One Earth. One God. Rise Up!

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©PBS Newshour. September 16, 2016

I woke up in the middle of the night. When this happens, and to my growing irritation it happens frequently, it is for no good reason. Not last night, though.

One Earth. One God. That was the gist of last night’s dream. And those words wove themselves into the remaining four fitful hours of “sleep,” telling me that all faith traditions must pull together and respond as one to the crisis our earth faces. I know this dream was informed by the story of the Dakota Access Pipeline on PBS Newshour (9/16/16) and the powerful response of over 100 Native American tribes from all over the United States who converged at the Standing Rock Reservation in support of one another.

One Earth. One God. We have a unique opportunity to share our traditions, our respect for the Earth, our creeds and our creation stories for the good of the world.

The words, One Earth. One God are a way to think about an ecumenical response to the crisis that is rapidly unfolding in every corner of our planet. While we can do little more than passively experience climate change-related bizarre weather patterns, devastating storms and natural disasters, we can reject and stop the active and ongoing destruction of human and animal habitats and subterranean ecosystems by curbing our relentless appetite for fuel. If we wanted to, we could stop this.

In March of this year, I awoke in the middle of the night with a crystal clear understanding of God’s plan for creation. Really. It was as if someone turned on every light in the house and I could see without my glasses. I cycled the idea in my semi-sleep hoping it would find a place to settle until the morning when I could have a better look.

The majority of dreams vaporize. Our nocturnal wisdom dissolves, leaving us with disturbing traces, impossible to contain. This was no different. The following morning I tried to grasp its fleeting tendrils, but the only words I would write were “God’s plan is a complete reversal of what humans have come to believe is the natural order.”

Clearly, this is not a new idea. That the least shall be the greatest is at the center of the Gospels. At the time of my dream, it was Lent, and I was probably just rehashing what I was reading about the nature of God in the New Testament, that the Kingdom of God is revealed through the least expected, the poor, the small, the humble. The infant born in a barn, etc. It’s not a top-down world; it’s a bottom-up world.

The natural order is not the tree that drops the seed, it is the soil that allows the seed to sprout. But even soil needs to be disturbed for a seed to take root.

Isn’t it true that the material God uses is the ordinary, chaotic, unglamorous stuff? Doesn’t life begin one way or another in the dark?

Someone smarter than me once said ‘the bread can’t rise until the dough has time to rest.’ In the same way, it seems that our collective desire for change grows out of that kneading of life’s scraps, old jewelry and gravel, joy and heartache, injustices and kindness, successes and fatigue, strings and bits and morsels, late night talks, desperation and loneliness, and thirst. Everything is mixed together and kept alive like a succulent with spritzes of Holy water.

In that enormous pile, like in the dough, mysterious happenings are taking place. And no matter how many times the powerful of the world punch the dough down, it will always rise up in new and surprising ways.

Food & Faith

food faithThis morning while searching Edible Jersey magazine for area farms that sell bulk produce to regular folk like me, I stumbled upon this article by Fran McManus on Princeton Theological Seminary’s “Farminary.” This is a farm-based initiative that seeks to bridge the areas of theology, ecology and faith. The idea that religious leaders can participate in studies that integrate theology and sustainable agriculture is inspiring, exciting, and literally ground-breaking!
 
Our human connection to the soil and its produce is about as biblical a theme as can be found; yet, it is remarkable that we don’t often recognize, as one attendee did, “that kneeling to plant seeds puts one in the posture of service to the land.”
 
Graduates from this program, such as Katie O’Hern, ’15, of Asbury First United Methodist Church in Rochester, New York.are bringing the experience to their faith communities, and if you belong to a congregation like this one you are fortunate indeed.
If you are interested in exploring the Food & Faith connection, retreats and parish farming schools of varying length and commitment are rare, but increasing in availability. In addition to the following suggestions, a simple online search will return several opportunities and resources. 
 
Last fall, my husband and I attended a memorable and nourishing Food and Faith retreat at Jerusalem Farm, located in Kansas City. The weekend-long retreat is offered once a year. 
 
If you live in near Norwood, Ohio, residential internships from May through November are offered through the Parish Farming School of Eucharistic Discipleship. http://www.parishfarmingschool.org/
 
And if you are looking for more inspiration or are interested in learning how you can cultivate a greater awareness of the food and faith connection in your community, family or personal life, visit culinary arts page on the Loyola Press’ arts and faith webpage: http://www.loyolapress.com/arts-and-faith-culinary-arts.htm

Slow Cooking (or, the morality of Clean Food)

clean produceI am away this weekend with my husband to visit our daughter at Jerusalem Farm, a Catholic intentional community located in Kansas City, MO where she lives and works. Jerusalem Farm is a not-for-profit organization which strives to transform the lives of the community members and those they serve “through service retreat experiences, sustainable living and home repair.” While there we will be participating in a weekend retreat entitled “Food and Faith.” In light of this experience this week’s blog post is taken from an essay I wrote in 2012 in response to my growing passion for sustainable agriculture and the Clean Food movement. Note that I wrote this essay well before the majority accepted the reality of Climate Change.

I was raised in a family where the summer garden and its produce was on the table 12 months out of the year whether it was fresh, canned, or frozen. My parents had a serious vegetable garden, and still do as a matter of fact. Seed catalogs, visits to the nursery, and the smell and feel of soil were part of my upbringing. And because meat was expensive we ate relatively small portions of it—supplemented with lots of vegetables and fruit. As a child it did not occur to me that what I ate was particularly special; I’m sure I thought it was boring.

Today, a clean diet like the one on which I was raised has become a privilege. Last week I stood near a woman at the grocery store who, like me, was trying to justify the cost of organic fruit. We talked about how it was the healthier choice not only for our bodies but also for the earth. But she was buying for a family; I was only shopping for my husband and myself. It is an injustice that consumers have to lower their standards of what is good and healthy in order to feed their families.

Food is morally significant. What we buy helps heal or worsen the wounds caused to the earth, to animals, to the laborers, and to our bodies.

Several years ago my youngest daughter recommended a lecture given by one of her college professors on the effects of climate change[1]. The lecture, given by Creighton University theology professor, Richard Miller, Ph.D., was based on his award-winning book, “God, Creation, and Climate Change: A Catholic Response to the Environmental Crisis.” The talk focused on the overwhelming scientific evidence of climate change emerging from the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), the EPA, various University studies, and other substantiated global sources.

The evidence made me feel angry and helpless about our culture’s blindness and resistance to accepting the truth. I began to consider the impact unchecked climate change would have on our agricultural system and global food supply and I realized I had to get educated. I began to read up on soil science, sustainable agriculture, and biodynamic farming practices. My husband and I watched many documentaries including Ana Sophia Joanes’ underground movie, “Fresh,”[2] and saw both the diseased belly of corporate farming and the success of its antidote.

My eldest daughter, at the time an undergrad at the University of Iowa, was taking a course on the food industry and shared some of her sources with me. I found out how livestock and poultry farms had been converted to animal factories designed to keep pace with our growing demand for cheap meat, using methods both inhumane and harmful to the animals, to us, and to the planet. I learned about corporate agri-farms which have perfected the science of producing high yield mono-crops of genetically modified corn and soy with the prophylactic application of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides and herbicides.

I also learned enough to conclude that what “Big Ag” corporations are really up to as they participate in the mad science of genetic modification is to literally handcuff farmers to an interdependent system of patented seeds which require their own patented herbicides. For example, herbicides such as Roundup™ are so effective at selectively preventing seed germination that only patented “Roundup™ ready” crops, also known as genetically engineered crops (GEs or GMOs), which produce their own pesticides can survive. I’m not the only one who might suggest that the purpose of GMO Roundup™ ready crops is to sell more Roundup™.

And, by the way, the produce of these genetically modified seeds has been on our plates either in vegetable form, in processed foods, or as part of the diet of the meat and poultry we eat since 1994–without prior safety testing. And we wonder why so many of us have developed digestive problems in that time period?

No doubt, improving farm practices to increase crop yields in order to eliminate world hunger is a good thing. However, what I discovered is that no matter what corporate spokespeople claim, eradicating world hunger is not the driver of Big Ag companies and the corporate farms they run: corn and soy are grown primarily for livestock feed.

I learned that in lieu of tried and true soil sustaining practices such as crop rotation and allowing fields to lie fallow for a season, corporate farmers force feed their crops synthetic fertilizers which destroy organisms necessary to life-sustaining soil, thus killing the soil’s ability to nurture growth without the application of higher doses of fertilizer. Further, it is estimated that only 1/3 to 1/2 of synthetic fertilizers are absorbed by the plants[3], the remainder is washed away by rain which flows into and pollutes our water systems.

Each atrocity leads to another, corporate farm monopolies, seed contamination, soil erosion, super weeds, unwitting consumption of second-hand hormones and antibiotics, farm worker injustices, and pollution that knows no bounds.

The current factory farm model of agriculture is unsustainable and yes, sinful. It poisons the earth and it poisons us. It abuses creation and shrugs off our responsibility to be good stewards of it. This is why I am an advocate and student of the Clean Food movement. I feel called to support a more authentic relationship not only with my body, but with the earth and with the people who draw from the soil gifts of food using methods that enrich, rather than deplete it. I am affirmed daily by the greater variety of sustainable and organic foods are available to the consumer, increased education and awareness campaigns, and opportunities for conscientious investors to help fund small farms, canneries, and retailers.

My choice to purchase food from sources that use methods respectful to the earth began with a desire for greater personal health, but has become something greater. My action is driven by the desire to support the purpose and dignity of the land, the animals, the farmers, the workers and everyone involved from farm to fork, especially those who eat the food. And that is the problem. Clean food is generally limited to those who can afford to buy it or who grow it themselves.

Affordable, clean food is a human right, not a privilege. The fact that it is cost prohibitive for most consumers leads to an unsustainable food industry. The availability of clean food for everyone, not just those who can afford it, is undoubtedly a moral issue.

It is clear to see why it matters. But even on a small-scale reform of the current corporate food system and its far-reaching tributaries in the United States alone is a herculean task for activists, lobbyists, educators, scientists and the medical community. But change is happening, and the desire for clean food justice will continue to be the sharp pebble in the shoe of the deniers until clean food is affordable and available to all human beings.

[1] This four-part lecture has been made available to the public on you tube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ohoLwfJ8iJU&feature=colike

[2] http://www.freshthemovie.com/

[3] http://www.sustainabletable.org/issues/soil/

For more on clean eating, read Steven Rosen’s article: http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/health/story/2012-07-24/clean-eating/56456224/1

Everything is Connected

EarthWaterDropI’ve only read a portion of Pope Francis’ Encyclical on the Environment, Laudato Si, and am already blown away. This from chapter 4, for example:

“When we fail to acknowledge as part of reality the worth of a poor person, a human embryo, a person with disabilities – to offer just a few examples – it becomes difficult to hear the cry of nature itself; . Once the human being declares independence from reality and behaves with absolute dominion, the very foundations of our life begin to crumble, for “instead of carrying out his role as a cooperator with God in the work of creation, man sets himself up in place of God and thus ends up provoking a rebellion on the part of nature” Laudato Si, 4.117

Read Laudato Si.

Interested in studying Laudato Si? The USCCB has prepared an excellent discussion guide for use in small groups.