Creation Care Alliance of Western North Carolina

Resource Highlight: Lenten Studies

Many Christians and Christian faith communities are beginning to think about the season of Lent. For this reason, we want to highlight two great Lenten studies that emphasize the work of creation care, its importance to faith, and how ecological justice can speak to other aspects of spirituality. Wild Hope: Stories for Lent from the Vanishing by Gayle Boss is one of these books.

Wild Hope walks its reader through the Lenten season by examining the stories of endangered species the world over—and she does so to significant effect. As stated by Father Richard Rohr, “Gayle Boss writes vividly of wild, imperiled creatures as expressions of God’s own self—and of God’s own suffering. What better subject for Lent?” This is an excellent text for Sunday School class conversations and individual study alike. 

For the Beauty of the Earth: A Lenten Devotional by Rev. Dr. Leah Schade is another beautiful book to consider. “Drawing on the beloved hymn “For the Beauty of the Earth,” each week of this daily devotional focuses on a different aspect of nature’s splendor, how God nurtures our spirit through creation, and how we must protect our precious home.” This powerful text lends itself well to group discussion in addition to individual reflection. 

Please let us know if you use these texts in your congregation or personal life in the coming weeks. We’d love to hear about what you learn and what those learnings spark in you/your community.

Learn with us this summer

Are you interested in the intersection of faith and the environment? Are you dedicated to ecological justice and community building? Are you a creative and compassionate problem solver? Does your experience with rivers, soil, and mountains feel holy?

You might be a great fit for our summer internship. With flexibility in programmatic responsibilities, this experience is shaped to take into account your vocational goals and unique gifts. In addition to living wage compensation and gaining experience in the non-profit sector and faith-based/congregational work, you will be given opportunities to grow as a leader and advocate for all of creation. 

Learn more about our internship offerings, and the application process for this summer, here. Reach out to CCAWNC director, Sarah Ogletree, at sarah@creationcarealliance.org or 828-506-9467 with questions. The deadline for applications is Tuesday, March 15th, at 5pm. 

 

***In an effort to keep all internships associated with MountainTrue uniform, we have moved the deadline for applications from March 11th to March 15th. Enjoy those extra days! We look forward to your application.

“Grief and love are sisters”

It’s hard to keep up with the news and harder still to process. We see images of fires raging across the American west, driving both human and non-human communities from their generational homes. We hear farmers speak, in choked sobs, of unpredictable growing seasons and lost crops. We shake with the knowledge that we are losing species at 10 to 100 times the rate considered “natural” by scientists. We witness environmental racism and the reality that people in poverty and people of color bear the brunt of climate devastation despite contributing the least to the systemic problems that brought us here.

Many of us find ourselves numb and overwhelmed by the pain of the world that we love. In other words, we are experiencing ecological grief and climate anxiety— completely reasonable responses to deeply challenging truths.

As we grapple with our changing climate and the devastation of natural spaces, we may feel fear, sadness, anger, or a sense of despondency. We may feel burnt out. It may be difficult to plan for “the next thing.” It may be difficult to do anything other than try to “fix the problem,” making it impossible to rest. This is why recognizing and processing ecological grief is so important. Together, we can learn to navigate and be present to the world as it is—grounding our lives and activism, and perhaps, discovering something like hope in the process. As Francis Weller says, “grief and love are sisters.” By honoring our grief, we begin to reconnect to why we care in the first place. We reconnect to our love, and therefore, our purpose. 

We hope you’ll join us for a time of grieving in community together during our upcoming Eco-Grief Circle. Past participants expressed profound gratitude for being among people who could talk honestly about grief, suffering, and the ecological and social challenges of our time. Check out our upcoming offerings and register at the links below:

  • 7-week circle utilizing scripture, sacred text, and ritual in the work of eco-grief beginning Monday, February 7th, from 7:00 – 8:15 pm. Register here.
  • 7-week circle utilizing secular texts and ritual as support in eco-grief beginning Friday, February 11th, from 12:00 – 1:15 pm. Registration is full, but you can be added to out waiting list by clicking here

The Winter Symposium & January Jubilee

Typically, in January or early February, our community of Creation Care Alliance leaders comes together to host a clergy and community gathering called the Winter Symposium. This event has proved again and again to be a wonderful time of learning together and growing in our shared vocation of creation care. 

This fall, as we began to think about our symposium, it became clear that given the realities of COVID-19, we would be unable to gather in person. Last year, we had a beautiful virtual gathering, and we considered hosting another Zoom conference. However, as we discerned, we continued to feel that what we need right now is something that a Zoom conference cannot give us.We need connection. We need rest. We need rejuvenation. We need laughter. We need to be with each other. For these reasons, we have decided to cancel the 2022 Winter Symposium with the hope that when we gather, it can be in person. 

But what about this need to laugh and rest and connect and rejuvenate and find joy? We wanted to attempt to meet these needs. And so, the idea for the “January Jubilee” was born. 

On Thursday, January 20th, we will gather on Zoom from 6-7 pm for a time of song and celebration. During this “happy hour” of sorts, Sarah and her husband William Ritter will offer fiddle tunes and lead all who attend in a few favorite singalongs. Rev. Anna Shine of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Boone and Rev. Kevin Bates of Way in the Wilderness in Black Mountain will offer songs of hope. Emma Childs of Christmount Retreat Center will also lead us in a time of reflection. We will consider seeds: what we’ve sown, what we’re sorting through, and what we hope to grow, through patient watering, in 2022. 

Our fervent desire is that this time of song and contemplation will provide a small balm to the ache many of us feel after nearly two years of pandemic. We may not be able to safely gather in large numbers, particularly during the cold of winter, but we are able to sing. And there is both joy and hope in that. 

Please join us. Bring a snack, warm beverage, and cozy blanket. We look forward to being with you. Register here.

Celebrate with Sustainability in Mind

The holiday season, unfortunately, is often one ridden with waste. Dumpsters quickly fill, and we know it’s a problem. The waste we see and create is not in the spirit of our gatherings meant to sow love and hope. Still, it’s hard to know what to do about it. Here are some tips that we hope will help you create and enjoy a more sustainable season of giving:

  • Buy less. It is easy to fall into the thought process that we need a pile of presents in order to show our love. But a thoughtful gift can mean much more than many items purchased out of habit.
  • Practice alternative gift-giving through donations to causes meaningful to you and your loved ones, a book or item that has been meaningful to you from your own home, your own artwork (a picture, a poem, a song, a photograph, etc.), crafts from local artisans, a book from a local bookstore, homemade baked goods, or by gifting an experience (a “gift certificate” for a day spent together or a special activity).
  • Strive to avoid/limit plastic (especially single-use plastic). As you shop for decorations and gifts, pay attention to packaging and material. It can be helpful to ask yourself, when considering a purchase, how often this item will be used and how long the item would take to biodegrade.
  • Look for toys made from natural and/or recycled materials. Children’s toys are often the most challenging place to practice sustainability during the holidays. Here are some sustainable kid’s toy companies to check out. You can also google “cloth toys,” “wooden toys,” or “recycled toys” for more options. Many local toy stores carry exciting sustainable options. Books are also, always, a wonderful option!
  • Use the real silverware. Instead of using single-use plastic utensils to cut down on clean-up time, put on some holiday music and clean up with the family. Make a game out of how quickly you can pick up OR who has the best “cleaning up” dance moves.
  • Buy from local farmers if you can. If you plan on having a large holiday meal, check out these North Carolina farmers markets and these producers selling local and sustainably/humanely raised meats.
  • Be kind to yourself! We all make unsustainable purchases and decisions, and it is easy to allow guilt to take over. Remember that we are each doing our imperfect part and that we will keep striving! Day by day.

The Holiday Season: Finding the Divine Amidst the Quiet

December is here. As a practicing Christian, this season is special to me because of Advent and the upcoming Christmas holiday. Advent, the beginning of the Christian liturgical year, is when we wait with joyful anticipation for the birth of the Christ child. On Christmas day, we celebrate that birth as well as the incarnation—God’s becoming human as Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God sent to Earth.

We witness manger scenes, and nativity plays with children clad in bathrobes during these weeks of waiting for Christmas. We sing songs like “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” We light candles during our worship services that helps us recount the story of Jesus’ birth—what it means in our lives and the life of the world. This is also a season of reflection for me and many others.

As the natural world becomes barren, the energy of the tree returning to the soil until spring, we also turn inward. It might seem difficult given the frenzy of the secular season, but Advent is a time for Christians to consider their hearts and how they might prepare for the coming of Christ in ways that allow compassion and justice to blossom. Those of other faith traditions also look inside themselves to be reconnected to hope, love, and religious identity.

There are at least a dozen religious holidays during the month of December (such as Rohatsu or Bodhi Day in Buddhist tradition and Hanukkah within Judaism). These holy days often share in emphasizing times of introspection—becoming quiet like the natural world during winter. Through this quiet, we often find the Holy and are reminded of why we are here on this planet.

In recognition of the sacred stillness of this season, we will not be having meetings or events during the month of December. It is our wish, and my prayer, that you find the Divine in quiet moments and feel God’s love surround you and yours during the days and weeks to come. We hope the meditations listed on this page will  serve to help you find God in the quiet. Additionally, we hope that these resources from our Guide to Creation Care will be helpful in sustainably celebrating with your loved ones.

We are immensely grateful for your presence in our community. And we hope that like the trees in winter, you will find time to be nourished by stillness this month.

May there be Peace,

Sarah Ogletree, Director

 

Thin Places: Waterrock Knob

This reflection was written by CCA Director Sarah Ogletree on Oct. 24th for the national Presbyterians for Earth Day newsletter. 

 

In my work, I often speak to congregations about the importance of creation care. The beginning of the talk I give is the beginning of my story. Before I get into what creation care is and ways we can practice love for all beings, I talk a bit about why I do what I do and how I came to feel called to environmental ministry. That story is centered in place. 

Growing up in the Blue Ridge Mountains, I understood the world as sacred from a young age. How could I not? My pastors and Sunday School teachers taught me about God’s love, and I felt God’s love outdoors. The sun, rain, and wind offered me the sense of wonder associated with my experience of the Divine. My backyard wildflower garden, and the woods behind my neighbor’s house, provided space for me to connect with God and the deep well of love that’s available to us when we are present. I found God with the birds singing outside my window and under rocks where my brother and I looked for salamanders… God was all around me in the mountains of my upbringing. But no place served as such a conduit for God’s presence as Waterrock Knob. Waterrock Knob was, and continues to be, my “thin place.” 

Frequently referenced in Celtic spirituality, “thin places” are locations where the veil between this world and the eternal is thin. Waterrock Knob, the highest peak in the Plott Balsams and 16th highest in the eastern United States, has long been that for me. It’s hard to say precisely why, but that craggy mountaintop with its stunning views and steep trail has always caused me to feel as though my eyes were newly opened. There in that place, I feel simultaneously small and connected to all of life’s largeness. I feel like the world just began and like it is the most ancient thing in the universe. The strangeness of living is put into perspective, and I am free to breathe and be. God is with me. 

I have many special memories at Waterrock Knob. It is a place I often visited with my family as a child, and it’s a place I continue to go with my husband and our friends. I know it well. For instance, I know that if you go off the trail to the left about a third of the way up, there is a tree with a knot in it where I once found a bouncy ball. The ball had a smiley face on it, and underneath it, there was a note that said, “have a great day.” I know that when you reach the summit, you can go through the trees to the right and find the perfect rocky perch to watch cars twist up the parkway. I know that the mountain oscillates between smelling of evergreens and skunk—due to an unknown-by-me high elevation plant that I’ve come to associate with this place and this place only.

I know the mountain. I am also surprised by it. Every time I’m there, something “new” shows its face: a flower I’ve never seen before, a mammoth tree I hadn’t noticed in visits past, or light playing off fragments of mica along the forest floor. Perhaps this is a part of Waterrock Knob’s “thinness.” In this place, I am comforted by the familiar and gifted with mystery. I am shown that there is more than I can know, and I get to marvel at all I can see. The opportunity to experience the love I’ve known for years while glimpsing the love that exists beyond all I could ever imagine—it feels like God. 

What “thin place” has touched your spirit? How does that place offer you inspiration? Hope? How might that place aid you in your Earth care? This coming week, I will go to Waterrock Knob with members of the Creation Care Alliance community to contemplate our callings to creation care. I hope you will also sojourn to a sacred place and consider how God is speaking in your life. May we all find strength, joy, mystery, connection, and conviction in the world that God made and calls good.

Sermon in Saluda: Remembering Who We Are, Becoming Ourselves

This sermon was preached by CCA Director Sarah Ogletree at The Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration in Saluda, North Carolina, on Sunday, October 17th, 2021. The sermon text is Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35c.

 

Psalm 104 tells of the beauty of God’s world, of the relationship between Creator and Creation. In this passage, fire is named as God’s minister. The water serves the Lord. The wind is God’s messenger. All creatures, all beings, all aspects of Creation are intimately known by God and held close to God’s self. God’s body, imagined here by the Psalmist, is covered by light and wrapped in water. God’s works are manifold, branching infinitely from the Tree of Life. And Psalm 104 celebrates that life as well as God’s wisdom in creating. 

This passage is moving because the relationship between God and God’s works—God’s Creation—is right. God is in right relationship with what God has made. The water listens to God’s voice, the wind carries God’s words, the sunrise plays off of God’s form. Creator and Creation are in harmony… 

But not all of Creation. Though the water is listening, the people are not.

We, members of Creation, creatures ourselves, have too often forgotten our role in the world. Our role declared in Genesis as stewards of this garden. Our role declared in the gospels as lovers of God and our neighbor. We have forgotten our charge of caretaking, and in our apathy and our amnesia, our actions have caused great harm.

Take the water. The water called forth by God in Psalm 104 and set in boundaries to prevent death and mass flooding now floods communities at rates beyond anything we have ever known. This is a result of our actions, our consumption, our endless burning of oil and gas, our stubborn refusal as a culture to change, our attempt to be in control. 

And I get it. Control is seductive. We tell ourselves that if we’re in control we don’t have to worry. That if we’re in charge, bad things won’t happen… And so we hold tightly to the notion that we have it all figured out. 

The problem is, we don’t. And we won’t. 

We are not in control. We cannot “ride on the wings of the wind” like God in Psalm 104. We cannot control Creation, we can only exist within it. We can only be creatures in the world, of the world, formed by God and called to right relationship. We can only be beautifully and wonderfully human. 

Friends, what would it mean to be human again? To stop acting as if we are in control and instead honor God’s Creation and take our place within it? What would it mean to commit to our calling as creatures? To value love above expediency and personal comfort? 

Christian theologian Walter Bruggemann says that we cannot become what we cannot imagine. And so, with the help of teachers listening deeply to Creator and Creation, I want to imagine with you today. 

Sherri Mitchell, Weh’na Ha’mu Kwasset, of the Penawhapskek Nation is one of our teachers. Through her words and her works, she offers incredible lessons for our journey of remembering who we are and walking in our purpose. In her essay “Indigenous Prophecy and Mother Earth,” she acknowledges that “[h]uman beings have fallen out of alignment with life… [and] as a result, have forgotten how to live in relationship with the rest of creation…” 

But all is not lost. 

Indigenous ways of being continue to steward the land and protect the water.Though indigenous peoples make up only 5% of the global population, land managed by indigenous people holds approximately 80% of the world’s biodiversity and 40-50% of the remaining protected places in the world. Our indigenous siblings have proven that the presence of people does not inherently lead to destruction. Instead, people can exist as valued parts of a healthy and thriving ecosystem. People can live within their means and their place.

This is good news.

With generosity, Sherri invites us to learn from her community—to consider the groundings of her culture and how these firm foundations have prevented her own amnesia and apathy in relation to her identity and the world. She speaks of “kincentric awareness,” the knowledge that every aspect of Creation is connected through kinship networks—that our ancestors include the trees, and the rivers, and the 2.3 million species that share fragments of our DNA. 

She speaks to the concept of enough within her traditional language, explaining that while one word, “mamabaezu,” refers to individual needs meaning that “he or she has enough,” another word, “alabezu,” means “everyone has enough”—including all beings in the natural world. In stark contrast to the values of western culture, Sherri declares that in order for there to be enough, there must be both mamabaezu and alabezu. Enough for the entire Earth community, for the fullness of Creation, for me, and for you. 

She presents a definition of well-being that is communal—in which the health of one depends on the health of all. A definition in which the relationship between all beings and their Creator is both honored and acknowledged. A definition that seeds our imagination with possibilities of how the world could be—how the world has been! This is how our communities can be shaped—how our forests can be seen for more than their timber, or palm oil, or land upon which to graze cattle. 

Can you imagine? Can you imagine a world defined by enough instead of excess or scarcity? Can you imagine living like our health, and the health of the Ash tree, and grandmother, and monarch are connected? Because they are? 

Truly, I want us to imagine it. Close your eyes if you have to. Take a deep breath. It’s important that we are able to envision a world that is different. It’s important that we are able to imagine who we could be, who we’re called to be—and to remember that it is possible for us, once again, to become who we are. 

We have unlearning to do. We must unlearn ways that place profit before the lives of all our relations, our neighbors—human and non-human. We must unlearn value systems that do not take into account the well-being of all people, species, and places. We must unlearn ways of relating that are not rooted in relationship. We must unlearn distraction, and like the water in Psalm 104, listen again to our Creator. 

Friends, we have been connected to Earth from our beginning. The Hebrew word for human, adam, comes from the Hebrew word for soil, adamah. In the second chapter of Genesis we learn that God forms us from soil. We are adam from adamah—quite literally “soil people.” We are creatures of Earth—connected to God, and land, and all beings. 

This is who we are. 

And once we remember who we are, we get to be who we are. We get to live into our callings. Perhaps slowly at first, muscle memory takes time… But we get to live fully—from love, for love, with love, by love. We get to stand with all of Creation, as a part of Creation, and join in its groaning. We get to be a part of the awakening of God’s people. 

And people are waking up. 

This past week, thousands of people led by indigenous leaders marched on Washington D.C. They marched for clean water, clean air, and action on climate change. They marched to demand a beautiful, compassionate, and sustainable future for their children and their children’s children. Hundreds were arrested as a result of their nonviolent civil disobedience—faith leaders from various traditions among them.

In just two weeks, the UN will gather for COP 26—a series of potentially monumental climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland. Today, people of faith all around the world are praying for that gathering. They are praying for courage and for spirits of cooperation. They are praying for boldness. They are praying for justice. They are praying for deep kindness. They are praying for eyes that see and ears that hear… 

I invite you to join in that collective prayer, and also, to call your elected officials. Invite them into the work of imagination that we have done today. Encourage them to listen to the still small voice beckoning them toward a more loving way. Because a more loving way is possible. We have done it before. We can do it again. We have been molded by God, with Earth, for this purpose.

Beloved, now is the time to remember who we are. Now is the time to become who we are. Now is the time to walk the path of right relationship. Now is the time to be in community with Creation, within Creation.

May there be enough for you, and for me, and for the trees, and the rivers, and the salamanders, and our unborn grandchildren, and all of us. 

 

Amen.