Creation Care Alliance of Western North Carolina

Welcome Director Sarah Ogletree to CCA

Tuesday was our new director’s first day! We are so excited to welcome Sarah Ogletree back to CCA. Sarah served as an intern with CCA during her time as a student at Wake Forest School of Divinity, where she focused her studies in religious leadership and ecology. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Sustainable Development from Appalachian State University. Since then, Sarah has worked at the intersection of faith, ecology, and Creation Care at United Methodist Churches in Cullowhee and Winston-Salem, Parkway United Church of Christ in Winston-Salem, First Baptist Church in Sylva, and here with the Creation Care Alliance back in 2017. Her dedication to seeking justice for both people and planet shines through in all aspects of her life, and she has consistently been recognized with awards for her leadership, dedication and excellence. Notably, she was the recipient of the national 2018 Emerging Earth Care Leader Award from Presbyterians for Earth Care and was named a 2019 Re:Generate Fellow. She has been committed to the work of creation care for many years and is incredibly grateful to be returning to CCA in this new capacity!

In her free time, Sarah enjoys planting flowers, singing, and playing the fiddle with her husband, William. She is a fan of snuggling up on the couch to read southern Appalachian novels and also loves exploring with her small but mighty dog, Bo. Be on the lookout for more from Sarah in this week’s newsletter—coming to an inbox near you soon!

Sermon at St. Luke’s: Praying with Our Feet

This sermon was preached by CCA Director Sarah Ogletree at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Boone, North Carolina on Sunday, August 29th, 2021. The sermon text is John 13: 1-11. 

 

Today, when tragedy strikes, many of us take to our computers where we carefully pen a version of “thoughts and prayers.” Our thoughts and prayers are with you. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, the families, those struggling. 

I believe we do this because we care. I believe we do this because those suffering in our world are indeed heavy on our hearts and present in our prayers, and because we want those hurting to know that their pain does not go unseen. 

And perhaps, we don’t know how else to respond. 

But “thoughts and prayers” as a response and refrain has lost much of its intended meaning. Too often the chorus of “thoughts and prayers” feels hollow, because it is not followed by action and because it is short-lived. 

“Thoughts and prayers” overwhelm our Facebook feeds momentarily, and then, once we have all proclaimed our sadness, they stop. We move on to the virtual sharing of photos and jokes, our community proclamations of caring enough to stalemate our concern—or at least, offer us the balm we need to return to the busyness of our lives.

I do this. 

I recently sat at my laptop and wrote a paragraph about my hurt for the people of Oregan and others choked by wildfires exacerbated by climate change… I wrote about our siblings in Germany carried away by flood waters and those in Turkey experiencing fire and tennis ball sized hail… Just last week, much closer to home, I wrote about the devastating impacts of Tropical Storm Fred in Haywood County, where five lives were lost and people remain missing.

Sometimes, offering up my heartbreak is all I know to do… But it never feels like enough. And so, I’ve been striving for another way. Another way to engage, another way to pray, another way to show solidarity, another way to be present to the world and those who are hurting… And in that striving I remembered a beautiful West African proverb that says “when you pray, move your feet.” 

When you pray, move your feet. 

Jesus’ ministry was a ministry of walking, of being in community, of feet dusted by Earth and countless towns and mountaintops—feet splashed with salt water, feet calloused, feet aching… Because Jesus’ ministry was a ministry of movement and a ministry of service. 

When we pray, we should move our feet. We should follow the way of Jesus. But what does that really mean? 

In John 13: 1-11, Jesus gets up from the table bearing the Last Supper, ties a towel around his waist, and pours water into a basin. He then washes the feet of his disciples. He tells Peter that feet are the only part of the body truly in need of washing if one has bathed because feet are the part of the body most exposed to elements, the part of the body where travel becomes most apparent, the part of the body most worn by the day. Jesus washes his disciples’ feet because they have walked with him, at this point, for years. Because they have traveled the roads of his ministry, because their feet, witnesses to all they’ve endured, are dirty. 

The first verse in this passage tells us that Jesus washes his disciples feet because “[h]aving loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” This verse feels particularly important to me because it speaks to what it means to be a disciple and a human. It speaks to our social location and where we should be when living out God’s love. We should be “in the world.” 

I believe stories of foot washing, and particularly this story, offer us insight into what it means to pray with our feet, because stories of foot washing are stories of the intermingling of soil and water and human flesh. In order for foot washing to occur and have meaning, our feet need to be dirty. They need to have been places. And through that sacrament of soil, the sacrament of washing and acknowledging and serving our community becomes possible. 

So, what does it mean to pray with our feet? It means being in community and communion with all of Creation. It means getting our feet dirty. It means being present in the world for the good of the world. 

And it doesn’t look like one thing.

There are many ways to pray with our feet. Many ways to be in the world. This morning, I want us to consider what we are being called to. How we are being called out and called in—into soil, into life, into community, into presence with each other and the fullness of Creation. Because friends, though our paths may vary, we are being called. 

One path is the path of presence. Earlier today, I mentioned Tropical Storm Fred and its devastating impacts on the people of Haywood County. What I didn’t mention, is that as the storm rolled in, I was preparing for a meeting with congregants in that area and for a speaking engagement at Grace Episcopal Church in the Mountains located in downtown Waynesville. I was sitting on my couch, contemplating the realities of our changing climate while the community I was preparing to spend time with was being rocked by climate change. The power and sadness and heaviness of this was not lost on me. 

But what I saw from the communities of Haywood County gave me hope. 

Clergy, lay people, families, friends, and community members all banned together. During the storm they invited each other to higher ground—opening their doors to strangers during a global pandemic. When the storm passed, they strapped on their boots and went searching for survivors. They raised money to rebuild, they shared their clothing and their food, they knocked on doors to find out how they could be most helpful, they sorted and dried family photos found in the debris, they offered comfort to those grieving—they showed up, and they got covered in mud. What they did last week, and what they’re still doing today, is the work of praying with their feet. 

Another path forward is the path of protest. This summer, I had the privilege and honor of traveling to northern Minnesota where the Anishinaabe are standing in opposition to the Line 3 tar sands pipeline. This pipeline, carrying the dirtiest form of oil known to humanity, will cut through territories under the protection of the Anishinaabe people—poisoning sacred wild rice beds and the water supply of countless communities while contributing to our climate crisis. Standing with them—our indigenous brothers, sisters, and Two-Spirit cousins—was one of the most meaningful moments of my life. 

Led by tribal elders and other native leaders, we shut down construction through civil disobedience. We sang songs together. We locked arms. We heard speeches from Winona LaDuke, Tara Houska, and Jane Fonda. Some of us chained ourselves to bulldozers and stayed the night enduring police raids and violence. 

Though told to wear boots in case of tear gas, I wore Chacos because it was hot. I walked up and down that site for ten hours in the middle of one of Minnesota’s most substantial droughts. My feet got dirty. Covered in dust from walking and from the rotor washing we endured when a federal border patrol helicopter repeatedly came down at our site—blowing debris in our faces and across our bodies in an attempt to disperse the crowd. 

When he marched at Selma with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said that he felt like his legs were praying. That’s how I felt that day. It took an hour to wash my feet that evening… And my heart remains with the more than 800 people—pastors, faith leaders, mothers, fathers, siblings, and friends—who have been arrested this summer protesting Line 3 and standing for justice. 

There are so many paths in this work of prayerful feet. The last I want to name is that of taking off your shoes and being “in the world.” It can be easy to become overwhelmed by the work of presence and protest. And that is why being in the world is so important. We must remember why we do what we do and why we are who we are. We must remember why caring for the fullness of God’s Creation is so central to our lives as children of God, and to do that, we have to be filled with the goodness of this world—with the sacrament of soil. 

Recently, my husband surprised me with a trip to Mt. Mitchell. I was thrilled, but I didn’t know we were hiking. It was our anniversary, and I’d worn “cute shoes” for lunch—not hiking boots. So, when we arrived at the parking lot, I looked at him. “Just take off your shoes,” he said. 

So I did. And it was beautiful.

Walking the trails at Mt. Mitchell without shoes meant I felt the moss and pine needles. The ground was soft from years of decomposing leaves. I felt every piece of them—the dark hummus gathering between my toes. As I moved my feet through those woods, I moved into prayerful meditation… When I think about that experience now, I’m surprised I’d never thought to walk a trail barefoot before.

When I’m at home, I almost never wear shoes. I love to feel the grass beneath my feet, the squish of rain soaked ground, the stones, the mud. It is literally and metaphorically grounding, because God is there. God is here. All around us and within us, if we only allow ourselves to notice. If we only take off our shoes…

There is an incredible poem by Chelan Harkin that speaks to these feelings of God’s closeness and the divinity in all things, and I want to read her words to you this morning. She writes, 

 

The worst thing we ever did

was put God in the sky

out of reach

‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍

pulling the divinity

from the leaf,

sifting out the holy from our bones,

insisting God isn’t bursting dazzlement

through everything we’ve made

a hard commitment to see as ordinary,

stripping the sacred from everywhere

to put in a cloud man elsewhere,

prying closeness from your heart.

 

The worst thing we ever did

was take the dance and the song

out of prayer

made it sit up straight

and cross its legs

removed it of rejoicing

wiped clean its hip sway,

its questions,

its ecstatic yowl,

its tears.

‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍

The worst thing we ever did is pretend

God isn’t the easiest thing

in this Universe

available to every soul

in every breath.

 

God is here, friends. In every breath of this expansive, heart wrenching, and wonderful world that we and all God’s creatures call home. That God made and calls good. That we, as stated in John 13:1, belong to. 

May we see the divinity in the leaf. May we know God’s closeness and bursting dazzlement. By paying attention, through the work of presence and protest, the work of feet covered in microbes and the life of this world—may we become living testaments to the ministry of movement, the ministry of community, the ministry of walking with, the ministry of Jesus that we are called to. 

When we offer our thoughts and prayers, may we also offer our feet. And may our feet be dirty. Amen.  ‍‍‍‍ ‍‍








Fall Book Study: All We Can Save, An Eco-Justice Conversation

Earlier this year, we gathered to read Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katherine K. Wilkinson’s acclaimed compilation, All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, & Solutions for the Climate Crisis. It was a powerful time of conversation and learning. That’s why we’re doing it again.

Beginning on Tuesday, September 21st (7-8pm), we’ll be offering a nine week study of Johnson and Wilkinson’s work. This time, we’re zeroing in on environmental and climate justice.

This study will be a great opportunity to consider how we can act in solidarity with those on the frontlines of environmental and climate justice struggles. We will gather on Zoom each week to discuss one selected essay and one poem from a section of the book. Janet and Sarah will lead discussion around issues of anti-racism, gender, and economic justice in ecological movements, as well as how this relates to our callings as people of faith/spirituality. They will also provide questions for conversation and contemplation as we consider how we will bring our learnings into the practice of our daily lives.

We hope that you’ll join us for this important conversation. We look forward to learning alongside you and thinking together. Register today: https://creationcarealliance.org/event/all-we-can-save-book-study/2021-09-21/

Praise for All We Can Save:

“This astounding and ambitious eco-anthology is filled with whip-smart essays, heart-wrenching poems, and stunning visual art from an all-female cast… those who’ve been left out of the climate debate for too long… a powerful chorus of women armed with solutions for our changing climate.” -Self  

“A welcome anthology, in prose and verse, of women’s writings on climate change… A well-curated collection with many ideas for ways large and small to save the planet.” -Kirkus Reviews

“All We Can Save brings an empathetic perspective to a fraught subject… a community bound between two covers, and a gift to any who wishes to join in. Johnson and Wilkinson have set a high bar [with] this movement-forging book.” -Bloomberg Green

Resource Highlight: Kids & Composting

Our congregational children’s ministries are great places to sow seeds of creation care, and there are many books we can utilize to help us instill these values. Two such resources deal with composting: an incredible way to reduce food waste, increase soil health, and address climate change by returning carbon to the soil.

Compost: A Family Guide to Making Soil from Scraps by Ben Raskin and Compost Stew: An A to Z Recipe for the Earth by Mary Makenna Siddals are both great resources for helping kids understand that caring for the earth is 1) an act of love for all of God’s creatures (themselves included) and 2) full of fun and wonder.

Composting is something congregations can take on as a facility as well as an activity that can happen at home. That said, teaching your young ones about composting is a wonderful, tangible way to plant seeds for creation care within your community. To learn more about composting as a congregation or at home, check out these resources in our CCA Guide to Creation Care: https://creationcarealliance.org/waste-reduction/?emci=124d7903-c2f6-eb11-b563-501ac57b8fa7&emdi=a047635b-14f9-eb11-b563-501ac57b8fa7&ceid=570480&fbclid=IwAR2C95ZZmarTKNBj98zqmf953HEaPHXkiZui5cg6gJUJ2l2hTn7HgIKr0_g#waste2

Regional Gathering on August 19th

 

The next Creation Care Alliance (CCA) regional gathering is August 19th from 6-7pm. We will meet over Zoom for  fellowship, learning, and to meet our new director, Sarah Ogletree. Sarah will share her story in the work of creation care, consider what Pope Francis has termed “ecological conversion,” and invite meeting attendees to think about their own environmental stories and motivation.

Statistics alone are rarely the reason we change our mind or become motivated to take action. Instead, most often, it is story that wakes us up and gives us the courage to do what is right. Stories matter. They connect us. They bring facts to life. It will be a joy to listen and share our stories with one another–to think about who we are, why we’re here, and what we’re called to. 

To attend, please register: https://creationcarealliance.org/event/creation-care-alliance-regional-gathering-2/

 
 

Join CCA Labyrinth Walk

Have you ever walked a labyrinth? Perhaps you have walked many. Regardless, you’re invited to join in this meditative practice with CCA’s intern, Aundreya. Each labyrinth walk is unique in its own way. This walk will focus on Creation work and what that means to each individual. It can be a meditation on all that is taken from Mother Earth that evolves into thinking of ways to give back to Earth. Creation Care is heavy work, laced with grief. It is also sacred work with so much hope. Perhaps this labyrinth walk would present the potential to lay down grief and burdens, and walk away with more hope. Labyrinth owner, Johanna, believes that within each walk, “… whatever is occurring is divinely inspired or cosmically led, for the person experiencing it for the moment they are in.” This walk offers the potential to motivate and refresh us in our creation care work in a myriad of ways!

If you would like to join on Thursday, July 29 at 6 PM, please register here.

 

Sacred Space, Sacred Rights: Reflecting on the Braiding Sweetgrass Book Study

In our discussion of Part 3 in Braiding Sweetgrass last week, we addressed the idea of extending human rights to nature. In this section of the text, Robin Wall Kimmerer underscores the benefit of interacting with  nature in a relational way—asking permission to make use of resources, thanking the world for its many offerings that benefit us, regifting the earth with the nourishment the air, water, and soil need replenishment. Kimmerer addresses this idea of nature having agency, and therefore, rights that we usually reserve for humans. This is ultimately referred to as environmental personhood. The concept of environmental personhood is understood in many indigenous cultures, and has been employed as a legal tactic to protect sacred rivers and land masses. The acknowledgment is that these spaces are inherently valuable—that they have rights in and of themselves. 

CCA intern, Aundreya Shepherd, noted that this was intriguing to her—particularly as a conversation around consent and striving to exist in a respectful relationship with nature. She reflected saying,

The idea of listening and being attuned to what a plant is communicating as a way of relating to that being in a way that is mutually beneficial, respectful, and consensual was wholly novel and intriguing to me. I love the idea of humans being so attuned to the greater Spirit of Creation, that we can be given and refused permission. I was also excited to learn that Kimmerer is not alone in her emphasis of the need to ask permission of the earth.

These are the kinds of conversations and quandaries that Braiding Sweetgrass is leading us to. What a gift to think more deeply about our relationship with the world and how we interact with the fullness of Creation. If you’re interested in joining the next discussion of the book, email Aundreya at shepak19@wfu.edu





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Learn about the Red-Tailed Hawk

Christmount Assembly in Black Mountain, NC has been integrating educational murals onto the bathhouse at the camp in preparation for their Fern Way Farm Camp summer programs! Different sides feature local flora and fauna for campers to learn about as a way to connect to their own places and ecosystems. The artists are Ohio-based Laura McNeel and Elizabeth Hatchett (her work can be found at Betty Hatchett Designs). It was completed with volunteers’ help from both the Christmount neighborhood and the surrounding WNC area!

Today’s mural depicts the magnificent Red-Tailed Hawk, otherwise nicknamed as “chickenhawk” in WNC because of their carnivorous diet, although they mostly eat rodents. Red-Tailed Hawks are a great example of resilience as they are able to make their homes in many different biomes. They thrive in habitats from the Arctic to Mexico and their diverse diet reflects the variety within their habitats. Their ability to adjust and hunt in new ways only proves their unique adaptability. The Red-Tailed Hawk is protected by the United States’ Migratory Bird Treaty Act because its migration spans continents. 

When the snow begins to come, the Red-tailed Hawks leave their breeding grounds for warmer climates. For nesting, they tend to search for tall trees to create their cliff nests with a “bird’s eye view” of the surrounding area. When areas use selective-cutting or high-grading, it limits the trees available for the hawk’s nesting to smaller trees where Hawks are more vulnerable to attacks because of their lack of a safe perch. Red-Tailed Hawks are also one of the most popular birds for falconry in the US because of their intelligence and ability to be trained. Though falconry can lower the number of hawks, it is tightly controlled, and thankfully, hawk populations haven’t suffered significant losses in numbers. 

Fun Fact: The infamous Bald Eagle cry in movies, is actually the cry from the Red-Tailed Hawk!