This Tuesday is Mardi Gras or “Fat Tuesday,” the last day before Lent (the season of fasting and prayer leading up to Easter on the Christian calendar). On Mardi Gras, many people gather for big events called Carnival: eating, dancing, and making merry. Historically, this Christian festival provides a means to purge perishable items before Lent while also allowing space for a rebellious mockery of existing orders. This practice of over-the-top excess right before weeks of self-denial may seem to encourage the unhealthy cycle of binging and purging in Western culture, rather than a more sustainable equilibrium of “enough.” However, with the historical context of Carnival in mind, we can see it as a celebration of community vitality, which often must take the shape of a defiant rebellion against the unhealthy constraints of a repressive church hierarchy. With this lens in mind, how can we approach Mardi Gras as a practice of watershed discipleship? Read more
“A priest, a rabbi, a Hindu and a Unitarian walk onto a pipeline route…”
It may sound like the beginning of a joke, but this set-up describes a weekly blockade of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Expansion Project near Vancouver, British Columbia, Coast Salish Territory. Salal + Cedar, a watershed discipleship community in the Anglican Diocese of New Westminster (Anglican Church of Canada), helped lead a blockade of the Kinder Morgan access road each Thursday in December, organizing an opportunity for an interfaith group to come together around the common goal of stopping construction of the expanded pipeline, and acknowledging a shared connection to the water, land, and creatures of their watershed and world.
The Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Expansion Project would “parallel the 1,150-km route of the existing Trans Mountain Pipeline, which was built in 1953 and is the only West Coast link for Western Canadian oil,” increasing the capacity from 300,000 barrels of oil per day to 890,000 (Kinder Morgan website). However, as Rev. Laurel Dykstra of Salal + Cedar puts it, “The proposed expansion project differs significantly in route [from the existing pipeline]. It crosses a whole ton of waterways and un-ceded Indigenous territory, where people have not been fully consulted, or have explicitly denied their consent.” The level of public outcry against this project has been significant, with letter-writing campaigns and well-attended protests and marches, but approval for the project has been pushed through anyway. As construction proceeds, it is time to move forward into a different kind of action. Of this moment, Dykstra says:
“To be at the outset of that different kind of action, to see where different voices will put their bodies, is an interesting and exciting time.”
My kids anticipate Christmas like no other season. They spend the month or two ahead of time thinking about and discussing what they want for Christmas, making lists, and poring over the Lego catalogue that appears in the mailbox. They understand the waiting and anticipation part of this season, but perhaps not for the most spiritual of reasons!
This has me wondering about the best ways to engage in this season of Advent, and the season of gathering and of giving that accompanies the way that we United States Christians currently go about celebrating the birth of Jesus. Is there a space between jumping into the frenzy of the holidays full throttle, and being a humbug or a Grinch (prior to their transformations)? Read more
The latest issue of Orion Magazine, a special 35th anniversary edition, contains several articles that may be of interest to those practicing watershed discipleship, such as “Women and Standing Rock: where does the body end and sacred nature begin?” by Layli Long Soldier (this page contains a number of articles, poems, and photos on a similar theme), and “One Good Turn” by Kathleen Dean Moore, the story of five activists getting in the way of the Keystone XL Pipeline. There’s also a great piece called “The Soldier and the Soil” about an Iraq war veteran who is dealing with his post-traumatic stress through organic farming. This issue of Orion alone could keep you in excellent reading material for the entire holiday season!
I point our readers particularly to “The Ecology of Prayer” by Fred Bahnson. It’s a beautifully written essay that moves through the wonder of a tide pool to the startling emptiness of a faith-based climate action rally, he draws us into the poignancy of the emotional and spiritual states many of us find ourselves in when we contemplate creation, and our impact on it. Using the metaphor of moving on to Easter Sunday too quickly without fully experiencing the deep and awful power of Good Friday, Bahnson wrestles with how to best deal with the startlingly intense human reactions to the natural world in all its beauty and loss. How do we grieve well? Read more
A beautiful, relatively smoke-free week in early fall greeted Presbyterians and others from across the country as they gathered at Menucha Retreat & Conference Center on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge the last week of September. After an unauthorized firecracker sparked the Eagle Creek fire in early September about 20 miles east of the retreat center, and a fire season with an unusually high number of days filled with smoke hanging over the gorge and Willamette Valley, I didn’t take the view for granted. The multifaceted issues relating to the fires brought home the need for the Presbyterians for Earth Care conference being held there, with the focus, “Blessing the Waters of Life: Justice & Healing for Our Watersheds.” Oregon Public Broadcasting reported on issues such as air quality, evacuation of local communities, the local economy, transportation disruptions, conservation and forest management best practices conversations, disruptions to education, threat of landslides after the fire and rain, difficulties for fish and fisher-people, threats to the drinking water source for Portland, and concern over tribal fishing areas and the health of the fish population tribes rely on as an important food and cultural resource. This one fire is an apt metaphor for the way that humanity is interacting with creation in harmful and avoidable ways, with multiple dimensions of consequences, and it is again feeling pertinent and relevant as so many are under forced evacuation around Los Angeles, CA right now due to the Thomas Fire and other fires in Ventura County. Read more
“We are doing this discipleship; we are disciples of this watershed!”
A woman named Beatriz Fernández de Hütt exclaimed the above quote during her presentation at a workshop on the Spanish translation of the watershed discipleship book. She leads a group called Amigos del Rio Torres that works to clean up the river running through San Jose, Costa Rica.
She learned about watershed discipleship at a recent workshop at the Universidad Bíblica Latinoamericana (UBL) in Costa Rica, where Josh and Grecia Lopez-Reyes represented Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries (BCM) and presented on watershed discipleship, sharing from Discipulado de la Cuenca about the connections between watershed care, Christian faith, and the social and environmental justice concerns facing humanity and our planet today. This event celebrated the collaboration between UBL and BCM to bring the Spanish translation to print. When I spoke to Grecia and Josh about their trip, they expressed inspiration from the fact that many of the people they met in this workshop were already doing activist and advocacy work in their watersheds and were Christians, but had not necessarily connected their environmental work with their faith. Read more
As we head into the Thanksgiving holiday weekend in the United States, it’s great to think about all the things we can be grateful for. It is good to have a time to pause and reflect, to participate in the seasonality of gratitude for the year’s bountiful harvest, and to gather with family and friends. (We’ll ignore the über-consumerism of the day following Thanksgiving…)
Many of us probably know by now, however, that the story many of us learned in school about the first Thanksgiving is rather inaccurate at best, and racist and paternalistic in many ways, with a focus on the Manifest Destiny idea of the divine mandate for Europeans to conquer the “New World” in the name of Christ and country. Read more
Check out this review of Watershed Discipleship: Reinhabiting Bioregional Faith and Practice that appeared in Anabaptist Witness‘s October 2017 issue. The review is by Matt Balcarras, who tells the story of reading the book while spending time with the Huu-ay-aht First Nation on Vancouver Island, BC. Balcarras weaves together his own story of spending time there with the encouragement and challenge he received from reading the watershed discipleship book. He concludes:
Reading Watershed Discipleship, I felt like I had found something that satisfied a need I previously had been unable to articulate. I’ve read Wendell Berry. I’ve felt a hunger to know my place and to have a place that I am committed to. I’ve thought a lot about how being a follower of Jesus means living as part of creation, enjoying abundance and appreciating boundaries. But I had not yet considered that I should “recenter [my] citizen identity in the topography of creation rather than in the political geography of dominant cultural ideation” (15). Myers and company have convinced me that to live a life of justice and peace means I must live a life that is in right relation with the land. And to do that, I must learn the legacy of Indigenous communities (18) like the Huu-ay-aht First Nation that have so much to teach those of us who hope for a future for our children when this watershed moment has passed.
A webinar on Tuesday, November 14, 2017, will explore the topic: “Impact of Environmental Injustice on Low-Income and Communities of Color.” Sponsored by Presbyterian Hunger Program and Self Development of People, this free webinar will explore the systemic environmental justice issues facing communities of color and low income communities in the United States, offering suggestions about how to get involved. Learn about environmental laws, zoning regulations, the disproportionate burden of negative health impacts due to environmental pollution on communities of color, and how faith communities are helping address these issues. Learn more here. Register here. UPDATE: Find the full webinar online here.
Featured speakers include:
Shantha Ready Alonso, Director, Creation Justice Ministries
Elona Street-Stewart, Delaware Nanticoke, Synod Executive, Synod of Lakes and Prairies
Grace Ji-Sun Kim, Activist and Author
What does it look like for creation to praise God? A recent post by Margaret B. Adam on the Creature Kind blog adapts a sermon she gave, which addresses this very question. She notes that “praise is a bodily function,” and that creatures sing their praise to God in their own unique voices, participating in creation’s reconciliation through doing the things they are created to do.
But what about cows raised in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), also known as factory farms? Can these cows praise God in the ways they’re created to do so? What is our role in enabling other creatures to be able to praise God to their fullest potential?
This is a good example of how to preach about watershed discipleship in ways both biblically grounded and with practical application. Hopefully it inspires you to think about the Christian ethics of animal products in our current economic system, and to consider how you might approach these topics from the pulpit.