Wednesday, April 29, 2009

It's not about doing everything, its about doing something.

By: Nicole Hobbs, Intern

As a student at Seattle University, I have had the great pleasure of taking Gary Chamberlain's class: Religion & Ecology. [Gary Chamberlain is known for his book, Troubled Waters which details the global water crisis from a theological and humanitarian perspective]. Originally, I took the class because I thought it would be an easy A--write a few papers, volunteer a few hours, and take a few tests. Wow--was I wrong. Over the past five weeks, I have realized that this class is going to be one of my toughest yet (and I'm in my senior year) because of the sheer impact it has had on my thoughts, practicies, and beliefs. Sustainability and saving the environment is not just about recycling my bottles and taking the bus, instead it is about cherishing the interconnectedness of the planet God has given us.

We recently had Dr. Sallie McFague spend the morning with our class. Dr. McFague is "widely recognized as one of North America’s preeminent feminist theologians and eco-theologians" and her newest book is titled: A New Climate for Theology: God, the World, and Climate Change.

Dr. McFague grew up during the Great Depression, and she fell in love with nature from an early age. Her parents had a one room cabin the the woods and would often take their children there to introduce them to nature. Sallie then mentioned that she was worried that parents and children today just don't do the same thing. Instead we are attached to video games, the internet, and television. This shift from enjoying the natural gifts of the world to the technological creations of our society--is one of the reasons Sallie gives for humanities lack of concern from the planet. She told us that if children and parents could once again see the gifts of nature, the gifts from God then they would feel sad watching the natural world disappear and would shift their actions to help protect it. It is sad when I think of my own childhood, void of natural experiences, and I realize what Sallie is saying is true.

The second story that I can share is from when Sallie was ten years old. Dr. McFague knew from a young age that she wanted to be a pilot in the Navy. Now, at the time, women were not allowed to be pilots and this troubled her. She said that she just knew in her heart that this was wrong, and she knew that she would one day change this and become a pilot. The moral of her story is this: if enough people stand up and say no (and have that instinct that something is wrong) then thats how we will see environmental change. Now, being a bunch of college students we were quick to challenge her.

We expressed how overwhelming the problems facing our environment are and we challenged her to give us a more detailed solution to the problem. What could we actually do?! She smiled and simply said: its not about doing everything, instead its about doing something and doing what you are good at. You don't need to become a staff member of Earth Ministry to change the world, instead use your own passions and talents (whether they be in marketing, accounting, or sports) to change the world around you.

Its okay to do something small because in this large connected world it adds up.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Our Second Annual St. Francis Sermon Contest

Call for Submissions!

Earth Ministry is now accepting entries
for our Second Annual
St. Francis Creation Care Sermon Contest

Throughout the world, the Holy Spirit is actively calling individuals and congregations to care for all of God's creation. Earth Ministry's St. Francis Creation Care Sermon Contest seeks to call out the voice of the spirit moving in our midst. If you have a message of faith, hope, or action for our Earth that you long to share with the greater community, we invite you to enter the sermon contest so that others might be inspired.

The contest is open to anyone and everyone who wants to submit a sermon, homily, or message related to care for God’s creation. Four finalists will be selected to give their sermons at Earth Ministry’s Celebration of St. Francis on September 26, 2009. Contestants must be members of Earth Ministry. Become a member today!

See our website for full contest rules and fabulous prizes.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Bring What I Am Able

Chris Olson, Outreach Coordinator

Recently I've been reminiscing. As I reach the final 3 1/2 months my Lutheran Volunteer Corps year I am beginning to seriously consider what comes next. At times its seriously fun to consider all the options and at other times its seriously scary. Over the past few weeks I've experienced a number of coincidences that have allowed me to reminisce back to the time when I was considering applying for LVC. This year has granted me such an amazing space to explore myself, gain a new understanding of social justice and simplicity, and try new ways of living that's its a curious experience to reflect backwards. Thinking about where and who I was then and where and who I am now. Still the same, yet transformed as well.

The reflection leads to questions. Where do I go from here? What new changes and challenges will I face and how will they shape me? Where is God at work in my life right now and where am I being led? As I step out of my LVC community, how do I integrate all that I've learned into the "real world?" Now that I am so aware of the incredible injustices surrounding me, how do I live my life so that I am fighting those injustices and making the world a better place for all of creation?

While I was thinking about things from my past that helped lead me to where I am today I remembered one of my favorite songs/music videos that I was fairly obsessed with a couple years ago. The song is "World On Fire" by Sarah McLachlan. She chose to spend her $150,000 dollars slotted for a flashy, Hollywood music video instead on charities around the world which improve the lives of and empower marginalized groups of people. The video depicts what the money was budgeted for and where it went instead (Example: $5000 = cost of hair and makeup for one day but instead paid for one years schooling for 145 girls in Afghanistan).

The chorus is:

The world is on fire
It's more than I can handle
I'll tap into the water
Try and bring my share
Try to bring more, more than I can handle
Bring it to the table
Bring what I am able ...

As I think about where I was two years ago, where I am today, and where I am being led I can't help but be reassured that no matter how confusing or exciting or scary it may get...the best I can do, any of us can do, is bring what we are able. I am who I am and have been uniquely gifted and blessed and the most I can hope for is that I am giving the best of myself in whatever I do and with whoever I am spending time. We may not have $150,000 to give but we can let our love rain down over all of God's people and creatures and creations. That is why we are here. I may not always remember that as I get caught up in the rush of the next few months but maybe at this time next April, wherever I am, I will remember back to today, watch "World On Fire" for the umpteenth time, and recommit to bringing what I am able all over again.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


By Deanna Matzen

I was at church last night for the third in a five-week series on urban ministry. Ron Ruthruff, director of ministry and program development at New Horizons Ministries (a ministry to urban street youth) in Seattle, has been leading the series. Last night we heard from a panel of speakers. They were each answering theological questions about urban ministry. Each speaker told a unique and compelling story in their answers, but one in particular laid a theological groundwork for urban ministry that I thought would apply wonderfully to creation stewardship and I wanted to share it with you.

The speaker was Tali Hairston, of Seattle Pacific University. He was asked a question about whether we need to have our theology formed before we do missions or whether our mission work should inform our theology. This is the kind of conversation I love! Tali began to answer the question by talking about how he came to SPU. He talked about working with youth, teaching them about Jesus. But one day he was driving in the car with two of the youth - two large and intimidating young men - when one asked, "What is this hallelujah? I've been in this group for years, listening to you talk about Jesus, but I just don't understand any of it." Tali realized that he was trying to reach these youth with a message that had meaning for himself, but had no meaning for them. He had to rethink how he did missional ministry.

The classic model of missions says that we must go to where the gospel has not been heard - where God is not at work - and we must take our understanding of the gospel and give it to the non-believers. Tali's new understanding of missions says that we go to the non-believers and see where God is already at work and join in with that work. When we take that approach, we realize that in the process of doing ministry/missions our theology becomes transformed. We have received more than we have given. Then Tali went on to describe how, when we take on this missional approach to all ministry, we no longer need think-tanks, we need "do-tanks". In the act of doing, we develop our theology and a larger picture of who God is.

It is at this point that I thought, "aha". For a long time, we at Earth Ministry have debated the role of education (think-tank) vs action (do-tank). Ultimately, there is a place for both in doing our work, but I think that many of us get stuck at the thinking stage and fail to do. It is this failure to "do" and have our theology transformed through caring for the environment that keeps us from growing spiritually, as individuals and as a greater church body.

I've noticed this transformation played out in my own environmental stewardship. I am not by any measure the perfect environmental steward, but then again, who among us can cast the first stone? Who among us does not struggle to be the perfect anything? But what I have noticed about myself is that when I learn that a particular behavior needs to be changed, and I change that behavior, it is difficult for me to break the habit and I start taking a very strict line on that one behavior. For example, we compost all of our food waste at home. It is as in-grained in me as breathing! But when I go to my parents' house where they do not have yard waste service let alone food waste service, I cringe everytime I have to put a banana peel in the garbage. I have this urge to find the nearest food waste bin, but none exists. I have become transformed through "doing". That is why our Lenten exercises of being more environmentally sustainable is so important. It is not just about being better stewards, it is about having our theology transformed through the act of bearing the cross of stewardship - "doing".

Have you been stuck in your heard too long and need to take action? If so, where is God calling you to become a do-tank? Don't get stuck in your own or someone else's theology, allow God to transform you through the missional call to action.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Environmental Health & Mindful Living

By Beth Anderson, Outreach Associate

As I’m sure you’ve heard, April is now Earth Month—we have a whole 30 days for environmentally-focused action! Now that the busyness of holy week and Easter are behind us, I urge you to consider how you and your faith community might celebrate (and help protect and preserve) creation.

One of the most pressing environmental and justice issues of our time is the presence of toxic chemicals in everyday products. Environmental health can be a difficult subject to discuss—it can seem as though the problem is too big for us to handle.

To that end, Earth Ministry and the National Council of Churches are offering a free, downloadable toolkit for facilitating an adult forum or small study group around the topic of toxics.

The primary resource, Mindful Living: Human Health, Pollution, and Toxics, includes detailed information about some of the most dangerous and pervasive chemicals we all encounter in our daily lives. It also includes a theological discussion about our mandate to care for creation and especially for our bodies—our sacred “temples.”

To make it easy for people to organize a group study, there is an accompanying Gathering Guide with ideas for how best to incorporate the Mindful Living material into your congregation’s adult education program.

Download the Mindful Living: Human Health, Pollution, and Toxics resource and its companion, the Mindful Living Gathering Guide, today!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Getting Away From it All

By Mikaila Gawryn
Outreach Associate

Penny Ford describes the origins of lent in this way: "In Matthew 4:1-11, Jesus hiked into the wilderness. Maybe he needed some time with God to sort through the major changes happening in his life. Maybe he was searching for direction and answers. Maybe he needed to get away from family, friends and the familiar routine in order to see God, and himself, more clearly." I love that Ford's description of Jesus is so human. Yes of course, Jesus was going through many changes, but I rarely consider that he might have been disoriented by them. Although I understood that Jesus' time in the dessert was part of the Lenten foundation I had never, until reading Penny Ford's words, considered Jesus taking 40 days to "get away from it all."

This year my Lenten practice consisted of a daily body prayer and weekly meal cooked for loved ones. It has been very fruitful, but looking back I wish I had read Penny Ford's words earlier. I might have chosen to incorporate "getting away from it all" as Jesus did. Looking back I have definitely been sorting through big decisions, discerning direction and seeking clarity in this season. Even though I did not create a habit of siting in God's creation so as to facilitate these processes I wound up there a number of times, and I have definitely been blessed in the process.

One experience in particular comes to mind. The memory is of an afternoon spent at Spring Lake in Santa Rosa, California. The lake is bordered by small rolling hills and walking paths, and is of course drenched in sunshine. While visiting Santa Rosa I was considering moving to the area in order to do an internship on an organic farm. I've since decided to take the position, but for the afternoon I was still discerning. I recognized that the internship would allow me to pursue long-term passions. However, it would also bring a number of significant changes to my life. As I walked through the meadows with a friend I soaked up the sun and considered the possibilities ahead.

Relaxing in God's creation brought new aspects of my decision into focus, and allowed me to consider my options without the distractions of home or the city. It was a blessing that I had not expected to receive.
If you are attracted to beauty in nature, then that is a good place to go; you will find God there. But what you will really find is God finding you.
- Fr. Larry Gillick S.J.

I am looking forward to beginning a new adventure, and I am thankful for the afternoon I had at Spring Lake. Father Larry Gillick, a Jesuit priest once said "If you are attracted to the beauty of nature, then that is a good place to go; you will find God there. But what you will really find is God finding you. God comes to you according to you."

As you enter into the last few days of Lent I pray that you would find places of beauty that allow you to see yourself and God more clearly. I pray that you will find God in those places and know that God is finding you there too.

Ford, Penny. Lent 101. Upper Room.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Coming Clean

By Deanna Matzen

As Lent wraps up, I feel the deep need to come clean. I have not stuck to my Lenten practice of prayer as closely as I had hoped. I have failed to pray every day. Usually my environmental prayer life lasts a day or two after I blog and then I get swept up in my life and all the other needs of prayer immediately around me. I have friends going through very hard times right now - divorce, cancer on top of unemployment, no health insurance, and expecting a baby. Personally, we have been finishing up a bathroom remodel and then I had wrist surgery. It seems that all my energy is focused on just surviving right now. Over the last two days, I've become emotionally unraveled and unable to give anyone grace. It is in moments like these that I realize how much I need prayer more than anything else.

My first mistake in beginning this Lenten journey of environmental prayer was not setting a specific time to pray every day. My second mistake was perhaps setting a prayer schedule when I should have just sat in the creator's presence and let the Spirit guide me. The other realization I just made writing this blog post is that I perhaps do not pray for the environment because I'm completely disconnected from it.

One of my best moments of prayer came when I was standing in the rain waiting for the bus because I couldn't drive yet after my wrist surgery. It was the week of giving thanks for creation. I was thanking God for the rain because even though it was unenjoyable standing by the busy road in the rain, I knew that we needed the snow pack for the summer. I was also anxiously praying that the bus would arrive soon and at the moment the bus emerged over the hill I prayed emphatically, "Thank you, Jesus!" And then I stopped myself. I thank Jesus for a lot of things. Maybe too many things that it becomes trite. Did Jesus really bring the bus at that moment. Probably not because if he had, it would have come a lot sooner, in my opinion! But that didn't mean that I didn't owe Jesus a debt of gratitude. I was immediately grateful in a new and profound way.

The gratitude poured out earnestly, "Thank you, Jesus, for the creativity that brought us the gift of public transportation. It affords us an opportunity to help the environment by not driving and it gives people who can't afford a car an opportunity to get around the city more quickly. Thank you, Jesus!" It was a profound moment and I am so glad for it. Yet, it continues to be a struggle to make time for environmental prayer.

This week, I'm scheduled to pray for God's people to engage in action, advocacy, and acknowledgment of the planet's needs. Perhaps I should pray for people to spend more time outside so that the needs become relevant to their immediate world. However the Spirit moves you this week, please join me in praying.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Reading the World

By Mikaila Gawryn
Outreach Associate

How do you sound out the wildflowers? This question has come to my mind a number of times over the last few years. In other postings I have mentioned my interest in environmental literacy, the ability to read one's environment as one reads a book. Part of my Lenten practice has been a daily body prayer, where I face each of the four cardinal directions and ask for wisdom from heaven and earth. It struck me this morning, as I turned to face east, that I could actually take some time to familiarize myself with the earth and ecosystems that lie east of my home. Therefore, after asking for wisdom in the morning I might actually seek it in the rest of my day. It's funny how long it can take to put two and two together.

One of my favorite classes in college was Taxonomy of Flowering plants, partially because I had the opportunity to compile my own photographic plant collection from local ecosystems. I decided to review some of my notes and share the photos with you. Here are a few of the specimens I collected on the eastern side of Washington state.

The first, Pediocactus simpsonii, is found in arid steppe ecosystems. We had the opportunity to visit the cacti in this region just as they were blooming; a beautiful, once a year occurrence. What is most striking about these flowers is their shocking pink color in the middle of gray-brown-green plains covered in low shrubs.

Second is the Camassia quamash. This delicate flower can be a sweet surprise or a treacherous find. It's sibling is nicknamed Death Camas for the deadly poison in its flowers, but this specimen is quiet edible.

Finally we have Populus tremuloides, known by many as the Quaking Aspen. Not having heard this name before I was unsure as to its meaning. Then I felt the wind behind me and watched the whole grove shiver.

So what do these parts of God's world say to me? If I were to see them as letters in the book of creation I could learn new things about our Creator and the life that we have been given as a gift. A few thoughts come to my mind. Pediocactus reminds me that beauty and gifts can appear even in tough places. Camassia reminds me to be humble. That we can learn to partner with creation for sustenance but we must remember that we are not the ultimate power in the universe. Seeing the Quaking Aspen reminded me of how closely connected we really are to all aspects of creation. To see in a tree a metaphor for fear, or the sensation of a shiver, is almost like seeing ourselves in the world. These are just a few of the thoughts that come to my mind and I encourage you to explore outside your house or workplace to see what comes to you. Enjoy!