Reflecting on “Christian Mission in an Ecological Age” Part 3 of 6

Let me draw your attention to this article from the Lutheran School of Theology – Chicago It serves as a foundation for the following  three blogs suggesting new directions in the missional mandate of the church.

The article is A Beloved Earth Community: Christian Mission in an Ecological Age, written by David M. Rhoads, Professor of New Testament, Emeritus, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and Barbara R. Rossing, Professor of New Testament, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.

NOTE: This essay was first published in Mission after Christendom: Emergent Themes in Contemporary Mission, Ogbu Kalu, Peter Vethanayagamony, and Edmund Kee-Fook Chia, eds. (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 2010), 128–43.


Professors Rhoads and Rossing have set before the church five mandates for “Christian Mission in an Ecological Age.” This blog presents the second mandate: to “embrace a Christian ethic that acknowledges the interrelationship between ecological conditions and issues of human justice.”

We have imagined St. Peter Lutheran Church on the Lake beginning to plan the fall ministry program. Much of what is taking shape on the calendar is a familiar routine of Fall start-ups, leading into the festival season and Advent to follow. But looking closely at the calendars, there is little if anything that acknowledges or addresses the global environmental crisis and the stewardship of creation.

Perhaps the same could be said for our own congregations.

So, the first step is to become aware of the crisis and the degradation of God’s creation. There are many sources for such information, many community partners, faith-based and secular, available for involvement. (See the suggested resources in the MNO Eco-Reformation website)

Earth-care is much more than recycling plastic and paper, conserving water and shutting off lights. Earth-care is a pattern of justice-making.

Earth-care is about the environment; its creatures, great and small; and people. The awareness we are discovering and promoting involves the inter-connection of all things.
Earth-care begins with my lawn and my neighbors’; but circles of connection extend to the water quality and air quality and waste management of my city; and then the foods we consume and the clothes we buy intersect with communities in neighboring and distant countries. It’s not just the carbon footprint in harvesting, manufacturing and shipping. It involves the decision-making of who provides what, where and why. And how people are living with the consequences.

Is it an accident that a greater percentage of people of color live near polluting factories, waste incinerators, and dumping fields of our cities? Professors Rhoads and Rossing cite the 2006 hurricane Katrina as an example of a natural disaster compounded by human activity. Marginal wetland property, normally a buffer between the land and the sea, had been developed, exposing to the elements the poor and people of color. It was the sick, the elderly and people of color, those with the least resources to cope, who were most affected.

Rising ocean levels, deforestation practices, dumping toxic waste, impact most those in developing countries. Drought and soil degradation, replacing subsistence crops with cash crops, affect food sources where there are few alternatives.

Actions that exploit natural resources are also exploiting our human neighbors. Corporate policies seek the most efficient production, at the cheapest costs with lowest wages, affecting health, well-being and personal autonomy.

Professors Rossing and Rhoads cite the example of the difference between commercial coffee production and fair-trade production. Which coffee does your church use in its fellowship? Is the cost of fair-trade coffee, when measured by the community rather than the cup, so outrageous?

The second mandate for the church’s mission calls for committing to social justice and environmental care. These are not separate issues. The decisions and the actions are inter-connected. The decisions in the board room affect the network in the biosphere and the economics of the developing community and the well-being of families living on the land and beside the factories and along the coastlines and riverways.

It’s a new way of thinking. It makes buying a shirt or a pint of strawberries a bit more complicated. It means that a seniors’ Bible study on “the kingdom of heaven in Matthew” might include consideration of the kingdom of heaven in Guatemala, and the kingdom of heaven in Antarctica and the kingdom of heaven on the bald prairies of Canada. Maybe the youth activity this month changes from an afternoon of paintball to an afternoon of roadside clean-up. Maybe the fowl supper shifts from feeding the community to feeding the homeless in the community. This requires a re-orientation, a metanoia, a transformation in what congregations, and their members, do.

How do we make these decisions? The third mandate addresses this. The third mandate for mission is that “the Bible presents care for creation as fundamental to our human vocation and mission.”


Reflecting on “Christian Mission in an Ecological Age” Part 2 of 6


Let me draw your attention to this article from the Lutheran School of Theology – Chicago It serves as a foundation for the following four blogs suggesting new directions in the missional mandate of the church.

The article is A Beloved Earth Community: Christian Mission in an Ecological Age, written by David M. Rhoads, Professor of New Testament, Emeritus, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and Barbara R. Rossing, Professor of New Testament, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.

NOTE: This essay was first published in Mission after Christendom: Emergent Themes in Contemporary Mission, Ogbu Kalu, Peter Vethanayagamony, and Edmund Kee-Fook Chia, eds. (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 2010), 128–43.


In the last blog ( August 1) we introduced St. Peter’s Lutheran Church on the Lake. But it could be any congregation. It could be yours. The summer has passed. Council has taken a few months off. Now it’s time to plan the fall programming. Many events and emphases are traditional and routine. But the environment is casting its shadow on the congregation, its community and members. Will the congregation respond pro-actively? Will the changing context actually inform, challenge, and redirect the mission of he congregation?

Professors Rhoads and Rossing, from the Lutheran Theological School of Theology in Chicago, suggest it will and it must. They propose five new mandates for the church, given the theological crisis we are experiencing.

This is the first mandate: to learn about the degradation of God’s creation.

In the introductory blog, the congregation is already experiencing the impact of environmental change: increased costs for energy, impacting heating and cooling the facility, snow removal, and shipping materials; climate change, impacting heating and cooling and snow removal; rising costs for fuel are impacting family decision-making in their availability for community and church activities; rising energy costs impact the cost of food normally included in church events; city services are being affected, including water and waste, even the recycling program. Taken individually, they could happen without notice. But cumulatively families are certainly noticing; will the church board also notice and adjust its ministry accordingly?

So, what’s going on? Some governmental authorities challenge that climate change is real at all. But there is this evidence, this impact upon daily living.


Professors Rhoads and Rossing emphatically say that the congregation must become aware of what is happening in the world, what is happening to creation, what is impacting the ministry of the church and what is requiring ministry from the mission of the church.

There is a tremendous loss of species diversity. The earth is losing one hundred species per day. And will lose half of the animal and plant species by the end of this century!


The loss of the forests. these are the lungs of the planet. Forests, comparable to the size of the country of Paraguay are lost every year. Land capable of raising crops for food is being lost to desert, at the rate comparable to the size of Oman.


Pollution of air, water and the land. Herbicides, pesticides, toxic waste – products of human activity are destroying our aquifers, our soil, our lakes and rivers.


Rising population. We will reach seven billion people. Is humanity an invasive species?
Global warming. Things change in the 1800s. Industrial stacks, cars, ships, airplanes and houses are emitting toxins like never before. Before the industrial revolution there were 275 parts per million of CO2; now we are approaching 385. We are trapping heat; the temperature of the planet is rising progressively.


Who cares? We do! Why? Because we understand from the beginning humanity has been placed on this planet with the responsibility to steward, to care for its well-being.


Congregations, faith communities of every stripe are the grass-roots organizations – already in existence – called to mobilize energies and resources for the care of the planet.


St. Peter Lutheran Church on the Lake needs to ask itself – as do each of our congregations – What has this congregation done in the last three years to address environmental stewardship? What will the mission planning do in the coming year to raise awareness of this global crisis? And what will the congregation plan as action steps to affect change?


The MNO Eco-Reformation Project has extended the invitation to our Lutheran congregations to do these two things: arrange and conduct one educational event and arrange and conduct one action step in the coming year. It’s a small step. Just one. But collectively, as a synod and beyond, one step becomes many steps – a journey. Especially if we include neighboring congregations, inter-faith communities, government agencies, and community groups in the learning and the action. It’s not one more thing to do; it’s the right thing to do. It’s our mandate. It’s a way of life.


Next mandate: To embrace a Christian ethic that acknowledges the interrelationship of ecological change and human justice.

Reflecting on “Christian Mission in an Ecological Age” Part 1 of 6

Let me draw your attention to this article from the Lutheran School of Theology – Chicago It serves as a foundation for the following five blogs suggesting new directions in the missional mandate of the church.

The article is A Beloved Earth Community: Christian Mission in an Ecological Age, written by David M. Rhoads, Professor of New Testament, Emeritus, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and Barbara R. Rossing, Professor of New Testament, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.

NOTE: This essay was first published in Mission after Christendom: Emergent Themes in Contemporary Mission, Ogbu Kalu, Peter Vethanayagamony, and Edmund Kee-Fook Chia, eds. (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 2010), 128–43.


It is late August. The Council of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church on the Lake is meeting for the first time since May. The Council has taken a break over the summer. Congregational activities slow down or cease during the summer months here as in many congregations. Attendance is reduced as people go away, spending time with family at their own cottages or traveling to meet relatives and friends, attend weddings and graduations, do some sight-seeing, or attend sports and church camps.
Now it’s time to gear up for fall ministry. Many activities are routine, tradition, to be expected. The “back to church” picnic. Start-ups for Sunday School, confirmation instruction, youth group, and choir rehearsals. A Fall Stewardship event requires planning. And there are the festivals around Thanksgiving, All Saints and Advent.
It’s good to return to the familiar.
But something else is happening too. There are changes, almost unnoticeable changes. Yes, there is the reduced volunteer base because people are working outside the home more. Sometimes with more than one job. And people are aging in place. But there’s something more. Something not like years before. It’s not that any one change is so noticeable, but the changes are having a cumulative effect.
The budget will need to be increased because of rising energy costs. It has cost more than expected for air conditioning this summer. Weather forecasts are calling for an early winter, with more than usual snow. That means more plowing of the parking lot, and increased fuel costs for the agency performing the service. The electrical utility has also announced greater than expected increases.
It is costing more to ship supplies and educational materials. People complain about the rising cost of fuel for their vehicles. Some families are saying that with sports and dance and music, it’s getting too expensive to be out and about, like before. Some families are cutting back.
The community has announced increased costs for water treatment, sanitation and waste removal. Recycling programs have hit a snag as there are fewer agencies willing to receive and process plastic and paper.
It has been suggested that the fall stewardship supper may need to change to a dessert-only event. Rising costs at the market mean rising ticket prices, rapidly approaching the point where families think twice about participating.
What is happening in the matrix of the congregation? There is a change in the climate of ministry. But is the Council astute enough to read the signs and adjust their priorities for ministry and mission?
Now consider these words from an article written by two professors of the Lutheran School of theology at Chicago…

Earth is in crisis. The planet is facing major ecological problems: global warming, loss of species diversity, loss of forests and arable land, disposal of garbage and toxic waste, pollution of air, land, and water, over-population, depletion of non-replaceable natural resources, diminution of food sources, ocean acidification and collapse of fisheries, among others. Issues of human justice—discrimination, poverty, oppression, and displacement—are related to every ecological change. The issues are many and complex. And the survival of creation as we humans have known it is at stake.

All across the church Councils and committees are meeting to plan their fall programming. Three questions could be asked practically everywhere.
1. How much of this year’s planning is built on the template of the last year and longer? 2. Is the council aware of the environmental changes in its local community and beyond, and the implications for ministry and mission? 3. How might the present and increasing environmental crisis change the way your congregation lives and exercises its ministry?
Our Lutheran and Anglican churches have been emphasizing being “missional” communities. How much of that emphasis includes an environmental perspective and environmental initiatives?
Professors Rossing and Rhoads suggest five principles for the mandate of the church. In the next five weeks, each of these mandates will be described with possible considerations for local practice.
Next week: Mandate one: Learn about the degradation of God’s creation.

Evangelism As Inviting Home

This is he third in a series of blogs inspired by Shannon Jung’s book We Are Home. See the resource list of books on the MNO Synod Eco-Reformation website and blogs July 20 and 25.)

Speaking of faith and the environment, what’s the good news?

I’m struck by the seriousness of this environmental crisis. We all should be. But when faced with a threat, nature (human and animal) freezes, runs or fights.

“There is no such thing as climate change!” And we run away from truth, consequential reality, and both personal and corporate responsibility.

“The crisis is too big; it’s too late!” Or, “Change is just not practical, not affordable… We’ll wait a few years (until another election and someone else’s responsibility)” And we freeze, while the threat worsens.

“It’s all the fault of big business… the other party’s failure to accept responsibility… those countries that fail to live up to their global commitments….” Or, “Let someone else assume the risk, we’re not going to jeopardize the investments of our stake-holders with speculative research, ineffective design, delayed development….” And so we fight, casting blame, wasting energy (personal and otherwise) when we most need to cooperate and collaborate.

I’m struck by the despair and dismay among church people. We are people of the cross – so suffering and injustice are taken seriously. But we are also people of the resurrection. So hope is our middle name!

So where’s the good news? I’m looking for a prophetic vision; I’m yearning for a prophetic voice. Not just a word of condemnation. Not just a word of lament. But something that promises possibility and proclaims a transformative reality.

And that word “evangelism.” It’s a scary word for those who are afraid they “should” say something. And for those who are afraid someone “might” say something.

Maybe evangelizing could be seen as inviting people home. Maybe evangelizing could be seen as saying, doing, living the good news that the church exists for the sake of others, and God and God’s people desire the delight and well-being of all. God reveals through nature. Nature is “God’s first book.” However, scripture is our standard for understanding God’s continuing revelation. We are curious people. We listen for points of connection; we celebrate the insights imbedded in the teachings, rituals and festivals of other traditions. This is not a time for “intramural squabbling.” But together, as interdependent people, we seek engaging and truthful insights that promote the care of the cosmos.

As Christians we have a commandment to care for the earth. It’s our responsibility. It’s our delight.

This is our home. This is God’s home. We are embodied people, present in a particular time and place.

And this is a shared life. There is a component of justice. There is a component of sacrifice. There is a component of compassion. These components are expressed liturgically, indeed, but also politically and economically. Home is interpersonal and transpersonal. Home is who we are. Home is more than who we are.

It’s good news. Welcome home!

Worship At Home or Worship As Home

It’s summer time. Where is everybody? Pews are noticeably empty. And congregations bemoan the fact that members aren’t home.

There are others who argue that they feel closer to God on the water or on the golf course or in the garden. Instead of disagreeing, maybe we need to listen.

Shannon Jung (see the resource page for the book We Are Home, also my blog of July 20) says our dualistic thinking has separated humanity from God and from creation and from other creatures. There is no duality. They are not separate. God is Home and we are home.

When you worship at church – and at the cottage – and God is present in all creation – then our worship should reflect God’s presence. How are we aware of the divine? How do we express our joy, wonder and thankfulness? How do we acknowledge the suffering, brokenness, and injustice of life at home?

Maybe worship out-of-doors is more attractive because worship, as experienced “in church,” has tended to be confined inside. How could we incorporate creation more fully into worship? Do we emphasize our world as God’s home, or is the emphasis on “going home”? Are we merely sojourners, “passing through?” If that’s true, then we really have no investment here, do we? In fact, we could further split ourselves and avoid our senses and sensuality; mistrusting our bodies; denying our desires; splitting male from female- color by color- young from old- able from differently-abled- gay from straight.

Celebrating our oneness with creation, with the Creator, within ourselves and between ourselves, we might have a more exuberant, interesting, honest, relevant experience. And worship might flow naturally into the world and from the world to the altar, above and below and beyond.

Amen. Praise be!

Home-Coming and Home-Making

Shannon Jung (see the resource listing) writes about theology and the environment from the perspective of home. Our dualistic thinking has separated our being from all other being. We speak of leaving home, coming home, but not being home. Dualistic thinking separates us from creation, God, other people, creatures, leading to the risks -the reality – of objectifying and commodifying nature. What if we are “home”? And we – God – creation are all intertwined and interdependent?

Jung concludes his book with these words:
We need Christian congregations who understand that God is present in the world, who see that the incarnation of Jesus Christ revealed our bodies and our world to be God’s home, who understand that the Spirit is still moving over the face of the deep. Indeed, who live out the understanding that we are home. (p. 136)

The tasks of Christian stewardship are now home-making and the home finances of caring for the oikos, the home. Some argue he church has no business in economics. However, in terms of justice making and home-making, there is no stewardship without economics. And from the perspective of compassionate suffering, dying and redemption, there must be a transformation, possible only by deep resurrection.

It’s seems so obvious. But not so simple.

The Motivation of Grace and Hope

There is a book on our resources list that bears study and conversation. Frances Moore Lappe has written Eco-Mind as a challenge to ways of thinking that are destructive and debilitating. Her words are true. I hear the laments of our own church people and leaders.

“The environmental crisis is too big.”

“It’s too late.”

“We’re fighting human nature… The consumer society… The core vices of greed and self-protection…”

Lappe hears the same words but also believes there are other words, other ways of thinking. She describes the ways that these words trap us and disempower us. But she also describes ways of leaping out of each of those traps.

I find her words helpful and encouraging. But she misses something essential, something our faith community can contribute.

We are not people of gloom, doubt, and despair. We are people of hope and light and life!
When faced by a threat, humans behave like other creatures. We run, or we fight.

If we fight, we defend our own self-interest. We defend our borders and our way of life within them.

On the other hand, people of faith defend a larger community, seeking the good, the well-being of more than ourselves.

If we fight, some win and many lose. And we are likely to continue to use the powers that got us to this point of affluence, influence and security in the first place. In the face of threatening change, we seek stability, reliability, familiarity; we don’t want change. Not if it threatens us.

On the other hand, if we seek the well-being of all, we are more willing to listen than argue. We seek to be curious, rather than narrow-minded. We realize that our security rests in the security of more than just ourselves. We seek winners and winners, not winners and losers.

If we are kind people, nice people, gentle people, we may do everything in our power to avoid a fight. Sounds good, right? So we run. We deny there is anything wrong. We pretend everything will be just fine.

Strangely, that is an option available only to those who can afford to take it. And denial works, until that moment when the balance of power tilts too far; the threat becomes too big; the injustice becomes too great.

On the other hand, we are people of truth, not lies. We are people of love, not hatred. We seek peace, not by taking up arms, but by laying them down; not by closing borders, but by opening them.

We are Easter people. That means we know full well the enormity of hatred and violence. We are neither naïve nor retaliatory.

We are Easter people. We could run away from the tomb. But there is more good news when we run toward it. We could fight, but those who live by the sword, die by it. We could hide. But we have this remarkable experience of being sought out and found. In hiding we seek to protect ourselves from the truth. But truth has this way of finding us. It happened in the garden in the beginning. It happened again after the stone was rolled away. It has happened again and again in our own lives. You know it’s true. The Christ comes to find us, to embrace our doubts, to invite us to touch the wounds, to breathe on us a breath of resurrecting life.

Eco-reformation is not about doing ‘green’ things. It’s about being different people.

Eco-Reformation is not about doing what we can to save the planet. It’s about realizing the planet has already been saved. In Christ this is a new creation. We simply – not so simply – proceed to Galilee to find Christ has already gone ahead of us. And we can live into a newly created, newly evolving cosmos.