Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Faith for Thought 2013

From 2006-2010, I was involved with an annual student conference that we called "Faith for Thought".  After 2010, I and the other organizers felt it was time to take a break, but I'm happy that FFT will probably be returning for 2013, with a creation care theme.  Below is a version of a FAQ that I've written to help make the project known.  If you are interested and want to hear more, write to me, or to

What is “Faith for Thought”?
Faith for Thought is a one-day conference in State College where we explore together how Christian faith connects with our everyday lives.  Most participants will be students (undergrad and graduate), but the conference is open to anyone who wants to relate real faith – in all its depth – to real life – in all its complexity.  Faith for Thought is about conversation, sharing and learning from one another: it is a safe space for questions.

Is this a new event, or has it been held before?
The first “Faith for Thought” was held in fall 2006, as an initiative of the student ministry at Calvary Baptist Church.  Subsequent “Faith for Thought” conferences were held in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010.  The 2010 event, which was held in the Pasquerilla Center on the PSU campus, attracted about 120 participants – both University Park students and visitors from other campuses across Pennsylvania (and a few from out of state).  

What happens at Faith for Thought?
A full day of multi-sensory engagement with our theme!  This includes opportunities to interact with one another over food and conversation (breakfast and lunch are provided); provocative key-note speakers; more intimate break-out sessions exploring issues in greater depth; gathered worship and music; panel discussions; hands-on (tactile) sessions; and a conference bookstore. 

What do participants get out of Faith for Thought?
Here are some comments from participants after a previous FFT: “This is best day I had in a really, really long time. It was like a breath of fresh air I really needed.”  The best thing about FFT was: hearing from intelligent and respected people in academic professions who are also people of faith.  One thing I learned: Better understanding of my purpose in the Kingdom of God and of the purpose of humans on earth”.  One thing I will do right away: Eat slowly. Slow down. Pay attention. Love my neighbors better.”

Tell me about the conference theme.
Each Faith for Thought has had a broad area of focus.  The 2010 theme was “In Practice” – what are the practices and/or habits of a Christian who lives an integrated life?  (You can read about the 2010 conference at our website For 2013 our theme is “Seeds of Hope”.   We will focus on the scriptural understanding of human stewardship within the interconnected community of all creation, the nature of hope in the context of contemporary ecological crises, and the possibility of an authentically Christian response.

Just for the tree-hugger crowd then?
Not really. The big ecological questions – What can we hope for future generations? What does human flourishing look like? How do our actions affect the “least of these”? – are big theological questions too. Many young (and not-so-young) believers yearn for a holistic faith that can  engage these questions seriously, combining theological depth, scientific rigor, and a passion for justice.    We believe that this conference will help participants nurture such a faith.

Who will participate in the event?
Anyone is welcome!  We will promote the event especially to:
  • Penn State students – through our contacts with various campus ministers
  • Members of local churches in State College
  • Young people regionally – through intercollegiate ministry organizations and contacts with regional and national church/parachurch organizations
We hope to see 200-plus participants.

What about the speakers, and the date?
We’re aiming for September 28th, 2013.  The program is still being developed, and I'm not yet quite ready to go public with the speaker line-up, but it will include nationally known scientists and faith-based environmental leaders, as well as a team of breakout facilitators who can enable in-depth discussion.

Who do I contact if I have further questions?
John Roe ( is leading the effort and will be happy to talk further about FFT.  John is a professor of mathematics at Penn State (he served as head of the mathematics department from 2006-2012) and has been deeply involved in Faith for Thought since its inception.  Working with John is an enthusiastic team of students and other volunteers.  Let him know if you want to be part of that!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Our Father's World

This is a short feature (26 minutes) from Northland Church in Florida about the biblical call to care for creation.

Quoting from the accompanying press release:
Produced by the Creation Care Team at Northland, A Church Distributed, “Our Father’s
World” is a 27 minute documentary outlining the role that Christians should play in
environmentalism. The film features interviews with noted evangelical leaders and scholars, including Bill and Lynne Hybels, Tony Campolo, James Merritt and Mark Liederbach. The insightful commentary helps viewers connect the ecological dots—from spiritual calling to modern living and how it all ultimately impacts “the least of these.”

Raymond Randall, leader of Northland’s Creation Care Team, explains: “Many Christians still see environmental stewardship as a political issue, rather than seeing it as a biblical issue. Scripture clearly teaches us to be good stewards of our finances, time, talents and relationships, and the church is beginning to realize there is another form of stewardship that we have neglected to embrace.”
More at 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Book Review: "Last Child In The Woods"

Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit DisorderLast Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Richard Louv begins this book with a story of a conversation with his son, Matthew, 10. Out of nowhere, Matthew asks: "Dad, how come it was more fun when you were a kid?"

Louv asks what he means, and discovers that Matthew is thinking of the stories he has told of being out-of-doors as a kid - "catching crawdads in a creek" - and feeling that he has missed out on something important. "This book", Louv writes, "describes the increasing divide between the young and the natural world, and the environmental, social, psychological and spiritual implications of that change." Explicating the change to which he refers, he writes "As a boy, I was unaware that my woods were ecologically connected with any other forests...but I knew my woods and my fields; I knew every bend in the creek and every dip in those beaten dirt paths. A kid today can likely tell you about the Amazon rain forest - but not about the last time he or she explored the woods in solitude, or lay in a field listening to the wind and watching the clouds move." And he suggests that this transformation amounts to a kind of "closing of the frontier" in children's' development, analogous to the closing of the westward frontier of the USA in the late 19th century, which some historians have seen as marking a fundamental change in American consciousness.

Louv's point is not simply to grumble about "kids these days": he has two serious concerns. The first is that the lives of children may be stunted by the lack of direct experience with nature; the second, that a stewardship of nature that deals only in generalities and abstractions will be anemic unless it is rooted in a rich childhood experience of some particular, specific natural place. He asks what are the roots of this transformation, and how it can be reversed or mitigated.

I really wanted to like this book, and I'm certainly sympathetic with its thesis. But I did find it a bit repetitive, with the same studies being cited over and over again in slightly different contexts. An important argument? No question. An essay? Would be great A full-length book? Maybe longer than was needed.

View all my reviews

Monday, April 8, 2013

Sometimes, we can't do what we've always done

How do you, uh, go to the bathroom up there?

After "how does the rope get to the top?", that is one of the most common questions to get asked on the way back from a multi-day climb.  The current answer is pictured to the left.   This particular article is the "Waste Case" from Metolius Climbing, but it's more commonly known as the "poop tube".

Do your business in a paper or compostable plastic bag, stuff the bag in the tube, wipe your hands if you remembered to bring some wipes with you, haul your waste off: that's the present-day ethic.

But it was not always that way.  "How to Climb Big Walls" by John Long and John Middendorf was first published in 1994.  They give the old school answer: "Drop your drawers and let fly"... though they go on to say that this approach is no longer acceptable, even if it is still (in 1994!) commonplace.

When a given route was climbed only once a year, if that, nature would perhaps clean up the climbers' mess.  But that won't work when three or four parties may be on the wall every day of the season.  Some locations become regular latrines.  (Click here for photos of a clean-up on El Capitan.)

The old-school way may have been simple and straightforward.  The new-school way may be more awkward and inconvenient, and it may feel like a curtailment of freedom.  But it's the way we have to take, if we want to protect the resource we say we cherish.

I think you can see where I'm going with this.  Sometimes, we can't keep doing what we've always done, frustrating though that may feel.  The pressure of the old way may be more than the environment's recycling system can bear.

Sometimes we can't keep burning what we've always burned, trashing what we've always trashed, or living like we've always lived.

Because in the end, we want to keep hold of what we've always cherished.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Bagging the Ban?

When we moved to Pennsylvania nearly fifteen years ago, one of the things we brought with us was four sturdy plastic boxes provided by Sainsbury's, a British supermarket chain.  You bring the boxes with you to the supermarket (Sainsbury's used to provide special carts to hold them) and then stack your groceries in them to bring them home.  No bags involved.

After we figured out how to fit these things in the shopping carts our local Pennsylvania supermarket provides, we started using them every week.  (In between, they get used for many other storage purposes too.)  And pretty often - not every week, but maybe every month - someone will stop me or Liane when we are shopping and say, "What a great idea! I wish I could do something like that!"  And then, most likely, he or she heads for the checkout and the clerk double bags their groceries in plastic, as usual.

Grocery bag manufacturers tout their product as recyclable - which it is - but, across the US, less than 15% of plastic bags are recycled; if I've done my arithmetic right, that means that two or three million tons of bags go to the landfill each year.  I reverse-engineered these figures from data available at, an industry-sponsored website that opposes bans and taxes on plastic grocery bags - which many cities and local governments are introducing or considering.  (I found another website,, which tries to keep up on news of such ordinances from around the country and the world.)

According to the industry website, these bans are misguided.  Reusable grocery bags will make you sick!  And promote shoplifting! And plastic bags are recyclable, so that makes them a green industry!  14.7% of plastic bags were recycled last year, an increase of 23.8%! (Now there's a task for my math class, to figure out exactly what that means.)  If people can't use grocery bags to put their garbage in, they will have to buy garbage bags, which may use even more plastic!  (Not sure how that fits with the recycling argument, but still.)  Plastic bags are now made from natural gas, not oil! (That's all right, then.)  And finally the kicker - "More than 30,000 hardworking Americans are directly employed by the plastic bag industry.  In this time of high unemployment, we don't need another job-killing tax."

Now, all kinds of regulatory actions - even (perhaps especially) well-intentioned ones - can have unexpected consequences, which sometimes head in exactly the opposite direction.  Plastic bag bans would not be exempt.  So one shouldn't dismiss as ridiculous just because it is so obviously self-serving.  Still, that last point about jobs just makes me sad.

Meaningful work is a basic human need. But what qualifies as meaningful or worthwhile?  Can we imagine a future in which "meaningful work for all" means work that is not making things that are immediately destined for the landfill, is not burning up an inheritance that can never be replaced?