Earth Sunday

Connecting the calling of faith-life to the development of an “Earth Ethic” has been a major theme in my own religious life, and thus for my leadership in the church as well. I’ve had many wonderful opportunities to learn from other people involved in this area of theology and ministry, and have also enjoyed leading explorations into “eco-theology” with lay-people in the church. I’ve shared some of those experiences with you in previous Pastor’s Perspectives and sermons, and in the “Season of Creation” that we observed this past September for the first time, so I’ll try not to sound like a broken record and share something new on the topic.
Over the years that I’ve been involved in this conversation with other religious leaders, I’ve tried to share my conviction that what will be most compelling to people to begin living in a more sustainable way isn’t by delving into all the catastrophic figures and statistics and “wild-eyed” projections about environmental apocalypse, but instead to help people locate an “Earth ethic” within their own experience of the outdoors. It is uncanny how many people have experienced that transcendent feeling of connection and bliss when they have been walking in the forest, or on the beach, or out in the prairie. Each person has their preferences on what is beautiful. To identify a sense of personal responsibility amongst that grace and beauty is to make a connection that will be lasting. For people of faith, this connection also has grounding in scripture, where among other things, God is said to give humankind the charge of “tilling and KEEPING” the Earth, from which we are formed.
One of the places that really resonates with me is the Great Sequoia forests in the Southern Sierra Nevada mountains. As I’ve shared in a sermon before, the majesty and awesomeness of those trees gives one the same sense of humility that is conveyed by staring up at the dome of the night sky. It is even more impacting to learn that those trees grow in six feet of soil, and must intertwine their roots to stand up. That experience of beholding those trees gave me a theme for life and ministry. We must link our roots in order to avoid “crashing down under our own weight.”
When I was in my first year of ministry in Waldron, Arkansas, I organized a church hike up a mountain right outside town where we could look over our little community together and talk about what it meant to be the church in Waldron, Arkansas. The hike up and down the mountain with around 15 people of diverse ages is also something I won’t ever forget. The conversations, the spider-webs and bird-songs we pointed out to one another, and the experience of simply sharing a goal together (getting to the top of the mountain) did a lot to set a good foundation for ministry in that community. It is something I’ve continued doing with Confirmation groups that I’ve taught since then. Taking the groups to Devil’s Den State Park in NW Arkansas and going down into the cave there together for a “finale” to the Confirmation process is something that I believe builds the confidence of each of the participants and “draws the tie that binds” the group closer together in that shared experience. It also doesn’t hurt that exploring together the twisting canyons and drop-offs makes for a good metaphor of what we’ve just done over the course of confirmation as a group. We have many opportunities to connect our faith-lives to our environment—what might occur here at UUMC?