Monday, February 28, 2011

2011 Soil and Water Stewardship Sunday and Week

2011 Soil and Water Stewardship Sunday and Week

"Forests for People---More Than You Can Imagine" is the theme for the 2011 Stewardship Week sponsored by the National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD). A Forestry Stewardship church leaders guide is available for this the 56th year observance, April 24-May 1, 2011.

With a mission to provide leadership and a voice for natural resource conservation, and with community based outreach offices, the NACD offers down-loadable forestry education resources (energy, habitat, soil, water) such as are age-appropriate, colorful, in various formats (posters, bookmarks, place-mats, activity sheets, a compact disk with a PowerPoint presentation, clip art, etc.), e-links (Arbor Day, International Year of Forests, etc.), carbon calculators, and a series of publications on working trees (for agriculture, communities, water quality, wildlife, livestock, silvopasture, treating waste, carbon cycle balance, and windbreaks).

Some of us recall learning about the usefulness of trees as "food, fuel, fodder, etc." and the current materials, if not used in the Spring, would be adaptable for summer vacation Bible School programs, or any Sunday School efforts.

Here in northern Appalachia, with the debate about the appropriateness of natural gas drilling in state forests, one might consider what the NACD approach is in the issue of leaving wilderness alone, allowing what is pristine to continue to be so, the value of undisturbed state lands for tourism, with the consequences of exploiting a non-renewable fossil fuel in an extractive economy.

Nationally see

Locally, see Carey Entz, Watershed Specialist, Lycoming County Conservation District, 524 County Farm Road, Suite 202, Montoursville PA 17754. 570-433-3003 E-mail .

A new essay from Dr. Derek Nelson

Dr. Derek Nelson, professor of religion and co-director of The Global Institute at Thiel College, offers the following essay for our reflection:

Theology, Mission Style: Simplicity, Nature and Beauty in Wood and World

Rev. Derek R. Nelson

Lutherans Restoring Creation

February 25, 2011

My wife and I bought a Craftsman home about a year ago. You have almost certainly seen houses built in this style, even if you didn’t know the name. Here is a website with many pictures of similar homes and home d├ęcor . Among the characteristics of the style are an open floor plan (the absence of hallways facilitates gatherings and allows for larger rooms) and wide eaves above a deep porch. The roof’s rafter tails are usually exposed, and the interior of the house has numerous built-in cabinets, seats, and shelving. The interior beams of the house are often exposed and used as decorative elements. A bungalow is a one-story Craftsman home, and the “mission style” is the West-Coast incarnation of the Craftsman.

What does this have to do with theology and creation? Much, if you consider the context out of which the Craftsman home emerged. At the end of the 19th Century, the predominant style of architecture was the Victorian. This style was highly ornate, and its principal virtue seemed to be its ability to call attention to itself. Towers or turrets frequently adorn the front of the home, and elaborate latticework is often incorporated. Victorian homes often look like gingerbread houses, with irregular exteriors and free-form, rambling floor plans.

The problem with the Victorian home is that its ascendancy coincided with the industrial revolution. Mass production meant that building supplies could be created and shipped with never-before-seen ease. Highly decorated wall coverings could be cranked out, and the patterns could be as elaborate and loud as possible. Anything that could be fabricated – posts, floor coverings, staircases, knobs, hearths, you name it – could just as easily as not have an intricate design. And if you can design it that way, so the Victorian-era logic went, you should design it that way. This led to a kind of hyper-ornate style that serves no purpose except to say, “Hey – look at me!” There is a kind of joy and frivolity that goes with “unnecessary” adornment, to be sure. In fact, a case can be made that art begins where function ends. But what is true of art – that its non-necessity is part of its beauty – is not necessarily true of home design.

The arts-and-crafts movement is the name given to the skilled artisans who objected to the tackiness and superficiality of the Victorian era. They valued not intricacy of mass-produced design, but quality of hand-made construction. The connection between form and function became central, where it is peripheral (if not absent) in the Victorian. Heroes of the movement are people like John Ruskin, William Morris and, in the U.S., Gustav Stickley, whose magazine, The Craftsman, did much to renew architectural design in America in the early 20th century. The Victorian style highlights complexity, the Craftsman, simplicity. The Victorian wishes to stand out against its surroundings; the Craftsman sees human construction woven into the context of natural elements.

We who are concerned about the plight of God’s creation might learn something from this turning point in the history of architecture. As green building construction becomes more common (but far from widely accepted), its determinants seem primarily economic. Heating and cooling bills can go down if geo-thermal considerations are employed, for example, or recycled building materials can be used in green homes to some advantage or another. But the arts and crafts movement pointed to a deeper reason to consider the natural environment in which a home is located and how it is constructed: human being (and therefore, human living) is to be seen as continuous with, not transcendentally above, the material world. Humans are humus, soil.

The political philosopher Edward Carpenter (1844-1929) wrote an important book called England’s Ideal which contains a critique of Victorian opulence and hypocrisy. Some of Carpenter’s ideas were incorporated into Arts-and-Crafts design. In Gustav Stickley’s eyes, Carpenter’s chapter of that book entitled “The Simplification of Life” was key. Stickley wrote,

“By ‘simplicity’ here is not meant any foolish whimsical eccentricity of dress or manner or architecture, colonized and made conspicuous by useless wealth, for eccentricity is but an expression of individual egotism and as such must inevitably be short-lived. And what our formal, artificial world of today needs is not more of this sort of eccentricity and egotism, but less; not more conscious posing for picturesque reform, but greater and quieter achievement along lines of fearless honesty; not less beauty, but infinitely more of a beauty that is real and lasting because it is born out of use.”

The Victorian era was known for its formality, its highly structured way of personal inter-relating that shunned thoughts of human bodiliness and what it regarded as humanity’s “baser” desires. Horrified by Darwin’s suggestion that humans might have more in common with other animals than was previously thought, members of the “high culture” in the Victorian days needed to see themselves as having transcended the natural world. This attitude showed forth in the construction of their homes. The ornate, complex, and intricately patterned features of these homes was important to their occupants precisely because they were not useful. Such opulence confirmed them in their artificial hopes that humans did not have so much in common with other creatures whose material needs were more pressing.

What can we, who seek to recover humanity’s rightful place within, not above, the natural world, learn from the Craftsman home? I leave it to your comments to discern these lessons, but for the moment, at least the following may be said. First, church architecture might be re-thought along the lines of continuity with creation, rather than set-apart-ness. The famous church built into the rocks in Helsinki, the Temppeliaukio Kirkko, might be one example of this. Secondly, the church might be more fruitfully involved in advocacy work along the lines of sustainability in home design. The exact form this might take is not clear to me, nor is it clear to me that the church’s already diffuse social witness should be spread even thinner by engagement on this topic. But the Gospel enables Christian freedom, and the Law requires Christian moral action. And together law and freedom comprise the moral life. And life is, well, life! It’s broad, and all-encompassing, and lived largely inside the walls of dwellings that can be as informed by principles of Creation as can anything else.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Water in Worship

Ben Stewart, who teaches worship at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, has an excellent article on the use of water in worship (and its ecological implications) in the Jan. 28th edition of the Christian Century.

A useful video from Larry Rasmussen on similar themes is available at the LRC web site.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Margins: Epiphany 7 Sermon, preached 2.23.11 at Gettysburg Lutheran Seminary Chapel

I really like the picture in Lev. 19: 9-10.
When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien; I am the Lord your God.

If you would go out the doors of the chapel, turn left and walk two miles south on Seminary Ridge/Confederate Avenue, you’d come to a metal tower on the battlefield. And if you’d climb its many flights of stairs, you’d get a panoramic view of the land. From up there, you can see the outlines of what the rural farm fields were like, about 150 years ago, because you’d be looking at the park which keeps the land something like it was in 1863. The fields were smaller than they are now. They had boundaries. There used to be hedgerows, or edge areas, with trees and shrubs, vines and often a waterway or wetland through those borders. In Amish country the fields are still today set into strips and smaller patches, usually rectangular but sometimes oddly shaped to fit the contour of the land.

But most of the productive farm fields aren’t like that today. In the 1950s and 60s, when the big machinery came along, at the same time that petrochemical fertilizers and bold new hybrid crops were on the rise, American farmers began to plant hedgerow to hedgerow. The edges were disappearing. Then, in the 1970s, the Agriculture Secretary mounted a campaign: “Get big or get out,” he advised. That advice led, among other things, to larger fields. And fewer and fewer farmers work more and more land. Now, there are no hedgerows at all. The big machines cover huge distances, rolling over the old boundaries. The whole story was told by author Wendell Berry in his classic, The Unsettling of America.

Leviticus 19 stands in stark contrast. Leviticus 19 seems to be from a different world.

That author I just mentioned, Wendell Berry, was in the news recently. About 10 days ago, he left home to go visit the Governor’s office in Kentucky where he lives. He put a toothbrush in the inside breast pocket of his sport coat, because he didn’t know for sure if he’d be coming back home that evening, or if he’d have to spend the night in jail. He and thirteen others weren’t planning any sort of a crime, except that they were not going to leave the governor’s office until he would talk to them. You see, they wanted to discuss their concerns about coal mining in Kentucky. They had tried all the regular means: they wrote letters to their representatives, they mounted public campaigns, they tried to influence legislation, but none of those efforts stopped the abusive kind of mining that was tearing apart the mountains.

You see, there is a new kind of mining, which rolls over huge areas. With massive machines and with explosives, operators scrape off miles of rock and topsoil to expose coal seams that everybody used to think were impossible to get, because they were up inside the tops of the mountains. When they scrape off the tops of the mountains, the “debris,” as they call it, is simply plowed over the sides. That technique is called “valley fill.” Streams are clogged, and floods ensue. Mountaintop removal mining respects no natural boundaries. It plows over the former edges. Nature’s high and low places are little obstacle against today’s technological might. Reseeded in grass like golf courses, the plateaued heights of Kentucky, West Virginia and other places have lost their forests, their biotic communities, their waterways. The people who live there are suffering ill health, contaminated water and shattered culture.

And so Wendell Berry went with his toothbrush to the governor’s office, with thirteen others. They ended up staying three nights. They did talk to the governor, who is convinced that taking the tops off mountains to haul coal away does not damage the land and does not hurt the people. It is Kentucky’s best hope for economic prosperity he says. We might say the governor prefers a different kind of margin than the real, physical margin at the edges of the mountains.

Well, then, Leviticus 19 stands in stark contrast to the governor’s politics.

Margins are good places. In the fields that Leviticus 19 describes, the margins are places that the poor could find food, and the alien could get along. Modern ecologists tell us, too, that the edges are where interesting things happen. The old hedgerows, the old tree stands along waterways at the edges of fields, are great places for species diversity. The mountainsides and valleys with their streambeds are also great places for species diversity.

We recently got a little survey of the natural life on our campus here at LTSG, and nearby. There are over 10 species of concern living here—from a certain kind of little yellow warbler, to some different butterflies, to Shumard Oaks and Shellbark Hickories, and even one species that is of such concern that conservationists have advised us not to publicize it. We’re discussing how the campus could be a kind of an edge or margin that could help those species and others survive. It helps your species, too, O humans!, to have a healthy community around you.

The Holiness Code of Leviticus had something to say about living with margins. In the margins strangers get hospitality; aliens get some rights. And in our day we can add that in margins more species will survive, and maybe even human greed could be reined in at least a little bit? Leviticus is clear that people are to live simple, decent lives, and not take too much. The land is to be cared for. When the land was abused, Lev. 18 says, the land “vomited” the people out. And it very well may do so again, the Holiness Code says, in a rather prescient ecological insight.

Leviticus 19: 9 & 10 at times seems to be from another world, but I don’t think it is all done with us…. not just yet. It’s not that we’d ever go back to the world of the Priestly writers who drew out the old Holiness Code. No, but I believe that God Almighty is yet working an order of justice and righteousness in and for this earth. You see, the roar of the machines breaking the margins of the land, and governors and tycoons screaming about their spreadsheet margins, are not the only voices out there. I’ve heard mountaineers who got blasted off their mountains, say, “I still love this land, and this is where I belong.” I’ve seen the poor, gleaning from the edges of the modern food system, share the bounty better than the affluent. And I’ve read about toothbrush-toting dreamers who wear out their welcome in the governor’s office, and then obstinately write and speak and proclaim that there could be another way.

And I’ve seen something else. I’ve seen a table that was first set in the last hours before a generous person named Jesus was betrayed and taken away to die. At that table, Jesus welcomed the marginal, the Nobodys and aliens of this world who had no real power or place. The people with Jesus were the downstream, down-valley types, the type who get valley fill dumped on their heads, or get their homes ripped out from under them. The people with Jesus, at the table he spread, were the type that fish all night and catch nothing. The people of Jesus were the type that the Caesars and Herods and Pilates knew only as slaves or servants in their designs of power and wealth.

But God prefers margins. And so Jesus went to an edge called Golgotha, and laid down his blessing upon the margin. He dipped his hand with the one who betrayed him, but still fed the marginal ones, whom he loved.

You are only footsteps from the table that he alone sets. His table is the margin of the Lord’s field. Come and glean, and then go out with new eyes to see all the margins and edges that are still there, where God is still working love and forgiveness and righteousness, and hospitality to strangers, and reforestation for species of concern, and even—I daresay!—a chance for those who might climb down off their roaring machines, and lift their eyes to behold the real margins, that they thought they’d pushed away.

But, for the time being, keep your toothbrush in your pocket.

Sermon manuscript is © 2011 by Gilson Waldkoenig. Reproduce only with permission.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Just as a reminder, Lutherans Restoring Creation is also on Facebook.
Check us out!

Racine Green Congregations

Folks who are interested in how community-based interfaith efforts on behalf of the environment might look like should check out Racine Green Congregations, an initiative in Racine, WI that might well serve as a model for how local faith communities can engage in contextually sound cooperation, mutual encouragement, and advocacy.

Are you aware of similar efforts in other areas of the country? What's working/not working, and why?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Theology "without nature."

Here's another good book, especially for those interested in how destabilizing concepts of "nature" might affect our theologizing about ecology.

Tim Morton's Website

Followers of the previous LRC blogs will recall that I am a huge fan of Timothy Morton, who teaches literary criticism and environmental studies at UC Davis. His books Ecology without Nature and The Ecological Thought are, I believe, essential reading for those who would like to speak about ecological concerns in ways that don't completely reify "Nature" as some idealized object "over there."

His blog is well worth following; find it here.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Why I Am "Green" - share YOUR story!

Why am I green? Perhaps the deeper question for me is “How could I not be?”

The way that I relate to the natural world – God’s creation – seems to come from the very core of who I am and the ways in which my life experiences, and the Spirit working through them, have shaped and called me.

I’ve had a lifelong affinity for, and delight in, the natural world. I like to camp, birdwatch, hike, and spend time by lakes and mountains. Though I grew up in Michigan, I was born in Alaska; I believe I was “imprinted” by wild beauty early on!

As I matured, my ecological understanding increased, along with my deep concern for how humankind’s actions were destroying creation’s web of life and also having a huge impact upon “the least of these,” raising profound issues of justice.

Even before I began my theological training, during candidacy for diaconal ministry, I was gaining a powerful sense that texts like Psalm 24:1 – The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof – were meant to be taken seriously and shape how we live as God's people.

Through it all, I’ve come to believe that caring for the Earth is an integral part of what it means to be a child of God. After all, it was because “God so loved the world [the cosmos, in the Greek] that he gave his only begotten Son” (John 3:16).

... Not just people, not just the “world” … the whole cosmos/creation.

If we love God and are called to love and serve our neighbor, how can we do any less than care for God’s Earth which sustains us all, and is, itself, deeply loved by God?

I also cherish the words of Mark 16:15, where Jesus instructs his disciples:

Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.

I believe that is the call, to all of us, as God’s people.

Kim Winchell, Diaconal Minister
North/West Lower MI Synod

Welcome to the new Lutherans Restoring Creation blog!

In response to user feedback, Lutherans Restoring Creation has decided to merge all of its previous blogs (related to synods, congregations, colleges/seminaries, etc.) into one unified blog. This will, we hope, provide a venue where people can blog and comment about what is interesting to them while "sitting in" on related conversations from people working in other areas of Earthkeeping.

We hope that this new, unified blog will prove to be an effective and enjoyable means for networking, sharing information, and creating bonds among ELCA Lutherans and others of good will as we work to restore God's good creation.