Summer Camp and the Rule of Life – Guest Blogger, Katie Heishman

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Brethren Woods Camp & Retreat Center’s new logo updated 04/2017.

Working as a program director might be one of the only “office” jobs that connects me to the cyclical design of nature. As we move from season to season, our programming shifts in rhythm with the movement of nature. In the winter, we slow down, observing a slower pace, a slower schedule. Into the spring, the pace of life and work perk up with the greening of life all around camp. By the time summer erupts around us, we’re matching the pace of buzzing bees and the vibrancy of the natural world bursting around us. Then with a flicker summer blazes into fall, the erratic pace of summer giving way to the vibrancy found in restful sleep, dreaming of new seasons, and preparing for winter weather.

The summer months sneak up on me and leave with a sense of disbelief, “Is this really happening? Are the summer staff really arriving today?” Despite my disbelief at the fast-paced reality, it’s really happening. Our summer staff begins to arrive in the middle of May—we spend two weeks training and planning with our Assistant Program directors. They take charge of the day-to-day routines of camp making sure meals and activities are happening on time. They allow Tim and I space to step back from the day to day of summer camp and prepare for next week or the coming months of programming. The calendar still spins on—even if I’m living in the disbelief of summer all around me.

2017 Summer Staff after a commissioning ceremony

My disbelief stretches from the arrival of summer to the people who show up to summer camp. Each summer that the summer staff—full of male and female counselors, support staff, and leadership—is a gift from God! Finding faithful young adults who will be getting paid can be a struggle, but finding people to come for free—well, that floors me! Brethren Woods has a faithful base of adult volunteers for health managers and deans who take a week from their job or their summer to spend time at camp serving.

As an extrovert, the buzzing about of volunteers and summer staff is a real treat for me. Every volunteer brings a unique spin to their leadership. I am blessed seeing nuanced styles at play throughout the whole summer. The worship stays fresh week to week with the movement of deans, who provide daily Bible study lessons and lead the campers in evening worship, adding personal songs or stories to the mix. Adult counselors resurrect games from the late 80s and early 90s that the kids love! Health managers each have a different system for grading the “cleanest cabin” from yellow cards to the Mr. Clean Broom, and a dancing duck. I’m in awe of the time and commitment folks will put into their roles. My favorite question to ask volunteers is, “What are sacred memories or moments that you have around Brethren Woods?” Everyone’s answer is different and each one leaves me in awe at the many ways we can each experience a place where God speaks to us.

Everyone wishes that life could be more like summer camp…and I’m one of the lucky kids that gets to experience it every summer. Supervising the summer is obviously not the same as sleeping in a cabin with seven other souls, but summer camp’s rhythm lends itself to a “rule of life.” A rule of life is a pattern of spiritual disciplines that give our lives structure and strengthen our walk with God. Camp’s rule of life looks like rising with bunk mates; praising God by the lake with croaking bullfrogs; blessing breakfast, lunch, and dinner and eating family style; reading scripture and studying the Bible; evening worship hosts a painted sky that fades to twinkling stars; and reflections of the day and God’s movement are shared with bunkmates by flashlight.

During the summer months, I’m reminded of the enormous impact the camp rule of life has on camper’s and staff’s lives. A whole community is committing to immerse themselves in rhythms that encourage their awakening to God’s movement in their lives. Most of the time, we don’t create these spaces and these rhythms to encounter God in the same way that we can at camp or on spiritual retreats. Camp is a technology-free zone, but most of my life involves daily attentiveness to a laptop or a phone. Even as a seminary student and worker in outdoor ministries I need reminders to cultivate a consistent rule of life that allows me to abide with Jesus. How can I cultivate a life with sacred, joyful rhythms like summer camp? What does a faithful rule of life look like when I must create it myself? What would a rule of life for a family or household include? What sacred rhythms do you want to cultivate together?

While I work on drafting my rule of life for the coming, slower seasons—I wonder about what volunteers, staff, and campers will carry with them from this summer season. At the end of the season, summer staff usually share about the immense deepening of their faith because of their time at camp. Many learned spiritual disciplines like centering prayer and breath prayer for the first time and I’m hopeful for their continued walk with God. Sometimes we hear about campers initiating baptism and membership classes with their pastors when they come home from camp. Many heard calls to follow Jesus more intentionally, committing to an intentional step in their journey and I’m grateful for church communities there to support them. I finish thank you cards for volunteers—thanking them for the gift of their time and energy, which in this day and age are fleeting more and more. I am grateful for their spiritual maturity and their commitment to join in the sacred camp rule of life over and over again each summer.

 

Heishman is an MDiv student at Bethany Theological Seminary and co-Program Director at Brethren Woods Camp and Retreat Center with her husband, Tim. They live in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and attend Linville Creek Church of the Brethren.

Image Credits: Camp Brethren Woods, Faith and Worship, and Rule of Life

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Giving Wilderness New Meaning – Guest Blogger, Matt Guynn

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We seek wisdom from the trees
From the stories of Jesus, of you and of me
We seek wisdom from the bees
From the practice of Sabbath, Shalom, and Jubilee

This is life, sacred life,
And I want to be alive for it,
I want to be alive!

-Solveig Nilsen-Goodin

Just a few days after we moved into our new home in southeast Portland in snowy cold mid-December 2016, we were unofficially house-warmed by several handfuls of new visitors. The Wilderness Way Community was gathering for our monthly Sabbath hike, which this year is taking place each third Sunday at Powell Butte Nature Park. The trailhead is a block from our front door. We were worn out due to our move and our late-term pregnancy, but Sarah and I sent our four-year-old son, who rode through the snowy woods on someone’s shoulders.

On most Sunday afternoons, we are gathering in the sunroom of the Leaven Community in northeast Portland, Oregon. We’re singing “Done Made my Vow to the Lord,” or “God Let us Be Free,” or “We Are Ready/Manna Rebirth,” or another one of our favorites. We’re kneeling and washing our faces in a shallow ceramic basin, sluicing off the weeks we’ve had, blessing ourselves with water and preparing to enter the wilderness together. We divide into pairs for ten-minute one-to-one check-ins. We gather again to share stories about the skills of loving, anecdotes from our lives about how we’ve attempted — and succeeded or struggled or failed — to practice unconditional love in the last week.

Depending on which Sunday, next up might be a someone’s money or spiritual or nature autobiography. Or it might be Liberation Bible Study. Or it might be “Gettin’ After It” Sunday, where we go deep about how it’s going with our shared practices of Sabbath, Shalom, and Jubilee.

Across the street, the greenness of Alberta Park shines at us. Through windows, through the trees, on any given Sunday I see my son Daniel’s bright clothes as he climbs and balances on a mossy stone wall with other kids. He in the Wilderness Way Community’s Children’s School, learning core stories of Christian faith while also learning to build fires, track the turning of the elemental and liturgical seasons, and play in ways that channels aggression and stays emotionally connected with other kids.

Wilderness Way exists to ground and cultivate “wild” Christian disciples and fearless spiritual leaders, rooted in the natural world and the prophetic Christian tradition, offering our lives for the transformation of our culture and economy into one that Jesus might recognize as what he called the Kingdom of God, what we might call the Ecosystem of God.

– from the Wilderness Way Mission Statement

Since 2009, my family has participated in the Wilderness Way Community. Wilderness Way was founded with a clear focus on developing spiritual leaders who are ready and able to respond to our times. This process of leadership development isn’t one size fits all, as each is on a personal journey. Some in Wilderness Way are rediscovering a faith damaged by the churches of their childhoods – having been treated as less than, for being women or queer or just different. Some are learning to teach the radical stream of the Bible, focused on the “least of these” and the Exodus escape from oppression into God’s new pattern of relying on manna as we journey together. Some are learning and teaching permaculture. Some are learning to release power and privilege and enter into the fullness of community. We are community organizers, counselors, pastors, teachers, medical professionals, students, retirees. We are on the Wilderness Way together.

In 2016 we celebrated the community’s tenth anniversary. As a part of that celebration, we collectively wrote a book – mostly through the labors of our pastor/organizer Solveig Nilsen-Goodin. Here’s a little more, from What Is the Way of the Wilderness?: An Introduction to the Wilderness Way Community.

“At Wilderness Way we come together to open up an alternative space within the context of the American empire—a bastion of global capitalism and neocolonialism. We come together to imagine this alternative space as a “wilderness” space, a space in which we can push back the logic of empire and find power in community to imagine and create a new reality; a space in which we can be formed and transformed, forgiven and challenged, untamed and undomesticated. The wilderness motif runs deep through the whole of scripture. In this motif we discover that at its core, wilderness refers to the places that empire has not been able to control. This is why prophets often come out of the wilderness, and why people seeking liberation from empire go into the wilderness.

Two of the many biblical wilderness stories that shape our imagination are the 40-year Exodus journey of liberation in the wilderness, and Jesus’ 40-day wilderness preparation to fulfill his baptismal call. The Exodus journey of liberation is a powerful prototypical story of a community seeking and attaining its own liberation and then having the dual blessing and challenge of unlearning the worldview of empire and slavery, and reimagining a way of life in harmony with the God of creation and liberation. Carving out “wilderness” spaces invites us also to unlearn the distorted worldviews that have shaped us and to reimagine life in harmony with the God of creation and liberation. In the same way, Jesus’ 40-day wilderness sojourn invites us to take our own call to spiritual leadership seriously.

Wilderness, however, is not simply a metaphor or a motif, an imaginative place or space. Every biblical story and every imaginative “wilderness” space we create takes place somewhere: In a particular ecosystem with its particular flora and fauna. In a particular watershed with its particular story of humans and their relationships to the land. In a particular bioregion with its particular history of human interactions, both harmonious and hostile, benevolent and brutal. Wilderness Way, for example, which finds its home in the Willamette and Columbia River watersheds, currently meets just miles from a portion of the Willamette River declared a Superfund site. This land, once a vibrant trading area for indigenous peoples, was ceded in 1855 by the Kalapuya, Molala, Clackamas and other peoples only after violence and epidemics had devastated over 95 percent of their populations.

Without an intimate connection with place, we easily spiritualize or see only the metaphoric meaning of a thing. For example, when Jesus compels his listeners to pay attention to the birds of the air and the flowers of the field, he calls them not to a greeting-card moment but rather to a radical teaching on how God’s intended economy functions. Or how often, for example, do we hear the biblical phrase “living water” solely as metaphor while toxins flow unimpeded into water in countless rivers and oceans, poisoning the water that is the source and substance of life for us and myriad plants and animals—literally, our living water? Wilderness, therefore, also calls our attention to the earth, the land, the waters, the ecosystems, the biosphere in which we live, imploring us to learn their wisdom, their stories and the ways they have been impacted by empire. The climate crisis facing humanity reveals how deeply so many of us are disconnected from the ecosystems in which we live. Wilderness Way understands that reconnecting with the earth and earth’s stories, with wilderness and our own wildness, is not only essential for our healing and survival, it is inevitable for those who seek to follow in the way of Jesus and the untamable, undomesticatable God of Life. The breadth and depth of these meanings of wilderness have revealed to us what we call the Wilderness Way: the way of Sabbath, Jubilee and Shalom.

The Wilderness Way Community is a Synodically Authorized Worshipping Community of the Oregon Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Matt Guynn has been actively involved with WWC, including anchoring Liberation Bible Study for several years and serving on the Wilderness Way Council. Guynn is program director for nonviolent social change with On Earth Peace. He is an alumnus of Manchester University (1995, B.A. Peace Studies), the University of Notre Dame (1996, M.A. International Peace Studies), and Bethany Theological Seminary (2003, M.A. Theology). His M.A. thesis at Bethany was “Re-enchantment: Theology, Poetics, and Social Change.”

Image Credits: Kmusser, Wikimedia, and Wilderness Way

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Cycling to Simplicity – Guest Bloggers, Katie Shaw Thompson and Anna Lisa Gross

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Katie’s Story

As I was crossing the Fox River on the Highland Avenue bridge on a misty Sunday morning in Elgin, IL, a Bald Eagle stretched its wings and soared directly over top of me. I don’t know if I would have caught it if I had been driving my little Mazda across town to preach at the Highland Avenue Church of the Brethren, where I am the pastor, but since I was on my bicycle, there was no glass or steel to block my vision of this serene creature’s stark white head and strong brown body gliding discretely through the grey winter morning.

From December through April, my family has pedaled more miles than we have driven. It has been a mild winter in northern Illinois, but even on below freezing days, my family, including my well-bundled 2-year-old and 4-year-old, have more often than not chosen our bikes over our car to get to church on Sunday mornings.

Since selling our second car in September and purchasing a long-tailed cargo bike for hauling both groceries and precious toddler cargo, my family has grown increasingly fond of this means of transportation as well as increasingly fond of the city in which we live. We have found it much easier to have occasion to greet our neighbors or strike up conversations at the bike corral with perfect strangers. Traveling at 5-10 miles per hour instead of 30 miles per hour through my city’s streets allows me to stop and chat with a congregant at work in his front yard, rather than throwing a quick wave while I blow by. The novelty of the long-tailed bike has more than once been the reason for a motorist stopped with us at a traffic light to roll down the window and start a curious and friendly conversation. Once while locking up outside a local supermarket the children made friends with a local store clerk and returned to find the cargo bike sporting a new, bobbing, bright yellow, helium-filled balloon. In the fall we enjoyed the view of the Autumn leaves. This winter we have been even more grateful for our warm house after frosty bike rides. And, as the spring erupts in Elgin, we have welcomed the miles of tulips, daffodils, and magnolia blossoms right alongside the bloom of increased bike and pedestrian traffic in these friendlier temperatures. All these encounters help me to feel more connected to the physical world and community around me than I feel in my car.

Not all bicycle-fueled encounters are as pleasant as spotting a high-sailing eagle or turning a stranger into a friend. When traveling alone on my bicycle, I have been the target of gender-based street harassment and have received other vulgarities hurled high-speed at me from car windows. Those are encounters my husband and children have never experienced and ones I never have in my car. When biking to work I also notice the incomplete infrastructure and the lack of sidewalk clearing after snows that makes it more dangerous for folks to bike and walk in my city. And I notice the people who are walking or biking like me. I see men who appear to have all their belongings on their backs. I see women walking with their coats zipped high and their ear pods implanted. I have seen mothers struggling across icy sidewalks with strollers. I wonder how many of them are out in all weather like me by choice and how many of them simply have no other choice to get to home, work, school, or food.     

The congregation I serve, like many other congregations, is seeking to renew and re-envision its call to community engagement in a world and a city that has changed quickly around it. The church’s three-year strategic plan asks, “What does it mean for the Highland Avenue Church of the Brethren to be a vital presence in the Elgin community? How does our identity affect the way we relate to the community, and how does the Elgin community shape us? Where do we lead? Where do we follow?”

The Israelites are in a time of renewal after many have returned from exile in Babylon when they hear the words of Isaiah 58. In this text, God speaks to the people and lets them know that the religious checklist of pious acts they have been crossing out has lost its power to transform them and transform their community. The voice of God tells them they only fast to serve their own interests and in doing so, oppress their workers (Isaiah 58:4). Rather God asks,

Is not this the fast that I choose:

 to loose the bonds of injustice,

 to undo the thongs of the yoke,

 to let the oppressed go free,

 and to break every yoke?

 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,

 and bring the homeless poor into your house;

 when you see the naked, to cover them,

 and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

Riding my bike is a simple act and not one I think of every day as transformative, but it has changed the way I relate to the environment around me. Moreover, the more I read about bicycles as transit, the more hopeful I become that this mode of transportation can address aspects of racial inequality, economic inequality, epidemic loneliness and isolation, and environmental sustainability. In Isaiah, God tells the people, if you choose this kind of fast, then you will be called “repairers of the breach” and “restorers of streets to live in.” My prayer is that my family’s commitment to two-wheeled transportation will help us to answer that call to repair the breach and restore the streets of our city one pedal stroke at a time.     

Anna Lisa’s Story

I like to tell people I bike everywhere because I’m lazy. I don’t carry quarters for parking meters, and I still get the best parking spots. But biking is only easy with preparation. Luckily, Brethren know about disciplines, spiritual and otherwise, and have the skills needed to bike simply.

I don’t mean to conflate lazy, easy, and simple. Lazy was just to get your attention and even make you smile! As we know, living simply can be easy, but it’s often quite complicated.

That’s where habits come in. If your spiritual disciplines include daily scripture study, you probably have a certain chair where you read and even a favorite Bible. That Bible might stay on the end table by that chair, and maybe there’s a coaster for your morning cup of coffee.

Biking everywhere can be that easy if you have as much habit and preparation. You’ll never make a practice of biking if you start the decision-making from scratch each morning, and have to decide on the spot what to wear, find a helmet, pump up your tires, and plan your route.

If you don’t know where to find a Bible and haven’t chosen a time of day to read scripture, you won’t pull off that spiritual discipline.

I have old track pants that I can pull over thick leggings – even a dress. I have a thin plastic coat and a thick plastic coat. I keep nice clothes at my office. I can bike in any weather (except ice) and for any occasion by building in these routines.

Because I bike every day, charging my headlights and pumping my tires is nearly automatic, and I do it at the end of the day (I’m not a morning person, so telling myself I’ll get up earlier to maintain my bike sets me up for failure).

Not always easy, but simple, because I’m not thinking through each choice every time. Habits are a gift.

Moving to the Pennsylvania mountains threatened my simple living cycling practice. I could no longer take my morning coffee in my bike’s cup holder without ½ of it spilling on my way down our steep, long driveway. It wasn’t easy to lose the pleasure of sipping coffee on my morning commute because I kept trying to complicate things – finding a better travel mug or holding it my hand down the driveway (which gave me some serious road rash one day). When I gave up that commute coffee habit, I simplified my morning routine.

Our individualistic culture has a shallow notion of freedom – that freedom means we get to make any choice we want. Not only is this toxic and impractical, but we also end up with even less freedom. Freedom is not 127 deodorant choices at a grocery store. Freedom is not trading the climate-controlled box of our homes, where we can pick the voices we listen to and restrict who comes inside, for the climate-controlled box of our cars, where we can pick the voices we listen to and restrict who comes inside.

As Paul wrote to the Galatian church,

It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom. (MSG)

It’s so much easier for me to love people when I’m biking than driving – driving makes it so easy to ignore humanity and instead see vehicles – too fast, too slow, bumper stickers I like or don’t like. On my bike I look people in the eye: drivers – to make sure they see me, pedestrians and other cyclists – to exchange a greeting. I think I’m easier to love when I’m on my bike, too! Occasionally I’m harassed by drivers, but often I get a smile and wave, for my bright orange milk crate (cyclist version of a trunk) or the surprising combo of plastic track pants with cute shoes.

 

Katie Shaw Thompson is the pastor of the Highland Avenue Church of the Brethren, the mother of two young children, and a four-season bike commuter in Elgin, IL.

 

 

 

 

Anna Lisa Gross is the interim pastor of the Stone Church of the Brethren. She is grateful to be involved in planning worship and rituals, creative writing, joining people in the joys and sorrows of their lives, asking provocative questions, tending to beginnings and endings, community organizing, and advocating for justice.

 

 

Image Credits: Momentum Mag & UK Pintrest

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A Psalm of the Earth – Guest Blogger, Elizabeth “Liz” Ullery Swenson

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Angel’s Landing at Zion National Park

Last February, I had the opportunity to explore Zion Nation Park in southern Utah. My sister is a park ranger and spent last winter at, what locals simply call “Zions,” and so my wife and I drove down from our home in Washington State to visit. It is truly an amazing place. Towering red sandstone canyon walls. Unimaginably beautiful sunsets that seem to reflect the colors of the rock. The southern Utah desert is majestic and harsh, and staggeringly beautiful. The sense of the divine is palpable, and not only because of the references to biblical names throughout the park. It is one of those liminal spaces, truly sacred ground. God’s red earth.

Early one morning we hiked to Angels Landing, a famously rigorous and scenic hike. As we made our way up the canyon, I found myself pondering all the ancient canyon walls and rock had experienced. Formed by the Virgin river, slowing eroding the sandstone over thousands of years. Zion Canyon is still being formed; it is not yet finished. God’s creativity is still at work on this ever changing landscape. Maybe it was the steadily rising temperature as the sun rose above the canyon walls and we climbed higher, but I wondered if rocks pray, and if they did, what were their prayers? As I pondered this, I swear I could almost hear the rocks speak. Not in some alarming way, in a quiet way, when you can push past your thoughts and settle into a sacred quiet. Tuning out your internal dither and being fully present. Recognizing and accepting your place in the cosmos of things.

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Emerald pool at Zion National Park

Back in our cool hotel room as I recovered from the strenuous 11 miles of hiking, I wrote a psalm of lament from the perspective of the Earth.

A Psalm of the Earth

How long O Creator?
How long will you allow your people to hurt me?

You created me, fashioned me from stardust.
Parting my waters and my lands, proclaiming me good.
Every soaring peak and babbling stream,
Every tumbling sage and towering sequoia,
You proclaimed it good and holy.

In one mighty chorus we praise you,
In the harmony of the songbirds
The rustling of the tree branches
The rumbling of the rocks
And the roaring of the waterfalls.
All is offered in celebration and praise of your wondrous works.

You created humans too,
people of all kinds,
Created in your holy image,
molded out of fertile soil.

You instructed them to take charge and care of me
and all your majestic creation.
But your people forgot.

They have become greedy and forgot the promise they made to you.

My sacred ground and holy waters are poisoned and pillaged.
My tender ecosystem is ruined
And still they persist.
Soon I will have nothing left.

My pristine wilderness is trampled and overrun
My flowing streams run dry to meet their insatiable thirst
Storms rage unrestrained because of my warming oceans.

Do they not care?
Do they not know we are interconnected and interdependent?

Our survival depends on each other,
they cannot live without me.
My future is their future.

O God, remind them of their promise to you and their responsibility to me.
Do not let them destroy me.

13015177_10100863827350253_314074110569093358_nElizabeth “Liz” Ullery Swenson is the Founding Pastor of WildWood Gathering and is an MDiv student at Bethany Theological Seminary. She lives in Olympia, Washington with her wife Lucy Jane Swenson. To find out more about WildWood, visit http://wildwoodgathering.org/.

 

Image Credits: Joe Braun Photography & PCWallArt

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Zero Waste – Guest Blogger, Katie Heishman

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zero-waste

One Lent, a couple of years ago, I vowed to give up trash. I chose Lent as a time to re-examine the amount of trash I was creating and tried to get that as close to “Zero” was possible. Choosing to embark on this journey during Lent was intentional—my faith informs my relationship with Creation. Sitting in my bedroom on Ash Wednesday, oily ash on my forehead, I found myself surrounded by things that would never turn to dust.

“From dust you were created, and to dust you shall return.”

While my faith informs my ecological passion and commitment to live simply, I was struggling to see this lived out in an intentional way in the church around me. I was inspired by a woman named Bea Johnson, who is the mother of a worldwide movement, called the “Zero Waste Lifestyle.”

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Katie with one of her and Tim’s lovely chickens. She felt to dorky to include them in her bio so we needed to sneak one in somehow!

The Zero Waste Lifestyle is about making as little trash as possible. Johnson and her family of four can fit a year’s worth of trash in a quart size jar. This moment is when we all gasp and wonder how when the average American produces about 4.4lbs of trash in a single day. Just think for a moment about all of the things that you have touched today whose final destination will be “away.” But where is away truly?

During Lent, I confessed my complicity within a consumeristic society. I confessed to using an item for thirty minutes (or even less) and tossing it into the trash can. I confessed that I had mindlessly tossed something “away” without considering the real consequences of where “away” might truly be. Most of our trash goes to landfills, which really should be known as “mega-fills” for their mammoth size. These mega-fills are usually in the backyard of the socioeconomic disadvantaged. In the Pacific Ocean, we have so much plastic trash swirling that we had to name this new region of the Sea: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The water and the sun break down plastic into little microplastics which are ingested by sea life. There are countless images of Albatross birds with stomachs full of plastic particles and sea turtles suffering from plastic straws and soda-can rings.

In Genesis 2, God makes it known that we like “every animal of the field and every bird of the air” are made of dust. We are all made from the same substance. That the creator God became embodied in the dust of Creation, to save Creation, suggests that this dust matters. My Anabaptist faith taught me to pay particular attention to the disadvantaged—to “the least of these.” When throwing my trash “away,” I was complicity throwing it into the backyards of my neighbors. It was disappearing from my sight, but re-appearing in the sight, smell, sound, and soul of others.

The Zero Waste Lifestyle promotes “Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot” and in that order. Refuse involves stopping the flow of waste from entering our homes, our lives. During Lent, I began to refuse “single-use disposable items” like the Starbucks coffee cup (in seasonal color), the plastic bag from the grocery store, the napkin and straw from the restaurant, the to-go container. Reduce means limiting our consumption and downsizing our possessions. The less
stuff we have—the less we must upkeep, and the less likely our possessions are to possess us. I downsized my closet and committed to only buying second-hand clothing. Reuse focuses on using quality items that will last. I brought my to-go container to restaurants and made sure to have a “Zero Waste Travel Kit” with me to help me avoid waste as I navigated the world. This kit included metal silverware, a cloth napkin, and a mason jar for a to-go cup. Recycle seems like it would be an important component in a Zero Waste Lifestyle, but there is a reason it’s at the end! Recycling of plastics is a closed-loop system because a #1 plastic bottle won’t become a #1 plastic bottle again, but a lesser plastic. So, I tried to avoid items packaged in plastic and opted for glass or cardboard which can be eternally recycled. Rot is the hopeful end to our waste. While a Zero Waste Lifestyle hopes to create minimal trash, it does produce things that need composting like food scraps and wooden items. This is God’s idea of filling the land.

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Katie and Tim’s herb garden at their home, onsite at Brethren Woods.

I took areas of my house and my life and tried to find Zero Waste alternatives. In my bathroom, when my toothpaste in a tube ran out—I made my own from baking soda and coconut oil. I bought bars of soap without packaging, instead of facewash with “exfoliating” microplastics. In my kitchen, I tried to buy only fresh produce (instead of packaged) and purchased grains and beans in bulk bins where I could find them. I made all of my meals from scratch, and I learned how to make food items that might come in plastic: like tortillas and brown sugar. In my bedroom, I learned how to mend holey items and gave them a second life. For school, I submitted papers electronically and refused handouts in class when available online.

I did produce trash during my Zero Waste Lent because it was the beginning of a journey. I found that pursuing a Zero Waste Lifestyle has opened up simple living to me in a whole new way. It created physical and emotional space in my life to encounter the Holy in new ways. I was partnering with people in my community by bringing cloth bags or refusing a straw. I was inviting creativity into my life by finding sustainable alternatives to the plastic world that surrounded me. I had fewer clothes and mysteriously didn’t suffer from the “I have nothing to wear syndrome!” I let go of the items and things that were taking up space. Instead, I filled my moments with experiencing life and creativity, instead of mindlessly consuming. I washed dishes with friends at common meal and used the soil from my compost bin to start a garden in our backyard. Most importantly, I abandoned the idea that I am what I own and found myself resting in the mantra of being a child of God.

Pursuing a “Zero Waste Lifestyle” sounds like a daunting task, but there are small ways that we can challenge the systems which render God’s planet as inconsequential. Imagine if our churches, if faithful followers of Jesus led the way in modeling a sustainable life on the Earth. At the conclusion of Lent, we celebrate the resurrection hope—of what was dead becoming alive. As followers of Jesus, may we continue to live in resurrection hope—sharing God’s redemptive, resurrection power with the world one intentional action at a time.

 

SAMSUNG CSCKatie Heishman is an MDiv student at Bethany Theological Seminary and co-Program Director at Brethren Woods Camp and Retreat Center with her husband, Tim. They live in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and attend Linville Creek Church of the Brethren.

 

 

Photo Credits: Kaikoura Seafest; Katie Heishman

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God’s Green Earth Recap – Chibuzo Petty, Social Media Editor

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Webpage-MastheadLast week, I had the joy of participating in Bethany Theological Seminary’s joint Young Adult and Presidential Forum, God’s Green Earth: A Call to Care and Witness. The event included great presentations from students, faculty, and invited guests from the national stage. We’ll be featuring some of the speakers in the coming weeks on the Brethren Life & Thought blog. Some of the speakers will also have pieces featured in the fall issue of the print journal. For the next few months, we’ll be focussing the blog’s content on eco-theology while continuing to share a variety of posts on our Facebook page.

I, like many of the planning committee, found myself confused and frustrated, though not entirely surprised, by the comparatively low turnout and by some of the negative pushback received. With so many prominent evangelical organizations working toward environmental justice, it’s more than a bit perplexing, and, quite frankly, vexing, that so many conservatives in the Church buck at the mention of creation care. During the opening panel, we discussed one email response from a Brethren pastor who said we should be more concerned with saving souls than saving the planet. While that assertion alone deserves a whole blog post, I’ll simply say, here, that I, like Bethany, strive for a both/and approach.

The Forum included a wonderfully diverse lineup of speakers. Age, gender, racial, and theological diversity were are present. This makes it even sadder that the audience was almost completely white. This is an issue with which Bethany, and the Church of the Brethren more broadly, really struggle. By my count, of the 75+ in attendance, there was only one person of color who was not also speaking. Even so, those in attendance were able to hear from three black speakers. (I, for instance, had the opportunity to speak several times during the Forum.)

I shared about food justice alongside senior Bethany MA student Jonathan Stauffer. Jonathan shared from a rural perspective and his presentation dealt with the changing economics and politics of agricultural. I shared from an urban perspective and focussed on the ways diet and inaccessibility contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline. One of the most intriguing presentations was from Rachel Lamb of Young Evangelicals for Climate Action (YECA). Lamb spoke of her experiences in Washington D.C. working toward environmental justice. YECA, which can be found here at http://www.yecaction.org/, have committed to one hundred days of prayer to coincide with the first one hundred days of the new Trump administration. They are also actively praising and supporting the bill introduced by seventeen Republican legislators on March 15 that seeks to find conservative, market-based approaches to combating climate change. Lamb seemed to receive the most questions after her presentation, something I found to be hopeful.

Another highlight was the promotion of Green Circle, Bethany’s chapter of Seminary Stewardship Alliance (SSA). SSA, which can be found at http://www.blessedearth.org/featured-one/seminary-stewardship-alliance/, co-sponsored the Forum. Readers of the blog will recall Jonathan Stauffer’s recap post from our trip to the national SSA conference in Portland, Oregon last fall. A.J. Swoboda, director of SSA, will be featured on the blog April 6. Green Circle, led by Bethany professor of theology, Nate Inglis, coordinates annual creation care-focused worship gatherings, encourages sustainable practices within the institution, and much more. All four Green Circle members who attended the national SSA conference, me, Jonathan, Nate, and Liz Swenson spoke at the Forum. Green Circle member Katie Heishman spoke as well. Katie will be featured on the blog March 30 and Lize will be featured April 27.

In addition to our Green Circle members, we’ll be featuring several eco-theology themed blog posts in the coming weeks. Until then, I invite you to reflect on these words from Psalm 8 (NLT).

 

1 O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!

   Your glory is higher than the heavens.

2 You have taught children and infants

   to tell of your strength,

silencing your enemies

   and all who oppose you.

3 When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—

   the moon and the stars you set in place—

4 what are mere mortals that you should think about them,

   human beings that you should care for them?

5 Yet you made them only a little lower than God

   and crowned them with glory and honor.

6 You gave them charge of everything you made,

   putting all things under their authority—

7 the flocks and the herds

   and all the wild animals,

8 the birds in the sky, the fish in the sea,

   and everything that swims the ocean currents.

9 O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!

 

Image/Photo Credits: Bethany Theological Seminary

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Reflections on Rooted and Grounded at AMBS – Guest Blogger, Jonathan Stauffer

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Are human beings given free dominion of the land, or does God care what we do with the creation? Participants explored these and other profound questions at the Rooted and Ground conference held at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana. Six students, from Bethany Seminary and Earlham School of Religion, and two Bethany professors attended the creation care conference from Thursday, October 1 through Saturday, October 3rd.
Around 140 participants brought a range of ecumenical perspectives to address a variety of environmental concerns. Activities at the three-day conference included presentations, worship services, and immersion experiences. From the assorted presentations and conversations, participants envisioned a variety of Christian responses to the ecological crisis.

The bulk of conference events centered on a multitude of presentations. Several papers and workshops focused on biblical, theological, and ethical principles in relation to creation care and social justice. Nate Inglis, Assistant Professor of Theological Studies at Bethany Seminary, presented “Conversion to the Community of Creation: Bridging Anabaptist Theological Anthropology and Ecology” on Thursday afternoon. Scott Holland, Professor of Theology & Culture at Bethany Seminary, and Bethany MA student Kristy Shellenberger presented a workshop about theopoetics and creation care on Friday morning.

Presentations also featured practical suggestions that care for the land and local communities. Farmers described their methods of organic production. At the urban level, pastors shared how gardens were employed in liturgical practices and served the food needs of marginalized communities. “As demographics continue to shift in this country, it is important that the Church adapt and be equipped to minister in these new realities,” remarks Shayne Petty. He continues, “It is crucial that we expand the conversation about eco-theology to include the voices of those, demographically, not typically associated with agriculture. It can be incredibly empowering for persons of color, most of whom, especially Blacks, living in urban areas to be given theological language to reflect upon the beauty of God’s creation in the city.”

Worship services employed rich liturgical themes of creation’s praise to God through hymns and responsive readings. Three keynote speakers presented thought-provoking messages for conference attendees. 2015-10-02 12.14.53

Wilma Bailey, Professor Emerita of Hebrew and Aramaic studies at Christian Theological Seminary, spoke at the Thursday night worship service. She explored various Hebrew terms found in the creation accounts of Genesis 1-3. Bailey also reflected on the wildness of creation. Lions and other predators caution us humans that we are not as fully in control of nature as we like to assert.

Our Friday night speaker provided even more profound reflection. Sylvia Keesmat, an organic farmer and adjunct professor at Toronto School of Theology, interpreted from the Letter to the Romans, particularly between chapters 1, 8, and 12. She claimed that the apostle Paul expressed profound grief over the Roman imperial occupation – an occupation that degraded both social and ecological health – and explored how that grief still pervades in our present global crisis. “It was humbling,” notes Katie Cummings, “to lament together our shortcomings and to confess our idolatry.” Keesmat also professed an inspiring hope, following Paul’s message, that God’s love for all creation will prevail and includes faithful acts of earth care.

Ched Myers, biblical scholar and activist theologian, spoke as keynote for Saturday morning worship. He explained the principles of “watershed discipleship,” a recent model of Christian community formed by natural bio-regions and local economies. It recognizes the sacredness of the land in providing not only for human needs, but also for all processes that God created to sustain life.

Before the conference began, participants selected between options for immersion experiences scheduled on Friday afternoon. Four Bethany Seminary participants, myself included, went on the “Trail of Death” tour near Plymouth, Indiana. A Potawatomi tribe once inhabited two sites around the Twin Lakes area until they were expelled in September 1838 by military force. For the next three months, the tribe marched west under oppressive conditions. The survivors settled in Oklahoma territory in November. As we walked between sites, I took time to reflect on the plight of the Potawatomi tribe and what true reconciliation with American Indian communities would look like. We then made a brief tour of the Indian exhibit at the Fulton County museum and headed back to AMBS.

The Rooted & Grounded conference reminds us that the whole creation knows God as Creator and is eagerly waiting for God’s people to return to this understanding. Oscar Lugusa Malande, a student at the Earlham School Religion, states this insight well: “At this conference, it occurred to me that the revelation of children of God is being fulfilled. [For a long time] the creation has been groaning for this revelation.” Compelled by this humbling truth, Christians must allow God’s priorities to inform our role in becoming responsible stewards for the health of the land, of our communi2015-10-03 11.07.40ties, and of other living creatures.

For more background information about activities and speakers, go to the Rooted and Grounded conference website: https://www.ambs.edu/news-events/Rooted-and-Grounded.cfm

 

 

 

JPS_Tweed_Ride14Jonathan Stauffer is a member of the Polo (IL) Church of the Brethren congregation. He is currently a student at Bethany Theological Seminary and beginning his second year in the Master of Arts program with a concentration in theological studies.

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Becoming Ecologically Aware – Guest Blogger, Jonathan Stauffer

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By Jonathan Stauffer

Several experiences in the natural world heightened my self-awareness and spirituality. These experiences began as a child living in the country and continue into my adult life. I once took for granted the value of Earth, but these experiences built the case for greater appreciation and protection of God’s creation.

I grew up on a family farm and had many outdoor experiences through work and play. One of my jobs during the summer was to pull weeds out of the corn fields. I fed calves as a part of our dairy operations as a year-round job. Each of these tasks gave me a sense of what living things need to grow, which I attribute as an early ecological awareness. I also had time to play on the farm. I pulled off the heads of dandelions and climbed trees. On clear nights, I beheld a multitude of stars. Looking back, these childhood memories often contained moments of wonder.

By my high school years, however, my attitude had changed. I underestimated the value of outdoor experiences, and I did not see farming as an appealing profession. My interests focused on science, and I wanted to become an engineer. I studied physical sciences as an undergraduate at Manchester where I learned about universal laws of nature as they pertain to energy and matter. I also realized concerns arising from pollution and climate change that I felt needed solutions. But looking back, my efforts to understand the crisis focused more on human interests than the broader issues of ecology.

A profound change to my ecological awareness came about 7 years ago. I agreed to teach nature classes at a Brethren youth camp with my friend, Randall Westfall. Randall introduced me to wilderness awareness skills. I learned practices for how to walk quietly, listen intently, and observe carefully in whatever place I walked. These practices added a greater definition to my vocabulary of the natural world and invoked my childhood wonder once again. I also received joy from teaching the youth some of these same wilderness techniques because I saw their own spiritual and intellectual growth develop at camp. From these experiences, I have a continued interest to serve in outdoor ministry and learn about the local place that I reside.

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I believe that wilderness skills are practice that contributes to human wholeness. Over time, I studied field guides to develop further knowledge of plants and animals. I learned about the ecology in my region. I no longer saw trees as green tops and brown trunks, but distinguished them by their leaves and bark. I memorized the features of several common medicinal plants and a few common bird songs. In this way, my awareness of biodiversity within creation increased, which is a natural order that God allows humans to comprehend.

Of course, there are also natural hazards that humans must heed. Caution towards the wilderness is not just for our own protection, but also serves to protect the rest of creation. We are reminded that God established creation a long time before humans came on the scene. As powerful as human knowledge has become, we are still limited in understanding the processes of the wild. Natural hazards provide a wisdom that humbles and sets ecological boundaries.

We must remember that humans are not detached from the creation. I believe wholeness (Shalom) includes turning to sustainable farming practices as well as developing renewable energy technology alongside ecological conservation. In order to best enable these changes we need to increase our understanding of the ecological processes that benefit our daily lives and pattern our build environments after them. Failure to do so will harm all creatures, including humanity.

Today, I view creation not only as a means through which God provides our food and fiber, but also as places for renewal and revelation. From this understanding of creation, I am grateful for the sacred intent that the Creator gives through nature. Such an understanding fosters simple living by assessing what are truly basic needs and what are empty desires. In fact, I question the accelerated pace of technology over the last fifty years, and wonder whether there are limits to its perceived benefits. I now am concerned about wholeness for both human and non-human inhabitants of the planet Earth.

As Christians, we have a responsibility to care for God’s Earth. Reading the Bible enhances our ecological imagination in addition to faith formation. Beyond the account of creation in Genesis, poems and wisdom teachings in the Old Testament relate to nature (Psalm 104 and Job 38-39). In the New Testament, the parables of Jesus employ nature as analogies for the kingdom of heaven (e.g. Matthew 13). Human interests are deeply intertwined with other creatures and the land, and God intended creation to be this relational. The Creator establishes these relationships to keep us in communion with all living things and the Divine.

As Brethren, we have traditions of simple living and covenant relationship, lifestyles that foster wholeness and aid in restoring the planet. Let us enjoy the God-given benefits of creation while also relieving the pain that we and other humans impose on it. Failure to act will be a missed opportunity in witnessing to the abundant living that Christ modeled for us.

JPS_Tweed_Ride14

Jonathan Stauffer is a member of the Polo (IL) Church of the Brethren congregation. He is currently a student at Bethany Theological Seminary and beginning his second year in the Master of Arts program with a concentration in theological studies.

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An Inside Out Faith – Guest Blogger, Randall Westfall

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By Randall Westfall

If I were to ask you to make a list of things that you loved to do as a child, what would be on your list? For me that list includes (but is not limited to): running barefoot, building forts, catching things, building campfires, climbing, getting dirty, telling stories, imitating animals, hiding, exploring, and a ton of other pastimes that would take up more time than I have been allotted here.

If you were to ask a child today what their favorite activities are, you’d likely get a different list of activities. Though overlap may occur, I suspect that most would involve a screen or an outlet as many have replaced formative experiences outdoors with informative experiences indoors. It’s even changing our vernacular as dictionaries are doing away with words like heron, dandelion, and blackberry in favor of iPod, broadband, and ironically Blackberry.1

In his book Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv coined the term nature-deficit disorder (NDD) to illustrate the significant psychological, physical, and cognitive costs that alienation from nature has on children today.2 NDD isn’t an actual clinical disorder as much as it gives voice to what many of us were already thinking by addressing our intuitive understanding that nature is not only good for our children but essential to their healthy development.

Children today spend more than 90 percent of their time indoors and less than 25 minutes a week outdoors.3 A trend that is leading to epidemics in childhood obesity, depression, ADHD, Asperger’s and more.4 Why is this happening? Studies are showing that there are: a) more demands on children’s time, b) parental fears of “stranger danger,” c) more sedentary lifestyles, d) urbanization of America and e) an increased use in electronic media (up to 44 hours a week).5 These “digital natives” are experiencing the world in a radically different way than their ancestors did and it has consequences on their spiritual development.

Throughout history, our ancestors encountered God primarily through two means: nature and storytelling. Nature was experienced through the senses (body) and the heart, and stories informed the intellect (mind) and the heart. Over time, our stories evolved from oral narratives, to being captured in written form. In the past 25 years, as technology has expanded its reach and outdoor experience has degenerated, we find ourselves processing our experiences more through our mind and less through our body. In fact, we are witnessing the beginnings of what some scientists are calling a “transhuman” era6 where we are no longer multi-sensory beings; rather we become one-dimensional as our experiences are increasingly filtered through some type of technological medium.

This is all a part of NDD, and it is affecting our spiritual landscape. In ages past, a child’s spiritual life was assumed, largely in part because of the way they interacted with the natural world around them. As we become less engaged with the outdoors, we can no longer make assumptions regarding spiritual development. Children are trading in outdoor experiences for a virtual house arrest in which they live through external, digital devices. Being outdoors has shaped who we are for centuries, yet in the span of a generation; children who are “nature-smart” are becoming an endangered species.

Could it be that we are actually doing more harm than good living in a “Take only pictures; leave only footprints” culture, as our efforts to protect and preserve nature are also creating barriers to interacting with it. When it comes to nature, we have adopted a “museum” approach whereby children are taught to look but don’t touch. Other adages like stay on the trail, don’t wander, may be inadvertently projecting our fears that when interacting with nature someone will get hurt, be it either human or the landscape. If you can’t interact with something, it isn’t long before you lose interest. And if enough time passes, we dishonor God by basically declaring that “what you have made no longer interests me.” We’re encouraging children to “play it safe” in controlled environments, hyper-stimulated by electronic media. If they aren’t hyper-stimulated, they either become anxious or disengage. NDD keeps our appreciation for nature so long as we don’t interact with it. Imagine the same being said for our faith? I appreciate God, but I don’t interact with God. What do spiritual disciplines look like to that person?

The paradox of faith is that the God who dwells on the inside often must be encountered outside. When we lose the appeal to explore outer landscapes, then what metaphors will navigate the journey for our inner landscape? Faith has become inside out and it isn’t until we realize our connection with nature; then the Mystery at work in the depths of our souls and the Mystery in the natural world are parts of the same reality.7  Author John Lionberger believes that “Being outdoors has the power to join two extreme states of awareness, consciousness and acuity, which lead to peak experiences the recipient finds deeply spiritual.8 In my time in outdoor ministry, I’ve observed that children who have a connection with nature are more aware of their relationship with God than those who spend little or no time outdoors.

This is not about doing away with our iStuff, rather we must learn to find a balance between the digital and the natural. What if for every text or email sent, we spent those moments sitting and listening for what the robins and towhees were saying to us? Or instead of recognizing the thousands of corporate logos we see on commercials, we take the time and familiarize ourselves with the wood sorrel, plantain, and nettle in our own backyard? Or every video game spent trying to get to the next level; we spent an equal amount of time following a set of raccoon tracks to discover hidden levels of its life?

How will we prevent NDD from being passed on to future generations? It’s time for us to start embodying those childhood passions we listed above, as spiritual disciplines to feed the fire of faith just as we do with devotions, bible study, prayer and worship. Only then can we become fully awakened, fully alive, and experience the abundant life that Jesus wants us to step into. Our eyes, ears, noses, taste buds, bodies, hearts, and even brains were created in such a way that it is vital for us to engage creation, in doing so we always encounter the Creator.

Randall Westfall is the director at Camp Brethren Heights and founder of Ancient Paths Outdoor School in west-central Michigan.He is a graduate of Wilderness Awareness School near Seattle, with certifications in Naturalist Studies, Wildlife Tracking, Edible/Medicinal Plant Studies, Bird Language, Art of Mentoring and Wilderness Survival. He spent just as much time immersed in nature as he did sitting at his computer writing this article.

 

  1. Morris, Charles. National Catholic Reporter. 18 November 2011.  []
  2. Richard Louv. Last Child in the Woods. Chapel Hill: Algonquin, 2005. []
  3. Play Again. Dir. Tonje Hessen Schei. 2010. []
  4. Ibid. []
  5. Ibid. []
  6. Richard Louv. The Nature Principle. Chapel Hill: Algonquin, 2011. []
  7. Robert M. Hamma. Earth’s Echo. Notre Dame: Sorin Books, 2002. []
  8. John Lionberger. Renewal in the Wilderness. Woodstock: Skylight Paths, 2007. []
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