We are in a watershed moment. The ecological endgame that stalks our history demands serious, sustained engagement from Christians; we must choose between denial and discipleship. Both our love for the Creator and the interlocking crises of climate chaos, peak everything and widening ecological degradation should compel us to make environmental justice and sustainability integral to everything we do as disciples—and as citizen inhabitants of specific places. This requires us 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: the “children of God” taking a stand of passionate solidarity with a Creation that is enslaved to our dysfunctional and toxic civilizational lifeways, and committing ourselves to the liberation to the earth and all her inhabitants (Rom 8:20f).
Our discipleship takes place in a watershed context. Churchly theologies of “Creation Care” have gained remarkable traction among a wide spectrum of North American churches over the last two decades–yet they are still often too abstract and/or unfocused. We cannot stand against the prevailing industrial system of robbery (of the poor and of the earth) if we have no place to stand. Wendell Berry rightly points out that “global thinking” is often merely a euphemism for abstract anxieties or passions that are useless for engaged efforts to save actual landscapes. “The question that must be addressed,” he contends, “is not how to care for the planet, but how to care for each of the planet’s millions of human and natural neighborhoods, each of its millions of small pieces and parcels of land, each one of which is in some precious way different from all the others.” We are thus persuaded that the best way to orient the church’s work and witness is through bioregionally-grounded planning and action which focuses on the actual watersheds (defined here) we inhabit. Because this orientation is still foreign to our Christian communities, our task is to nurture watershed consciousness and engagement in our faith traditions.
We must be disciples of our watersheds. They can teach us about interrelatedness and resiliency, but this requires literacy. To paraphrase Senegalese environmentalist Baba Dioum:
We won’t save places we don’t love.
We can’t love places we don’t know.
And we don’t know places we haven’t learned.
This is both a warning and a promise that we believe sums up our vocation “watershed ecclesiology” in this crisis.
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