious ecological movement!" -- Jennifer R. Ayres, Assistant Professor of Religious Education and Director of the Program in Religious Education, Candler School of Theology Atlanta, GA and former McCormick Faculty member.

Clare Butterfield, Faith in Place
"I think the course is important because it helps religious leaders be where their laity is already. People come to church with concerns about the planet. This certification program is designed to help their clergy help them to integrate those concerns, and practical responses to them, into the life of the church. My contribution is in the realm of practical and impactful things that congregations can do." -- Clare Butterfield, Executive Director, Faith in Place

“Our current ecological crisis makes it imperative that we find new ways of living within the world of nature. There are some very practical steps we know we should take, yet finding sufficient courage and motivation to make the needed changes is sometimes difficult. There are spiritual and theological dimensions to the challenge before us. What we believe about God and the world and about the place of the human being within nature affects how we live--theology matters. This course will resource religious leaders in both the practical and the theological work we need to do.” Anna Case Winters, Professor of Theology.

Ted Hiebert, Professor of Old Testament
“I think the course is important because it helps religious leaders rediscover the importance of the entire creation in their Scriptures. We've forgotten about this because of such a strong spiritualizing tendency in our tradition. My contribution is to help us retrieve the ways in which the world of nature is foundational for our faith and to help us connect biblical values with contemporary challenges." Ted Hiebert, Francis A. McGaw Professor of Old Testament.

Registration is open until August 15th; a $100.00 discount applies to all applications received by July 31st. For more information, contact Martha Brown. Application forms and detailed information may be found on the McCormick Web Site


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Presbyterians for Earth Care Video for "We are PCUSA" Initiative

PEC is participating in Bruce Reyes-Chow's "We are PCUSA" video project. Videos will stream all day on June 22. Vice Moderator Diane Waddell has submitted a video on our behalf. Check it out!
To see more information about the "We are PCUSAProject" go to http://www.patheos.com/community/breyeschow/we-are-pcusa/

Monday, June 13, 2011

Shades of Green Energy discussed how the faith community is addressing issues associated with green energy and the environment.

It is great to see Presbyterians taking a lead in their communities to care for God's Earth. Tune in to this radio show to hear Lou Snead of Faith Presbyterian Church in Austin and Colin Rowan of First Presbyterian Church in Austin discusss several Earth Care initiatives they are undertaking in the Austin area. Colin organized a showing of the movie “A Carbon Nation” at his church and Lou Snead is part of the Interfaith Environmental Network in Austin. (See a photo of the Interfaith Environmental Network's leadership here.) Austin is in Presbyterians for Earth Care's Southwest region. The coordinator for that region is Bee Moorehead, the Executive Director of Texas Impact and Texas Interfaith Power and Light.

Listen to the radio show at: http://shadesofgreenenergy.org/2011/06/435/

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Preview Excerpt from Upcoming PEC Update: A review of The Seven Pillars of Creation: The Bible, Science, and the Ecology of Wonder

Dear Presbyterians for Earth Care members,

I hope your summers are off to a great start! Just a friendly reminder that there's still time to register for our 2011 Faith and Environment Conference August 31-September 3 at Highlands Conference Center in Colorado. Registration costs $150.00. You can find more information about the conference here.

We are in the process of putting the next PEC Update together. I invite you to take a sneak preview of our next update. Earth Covenant Ministry founder Rev. Allen Jenkins submitted a book review of The Seven Pillars of Creation: The Bible, Science, and the Ecology of Wonder. Author Bill Brown will be a plenary moderator and worship leader at the conference.

Yours in Stewardship of Creation,
Jenny Holmes, PEC Moderator

Preview Excerpt from Upcoming PEC Update
A review of The Seven Pillars of Creation: The Bible, Science, and the Ecology of Wonder

390 ppm of CO2, oceans’ Ph levels, Darwinian evolution, toxicity rates of the world’s aquifers, soil depletion, biological diversity, EPA air quality standards...Those of us called to eco-justice ministry know that such scientific concerns are essential to comprehending the signs of the times. They inform our response to the urgent calling of eco-justice ministry. Awareness of such issues as ecological tipping points and thresholds of the land’s carrying capacity provide foundation for our living and spreading the Good News for all God’s created order.

Yet from here we stumble upon a key question :

Given the sciences’ importance for informed eco-justice ministry, how, then, do we faithfully straddle these two worlds of science and Bible, worlds so perilously at odds in the modern era?

In The Seven Pillars of Creation: The Bible, Science, and the Ecology of Wonder, biblical theologian William P. Brown takes on this monumental question in a disarming, invitational form that provides an empowering foundation for a serious integration of science into the life of faith. To say Brown qualifies for the task understates his credentials. He is an ordained minister and Old Testament professor of Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia who is not only a ‘scholar’s scholar’ sought out to present at institutions across the country and the globe but his is also a leader in the greening of campus life and an accessible Sunday School teacher.

On a further note of personal privilege, I am most thankful for his active leadership on Earth Covenant Ministry’s steering committee, for whom he graciously presents to congregations of the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta.
Fortuitously, Bill Brown is this year’s plenary moderator and worship leader for our PEC conference (August 31st – September 3rd). Are you registered?

- The Rev. Allen Jenkins, Founder of Earth Covenant Ministry

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Register for the PEC Faith and Environment Conference by June 1 for the Early Bird Rate!

Sign-Up Now for PEC's 2011 National Faith & Environment Conference: "God's Earth: Too Big to Fail? An Eco-Justice Conversation Among Faith, Science and Culture"

August 31 - September 3, 2011, at Highlands Presbyterian Camp and Retreat Center in the mountains of Colorado.

Keynote speakers include Dr. William Brown, author of The Seven Pillars of Creation: The Bible, Science and the Ecology of Wonder; Dr. Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, senior scientist and director of sustainable foods at the Pesticide Action Network; Carol Raffenspurger, Executive Director of the Science and Environmental Health Network; Dr. Tryone Hayes, Professor at UC Berkeley with expertise in amphibian biology who fought a major pesticide company and won; Dr. Holmes Rolston III, environmental ethics scholar; Dr. John E. Ikerd, professor emeritus of agricultural economics at the University of Missouri Columbia.

Special thanks to our conference sponsors, including PC(USA) Environmental Ministries, the Presbytery of Olympia, the Presbytery of the Inland Northwest, the Presbytery of Monmouth, the Presbytery of Charlotte, Second Presbyterian of Little Rock, and Second Presbyterian Church Indianapolis.

Registration is now open at price of $125.00 until June 1, $150 after, and can be completed online here.

Get all the latest info on the conference on the "Too Big to Fail" blog here.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Thanks to All New and Renewing PEC Members

A big thanks to all who have renewed their membership or became a new member around our new renewal date, Earth Day, April 22nd. The response has been good and it will save us a lot of work. Your participation in PEC is very important to us. Please share news and stories with the PEC network! Send an e-mail to presbyearthcare@gmail.com. Blessings, PEC Moderator

Thursday, May 5, 2011

God's Earth: Too Big to Fail? An Eco-Justice Conversation between Faith, Science, and Culture

PEC's 2011 National Faith & Environment Conference is open for registration!
August 31 - September 3, 2011, at Highlands Presbyterian Camp and Retreat Center in the mountains of Colorado. Keynote speakers include Dr. William Brown, author of The Seven Pillars of Creation: The Bible, Science and the Ecology of Wonder; Dr. Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, senior scientist and director of sustainable foods at the Pesticide Action Network; Carol Raffenspurger, Executive Director of the Science and Environmental Health Network; Dr. Hayes, Professor with expertise in amphibian biology at the University of California Berkley; Dr. Holmes Rolston III, environmental ethics scholar; Dr. John E. Ikerd, professor emeritus of agricultural economics at the University of Missouri Columbia. Special thanks to our conference sponsors, including Environmental Ministries, the Presbytery of Olympia, the Presbytery of the Inland Northwest, Second Presbyterian of Little Rock, and Second Presbyterian Church Indianapolis. Registration is now open at $125.00. Click here to go to the registration page.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Happy Earth Day!

What better way to celebrate Earth Day than to register for the 2011 PEC National Conference?
Register for God's Earth: Too Big to Fail? An Eco-Justice Conversation Among Faith, Science & Culture through www.highlandscamp.org. Register early for $125 discounted registration fee! And, be sure to like 2011 PEC National Conference on Facebook to see latest updates.

Happy Earth Day and Blessed Good Friday to you...