What has Bioregionalism to Do with Discipleship? a ★★★★★book review

Early Christians asked themselves, “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” wondering about the relationship between the Christian faith and pagan philosophy. Today many Christians raise a similar question: “What does my faith have to do with the environment?” Western Christianity has imbibed a functional Docetism since Constantine, placing salvation outside of creation’s realm. We’ve also been bequeathed the medieval Doctrine of Discovery, and Industrialization’s anthropological assumption which has enabled colonization and the exploitation of our natural resources (5-6). We’ve commodified our land and resources and a major divide continually grows between our Christian faith and our lived environments. We are now at a critical juncture in which human persons are making a major impact on our world. It is time to re-place Christian discipleship within our ecosystems.

9781498280761Ched Myers is well known for his theological activism, his work as an educator, and for his political reading of Mark’s gospel, in books like Binding the Strongman, and Say to this Mountain.  He is co-director, with Elaine Enns, of Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries (BCM) where he advocates Christian engagement in the realms of peace, justice, and radical discipleship. At a 2010 meeting of the Bartimaeus Institute, he introduced the term ‘Watershed Discipleship’ as a way of impressing the importance of bioregionalism for North American churches (xvii), In this anthology, Watershed Discipleship: Reinhabiting Bioregional Faith and Practice Myers draws together essays from a dozen activists and scholars who share his vision for bioregional faith. He frames this collection with introductory and concluding essays of his own.

What does Watershed Discipleship mean? Myers describes the term as a triple entendre:

  1. It recognizes that we are in a watershed historical moment of crisis, which demands that environmental and social justice and sustainability be integral to everything we do as Christians and citizen inhabitants of specific places
  2. It acknowledges the bioregional locus of an incarnational following of Jesus: our individual discipleship and the life and witness of the local
    church take place inescapably in a watershed context
  3. And it implies that we need to be disciples of our watersheds. (2).

The essays in this volume engage the realms of theology, history, biblical studies, social science, and environmentalism; however, each essay is also autobiographically rooted.  The authors describe how they’ve come to care for their own watersheds. They are cognizant of the human and environmental crisis we face, attentive to their places, listening well to what their watersheds have taught them.

Rose Marie Berger‘s poem, Prophecies from the Watershed Confederacy, stands at the beginning of the book, Denise Nadeau writes the forward. In chapter one, Katarina Friesen essay reflects on current Christian missions, and her experiences on missions and growing up as a Missionary-kid. She explores how the medieval Doctrine of Discovery has shaped conquest politics and contributed to a ‘dis-placed’ understanding of mission. She argues us to redirect missions toward our own watersheds:

As a church, we need a framework whose transformative potential adequately counters the oppressive history of forced conversion of land and people, a resurrection way of liberation for all people and land more powerful than the death legacy of colonialism.
As a people marred by placeless theologies, our challenge is to repent of Watershed Conquest through practicing Watershed Discipleship. We are being commissioned home, through the power of the One who will be with us “to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20b).

David Pritchett examines the city, showing how the urban grid has historically been ‘used a tool of the colonization, control and alienation of citizenry, in order to efficiently move goods and military assets across the landscape” (54). Pritchett draws inspiration from the book of Daniel, on how contemporary city-dwellers may subvert the urban grid’s hegemony. He gives contemporary examples of subversion such as urban art, de-paving parking lots (which contribute to urban watershed problems), and food mapping.

John McRay provides a theology and a biblical vision of the Kingdom of God and salvation as a ‘transfigured earth’ (60). McRay explores the biblical narratives of Jubilee, Jesus and Elisha-Naaman story, articulating a ‘hermeneutic of reinhabitation.’ He argues, “Our best chance for justice and peace is to enact Jesus’s blend of Jubilee and watershed transformation. Like Naaman, we must learn to move from profane control to holy conversation through acts of reinhabitation”(72).

Lydia Wylie-Kellermann tells her story of caring for the Detroit River watershed, the place of her baptism. She describes the fight for clean water in the city and its effects on the poor and marginalized.  Erinn Fahey, also in the Detroit Watershed, is a water engineer.  In her chapter, she explores the contradictions between the discipline of engineering and her vocation as a green engineer. Sarah Thompson interviews Atlanta community organizer, Na’Taki Osborne Jelks, discussing environmental racism and ecojustice in the Atlanta Watershed, the next stages of the civil rights movement, and the witness of Christian Peacemaker Teams in violence reduction around the world.

 Matthew Humphrey calls evangelicals away from a posture of abstraction to one of action for inhabited bioregions. Humphrey lives in the lower Mainland of British Columbia. He discusses the [North] American lack of place (“Americans have careers not places”) He reads the story of Ahab and Naboth’s vineyard against the displacement of Aboriginal Canadians (in Indian Residential Schools) and the history of displacement of Native. Humphrey encourages us to inhabit our place, and become ‘settlers’ allies’ for ‘the sake of the land and its inhabitants’ (121)

Sarah Nolan interviews Erynn Smith and Reyna Ortega of The Abundant
Table project in Ventura County, CA, discussing their experience as organic
farmers and activists and the challenge of trying to practice agriculture which offers alternatives to the destructive farming which surround their community (138)

Sasha Adkins maps the disaster the problem of plastic from a public health
perspective and the damage it does to bodies and global watersheds calling us to examine our spiritual problem of disposability. Victoria Machado discusses the confluence between bioregionalism and the Catholic Worker movement (i.e. the local and contextual
nature and mission). Tevyn East and Jay Beck explore the Carnival de Resistance— a traveling carnival and school of transformation which promotes environmental justice and sustainability. They contend art serves watershed discipleship by supporting cultural transformation and spiritual recovery (181). Myers concluding essay explores the need for a theological and hermeneutic recovery, and the need to re-place our church practices

This is a rich collection of essays. I was familiar with the concept of Watershed Discipleship from Todd Wynward’s Rewilding the Way (also a great book). This book highlighted the perspectives and actions of a dozen theologians and activists. Two major themes jumped out at me as I read these essays. First, they underscore the importance and meaning of place. Missiologists and church planters talk about Incarnational ministry, but they seldom challenge the assumptions bequeathed to us by urbanism, Industrialism, and the Doctrine of Discovery. By conceiving of discipleship bioregionally, the authors in this volume are cognizant of the relationship between persons and their ecosystem (as well as their built environment). This opens fresh possibilities for what mission ‘in place’ means. It doesn’t involve simply asset-mapping a neighborhood for human services. It means understanding food systems, the impact of human communities on Creation, and how environmental problems impact people, particularly the poor and the marginalized. Mission in place means caring for both the community and creation within your bioregion. This is missiologically significant.

Secondly, I appreciate the hopeful tone of these essays. Because of the impact humans have on their environment, many books on environmental justice are kind of bleak. However, each of these authors believe social change and a more responsive relationship with Nature is not only desirable, but possible. They allow their faith and the eschatological vision of a restored creation to inform their thoughts and actions. The overall tone of this book was inspiring, getting me to think about what I can do in my own watershed (a region I’m new to and know little about).

I recommend this book to anyone who wonders about the relationship between our environment and faith—our bioregion and the life of discipleship. You will get a sense of what others are doing in the realm Christian creation care. Several of these essays open new avenues for Christian mission. I happily recommend this book and give it five stars. -★★★★★

Note: I received an electronic copy of this book from Cascade Books (an imprint from Wipf & Stock) in exchange for my honest review.

Born (Again) to Rewild: a book review

Environmentalism and Jesus both call us to oppose the dominant cultural mode of consumption and affluenza. However most of us Christians  are not all that radically different from our neighbors in what or how much we consume. Some of us deny our world is in an ecological crisis where most of us respond to the inconvenient truth of global warming, the destruction of ecosystems, and rising tides with just a little bit of green washing. We care. So we recycle our plastic bottles, drive electric cars, buy organic food™ but our consumption rages on.

9948Todd Wynward is both a Christian and an environmentalist. He is a wilderness guide, founder of a wilderness-based charter school, a member of an intentional community and a leader in the Mennonite denomination. In Rewilding the WayWynward borrows the concept of ‘rewilding’ from conservation biology (the idea of turning land back to nature, to allow the ecosystem to be restored). Rewilding the Jesus Way means bringing the Christian faith back into connection with the earth and allowing vitality come back to a faith that has been tamed by technology and corporate industrial culture (11). Wynward hopes to steer the way between total reunification of the world and conspicuous consumption and paint a picture of watershed discipleship (discipleship that responds to this watershed moment in history, cares for our watershed, and treats our watersheds as Rabbi).

Rewilding the Way unfolds in three parts. Part I describes our current predicament of affluenza, distance from nature, and the lack of outrage for the current cultural malaise. Part II describes seven paths to wild your way: (1) steer by inner authority, (2) rely upon radical grace, (3) embody enoughness (4) lead through meekness, (5) cultivate a divine insecurity, (6)embrace the unraveling and (7) trust in the service. Part III outlines the work ahead and highlights some of the initiatives that are bringing together faith, radical discipleship  and creation care.

Wynward points to church initiatives and ecological activism to unfold these practices. The book teems with stories from both spheres, as well as drawing lessons from the Bible. I found a lot to chew on in this volume. Wynward simultaneously calls us towards a holy discontent with where we are, and trust in God and contentedness with what we are given (embodying enoughness). I am in a moment of in-between-ness wondering what God has next for me an my family and Wynward’s words and practices touch  something in me and make me hunger for more of God’s Kingdom and the redemption of all of creation.

I really liked the way Wynward re-imagines the words of the Lord’s Prayer, taking them from a passive voice to this:

Father of Everything,

Your presence fills all of Creation.

Again today, your kingdom has come.

Again today, I join my will to your will to make earth as in heaven.

Again today, you’ll give us the bread we need for your daily work,

and you’ll show mercy to us just as much as we show mercy to others.

Again today, as we face times of testing, you’ll be with us in our trials. (63).

He doesn’t offer these as a scholarly, literal translation, but as meditation of the meaning of Jesus’ prayer for us as we pray this and follow him. The book is full of other fresh reads of scripture and insights (Wynward regards Ched Meyers and Richard Rohr as mentors in the way, and their insights can be seen throughout). I give this book four stars and recommend it for anyone frustrated by where the Christian faith fails to intersect with care for the physical world. Wynward is one of the good guys who sees the intimate connection between the Jesus way and the rocks and trees, and skies and seas of this, our Father’s World.

Note: I received this book from the author or publisher through SpeakEasy in exchange for my honest review.

 

 

Yes We Should: A Book Review

Often Christians lag behind the wider cultural when it comes to social change. This is felt most acutely in the realm of the environment. Suspicions about secularism and New Age spirituality have caused many conservative Christians to dismiss the environmental movement. Advancing a controversial claim among some environmentalists, Dan Story argues that Christianity and the Bible provide the best framework for environmental stewardship.

Dan Story wrote Should Christians Be Environmentalists? with three purposes in mind.  First, he wanted to encourage environmental stewardship among Christians by providing a bible-based theological framework for creation care (11). Second, he wanted to provide an apologetic for Christian environmentalism against claims that Christianity is the ‘root cause’  of environmental problems (a thesis famously argued by Lynn White in 1967 but also several others) (11).  Lastly he wanted to encourage Christians to use their concern for creation as a point of contact for evangelism(12). Story succeeds in each of these objectives. Along the way he manages to reference a good deal of  academic literature regarding theology and the environment yet remain accessible.

The book divides into three parts. In part one, Story assesses where we are as a culture in our approach to environmental concerns. He argues that the materialist underpinnings of secular culture provides no real basis for long term environmental stewardship, he challenges the notion that Christians are responsible for environmental crisis and the notion that other religions are ‘more in tune’ with the environment. But he also makes clear that humans have made a significant impact on the earth and that we are all responsible for  mismanaging natural resources and causing damage to our world. In  part 2 he provides a Bible-based theology of nature (through the framework of Creation, Fall, Redemption and Stewardship. Story describes the trajectory of the Biblical story (from Eden to (re)New(ed) Earth), the way human ‘dominion’ has been misunderstood to mean exploitation rather than stewardship and how the ‘fall’ has caused us to use and abuse the earth selfishly and greedily. In part three he focuses he advocates Christian concern for the environment (from the biblical framework he just sketched).

My only  major critique of this book is the title. Certainly Story is cognizant of the fact that many Christians have been wary of the environmental movement, but this is not really a book which explores if Christians should be environmentalists. Instead it is a book which advocates strongly for creation care and stewardship of the environment from a Christian perspective, provides an apologetic for Christian involvement because of anti-Christian environmentalism and discusses the evangelistic opportunities we Christians will have if we care for the earth. Exploring whether or not a Christian should be involved in environmentalism is not an open question in this book. Story is emphatic, you should. Part of me wonders if Should Environmentalists Be Christian? would have be a more apt and provocative title.

Titles aside this is a good introduction to environmental stewardship Christian style and I happily recommend it. Because Story does write out of conservative Christian conviction, he is able to make a compelling case for Creation care to a segment of Evangelicalism which still regards environmentalism with suspicion.  This might be a good book for a book group or a church small group.

Thank you to Kregel Press for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for this review.