Monday, April 15, 2013

A Watershed Moment of Discipleship


We won't save places we don't love.
We can't love places we don't know.
We don't know places we haven't learned.

Ched Myers

We who believe in freedom will not rest until it comes.
Ella Baker

Every year the Global Footprint Network calculates the precise day that the demand for ecological resources and services overwhelms how much the Earth can actually provide. Last year, Earth Overshoot Day was on August 22. This year, no doubt, it will be earlier. And then next year earlier. And earlier. And earlier.

Unfortunately, this overshoot has largely been an oversight for most Christian communities in North America. Followers of Jesus are either ignorant (eco-illiterate) or are content to adamantly spiritualize the message of their Savior into a heavenly afterlife or Rapturous earth escape. Yet, these options come across as both awkwardly convenient and downright costly when examining the externalities of an overused and abused ecology.

For those of us desperately chasing a Christian faith that is radical, practical and indigenously biblical, I commend the work of The Bartimaeus Cooperative, led by biblical scholars/activists Ched Myers and Elaine Enns. In both word and deed, BCM preaches the good news of Sabbath Economics: the struggle to resist the culture of Mammon and to nurture the culture of Manna (see Exodus 16). Myers journeyed to Portland last week to deliver his message of "watershed discipleship," a call to make discipleship global by focusing on the sustenance and salvation of our specific locality ("our watershed") at this particular moment of time ("our watershed"), staving off ecological catastrophe after centuries of colonizing, industrializing and just plain hoarding stuff we obviously don't really need.

As it turns out, 99% of human history has lived bio-regionally (in a valley along a river, on the coast, etc). Lately, though, we haven’t lived mindfully in the places we live, exhausting our precious land while exploiting those who work it. In fact, we haven't just paved paradise and put up a parking lot: we've raped paradise and used the Bible to justify the whole sordid affair. The time has come to start calling this public addiction “sin." We need an intervention because we’ve become one with our accessories. Our hoarding and consumption and luxurious living has ruined the land and, in the process, decimated our souls. We need to repent.

Myers offered this challenge for 21st century people of faith and conscience: to identify our place as one governed by nature, not legislature. This translates into a transfer of our deepest loyalties (what the biblical Greek pistis really means) from state & nation to our particular watershed (see above photo for my own beloved Trabuco Creek watershed). This is a call for our discipleship to be connected to the land. Where we actually live.

Our bioregion is that particular corner of the universe that uniquely sustains us, yet most of us take for granted. And here in North America, we all live in a watershed, the space where the natives thrived more than 8,000 years before whitey started colonizing. It's all about the watershed: because, after all, every interdependent living thing depends on water for life. And as we examine Nature all around us (the soil, the insects, the water), we feel the breath of God whispering patience, interdependence and a timeless gift cosmology into our souls.

This is what the great wilderness man John Muir proclaimed a few pristine decades before the Peace Moment (the unleashing of 2 atomic bombs to end WWII): "When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”

And, indeed, this is what Martin Luther King proclaimed during his tortured and imprisoned lead-up to the Race Moment: "We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny."

A Christian faith that takes seriously biblical themes like incarnation, sabbath, identification of place and solidarity must shift our focus to this watershed. Indeed, there's no need to leave our sacred texts behind in our quest to save the land. These are just some of the texts Myers expounded upon last week (yet he challenged us beyond proof-texted passages to a "sensory" reading of the entire Bible, the way the original hearers of Scripture would, in fact, receive them):

Genesis 12:6f
Genesis 13:18
Genesis 18:1
Exodus 16:16
Numbers 11:34
I Kings 17:1-16
Psalm 147:9
Job 3:8-4:1
Jeremiah 17:11
Luke 12:13-34
Revelation 22:1

Consider prostheni. "This Greek word refers to our plagued longing to add stature to our lives. We live in a prosthetic culture.", Myers proclaimed Friday morning just a stone's throw from Nike headquarters in Beaverton. He was preaching from the 12th chapter of the Gospel of Luke, an episode centering on Jesus' denunciation of the 1st century practice of building bigger barns to store grain during times of low commodity prices. Keep the goods on the sidelines and then unload it all when the prices go back up! Of course, we all know that's good capitalism, but this is bad practice in Jesus' Great Economy (a phrase coined by poet-farmer-theologian Wendell Berry for "the kingdom of God"), creating a gigantic income inequality gap while sapping the earth of her precious resources.

The Bible screams out for us to care for both The Land and The Less Fortunate by living with less. But unfortunately, Myers reminds us, we've been hemmed in by an invasive suburban theology that, like English Ivy, threatens to strangle the native message of the Hebrew Prophets and Jesus. This hyper-spiritualized, grow-the-economy-at-whatever-cost-to-the-biosphere "gospel" is nothing but bad news in this Earth moment. This is nothing but counterfeit exegesis and it has nothing to do with facts on the ground, as Bill McKibbon continues to interrogate us:

In 50 years, no one will care about the fiscal cliff or the Euro crisis. They'll just ask, "So the Arctic melted, and then what did you do?"

Q: So what are some practical action steps to take in saving our respective watersheds?

A: Marching, lobbying, boycotting, letter-writing, “naming the lie,” talking to neighbors, organizing, support work—buttressing the work others are already doing, recognizing our privilege.

But here's where the prophetic Myers gets refreshingly pastoral:

Every single one of us can start right where we are. All we have to do is start paying attention.

As we seek to become eco-literate (reading the studies, listening to indigenous voices), we can commit ourselves to a lifestyle of simple awareness of the land where we dwell and work and love. Before we begin the arduously biblical task of converting our families, corporations and governments into this thinking, we must take the first step of our thousand mile journey of our own recovery from power and privilege.

In the wake of this uber-practical spirituality, many communities are getting creative. Some churches are tithing 10% of their parking lots to build community gardens. Community Roots Garden in Oxnard, California is taking it one step further: donating surplus to the impoverished Mixtec farmers who labor for (non)living wages in their watershed.

And in November 2013, Ched Myers and Chris Grataski of Ezekiel's Guild are organizing a Watershed Discipleship Summit in Maryland. This is something none of will want to miss.

It's been 20 years since Ched Myers "came out" as a bio-regionalist. It was fringe back then, but now, Myers is sure, this movement is in the thralls of a crucial watershed moment. Now, only one single question remains: will you be a part of it?

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