Note: In February 2011, in the wake of our “Watershed Seminary” Institute, Chris Grataski of Ezekiel’s Guild (Lynchburg, VA) and I drafted this Call for a “Watershed Discipleship Alliance.” We’ve been sharing it around since, and commend it to you on this World Water Day. We like the double entendre: commitment to nurturing disciplines of care within specific watersheds, and advocating a specific Christian discipleship appropriate to this watershed historical moment. Let us know what you think.
We live in an historical moment that demands serious, sustained engagement from Christians. Both our love for the Creator and the interlocking crises of global warming, peak oil and water, and widening ecological degradation should compel us to make environmental justice and sustainability integral to everything we do as disciples and citizens. The ecological endgame that stalk our history requires Christians to embrace deep paradigm shifts and broad practical changes of habit in our homes, churches, and denominations. It is time to embrace the vocation envisioned by the Apostle Paul: that the “children of God” take a stand of passionate solidarity with a Creation that is enslaved to our dysfunctional and terminal civilizational lifeways, and find ways to bring liberation to the earth and all its inhabitants (Rom 8:20f).
Theologies of “Creation Care” have gained remarkable traction among a wide and ecumenical spectrum of North American churches over the last two decades. Yet they are still often too abstract or unfocused. We are persuaded that the best way to orient the church’s ecological work and witness is through bioregional literacy, planning and action, which focus on the actual watersheds that we inhabit. Because this orientation is still foreign to our Christian communities, it is necessary to build and nurture watershed consciousness and disciplines in our faith tradition. We think a good vehicle for these tasks of education, advocacy and organizing could be a “watershed discipleship alliance.”
A collaborative could promote and nurture three main areas of transformation:
1) Ecological Readings of Scripture. We strongly believe that the Bible is an ally, not an adversary, in this task; indeed, the prophetic traditions indigenous to both testaments may alone be capable of rousing us from our ecocidal slumber. The reflective poems, warning tales, grand sagas and radical histories of scripture summon us to remember our origins and the ways of our ancestors; invite us to imagine and work for a restorative future; and call us to liberate and heal ourselves and our home places. But to “see” this will require systematic re-readings of our sacred texts, and thus a capacity to research, teach and publish new perspectives.
2) “Re-placed” Theology, Spirituality and Practices. Recycling, reducing energy use, and shopping responsibly are important, but much more is needed from Christians. All our churchly practices, from prayer to liturgy and from Word to deed, must help us deconstruct habits that objectify and exploit, and reconstruct our identity around place. We must embrace the motto: “We won’t save a place we don’t love; we can’t love a place we don’t know; and we can’t know a place we haven’t learned.” This involves critical theological reflection; populist pedagogic engagement at all levels of our communities; personal healing and recovery work; Sabbath Economics (including life-skills training in sustainability such as gardening, canning, and foraging); and political organizing efforts that are grounded in the local watershed while conversant in and accountable to wider issues of social, food and environmental justice.
3) Watershed Ecclesiology. Our churches are well-situated to become centers for learning and loving local places as well as defending and restoring them. But we must ourselves “re-inhabit” these places as church, letting the landscapes around us shape our symbolic life and imagination as well as our material habits.
We think such a working Alliance can focalize and amplify these perspectives, and help build capacity for a Christian discipleship defined by commitment to healing our world by restoring the health of our respective watersheds. If our churches can “do their work” around these issues, we can not only recover the soul of our tradition, but will also make an enormous contribution to the wider historic struggle to reverse our ecological catastrophe.
Six Possible Objectives
Provide biblical and theological education that closes the inappropriate gap between ecological literacy and faith, and that disturbs the dominant consciousness in and outside of faith communities, articulating a call for concrete and urgent repentance and renewal.
Provide practical training in bioregional literacy, re-inhabitory lifeways and issues of cultural “re-place-ment” and ecological restorative justice.
Support faith based organizing for the defense and restoration of our watersheds, and advocate and educate for bioregionally-appropriate economic, political and social policies.
Build bridges between faith communities working for ecological justice and those engaged in other matters of social justice and peacemaking.
Create and sustain a website and other communications tools to enable networking and collaboration for ideas, projects and strategic initiatives.
Hold occasional gatherings to promote and nurture watershed discipleship practices and perspectives.
We are hoping to convene a “Watershed Discipleship Summit” in November of 2013. What you think?