Still Christian

David Gushee, Westminster, 2017

Reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

Gushee tells his story, of finding faith and struggling with spirituality, whose commitment to Jesus puts him at odds with American evangelicalism.  Still Christian tells of his pilgrimage from personal faith found on a Baptist church parking lot as a teenager to studies and teaching in five seminaries and several inter-church social action groups.  His story relates to a wide range of religious probing:  the Southern Baptist Convention controversy; mainline liberalism and radicalism; American conservative and progressive evangelicalism; life as an academic in both secular and Christian institutions; Christian engagements with politics; national media; fights over specific issues such as abortion, climate, torture, women’s participation in church structures and LGBT inclusion (xv). 

He became a Southern Baptist as a teenager, discovered Protestantism at liberal seminars, got a teaching gig at a conservative seminary, got involved in environmental and anti-torture activism, change his mind about gay people (xi).  The discipline of journaling helped create accuracy and perspective.

With all the changes that his journaling and teaching resulted in, what remains?  ‘I still believe in Jesus.  I still believe in the prophetic religion of Jesus and of those before him, a religion of justice, love and compassion. I still believe in local communities of Jesus-followers.  I still believe in the power of the preached Word and received sacraments.  I still believe that the truest human language is tears….  The most important voices come from the margins.’ (p 150)

A good read of a fellow pilgrim’s story.

Vern Ratzlaff is a pastor and professor of historical theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.

Justice and Only Justice

Naim Ateek, Orbis, 1989

Reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

Ateek is (Anglican) canon of St George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem and pastors its Arabaic speaking congregation.  The claim for security for the one people, the Israeli Jews, has been purchased at the expense of the just claims to the land of another people, the Palestinians.  In Ateek’s words, the Israeli Jews seek peace with security, and the Palestinians seek peace with justice.  The rival claims of these three major religions with their roots in Palestine underscores that the key to peace is the acknowledgement that this land must be shared.  How do we end violence to one people in a way that does not create new violence to another people? 

The critical issue for every liberation theology is not simply how to throw off oppression and empower the formerly victimized, but how to do it in a way that does not create new violence to another people.  ‘Only justice rooted in compassion can save us from repeating the cycle of violence (p xiii).  Ateek writes carefully about the historical pressure in Palestine and the various movements in the struggle (Zionists, Christian and Jewish; right wing eschatologies).  Ateek writes well about the role of the bible, and our concept of G-d.  A biblical hermeneutic that seeks to identify the authentic word of G-d, and this hermeneutic for Christians Is Jesus Christ.  Applying this hermeneutic to the Old Testament passages is for the Christian the need to see as inadequate the human understanding of G-d.  (The wholesale destruction and killing of Jericho’s inhabitants, the death by bear of small boys, the massacre of the Amalekites.  Ateek identifies three central biblical themes:  justice (Naboth), prophets (who tell the truth even when it is unpopular), refugees’ hope in G-d (Psalm 42,43).

Ateek:  a good theological treatment of a pressing issue in our present.

Vern Ratzlaff is a pastor and professor of historical theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.

Small Churches

William Adamson, Adam Enterprises, 1993

Reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

So it’s a book about Canadian small churches.  But the sociological and cultural focus of small churches is not particularly different depending on which side of latitude and longitude we probe.  Adamson’s treatment of small churches examines the United Church of Canada, Canadian Catholic churches the Anglican Church of Canada (Episcopalian), Lutheran churches I Canada, Presbyterian and Baptist churches in Canada.  (a few comparative figures for congregational size provides size comparisons for Canadian and American congregations.  P 28, p 224f18) 

Adamson concentrates on examination of what small congregations can offer, rather than on statistical data.  much of this represents the application of pastoral care, e.g., aspects of small congregations (250 or fewer members) is the care and support of each other, grounding each other in the faith and traditions of the church, mutual ministry, ministry to the surrounding community, a lean, simple and efficient organization, formation of clergy, a sense of stability and strength.  Small congregations may also have weaknesses:  temptation to be exclusive, to monopolize power, to be reserved, to neglect simplicity, to ignore certain crises.  ‘The primary difference is that big churches offer programs in which to participate whereas small churches offer a place in which to belong (p 42). 

Adamson lists concerns faced by small congregations (faced by larger ones, too).  He also outlines the need for ecumenical work, for shared ministry.  This is given as a kind of tag-along, and fails  to see the need for a reordering of the Constantinian mindset, emergent theology is not given vital perspective.  Adamson’s book is an attempt to fix things as they were, rather than to create new paradigms.  A book worth studying but one that needs to more clearly point to the future.

Vern Ratzlaff is a pastor and professor of historical theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.

On Faith and Science

Edward Larson and Michael Ruse, Yale University Press, 2017

Reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

The intersection of scientific discovery and religious belief have consistently resulted in comment, controversy and sometimes violent dispute.  On Faith and Science offers perspective on the always complex relationship between science and religion, exploring cosmology, geology, evolution, gender and the environment.  Larson and Ruse avoid rancor and polemic as they identify the key issues under debate by the adherents of science and the advocates of faith.  They write compellingly of the interaction of science and religion that focused on conflict as the paradigm for the relationship of science and religion.

Another major perspective is that of complementarity, illustrated by Muslims and Christians, with a major emphasis on natural law, cause-and-effect relationships in nature:  the complementary perspective, religion fostering science, although  the writers’ summary of students at UCLA identified a conflict model.  They also point out the ways in which evangelical and fundamentalist churches have participated in this struggle ‘the conflict model still survives among historians and philosophers of science (p 13)’.  ‘The world works according to unbroken law and … G-d stays out of it’ (p 45).

The writers focus on the religious perspective with their inclusion of Buddhism as a religious contribution to the science/religious debate (p 151-154).  Their final chapter deals with environmental issues, citing both a religious and a non-religious spokesperson (pope Frances and Lynn White), which represents the perspective of complementarity.  ‘The inhabitants of this earth face social and physical issues…  No one should feel threatened by differences.  Hard thinking about the science and technology combined with deep moral seriousness and the religious conviction of believers are absolute requirements…  Sympathy and understanding are essential’ (p 276).

A good treatment of the rich diversity of ideas where science and spiritual belief meet.

Vern Ratzlaff is a pastor and professor of historical theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.

Doctrine and Word: Theology in the Pulpit

Mark Ellingsen, John Knox Press, 1983

Reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

        Ellingsen says the theological community must articulate the significance of traditional Christian doctrines for daily life with more power and force.  Doctrine and Word reflects this concern for doctrinal relevance.  The first section of each chapter describes the doctrine (14 doctrines are treated), its historical roots, and how it has been dealt with by varying Christian traditions (the ecumenical perspective).  The second section of each chapter summarizes its significance for daily life, with a sermon on a biblical text; the sermons illustrate how Christian doctrine can help make sense out of everyday experience (p viii), i.e., What is the nature of Christian identity?  What purpose in life do Christians have as a result of this faith?

        Ellingsen focuses on the nature of Christian identity, articulating the meaning and relevance for life of the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith.  Christian faith begins with the assumption that G-d is known in Jesus, Christians are people of the book, the church as community, the practise of sacraments, and the role of ecumenism (different concerns addressed sometimes by apparently contradictory doctrinal formations)(p 173).

        Ellingsen’s treatment invites the reader to interaction with history, doctrinal formulations and daily life; good reading and prodding.

Vern Ratzlaff is a pastor and professor of historical theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.

Dr. James Cone: A brief remembrance

by Ken Sehested

I was traveling when the news of Dr. James Cone’s death was reported on Saturday. The first thought that came to mind was what seems to be a providential concurrence: His passing came two days after the opening of the National Peace and Justice Memorial, solemnizing the lynching in the US of some 4,400 black people, in 800 counties, between 1877 and 1950.

Cone’s last book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, was recipient of this year’s Grawemeyer Award in Religion. In that book he wrote “in the United States, the clearest image of the crucified Christ was the figure of an innocent black victim, dangling from a lynching tree.” A fitting reminder in this season of Eastertide.

My second thought was more personal. Dr. Cone was my seminary master’s thesis reader. Yet in our several meetings to discuss my research and writing progress, only one clear memory remains—one that had nothing to do with my academic project, a survey and assessment of 19th and 20th century exegesis of the “community of goods” accounts in Acts 2 and 4. (Hint: Those texts made scholars of every stripe—across the conservative-to-liberal spectrum—squirm. One respected scholar went so far as to say this account was surely idealized for it would have otherwise revealed the early apostles as lacking in common sense!)

 “What will it look like for a Baptist-flavored Southerner to do theology ‘in context’?” Cone asked me. The phrase “theology in context” was in vogue at the time.

The question came out of the blue and caught me off guard. But I knew immediately what it meant: I needed to return to the South, and to my babdist subculture, from which I had fled several years prior. And for a split second I understood the Prophet Jonah’s fearful dread upon learning of his assignment to Nineveh.

I was spared the journey through a giant fish gullet, of course. And my calling wasn’t to go abroad but to go home, to the land renowned for its “peculiar institution” of chattel slavery and Jim Crow legacy.

By then, though, I had come to realize the byways south of the Mason Dixon Line were not singularly parochial; only differently so. Slavery’s dispensation was pronounced in Dixie; but the nation did not divide in ruthless carnage between those for and against human rights, but over competing commercial priorities of industrial manufacturing and industrial agriculture.

Maybe my most general memory of Dr. Cone was that he was a man of sharp tongue in his writing but an irenic spirit in person. (Despite what some felt was intimidating rhetoric, he was actually small of stature and spoke in a high squeaky voice.) What is needed in our time is both the scalpel and the compress. His enduring testimony reminds us, as Dr. King wrote:

“Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed . . . before it can be cured.”

If Dr. Cone had lived to hear it, I have no doubt he would say amen to Bryan Stephenson’s comment during this week’s opening of the Memorial overlooking the Alabama Capitol, on the very ground previously used to facilitate human trafficking:

I’m not interested in talking about America’s history because I want to punish America. I want to liberate America.

King and Cone and Stephenson (to mention only a few) are simply reminding us of the prophet’s ancient plea: “Come, let us return to the Lord; for it is God who has torn, and he will heal us; God has struck down, and he will bind us up” (Hosea 6:1).

#  #  #

Addendum. If you haven’t tasted Cone’s writing, begin with the above mentioned The Cross and the Lynching Tree. After that—and especially if this history is of interest—read his Martin, Malcolm, and America: A Dream or a Nightmare, where he argues the case that the testimonies of both Dr. King and Malcolm X must be heeded.

Ken Sehested is the editor of, an online journal at the intersection of spiritual formation and prophet action.


Life began in a garden

A collection of quotes on gardens

Compiled by Ken Sehested

§ And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. ~Genesis 2:8-9

Right: "Psalm 67" art by John August Swanson

§ Gardening is cheaper than therapy and you get tomatoes. ~author unknown

§ The earth laughs in flowers. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

§ Gardening is the slowest of the performing arts. ~author unknown

§ It is forbidden to live in a town with no greenery. ~Jerusalem Talmud, Kiddushin 4:12

§ Leave room in your garden for the fairies to dance. ~author unknown

§ Anyone who thinks that gardening begins in the spring and ends in the fall is missing the best part of the whole year. For gardening begins in January with the dream. ~Josephine Nuese

§ Let us plant dates even though those who plant them will never eat them ~Rubem Alves

§ Gardening is the slowest of the performing arts. ~Mac Griswold

§ I have been fed from fields I did not til. I have crossed bridges I did not build. I have sat in the shade of trees I did not plant. I have received knowledge I did not research.” ~Henlee Barnette

§ [Merely] praying for peace is like praying for a weedless garden. ~John Stoner

§ When my thirst got great enough / to ask, a stream welled up inside; / some jade wave buoyed me forward / and I found myself upright / in the instant, with a garden / inside my own ribs aflourish. / There, the arbor leafs. / The vines push out plump grapes. / You are loved, someone / said, take that / and eat it. ~Mary Karr

§ Those who believe and humble themselves before their Lord, they will be companions of the garden. ~Qur’an, Sutra 11:23

§ But just because the garden grows weeds, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t plant fresh flowers, instead paving the whole thing over with concrete. ~N.T. Wright

§ A garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust.  ~Gertrude Jekyll

§ A garden requires patient labor and attention. Plants do not grow merely to satisfy ambitions or to fulfill good intentions. They thrive because someone expended effort on them.  ~Liberty Hyde Bailey

§ Awake, O north wind, and come, O south wind! Blow upon my garden that its fragrance may be wafted abroad. Let my beloved come to his garden, and eat its choicest fruits. ~Song of Solomon 4:16

§ Do you think that you shall enter the Garden of Bliss without such trials as came to those who passed before you?  ~Scott Reed

§ Garden as though you will live forever.  ~William Kent

§ The wicked thrive before the sun, and their shoots spread over the garden. ~Job 8:16

§ The garden is growth and change and that means loss as well as constant new treasures to make up for a few disasters.  ~May Sarton

§ The weeds keep multiplying in our garden, which is our mind ruled by fear. Rip them out and call them by name.  ~Sylvia Browne

§ To dwell is to garden.  ~Martin Heidegger

§ Gardening requires lots of water—most of it in the form of perspiration.  ~Lou Erickson

§ Gardening is a matter of your enthusiasm holding up until your back gets used to it.  ~author unknown

§ I come to my garden, my sister, my bride; I gather my myrrh with my spice, I eat my honeycomb with my honey, I drink my wine with my milk. Eat, friends, drink, and be drunk with love. ~Song of Solomon 5:1

§ Plants cry their gratitude for the sun in green joy.  ~Astrid Alauda

§ You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep spring from coming. i

§ For the Lord will comfort Zion; he will comfort all her waste places, and will make her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song. ~Isaiah 51:3

§ A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in. ~Greek proverb

§ I think this is what hooks one to gardening: it is the closest one can come to being present at creation. ~Phyllis Theroux

§ They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd; their life shall become like a watered garden, and they shall never languish again. ~Jeremiah 31:12

§ Earth is here so kind, that just tickle her with a hoe and she laughs with a harvest. ~Douglas William Jerrold

§ Behold, my friends, the spring is come; the earth has gladly received the embraces of the sun, and we shall soon see the results of their love! ~Sitting Bull

§ One of the worst mistakes you can make as a gardener is to think you're in charge. ~Janet Gillespie

§ If you offer food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, . . . you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water whose waters never fail. ~Isaiah 58:10-11

§ When the soil disappears, the soul disappears. ~Terri Guillemets

§ Essential advice for the gardener: grow peas of mind, lettuce be thankful, squash selfishness, turnip to help thy neighbor, and always make thyme for loved ones. ~author unknown

§ Green fingers are the extension of a verdant heart. ~Russell Page

§ They shall again live beneath my shadow, they shall flourish as a garden; they shall blossom like the vine, their fragrance shall be like the wine of Lebanon. ~Hosea 14:7

§ There can be no other occupation like gardening in which, if you were to creep up behind someone at their work, you would find them smiling. ~Mirabel Osler

§ [My father] talked and contrived endlessly to the effect that I should understand the land, not as a commodity, an inert fact to be taken for granted, but as an ultimate value, enduring and alive, useful and beautiful and mysterious and formidable and comforting, beneficent and terribly demanding, worthy of the best of a man's attention and care. ~Wendell Berry

§ I cultivate my garden, and my garden cultivates me.  ~Robert Brault

§ If you defile the land, it will vomit you out. ~Leviticus 18:28

§ The best place to seek God is in a garden. You can dig for him there. ~George Bernard Shaw

[§ The kingdom of God] is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches. ~Luke 13:19

§ Whether we and our politicians know it or not, Nature is party to all our deals and decisions, and she has more votes, a longer memory, and a sterner sense of justice than we do. ~Wendell Berry

§ In the garden I tend to drop my thoughts here and there. To the flowers I whisper the secrets I keep and the hopes I breathe. I know they are there to eavesdrop for the angels. ~Dodinsky

§ Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace. ~May Sarton

§ One of the most important resources that a garden makes available for use, is the gardener's own body. A garden gives the body the dignity of working in its own support. It is a way of rejoining the human race.  ~Wendell Berry

§ Weather means more when you have a garden. There's nothing like listening to a shower and thinking how it is soaking in around your green beans. ~Marcelene Cox

§ God made rainy days so gardeners could get the housework done. ~author unknown

§ God’s liberation from Egyptian slavery comes in the form of a promised new garden. “For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land,” says the book of Deuteronomy, “a land with flowing stream . . . a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees . . . a land of olive trees and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing. . . . You shall eat your fill and bless the Lord your God. . . . “ (8:7-10). The biblical vision of salvation is rooted in fertile land, bountiful harvest, enduring security. The welfare of the soul and the soil—human and humus alike, adam and adama together—are everywhere intertwined. ~Ken Sehested

§ To love is the great amulet that makes this world a garden  ~Robert Louis Stevenson

§ Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelves kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. ~Revelation 22:1-3a

©Ken Sehested @

Greater love hath none than this

A litany for worship inspired by John 15:13

by Ken Sehested

Greater love hath none than this:

Than to caress the battered heart of one whose hopes have collapsed.

Greater love hath none than this:

Than to calm the fears of a child.

Greater love hath none than this:

Than to offer all you can to what you adore, and withhold your consent from every imperial demand.

Greater love hath none than this:

Than to honor promises made and vows professed.

Greater love hath none than this:

Than to hold onto truth when deceit is more profitable.

Greater love hath none than this:

Than to forestall a vengeful response to harm’s threat.

Greater love hath none than this:

Than to risk everything for the sake of the Revered.

©Ken Sehested @ Inspired by John 15:13.

Boycott, divestment and sanctions: Israel and the Occupation

We cannot ignore this contentious conversation

by Ken Sehested

Introduction: In a 5 June 2015 Huffington Post article, Dr. Chuck Currie, Chaplain and Director of the Center for Peace and Spirituality at Pacific University, urged fellow United Church of Christ members to reject that body’s Synod resolution supporting the "boycott, divestment and sanctions" action in opposition to Israel's occupation of Palestine. This week I’ve written the following response.

        Thanks, Chuck, for sending me your post in opposition to the “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” (BDS) initiative. I haven’t been involved in the movement, and won’t be at the Synod to deliberate the question. But your thoughtful writing is worthy of response.

        I fully agree with you that pursuing a two-state solution appears, from every angle, to be the preferred route to get us where we want to go. Any lasting security will surely be a mutual security. And I certainly agree that boycotts are morally ambiguous, since they are such blunt instruments for social change.

        But a number of questions remain, and I hope you can help me see what I’m missing.

        1. On the question of whether Israeli policy in the Occupied Territories (OT) is a form of apartheid: from the separation wall cutting through Palestinian land, Jews-only roads, a patchwork of Bantustan-like islands of Palestinian-controlled areas, and the daily harassments and indignities of passing through security checkpoints. My own personal experience in the region confirms former President Jimmy Carter’s assessment that this is, in fact, a form of apartheid. Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center in Philadelphia—himself an outspoken opponent to BDS—says that Israel’s policy is “analogous to apartheid.” The fact that circumstances in the OT and apartheid-era South Africa are not identical does not eclipse the similarities.

        2. I see little evidence that the U.S. is willing to use its leverage to stop—much less reverse—the continued building of Israeli settlements in the OT. Every day, every week, every month, more and more land is expropriated, with little more than hand-wringing complaint from the U.S. There is a slow suffocation process going on. In fact, legislation is working its way through both the House and Senate which, if approved, will punish companies which adhere to the BDS principles, effectively codifying Israel’s legal claims on the OT. It is already illegal in Israel to advocate such boycotts.

        3. The Likud Party, along with other Israeli parties whose constituency includes significant numbers of Orthodox citizens, is opposed in principle to a two-state solution. It makes me a little crazy when Hamas is indicted for not recognizing the State of Israel when the opposite is also true.

        4. Just recently Netanyahu appointed Rabbi Eli Ben Dahan as his undersecretary of defense, responsible for administrating the OT. This is the man who, in 2013, stated publicly, “To me, they [Palestinians] are like animals, they aren’t human.” Furthermore, last month, Israel’s new deputy foreign minister, Tzipi Hotovely, said in her inaugural speech to Israeli diplomats that “We need to return to the basic truth of our rights to this country,” she said. “This land is ours. All of it is ours.”

        5. The question of whether the BDS movement will strain Jewish-Christians relations is indeed a painful one. It very well might. My sense, though, is that where such relations go deeper than parlor-game exercises, they will hold up in the face of this controversy.

        6. The first step in any attempt to transform conflict is to do an analysis of power relations between the conflicted parties. The fatality report of Israel’s 2014 invasion of Gaza is telling: over 2,100 Gazans were killed, 73 Israelis. Any “resolution” of a dispute where the power imbalance between parties is great will suspect.

        In short, the level of desperation in the Palestinian community is explosive. And I see zero prospects that the current frameworks for negotiation will remove the underlying cause. But I would greatly prefer to have a different perspective. Please help me see what I’m missing.

        Blessings on you and yours.

©Ken Sehested @

News, views, notes, and quotes

Signs of the Times  •  19 April 2018 •  No. 159

Special edition
EARTH DAY – 22 April 2018

Processional. “Pleni sunt caeli et terra gloria tua. Osanna, Osanna in excelsis.” (“Heaven and earth are full of thy glory. Hosanna, hosanna in the highest.”). —“The Ground,” by Ola Gjeilo, performed by the Heritage Concert Choir at Western Washington University

Invocation. “I thank You God for most this amazing / day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees / and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything / which is natural which is infinite which is yes.” —e.e. cummings

Testify. Watch my 3-year-old grandson, J.J., recite from memory e.e. cumming’s poem.

Call to worship. “Earth is so thick with divine possibility that it is a wonder we can walk anywhere without cracking our shins on altars.” —Barbara Brown Taylor

Hymn of praise. “Turn down your gaze upon the earth / Where is the One who never sleeps? / We call on One who guards you now / Your spirit safe in holy keep.” — Richard Bruxvoort Colligan, “God Is Holding Your Life” (Thanks Brian.)

¶ “The Earth—A Living Creature,” an amazing NASA Video. (1:28. Thanks David.)

¶ Take the quiz: “Earth Day Quiz.” —

¶ “Humanity’s total Ecological Footprint—a measure of global demand for natural resources—remained virtually constant in 2014 compared to 2013, according to new data released by Global Footprint Network today at an event at Oxford University. In another positive sign, the global Ecological Footprint per person actually decreased by 1.1 percent in 2014 compared to 2013. Still humanity’s demand for renewable resources remains 68 percent higher than what the planet can renew.” —“Has humanity’s Ecological Footprint reached its peak?” Global Footprint Network

Confession. If everyone in the world created as much trash as we do in the US, we would need at least four planets to meet our demand for natural resources and absorb our waste and pollution. ecoclean

Earth Day resources for local congregations

§ “Realm of earth, rule of Heaven: Bodified faith and environmental activism.”
        “The greatest failure in the history of Christian thought is the separation of souls from bodies, spirit from soil, the wrenching of hearts from habitation—all representing the abdication of the realm of earth from the rule of Heaven.”

§ "Earth Day: The link between Easter and Pentecost," a meditation.

        “Easter’s focus is always sharper when allied with Earth Day. We sing, properly, of being wayfaring strangers. “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor” (Deuteronomy 26:5) is among the oldest testimonies of fate and faith. We are indeed strangers; but not foreigners. In common usage these two words seem similar. Biblically speaking, though, the theological difference could not be greater.”

§ “All People That On Earth Do Dwell,” old hymn, new lyrics.

        "Though darkness threaten Love’s consent, Though feet, confounded, lose their way / Yet doth my heart rest, confident, Of Incarnation’s full display."

§ “Earth’s habitus: A meditation on creation,” a poem.

        “Creation is not simply the props and drops, / the costumes and orchestra, / the catwalks and footlights / on the stage of salvation’s drama. / Rather, creation is an active part / in history’s narration. / Without the cosmos, / Salvation’s story / cannot be comprehended.”

§ “Heaven’s Delight and Earth’s Repose,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 145

        “Worthy, worthy the One who conceived the earth and gave birth to bears and basil and beatitudes alike. / We extol you, Heaven’s Delight and Earth’s Repose! / So now, every hill and habitation, every honey bee and human heart, rejoice and give thanks.”

§ “Satisfy the earth,” a litany for worship on Earth Day

        “In the beginning the Verdant One saw everything that was made, and behold, it was lavish and delightful. (Genesis 1:31) / The earth is satisfied with the fruit of God’s greening hand. (Psalm 104:13) / Let the heavens be glad and the earth applaud. Let the sea roar, and the field exult, and all trees of the forest rejoice. (Psalm 96:11-12)”

 § “The earth is satisfied,” a litany for worship on Earth Day.

        “From the earth’s rich soil our souls emerge. With creation’s Breath our lungs are filled. / Even as the envoys of peace weep, when the rocks tremble and the ground itself mourns, say aloud: God is worth the trouble! / The earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work!”

§ "Go out in joy," a litany for worship adapted from St. Francis' "Canticle of the Sun" and related Scripture texts.

        “What is it you wish to know, oh mortal one? / Do you think you must ascend to the highest heaven or descend to the deepest pit? / Do you not know that Wisdom has pitched a tent in your midst? / Ask the four-legged, and they will mentor you, or the winged-of-air, and they will school you.”

§ “Covenant-making on Earth Day,” a sample pledge statement to encourage concrete practices to sustain the earth.

§ “The earth is the Lord’s," a collection of biblical texts which reveal the non-human parts of creation responding to God’s presence, promise and purpose.

§ “The earth is the Lord’s,” a litany for use in worship on Earth Day.

        “Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the fields exult and all the trees sing for joy. / The mountains beheld the Beloved, and writhed; the deep bellowed and pummeled the air with its waves.”

§ “Pacem in terris,” a poem.

        “We seek no flight to another terrain / for it is this very domain— / every meadow’s shadow, every peak’s brow, / every river’s careen, every furrow’s plough— / which asserts heaven’s riposte to hades’ advance. / ‘Thy will . . . on earth.’”

§ “Set our hearts on fire,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 65.

        “Oh, visit the earth, ask her to join the dance! Coax rain from the sky. Drench thirsty fields awaiting your touch, ready the land for blossom and fruit. Burden every stalk with grain sufficient to satisfy the hunger of all.”

§ “Life began in a garden,” a collection of quotes on gardents.

         “For the Lord will comfort Zion; God will comfort all her waste places, and will make her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song." —Isaiah 51:3

§ “Holy Great Smokies,” a call to worship recalling the mountain sites of covenant and confrontation in Scripture.

        “Great are you, O God, and greatly to be praised. Your holy Great Smokies are the joy of all the earth. Break forth in singing, you Sierra Madres, you forests and every wild flower. . . . / Come, let us go up to Grandfather Mountain. There the Beloved will teach us the ways of righteousness that we may walk on the path of mercy.”

Right: Art by Meinrad Craighead.

Hymn of supplication. “I see the bad moon a-rising / I see trouble on the way / I see earthquakes and lightning / I see bad times today / I hear hurricanes a-blowing / I know the end is coming soon / I fear rivers overflowing / I hear the voice of rage and ruin.” —Credence Clearwater Revival, “Bad Moon Rising

Words of assurance. “This fruit does make my soul to thrive / It keeps my dying faith alive / This fruit does make my soul to thrive / It keeps my dying faith alive / Which makes my soul in haste to be / With Jesus Christ the apple tree.” —“Jesus Christ the Apple Tree,” sung by the Choir of King's College, Cambridge (Thanks Mike.)

Earth overshoot day. In 2017, the combination of consumption and waste production “overshot” Earth’s capacity in early August. In other words, we spent the Earth’s annual sustainable “budget” in less than two-thirds of the year. Learn more from this video (3:35) from Sustainability Illustrated.

Professing our faith. "The resurrection places Jesus on this side of the grave, here and now, in the midst of this life.  The Good News of the resurrection is not that we shall die and go home with him but that he is risen and comes home with us, bringing all his hungry, naked, thirsty, sick, prisoner brothers with him." —Clarence Jordan

Short story. "What a sight to see! Grandma coming home from church in her Sunday best, stepping out of her car carrying a large green trash bag, bulging with empty beer cans, bottles and sandwich wrappers. 'What in the world are you doing?' I gulped. 'Cleaning up the lane,' Grandma said matter-of-factly: 'To me the world is God's cathedral, darling. I'm just tidying my pew.'" —from Guideposts magazine

Hymn of intercession. “This world is so profane, / I can hear the earth screaming,  / screaming in pain. / Everywhere; / There is not compassion left in us. / Why is it that so much pain is caused? / and so much injustice is done in the name of God? / Why have children stopped dreaming? / and why is it that mothers won't stop crying; / I just ask myself how can God look at us.” —English translation of lyrics in “¿Porque?” (“Why?”), Yasmin Levy

A more accurate way of reading 2 Corinthians 5:17—“When a man is in Christ, he is a new creature. . .”—is this: “When anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.”

By the numbers. “Americans throw away enough garbage every day to fill 63,000 garbage trucks. That's enough garbage in a year, that if we lined the garbage trucks end to end they would reach half way to the moon. That averages to about 7 pounds per person each day.” —“Garbage: Facts,” Idaho Public Television

Short take. “While waiting to get my prescription filled, another woman at the counter asks about getting her credit card back from the clerk, but then realizes she already had. ‘I’m just back from a spiritual retreat—I’m not quite down to earth yet.’” —Ken Sehested

Preach it. In his sermon, ‘The Cedar has fallen: the Prophetic Word versus Imperial Clear-Cutting,’ Ched Myers “traces the ecological disaster of the clear cutting of Lebanon’s cedars with a moving litany from the Bible itself, with the political implications (‘there was blood on the cedars that figured so prominently in Solomon’s temple and his own royal house’ (p 217), the cedars a metaphor for empire itself. ‘The bible takes sides on behalf of the trees’” (p 222). —Vern Ratzlaff’s review of David Rhoads’ book, Earth and Word: Classic Sermons on Saving the Planet 

Some short quotes on the earthiness of spirituality.

§ “Holy persons draw to themselves all that is earthly.” —Hildegard of Bingen

§ “Everybody wants to save the earth; nobody wants to help Mom with the dishes.” —P.J. O'Rourke

§ “Rabbi Yochanan said: The Holy One, blessed-be-He, declared: 'I will not enter the heavenly Jerusalem until I enter the earthly Jerusalem.’” —Talmud, Taanit 5a

§ “Those who believe and humble themselves before their Lord, they will be companions of the garden.” —Qur’an, Sutra 11:23

§ "Heaven and earth are threads of one loom." —anonymous Shaker quoted in By Shaker Hands by June Sprigg

§ “But, if by some miracle and all our struggle, the earth is spared, only justice to every living thing will save humankind.” —Alice Walker

 § “Heaven is not some alternative to earth, allowing us to sit lightly to earth's fate. Heaven, eternal life, is a way of speaking about the quality of life that God intends for the earth. —Douglas John Hall

§ “This we know. The earth does not belong to people. People belong to the earth. This we know. All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth, befalls the people of the earth. We did not weave the web of life. We are but a mere strand in it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.” —Chief Seattle

§ “Even after all this time the sun never says to the earth, ‘You owe Me.’ Look what happens with a love like that. It lights up the whole sky.” —Hafiz, 14th century Persian poet

§ “Earth's crammed with heaven, / And every common bush afire with God; / But only he who sees, / takes off his shoes.” —Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Can’t makes this sh*t up. “Trump Names BP Oil Spill Lawyer, Climate Policy Foe as Top DOJ Environment Attorney.” Marianne Lavelle & John H. Cushman Jr., Inside Climate News (Thanks Betsy.)

Call to the table. “The earth is, in fact, in the heavens.” —Carl Sagan

The state of our disunion. “The meek shall inherit the earth, but that does not say anything about mineral rights under the earth.” — American industrialist J. Paul Getty

Best one-liner. “A theology that is not earthed in an experience of faith tends toward a bland form of religious metaphysics.” —David Crutchley

For the beauty of the earth. The 100 greatest owl pictures. —brightside.Me

Altar call. “God is not in his heaven and all's well on the earth. He is on this earth and all hell's broke loose!” —Clarence Jordan

Benediction. “Deep peace of the running wave to you, / Deep peace of the flowing air to you, / Deep peace of the quiet earth to you, / Deep peace of the shining stars to you, / Deep peace of the gentle night to you, / Moon and stars pour their healing light on you, / Deep peace of Christ, of Christ, / Of Christ the light of the world to you, / Deep peace of Christ to you.” —Gaelic blessing

Recessional.A Gaelic Blessing,” John Rutter, performed by The Cambridge Singers. 

Just for fun. World’s Worst Sheepdog(0:38 video. Thanks David.)

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