Monday, March 30, 2009

Pickin' Up The Trash

By Chris Olson, Outreach Coordinator

Caroline Bartlett. Her name is probably unfamiliar to most people. I had never heard of her before reading about her this week in Women Pioneers for the Environment, but her efforts in Kalamazoo, Michigan in the early 1900's helped lead to changes in cities around the country. Bartlett's environmental career started after she was ordained as a Unitarian minister. As the leader of a women's study group in her church, she arranged for the group to tour seven local slaughterhouses to learn more about meat inspection. The sanitary conditions the women observed in the slaughterhouses so horrified and appalled them that they took the issue up with city officials and Michigan's Board of Health. After leaders failed to act, Bartlett drafted a bill on meat inspection regulations herself, introduced it to the legislature, and then lobbied for the bill to key elected officials. The bill passed in 1903! From there she went on to become a nationally recognized sanitation expert who, at the request of over sixty cities, performed city-wide inspections and surveys on issues of solid waste collection and disposal practices, the cities' water supplies, and conditions at open markets, grocery stores, public schools, hospitals, and streets and allies. With the help of the Women's Civic Improvement League (which Bartlett created), she designed an new, more effective, and less expensive street-cleaning system for the city of Kalamazoo. Thanks to the leadership of this creation care hero, cities became healthier and cleaner, meat safer to eat, and people around the nation began to recognize the importance of picking up after themselves.

This week the new recycling and composting program goes into effect around Seattle. A tiny, new Food and Yard Waste bin was dropped off at our house a few weeks ago. I have to say I'm kinda in love with it. I'm enrolled in the Master Composter/Soil Builder class with Seattle Tilth and Seattle Public Utilities and in our session last Wednesday we painstakingly picked through a bag of trash and sorted each piece it into the three separate bins: recycling, food and yard waste, and plain old garbage. If you haven't taken a look at what can and what shouldn't be thrown away click on this link to check out a great PDF that lays the new system out for you. The best news is that anything that is food can go in the food and yard waste container. That includes meat and dairy. ALL FOOD! That's fantastic! Consuming less and reducing the amount of trash we each throw away is obviously the best option but making sure that we recycle and compost what we can is equally important in our creation care efforts. My act of love this week is to spend an evening picking up garbage around my neighborhood, throwing away trash and recycling everything else. Hopefully the weather will cooperate when I'm out on my garbage mission channeling the spirit of Caroline Bartlett!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Earth Hour Tomorrow from 8:30-9:30!

This Saturday at 8:30-9:30 PM is Earth Hour, when all over the Earth people are turning their lights out to acknowledge how much energy we humans use and how much renewable energy we must find to protect our sweet blue globe. According to the official Earth Hour website, Earth Hour is "a symbolic event designed to engage people from all walks of life in the climate change discussion to send a strong message to our political leaders that we want them to take meaningful action on climate change. The main point of Earth Hour is to unite people, companies and governments around the world through the symbolic flip of a switch." Click on the picture below to watch a video clip about Earth Hour.

We at Earth Ministry and Washington Interfaith Power & Light encourage all faith communities to participate in this fantastic global event. Take a moment tomorrow night, in the wonder of the darkness, to say a prayer of thanks for this beautiful planet, all its creatures, and for all those who are joining together in a worldwide call to care for creation.

Eating Less and Enjoying it More

By Jessie Dye, Program & Outreach Director

Not eating between meals for Lent is the real deal for me-an honest to God sacrifice and learning opportunity. I didn’t realize that I ate constantly. I had no idea that I nibbled the entire time I cooked. No wonder I always lost weight when I traveled—no kitchens!

For a few weeks I was hungry; then I started eating huge meals to make up for lack of large, frequent snacks. Enormous meals don’t digest well, I realized. At night, I actually had to fight with myself not creep into the kitchen for a late evening bite. Forgoing night eating caused me to rise earlier and eat bigger breakfasts and then less the next night. This Lent is habit-braking; I am slowly turning healthy.

Excess—for me it’s eating constantly, for you it may be isolating too much, drinking too much, spending too much—anything that takes us away from the moment and from our real feelings, is a kind of addiction. It masks the pain of our humanity with gluttony, numbness, obsessing, whatever. Fasting brings that pain right to the front burner. It takes skill and patience to feel those feelings and learn what their message is. When you fast and feel and acknowledge sorrow and unmet needs, something else happens. The pain passes, the desire lessens, the habit breaks.

Lo, I’m feeling better, more energy, less fascinated with food. Of course this may revert when Easter Day arrives, I’m no saint. For the rest of the season, though, I’m holding my own, feeling my body and my feelings, and praying for protection and direction for me God’s children.

Oh, and turning out my lights this Saturday night at 8:30 for Earth Hour.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Justice Everywhere

By Deanna Matzen

This week I plan on praying for justice for all of creation and all of God's people. There are those who do not believe that creation is worthy of receiving justice in its own right. Yet, there are many who live out the truth that human/social justice is inextricably linked to environmental justice.

As Jessie Dye often says, if you were to take a map highlighting all of the places where violence is taking place and overlay it with a map highlighting all of the places where the environment is degraded and suffering, you would see a nearly perfect overlay of the two maps.

I don't know about you, but I don't pray for enough justice in those places. I do not pray enough for wrongs to be set right. For people and creatures to be considered as valuable enough to protect in all circumstances.

As Martin Luther King Jr once said:

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

Please join me this week in praying for justice everywhere from the Sahara Desert to the Pacific Islands, from the Andes Mountains to the Arctic Sea. I think this is going to be another good week to "Pray the Environmental News" and ask for God's will to be birthed on Earth as it is in Heaven.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Vote Earth for Earth Hour on 3.28.09

Unlike any election in history, this is not about what country you're from, but instead, what planet you're from.

- Earth Hour began in Sydney, Australia when 2.2 million homes and businesses switched off their lights for one hour.

2008 - The message had grown into a global sustainability movement, with 50 million people switching off their lights. Global landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, Rome's Colosseum, the Sydney Opera House and the Coca Cola billboard in Times Square all stood in darkness.

2009 - Earth Hour is being taken to the next level, with the goal of 1 billion people switching off their lights as a part of a global vote. Vote EARTH by turning your lights off for one hour on March 28th. Vote Earth is a global call to stand up and take control over the future of our planet. Over 74 countries and territories have pledged their support and at Earth Ministry we are joining them.

Vote Earth

The World Wildlife Fund is urging the world to VOTE EARTH and reach the target of 1 billion votes, which will be presented to the world leaders at the Global Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in 2009. This meeting will determine official government policies to take action against global warming, which will replace the Kyoto Protocol. It is a chance for the people of the world to make their voices hear.

To learn more about what thousands of people around the world are doing this Saturday check out Earth Hour.

To hear how governing bodies around the world are asking their citizens to participate check out statements from UN sites around the world.

Global climate change threatens the environmental and human health all over the world. At Earth Ministry we work to inspire and mobilize the Christian community to play a leadership role in building a just and sustainable future. Voting for the earth is just one way that we can do this. Join us on March 28th and Vote Earth!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

World Water Day

by Beth Anderson, Outreach Associate

This past Sunday was World Water Day--a day to consider how our lives and our planet are intricately tied to our shared water usage. As I read Chamberlain's Troubled Waters, I think about what I can do within my own part of the puzzle.

Drip, drip, drip...drip, drip. That was the sound of water slowly trickling out of my bathtub faucet. It had been leaking for a while now, but I was busy and assumed it would be more complicated to fix than I had time for. So I let the water drip. For too long.

Last Saturday, after reading another chapter about the sacredness and relative scarcity of water, I finally decided to fix it. I gathered up some tools, blocked out a little time, and went in to check it out. What did I find? I found out that the drip, drip, drip was due to a simple loose screw on the head of the faucet. I didn't need much mechanical know-how to tighten the screw, re-adjust the handle, and stop wasting precious water.

What can you do to celebrate World Water Day? here are a few ideas: check for drips, install a water-saving toilet and/or shower head, turn off the faucet while you're brushing your teeth, or plant native trees and shrubs that don't require extra watering in the summer.

In a related note, an important international action is taking place this Saturday evening: Earth Hour. At 8:30pm local time, turn off your lights to reduce your carbon footprint and to express your support for sustainable energy use!Link

Monday, March 23, 2009

Our Manufactured Landscapes

By Chris Olson, Outreach Coordinator

Sometimes I forget as I go about my daily routines just how much of an impact I have on the Earth. The number of physical and material products I consume and utilize in order to survive is massive. Its not often that I consider how, collectively, humans as a species are phenomenal changers. We can build and change our planet so drastically that the changes can be seen from outer space. The Three Gorges Dam in China is one such project.

This week, among the many incredible women I read about in Women Pioneers for the Environment, I learned about Dai Qing. Dai, a journalist working for a Beijing newspaper, was sent to prison for ten months (six of them in solitary confinement) for publicly opposing the massive Three Gorges Dam project on the Yangtze River in China. In 1989, she organized and published a collection of essays, interviews, and statements by Chinese intellectuals, scientists, and writers who disagreed with the Chinese government's decision to build what is to be the biggest dam on the planet. For Dai it was more than just an environmental issue, it was a human rights issue "involving freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and a more democratic decision-making process." The dam will cost more than $24 billion dollars and will "flood 100,000 acres of fertile farmland, submerge 13 towns and cities 657 factories, displace over 1 million people, obstruct navigation, cause extensive damage to wildlife and the environment, destroy Paleolithic archaeological relics, and obliterate what has been called the most beautiful river gorge in the world." Although Dai Qing's efforts have not stopped the Chinese government's plans for the dam she did help raise opposition of the project at the risk of her own livelihood and safety and since 1989 has written multiple books and articles about the environment disaster of the Three Gorges Dam as well as received numerous environmental awards from organizations around the world.

Last year I saw a movie called Manufactured Landscapes (click on the link to watch the trailer) and was struck by the realization of just how much humans can impact the surface of the Earth. This week I rented the movie again and am going to watch it with my roommates. Learning is an act of love and I would like those in my community to have a better understanding of the toll industrialization and globalization is taking on the Earth. One segment in the film looks specifically at the Three Gorges Dam project. I was amazed and horrified as I watched footage of this monstrous human endeavor. We are called to care for all creation and often I am reminded of the Tower of Babel when I hear about construction projects around the world that push aside God's creation in favor of fame, power, and recognition. If any of you get the chance to watch or rent Manufactured Landscapes I would recommend it. It is a quiet yet powerful movie and provides stunning visuals of the impact we have on creation.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Give Thanks in All Circumstances

By Deanna Matzen

I am recovering from wrist surgery this week, so must keep this short. This week for my Lenten prayers, I will be giving thanks to God as we are commanded to do in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.

"Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."

This verse has meant much to me over the last few years as I have struggled with many personal circumstances that seemed to stand in contrast to the good and loving God I worship. It has not really been until this last year that I have been able to give thanks to God in all circumstances, which I clearly demarcate from giving thanks for all circumstances, at least for now (I reserve the right to change my theology in the future).

What I have discovered is that like the tulips, daffodils, and crocuses emerging from the ground in the spring, life always emerges out of places that seemed full of death and darkness. That is the power and truth of the Gospel. So this week, let us give thanks to God for the gifts of creation, no matter the circumstances, having faith that God alone can and will bring life out of death.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

How to Pray with Your Body

By Mikaila Gawryn
Outreach Associate

A few weeks ago I blogged about my Lenten practice of praying with my body. I thought I would provide the basic structure of the prayer I have been using for others to try on their own. The fabulous thing about prayer is that each is unique to its speaker. In the case of a body prayer each is unique to the body that moves it. This is particularly helpful for me, because I've forgotten some of the exact phrasing of the prayer that I learned originally! Here is what has stuck with me.

I encourage you to follow along with these words and movements or practice your own. I've included a description of each movement in bold text with the accompanying words in italics.

A Body Prayer to Begin the Day

1. Begin by facing North. With eyes closed, open your right arm out to your side. As I begin this prayer I open my right arm in offering and appreciation for all that is human. All the gifts of human culture and wisdom, humor, love and weakness. With eyes closed, open your left arm out to your side, creating the shape of a T with your body. As I begin this prayer I open my left arm in appreciation for all that is more than human. I honor the creation, the heavens and our Creator.

2. Bend, reaching your hands to the ground and gather up the air at your feet, as if there were a small or large rock. As I face north I bend to gather up the wisdom of the earth. I gather up the gifts and the lessons to be learned. Hold the air to your body as you stand up, and then lift it above your head. I offer these gifts, lessons, and pieces of wisdom to the heavens. God, may you use them for your work. Release the air to the sky.

3. After your arms have settled back at your sides reach them once more over your head. Gather up the air above your head, as if you were picking leaves off of a tall tree. As I face North, I turn my face to the heavens and reach for the gifts of wisdom that God is offers me today. Hold the air to your body as you slowly bend and lay it on the ground. And I bend I hold these lessons and gifts. I offer them for the healing of the nations and the peace of all people.

4. Once you are standing again open your arms out in front of you. As I face North I open my heart and arms to the gifts of wisdom that come from the past and the present. Gather the air in front of you. Turn to the South and release the gifts by opening your arms to the new direction. I turn to face South, offering these gifts for healing in the future.

5. Repeat steps 1-4 facing each of the Cardinal directions.

6. When you have finished turn to face the brightest source of light. Take a few moments to consider what characteristics you want to embody or live into today. (e.g. Love, open-heartedness, trust, forgiveness) Now I face the light. Today I choose to take a step forward in Trust. Step forward, first with your right foot and then with your left. Today I also choose to take a step forward in Love. Step forward with your left foot, and then with your right foot. You now will be standing two full steps ahead of where you began your practice. Amen.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Beyond Speech

By Chris Olson, Outreach Coordinator

For the past four days I was at the Lutheran Volunteer Corps Mid-Year Retreat. It was wonderfully refreshing and gave the 19 LVCers in WA a good chance to relax in community with one another. On Sunday I had the chance to take part in my first ever silent retreat. From 10:30 until 4:45 there would be no talking amongst the group. We were encouraged to find a place and meditate or simply sit. I used this opportunity to sit with a tree as I wrote about in my last blog. After spending the morning journaling in my room and then napping a little (napping is silent, right?!), I set out on a hike to find a tree...or more appropriate, allow a tree to find me.
The deepest level of communication is not communication, but communion. It is wordless. It is beyond words, and it is beyond speech...Not that we discover a new unity. We discover an older unity. My dear friends, we are already one. But we imagine that we are not...
~Thomas Merton
I passed by the cabins at the retreat center, found my way to the muddy hiking path, and started out. The trail took me to a part of the forest marked "Fern Gully". If there was ever a place to sit with a tree, this had to be it. A few paces into Fern Gully I found myself in front of an enormous old pine tree that had a perfect little stump in front of it for me to sit on. My tree had found me. I then realized I had overlooked something when imagining this act of love towards all creation....I would be sitting in solidarity with only a tiny portion of the whole organism! Taking up my position at the base of the trunk, I was amazed to see so much moss growing on the bark. Dark green, light green, gray, brown, so many colors. I moved my face in real close so I could see into every nook and cranny. After some more observation I closed my eyes and just sat with the tree. I imagined I was invisible. After a time of silence I was struck by how peaceful it was in the woods....and that the tree experienced that peace all the time. The more I thought about it the more convinced I was that peace is really all a tree could ever want. Anything beyond is unnecessary. Simple peace. This tree I was sitting with was doing only job it ever could: live. It did this peacefully with all the other organisms surrounding it. What would it look like if I simply lived? Gave up my worries, my wants, my inner chaos and just did what came peacefully and naturally to my soul. How would such a life look? I took off my glove and stood with my hand on the tree (Vulcan mind-meld style, for those who know the method) and meditated on the word "peace" with the tree. After a few minutes I stepped away and quietly headed back towards camp. I know my "act of love" for this week wasn't earth shattering or epic, but it was a way to connect with the greater circle of life that often gets overlooked as I bustle about my day. It centered me in Creation and I hope the tree in Fern Gully is feeling a little more peaceful as a result.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

A Lenten Call to Worship

Leader- The ice is breaking up, the shad are running, Spring tantalizes.

People- There is a sense of a big ship reversing course, and economy circling around itself, a politics dying and rebirthing.

Leader- We wonder whether to be happy or sad, to grieve or rejoice, to be bothered or enchanted.

People- Lent lengthens our bewilderment, bewitching as it bothers.
Leader- Today, O God, turn us around toward joy.

All- Set our faces on hope. Bother us with possibility. Amen.

Unison Prayer

Let the ice break up in us, O God, in our spirits and our homes, our vexations and our bewilderments, our nation and our globe. Make us frugalistas, people who know how to make really good use of trouble, people on whom nothing is wasted. Amen.
Prayer provided by Donna Schaper
Photo by Peter Brake

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Poison Necklace

by Jessie Dye

The six weeks before Easter, called Lent in our Christian tradition, is a time of fasting and austerity. We remember the journey of Jesus in the desert, praying, fasting and facing temptations. We give up our worst vices for the duration; increasingly many people of faith are taking this liturgical season to reduce their carbon footprint and live mores sustainably. For myself, I’m giving up eating between meals for six weeks, in the tradition of the pre-Vatican II Catholics of my parent’s generation.

Because I’m eating less frequently (if not fewer calories) I’ve become intensely interested in what is good to eat and what is not. I know what I crave after 10:00 PM, and it isn’t celery. And one thing I wouldn’t recommend anyone chewing on, at meals or otherwise, is the pretty red beaded necklace I recently wore to Olympia.

Thursday was the Toxic Free Legacy Coalition Lobby Day in the State Capitol. Many of us environmental health enthusiasts carpooled to Olympia to ask our legislators to pass the ban on bisphenol-A (BPA). It’s called the Safe Baby Bottle Act of 2009. This chemical is an estrogen-mimicker; it was originally created as hormone replacement for woman. When that didn’t work, the chemical industry decided to use it to line baby bottles and canned food. Now it creates havoc in the bodies of children and animals. I’m not going to say what it does to baby boys; gentlemen you would cringe if you knew. It causes infertility in adult men and breast cancer in adult women, and isn’t necessary for baby bottles. If I may ask, please call the Washington State legislative hotline (1-800-562-6000) and ask your legislator to ban BPA!

The real eye-opener for me at the Toxic Free Lobby Day, however, was realizing that my lovely red necklace is poison. I dressed up in a grey suit for the occasion so I would look put-together and important. Legislators would think I knew what I was talking about. The red necklace was a bright touch, I thought. Unfortunately it is made out of lead beads and would be poison to any baby I might pick up who decided to chew my beads.

I found this out because the folks at the Toxics Coalition running the Lobby Day partnered with a company called Essco Safety Check which tests toys and other object for toxicity. Essco’s president, Seth Goldberg, wielded a tool that he pressed against the red beads to reveal a 53% lead content. Mr. Goldberg kindly told me that I was safe because the lead is crystallized in the bead—but were I to swallow it I could get pretty sick.

All I could think about were my own babies twenty years ago resting on my hip and chewing on my necklaces. I can recall breaking a string of beads and them rolling under the couch for toddlers or the dogs to chew. There is no safe amount of lead that a child can take in. No matter what I give up for Lent, the risk to children from lead, BPA, and other toxic chemicals goes on all year and between meals. No more red beads in my house.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Consider the Lilies

By Deanna Matzen

My prayer theme for the last week was confessing sins seen in the local and world-wide environmental news. I confessed on behalf of humanity the sins that we have committed against God and all of creation from the Exxon Valdez oil spill to Chernobyl to dying water resources to how we treat animals, to name a few.

The most challenging aspects of prayer this last week were making time and not becoming overwhelmed by the state of the world (environmental news can be such a downer). Yet there were times when, by the end of confessing, I found myself thanking God. This surprised me, yet it is the exact place where hope is found. I thanked God for the renewal of animal life in the Chernobyl "exclusion zone" and the creativity of people seeking to solve our environmental problems. It is a reminder that when all seems bleak and hopeless, God is creating life. Sometimes we just have to look and wait patiently for that life.

For the coming week, I've decided to change my prayer schedule because of some bleak news at Earth Ministry. The economic downturn has hit close to home for our organization. Last year's donations were down at a time when our work is expanding and thriving. Even though we anticipated a tough fundraising year in 2009, we were hopeful until this week. Over the course of the last two days, we learned that we lost a grant from a trusted foundation and failed to procure a new foundation grant that we were counting on to fund Washington Interfaith Power & Light, our newest project. Combined with falling donations from our members, this is very disheartening and the staff are worried. So I am calling our friends and supporters to pray for us this week that hope may be restored and God may bring life to our places of fear and concern.

The phrase that kept coming to mind yesterday was, "Consider the lilies". In Luke 12:27, Jesus says:

"Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well."

The staff and board of Earth Ministry need to trust God and to seek the Father's kingdom. But we need your prayer support to help us do just that. Here is how I will be praying this week, I hope you will join your voice with mine:
  • Pray for the peace that passes all understanding for the staff and board, espeically LeeAnne who bears the burden of our operating budget and the tough choices that have to be made.

  • Pray that the staff would have discernment on where to focus our work in the midst of more requests than we can honor.

  • Pray that the staff would find balance between work and the rest of our lives.

  • Pray for God's financial provision - for the storehouses of heaven to be opened.

  • Pray that God would remove the barriers from the foundations who are wowed by our work but keep turning us down for grants.

  • Ask God what you can do to support Earth Ministry this year. If you're not a member, please pray about making a financial contribution to support this important work that speaks to your heart, soul, and passions. If you are a member, pray about increasing your gift or about how you could raise funds for Earth Ministry. It could be as simple as a bake sale or if you're good at crafts, sell some at a bazaar and donate a portion of the proceeds, or give a gift membership for someone who loves the environment or climb a mountain and get people to sponsor you. With God creativity is endless! The staff and board can not do this work alone, we need you.

The demand for Earth Ministry's presence and resources increases every year, but our budget doesn't. Please, pray for us. It's going to be a tough year.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Alter of Perfection

By: Mikaila Gawryn
Outreach Associate

Asparagus: Slightly Mushy

This was my paramount thought last night as I pushed my plate back. I had prepared a meal for some friends as an act of love, one part of my Lenten practice.

When I set out to cook a meal for someone else once a week during Lent I had not considered that the process might be difficult. Lent is a time for sharing acts of love and upon reflection I considered how I might act in loving ways through my food choices. I deeply enjoy eating, preparing and sharing food. And I enjoy it even more when that food is farmed, produced, distributed and served in ways the bring healing and peace to God's creation and her people. (Check out one of my favorite organizations doing this work, the Washington Sustainable Food and Farming Network, by clicking above.)

I decided I would try to use fresh, local, organic and sustainable foods, so as to offer a gift of love to my community, and to the earth that would provide the ingredients. After I had come up with that idea I assumed enjoying a meal with friends once a week would be full of blessings. It has been surprisingly difficult.

The greatest surprise has been my own habit of critiquing. For example: While I'm picking produce I worry that I won't be purchasing enough (I'm new to cooking for groups). While I'm cooking I worry that I'll burn the fish, or cook the asparagus for too long. Last night I chided myself when I forgot to let the garlic heat in olive oil prior to adding vegetables.

What if we have to eat raw garlic?!?!
I thought.

The real question should have been "Why am I so wrapped up in the perfection of a sauteed root vegetable?"

My anxiety about giving a not-exactly-perfect gift kept me from thinking about the process of giving as an act of love. The outcome was a slightly less than gourmet menu, however one that was full of love:

Asparagus: Slightly Mushy
Halibut: A Bit Dry
Hearty Bread and Fruit Salad: Loved By All
For more info on how I chose these products click the above links.

The cooking and dining experience this week reminded me of something that David Dompke once said at Earth Ministry's 2005 Celebration of St. Francis. He was speaking of environmental work and progress, and shared the following suggestion: "Do not sacrifice the good on the alter of the perfect." His words reminded me that we are only human.

Whether offering a small gift of love, like a home-made meal, or working toward changing huge environmental realities like global climate change we can offer our gifts, and trust that God will fill in the holes. For me this means mentally letting go of mushy asparagus or slightly undercooked garlic, and acknowledging the value in giving a gift, even when it is not perfect.

Monday, March 9, 2009

To Sit With A Tree

By Chris Olson, Outreach Coordinator

The United Church of Christ's website describes Lent as "a season of self-examination, prayer, fasting, and works of love." For Lent this year I am focusing on works of love, specifically towards the environment. I decided to do a personal book study of Women Pioneers for the Environment by Mary Joy Breten. The book profiles 42 women who, through their passion and acts of love, helped start, support, or push forward the conservation movement in the 19th and 20th centuries. Each week I will read a couple chapters and then set time aside for an intentional act of love for the environment based off of the profiles of the women I read about. In her Preface and Introduction, Mary Joy writes "Women's concern for the health of the planet dates back centuries. For example, Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), a German nun, writer, artist, and mystic, forewarned about the ecological peril now facing the earth. From the beginning of the more recent environmental movement, women have been the force driving grassroots activism. Women...stepped out of their traditional, subservient roles and created profound changes that help ensure the fundamental right of all living things to a healthy world."

The first chapter, entitled "Tree Huggers and Tree Planters", profiles six women including Amrita Devi, Colleen McCrory, Judi Bari, Harriet Bullitt, Kathryn Fuller, and Wangari Maathai. Luckily for me, Wangari Maathai is one of my environmental heroes so I was incredibly excited to read more about her. In 1977, Maathai started the Green Belt Movement in Kenya, a movement now made up of over sixty thousand women who grow and plant native trees to reforest and rejuvenate the Kenyan countryside. Maathai was the first woman in East or Central Africa to earn a doctorate, become an associate professor at the University of Nairobi, or head a department at the university. From 2003- 2007 she served as Assistant Minister for Environment and Natural Resources in Kenya's ninth parliament. In 2004, Maathai and the Greenbelt Movement were awarded the Nobel Prize.

I had the good fortune of meeting Wangari a few years ago (check out the picture!!) and hear her speak about her experiences in Kenya over the past 30 years. She told a story that had a powerful effect on me as a college student trying to figure out how to make a difference in the world, yet seeing the often hopeless headlines and news reports about environmental destruction. I will summarize it for you. There was a beautiful forest that one day caught fire and the fire raged out of control across the land. All the animals in the forest fled to edge and stood watching the flames, feeling overwhelmed. Except one animal, a tiny hummingbird, decided to do something so it flew to the nearest stream, picked up a tiny drop of water in its beak, flew back to the forest, and dropped it over the fire. Back and forth it flew as fast as it could while all the other animals, such as the elephant with much a bigger trunk to carry water, stood watching and discouraging it saying, "What can you do? The fire is too big. Its hopeless." The little hummingbird simply said, "I'm doing the best I can."

Our small (or big) acts of love are the best we can do in the face of a seemingly hopeless situation, but it is our faith in our Creator, our planet, and the millions of acts of love from individuals around the world that fill us with hope and renew our efforts when we feel discouraged. This week I am going to take time to sit in silence, solidarity, and meditation with a tree. Maybe that sounds silly but how often do we take time to simply sit with some of the most amazing life forms in all of creation: living, growing, respirating trees. I'll let you know about my experience next week and in the mean time you can watch a video of Wangari Maathai telling her hummingbird story by clicking on this link or the picture of Wangari and I above.


Thursday, March 5, 2009

Cry for One

By Deanna Matzen

As you may recall, for the last week I have focused my Lenten practice of praying for the environment on praising God for the wonders of creation or praising God's character using nature images. On the praying front, I have to say that the more you praise God, the easier it gets and that's very encouraging and fun. On the practicing front, it's really hard to make time to pray. I've been very tired lately because of a busy home life as we're in the middle of a bathroom makeover and friends going through tough times. But when I make the time it is fruitful.
One of the exercises that was most enjoyable was from the book, Praying with St. Francis, which asked us to write our own Canticle. If you recall, St. Francis wrote Canticle of Brother Sun. Mine does not compare, but I encourage you all to try it if you feel the desire to express your gratitude to God for creation.

This coming week I'm focusing on prayers of confession. In a serendipitous event this morning, I was listening to NPR and the local station's environment reporter was interviewing a photo journalist who is in town to discuss her new book on the Exxon Valdez oil spill. She told the story of one of the photos in her book of a native woman crying. The native woman had asked the journalist if she had seen the dead animals. The journalist nodded. The woman then told how one day she was cleaning a beach and saw a little starfish covered in oil and started crying and couldn't stop until a friend came over and hugged her and said, "Cry for one, and try to save the rest."

It is not uncommon to feel great grief over environmental destruction. That is why I want to spend these weeks praying to God about the environment and lamenting those who have suffered at the hand of environmental sin. I want to confess the ways we've sinned against this world and ask God to forgive us. I want to confess my unforgiveness of environmental destroyers so that I may live in freedom and have the energy to keep trying to save the rest.

To help me focus this week, I decided to "Pray the News." I'm going to take time every day to read environmental news websites and then confess the sins of humanity that I see in those stories and ask God to forgive us all. If you want to engage in praying the news with me, here are some websites to get you started:

I hope you will join with me in evoking the power of God to help us all.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

We Are The Carriers of Gifts

By Mikaila Gawryn
Outreach Associate

I begin facing North. In this time of Lent I hope to draw closer to God in a number of ways. The first is by practicing a Body Prayer in the mornings. Although a body prayer is not the traditional Lenten practice, I am looking forward to the opportunity to focus on my faith in a new way. I'd like to share two of my reflections on this practice so far.

I first learned this prayer at Holden Village when Earth Ministry staff and members gathered for a week of reflection and learning this past summer. Our Executive Director LeeAnne Beres and Outreach Associate Beth Anderson led a session called "Movement and Prayer" and introduced a number of ways to physically "speak" the prayers of our hearts. The prayer I enjoyed the most mixed words with movement, and included powerful images of engaging with the earth.

The prayer involves facing each of the four cardinal directions (North, South, East and West), and at each direction bending to the earth and in turn lifting my face to the sky. With each direction I speak the following words:

"Now I face the North, bending to gather up the wisdom
and the gifts of the earth,and [standing] offer them to the heavens. [After I let my arms fall to my side, I raise them again saying:] And now I open myself up to the heavens, and I gather all the gifts and the wisdom of the heavens and [stooping low to the ground] I offer them for the fruitfulness of the earth."

Repeating this process in each of the four directions reminds me that as a human being I am simply a carrier of gifts. I can perceive, although only in limited ways, great gifts of God, and I have the opportunity to carry and offer them for the fruitfulness of the earth. I also have the ability to learn from this creation, and can carry the wisdom I gain from it back to the Creator, offering it in praise.

This prayer also gives me the chance to practice receiving, and then letting go of the gifts I am given. It reminds me that holding onto a gift too tightly or for too long can make me depend upon that gift instead of God, the one who gives it. In a year where loss seems all around us I am thankful for the daily opportunity to practice holding gifts lightly and trusting in God's continued provision in a time of change.

As I continue to practice my body prayer throughout Lent I will share more reflections. Perhaps you pray in physical ways too, if so, feel free to share them with us here. If not perhaps Lent is a good time to learn more about engaging your faith physically. Blessings to you on this Lenten journey!


photos of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Company

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Water: A Lenten Encounter with the Source of Life

Beth Anderson, Outreach Associate

My previous Lenten commitments have always been focused on me, me, me and what I can change in my own life. I gave up buying new shoes. I gave up eating out-of-season produce. I decided to eat a vegan diet.

These individual actions have a clear impact on my personal life and, by extension, the life of the planet. However, this year I feel the need to do something a little less concrete and to learn more about an issue that remains outside my own experience.

For the next six weeks I will be reading the book Troubled Waters: Religion, Ethics, and the Global Water Crisis, by Seattle University professor Gary Chamberlain. As I make my way through the text I will share my insights, learnings, and general musings about water.

I’ll start with this anecdote: I read the first pages of Chamberlain’s book while sitting in a window seat on a Linkbus bound north from downtown Seattle on I-5. After a short break to gaze out at Lake Union and Lake Washington, as the bus passed over the ship canal, I returned to read these words—“I am circumscribed by water.” Indeed! I am inextricably connected to the water of my past, present, and future and it is truly my source of life.

If you’re interested in thinking about the global water crisis as your own Lenten practice, check out Earth Ministry’s NEW website for water-related resources…or simply continue reading my weekly blogs.

Note: My husband and I are also continuing our tradition of eating a vegan diet during Lent, and that practice might occasionally find its way into my blog entries!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Remember You Are Stardust

James in Seattle sent us this beautiful quote in honor of our Lenten Blog:

Remember you are stardust, and to stardust you shall return.
Remember that you are connected, and to connection you return.

What if these words and their meaning are what we take in as we step forward to be signed with ashes? What if, instead of focusing on being nothing, we admit to being someone whose very being is united with all the creativity and goodness and greatness that have ever existed? What if our focus shifts a bit and we claim our identity as human beings made in the image and likeness of God - not merely in an effort to feel good about ourselves, but as a prerequisite for what discipleship really means: living in freedom, carrying on the work of the one we follow, Jesus, the mystery of God wrapped in the mystery of the human? To claim that we are stardust - connected to all that is - having the capacity to recognize the connection, to reflect on and live out of it - will radically alter how we move through this season of Lent. Our fasting will consist of refusing to think of ourselves as too small or insignificant to matter. Our prayer and almsgiving will be informed by the desire to acknowledge and live out of the unity that is at the heart of all creation.

~Judy Cannato, Quantum Grace