Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Dec. '13 Creation Corner: Holiday gift books on Ecology & Religion

For the secular environmentalist thinking religion has nothing to say about the Earth, or for the person of faith who is an environmentalist, or for yourself, consider these books for holiday giving.

The Bible and Ecology: Rediscovering the Community of Creation. Richard Bauckham.

The Blue Sapphire of the Mind: Notes for a Contemplative Ecology. Douglas E. Christie.

Consider the Birds: A Provocative Guide to Birds of the Bible. Debbie Blue.

Earth-Honoring Faith: Religious Ethics in a New Key. Larry L. Rasmussen.

God's Good World: Reclaiming the Doctrine of Creation. Jonathan R. Wilson.

Language of the Fields: Tilling and Keeping as Christian Vocation. Daniel G. Deffenbaugh.

Love Letter to the Earth. Thich Nhat Hanh.

Making Peace with the Land: God's Call to Reconcile with Creation. Fred Bahnson and Norman Wirzba.

Option for the Poor and for the Earth: Catholic Social Teaching. Donal Dorr (a revision of his 1992 text, Option for the Poor: A Hundred Years of Vatican Social Teaching).

Rebirth of the Sacred: Science, Religion and the New Environmental Ethos. Robert Nadeau.

The Seven Pillars of Creation: The Bible, Science, and the Ecology of Wonder. William P. Brown.

Shalom and the Community of Creation: An Indigenous Vision. Randy S. Woodley.

Spiritual Ecology: The Cry of the Earth. Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, editor (over 20 contributors to inter-faith essays).

Why Animal Suffering Matters: Philosophy, Theology, and Practical Ethics. Andrew Linzey.

Also of interest:

Carbon Fast (daily actions to reduce one's carbon imprint), free on-line at www.macucc.org/carbonfast .

The Peaceable Table: Journal of Christian animal concerns and compassionate eating. Free on-line at http://www.vegetarianfriends.net/ .

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Creation Corner Column 11/13 World Charter for Nature

World Charter for Nature
Adopted over thirty years ago, the World Charter for Nature was agreed to by 111 member nation-states of the United Nations. It followed an earlier declaration of over forty years ago. You may want to compare it with the ethics you try to abide by in ecological matters, and that of your national church body, political body, and any environmental advocacy group you belong to.
It first re-affirms the fundamental purposes of the U.N., then proceeds to note what it is aware of, convinced of, and persuaded by. Some general principles follow, and then functions and implementation measures are noted.
It proclaims five "principles of conservation by which all human conduct affecting nature is to be guided and judged."
1. Nature shall be respected and its essential processes shall not be impaired.
2. The genetic viability on the earth shall not be compromised; the population levels of all life forms, wild and domesticated, must be at least sufficient for their survival, and to this end necessary habitats shall be safeguarded.
3. All areas of the earth, both land and sea, shall be subject to these principles of conservation; special protection shall be given to unique areas, to representative samples of all the different types of ecosystems and to the habitats of rare or endangered species.
4. Ecosystems and organisms, as well as the land, marine and atmospheric resources that are utilized by man, shall be managed to achieve and maintain optimum sustainable productivity, but not in such a way as to endanger the integrity of those other ecosystems or species with which they coexist.
5. Nature shall be secured against degradation caused by warfare or other hostile activities.
You may also ask yourself what you think might be missing here, and why the United States was the only nation-state to vote against it.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Creation Corner Column, October 2013: Environmental Resources You May Have Missed

Biophilia: The Human Bond With Other Species. E.O. Wilson, 1984.

The Biophilia Hypothesis. Stephen Kellert and E.O. Wilson, eds. 1993.
Breaking New Ground: A Personal History. Environmentalist Lester R. Brown's autobiography (see www.earth-policy.org/books/bng ). 2013.
The Ecocriticism Reader: Landmarks in Literary Ecology. CheryllGlotfelty and Harold Fromm, eds. 1996.
Ecological Intelligence: How Knowing the Hidden Impacts of What We Buy Can Change Everything. Daniel Goldman, 2009.
The Human, The Orchid, and the Octopus: Exploring and Conserving Our Natural World. Jacques Cousteau and Susan Schiefelbein, 2007.
Planet Earth: An Illustrated History. Kelly Knauer, ed. for Time Life. 2008. Explores the atmosphere, pedosphere (land), biosphere (life), hydrosphere (water), cryosphere (frozen regions), and geosphere (subterranean earth).
Rewilding the World: Dispatches From the Conservation Revolution. Caroline Fraser, 2009.
Sacred Earth: Places of Peace and Power. Martin Gray, 2007. 137 portrayed sites; listing of 500 of the world's most sacred sites.
Simply Living: The Spirit of the Indigenous People. Shirley Ann Jones, ed. 1999. (Ethnophilosophical Quotations).
Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor. Rob Nixon, 2012.
http://www.worldchanging.com/ A sustainability website (and book) for solutions to planetary problems.
http://www.edge.org/ wide-ranging discussion of science and technology matters.

http://www.shalejustice.org/ A Pennsylvania-based coalition of organizations united for the environment.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Creation Corner Column 9/13: Reflections on Priorities, Principles, Projects

Reflections on Priorities, Principles, Projects

God touches all in the heavens and on earth; everything is full of sacred presence. Psalm 103:19

Here in the palm of my hand is a hazelnut, a small thing, round like a ball. It is all that is made; it is made by love. See in this little thing three truths: God made it; God loves it; God keeps it. In these three truths stay and grow. Julian of Norwich

The fragrance always remains in the hand that gives the rose. Heda Bejar

If you want your faith, you have to work for it. It is a gift, but for very few is it a gift given without any demand for equal time devoted to its cultivation. Flannery O'Connor

To choose what is difficult, all one's days, as if it were easy: that is faith. W.H. Auden

Conservation is a cause that has no end. There is no point at which we can say, "Our work is finished." Rachel Carson

We fasted, marched, picketed, sat in...We never succeeded, and we never quite gave up. That is the best that can be said for us. We must be content if it is to be our obituary. Daniel Berrigan, SJ

Everyone needs beauty as well as bread, places to play and pray, where nature heals and gives strength to body and soul alike. John Muir, environmentalist

The sole meaning of life is to serve humanity. Leo Tolstoy

To remember the past is to commit oneself to the future. To remember Hiroshima is to abhor nuclear war. Pope John Paul II

Nuclear war begins, I believe, in our hearts. And that is where it must end. Archbishop Raymond G. Hunthausen

The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children...Under the cloud of war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron. Dwight D. Eisenhower

The seed never sees the flower. Zen saying

If you expect to see the final results of your works, you simply have not asked a big enough question. Arab proverb

Probably every generation sees itself as charged with remaking the world. Mine, however, knows it will not remake the world. Its task is even greater; to keep the world from destroying itself. Albert Camus

We are now reminded to be aware of our place upon this earth, and to fulfill our obligations to ourselves, our families, nation, and natural world and its creator. Joanne Shenandoah ("Prophecy Song").

God is wholly present in all creation, in every corner, behind you and before you. Martin Luther.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Creation Corner 8/13: Late Summer Reading suggestions

Late 2013 summer Environmental Book list recommendations: Creation Corner of August 2013
For the discerning reader of environmental topics, here are some choice titles to choose from in late summer.
1. A source of many links to environmental book lists by topic:
2. This listopia" allows for votes for favorite books, in topics ranging from "contemporary fiction or non-fiction, how-to guides for green living, ecology tracts from the tree-hugging 1970s, and those seminal works that chronicled the first stirrings for the conservation ethic."
3. Similar to #2, this site allows you to "browse by tag" for topics such as nature, sustainability, environmental health, picture books, inspiration for change, green politics, etc. The book covers are also shown.
4. This "Grinning Planet" site (Saving the Planet One Joke At A Time) provides separate book pages on global warming, energy, solar energy, etc. as well as cartoons, videos, quotes, music, movies, etc.
5. An Environmental Science Books list catalogued alphabetically provides a good bibliography. Jacket covers are portrayed, and it allows you to find a list or topic ("what are the best books about such-and-such").
6. This site reflects on some of the best titles from the 20th century from the pro-activist view of a college teacher of environmental science.
7. From the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) are recommended or authored titles by SEJ members, including fiction books, and a "how-to" guide for covering pollution topics. A good source for the reporting on environment, energy, science, health and climate.
8. The reading list of the Environmental Literacy Council. Topics include air and climate, land, water, ecosytems, energy, food, environment and society.
9. A short reading list meant for young adults (high school and college) by an environmental science teacher of widely-read and highly-reviewd books that analyze issues around the interaction of humans and the environment, categorized by their central issue. Each title is a link to the book's page on Amazon.com .
10. Children's Environmental Books---400 nature and environmental books for children of all ages.
11. Environmental science E-books for free online viewing and/or dowload; some highly technical.
12. From The Association for the Study of Literature and Environment's (ASLE) list of "Twelve Classic Nature and Environment Books. Includes winners of the National Outdoor Book Awards (NOBA) and ten other "best book lists" in the category of "outdoor literature."

Note: Michael Ochs is a member of St. Mark's Lutheran Church of Williamsport PA http://www.stmarkswilliamsport.org/


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Mid-Summer Reading: July 2013 Creation Corner Column


Blessed Are the Consumers, by Sallie McFague. In his "Environmental Urgency” piece in the current (7/2013) The Lutheran magazine (http://www.thelutheran.org)  James K. Honig raises this book up, saying (now paraphrasing) she brings forward the theological model of kenosis, (Philippians 2:5-8) in the sense that "in creation God emptied God's self in love, giving creation and all creatures space to flourish" and as "Christ emptied himself (on the cross) for the sake of the whole world" so too we "give ourselves to simpler living and sustainable practices for the sake of giving others space and opportunity to flourish. This includes not only other people but other creatures and, indeed, the earth itself."

 "Caring for Creation: Vision, Hope and Justice" is the ELCA social statement on the environment and may be found at http://www.elca.org/socialstatements or call 800-638-3522, ext. 2580.

Climate Change is a Moral Issue: see http://www.interfaithactiononclimatechange.org

Climate Crises in Human History, edited by A. Bruce Mainwaring, Robert Giegengack and Claudio Vita-Finzi. This volume considers the response of selected cultures to climate events that have been documented from the archaeological and geological records.

Feral: Searching for Enhancement on the Frontiers of Rewilding by George Monbiot.  From a review in The (UK) Guardian Weekly: "The closest we get to nature is feeding ducks in the park, and ‘the greatest trial of strength and ingenuity we face is opening a badly designed packet of nuts'. In short, civilization has squeezed the wildness out of our environment and out of us. Unable to flex our Paleolithic muscles, we have withered, aetiolated *, gone to seed." * Aetiolated (or etiolated, means to be pale and drawn out due to a lack of light, feeble, having lost vigor or substance.)  

Global Weirdness by Climate Central. Sub-titled: "Severe Storms, Deadly Heat Waves, Relentless Drought, Rising Seas, and the Weather of the Future." This is the trusted source of information on all things climate related (cover blurb). From The New York Times book review: "Lays out what we know about climate change while hewing to the facts and taking great care to avoid bias and hysteria."

How Many Lightbulbs Does It Take to Change a Christian?: A Pocket Guide to Shrinking Your Ecological Footprint by Jan Nunley, Claire Foster and David Shreeve. Eight sections look at water, energy, transportation, waste, biodiversity, well-being, lifestyle, and Sabbath. 64 pages.

"Now and Forever: Sabbath, stewardship and sustainable church" by David Davis. A study guide to this piece from the April 2013 issue of The Lutheran Magazine can be found at http://www.thelutheran.org.

Shopping for Meaningful Lives: The Religious Motive of Consumerism by Bruce P. Rittenhouse. Consumerism is a problem. It deforms individual character, our sense of obligation to one another, and our concern for future generations and the environment. It is a defining feature of our culture. What drives consumerism" What can be done to counteract it? The author shows that consumerism functions as a religion. It provides a means of assurance that an individual life is meaningful. And because we need this assurance to live out our everyday lives, consumerism takes precedence over whatever other values a person professes---unless a person can adopt a different way to secure the meaning of his or her life. Thus from the perspective of Christian theology, consumerism is a wrong answer to a problem of human existence that should be answered by faith in Christ. (From the  publisher's description of the book).

Sojourners Magazine (http://sojo.net/magazine) has recently featured some articles of interest about creation care. In the May 2013 issue you can find the following articles, among others, from their cover feature entitled "Licking Climate Change":

..."For God So Loved the World" by Rose Marie Berger (Is it possible that people of faith, in a Spirit-driven 'power shift', might be the key to reversing climate change?)

..."The Gathering Storm" by Janelle Tupper (describes twelve of the many possible effects of our rising global temperature).

..."No Time for Arm-Chair Activists" by Julie Polter (a compilation of 13 books, 3 films, etc. re: climate change).

..."Feeding Our Imagination" by Mallory McDuff (re: two recent fiction books with a climate change theme).

..."The Battle is Joined" by Bill McKibben, founder of http://www.350.org, and Methodist layman (re: the Keystone XL pipeline debate).

From the July 2013 issue of Sojourners Magazine, one can find the following:

..."Turning Up the Heat" by Bill McKibben (re: the emerging fossil fuel resistance movement---see http://www.joinsummerheat.org.)

 ..."Cultivating a Better America" is a profile of Wendell Berry by Danny Duncan Collum (according to Berry, 78, author of The Unsettling of America thirty-five years ago, all you need to have hope is one good example).

 "Urgent: Time for creation care" by Robert C. Blezard is a study guide that accompanies the cover feature story in the July 2013 issue ("Urgent: Creation care") of The Lutheran Magazine http://www.thelutheran.org (click "study guides").

 "When creation speaks to us: Can we listen to others as we discover responsibility?" is the theme title for the monthly message from the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Mark S. Hanson, in the July issue of http://www.thelutheran.org magazine.

 Zoobiquity: The Astonishing Connection Between Human and Animal Health, by Barbara Hatterson-Horowitz, M.D., and Kathryn Bowers. Dr. Atul Gawande says this book is "full of fascinating stories of intersection between human and non-human medicine...Fish that faint; dinosaur cancers...adolescent elephant behavior that explain(s) human teenagers...I was beguiled."

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Early Summer Reading: Creation Corner Column June 2013

Cold, Hungry and in the Dark: Exploding the Natural Gas Supply Myth. Bill Powers. New Society Publishers. Explains why shale gas is not the "game-changer" touted by many.
Earth Repair: A Grassroots Guide to Healing Toxic and Damaged Landscapes. Leila Darwish. New Society Publishers. From and for those who are impatient, not wanting to wait for the healing of the world.
Eco-Business: A Big-Brand Takeover of Sustainability. Peter Dauvergne and Jane Lister. MIT Press. Two experts explain the consequences for the planet when corporations use sustainability as a business tool.
The Environmental Advantages of Cities: Countering Commonsense Antiurbanism. William B. Meyer. MIT Press. An analysis that offers evidence to challenge the widely held assumption that urbanization and environmental quality are necessarily at odds.
The Five Stages of Collapse: Survivors' Toolkit. Dmitry Orlov. New Society Publishers. Especially for those who think collapse is impossible, this is an entertaining look.
Flourishing: A Frank Conversation About Sustainability. John R. Ehrenfeld and Andrew J. Hoffman. Stanford Univ. Press. Of this book, Bill McKibben says: "These are unexpectedly deep and moving conversations about where we can go, and where we must go, both as individuals and as a planet. It's a hardheaded account of the sacredness of the earth, and what that implies for our work and society."
The Great Reversal: How We Let Technology Take Control of the Planet. David Edward Tabachnick. Yale University Press. A history of technology, how it threatens our humanity, and clouds our judgment about what constitutes the good life.
Harvesting the Biosphere: What We Have Taken from Nature. Vaclav Smil. MIT Press. An interdisciplinary and quantitative account of human claims on the biosphere's stores of living matter, from prehistoric hunting to modern energy production.
Henry D. Thoreau, Essays: A Fully Annotated Edition. Edited by Jeffrey S. Cramer. Yale University Press. Arranged chronologically, Thoreau's outlets for his thinking are laid out in the periodical press, newspapers, compendiums and lectures.
Living Room Revolution: A Handbook for Conversation, Community and the Common Good. Cecile Andrews. New Society Publishers. An enjoyable primer on how to enrich our lives and make the world a better place at the same time.
Living Through the End of Nature: The Future of American Environmentalism. Paul Wapner. MIT Press. An analysis of the theoretical issues of current environmentalism.
The Rediscovery of the Wild. edited by Peter H. Kahn, Jr., and Patricia H. Hasbach. MIT Press. A compelling case for connecting with the wild, for our psychological and physical well-being and to flourish as a species.
Small Stories, Big Changes: Agents of Change on the Frontlines of Sustainability. Lyle Estill. New Society Publishers. Determined people hard at work on the front lines of the sustainability movement share their inspiring stories.
Supply Shock: Economic Growth at the Crossroads and the Steady State Solution. Brian Czech. New Society Publishers. A vision of steady statesmanship leadership helps to manage and conserve the natural resources and habitats of the world.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Creation Corner: World Environment Day, June 5: Think, Eat, Save

Sustainable Consumption is the theme for the United Nations Environment Program World Environment Day, held each year on June 5. This provides a "teachable moment" for many reading this column.

As we acquire more than we need, and produce much waste as we do, we consume natural resources at an unsustainable pace. A "tipping point" is reached where the quality of our air and water is threatened. Dangerous low levels of non-renewable resources can result, and the environment becomes degraded. The poorest world populations are especially impacted.

The massive loss of biodiversity magnifies the worsening scenario, with current extinction rates of birds, mammals and amphibians rising.

The future of a high quality of life, our own well-being, are being compromised. The way we use and dispose of the products we own and consume needs to be changed, so that future generations may have access to their fair share of resources.

Transitioning to more sustainable activities and lifestyles is our task. An especially valuable A-Z guide to simple steps to easily green your daily routine and make good eco-behavior into a habit may be found at www.unep.org/wed/A-Z/ .

Some other topics include food waste facts, harmful substances, resource efficiency, ecosystem management, disasters and conflicts, environmental governance, climate change, and ideas for how local actions can promote the goal of sustainable consumption that in turn can reshape our future.

Also of note, related to this topic, is a new book by U.N. Messenger of Peace, anthropologist/primatologist Jane Goodall. In her Seeds of Hope: Wisdom and Wonder from the World of Plants (Grand Central, 384 pages) she shares her love of the botanical world, a different topic from her well-known study of chimpanzees (she's written more than 20 books for adults and children).

Without plants there would be no animals, no insects, fish, birds, mammals, no humans. They clean water, air and soil. And trees store CO2, thus slowing down global warming. Threats to plants include human population growth, destruction of habitats, modern agriculture, over-collection and climate change.

As she studies the plant kingdom she seeks to protect it, and as she shares her sense of wonder of the "Green Kingdom", she inspires others to love the natural world.

Note: This column appears as a regular feature in the monthly newsletter (Sept-May) of the United Churches of Lycoming County, PA, the 67 year-old ecumenical organization based in Williamsport PA. It may be seen at www.uclc.org .

Monday, April 8, 2013

Creation Corner: The Pope and the environment

 The Pope's propitious choice of a name: Francis
In his first address to the nearly 200 members of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, the newly-elected Pope explained his name choice, Francis (of Assisi), by proclaiming a primary concern for the world's poor while others in the world greedily exploit nature for their own selfish values.
Saint Francis of Assisi is adopted by many ecologists as their patron saint.
Citing his predecessor Benedict's criticism of the "tyranny of relativism", whereby the co-existence of peoples takes second place to individualistic values, Pope Francis decried the material poverty that derives from such "spiritual poverty."  As peaceful co-existence is threatened by such personally proclaimed selfish rights, we should work for peace.
To create a more humane and just world, to work for peace, we need to care for the good of others, to build bridges connecting all people, especially promoting a dialog between one end of the world and another as we become more interdependent.  And such a dialog needs to occur among all the world's religions.
In sum, fighting poverty, both material and spiritual, building peace and constructing bridges are the reference points for the journey he wishes to invite us to join.  "But," as he concluded, "it is a difficult journey, if we do not learn to grow in love for this world of ours.  Here too, it helps me to think of Francis, who teaches a profound respect for the whole of creation and the protection of our environment, which all too often, instead of using for the good, we exploit greedily, to one another's detriment."
This monthly "Creation Corner" column originally appears in the newsletter at www.uclc.org .

Monday, March 4, 2013

April Religious Environmental Stewardship Weeks

Earth Day Sunday 2013 and Soil and Water Stewardship 2013 Week

Two opportunities to employ a religious perspective on environmental issues this spring 2013 come from the National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) and the Eco-Justice Program of the National Council of Churches (NCC).

For the NACD Soil and Water Stewardship Week of Sunday April 28 to Sunday May 5, the theme is "Where Does Your Water Shed?"  It is one of the world's largest conservation-related observances.  Outreach materials for churches include sermon starters, hymns and scriptures on the topic, and stewardship education materials suitable for all grade levels (guides, activity sheets, cd/power points, a poster, bookmarks, etc.).

See http://www.nacdnet.org/stewardship/2013 or contact your local county conservation district office. 

For the NCC Eco-Justice April Earth Day 2013 "Green Your Sunday Morning Routine" theme, see www.nccecojustice.org .  By looking at our ecological footprint (for example, as we turn on a light, take a shower, eat breakfast, etc.) and seeing what opportunities exist for change, we can become better caretakers of God's creation by reducing our environmental impact. 

The resource provides examples for individuals, churches and communities.  Sermon starters, a bulletin insert, prayer, a call to worship, etc., all raise up the Sunday Morning Sustainability theme, and separate denominational versions are available (Disciples of Christ, ELCA, PCUSA, RCA, UMC).
Re: sustainability, also of note is the "Spring of Sustainability" sponsored by the Sustainable World Coalition, April 1 to June 14, a free series of events featuring interviews and panels with more than 50 global sustainability leaders, including Bill McKibben, Michael Brune, Hunter Lovins, Randy Hayes, Janine Benyus, and John Perkins.

Participants can connect via phone or web.  Register at no charge at www.springofsustainability.com .

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Religion & Science; Climate; the Outdoors; Energy Justice

Religion & Science:  If you are seeking to know "that the most fundamental scientific truths in contemporary physics and biology are analogous to and fully compatible with the most profound spiritual truths in all the great religious traditions of the world", see Rebirth of the Sacred: Science, Religion and the New Environmental Ethos by Robert Nadeau (Oxford U.P.).  He posits a science/religion dialogue can serve as the basis of an environmental ethos, that, in turn, can give rise to a movement of religious environmentalism.

Climate:  "U.S. roasts in hottest year on record by landslide" was the recent local newspaper headline in a look-back at 2012.  "34,008" was the number of "new daily high temperature records set at weather stations in the U.S. in 2012" according to TIME magazine (Jan. 21, 2013, p. 9).

For an historical context of the strategies used by climate change deniers, see The Inquisition of Climate Science by James Lawrence Powell (Columbia U.P.).

To read why a politically conservative atmospheric scientist accepts the broad climate change science consensus on global warming, and how to distinguish human-caused change from normal atmospheric variation, see What We Know About Climate Change by Kerry Emanuel (MIT Press).

The Outdoors:  To understand something of which we have historically lost (a specific American landscape, the public garden cemetery), and how recovering its themes ("an ethic of communal care, with a sense of beauty and repose related directly to an acknowledgment of mortality and limitation") may help us re-think our approach to ecological crises, see Arcadian America: The Death and Life of an Environmental Tradition by Aaron Sachs (Yale U.P.).

As a post-script to an earlier column highlighting the benefit of nature-immersion, consider what Edith Cobb (1895-1977) proposed in her Ecology of Imagination in Childhood, that, after reviewing the biographies of 300 "geniuses", one common thread was present: intense experiences of the natural world in childhood.  Contact with nature spurs creativity.

And for the person seeking a greater dose of "vitamin G" (Green exercise) comes this recommended title: Outdoor Fitness: Step Out of the Gym into the Best Shape of Your Life by Tina Vindum.

Energy Justice: Finally, for a rather complete analysis of various issues (energy, environmental, corporate, educational, community, etc.) see www.energyjustice.net .

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Earth-Honoring Faith; 4 Laws of Ecology; Quotations

Earth-Honoring Faith

Does your religious tradition honor God's creation?  How does your faith, translated into action, honor the earth?

That seems to be the question addressed by Larry Rasmussen, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, in his Earth-Honoring Faith: Religious Ethics in a New Key (Oxford University Press, 2012), as described by Internet-sourced accounts of the new book.

The problems are well-known: "climate change, species extinction, the destruction of entire ecosystems, the urgent need for a more just economic order."  As we consider the natural elements of air, water, sunlight, fire and earth, what religious resources can we use to transition ourselves "from an industrial-technological age obsessed with consumption to an ecological age that restores wise stewardship of all life"?

Perhaps what is needed, from all faith traditions, is a common "spiritual and ecological ethic that accounts for the well-being of all creation."  Such practices as "mysticism, sacramentalism, prophetic practices, asceticism and the cultivation of wisdom" can "counter the consumerism, utilitarianism, alienation, oppression, and folly that have pushed us to the brink."

His effort is given rave reviews: "a tour-de-force"; "eloquent, comprehensive, and compelling"; "a vision that is sorely needed"; "interdisciplinary thinking at its best"; "his scholarship is impeccable"; "Rasmussen shows that a paradigm shift to an ecologically conscious civilization is possible."

Rasmussen writes, in the "Prelude" to his book: "This is a work in religious ethics.  Its burning questions are the questions of all ethics: How are we to live, and for what?  What makes lives, any lives and all lives, go 'round well?  What is good, right, and fitting?  And while this book, as any book, can do precious little by itself, it belongs to those questions."

Such questions are deserving of consideration in our congregations, sermons, Christian education classrooms, homes, communities, corporate suites and halls of government.

The Four Laws of Ecology (Barry Commoner 1917-2012)

Known to many general readers as the formulator of "The Four Laws of Ecology," Dr. Commoner died last year.  A cellular biologist and college professor, in 1970 TIME magazine featured him as "the Paul Revere of Ecology" in a cover story.  Some today regard him as the greatest environmentalist of the 20th century.  His books include The Closing Circle: Nature, Man and Technology (1971) and Making Peace With the Planet (1990).

The "Four Laws of Ecology," with various simple explanations given on different web sites, and which can be applied to ones daily life, are:

1. Everything Is Connected To Everything Else.  There is one ecosphere for all living organisms and what affects one, affects all.  Humans and other species are connected/dependent on other species.  With this in mind it becomes hard to practice anything other than compassion and harmlessness.

2.  Everything Must Go Somewhere.  There is no "waste" in nature, and there is no "away" to which things can be thrown.  Everything, such as wood smoke, nuclear waste, carbon emissions, etc.,  must go somewhere.

3.  Nature Knows Best.  Humankind has fashioned technology to improve upon nature, but such change in a natural system is, says Commoner, "likely to be detrimental to that system."  The Creation, one can argue, has an intelligence, and to tinker with that "unintellectually" we get global warming pollution, etc.

4.  There Is No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.  Exploitation of nature will inevitably involve the conversion of resources from useful to useless forms.  In nature, both sides of the equation must balance, for every gain there is a cost, and all debts are eventually paid.

Among Commoner's achievements are these two:

a.  As a central figure in the mid-20th century anti-nuclear testing movement, he issued warnings about radioactive fallout (based on an analysis of children's baby teeth) that helped lead to a 1963 nuclear test ban treaty that phased out atmospheric testing.

b.  He broadened his ecological message by becoming a politician, running as the the USA Presidential candidate on the 1980 Citizens Party ticket.  His running mate was LaDonna Harris, the Native-American wife of Fred Harris, former Democratic Senator from Oklahoma.

Quotations for Inspiration in 2013

When one tugs at a single thing in nature, (s)he finds it attached to the rest of the world.  John Muir

I go to nature to be soothed and healed , and to have my senses put in order.  John Burroughs

The love for all living creatures is the noblest attribute of (humanity).  Charles Darwin

Note: This is an expanded version of the January 2013 column that appeared in the monthly newsletter of the United Churches of Lycoming County, Williamsport PA (www.uclc.org) .