The Ecology of Faith and the Faith of Ecology



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1. Community and regional control of economic process and development decisions.

The first issue is the problem of power. The problem of power is addressed through direct decision making by people on the issues that affect their lives and livelihoods. The movement to a sustainable society will see a broad decentralization of power, along with the access to and control of resources that makes decentralization effective. Neighborhood associations, village and town meetings, city and county councils, and regional planning groups will be needed to insure broad participation and responsibility.
2. Local control of financial resources. The financial resources of communities and regions must be available for continuous reinvestment in communities and regions. Credit Unions, can, in part, work this way, but a broader monetary reform is needed. The production of money through the creation of debt - as is now the case - and the charging of compound interest must be replaced with a monetary system based on a user fee and an inflation proof community investment strategy that insures equitable production and distribution of goods and services, and an adequate circulation of money and credit through out the whole society. Local and regional alternative currency systems should be developed at every opportunity in order to support and strengthen the local and regional production of goods and services.
3. Cooperative enterprise. Cooperatives, one of the primary social inventions for collective action on community well being, already have a substantial history. Whether applied to business, service or cultural enterprise, the cooperative structure and process insures that the people involved can address, protect, and promote the long run social and environmental health of their communities and regions. Cooperative enterprise has the potential of transforming society according to the best ethos of the Judiac-Christian tradition.
4. Worker owned industries and businesses. This is an especially notable form of cooperative because the interests of capital (ownership) and no longer in conflict with the interest of labour. When ownership is shared among those who are responsible for production, the main concern becomes long term stability rather than maximum immediate profit.
5. Free enterprise self-employment. There will be a significant increase in self-employment opportunities as the focus of economics swings to what really needs to be do at local and regional levels. Products and services of genuine utility will be needed and valued. Many income generating niches will open up as local and regional economies become more diverse and complex.
6. Sustainable food systems. A sustainable food system is the foundation of a sustainable society. Self-provisioning at the level of household, neighborhood, community, town, city, and bioregion will become a growth industry with a difference. It will be growth in economic and social strength because it will build on the organic recycling of local and regional materials and energy sources. The importance of farming may well diminish as cities are ecologically redeveloped to incorporate intensive gardening, small stock keeping, greenhouse production and small scale fish culture.
  7. Direct marketing. Direct sale from producer to user will be preferred and promoted wherever possible. A sustainable regional economy depends on a multiplicity of producers in a wide range of fields. Buying local and buying direct strengthens local and regional producers.
8. Direct exchange of goods and services, including the development of local curriences. A sustainable society will have a strong, well organized and efficient barter system, a system where goods and services are exchanged within a cooperative network of assigned values, credits, and debits, transferable between participating members. This arrangement is essentially an alternative currency system and is already well tested and functioning smoothy in a variety of communities under various names - Local Employment and Trading System (LETS) and Ithaca Dollar being two of the best know.
9. Clean water, air, and land. Discharges from human activity into the waterways, into the air, and over the land must be limited to those substances that naturally occurring biochemical activity can effectively absorb and process without causing a deterioration of the self-maintaining ability of the ecosystem. All other substances produced by or used in extraction, processing, manufacturing, and service industries must be nontoxic, nonpolluting and otherwise harmless to biotic environments. All manufactured goods must have calculated into their price the cost of recycling or disposal. Many superfluous products and services will likely disappear as income is reserved for more essential expenditures.
10. Recycling and composting. Recycling will be a central industry in a sustainable society. In addition, the composting of organic materials must also become a major industry. Composting should be done at every level from household to regional jurisdictions. A policy of minimum waste must govern the handling of all materials and goods.
11. Public transportation. Transportation must become a major public utility. Personal mobility may remain unrestricted in all forms that do not require the use of fossil fuels. Bicycle use will flourish. Solar powered vehicles may be common. Light rail, bus and van service will compensate for the end of unrestricted motor vehicle use.
12. Solar and geothermal energy. Solar radiation in multitude of applications will be the mainstay of a sustainable society. Starting with the solar endowment of earth’s vegetation, including the redesign of buildings based on solar energy gain, and moving on to direct solar-electric conversion, life will clean, quiet and aesthetically pleasing with regard to energy. Add to this the energy potential of wind, the flexibility of falling water, a greatly reduced energy demand through vastly increased efficiency and conservation, and the pattern of a sustainable energy system can be envisioned.
13. Ecological education. Moving toward a sustainable society will require an educational process that fosters cooperative and adaptive thinking. Apprenticeship learning, learning by doing, on-the-job training for environmental restoration and protection, and the provision of the overall skill sets required for the operation of an ecologically sound economy must become the educational priority.
  It may seem strange to think of this litany of visionary, but essentially mundane, practices as a religious responsibility, but if something like a religious commitment is not undertaken with regard to restoring and preserving the integrity of Creation, it is increasing difficult to see what earthly use our religions can imagine themselves to be. The activities and relationships roughly sketched above are, at least, some of the front line economic and social renovations needed to restore and defend the goodness of God in Creation. No amount of Bible study on the shore of a dying ocean, or prayer and meditation amidst food shortage riots will redeem our religion from stinging rebuke and devastating irrelevance as ecological disruption unfolds and both social and ecological collapse unrolls across the land.
It seems to me the religious responsibility in all this is quite clear. For the same reason that abolishing third world debt makes good sense, ending the expansion of the capital driven economy makes good sense. The capital driven market economy, seemingly, has no internal control mechanism with respect to its use of Creation. Christians, and all others who understand earth’s biotic integrity to be expressive of the Divine, must now intervene in the name of generations yet to come, in the name of all that is sacred, and help haul in for retrofit this renegade economic system before it makes off with an irredeemable level of the world’s common resource heritage, and breaks up the biotic integrity on which the resilience of the human-earth relationship depends.

Political leaders are timid, easily distracted and focused mostly on the next election. They are not likely to provide the leadership needed. Motivation must be mobilized from a deeper level, from a more compelling region of the soul. Spiritual leadership is needed. Christians should bring the full moral weight of the biblical tradition and the energy of faith to this momentous work - the work of economic and social renovation within human settlements and throughout their specific communities.
Refining this focus a bit more with regard to the food system, this is what I suggested with regard to agriculture and the church.
Standing at the head of sustainable adaptation is the issue of a sustainable food system. Insofar as the church undertakes the task of ecological reconstruction, the creation of sustainable food systems should be a priority. The church should not be content with simply issuing well crafted statements on the dangers to human communities and damage to the land that comes with mono-croping, and with large scale industrial agribusiness. Churches, it seems to me, should roll up their sleeves, put on their boots and take direct action in establishing and supporting a variety of community based food production and distribution strategies. It is curious that many churches enthusiastically support such work in third world missions, but do not see the implications for their own communities. The following list illustrates some of the efforts in which churches could become engaged.
1. Many church properties include substantial areas of manicured lawn which could easily be turned into finely productive garden ground. Churches lacking this land resource could find similar or otherwise unused land in their neighborhoods on which to develop gardening projects. A minister of gardening could be appointed and regular work-and-worship gatherings could be developed around the care and tending of the garden. Depending on the scale and level of  production, the food could be routed in a variety of ways. It could be used for pastoral and church staff support, thus reducing salary needs and releasing more of the church funds for justice and equity work. The produce could be marketed and the income used for this kind of church work. It could be donated to shelters, food banks, and soup kitchens, or to persons in hardship situations. The church garden could be a significant ecological education outreach tool.
2. Church congregations could begin or organize support for Community Supported Agriculture arrangements This model comes from Switzerland and has now been established in several regions of North American. It works like this: A suitable number of households contract with a farmer for a roughly predetermined supply of produce at a predetermined price. This creates a security situation for the farmer with respect to income, and for the householders with respect to food supply. It has the added benefit of creating links of social solidarity around an economic transaction between rural and urban populations, and goes a good way to educating urban householders about the realities of food production.
3. City and suburban churches could become active advocates and practitioners of serious urban agriculture. Ecological rationality suggests that food should be produced as close as possible to the population centers that need it. A vast potential for food production exists in urban and suburban environments. Notable proposals and innovative technologies for city region food production have been developed. For example, a great deal of high quality protein could be produced within city environs through small scale chicken, squab, Cornish rock hen and rabbit raising. And just think of the production potential of all those backyard swimming pools if they were converted to fish farms! Bee hives and greenhouses on high rises, tomatoes on trellises, fruit and nut trees everywhere, careful tended and highly cherished. All this, and much more could easily be done, and churches could lead the way.
4. Churches should also encourage moving faith into practice in the following ways: Shop first at farm markets, roadside produce stands, and farm gate outlets. Ask food stores to stock and label local produce. Eat with the season. Avoid exotics that require the burning of much fossil fuel to transport them great distances. Construct a church root cellar in which members can store winter fruits and vegetables grown in local gardens or purchased in bulk from local farmers. Conduct workshops on home processing and storage of foods. Develop a theology and a culture of handling food in a sacred manner.
Some of this may sound strangely “old fashioned” until we realize that the modern age has come to an end. The idea of being “up-to-date” or “out-of-date” in now complete nonsense. Ecological rationality surveys all the tools and methods and selects the ones most appropriate for each task in accordance with the values of sustainibility. Horse farming, for example, in no longer “old fashioned,” or a hand cultivator “inefficicent” if you want to produce food that is not dependent on petroleum.
Our situation now is that without the flow of “black gold” we don’t eat. Aside from being an unsustainable food system arrangement, the burning of petroleum in food production, processing and distribution contributes vast quantities of pollutants to the atmosphere. The biocides used liberally in agribusiness environments add to the increasing toxification of land, air  and water. Unlike these present arrangements for producing and distributing most of our food, a sustainable food system would add to the health of the biotic environment and would create greater social solidarity as well. What activity could be more on target for a living faith?
Some people may feel that such mundane activities are not really the concern of the church. I would argue that it is by placing the everyday activities of living within a context of high spiritual purpose that we move from an earth devouring to a conserver society, and that the Christian faith, for reasons of fundamental religious responsibility, should be in the forefront of this movement for ecologically sound economic adaptation.
Such was my testimony two decades ago and such it remains today. The trajectory of the passing years has only made it even more urgent. As they say, “This is my story and I’m stickin’ to it.”
Original Instructions and the Habitat of Home
In closing, I wish to introduce what I think of as a never ending opening, a view that, on the one hand, seems a backward glance, but on the other holds the hope of a decent human future. There is nothing of which we are in greater need than ecological guidance. Teachers of the Aboriginal way ask us to try and remember our original instructions, the way of the heart that the Creator originally gave us for our guidance. The way of the heart leads unerringly to the habitats of home. Everywhere is a home place for somebody. All our relations have their habitats of home.

Home is the origin of our sense of the sacred. Wherever we travel we find the sense of home, the sense of standing on sacred ground within the commonwealth of life. Here we find our original instructions, and the guidance we need begins to unfold.
Several years ago I read the book Silent Friends by Margaret Lacey. It is a book of linked stories that compose the life of a Quaker family on their homestead farm and in their community over three generation. I read it slowly, rereading many parts along the way. As I proceeded, I knew it was joining a small group of books that would stay with me in a special way. Even now, the people of the book and the incidents of their lives come easily to mind, and I find in the memory of the reading, and in the memory of the writer who made this creation, a great sense of comfort, a near of sense of home. I kept thinking, “I know these people. They are more eloquent in their rippled silence than the sophisticates of high modern culture are in their brittle speech. The book carries the subtitle, A Quaker Quilt. And like a quilt, it is a true work of loving creation, a flowing cover of healing for the homeward tending soul.
Silent Friends now stands on my library shelf, as it stands in my mind, along side another book of high artistry in the portrayal of people and place, another book that delivers up of a fully rounded sense of home community. I am speaking of that most singular work in all of American literature, The Country of Pointed Firs, by Sarah Orne Jewett. Wendell Berry points out that classic American novels are, time and again, steeped in the ideology of alienation, and saturated with the sense of a lost home - “you can’t go home again.” The Country of Pointed Firs, almost alone in the classic cannon, bears a very different message, a message of community, a message of home place, a message of social and economic resilience, the portrayal of a place that, even if  you leave, you can be assured will be there in full character and embrace on your return. Silent Friends tells a slightly different story, a story of how things change, but how the values and relationships of home and community carry on in the lives that flow from this heritage. Silent Friends and The Country of Pointed Firs are texts of the ecology of faith: They are both, in their own ways, primary expressions of the faith behind faith.
From the rockbound, sea washed coast Maine to the deep topsoil land of Iowa, I move through these books within the sacred sense of home. And this, above all, is what I want to leave with you: The making of a decent human future depends mostly on those who stay home, and on those who, if and when they travel, or even if they move to a new location, carry the intention, and practice of living in a sacred manner, of living up to the instructions of the heart. Only if we get to the sense of earth, in all its places, as the home place, and then with the guidance of collective policy, and the strength of civic community, live and work in the light of the love we bear toward home, will our economic adaptation contribute to a mutually enhancing human-earth relationship, and our small part in the realization of human solidarity be fulfilled.
In the ecologically guided renovation of our economic behaviour, the question of my subtitle will be answered in a positive way. It may not be the journey we would most desire - too much has already been lost, and too much damage already done. Beyond oil and within a shifting climate, nobody knows what will happen, except that the changes will be enormous. It may be resource wars all the way down, or it may be cooperative economics and ecosystem maintenance all the way through. What will endure, it seems to me - and this is a faith that has the full integrity and resilience of earth behind it - is the eventual resurgence of land based communities and land based livelihoods. Aldo Leopold’s judgment about the recognition of the land community as the most important discovery of modern science will prove correct, and the ecological world view will contribute a new and essential dimension to the faith behind faith. Spirituality and ecology will be two ways of talking about the same reality - the reality of all our relationships within the reality of the human-earth relationship.

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