“Precisely as we think about what to do to care for the earth, one thing is very striking. Many of the things to be done are identical with the things we need to do to feed the hungry and empower the poor. More than 50,000 people die each day of starvation, malnutrition, and related diseases. One-fifth of the world’s people live near absolute poverty. We must live more simply so others may simply live. If we reduce our affluent lifestyles, we can share with the poor and place less strain on the environment”
–Ron Sider, Genuine Christianity (Zondervan, 1996), p. 159.
Just as we are called to value people, we are also to value creation. Just as violence seems to be an increasing part of relationships between humans, violence is often a way people interact with the earth. A part of creating peace is to care for the earth as good stewards. God is the owner and we are the caretakers of the earth. This means we have to care about pollution, about our use of natural resources, about the quality of the water, about our consumption. God’s ownership and our stewardship of the earth also have implications for our resources, our work and our ownership of land. Often exploitation of resources goes hand in hand with exploitation of the poor.
Connecting the Seasons: Video chat with Todd Wynward, author of Rewilding the Way
“As an American, I should be able to have what I want, when I want …” (shouldn’t I?) Mennonite author Todd Wynward looks at how this perspective seems natural unless we take steps to live a more sane and less stressful way. How can connecting more fully to the earth’s seasons bring about a saner way of life? Thoughts?
Respond on the MennoMedia YouTube channel, or on the Rewilding the Way Facebook page.
Watershed Discipleship: Earth-Honoring Christianity
By Todd Wynward (Reposted from RewildingTheWay.com)
What does a transformative, earth-honoring Christianity look like at ground level, lived out in daily action?
Reforms of personal habits—such as recycling and eating locally and shopping responsibly—are important steps. But we’ll need to embody a more robust Christian environmental ethic if we are to become the people God yearns for us to be, and address the overwhelming ecological crisis facing us today. We’ll need to do something wild, and embody watershed discipleship.
Watershed discipleship? It’s a provocative term blending two domains rarely joined in our imaginations: one scientific, the other religious. Yet it’s this kind of paradigm—both data-driven and deeply spiritual, both ancient and new—that Jesus followers will need to adopt in the coming decades if we are to play any significant role in our planet’s healing.
What is watershed discipleship? It’s a movement that’s being worked out, on the ground, in many locations. Activist and theologian Ched Myers gives the term two meanings, and I’ve contributed a third. In a nutshell, watershed discipleship means:
Being disciples during this watershed moment. At this crucial point in history, our choice is between responsive discipleship and reactive denial. We can’t pretend any longer: God’s earth is not just our grab bag and our trash can, to do with however we will. There are consequences to our actions. Interlocking and immediate crises of climate change, diminishing resources, and widening ecological degradation compel us to make environmental justice and sustainability integral to everything we do as disciples of Jesus, asserts Myers.
Being disciples within our watersheds. Wendell Berry warns us that abstract concepts such as “saving nature,” “global thinking” or “creation care” are well intentioned, but often do little unless rooted in actual landscapes. The real question, Berry states, “is not how to care for the planet, but how to care for each of the planet’s millions of human and natural neighborhoods….” Myers suggests that followers of Jesus today must be people of specific places, who root their prayers and practices in actual watersheds of care.
Being disciples of our watersheds. Becoming an engaged citizen of a particular place—being molded by its particular constraints, seasons, bounties, and boundaries—is a primary task of watershed discipleship. It is the “re-placed” identity we as a species must rediscover if we are to unshackle ourselves from the ecocidal, dis-placed path of empire. We need to go to school on our surroundings, as the ancients did, and learn core life truths from our own home places. As followers of our primary rabbi Jesus, we need to treat our region as rabbi and teacher as well.
I realize my attempts to explain watershed discipleship are more descriptive than prescriptive. That’s because watershed discipleship is fluid; it remains a “work-in-progress,” an intriguing and powerful concept only discovered and defined as we live it out in our places each day.
Albuquerque Mennonite Church did something unusual last year: they became the focus of their own mission. Our own lifestyles in North America are what need changing, AMC realized. We’re the ones who need to be converted. As we continue to follow Jesus and be faithful to God, they asked, how do we live in right relationship with water, land, creatures, and one another? After living so long as un-placed and dis-placed consumers with global appetites and little local awareness, how do we learn to re-place ourselves and become denizens of our specific bioregion—the high desert of northern New Mexico?
As a church body they began to respond to these questions. In early 2014, they initiated an educational series called “Becoming a People of Place,” gaining a scriptural and theological background for earth justice and reconciliation. Then, in April, they hosted a capacity-building event they called “Re-Placing Ourselves,” to increase their own capacity to be watershed disciples. Other church communities participated, hailing from up and down the Rio Grande watershed, from the headwaters near Alamosa, Colorado, to where the river flows into the gulf near Brownsville, Texas.
In addition to learning, praying, and connecting, the church was doing. Members started changing their shopping habits and taste buds, engaging more with local and community supported agriculture. Others built hoop houses and are looking to establish their own CSA. A “pilgrimage” group studied their own community to see what place-based initiatives and organizations were already established in the area. A “Zero Waste” group took a first step by sorting and weighing a week’s worth of trash they found the church dumpster, and provided insightful feedback to the congregation. Others organized field trips to a nearby recycling plant, a commercial composting facility, and a local water reclamation plant. One member led a series of “urban homesteader” how-to courses while others learned about composting and vermiculture. In its 2014 annual report, the Zero Waste team discussed whether they would concentrate on reducing the church’s material waste stream, or broaden their agenda to examine the church’s use of energy, water, and toxins.
To read more on this topic including more on Mennonite church involvement, go here.
Todd Wynward: A Way Between?
(Reposted from RewildingTheWay.com)
The lifeway practiced by the man Jesus was seriously hard-core. The lifeway practiced by today’s comfy Christianity is often a sell-out. Might there be a way between–a transformative path for those who want to raise loving families and practice radical discipleship?
The larger-than-life British explorer Ernest Shackleton accomplished many things, but he is most famous for what he did not do: traverse the Antarctic continent in 1914. His infamous exploratory voyage aboard theEndurance is one of history’s most inspiring failures: rather than crossing the vast Antarctic, the Endurance became trapped in polar ice, and the expedition turned into a heroic struggle for survival, creatively and courageously endured by twenty-eight crewmen over a span of nearly two years. The incredible thing is, Shackleton seemed to know what he was getting into. Legend tells us that in preparation for the epic voyage, he posted the following want ad in a London newspaper:
Men wanted for hazardous journey.
Low wages. Bitter cold.
Long months of complete darkness.
Constant danger. Safe return doubtful.
Honour and recognition in event of success.
Authentically following the Way of Jesus can seem equally daunting sometimes: hazardous, foolish, impossible in our modern society. Like many residents of the U.S. and Canada today, I grew up middle-class. We had our own house, we had a decent family car, and college was an assumed right. We never experienced a hint of malnutrition, displacement, or the terror and chaos of living in a war zone. We were blessed with security. Globally speaking, I was born into privilege. I also grew up in a Christian home. As a teenager, I made my own decision to follow Jesus. Raised both privileged and Christian did not seem odd in affluent America; in fact, it seemed the norm. Therefore, I felt ambushed when I encountered the story of Jesus and the rich young man in the Gospel of Mark. In this dialogue, Jesus tells this man of privilege who has “done all the right things” that he still needs to do one thing: “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor.” The story continues: “At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, for he had great wealth” (Mark 10:17-30).
Demands Too Daunting
The man went away sad because Jesus’ demand was just too daunting.Give away everything, right now? Not gonna do it, thought the rich man. How about you? If you’re like me, the challenge is too daunting as well. I’ve got a family to feed, bills to pay, college for my kid to plan for. Jesus’ challenge has been too daunting for most Christians. It seems that most Christians throughout history have somehow sidestepped or explained away this daunting demand. In doing so, we sidestep full participation in the kingdom of God as well.
The challenge to the rich man is not the only extreme expectation Jesus throws down, of course. Andrew and Simon may have jumped at Jesus’ invitation alongside the Sea of Galilee. But if I’d been there with my brother, hip-deep in our fishing work, I might have responded: “Leave our nets, right now? Are you serious?” Even though I’m wild about Jesus, I probably would have said, “Let me catch some food for my family, then I’ll be right there.”
If I’m honest, the needs and wants of my family come first. Because of this, I don’t meet a lot of Jesus’ other qualifications for hard-core discipleship, either: in the Bible Jesus asks those who follow him to drop our careers, love our enemies, hate our families, share our resources, turn the other cheek, and be prepared to lay down our lives nonviolently for our friends.
I must say, I’m not doing any of these very well.
Looking across the last two thousand years, I find many other daunting examples of discipleship I’m not ready to emulate. Look at the fourth century, when Constantine created an unholy alliance of moneyed church and military state: am I ready to leave empire and live the rest of my life in a desert cave like the desert fathers did? Hardly. Am I prepared to dive into a life of strict voluntary poverty like Clare and Francis did in Assisi in the 1200s? I like a simple life, but not that simple. How about devoting my entire life to lepers like Mother Teresa did in Calcutta? No again.
As I contemplate my inability to follow these examples, I realize something obvious: my spiritual tradition overwhelmingly emphasizes the single, childless life. The landscape of Judeo-Christianity is packed with stories of single people who seem to have no families to provide for, no debts to pay back, no homes to keep up, no crops to cultivate, no diapers to clean. Nowhere in the New Testament do I read, “John slept through the morning prayers because his baby kept him up all night.” Or: “Paul stayed longer than expected with the church in Corinth, because his teenager was on the track team.” Or: “After supper, Jesus and the twelve took some time to wash dishes, and Peter stayed behind to deal with the crusty soup pots.” The most memorable time kitchen chores are mentioned is in the story of Martha, who is shown to represent the worst of two choices (Luke 10:40-41).
Give away everything. Dwell in the desert the rest of your years. Embrace poverty as a way of life. Renounce family. As a parent with kids to feed, these daunting demands of renunciation seem so unrealistic that, if you’re like me, you reject them before you even begin. As G. K. Chesterton famously said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult, and left untried.”[i]
A Way Between
So here’s our modern dilemma: we avoid absolute renunciation for good reasons, but then we completely cave to dominant culture. We may have deep relationships and wonderful worship experiences within our church communities, but we still cozily conform to consumerism. Our souls, and our habits, are allegiant to corporation culture, unconverted. Along with everyone else around us in modern society, we settle for practicing a comfortable, market-approved version of Christianity. We focus on our families and jobs, surrounding ourselves with other middle-class families, and together we live lives of isolated busyness and unexamined privilege. We are a staid and stale shadow of something that should be full-bodied and transformative. Søren Kierkegaard may have felt much the same in a very different time and a very different place. More than 150 years ago in Denmark, he determined his country’s Christianity—both domesticated and desiccated—to be about as genuine and flavorful “as tea made from a bit of paper which once lay in a drawer beside another bit of paper which had been used to wrap up a few dried tea leaves from which tea had already been made three times.”[ii]
Between the options of absolute renunciation and unexamined affluence, could there be another way? Our precious planet, God’s gift, is imperiled, largely by the actions of affluent industrial societies like ours. Could there be a transitional path that might help privileged people like us unshackle from consumer culture to wade ever deeper into the kingdom of God?
I think there is. My mind turns to some biblical examples of life change that seem a touch more possible for people like me. I don’t normally think of a locust-eating wilderness prophet in a camel’s hair cloak as a guide for families, but listen to this straightforward advice from John the Baptist: to be part of God’s ideal society, those who have two cloaks should share with those who lack; those who are blessed with surplus food should do the same (Luke 3:11). And then there’s the life example of the tax collector Zacchaeus, who—after experiencing radical acceptance by Jesus—feels so forgiven and blessed that he immediately gives half of his possessions to the poor, and pays back those he cheated at 400 percent interest (Luke 19:8).
These two examples are not about absolute renunciation: they encourage us to give away half and keep living in the world. Now this kind of mandate seems both powerful and possible: countercultural and life-changing, yes, yet doable, even when raising a family. Are we, as modern disciples with surplus possessions, called to a path of significant relinquishment? Looking at the inequity in the world, how could we not be?
And so we come to the key questions I write about in my book Rewilding the Way: How can we nurture families and practice radical discipleship? How can we be in today’s consumer culture but not tamed by it? How shall we imagine and embody a better, wilder “good life” in this watershed moment of history—one that is better for ourselves and our aching planet?
These are daunting questions for those of us who have grown up captive to corporation-controlled thinking. We’ve been trained to think small and ask permission from the authorities. We’ve been conditioned to believe this is the only kind of life there is. We are at a crossroads, seeking a way.
My family is part of the massive silent body of modern Christians who live in two worlds, striving to follow the radical Jesus while still being shackled to Caesar. Maybe you are too. We are the tribe of the semi-transformed, the halfway-there, the partially free. We want to live more transformatively, but we’ve made important life commitments—meaningful vocations, good marriages, growing families, home mortgages, community involvements—that we don’t intend to break.
Is there any hope for sorry half-disciples like us? Luckily, yes. Remember what Jesus said as the rich young man turned away sad, unwilling to give away his possessions? “With man, this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” We follow a God who is extravagant, mercy within mercy within mercy. God knows our hearts. He created us, inconsistent and imperfect, to be just as we are. I have to trust that God expects us to love our families and seek to walk the Jesus Way.
May the wild return.
[i] Gilbert K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong With The World, (New York: Dodd, Mead, & Co, 1912), 48.
[ii] Malcolm Muggeridge, A Third Testament (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2004), 88.