Should Nature Have Rights? Exploring a Provocative Question

Here’s a piece I wrote some time ago “in partial fulfillment of the requirements” of a course I was taking. If you’re hoping for some spiritual or theological reflections from me, this will not scratch that itch. While I do think the question of whether or not nature should be granted “rights”  is of theological and pastoral significance, that isn’t the lens I’m using here. I’m posting this piece as an invitation to reflect on what I think is a provocative and important question. (I’ve removed the footnotes below, not to avoid attribution but to make it a bit less tempting to borrow.)  Continue reading “Should Nature Have Rights? Exploring a Provocative Question”

Viral Theology #1 – Social Distancing and the Scabs of Leviticus

Not long ago I read Ellen Davis’s book Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture. It’s a book of serious scholarship, not something you pick up for light evening reading. One of the things her book convinced me of is the enduring value of the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) for everyday sorts of things—things like how we should treat animals, how we should care for land, how we should care for the vulnerable, how we should approach work and entrepreneurship—those kinds of things. I’ve had her book in the back of my mind as we’ve moved into this strange new reality of living through a global pandemic. Continue reading “Viral Theology #1 – Social Distancing and the Scabs of Leviticus”

Thinking about Jean Vanier

I have not been feeling well for the last day or so (don’t worry, it’s not a certain highly charismatic disease). This affliction has allowed me to sidestep a few things on my to-do list and contemplate the pattern on the ceiling. As I do that my thoughts keep returning to what we now know about Jean Vanier. It was not long ago that Vanier was being celebrated as a living saint. His work creating community for disabled people around the world was remarkable. To have had such a description used by public media in Canada is remarkable too. News outlets here are so cynical that I had would not have believed them capable of landing on such a description.

To put matters bluntly, we now know that the living saint “sexually and emotionally abused multiple women who came to him for spiritual ‘accompaniment’ over several decades” (Higgins).* What should be added is that the report also tells us that Vanier looked the other way, even facilitated similar actions by his mentor Fr. Thomas Philippe. Continue reading “Thinking about Jean Vanier”

A Primer in Ecotheology with Celia Deane-Drummond

This post is the first in a series based on reading I’m doing this winter in the literature of ecotheology.

I’m not exactly sure where the eucalyptus branches came from, but there they were at the front of the sanctuary on the altar. The woman who put them there said they were to remind the congregation of Australia, eucalyptus being a common tree in that country and that particular Sunday being about the time we learned that hundreds of millions of animals had died in the fires there. In the midst of the service I found myself praying for those animals. I had never prayed such a prayer from the pulpit before. Continue reading “A Primer in Ecotheology with Celia Deane-Drummond”

On the Verge of a Reckoning – Apocalyptic and our Changing Climate (Extracts from a Sermon)

Luke 21 tells the story of an ancient field trip. The Rabbi Jesus has taken his students to Jerusalem. Many of the group were from towns up north and rarely visited the city. They were used to small towns and small synagogues, and so the size and sophistication of Jerusalem—especially its temple—made a great impression on them. Continue reading “On the Verge of a Reckoning – Apocalyptic and our Changing Climate (Extracts from a Sermon)”

Daring Acts of Ethical Imagination (178)

[Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17; Mark 12:38-44 – Peace Sunday]

The fourth chapter of Luke tells how Jesus went to the meeting place of his home congregation on the Sabbath. He entered the cool limestone building, and as was his habit, stood up to read the scripture. The scroll of Isaiah was handed to him. He unrolled it, scanning until he found this passage, which he read:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

After reading this Jesus sat down, but all eyes followed him. He was expected to say more, so he said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Jesus went on, and as he spoke tension began to swirl over the room’s tiered seats. Something sparked it and Jesus was driven out the door and out of the village. Jesus had declared the year of jubilee. He had declared himself a prophet. And he had declared that nobody in his hometown had the imagination to see it.

Cultivating peace requires imagination.   Continue reading “Daring Acts of Ethical Imagination (178)”

Legal Cannabis – Do We Need a Christian Response?

I used to tell my theology students that I could explain every concept we would encounter by using analogies from either baseball or marriage. Today I’ll add a third explanatory source—forests. As of today, cannabis is legal in Canada, making this the second country in the world (after Uruguay) and first major economy to take the step. Not far from where I work in Ottawa, one Ontario town, Smiths Falls, is already finding new life as a major center for pot production. The industry has created new jobs and given the town international visibility that it’s previous chief product (chocolate) never did. This all seems very new and very mundane at the same time. But in Christian communities the question still bounces around: Do we need some particular Christian response to these high times? Continue reading “Legal Cannabis – Do We Need a Christian Response?”

Cleanse Me with Hyssop (170)

In the biblical world hyssop was used for both medical and ceremonial purposes. It’s an aromatic plant, a bit like sage or mint. It was prescribed for sore throats and upset stomachs. The ancient Hebrews used it in purification rituals. That’s what the poet in Psalm 51 has in mind when he asks to be “purged with hyssop.” He has confessed; he’s hoping to be cleansed and forgiven.

The most famous advocate in our own time for the power of confession and forgiveness must be Desmond Tutu. In 1986 Tutu was named the Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa. The job came with an official residence in an area known as Bishopscourt. At the time black folks like Tutu needed special passes just to enter that part of the city. Archbishop Tutu declined to apply for such a pass. He decided he would live in the archbishop’s traditional residence with or without the approval of a racist government. Tutu did not lack for courage. When Nelson Mandela was released from prison he spent his first night as a free man in that residence, hosted by the archbishop.

[This sermon is now published on the Salt&Light website]

 

People who “Get Things Done”

We have probably all heard someone described as a person who just “get things done.” We give and take that line as a compliment. Last week I had the chance to dive back into one of my ongoing writing projects. Thankfully, the church I serve lets me set a bit of time aside each year for this kind of work. My goal last week was to wrestle a long piece of historical work into publishable form. The essay–which still isn’t “done”–tries to show how a particular non-profit organization became involved in a colonialist project. I have a lot of data. There are lots of dates and names to keep strait, lots of related government agencies and other political structures . It’s difficult to keep it all straight. Yet what I noticed is that one particular individual kept surfacing throughout the story. In network speak, he had a high level of “betweenness centrality.” He was known as someone who “got things done.” Continue reading “People who “Get Things Done””

To Till and Keep—Sketching an Environmental Ethic

At the church I serve a group of adults has been doing a study on theology and the environment. I’ve been leading other things and have not been able to participate. I wish I could have listened-in somehow. It’s spring here in the lower Ottawa Valley. You would have to make a deliberate decision to avoid thinking about trees and garden plants. The book of Genesis says that God planted a garden with trees that were “pleasant to the sight and good for food.” This time of year that’s not hard to believe. If it’s not true—if it is not the case that in some awesome way a divine mystery has given us plants both beautiful and delicious—then evolution has wrought in us a misdirected instinct. If that transcendent and radically-near event we call ‘God’ has not given us the things of spring, then the beauty we see taking shape, which so readily evokes divine awareness in people of all creeds, has pointed us in the wrong direction. Continue reading “To Till and Keep—Sketching an Environmental Ethic”