Sunday, October 2, 2016

10/16 Column: Improving Our Human Nature

October 2016 Creation Corner Column

Improving Our Human Nature

This is a column about nature; what about our human nature?  Our created being?  How may it be improved upon, as we consider how to improve all of nature?

Not being sedentary, and walking instead, is a form of exercise, and exercise has been shown (as has a proper nutritional diet) to have many benefits.  In my house I have a poster from 20 years ago, "96 Reasons to Exercise in 1996"!

According to an article by Alexandra Sifferlin, (TIME, 7/4/16, p. 18), "The New Reasons to Exercise" include it having mind-body benefits (one study found that 37% of yoga practitioners  keep up their practice for spirituality reasons); it improves memory, increases energy, may stave off depression, curb cravings and reduce the risk of serious cancers.

Some churches are uniting religion and an improvement of human nature through physical fitness and health programs, according to an article by Erin Beresini in the OUTSIDE magazine for October 2016.  One fitness instructor says "God want us to be healthy and strong and to shine out his light for others to see."

There is now a Faith and Fitness magazine and conferences, and a web site ( .  The non-profit Health Fitness Revolution ranked the top fitness-minded American mega-churches.  There is the Global Congress on Sports and Christianity.

"You could have a great heart, but your ability to serve is going to be impacted by your fitness level," said one Baptist pastor. 

A personal trainer said our priorities are confused:  "Don't have affairs...but you can do food like nobody's business."

So if our unhealthy bodies are hindering our full potential to serve God, churches are creating Health Fitness challenges.  Rick Warren promotes the Daniel (diet) Plan.  New Jersey has grants for faith-based organizations to begin community health programs.  A church gym composes a "Fitness and Recreation Ministry", helping it to be relevant in a culture that is increasingly health-minded.

Might "Thou Shalt Work Out" become the 11th commandment?

If so, the cover story for TIME magazine (Sept. 12 and 19), "The New Science of Exercise" by Mandy Oaklander provides another series of benefits that can incentivize our participation.  A sample:  More blood to the brain can help create new blood vessels, release chemicals that lighten one's mood and ease pain; more blood pumped to muscles carries oxygen to help withstand fatigue; weight-bearing efforts can help muscles grow, put pressure on bones that increases their density; blood flow to the skin propels nutrients to the epidermis, thus helping wounds heal faster; fat cells shrink as fat is burned to be used for energy; and exercise may protect the tiny caps on the ends of chromosomes (telomeres) that in turn may slow the aging of cells.

Readers of that TIME piece in the subsequent issue lamented the absence of advice for people with disabilities, who also need "safe and consistent access to recreation and sport".  But rehab services exist to help with that.  The bottom line, however, came from one reader who lamented the lure of the ever-present home couch, saying it represents "the exact opposite of mental, social, spiritual and physical activity and personal improvement."  Timely advice on the healing power of movement.  Whatever your physical condition, you may be able to find a way to "go in peace and serve the Lord."

This column originally started in October 1997, written for the monthly newsletter of the ecumenical newsletter of the United Churches of Lycoming County, PA, by Lutheran layman Michael Ochs.

Friday, September 16, 2016

9/16 Creation Col.: Nature's Value to Us, Convicts, Ex-0ffenders

The Value of Nature for Ourselves, Prisoners, Ex-offenders

"He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.  He restoreth my soul."
from Psalm 23

Where would we be without nature, our environment, God's creation?  A loss of experiencing the "outdoors" has been documented ("nature-deficit disorder").

So what are the advantages for us of having a relationship with natural settings, fresh air and sunshine, walking in forests, parks, and along shorelines, and eyeing green landscape aesthetics?

In "The healing power of nature" by Alexandra Sifferlin, these healthful effects can include the lowering of blood pressure; stress reduction; the increasing of awe, energy and a sense of rejuvenation or purpose; the promotion of cancer-fighting cells; potential help with ADHD (attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder) symptoms; and may aid with mental health (mood uplifts, less depression and anxiety).

Some studies propose that even the images, sounds and smells of nature within the built environment can offer benefits (source: TIME magazine, 7/25/'16, pgs. 24-26).

And just as time spent in the natural environment has therapeutic value for everyone from at-risk youth (Outward Bound programs) to veterans, new research suggests it can help ex-convicts, those who have spent years cut off from the outdoors, according to an article by Brian Mockenhaupt, "The Great Escape" (OUTSIDE magazine, 9/16).

Might nature be a key to their rehabilitation?  Relearning life beyond prison after incarceration is hard (the challenge of a job search, finding a place to live, breaking the cycle of bad habits and friends that can lead to more prison time).  "Sponsors", a mentorship group in Eugene OR (Lane County) tries to implement a program demonstrating what science confirms, that nature is good for us.

So, the thinking goes, combine the restorative power of nature and outdoor activities (horseback riding, rock climbing, confidence-building challenge courses, extended wilderness trips, bicycling, fishing excursions, etc.) with individual/group therapy.

Studies show that such, especially among young offenders, reduces the recidivism, and improves judgment and decision-making.

"Bringing offenders into the outdoors---even while they're still locked up---may vent just enough steam from the pressure cooker to get them back on track."

"Sponsors" is holistic, offering many re-integration services beyond the "back-to-nature" program.  Founded 43 years ago by Catholic nuns and community activists, its outdoor therapy program is now six years old, and the "graduates" are 80% less likely to re-offend after two years compared with other former inmates.

Within prison, inmates may have "yard time", fresh air but not much nature.  At the Snake River (OR) Correctional Institution, an experimental "Blue Room" effort by Nalini Nadkarni is the "first-of-its-kind effort to connect the most isolated prisoners with the natural world."

Research in other institutional settings (hospitals, nursing homes, public housing, etc.) showed that people respond favorably (physiologically, psychologically, emotionally)  to nature imagery.  Exposure to the projected nature imagery in the "Blue Room" had salutary effects (calming, resisting worst impulses) and thus fewer disciplinary issues.

Thus the healing power of nature for ourselves, and prisoners, and ex-offenders.  Inspiring models to emulate

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

8/16 Creation Corner: Summer Enviro. Books


After Nature: A Politics for the Anthropocene. Jedediah Purdy.
Atmosphere of Hope: Solutions to the Climate Crisis.  Tim Flannery.
Baptized with the Soil: Christian Agrarians and the Crusade for Rural America.  Kevin   M. Lowe
The Big Ratchet: How Humanity Thrives in the Face of Natural Crisis/ A Biography of an Ingenious Species.  Ruth DeFries.
Blue Skies over Beijing: Economic Growth and the Environment in China.  Matthew E. Kahn and Siqi Zheng.
Climate Shock: The Economic Consequences of a Hotter Planet.  Gernor Wagner and Martin Weitzman.
The Color of Food: Stories of Race, Resilience & Farming, by Natasha Bowens.
Contemporary Moral and Social Issues: An Introduction Through Original Fiction, Discussion, and Readings.  Thomas D. Davis and Wiley Blackwell.
Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth?  Alan Weisman.
Degrowth: A Vocabulary for a New Era.  Giacomo D'Alisa, Federico Demaria, and Giorgos Kallis.
Designing Our Way to a Better World.  Thomas Fisher.
Eating Earth: Environmental Ethics and Dietary Choice.  Lisa Kemmerer.
The Ecological Rift.  John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark, and Richard York.
The End of Plenty: The Race to Feed a Crowded World.  Joel K. Bourne Jr.
The Fabulous Future?  America and the World in 2040.  Gary Saul Morson and Morton Schapiro, editors.
Facing the Anthropocene: Fossil Capitalism and the Crisis of the Earth System.  Ian Angus (Angus edits the web journal .
Famine, Affluence, and Morality.  Peter Singer.
Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer.  Novella Carpenter.
Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America.  Wenonah Hunter.
For Love of Animals: Christian Ethics, Consistent Action.  Charles Camosy (a member of the Faith Advisory Council  of the Humane Society of the United States.)
Frackopoly: The Battle for the Future of Energy and the Environment.  Wenonah Hunter.
Freegans: Diving into the Wealth of Food Waste in America.  Alex V. Barnard.
From Field to Fork: Food Ethics for Everyone.  Paul Thompson.
The Gene: An Intimate History.  Siddhartha Mukherjee.
Getting to Green: Saving Nature, a Bipartisan Solution.  Frederic C. Rich.
The Glamour of Strangeness: Artists and the Last Age of the Exotic.  Jamie James.
Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day.  Leanne Brown.
The Great Transition Today: A Report from the Future.  Paul D. Raskin.
Green, American Style: Becoming Earth-Friendly and Reaping the Benefits.  Anna M. Clark.
Greening the Global Economy.  Robert Pollin.
Hands: What We Do With Them---and Why.  Darian Leader.
Hope on Earth: A Conversation.  Paul R. Ehrlich and Michael Charles Tobias.
HOT: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth.  Mark Hertsgaard.
Imperial Ecology.  Peder Anker.
Keepers of the Green World: Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Sustainability, edited by Melissa K. Nelson and Dan Shilling (2016).
Lethal but Legal: Corporations, Consumption and Protecting Public Health, by Nicholas Freudenberg.
Leviathan or, the Whale.  Philip Hoare.
Natural Capital: Valuing the Planet.  Dieter Helm.
Nature's Fortune:  How Business and Society Thrive by Investing in Nature.  Mark R. Tercek and Jonathan S. Adams.
Not Natural: The Production of Disasters and the Rush to Resilience.  Stan Cox and Paul Cox (2016).
Olmsted: Writings on Landscape, Culture, and Society (re: Frederick Law Olmsted). Charles E. Beveridge, ed.
The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information.  Daniel J. Levitin.
Panic at the Pump:  The Energy Crisis and the Transformation of American Politics in the 1970s.  Meg Jacobs.
Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization (Substantively Revised Edition).  Lester R. Brown.
Plentitude: The New Economics of True Wealth.  Juliet Schor.
Prairie Crossing: Creating an American Conservation Community.  John Scott Watson.
Prosperity Without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet.  Tim Jackson.
Public Faith in Action: How to Think Carefully, Engage Wisely, and Vote with Integrity.  Miroslav Volf and Ryan McAnnally-Linz.
Reason in a Dark Time: Why the Struggle Against Climate Change Failed---And What it Means for Our Future, by     Dale Jamieson.
Rightful Heritage: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Land of America.  Douglas Brinkley.
The Seventh Decade: The New Shape of Nuclear Danger.  Jonathan Schell.
Something New Under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth-Century World.  J.R. McNeill.
Soul of an Octopus.  Sy Montgomery.
Spirituality and the State: Managing Nature and Experience in America's National Parks.  Kerry Mitchell.
Strangers Drowning: Grappling With Impossible Idealism, Drastic Choices, and the Overpowering Urge to Help.  Larissa MacFarquhar.
Stuffed and Starved, by Raj Patel.
There is Still Time: To Look at the Big Picture...And Act!  Peter Seidel.
Think Like a Commoner: A Short Introduction to the Life of the Commons, by David Bollier.
Thirst for Power: Energy, Water and Human Survival.  Michael E. Webber.
Too Many People?  Population, Immigration, and the Environmental Crisis.  Ian Angus.
The Tragedy of the Commodity: Oceans, Fisheries, and Aquaculture. Stefano B. Longo, Rebecca Clausen, and Brett Clark.Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence.  Christian Parenti.
The Truth in Small Doses: Why We're Losing the War on Cancer and How to Win It, by Clifton Leaf.
Two Percent Solutions for the Planet:  50 Low-Cost, Low-Tech, Nature-Based Practices for Combatting Hunger, Drought, and Climate Change.  Courtney White.
Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World.  Bill Nye.
Utopia Drive: A Road Trip Through America's Most Radical Idea.  Erik Reece.
Waste:  Uncovering the Global Food Scandal.  Tristram Stuart.
Waste Free Kitchen Handbook: A guide to eating well and saving money by wasting less food.  Dana Gunders.
Water 4.0: The Past, Present, and Future of the World's Most Vital Resource.  David Sedlak.
Wattana: An Orangutan in Paris.  Chris Herzfeld.
The Weather Makers:  How Man is Changing the Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth.  Tim Flannery.
What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know About Capitalism.  Fred Magdoff and John Bellamy Foster.
What We're Fighting for Now Is Each Other: Dispatches From the Front Lines of Climate Justice.  Wen Stephenson.
Who Rules the Earth?: How Social Rules Shape Our Planet and Our Lives.  Paul F. Steinberg.
Whole Earth Discipline: Why Dense Cities, Nuclear Power, Transgenic Crops, Restored  Wildlands, and  Geoengineering are Necessary.  Stewart Brand.
Why Are We Waiting?  The Logic, Urgency and Promise of Tackling Climate Change.          Nicholas Stern.
Wonders of the National Parks: A Geology of North America.  Ford Cochran.
The Wood for the Trees: The Long View of Nature from a Small Wood.  Richard Fortey.

Fiction titles (summer beach reading?)

Barkskins.  Annie Proulx.
Beast.  Paul Kingsnorth.
Heat and Light.  Jennifer Haigh (an ecologically minded novel).
The Last Wolf and Herman.  Laszlo Krasznahorkai (translated by George Szirtes and John Batki).

Adventure Narratives by Women (also summer reading potential?).

Climbing Days.  Dorothy Pilley.
Everything Is Teeth.  Evie Wyld. (graphic novel).
Running: A Love Story.  Jen Miller.
This Road I Ride.  Juliana Buhring.
The Valley of the Assassins.  Freya Stark.
Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube.  Blair Braverman.
West with the Night.  Beryl Markham.
Wild.  Cheryl Strayed.
Also see other titles by Gretel Ehrlich, Pam Houston, Kira Salak, and Sara Wheeler.

Films by Josh Fox (b. 1972, Wayne County, PA)

2010 Gasland (directed, wrote & produced).
2013 Gasland Part II (directed, wrote & produced).
2016 How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can't Change (directed, wrote & produced).

Nature Writing:  See the Wainwright Prize.

Prior and future issues of this column on environmental issues may be found at .