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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Sabbath as Creation Care – Guest Blogger, A.J. Swoboda

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Creation was created perfectly. Everything that it needed to function properly was included. God created an environment perfectly suited for life to thrive. Examining the biblical account, we see the Sabbath is an integral part of God’s creation. Although on the final day, Sabbath is as much a part of creation as light, water, the sun, food, livestock, germs, chickens, the garden, and people. Can you imagine, for a brief moment, what our planet would look like if we no longer had water? Or light? Or food? What if we decided trees were unnecessary and cut them all down? In the end, cut any of these elements of creation out of creation and assuredly creation would not continue as a place suitable for life. Why do we think Sabbath is any different to the well-being of creation than sunlight, water, and food? In creation, everything is affected by everything else because the perfect Creator knew what he was doing when he made the planet. By ignoring the Sabbath, the world suffers tragic consequences. Let us examine how keeping a Sabbath helps heal a creation that is “groaning” (Rom. 8:28).

Like any living entity, the earth is cWhat-is-Sabbath-Should-We-Keep-The-Sabbath-Day-or-The-Lord’s-Day-672x372reated to have rhythms of rest and respite. The land needs a break from productivity. Certain animals need to hibernate. The ocean needs breaks for fish populations to be replenished. Like human beings, when creation is robbed of a chance to rest, it quickly begins to communicate its exhaustion to us.

As the Psalmist writes, God actively “causes” the grass to grow for the cattle God has made (Ps. 104:14). [1] God does not create accidentally. He creates intentionally. God made a system for life, not just a system of life; an intricate system with Sabbath built into it. In this system of life, everything is dependent on something else to thrive. The system must be protected—or, tragic things begin to happen.

Cows are beautiful creatures. Sadly, our economic system has grown an unhealthy dependence upon them—and their abuse. In the natural order, cows get pregnant when they are in heat. But in modern agricultural practice, cows are artificially inseminated while still secreting milk from their last pregnancy. Why? So they can be milked nearly without break. In industrial dairy practices, cows are milked for ten months out of the year compared to just five to six months in places where traditional dairy farming is practiced. Our cows are given almost no rest between pregnancies and they are being milked during most of their pregnancy; and it turns out that when cows are not allowed to rest, human health is put at risk. Pregnant cows’ milk contains significantly higher amounts of sex hormones than milk from cows that aren’t pregnant. Studies have indicated that the increase in sex hormones may affect cancer rates, as well as human development. [2] Additionally, livestock are often given steroid hormone implants used for growth and increased milk production.

One of these, estradiol, is listed as the naturally-occurring sex hormone estrogen on the Food and Drug Administration’s website. [3] This is a misnomer, however, as estradiol is a synthetic sex hormone which is an endocrine disrupter by nature. [4] These steroids, which regulate hormones and the reproductive system, are given to livestock to increase dairy production. As a result, large amounts of synthetic estrogens are excreted in manure, then spread on fields and eventually end up in our water supplies. [5] Because sex hormones are not removed from wastewater before it heads to our rivers and seas, fish populations are harmed. [6] Along the Potomac, Columbia, Colorado, and Mississippi rivers, fish are found to be “gender-swapping” as a result of the presence of sex hormones. [7] These intersex fish exhibit sex traits of both male and female fish, which in extreme cases are found to have been made sterile. [8] If this is the effect endocrine disruptors has on fish, one might wonder what effect they could have on humans. [9]

However, when a cow is given the rest it needs, these large doses of dangerous sex hormones do not end up in our milk, our water, or our streams—everyone, from fish, to humans, to the cows, are protected. It’s remarkable how the Sabbath is integral to the well-being and flourishing of the “critters” in the animal kingdom. “Remember that Sabbath … On it you shall not do any work … nor your animals” (Ex. 20:8; 10).

When humans Sabbath, they intentionally immerse ourselves, as God did, into the creation order. This is reflected in the fact that Sabbath was not for humans alone, but the livestock, land, vineyards, and fields. Sabbath had far-reaching implications beyond humans all non-human creation. Sabbath is, at its core, an ecological principle. This is not accidental. God intentionally designed and created the world in a pattern that would allow for the flourishment of all. Long before we started burning out, long before the land started dying, long before disaster struck—there was God! And God created this world beautifully, intricately, and interconnected. And part of that interconnected beauty is located in the need for rest.

Swoboda (105 of 106)Dr. A. J. Swoboda is a professor, author, and pastor of Theophilus in urban Portland, Oregon. He teaches theology, biblical studies, and Christian history at Portland and Fuller Seminaries, including a number of other universities and Bible colleges. He is the lead mentor of a Doctor of Ministry program on the Holy Spirit and Leadership at Fuller Seminary. Additionally, he is the founder and director of Blessed Earth Northwest, a center that helps think creatively and strategically around creation care issues in the Pacific Northwest. Alongside this work, he serves as the national director of the Seminary Stewardship Alliance—a consortium of Christian higher-ed schools that are thinking strategically about Christian training in creation care. Previous to this, A.J. served as a campus pastor at the University of Oregon. His doctoral research at the University of Birmingham (U.K.) explored the never-ending relationship between the Holy Spirit and ecology. He is a member of the American Academy of Religion and the Society for Pentecostal Studies. A.J. is the author of The Dusty Ones (Baker), Tongues and Trees: Toward a Pentecostal Ecological Theology (JPTSup, Deo), and Introducing Evangelical Ecotheology (Baker Academic). You can find his website and blog at www.ajswoboda.com, or follow him on Twitter @mrajswoboda.

1 It should be pointed out that the Hebrew text uses a causative verb “to grow” implying that God is not passively making the grass grow—God himself actually makes it sprout and grow so that the cattle can survive.

2 Josh Harkinson, “Turns Out Your ‘Hormone Free’ Milk Is Full of Sex Hormones,” Mother Jones, April 20, 2014. http://www.motherjones.com/media/2014/04/milk-hormones-cancer-pregnant-cows-estrogen

3 “Steroid Hormone Implants Used For Growth In Food-Producing Animals,” 2015. Fda.Gov. https://www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/SafetyHealth/ProductSafetyInformation/ucm055436.htm.

4 Holly Grigg-Spall, Sweetening the Pill: or How We Got Hooked on Hormonal Birth Control (Alresford, Hants, UK: Zero Books, 2013), 46.

5 Darryl Fears, “As more male bass switch sex, a strange fish story expands,” The Washington Post, August 3, 2014. https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/as-more-male-bass-switch-sex-a-strangefish-story-expands/2014/08/03/89799b08-11ad-11e4-8936- 26932bcfd6ed_story.html?utm_term=.2750181679e8

6 Jessie Black, “Hunting Ways To Keep Synthetic Estrogens Out Of Rivers and Seas,” NPR, June 19, 2015. http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2015/06/19/415336306/hunting-ways-to-keep-syntheticestrogens-out-of-rivers-and-seas 7 Darryl Fears, “As

7 Darryl Fears, “As more male bass switch sex, a strange fish story expands.” It should also be noted that there are several other endocrine disruptors at play here such as the pollutant BPA.

8 Lindsey Konkel, “Why Are These Male Fish Growing Eggs?,” National Geographic, February 3, 2016. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/02/160203-feminized-fish-endocrine-disruption-hormoneswildlife-refuges/

9 I wish to thank Madalyn Salz and Alec Eagon for bringing these to my attention. There are alarming connections between these issues.

Image Credits: True Jesus Church SG and Portland Seminary

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