Thursday, September 29, 2011

Harvest Fields Common Garden

There are many in our church community who are pursuing a vision for creation care. As part of my GreenFaith work I want to learn about what they're doing, and maybe I can help linking some of them together.

Yesterday I visited the Harvest Fields Common Garden.  Take a look at some of what they are up to:

  • growing produce to share with supporters and with the community through the State College Food Bank;
  • engaging young people, families, kids, community organizations like YMCA to learn the rhythm of food production and the skills to work the land;
  • celebrating God's gift through creation;
  • sharing labor, sharing wisdom, sharing the harvest.
Matthew, one of the leaders of the garden project, told me how excited some of the kids get as they first pull carrots from the ground. They're getting connected to where food really comes from: the mysterious earth of Mark 4:27-28, which "produces by itself, we know not how".

Saturday, September 24, 2011


I didn't go climbing this weekend.

Actually, this is the third consecutive weekend when I'd hoped to climb but it somehow didn't happen.  Weather, and sickness, and weather again have messed up my plans for September, usually one of the best months to climb in the eastern USA.

Climbing means a lot to me, but one of its moral dangers is a temptation to devalue other kinds of outdoor experiences.  When we climbers start referring to other outdoorspeople as "tourists", that's a danger sign.  What are we if not tourists?

Yes, climbing is the gateway to an experience which is not available elsewhere, a meditation on the rocky skeleton of the world. But the journey I go through to get there is recognizably similar to the journey that takes my neighbor to a football game.

So this weekend, I try not to complain that I cannot get on the rock. Instead, I get on my bike and ride for miles, praying for the inhabitants of the neat suburban homes that I pass.

Change is coming to all of us.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Interfaith Power and Light Meeting

I took part in the second annual meeting of PA-IPL last weekend: "The human face of climate change: food, faith, and other necessities.".  The auditorium in the Paterno Library on campus was packed for the plenary talks by Bill Easterling, dean of earth and mineral sciences at Penn State, and Jim Deming, Minister for Environmental Justice in the United Church of Christ.  A series of workshops followed in the spiritual center on campus.   Some notable moments of the meeting for me:

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Earth is Full

I'm sorry for the six days without a post.  This has been a busy week.  I hope to write an update on the second annual meeting of PA Interfaith Power and Light (which happened last weekend) in a couple of days.

Meanwhile I thought I'd take the chance to link to an article from earlier this year by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman (pictured), called The Earth Is Full. Friedman has written books about globalization and its effects, but recently it's clear how concerned he is that the global growth model is running into physical limits.  In fact an earlier article, The Inflection is Near, gave me the title for this blog.

Friedman refers to Paul Gilding's new book The Great Disruption, which I'm reading at the moment.  I plan to post a review of that when I'm done.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Book review: "Pollution and the Death of Man", Francis Schaeffer

Pollution and the Death of ManPollution and the Death of Man by Francis A. Schaeffer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the 1960s, awareness was growing that humanity could have impacts on the planet's life systems that were profound and long-lasting. What did Christian faith have to say about this? A highly influential article by White, "The Historical Roots of our Ecologic Crisis" (Science 10 March 1967: 1203-1207; available online) set the agenda for eco-theology for the next half century. White argued that Christianity itself bore a heavy responsibility for humanity's destructiveness towards the natural world: "By destroying pagan animism, Christianity made it possible to exploit nature in a mood of indifference".

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Why Work?

Dorothy Sayers
The title of this post comes from one of Dorothy Sayers' wartime essays which forms part of the collection Letters to a Diminished Church.   Sayers' reflections on the economic contrast between wartime and peacetime make a surprisingly relevant backdrop for thinking about unemployment, and about what makes work meaningful today.

In Sayers' thought, good work is one of the ways in which human beings are to reflect "the mind of the Maker".  Work well done is "the full expression of the worker’s faculties, the thing in which he finds spiritual, mental and bodily satisfaction, and the medium in which he offers himself to God."

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Storing up treasure

Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
One of the alarming things about reading the New Testament from a "post-growth" perspective is the way in which its teachings about money and possessions come alive again. Like most Western Christians, I suppose, I have developed some defense mechanisms against "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth" (Matthew 6:19) and the story of the "rich fool" who thought he had everything prepared for a long retirement (Luke 12:16-21) but forgot to be "rich toward God".

We like to feel that we have a claim on the future, and accumulated money - savings accounts, retirement plans, and so on - provides a way in which that claim can be expressed and organized.  But, ultimately, the claim on the future that we are making is a claim on a portion of the actual future wealth of the earth - not a claim for mere financial tokens.  If  the wealth of the earth is increasing less rapidly than the claims on it - the one constrained by physical limits, the other growing exponentially by the mathematical magic of compound interest - then it is not going to be possible to satisfy all those claims.  In the language of the European debt crisis, the claimants (bondholders) will have to take a "haircut" - or as the New Testament more vividly puts it, our gold and silver will have rusted; a chemically impossible metaphor for the loss of value of apparently assured investments.

The investments that count will be in people and relationships, rather than in financial instruments.  This is one message of the cryptic parable of the Unjust Steward (Luke 16:9). 

Monday, September 5, 2011

Getting started with GreenFaith

Last week we held the kick-off "webinar" for the GreenFaith program. A combination of a phone conference call and shared presentation software - there is provision for text chat and things like that as well, but we did not use that much for this first meeting.

Most of the time we spent introducing ourselves. There are 24 fellows (if I counted correctly) this year. The great majority (all but 3, I think) are from various Christian traditions with Catholics and Episcopalians seeming to be particularly well represented. The others are (one of each) Buddhist, Jewish and Muslim. A lot of ordained ministers or pastors (as well as one rabbi), as well as others who had been faithful in service or nonprofit roles for many years - someone like me, coming into this from a quite different career path, is the exception. Several have felt the need to pursue this path for a while,  and retirement or life changes have made this possible  for them. 18 are women and 6 are men. I very much look forward to getting to know this group over the coming year and to learning from all that they have to share.

One of our early assignments will be to get started on an "eco-theological writing project".  The goals is that a GF Fellow will
  • deepen their understanding of their relationship with the earth
  • deepen their understanding of the teachings, resources, and roadblocks from their tradition in relation to the environment
  • strengthen their ability to express themselves publicly as a religious-environmental leader
I wonder what my writing project will be.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

All right for some?

"It's all very well for you to talk about the end of growth" said my friend. "You are comfortable enough.  Growth has been good to you and perhaps you don't need any more of it.  But who are you to deny to others the opportunities that you have had?  There are billions living in poverty.  Do you want to kick away the ladder that they are climbing up?"

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Idolatry and Stupidity

The Hebrew prophets like Jeremiah are hard on misdirected worship (idolatry).  And one of the most difficult things for some to relate to is their insistence that idolatry is not only mistaken or wicked; it's just dumb.

Look at Jeremiah 10, for example: "idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field - they're just lumps of wood - those who worship them are both stupid and foolish".  Some choice quotes from a chapter of sarcasm.

This kind of sarcasm is a dangerous weapon for believers to deploy.  After all, the New Atheists can use it against us pretty effectively. But sometimes it's hard to resist.

Take growth for example.  I think it is fair to say that growth plays the role for us that "idols" played for Jeremiah: something that can't be questioned, must be fed, and is thought to ensure prosperity for all.


That's just dumb.