Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Lessons from my Grandfather

Some of my earliest childhood memories revolve around time spent with my grandparents. With each tight hug from Grandpa Al, I was reminded of the countless conversations and visits I had with him. Last week, I had the honor of remembering those stories with friends and family as we celebrated the life of my grandfather.

I returned to my home in Minnesota last week for my grandfather’s funeral. During the prayer service, I listened to numerous stories that gave testimony to this man of great character. Grandpa Al loved to talk about anything, but in particular he loved talking about farming, his time spent serving in Panama during World War II, and the years he working for a farmer’s cooperative. These conversations which tended to bore me a bit while I was younger, I found to be instrumental when forming the values I still hold today.

As the son of Norwegian farmers, Al loved to talk with my dad about his farming business. It was through these conversations I learned the passion one must have for the earth to be a good farmer. My grandfather would talk about growing much of their own food and explain the careful art of growing crops. His love of the outdoors influenced me to spend as many waking hours outside or to eat every lunch I could with my dad in the wheel-well of a John Deere tractor.

The stories he would tell of his time in the service or working for the co-op always held a theme of caring for your neighbor. Every story ended with, “Well, all you need to do is treat people with respect and serve those around you.” It seems like an obvious statement, but one that many of us often forget. As a man baptized and confirmed in the Lutheran tradition, and long-time member of Zion Lutheran Church, he had lived with this mentality his whole life. Today, I know serving those around me includes all of creation. With energy conservation, I am doing my part to fight climate change to protect my neighbors across the world. In buying organically grown foods, I am protecting wildlife from dangerous chemicals.

Even though I’m sure my grandfather would not have considered himself an environmentalist, it is with these lessons on farming, faith, and fellowship with one another that has led me to my current work. With the passing of one generation, I sat with my father last week to discuss the farm bill, organic farming, genetically modified crops, and being a servant to the land and our neighbor.

Even though my family jokes that I am the Seattle hippie who will work for tofu, it’s this same family that has taught me the life lessons to lead me where I am now. Tusen tak, Bestefar.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Why We Do This Work

This past Saturday I attended the birthday party of my dear friend Ellie, who just turned two. That’s right, two years old – she’s a big girl now and we had a party to celebrate! Lots of friends and family attended, and there were tons of kids running around in the sunshine that deigned to make an appearance during this otherwise dreary spring.

There was home-made macaroni and cheese, cake and ice cream, and more love to go around than any toddler knew what to do with. Ellie was surrounded by people who care about her and want the very best for her future. Parents, grandparents, friends and neighbors, all enveloping her in a protective and loving network that will support her for years to come. It reminded me of another party I went to last month, for my three-year-old goddaughter, Hannah.

At Hannah’s birthday party, it was also all about the food (pizza and ice cream…I’m going to have to go on a diet), and also all about the love – for Hannah, her baby sister, and all the kids who came to wind themselves up on sugar until they collapsed in a sticky heap. There’s just something about the wide-eyed innocence of a small child to break your heart open and want to shield him or her from all the problems of the world.

Unfortunately, many of the problems of the world today are due to our making. Climate change, destruction of habitat, food shortages, and other environmental ills can be laid directly at our generation’s doorstep. It’s time to ask ourselves the hard questions. What kind of Earth will we leave for Ellie and Hannah’s generation? I have four nieces – Vanessa, Stephanie, Danielle (who also just had a birthday!) and Camila – what environmental legacy will they inherit? My godson Angus will be 15 in June…what will the world be like for him when he’s my age?

When I look into their faces I know in my heart why I do this work. Why I strive to help Christians and other spiritual people make the connection between faith and our call to protect the Earth for future generations. Why it matters so very much what we do today, tomorrow and next week. Because the choices we make now will affect these kids’ future, and the future of children around the world.

In the next few days, make or renew your pledge to leave the world a better place for those coming after you. Hug a child you love. And remember why we do this work.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Stories From the Field

Earth Month may be winding to a close, but the work of creating environmentally sustainable communities is picking up speed!

Over the past two Sundays I was privileged to visit St. James Cathedral and Wedgwood Community Church, both vibrant congregations in Seattle. On both occasions, I was struck by the incredible energy that seems to be moving people to create dialogue and action in the realm of faith and environment.

In the case of St. James, their Environmental Justice Group teamed up with the Health and Healing Ministry to host a very well attended Environmental Health Fair. The parish has held a health-specific fair for several years now, but this year they were able to raise awareness around the connections between the health of the environment and the wellbeing of all God’s creatures.

Yesterday I was able to contribute to the month-long “Sustainable Living as a Spiritual Practice” discussion happening at Wedgwood Community Church. Each of the four sermons during the month of April dealt with different perspectives on why Christians should care for the Earth. There have also been various congregation-wide discussions about Creation care during fellowship hour, including my presentation yesterday about ideas for individual, congregational, and systemic action. Finally, to bring it all together, next Sunday church members will gather for an Environmental Summit to create a plan for their community practice of sustainable living!

My stories are of just two among the many communities Earth Ministry staff have reached out to during the month of April—there are many other exciting stories of faithful people honoring the Earth and asking, “What can I do to help? How can I act to protect the goodness of God’s Creation?”

Go! Ask the questions! Create a new story in your faith community!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Try to Act Like a Holy Man

In this world of excess that we inhabit, I believe that taking steps towards simplicity, sustainability, and environmental stewardship does not have to be depressing or depriving. In fact, the exact opposite is true: It’s more fun, hilarious, ridiculous, life-giving and open-hearted than compulsive shopping could ever be. Two main men of world peace give us an insight as to how this actually works.

The Dalai Llama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu shared a stage in Seattle recently at the wonderful Seeds of Compassion event, and seemed to enjoy each second of each other’s company. These men are not light- weights in the realm of injustice and travail and have seen more than their share of suffering. Desmond Tutu stared down the guns of Afrikaners (white South Africans) in his own cathedral in Johannesburg during the struggle against apartheid in the 70’s and 80’s, put his life on the line more than once, and proclaimed the Gospel and the love of God joyfully during very dark times. The Dalai Llama, chosen as a child to be the spiritual and political leader of Tibetan Buddhism, saw his country invaded and occupied by the Chinese in the 1950’s; he sought refuge and political asylum in India as a teen-ager and has never been able to return. His followers are persecuted in their own country and their religion is reviled. Still he has spent his life teaching open-hearted compassion while living in exile.

The two of them are hilarious together. Really. They laugh like mischievous boys who are pulling off a big one on the adults of the world. Though it’s not always easy to understand the Dalai Llama (Desmond Tutu: “It is a wonderful thing that Seattle filled up a 60,000 seat arena for His Holiness, especially since, let’s face it, his English is not that good!), the aura of fun and holiness that surrounds them is as palpable as a halo. Fun and holiness as a twin set; who knew? As they preached forgiveness and love, they high- fived and played like puppies from the same litter.

Desmond Tutu explained it like this: “The Dalai Llama is here to teach compassion, and yet when he saw me he said "‘Desmond, I see you are putting on some weight'. Me, weight! I ask you, is this a man who is practicing compassion?”

From seeing these two great men on stage together my take-away message is that joy and holiness comes from seeking what matters in life: intimacy with ourselves, with others and with God. No wealth or power or second homes can substitute for the sacred center of our lives.

This gets us back to environmental stewardship. Changing light bulbs, walking rather than driving, and calking windows aren’t necessarily a laugh riot, but they are life-giving and save money. Shopping at farmer’s markets, getting to know your neighbors by carpooling to church and volunteering at local restoration events are delightful, rewarding, vibrant and vigorous activities. Holy discipleship of Creation Care is actually a good time.

At one point, after laughing uproariously together on stage, Archbishop Tutu turned to His Holiness and said “The cameras are rolling; try to act like a holy man!”
You, too. Recycle! Buy less! Walk more! Try to act like a holy person!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

11 Consumer Choices, 52 Sundays, 365 Days a Year

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), there are three areas of consumer behavior that, if changed, can make the most positive impact on environmental problems. Those three areas are transportation, food, and household operations (source: "The Consumer's Guide to Effective Environmental Choices"). The consumer choices the UCS recommends for each area are:

1.) Choose a place to live that reduces the need to drive.
2.) Think twice before purchasing another car.
3.) Choose a fuel-efficient, low-polluting car.
4.) Set concrete goals for reducing your travel.
5.) Whenever practical, walk, bicycle, or take public transportation.

6.) Eat less meat.
7.) Buy certified organic produce.

[We'd like to add, Shop at Local Farmer's Markets]

8.) Choose your home carefully.
9.) Reduce the environmental costs of heating and hot water.
10.) Install efficient lighting and appliances.
11.) Chose an electricity supplier offering renewable energy.

Several years ago, Earth Ministry developed a curriculum for congregations based on these suggestions. That curriculum is called "Caring for All Creation" and has four modules, On the Road, At the Table, In the Home, and By the Waters. Each module provides the resources necessary for churches to organize a worship service for each of these areas with a congregational action to be a part of or to follow the service. Read more about the curriculum and order today!

Earth Month doesn't have to happen once a year. Why not incorporate creation-honoring worship into our churches 52 Sundays a year and make personal changes in our homes 365 days a year?

A Perfect Eco-Car?

By Maiko Minami, Earth Ministry Intern

Do you know Cherry Blossom festival? There is an annual Japanese cultural festival at Seattle Center in April. This is my third year in Seattle, but it was my first time going to the festival. I went there as a volunteer. I wanted to do volunteer work to let visitors know Japanese culture, but there was another (main) purpose for me to go this festival this year. There was a lecture by a Japanese scientist in the field of renewable energy. So, after the volunteer work, I went to a room for the lecture to listen how a Japaese scientist has contributed to the environement in Seattle.

His main topic was about a Biodiesel car. He makes biodiesal oil by himself at home. Do you want to know how he collects bio-oil in order to make it? He asks Japanese restaurants in Seattle to share some used oil after they cook with it. Like tempura, some Japanese food uses a lot of vegetable oil, but they throw it away after they use. So, he decided to recycle the oil and convert it to oil for biodiesel.

What is Biodiesel? This is renewable energy while gasoline is fossil fuel which is non-renewable. Biodiesel energy is made of vegetable oil. Even though vegetable oil does expel carbon dioxide when it is burned and when it is produced, it is much less than in the case of fossil fuel such as natural gas, gasoline, and coal. Moreover, when cooking oil is used, there is much less carbon dioxide emission through the production of biodiesel oil.

Then, a man asked a question 'How about Hybrid car? Isn't it better than biodiesel?' He answered, 'You know what? We can combine two, making hybrid-biodiesel car.' It is a perfect feasible eco-car!

I do not drive now, but in the future, if I need to drive, I will buy the perfect car for the environement.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

I ♥ Earth Day

This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!
Especially today, April 22 – Earth Day.

All across the country – all across the world – people are joining together to care for the Earth. There are educational events, green-living fairs, speeches, rallies, and hands-on ways to take action to protect God’s good gift of creation. It’s a veritable love-fest for the Earth, and it’s great.

I have a secret though. A deep, dark secret, kind of like “True Confessions”. I used to hate Earth Day.

As someone who worked in the environmental field 24/7 for over 15 years, I became frustrated that just one day a year, people would recycle a pop can or buy an organic vegetable and think they had done their part for the Earth. Then Earth Day would pass, and everyone would go back to their old habits. But as I’ve grown older, I find myself having more compassion for nascent environmentalists, and appreciating the attention that Earth Day focuses on changing our behavior – especially as it gains more momentum and exposure.

It’s said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and Earth Day opens the door. We start by just making one good decision today – to take the bus to work, to buy organic, or to not buy at all. And then we make another good decision tomorrow. And the next day. And soon what began as an Earth Day activity becomes a lifestyle choice, supported by the ongoing awareness that Earth Day brings to the environment.

More and more churches are hosting creation care services during Earth Month, and the media keeps the environment in the news for almost the whole month of April. Earth Day is a time to celebrate the bounty and the beauty God has given us and commit to be good stewards of it. I hope that you find a new way to celebrate, reconnect to, and honor God’s creation this year. And remember that EVERY DAY is Earth Day!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Everything Must Change

Over this last weekend, I attended Brian McLaren's Everything Must Change book tour to speak on a panel about how Earth Ministry is living out Jesus' mission in this world of global crises. The event was amazing and truly inspiring.

You may be wondering, who is Brian McLaren? I think the title of one of his earlier books paints the best picture of this man: "A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I Am A Missional, Evangelical, Post/Protestant, Liberal/Conservative, Mystical/Poetic, Biblical, Charismatic/Contemplative, Fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, Green, Incarnational, Depressed-Yet-Hopeful, Emergent, Unfinished CHRISTIAN". And I think he has a message that we should all hear!

So for today's blog post, I'd like to give you a quick synopsis of Brian McLaren's book, "Everything Must Change". But this is no replacement for reading it. There is a lot of good stuff in there!

Here we go:

McLaren started on this journey years ago when he found himself struggling with the questions that Christians asked. He told a story about working with youth in the 70s and asking them what issues their churches were fighting about. "Whether or not to play guitars in worship...Whether or not to build a new building....Should we be speaking in tongues...." He put that list on the wall to the right. He then asked them what things kept them awake at night worrying. "Nuclear war...Poverty...Disease...Nuclear winter..." He put that list on the wall to the left. He looked back and forth. There was not an issue in common between the two lists.

“When I was a pastor, people often asked my opinion on hot-button issues like evolution, abortion, and homosexuality. The problem was that after discussing those issues in all of their importance and intensity, I couldn’t help asking other questions: Why do we need to have singular and firm opinions on the protection of the unborn, but not about how to help poor people and how to avoid killing people labeled enemies who are already born? Or why are we so concerned about the legitimacy of homosexual marriage but not about the legitimacy of fossil fuels or the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (and in particular, our weapons as opposed to theirs)? Or why are so many religious people arguing about the origin of species but so few concerned about the extinction of species?”
~ Brian McLaren, from Everything Must Change

So, McLaren set out to discover what were the most important global problems. He concluded that we're suffering from four crises - prosperity, equity, security, and religious. He then built a model where prosperity, equity, and security are three interdependent cogs driving the "machine" that is our society. This machine is then situated inside of the environment where the only input is sunlight and the only output is heat. This machine would work fine if everything stayed in balance, but as we all know, it's not in balance. Prosperity has grown to the point that the gap between rich and poor is out of balance, the equity system is not able to keep prosperity in balance, which leads to rich people feeling unsafe since they know the poor outnumber the rich. And the whole system has grown too large for the capacity of the environment to support it.

McLaren suggests that the reason for these crises is the central cog, which drives the three wheels. That central cog is our framing story. There are four framing stories in society today: domination, revolution, scapegoating, and withdrawal. Domination says, "if only we were in charge"; revolution says, "if only they weren't in charge"; scapegoating says, "our problem is X" (i.e. illegal immigrants); withdrawal says, "let's get outta here!". The answer to these global crises is to reclaim Jesus' framing story which says, "Don't dominate, serve! Don't get revenge, reconcile! Don't scapegoat, embrace! Don't isolate, draw near and heal!"

The reality is that climate change affects all of us...there's no "us" and "them", we're all in this together.

I have an example to make this more concrete. Someone asked about capitalism versus communism. McLaren's response was that the question is not about one versus the other, they are just two different responses to the same issue. Capitalism isn't inherently bad. The problem is that capitalism, as it is currently used, has the goal of maximizing profit. What we need to do is change the goal of capitalism to maximizing empolyment while also making a profit. This is how we can change our framing story and make our society more equitable.

Hearing Brian McLaren helped me to see that our global problems are not insurmountable. I came away with a renewed sense of hope and excitement. We just need to be asking the right questions and holding less tightly to our preconceived ideas of Christianity and of Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Bishop Envy

You wouldn’t really describe the bishops in my denomination as cool. They are often good men, kind and wise and caring for their flock. Occasionally they are saints in the line of Thomas More, Raymond Hunthausen, or Desmond Tutu. Once in a while they are despotic jerks. But by and large, no one would identify a sea of bishops in my tradition as all that.

Not so, apparently, in the Episcopal Church in the United States and Western Washington. This weekend, at a national Episcopal conference on faith and environment called Healing Our Planet Earth (HOPE) four of most awesome episcopates you ever met walked in the door of the gracious St. Margaret Parish in Bellevue and stayed for the day. As a collective, they were good-looking, charming, accessible, funny, egalitarian, articulate, capable, brilliant and visionary spiritual leaders. Damn!

Two of them are national. Katherine Jefferts Schori is a tall, elegant woman with perfect posture and a Ph. D in oceanography before entering the priesthood. Since being elected to the Presiding Bishopric of the National Episcopal Church she retains her pilot’s license and works hard for the UN’s Millennium Development Goals as her denomination’s top mission priority. Given that I am a one-trick pony (faith and environment) she entered my heart though her professional and pastoral understanding that life on Earth is in the balance.

Bishop Steven Charleston
is the visionary center of this conference. The Dean of the National Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, former Episcopal Bishop of Alaska and a Choctaw Indian from Oklahoma, Bishop Charleston is the best speaker I have ever heard in my life, bar none.

A year ago in Seattle, Charleston was a keynote speaker at the righteous Interfaith Creation Festival. In a moment that he called out as an anointing by the Holy Spirit he announced the Genesis Covenant. This is an agreement, offered to all national denominations, to reduce the carbon footprint of their facilities by 50% in ten years. This crisp one-sentence pact, if adopted and upheld by churches in the US, will establish people of faith in the forefront of climate leadership.

Then there is the awsome local ordinary, The Rt. Revered Gregory Rickel. What can I say? He’s an exceptionally competent manager, an awesome speaker, and a trained presenter for the Climate Project. He gets it, and the Diocese of Olympia gets him. Sigh.

Finally, Suffragan Bishop Nedi Rivera recently received a standing ovation from a large official gathering of women of a certain denomination for her capable leadership, her fine talk, and her perfect manicure. Every woman in the room secretly wanted her to be their bishop; but no, only local Episcopalians can claim her. Like my daughter and her friends, Bishop Rivera seems to have decided to save the world and look fabulous while doing it!

This is why I have a major case of bishop envy, for which there is no known cure. I could convert, I suppose, but this would cause my Irish ancestors to spin and spin and spin in their graves. On the upside, I might tap the energy generated by that spinning for an endlessly renewable fuel source.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Hot Day in Seattle

Maiko Minami, EarthMinistry, Intern

On the way to downtown, through the window next to my seat in the bus, I saw many people waiting for their buses at every single bus stop. "Why are there many people taking bus today?" I asked to a grandmother next me with her grandson on her knee. "There are three things happening today. One is Dalai Lama at Quest Field, another is baseball game at Safeco Field later this afternoon, and Green Festival at the Convention Center." I asked, "Are you going to Green Festival? That's what I am going now." She said, " I am going to see Dalai Lama. I believe that it is really important for us to listen him especially for parents. They need to care more about others for their kids' education." Yes, I think it, too. It is important for parents to know the best way for them to live with others peacefully in theirsociety on the Earth because that makes their kids to follow them in their future when they need to make some decisions.

In GreenFestival, I saw many interesting items or goods that were eco-friendly ones. One of things that I was interested in was FairTrade. There were many kinds of Fair Trade goods such as chocolate, tea, coffee, banana, cocoa, and wine. Also, there are many FairTrade crafts introduced. I brought one of my friend. She is not familiar to Fair Trade and asked me what it is. So, I explained about it to her and encouraged her to choose FairTrade coffee whenever she has choices.
Everyday, every minute, we make some decisions for our lives. When you make them, you may want to think about others who may suffer from your decisions you will make. Caring about others is simple and the most important attitude for people to live on the Earth peacefully.

Friday, April 11, 2008

King Corn

Last night, I sat flipping through the guide for the Green Festival in preparation for this weekend. Since I’ll be busy on Saturday at the H.O.P.E. Conference, I wanted to make the most of my Sunday at the Green Festival by reading about some of the 350 exhibits and over 125 fantastic speakers.

In planning out my Sunday to take advantage of the most speakers and movies I could, I was excited to see that the documentary, King Corn, would be showing at 2:00pm in room 5 thanks to the Hazel Wolf Environmental Film Network. Last fall, I went to a showing of King Corn with my housemates. This documentary tells the story of two young men who return to their family’s roots of rural Iowa to track the journey of one acre of corn from seed to our dinner plates. Along the way, they learn the skills to farm America’s most subsidized crop, connect with their roots, and share how corn became one of this nation’s cheapest foods.

This documentary stirred something within me—this farmer’s daughter from rural Minnesota who’s been transplanted into one of the nation’s greenest cities. I found myself feeling nostalgic over the stark beauty of the Midwest, laughing at small-town dynamics, and amazed by our nation’s food subsidies. If you find yourself at the Green Festival on Sunday, I’d definitely recommend taking the time to check out the film festival going on in Room 5 at 2:00pm.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Create a Weekend Transportation Plan

What fabulous events should I attend this weekend? Who will be the best speakers? Where will I find the most delicious food? How will I get there??

As yesterday’s post by LeeAnne reminded us, there are many amazing (and environmentally-focused) gatherings planned for the coming days. We all want to fit in as many of these exciting experiences as we possibly can. And believe me, I definitely want to encourage you to do so!

I also want to encourage everyone to be mindful of their transportation choices when finalizing weekend plans. While you’re talking to your friends about the H.O.P.E. Conference, the Seattle Green Festival, and the Everything Must Change tour, ask if anyone is interested in carpooling. Or, if you’ll be attending on your own or meeting friends and family there, consider taking the bus (use the Metro Trip Planner to find the best routes) or using people-powered travel: walk, bike, rollerblade, or scoot! The Green Festival will even be offering free bicycle valet service—it’s not every day you can receive VIP treatment for riding your bike!

As I’m sure you are aware, the benefits of public or shared transportation are numerous. You save fuel, help ease traffic congestion, waste less time (and money) on parking, and foster a greater sense of community. Many of us have a regular weekday practice for riding our bikes or catching a bus to work, but it sometimes takes extra planning and motivation to use those same methods on the weekend.

In the spirit of Earth Month, I challenge you to take that extra step—bike, bus, walk, or carpool and arrive at this weekend’s events Green, ready to be Changed, and full of Hope.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

A Wild Weekend

Wow. That’s all I have to say when I look at the line up of faith and environment events in Seattle this weekend. There is such an amazing array of fabulous gatherings and speakers, I almost get mental gridlock when I consider all of the options.

But first, I have to ask – why do they ALL have to be on the same weekend?!? It’s like cosmic forces pointed at the calendar a year ago and said in a great booming voice, “APRIL 12 IS THE DAY!” And so it is. So buckle up and make sure you get to at least two of these events, or you’ll be the only one at the water cooler on Monday morning with no great stories to tell!

Healing Our Planet Earth: Singing a New Song of Hope
April 12, St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church, Bellevue
Participate in a national conference focused on faith, justice, and the environment, and be there when the Genesis Covenant on global warming is launched! Earth Ministry staff are making three presentations at this conference: a noon workshop on Greening Congregations (Jessie & Kaitlin), a panel discussion on Advocacy (Jessie), and a panel discussion on Climate Change and the Genesis Covenant (LeeAnne), both at 3pm.

Seattle Green Festival
April 12 & 13, Seattle Convention Center
Discover some of the best green products and services the Northwest has to offer, and listen to amazing speakers from a wide variety of disciplines. I’ll be speaking at noon on Saturday on “Climate Change as a Moral Issue”.

Everything Must Change Tour
April 11 & 12, First Free Methodist Church, Seattle
Brian McLaren (author of “Everything Must Change”) keynotes this conference. Learn what shifts in our faith and our culture need to happen for "everything to change". Deanna will be on at panel at 11am on Saturday, sharing creation care success stories of our churches.

Seeds of Compassion
April 11-15, Multiple Locations in Seattle
Anchored by the deep wisdom of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, this event will nurture and empower children, families and communities to be compassionate members of society. Unfortunately, most of the events are sold out, but if you don’t have tickets, don’t despair – the workshops at Seattle Center are free and first-come, first served! Episcopal Bishop Steven Charleston is leading a workshop on “Youth and Environment” Tuesday at 5pm.

I hope to see you this weekend…say, maybe Saturday the 12th?

Monday, April 7, 2008

Signing Day

April 1st is the first day of Earth Month, April Fools' Day, and the day the Governor of the State of Washington signed three good bills for the environment that Earth Ministry helped to pass this year in the state legislature.

What a glorious day it was! Every daffodil in Western Washington was waving its little yellow face toward us as we drove down. The Capitol campus was shining in the spring sunbursts and now that the legislative session is over the pace of life is more like a charming Northwestern town than a full-blown Ulcer Gulch. I brought Kobil, a former intern from EarthCorps, with me to witness democracy in action; our dog Rusty came along, too, because he loves the grounds of the Capitol. Rusty had to wait in the car, though, and didn't get a pen with the Governor's name on it.

I was proud to be a part of the team of citizen activists who joyfully joined Gregoire in the signing room, proud to be part of the organization that is the leading voice for the faith community on each of these bills. There we were, in front of God and everybody, cheering as the Children's Safe Products Act, Local Solutions, and Evergreen Communities bills were signed into law.

First up was the signing of Toxic-Free Legacy Coalition's ban on lead, cadmium, and phthalates in children's toys. This bill would seem like a no-brainer, has long been the law in Europe, and had good support in both houses of the legislature. As a cradle Catholic who heard a lot about protecting life as I was growing up, eliminating poison in kid's toys seems like a pretty reasonable faith choice. Earth Ministry is a partner in a nation-wide campaign with the National Council of Churches to support such legislation, and on April 1st we were the first state to deliver on that partnership. I was happy!

The Local Solutions bill was the second signing we attended, a hard-fought victory for Futurewise, one of Earth Ministry's partners in the environmental Priorities for a Healthy Washington. This bill supports local governments in considering climate change as a concern in land use planning. The bottom line is that the more our neighborhoods are based on the car, the more we drive and greenhouse gases we produce, the more damaged our atmosphere becomes. If governments plan development so that people live closer to where they want to be, everyone benefits.

Again I shook the Governor's hand and said thanks on behalf of Earth Ministry and people of faith in Washington State.

Finally, we went in with the good leaders of the Audubon Society to watch Gregoire sign their bill Evergreen Communities that supports model tree ordinances. This is a bill that Christians can get behind because it prioritizes reforestation of the poorest neighborhoods and promotes environmental health for those who need it most. Audubon is in it for the birds, of course, and that alone is a good enough reason, though the benefits to human well-being are real too.

Kobil and I came out of the signings, threw the ball for Rusty in the spring sunshine, took some pictures on the Capitol steps, and headed for home.
What a great way to begin Earth Month; no fooling!

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Working for the Earth!

From Maiko Minami, Earth Ministry Intern

Today, I joined the first event for Earth Ministry in Earth Month! I went to Seward Park this morning to pull out invasive weeds, English Ivy. This reminded me of the class where I have learned invasive trees at Seattle University. I did not know that Ivy was a harmful to trees before. So, when I was in Japan, whenever I saw trees covered with Ivy, I thought that they were mysterious and even beautiful with its vines. But, after I learned the fact of invasive weeds' power that kills native trees in class and experienced the hands-on study my view has changed little by little.
Today, I saw trees covered with them differently. I felt really sad about it. I saw these trees as if they were shouting out for the help. They were crying because they did not want to die. So, when I tore the vines off from the these trees, I felt I was saving the life of the trees, which is precious to us and God. All the work I did today was for God. Because it was for God who gave us eternal grace, I could keep doing the work today even among the prickly bush on the maddy land.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Five Minutes or Less

So you’ve heard us touting Earth Ministry’s partnership with the Seattle Climate Action Now campaign to fight global warming, but really, what does that mean for the average person?
One answer to that question is in the Seattle CAN home energy kits.

One of the more popular items in the kit is the shower timer. A simple hourglass style like you find in most board games, the timer sticks to the tiles of your bath and measures approximately five minutes. All you have to do is “Beat the Clock”, and finish your shower before the time runs out.

I tried it out the other day, with interesting results. I set it when I got in the shower, but didn’t rush unusually – I wanted to see how long my showers typically are, when not trying to hurry. I washed my hair, soaped up, rinsed off, the whole nine yards. Then I stopped the water and checked the timer. I’d used up about two thirds of the sand in the timer, which would be about three and a half minutes, more or less. So I tried it again the following day, and threw in conditioning my hair too. It took more time, but I still finished with sand left over. And again the next day.

I had my husband try it, with similar results. He finished with about two minutes to spare. And remember – we’re not rushing! Ever the comedian, he said it was great to know that he’s not using up “his fair share” of the hot water, and planned on adding two minutes to his shower from now on. (Before we get tons of angry comments, he was just kidding!) But it just shows how easy it can be to take one small step to stop climate change.

Think a humble hourglass can't fight global warming? Consider this: reducing shower time from an average of 7.9 minutes to 5 minutes for an average household would save about 339 kWh of electricity a year, assuming an electric hot water heater. Each household would also save 2,679 gallons of water each year.

If 10,000 people reduced their showering like this, Seattle residents could save more than 3.39 million kWh per year, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of 2,034 metric tons of carbon dioxide. That's like taking 452 cars off the road for a year.

You can get a free home energy kit too! For a limited time, the kits, which include an energy-efficient light bulb, door-hanger, how-to weatherization video, coupon for a smart energy strip, and that ever-popular shower timer, are available through your Seattle Neighborhood Service Center or Earth Ministry. You can stop by a Service Center anytime, or look for the Earth Ministry table at many of our upcoming Earth Month events.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Earth Month Restoration Event!

April and Earth Month have definitely arrived. The sun is shining, the cherry trees are blossoming, and yes, the weeds are growing!

Our urban forests and natural spaces are a wonderful treasure, especially for families with children. During the past year, Earth Ministry has partnered with EarthCorps to work on restoration projects in local parks. It has been an extraordinarily gratifying experience to see people of faith getting their hands dirty for the environment! An amazing amount of progress can be made when we join together for a short four-hour session of pulling ivy or planting native shrubs.

This weekend, help Earth Ministry & EarthCorps kick-off Earth Month with a family-oriented restoration event at Seward Park in Seattle!

Earth Ministry participants will gather at 9:30am on Saturday, April 5, for prayer and reflection with Outreach Coordinator Kaitlin Torgerson. The whole group will remove invasive species and work on general forest maintenance from 10:00am-2:00pm, and people are encouraged to bring a light lunch or snack to eat during a short noontime break. Earth Ministry will gather again at the end of the afternoon to give thanks for God’s good Earth and our companionship on the journey.

Sign up by via e-mail ( or phone (206.632.2426). It would be great to see lots of Earth Ministry representation on this project!

Directions to April 5 event: Enter Seward Park. Go around the circular drive and past the Environmental Education Center (on your right). Stay to the right and go uphill. Follow the EarthCorps event signs to continue around the paved loop, past all of the picnic shelters to the amphitheater. Park here and look for the Registration tent. Earth Ministry group will meet for reflection in a nearby shelter.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Earth Day becomes Earth Month

From Deanna Matzen, Earth Ministry Operations Manager

It began in the early 1960s. Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring, was published in September of 1962, awakening America to the environmental crisis before us. Shortly thereafter, Wisconsin Senator Gaylor Nelson felt increasingly troubled by the lack of political concern for the natural world and began to speak on environmental issues around the country. After six years on the stump, Senator Nelson was inspired by Vietnam-era “teach-ins” to create a day of grassroots protest over what was happening to the environment. This became “the germ that ultimately flowered into Earth Day”.

In April 1970, Earth Day became the largest nationwide grassroots demonstration on behalf of the environment in the history of the United States. Over 20 million demonstrators and thousands of schools and local communities participated. Senator Nelson did not have the time or resources to organize them all, but that was the amazing thing about Earth Day – it organized itself.

Thirty-eight years later, we are still celebrating Earth Day. Once a day to protest, now a day to celebrate, Earth Day has become too small. Somewhere along the way, within the last decade, the idea of expanding Earth Day into Earth Week and then to Earth Month was born. This was an idea whose time had come, and the concept of Earth Month spread though the US, as local municipalities, schools and colleges, public utility districts and clubs began inviting local communities to participate.

But Earth Month is not just for civic institutions. Earth Month is for churches too. At Earth Ministry, we hear more and more about congregations like St. John United Lutheran, who use every Sunday in April to celebrate a different aspect of creation such as water, earth, air, transportation and food. This excitement for people of faith to participate in Earth Month is truly evident in Seattle where multiple events will be happening simultaneously this year.

Seattle’s April events calendar epitomizes the growth of Earth Day into Earth Month. For information on events happening during April, please see Earth Ministry's website.

Wherever you live, Earth Ministry is recommending a four-part, well-rounded curriculum for celebrating Earth Month:

  • Be active - Engage in a physical activity that gets you up close and personal with nature. Go for a hike, join a field trip, volunteer at a community garden, or participate in a habitat restoration project in your area.
  • Get inspired – Read a book on faith and the environment. A few suggestions are Sallie McFague’s Super, Natural Christians; Matthew Sleeth’s Serve God, Save the Planet; Roger S. Gottlieb’s A Greener Faith: Religious Environmentalism and Our Planet's Future or Robert Hamma’s devotional, Earth’s Echo: Sacred Encounters with Nature. Of course, Earth Ministry’s books and publications are also a fine choice!
  • Worship – Incorporate creation-honoring liturgy into your church service. Earth Ministry is encouraging churches to celebrate Earth Month in worship on Sunday, April 20th. There is a wealth of liturgical information on Earth Ministry’s website to help you plan.
  • Be in community – Consider rounding out Earth Month with a locally-grown or vegetarian meal with family and friends on Sunday, April 27th.

We are a community of believers, brought together by our love of God’s creation. Earth Month is a time to celebrate the bounty God has given us! It is our hope that you would find a new way to celebrate, remember, and honor God’s creation this year.