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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Permaculture Recap – Guest Blogger, Jonathan Stauffer

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The Seminary Stewardship Alliance (SSA) met in Portland, Oregon on October 13-15 for its 5th annual conference. All seminaries that are participants of the consortium, from the American East Coast to a couple from Australia, and a handful of undergraduate colleges were in attensbp1dance. The theme of the conference was, Permaculture: Developing a Creation Care Culture in Christian Higher Ed, and the program consisted mostly of plenary speakers and breakout sessions among regional and theological cohorts. It’s a rare occurrence to see denominations like Southern Baptists, Lutherans, Methodists, Pentecostals, and peace churches agree to talk about any common interest. However, all attendants came to discuss the need for developing creation care principles and actions through our respective Christians institutions.

Assistant Professor Nate Inglis and three students (Chibuzo Petty, Elizabeth Ullery-Swenson, and I) represented Bethany Theological Seminary. Regarding the conference, Elizabeth shared:

In the midst of an early seasonal deluge, we were reminded that the challenges facing our global climate are dire and demand a response. During our time together we talked about our Biblical responsibility to care for all God’s people and all of God’s creation. The wide range of theological backgrounds made for challenging conversations, but I believe that everyone left with a sense of urgent purpose and direction. Personally, I came away with new Biblical grounded ways to find common ground across theological difference regarding our responsibility to care for God’s creation.

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I appreciated the spectrum of Christian traditions that were in attendance and was stimulated by the opportunity to network with faculty and students from other schools that were also passionate about caring for God’s earth. Daniel Brunner, professor at George Fox Evangelical Seminary, presented the opening plenary on Friday morning about Luther’s theology of the cross and how it pertains to ecological justice. Chibuzo most appreciated the discussion of the Book of Job:

We’re all familiar with the basic buffet of creation care verses. Hearing we would be exploring Job as a creation narrative certainly peaked my interest. Kathryn Schifferdecker, professor at Luther Seminary, spoke about her book on the subject Out of the Whirlwind. Her reimagining of eco-theology within the context of suffering and divine justice in Job was creative. She provided attendees with a much needed reminder of how radically non-anthropocentric God’s creation is.

On one afternoon, I attended a breakout session with representatives from Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. There we discussed a common heritage on our traditions with small-scale agriculture and the challenges that a range of theological perspectives within our denominations presents in promoting creation care ministries. Overall, I found the SSA conference an instructive and encouraging experience.

A complete list of schools represented can be found here: http://seminaryalliance.org/partner-schools/.

Each of the members of Bethany’s SSA delegation will be speaking at Bethany Theological Seminary’s Presidential Forum and Youth and Young Adult Event, March 16-19, 2017: God’s Green Earth—A Call to Care and Witness. SAVE THE DATE!

Jonathan SJPS_Tweed_Ride14tauffer is a member of the Polo (IL) Church of the Brethren congregation. He is currently a student at Bethany Theological Seminary where he is finishing his MA 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.

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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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