It may be August, but this piece written by CCA steering team member and covenant partner congregation congregant is too good not to share again. Written by Enrique Sanchez, this article outlines the dangers of plastic and how we can find our way to a more just and sustainable life. Check it out and let us know how you’re lessening the plastic in your life!
In July, coinciding with the worldwide campaign against plastics, Trinity Presbyterian in Hendersonville had an ugly sight in the narthex: the Bag-Monster. The average American goes through 250 pounds of plastics every year. In the US, we use 100 billion plastic bags a year, and we barely use them for 12 minutes. This begs the question on the title: What’s so bad about plastics?
Without going into a treatise, let’s start from the basics, with an invitation to click on the hyperlinks if you want more information. Plastics have been mass-produced since the 1950s. Global production grew from 1.5 million tons in 1950 to 359 million tons in 2018, causing a global environmental catastrophe. In short, plastics are destroying our planet. Watch this 2-minutes video from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) .
From the early stages of production, plastic starts damaging the earth. Its main components are petrochemicals, and fossil fuels are used to extract, transport, refine and even try to dispose of plastics. But plastics are not easily disposable. It takes at least 500 years to biodegrade most plastics, and the lifespan of a styrofoam cup is estimated at 1,000,000 years. We are not even going to address the fact that most petrochemical refineries in the US are located in, or close to BIPOC neighborhoods (Blacks, Indigenous and People of Color), and cause severe impact on their health (think the “cancer alleys” in Newark, NJ and Louisiana).
Plastics break down into tiny little pieces known as “microplastics” –smaller than a micron–, that are transported by rainwater into our streams, rivers and oceans, and even fly in the air, damaging animals of all kinds, particularly fish and aquatic life. They’ve been found in Arctic and Antarctic fresh snow and in the deepest parts of the ocean. This one-hour PBS documentary provides more detail. Researchers have found microplastics in our lungs, in the bloodstream, and even in the bloodstream of unborn babies. According to this article on The Week, “studies have found that plastics contain chemicals that can act as ‘endocrine disruptors,’ meaning that they can affect and even mimic hormones; in theory, this means microplastics in the body may cause cancer, reproductive disorders, chronic inflammation, autoimmune diseases, obesity, and neurological impairment in developing fetuses and children.” Research on this is in its infancy, yet quickly denied (without evidence) by the plastic and fossil fuels industries. We ingest 5 mg of plastics a week –the equivalent of one credit card! According to the World Economic Forum, at the current rate of use and recycling, by 2050, pound for pound, we’ll have more plastics than fish alive in all our oceans.
How about recycling? Well, it’s not that simple. The article in The Week reveals “the dirty secret of the plastics industry”: it has transferred the responsibility for recycling to the consumers, and made the recycling process complicated, confusing and ineffective. The small triangle with the recycling symbol and a number from 1 to 7 in it, has led us to believe that every number can be recycled. Not true. In Henderson County we can only recycle #1, 2, 4, and 5 (rinsed and dry; lids and labels are O.K.). But, at the end only 33% of these are actually recycled at the recycling centers (mostly bottles). This means that #3, 6 and 7 cannot be recycled. Plus, all the other plastics without the recycling symbol and numbers, and all items smaller than 3 inches that cannot be processed by the recycling equipment. Visit this interactive NPR website to see visually how much cannot be recycled. According to The Week, in 2021 only 6% of plastics in the US were recycled, down from 9% in 2014. In addition, recycled plastic cannot be recycled more than two times. And what’s worse, some recyclers even burn plastics as fuel to generate electricity, thus emitting more noxious gasses into the environment. As a result of this, BeyondPlastics.org strongly argues that “Plastics Recycling Is a Big, Fat Lie.”
Bringing the problem to our own backyard in Western North Carolina: Over the past couple of years Mountain True has analyzed our Western NC rivers and streams, collecting water samples regularly and analyzing the local aquatic life in our “clean crystalline” waters we are proud of. They found that all contain alarming levels of plastics. Check this article and videos released in April. These studies have led Mountain True to create extensive programs to get rid of plastics in our environment and stop plastic pollution at its source. Read about making Plastic-free Western NC. Even Hendersonville is working on going plastic-free! Learn about it here and support the businesses that have already committed to it.
The problem is so large and urgent that in March 2022, 175 nations agreed to work on a global agreement and have it ready by 2024.
By now you must be raising the question: what can we do? In simple terms: educate ourselves on the severity of the problem, cut down consumption of single-use plastic, keep what we use out of the environment, and advocate for going plastic-free. At a personal level, at a community level (church, town, region, etc), and at a policy level.
So, at a personal level, we’ll need to change simple habits, one at a time. That’s a challenge, but it can be done. Here are concrete, simple actions that, when we act as a community, can make a difference. (Tip: print this list, post it on your refrigerator, give yourself a star every time that you do one of these actions, focus on 2-3 points every month, and keep adding 2-3 different ones the following month):
Finally, watch out for future articles and eco-tips in Trinity Tidings and on the Trinity blog; talk about the plastics crisis with friends and family members; take action, and share your experiences and eco-tips with us on the Trinity blog (send them to Nancy Williard or to me).
This is surely an Earth Caring matter! We must take care of Mother Earth (Genesis 2:15).
Enrique P. Sanchez
P.S. Many thanks to Barb T. for the initial draft and thoughts and to Cindy Ann B. for feedback and edits.
On June 12th 2022, CCA Director Sarah Ogletree visited The Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration in Saluda to welcome them as our newest covenant partner. During her visit, she preached during their two services and also offered a discernment workshop to help the congregation identify their first step in the creation care journey they are embarking on. It was a beautiful and wonderful experience! To learn more about covenant partnership and other ways to get involved with CCA, go here: https://creationcarealliance.org/get-involved/. Above, you will see a photo of Rev. Chip Broadfoot and Sarah after she presented him with the congregation’s certificate of covenant partnership. Below you can read Sarah’s sermon from the day. The sermon comes from Psalm 8 : 1-9.
I am here this morning to speak about creation care–what it means to care for the fullness of this world that God loves and how this is the work of faith that we are invited into through our baptism. I’m excited to broach these questions with you, and I’m further grateful for the chance to enter this conversation through the door provided by Psalm 8. Because this hymn offers a clear path.
You see, in this passage, we encounter a series of ideas. First, the psalmist marvels at the sheer majesty of God and the vastness of the universe shaped by God’s hands. Then, they consider our role in creation, stating, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are humans that you are mindful of them… that you have made them a little lower than God… and given them dominion over the works of your hands…” Despite what the psalmist understands as a relatively unimportant existence, we humans are made in God’s image. God saw us and said we were good. And more than that, our role in creation is active. God has charged us with the task of caring for that which God loves–articulated here in the text as “dominion.”
As people made in the image of God, we wield a power that has long been misunderstood. Generations of leaders have burned land and poisoned water because of it. But destruction has never been condoned by God or the concept we know as “dominion.” Instead, when we look to biblical commentaries, we find that God’s offering of dominion to humankind, this newly created being made to mirror God’s likeness in the world, was ultimately an offer to share power. This was never an invitation to domination or destruction. Instead, God was, God is, inviting humankind to share in God’s own dominion, God’s own power, God’s own ability to care for, and be in the world. The commentators go as far as to say that this is God’s democratizing effort. Friends, this is the dominion that we are called to in Psalm 8. We are called to responsible, compassionate, co-creative power that does the work of love God believes we are capable of–no matter how insignificant we may feel.
Psalm 8 reminds us why we are here in the vastness of God’s world–why we have been created. Friends, we are here to love God. We are here to be moved by wonder and awe like the psalmist. We are here to be the image of God to each other. We are here to be God’s hands by caring for what God’s hands have made. You, me, the monarch, the bear, the star, the fox, the stream–all of us. We are all the work of God’s hands, and caring for all of us–that is what dominion entails, and that is what the calling to creation care is all about.
So, how do we do it?
How do we, like the psalmist, remember our calling? How do we use the power shared with us by God to act as God’s hands? How do we, as the image of God in this world, act as a blessing to all we encounter? How do we live like our lives matter and have the ability to create change for the better? Because they do.
Thankfully, we are not alone in asking these questions. People of faith worldwide, and many here in western North Carolina, are striving to walk this path. They are striving to love God, the world, and each other and recognize their place within the web of creation. And let me tell you, these folks have a lot of beautiful ideas. In my work with the Creation Care Alliance, I am privileged with the opportunity to get to know some of these communities and the people coming together to ensure that our prayers have legs. Folks who are doing the work of love and are committed to continuing to learn how to do that work better. Folks like you. As we welcome you formally into the Creation Care Alliance as a covenant partner, I want to share with you some of the work that congregations in our network are leading–work that makes wonder come alive, that exercises the power we have been given by God, and help us see God’s image in the faces of each other.
First, there is Way in the Wilderness. Located in Black Mountain, this congregation offers outdoor opportunities to help their congregants and community connect with God outside of church walls. And they do so beautifully. In fact, when I think about the movement of Psalm 8 from awe to our active role in the caretaking of creation, the approach of Way in the Wilderness immediately comes to mind. Through the use of Celtic liturgies and a reclaiming of nature spirituality, Way in the Wilderness is helping people see the sacred in the world and ultimately, remember who they are as both creatures and caretakers within the Christian tradition.
One of their offerings that sticks out to me the most is their “Wild Eucharist” service. These services, which sometimes happen on the top of a mountain following a hike or beside a river after a picnic, rely on the simple, ordinary stuff of the world–stripping this ritual of its gold and silver, and reminding us that all we need for this miracle is bread and wine. The stuff of Earth. Grain grown in soil. Grapes from the vine. Accompanying liturgies remind us that it is through the effort of others–people who nourished the vineyard and bees who acted as pollinators–that we are able to participate in this holy moment. It is through the efforts of others, human and non-human, that we are able to taste God’s love on our lips. In recognition of this and our deep connection to one another, whatever wine is left over is poured into the soil, while the bread is left for the squirrels, ants, and other members of God’s family we so often forget.
Through this radically open table, the fullness of creation is invited to celebrate. And I believe that just in witnessing this kind of openness, something transformative and powerful happens within us. Perhaps, it’s that we see a glimpse of what the kin-dom of God can look like when we let go of our understanding of dominion as destructive ownership and instead, embrace relationship and responsibility. Perhaps, that feeling of joy is because things are right for a moment… Through the Wild Eucharist and services like it, Way in the Wilderness affirms that we are all “the work of God’s hands,” and all worthy of the love of God and its expression in all its many forms. This deeply theological and imaginative act invites us to move through the world differently. To go from that space with more reverence and awareness for how God shows Godself to us through a stream, or a chattering bird, or a farmer of grain. This work of wonder is one example of the work that we can help lead as caretakers of creation.
Then, there is Cruso United Methodist Church (UMC). Last August, Tropical Storm Fred devastated the community of Cruso. Six people died. Countless others lost their homes. In response, the community came 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, and they offered comfort to those grieving. Cruso UMC served as a place to receive hot meals and other supplies. And now, nearly a year later, they are still working–but on a different project. These days, the emphasis is climate resilience.
Due to the impacts of climate change, it’s likely that we will experience more extreme weather events in the coming years, and in the southeast United States, flooding is of particular concern. But there are ways to help our communities meet these challenges. One of those ways is working to increase the health of our rivers and streams. When rivers are unhealthy, their banks are easily eroded. And when you have a significant weather event, that erosion can become fatal. But by caring for riverbanks, ensuring that there is adequate vegetation along the water’s edge, we can help mitigate this concern. And that’s exactly what Cruso UMC is doing. Together with the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church, youth volunteers, partner congregations from throughout the region, and secular environmental organizations, Cruso UMC is leading an effort to clean up the river and make sure that flood plains and necessary riparian buffers like river cane are protected and preserved.
They are looking to the needs of their community beyond this moment. They are thinking long-term. They are considering what it means to love their neighbor into the next decade, and the decade after that, and the decade after that. They are exercising that co-creative power of dominion by holding the river in their hands and bringing it back to life–back to health–for the good of us all. Again, this work of tending the river and meeting our neighbors needs, both today and tomorrow, is the work that creation care invites us into.
Lastly, there is Grace Episcopal Church in Waynesville, North Carolina, and their Grace Giving Garden. This garden feeds both people and pollinators in Haywood County. As a part of the church’s mission to do the work of creation care and the broader work of love, congregational volunteers dedicate long hours to tilling the soil, weeding the plots, and bringing forth the harvest. By growing food organically, they care for the life of the soil and the lives of those who will consume the fruits of their labor. Many of the crops planted here become offerings to food-insecure members of the community while a wildlife habitat provides nourishment to the non-human animals that frequent church land. Because of the Grace Giving Garden, more of God’s children are fed–both physically and spiritually. Whether through a meal, fresh food, or restorative time spent with neighbors outdoors, this ministry offers people a place where they can know that they are loved–where they both experience the image of God and be it to another.
Like many congregations, Grace Episcopal is loving creation in more ways than one. They have a monthly prayer service dedicated to prayers for creation. They are a collaborative community partner working to lessen the use of single-use plastics in the region. This summer, they’re organizing a day retreat alongside another covenant partner congregation, First United Methodist of Waynesville, to help reconnect people to land, God, and the healing we find in nature. All this is happening as FUMC Waynesville is busy hosting workshops on energy efficiency, preparing for a series of children’s camps on the care of creation, and looking ahead toward their annual “Concert for Conservation” in which they’ll raise money for an endangered species through a community gathering that celebrates art, music, and all of God’s miraculous creatures.
Each of these congregations is doing their part to repair the sinful misinterpretations of dominion that have separated us from the inherent goodness of creation. By living in awe and practicing compassion and justice for this world, each other, and the patch of Earth they steward, these communities are showing us how we can make a difference by using our God-given power to build the kin-dom of God here and now.
Today, we will be discussing what gifts and resources you all hold as a congregation entering this work. There are so many paths that you can take to live this calling, and I am excited to walk alongside you as you discern what your offering will be. In the meantime, I invite you to begin thinking about what living in awe and practicing your power might look like individually. Perhaps it’s cultivating a patch of milkweed in your backyard. Perhaps it’s stopping and helping the turtle cross the road. Perhaps it’s choosing the aluminum can over the plastic bottle. Perhaps it’s simply not squishing the spider. Whatever it is, know that every step you take brings us closer to the love God envisions for us. And when you feel insignificant, remember that we have been born for such a time as this.
The Creation Care Alliance of WNC (CCA), MountainTrue, and other local renewable energy advocates are pushing for a stronger decarbonization plan to help North Carolina meet the renewable energy goals laid out in HB 951, the “Energy Solutions for North Carolina” bill passed by the NC General Assembly in October 2021.
The North Carolina Utilities Commission (NCUC) is hosting a series of hearings in the coming months to receive public feedback on Duke Energy’s draft Carbon Plan. CCA, MountainTrue, NC Interfaith Power and Light (NCIPL), the NC Sierra Club, and other local groups are encouraging the public to show their support for a stronger decarbonization plan at NCUC’s hearing in Asheville on July 27.
When: Wednesday, July 27, 2022, at 7:00 p.m.
Where: Buncombe County Courthouse, Courtroom 1-A, 60 Court Plaza, Asheville, NC 28801
MountainTrue, CCA, and NCIPL hosted a free webinar about Duke Energy’s draft Carbon Plan on Wednesday, July 13. The webinar featured MountainTrue Central Regional Director Gray Jernigan and NCIPL Director Susannah Tuttle, M.Div, as guest speakers. Webinar attendees learned about the implications and shortcomings of Duke Energy’s Carbon Plan and left with the information needed to take action in support of our state’s clean energy future at the upcoming NCUC hearing on July 27. Click here to watch the webinar recording on MountainTrue’s YouTube channel.
During the public hearings, NCUC asks that only one representative from a given organization speak. In addition to organizational representatives, independent individuals may offer testimony and those that do not wish to testify may observe the proceedings and/or gather and demonstrate outside of the hearing venue. Demonstrations are not allowed in the hearing room. A virtual statewide hearing is scheduled for August 23, 2022. More information on the process, schedule, and opportunities for public input can be found here.
Advocating for a just, equitable, and science-based carbon plan is central to MountainTrue and CCA’s green energy and climate change-focused work. “Everyone has the right to clean and affordable energy with the assurance of equitable energy production, transmission, and distribution. Our consumption of energy should not harm our health, the health of non-human creatures, or the climate,” says CCA Director Sarah Ogletree. “We invite all who are interested to attend this webinar and we look forward to working together to shape North Carolina’s clean energy future.”
The details of Duke’s draft Carbon Plan:
HB 951 charges NCUC with developing a Carbon Plan that takes reasonable steps toward achieving our state’s clean energy future and addresses the threats posed by climate change — click here to learn more about HB 951. The bill directs state regulators to cut carbon emissions from energy plants owned and/or operated by Duke Energy by 70% from 2005 levels by 2030 and reach carbon neutrality by 2050. Last November, NCUC ordered Duke Energy to file a draft Carbon Plan by May 16, 2022.
Duke Energy is proposing four different portfolios to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, and they are requesting that NCUC approve all four options, essentially asking for blanket approval for whatever strategies and infrastructure the company wants to employ. Only one of the portfolios achieves HB 951’s interim goal of 70% carbon reduction by 2030, and that portfolio is the most costly of the four according to Duke’s analysis. All four portfolios achieve the 2050 carbon neutrality goal, though the means used to achieve said goal are starkly different from one another. Here are the highlights:
Portfolio 1: Achieves 70% CO2 emissions reductions by 2030 with 800 megawatts (one 800 megawatt block) of offshore wind to be placed in service by the end of 2029, new solar interconnections ramping up to 1,800 megawatts per year by the end of 2028, and the addition of nearly 1,800 megawatts of new battery energy storage capacity. The average annual bill impact estimated by Duke’s analysis is 2.5%.
Portfolio 2: Achieves 70% CO2 emissions reductions by 2032 with two 800 megawatt blocks of offshore wind, the first in 2029 and the second in 2031. The average annual bill impact estimated by Duke’s analysis is 2.4%.
Portfolio 3: Achieves 70% CO2 emissions reductions by 2034 with new nuclear and without any offshore wind. The average annual bill impact estimated by Duke’s analysis is 1.9%.
Portfolio 4: Achieves 70% CO2 emissions reductions by 2034 with both offshore wind and new nuclear. The average annual bill impact estimated by Duke’s analysis is 2.0%.
“Duke Energy’s draft Carbon Plan makes significant advances in the development of solar and wind energy resources and battery storage. However,” explains MountainTrue’s Gray Jernigan, “Duke’s draft plan falls short because it relies too heavily on unproven technologies like small modular nuclear reactors, perpetuates the use of gas-burning facilities, and fails to use cost assumptions that reflect market realities of the affordability of renewable energy generation when compared to gas, among other concerns.” Click here to review Duke Energy’s entire draft Carbon Plan and its summaries.
HB 951 places the responsibility of developing our state’s final Carbon Plan on NCUC rather than Duke Energy, requiring NCUC to incorporate public input into the planning process. NCUC should carry out its public input process in a way that meaningfully involves and seeks input from historically marginalized communities, including communities of color.
NCUC has the ultimate authority to adopt the best Carbon Plan for the state — not necessarily one of the portfolios proposed by Duke Energy. We believe that NCUC should develop a carbon plan that centers the wellbeing of NC communities, prioritizes a climate justice-based legislative approach and reduces our state’s dependency on fossil fuels to mitigate the effects of climate change. Therefore, MountainTrue is encouraging NCUC to exercise its authority to the fullest extent to achieve the goals of HB 951 and protect the people and environment of North Carolina.
MountainTrue and CCA urge NCUC to consider the following points to improve the Carbon Plan:
“While we understand these are the costliest options to meet decarbonization goals, the additional investment in green renewable energy sources rather than unproven small nuclear energy sources and the faster timeline justify the increased cost when we are racing against the clock to mitigate the impacts of global climate change. Additionally, we will be joining others in advocating for rate structures that protect the most vulnerable populations and low to moderate income households who bear disproportionate impacts from environmental and financial standpoints.” -Gray Jernigan, MountainTrue Central Regional Director
*New generation: refers to Duke Energy-owned versus third party-owned energy generation such as wind, solar, etc.
8. Securitization. The Carbon Plan must clarify that Duke Energy will use securitization in a timely fashion to retire coal facilities and to lower costs for customers. The sooner coal plants are retired the more customers will benefit from savings from securitization.
9. The Carbon Plan should increase the resiliency of the state’s energy system. Energy systems are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and resource availability, and the Carbon Plan that is ultimately approved should increase the system’s resilience in the face of these threats.
10. Alternative Plans Achieve the Carbon Plan Goals Without Reliance on New Gas and Should be Accorded Equal Weight with Duke Energy’s Draft Plan. Through the process, alternative plans may be submitted, and those should be given equal consideration by the NCUC.
On Saturday, July 30th, we will offer a day retreat at Lake Logan Retreat Center in partnership with covenant partner congregations Grace Episcopal Church in the Mountains of Waynesville, and First United Methodist Church of Waynesville. Titled “Restoration in Creation: Earth, Body, Mind, & Spirit,” this retreat will focus on the spiritual necessity of land, water, and time spent with one another.
Famed conservationist Aldo Leopold said “[o]ne of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds.” Too often, this feels like the case. But even amidst the pain of climate crisis and environmental injustice, we are not alone. So many of us care. So many of us are striving to love each other, and this world, and all creatures great and small. By coming together and remembering our collective work, we can once again find community. And by being in the world, surrounded by all that God made and called good, we can find healing.
Our day together will provide time to slow down and fill our cups. It will also offer both facilitated and unstructured space to consider our callings and the following questions:
How are we led? How are we fed? How does the Spirit reveal the beauty of Creation to us and sustain us? How are we nourished? How does our care of creation include our own health and wellbeing? What does it mean to love this place, and each other, and ourselves well?
The cost of this retreat, which includes access to kayaks and lunch, is $20. If you need a scholarship, please email CCA Director, Sarah Ogletree, at email@example.com with “Retreat Scholarship” in the email subject line.
In order to receive lunch at Lake Logan, you must register by June 30th. Register here. Below you will see a brief outline of our day together.
Retreat Day Outline:
This sermon, preached at First Congregational Church of Hendersonville on May 8th, 2022, was adapted from a sermon preached in October of 2021. The text referenced is Psalm 104: 1-9 from the NRSV. The original sermon was titled “Remembering Who We Are, Becoming Ourselves.”
Psalm 104 tells 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. Even God’s body, imagined here by the Psalmist, is covered by light and wrapped in water. To me, this passage is moving because the relationship between God and Creation is right. 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.
I’m moved by this imagery. I’m also convicted. Because, while the water is listening, I know that often, I am not. We are not. People are not.
As members of Creation, creatures ourselves, we 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 amnesia, we have caused great harm. Our reckless consumption of oil and gas has caused even the water to flee the boundaries drawn by God in today’s psalm, flooding communities at rates beyond anything we have ever known.
We act as though we are in control—as though our role is that of boundary-setter instead of boundary-keeper. As though we can fix this all on our own. As though we can make things right again by ourselves. But we are mistaken. 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 listen to God and God’s calling of care? What would it mean to honor 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.
Let’s start now.
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 knowing 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. By honoring our relationship with one another, we can contribute to, and be a part of, the beauty of the world.
Beloved, 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 all of our relations, for me, and for you.
She presents a definition of wellbeing 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! How our forests can be seen for more than timber, palm oil, or as potential land 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 mother, and monarch are connected?
In order to build the kin-dom of God, we must be able to envision a world that is different. We must be able to imagine who we could be, who we’re called to be—and remember that it is possible for us, once again, to become who we are.
This isn’t anything new.
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, land, and all beings. Our joy tugs at the joy of others, our sorrow is communal. We are connected. Deeply. Our breath, and the breath of the bear, and the dragonfly, and the corn stalk, and the oak tree all intermingle in this space. And God’s breath, Ruach, the Holy Spirit, is among us too.
This is who we are–soil people charged with the care of one another, and the many creatures God delights in, and ultimately, this place. This place that is inherently good and that provides the food, and water, and oxygen with which we are able to meet each other’s needs.
We have unlearning to do. As we walk this path, we must unlearn ways that place profit before the lives of all our relations—human and non-human. We must unlearn ways of relating, speaking, and decision-making that are not rooted in relationship. We must unlearn language that tells us that the Earth is a thing and not a being emanating God’s love for us. Because God is here now, in this place, in this time, amidst soil and star stuff and all that has been called “good.” God’s breath continues to be felt over the waters. And God is still speaking.
Friends, we have everything we need to live into our callings. Like the water in Psalm 104, we must only learn to listen…
And once we remember who we are, we get to be who we are. 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 we are waking up.
Those of us who have lost our way are beginning to find ourselves again. Some through gardening and that sacred act of reaching our hands deep into the soil. Some through learning the names of our siblings–Pilliated woodpecker, Carolina Wren, Eastern Screech Owl. Some through drafting and supporting policies that offer the rights of personhood to rivers, forests, and other sacred spaces.
The list goes on and on.
In my work with the Creation Care Alliance, I strive to help congregations as they take these steps to faithfully love the fullness of Creation. And I am continuously inspired.
There are faith communities here in our region learning about native species and planting those species along the eroded banks of streams and creeks in their watershed as a means of fostering climate resilience, better water quality, and healthier waterways. There are faith communities hosting silent meditation and prayer hours for the health of all of God’s Creation on a weekly basis. There are faith communities that teach and preach on these issues, and then, organize “Souls to the Polls” events to encourage voting with these values in our hearts. There are faith communities that have installed solar panels and are now in the process of divesting their financial resources to ensure they don’t further fuel the climate crisis. There are faith communities partnering with wildlife conservation organizations to bring back the most endangered of our non-human kindred. There are faith communities planning children’s camps and activities to ensure that, for the youngest among us, it will be harder to forget our purpose of love…
In each of these communities, I have noticed something in common. They are all listening. They are striving, like the water in today’s psalm, to hear God’s voice and respond… Even when it feels uncomfortable. Even when it is hard. Step by step, they are walking the path… We are walking together.
Beloved, now is the time to remember who we are. Now is the time to become who we are. Now is the time to step into the Gospel truth that, like our indigenous siblings, proclaims authentic, trust-filled, relationship as the way forward… Now is the time to come together in community with Creation, within Creation, for the good of Creation.
May there be enough for you, and for me, and for the trees, and the rivers, and the salamanders, and our grandchildren, and all of us. And may we listen well.
Please join us on Sunday April 24th from 4 – 5 pm at the First Baptist Church Asheville labyrinth and sacred garden as we gather for a time of prayer, music, lament, celebration, storytelling, and community.
Speakers and performers will include: CCAWNC Director Sarah Ogletree; French Broad Riverkeeper Hartwell Carson; Ministerio de Música Hispana of the St. Eugene Catholic Church of Asheville; Sacred Paths Counseling, Connie Burns; Bring Your Own Bag Haywood Organizers Kathy Odvody and Lori Stephens; Plastic Free WNC Equity Volunteer Jane Laping; Co-Pastor at Way in the Wilderness in Black Mountain, Rev. Kevin Bates; Old-time musician and fiddler William Ritter; Trinity Presbyterian Hendersonville Creation Care Team Leader Enrique Sanchez; and more!
We hope you will gather with us. This event is open to people of all faiths and spiritual traditions. Learn more and register today.