Wednesday, April 12, 2017

From Resisting Religion to Resisting Through Religion

The following is an article written by Earth Ministry's Outreach Coordinator, Emily Martin, for our Spring 2017 Earth Letter:

I’ve always had a stubborn sense of right and wrong. As a child, I would drive my mother crazy with demands for her to explain injustices to me (usually about how wrong it was that my older sister always got to sit in the front seat of the car). When I finally exasperated my mom with questions about how she could allow such a thing, she would eventually say, “Sometimes life just isn’t fair,” an answer I could never accept. 

My passion for fighting the good fight eventually led me to my high school’s debate team, then to an internship with the Washington State Legislature, and finally to non-profit advocacy.

This same fire in my belly is why I initially avoided organized religion like the plague. Like many angst-ridden teens, I viewed religion as an anesthetic that kept people numb and passive to injustice in the world. I thought people of faith viewed suffering as a part of God’s plan and that their motto was that call to apathy: “everything happens for a reason.”

A class on world religions exposed me to the history of diverse faith traditions and began to teach me a different story. Each religion is unique but they share common threads, one of which is that they all tell stories of resistance to oppressive systems of power. 

Prophets and other religious leaders have historically been countercultural; the visions they fought for stood in direct opposition to the political status quo of their lifetimes. The most iconic social justice activists of all time were inspired by their faith.

From the earliest Jewish stories of Abraham, Moses, and Deborah to the Hindu non-violent resistance of Gandhi; from the unification of warring tribes under Islam by the Prophet Muhammad to the compassionate yet firm push for Tibetan liberation by the Buddhist Dalai Lama; the histories of world religions illustrate that no oppressive government has stood the test of time once the members of its society collectively realize their power. 

The most powerful revolutions history has ever seen were brought about by those who knew that God does not want us to bury our rage with prayer. God calls on us to harness the fire in our bellies, using its flames to consume injustice and leave nothing but that same fire’s illuminating and loving glow.  

We are called to action. We cannot sit by idly while the health of our brothers and sisters and that of the environment is degraded for profit. Treating each other and our planet with love and respect is not radical, it is necessary if we are to call ourselves people of faith. 

I avoided the faith community for most of my life, thinking that religious folks thought God would take care of everything for them. My exploration of faith has led me to the United Church of Christ where I am a proud member today. My newfound congregation is a justice-driven and advocacy-focused community that both inspires me and moves me to action. I know now that faith groups are the most effective when we recognize that God by any name works through us, not for us. 

-Emily Martin
Earth Ministry’s Outreach Coordinator.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Creation Care: A Letter to the Editor

The following is a Letter to the Editor that was written by one of Earth Ministry’s Alaska members and printed in the Sitka Sentinel:

Genesis 26+:  Then God said, “Let us make humankind[c] in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth,[d] and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth..."(NRSV)

It’s with intense, deep emotion that I write this letter both as a Christian and conservationist.  I am called to speak on behalf of those without a voice - the winged, four-legged, furred, finned, scaled as well as the air, water, soil and plant life.  March 28th will be marked as a dark, dark day for Creation.  Not only was the Clean Power Plan rolled back by a stroke of President Trump’s pen, but the moratorium on coal mining on public lands was lifted, the EPA directed to not enforce environmental protections and on the heels of Monday’s approval of the Keystone XL pipeline permit.
Flickr: Richard Ricciardi
Additionally, this week the senate joined the house in passing joint resolution 18 and 69, respectively, using the Congressional Review Act. These were sponsored by the Alaska delegation.  This legislation allows the reversal of “fair chase” hunting practices in the 16 Alaska National Refuges.  It was opposed by 47 national and local hunting and wildlife conservation groups.  Now,  bear cubs and sows with cubs can be taken plus bears can be baited as well as killed with snares or traps or from an aircraft and wolves/coyotes can be taken during denning season.  This violates ethical rules of fair chase and is completely out of line with what the Creator meant by dominion in my opinion.  

Our elected officials appear to be influenced by neither science nor ethics, but by powerful forces that are putting profit and greed before reason and the health of our fragile island home.  So how can we collectively raise our voices on behalf of Creation and take planet-focused action?  

First, join Sitka’s emerging Citizens’ Climate Lobby to advance a national carbon fee and dividend program.  A fee is placed on fossil fuels at the source starting at $15 per ton of CO2 and increases each year by $10.  All of those fees are returned to American households on an equitable basis.  Additionally, a border tariff adjustment is placed on goods imported from or exported to, countries without an equivalent price on carbon.  The carbon fee and dividend program moves us towards clean energy keeping pollutants out of air and water and promotes the public’s health and the economy.

Second, learn more about assaults on Creation. Hop on to webinars or read e-newsletters from advocacy groups like Earthjustice,, League of Conservation Voters, or Alaska Audubon as well as Creation Justice or Earth Ministry to educate yourself about the issues that are putting undue stress on God’s good, green earth. 

Third, call your congressional delegation about pending legislation that impacts the health of the natural world that’s been entrusted to us.  It’s not as intimidating as it sounds, and our delegation appreciates hearing from Alaskan constituents. Use or submit emails on our Alaska delegations websites to make sure the voice of Creation is heard.

Fourth, pray, meditate, and spend time in Sitka’s bountiful Creation then bring Creation Care issues to your houses of worship for reflection and action.  

Finally, join fellow Sitkans on April 29th for the People’s Climate March.  Collectively, we need to rise up and boldly and compassionately steward the Divine’s holy Creation.

Lisa Sadleir-Hart

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

You Are a Prophetic Leader

The following is an article written by Earth Ministry's Senior Outreach Coordinator, Jessica Zimmerle, for our Spring 2017 Earth Letter:

Early last year I found myself overwhelmed at a conference for young adults in ministry. You know the feeling – that creeping realization that one person can only do so much. A mentor noticed my discomfort and sat down for a conversation that would completely shift my perspective.

He listed five types of leaders: apostles, shepherds, evangelists, teachers, and prophets; then asked which I think I am. Without enthusiasm I guessed the shepherd.  

“Interesting,” he said, “I’d rank shepherd low for you. I think you’re a prophetic leader.”
My initial reaction was, “WHOA don’t put that on me!” In my mind, being a prophet meant being the next Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I could easily brush that notion aside with degrading self-talk. I’m not that kind of leader.

With a smile, my mentor encouraged me to consider the prophet differently. Instead of the person whom everyone looks to for inspiration, what about the prophet who creates inclusive spaces to uplift voices that aren’t being heard? How about the prophet with heightened awareness of our interdependence, called to heal where we are broken and celebrate where we’re not? Now that’s more like it!

Nearly one year later I was in a seminary classroom engaged in conversation about prophets. The professor described the prophet as one who sees or hears the present reality compassionately with critical eyes and ears tuned in on a Gospel vision. 

Let’s break that down. Prophets are aware of where we are, but know we have a long way yet to go. So they respond, not react, so as to balance criticism with compassion. This approach, one that requires both creativity and collaboration, is encompassed in religious values of justice and peace. 

After the class I approached another student and thanked her for being a prophet. Similar to my initial response, she denied her prophetic qualities by saying she wasn’t doing enough activism because she’s a busy mother who is also in school. I encouraged her otherwise, sharing how I am inspired by the beautiful insights and challenging questions she brings to our cohort. She began to cry in gratitude, I hugged her, and we both left the room feeling more resilient. 

Can you recall a time when you’ve been the prophet? Instead of downplaying this role, can you claim your prophetic qualities as God-given gifts? How would doing so strengthen your community?

Earth Ministry certainly believes in your prophetic abilities, and we’re happy to remind you that you are making a difference. As members of the Earth Ministry community, you are spreading the prophetic message of creation care, you are implementing creative solutions in your congregations, and you are working together to advocate for policy reform. Even on days when you don’t have capacity for any of that, you are supporting an organization that reflects your values and puts your faith into action. 

So, my friends, let’s walk boldly through the world as prophets. Let’s respond with loving criticism and take steps to build a brighter future for all of God’s children. And let’s find strength in knowing we are not alone on this journey.

-Jessica Zimmerle 
Earth Ministry’s Senior Outreach Coordinator.