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Faith, Science, and Climate Change Building with AND and CHANGE: An Invitation to Inclusion


[1] For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God. (Hebrews 3:4).

[2] Sitting down on a cold winter afternoon with my dog vying for the larger portion of the couch at my side, I glance at the theme of this issue of the Journal of Lutheran Ethics: Faith, Science, and Climate Change. Being committed to the Christian contemplative practice of lectio divina, I am always listening-- listening for a word or a phrase that catches me and invites me to go deeper. God uses this invitation to build me and all things. I am most drawn, most compelled not by the words “Faith”, “Science”, or “Climate”, but by the words “and” and “Change”. Truth, as I hear it, as I see it, is that God is at work in all things! And is the operative word that I hear today. Faith builds a house. Science builds a house. My neighbor builds a house. The bird builds a house. The bee builds a house. The doctor builds a house, and so does the musician. And, and, and…God is the builder of all. Everything is included in the house of God, the builder of all things.

[3] It seems so often, especially in communities of faith, that we forget this. We grapple for understanding and control with dualistic thinking that can exclude that which is not in our house. We name rules of right or wrong, black or white, male or female, faith or science, sinner or saint, darkness or light, death or life. But our wise souls know, like the verse from Hebrews reminds, that it is not OR, but AND. All houses belong. We must welcome them all. Do I consider and listen to the house of science? Yes, of course! I consider science and art and business and trees and music and statistics and clouds and lights and math formulas and my dog keeping me warm and, and, and …. AND is an invitation to inclusion. So how do we cultivate a practice of listening to all of creation?

[4] I have lived my whole life in the Lutheran church, but I have been called to widen and deepen my spiritual practices and communities to cultivate and claim the contemplative ear of the heart. I find us Lutherans far too busy thinking all the time, despite Luther’s call to planting trees and meditation. Longing for stillness, silence, and the capacities for the heart and body to hear, I entered a formation program at a Monastery in Madison, Wisconsin and am now part of a Benedictine oblate community there. As a Benedictine oblate, I observe a rule for my life grounded in the rule of St. Benedict, grounded in deep listening, stability, hospitality, prayer, and obedience. My daily disciplines and rhythms of contemplative work and prayer build and teach me how to listen to more and more of creation, cultivating an interior state of knowing. It’s interesting that the primary definition of science from Miriam Webster is “the state of knowing”. I have found that the process of deep inclusive listening is a science in and of itself that leads to the state of knowing that God is the builder of all things. All things speak God’s voice and beg our obedience in response. And building includes constant movement and change doesn’t it? Science and the Spirit know this.

[5] Change is the second word that I hear in this issue’s theme. How do we listen to change, to new discoveries, to mystery, to paradox, to new knowledge? How do we listen to the need for change? I listen to the birds and the bees and the fish that die or become sick when pesticides or salt are put on the earth. I listen to the sign that tells me that my dog should stay off a lawn, thinking this must mean other living creatures should too. I listen to the increase in childhood cancer linked to pesticides in the air, in our water, and on our food. I listen to the suffering of animals, before I choose to buy or consume meat, especially if it has been raised in factory farm situations with the many issues of non-organic feed, in-humane living conditions, the warming of the earth, and the pollution of waterways that result. I listen to the changing of the wild places, the death of the polar bears and creatures of the rain forests as I select the temperature for my furnace or air conditioner and make my purchase of a vehicle. We all have choices to make in response to deep listening. These choices beg for change, and for leading change.

[6] I was called deeply into leadership of a Caring for Creation ministry in my own Lutheran congregation almost 15 years ago because our community was putting pesticides on the grass. Scientific data confirmed what I could smell and sense. My heart heard the cry of the waters, the worms, the birds, and the children that are also poisoned by that which kills weeds and “pests.” The Caring for Creation ministry has brought significant changes to the congregation over the years. Caring for creation took root in the culture from simple practices like using glassware and a dishwasher rather than paper cups and a trashcan to complex transformations. We conducted an energy audit, installed solar panels, began gardening with native plantings, adopted an all-ages environmental education, and applied for and achieved green and water-keeper certifications.

[7] Our Caring for Creation initiative was grounded in the following mission, vision, and operational goal statement:

Mission/Vision/Goals: 

In response to the overall mission and priorities of the Congregation, we desire to contribute to the transformation of society so that humans live in harmony with all other life and preserve the earth for future generations. The goal of this ministry includes living ever more deeply and intentionally into our mission and identity as a community that cares for creation and actively promotes ecological justice. 

 

[8] Personally, the call has taken me to seek leadership on community boards for local organizations protecting food, cooperative economic values, and waterways. It has called me to align with a monastic community that prioritizes care for and listening to the earth. It led me to write my Master’s in Business Management and Leadership thesis on the topic of Corporate Social Responsibility. When I teach business students, we talk about the profit motive of capitalism and wonder about the accountability of corporations and other businesses to the environment and to all creatures. We ask ourselves at the onset: Is maximization of profit the goal or is there a more responsible, values-based level of profit?  I teach students how to find and select investment funds that correspond to their values. For example, there are funds that do not include companies that mine or promote fossil fuels, that consider the environment in their products and practices, that pay living wages, or that value diversity and equity. Similarly in my work as teacher and board leader I remind others that there are grocery stores that label the miles to market for each apple available to purchase and certain standards (including living conditions and diet) of each type of chicken. The power to govern in a capitalistic society lies in our consumption choices, perhaps, just as much as the election booth.

[9] My call has led me to very closely consider my role as a consumer, recognizing that how far my foods (or other purchases) have traveled to get to me has an impact on global warming and that who and what has suffered in the process is part of what I consume and support. When I grocery shop with my always hungry teenage, body-building, protein-eating son and compare prices at the big box relative to the local cooperative, we talk about the true cost of cheap food and the impact that local purchases can make on reducing climate change due to trucking distance to market. We talk about the suffering of animals in factory farms to produce cheap eggs and meat that may build his muscles the same way as those from the local CSA but at a higher true cost. Then, when my vegan daughter comes home from college, I am invited to brush up on the latest issues connecting consumption to global warming including everything from the fashion industry and sustainable clothing to carbon offsets for travel and to the massive benefits of plant-based diets for our health and the health of the planet. I am always challenged, perhaps even overwhelmed, by how our consumer culture impacts climate change and the suffering of the planet.

[10] Do I listen to science? Yes, I do. Data shows that average temperatures are rising, ice sheets are melting, carbon dioxide parts per million in the atmosphere are wildly higher than the earth has ever experienced. Data shows that the activity of human beings are linked to these changes.  And I listen to my faith that God is the builder of everything. As things are built, things change; the climate and I too must change. I must build keeping my eyes open and my ears listening.  In responding to what I see and hear, I must obey the call of God, knowing that my obedience will be used to create the changes that love and serve all of creation.

[11] All of creation includes me. There is very little need to debate that what I do to the water and the air, I do to the polar bears, to my loved ones, and to myself. I must use faith and science, as the climate changes. I must listen to hear my role in what God is building. I must make scientifically informed choices in obedience and in response to God’s love for me and all creation. And I must have faith that those actions move and change the whole towards goodness, love, and further revelation of the truth.

[12] Thoughts for meditation, journaling, inquiry, and conversation:

·       What word or phrase or idea in this essay resonates with your heart? Write, reflect, and listen to where it might be calling you? What prayer emerges?

·       What are you building and how are you building it? What are you listening to? How are you responding to the changes you are listening to from the earth and the way that science is able to build the picture for us?

·       When you consider your consumption, what do you want to know more about?

·       How might you lead your family or community in exploring the impact of your consumption on climate change or on the suffering of the planet?

·       If we, as Christians, hold a shared value of loving one another and all of creation, how does that affect your investments (personally or as a congregation)?

Heather Lee Schmidt is the author of This Moment of Retreat: Listening to the Birch, the Milkweed, and the Healing Song in all that is Now. Professionally she is a CPA, Faculty Member, Accreditation and Assessment Leader, Consultant, and community volunteer. She has led the Care for Creation Ministry at Lake Park Lutheran Church in Milwaukee, WI for almost 15 years, is an Oblate at the Holy Wisdom Monastery in Madison, and lives with her two teenage children and her dogs in Wauwatosa, WI.  Her creative and spiritual work can be accessed at www.heatherleeonline.com.  


Articles published in the journal reflect the perspectives and thoughts of their authors and not necessarily the theological, ethical, or social stances of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.​




©February/March 2020
​Journal of Lutheran Ethics
Volume 20, Issue 1