From Earth Day to Earth Week

by Donald Fausel

Last December I joined a group of residents at the Beatitudes Campus of Care in Phoenix, Arizona to plan for a celebration for Earth Day on April 22. Early on in our meetings we decided to make our celebration a week long event rather than just a day. For the next three and a half months we met regularly to plan activities for each day of our Earth Week. I’d like to share with you some of the events that we had during the week.

Since the Beatitudes is a faith-based campus, we started and ended with:


God of the sun and moon
Of the mountains, deserts and plains,
God of the mighty oceans, rivers, lakes and streams
God of all creatures that live in the seas and fly in the air
Of every living thing that grows and moves on this sacred Earth
Help us to love and respect it,
To repair what we have damaged,
To care for what You have made good and holy.
Give us the wisdom and the passion to change our minds,
Our hearts and our ways.
Let us be mustard seeds in our world
Bringing about ecological conversion which grows and
Spreads to every corner of the Earth.
Four our sake now and for every generation which is to come
We offer this our prayer. Amen.

(Based on Catholic Earthcare, Australia 2003)

Our Earth Week began on Sunday evening when we started with Vesper services accompanied by our Campus choir.

On Monday Gerald Roseberry and I had our first of four TED TALKS. Before each TALK we would read a prayer or petition from an article titled Where’s an Earth Prayer When You Need One?  I found all these requests very inspiring.

Each of the TALKS was about 15 to 20 minutes. After each TALK we would encourage audience participation by our asking questions or their bringing up points they thought would be helpful.  For example, the first TALK was given by Al Gore titled The Case for Optimism for Climate Change. If you haven’t followed his career since he ran for president of the United States, he’s been quite busy. He was co-recipient of a Nobel Laureate Medal with the Intergovernmental Planet on Climate Change for their documentary An Inconvenient Truth in 2007, is chair of The Climate Reality Project, and has authored Earth in the Balance, The Assault on Reason, Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis, and most recently, The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change. In this TED TALK he asks three powerful questions about “…man-made forces threatening to destroy our planet—and the solutions we’re designing to combat them.” You’ll see, he’s still optimistic about our overpowering climate change.

Our second TED TALK was by Sylvia Earl. She is a legendary ocean researcher who is known by her colleagues as “Her Deepness” or by the Library of Congress as a “Living Legend” and by Time Magazine as the “Hero for the Planet”. She’s earned these titles because she’s “… led more than 50 expeditions and clocked more than 7,000 hours underwater. As captain of the first all-female team to live underwater, in 1970 she and her fellow scientists received a ticker-tape parade and White House reception upon their return to the surface. In 1979, she walked untethered on the sea floor at a lower depth than any other woman before or since.” The title of her TED TALK is My Wish to Protect Our Oceans .

Dr. Earl’s hope is, “I wish you would have all the means at your disposal—film! Expeditions! The web! More! To ignite public support for a global network of marine protected areas, hope spots large enough to save and restore the ocean, the blue heart of the planet.” I hope you’ll find her TALK interesting and motivating.

Our third TED TALK was by Dr. James Hansen. One of his titles is The Father of Climate Change. As far back as 1988 at a US Senate hearing, Hansen declared that the “greenhouse effect has been detected and is changing our climate now”. Later in his career as director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, he “…described how government officials had…changed his testimony, filtered scientific findings and controlled what scientists could and couldn’t say to the media—all to underplay the impact of fossil fuel emissions on the climate.” He now is an American adjunct professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University. (One of my Alma Maters.)

I had the good fortune to attend a lecture he gave at Arizona State University before we had his TED TALK at our Earth Week last April. He sat right in front of me before his lecture. As usual, he was wearing his wide-brimmed hat and started his lecture  by saying, “What do I know that would cause me, a reticent mid-western scientist, to get arrested in front of the White House, protesting?”  I had a chance to talk with him briefly after he finished his lecture and I told him about the Elders for a Sustainable Future that we had at the Beatitudes Campus. He was very supportive of what we were doing as Elders and he flippantly asked me if he was old enough to join since he had turned 75 recently. So much for my claim to fame! Here’s Hansen’s TED TALK, titled, Why I Must Speak Out about Climate Change.

Our final TED TALK is by Alex Teffen and titled, The Route to a Sustainable Future. After working as a journalist on four continents, Steffen co-founded and ran the online magazine from 2003-2010. “In those seven years, he made Worldchanging one of the world’s leading sustainability-related publications with an archive of almost 12,000 articles and a large global audience. He also edited an internationally best-selling book surveying innovative solutions to the planet’s most pressing problems: Worldchanging: A User’s Guide for the 21st Century. “ His most recent work is Carbon Zero, a book describing cities that create prosperity not climate change, accelerating their economies while reducing their climate emissions to zero. As the New York Times said in a recent profile, “Alex Steffen lays out the blueprint for a successful century.”


In addition to the TED TALKS there was some activity related to our planet every day between April 17 and 23. To mention a few, on Tuesday there was a campus stroll to learn about our campus vegetation and a planting of a tree. The Roadrunner Extra, that is published periodically “for the residents and by the residents” had nine articles/poems on issue that related to Earth Day. For instance, The Day that Mother Earth Jolted My Attention Irrevocably!!! by Leroy Calbom was about the 1980 explosion of Mt. St. Helen in Spokane, Washington. Or a beautiful poem by Una Thomas titled Mother Earth and Father Time. Then there was Earth Day on the Farm by Bob Hunter.

The library had a display of books related to climate change and residents were provided with pictures of Mother Earth to past on their apartment doors. Residents also had the choice to take an Earth Day Pledge.  The pledge has four practices:  To REDUCE, RECYLE, REUSE and to BECOME ENVIRONMENTALLY—MINDED.  Each section had at least a dozen pledges. For example, the first three practices for REDUCE were: Take quicker showers—Walk short distances instead of driving—Turn of the lights when I leave a room. If you chose to do anyone of these you put an X next to that practice  you agreed to do. There were 24 practices altogether. At the end of the sheet was the pledge: “I pledge to begin as many of these good practices in my day-to-day life as I can to be a good steward for the future of Mother Earth and for the benefit of humanity.”


Friday evening we had a two-hour program with a diversity of participants. From readings from the Chinook Psalter, to a piano solo, and a PowerPoint on the Greening of our Campus, to singing It’s a Small World, to a number of Earth Notes that were read by residents; to a couple acting out their version of This Earth is Your Earth, we had a great time. But the presentation by a number of fourth grade singers from the Casa Academy brought down the house, as they say in show business.  

So as my father used to say, “If the good Lord’s willing and the creek don’t rise”, let’s look forward to Earth Week 2017.

Summer Reading

by Amanda Petersen

Summer is the time I do most of my research and dreaming for the rest of the year.  When it is 110 outside I spend a lot more time indoors reading. As I stack up the books to read and create lists of blogs to read a constant theme keeps coming up. We are, as humans, always looking for that “thing”.  That part of our life or understanding that is going to make everything make sense. We have to go find it.

In this search we encounter obstacles that make it impossible to find this “thing”. There is a period of blaming the obstacles – parents, spouses, bosses, weather, money etc. If only they had not happened the thing would be here. And there is a time of wishing if only the right person, place or money would arrive then……

As I search these books, listen to others lives, and just observe, a central truth arrives. The “thing” is not out there. There are no big obstacles blocking us from reaching it. We already own it. The thing is Love, and it resides within us. Every teacher from every age points to this fact. If we would just stop and listen we would hear this Love saying we are already right where we need to be.

The problem is we need ears to hear, as Jesus would say. Learning to hear Love, really hear it, is not easy. There are so many other voices calling our name. We need other people through books, blogs, signs, notes, sermons, Ted talks, etc., to tell us in 100 different ways. We’re all saying the same thing. Love is big, Love is in us, Love is meant to be given away.

There may be someone in your life that you wonder if they will ever hear it. Or you may be wondering if you will ever know this Love. My encouragement is keep speaking it, keep writing it, keep living it if you want others to know. If you are looking, keep reading, keep journaling, keep connecting, keep listening. It’s already there; the right sounds just haven’t arrived. It’s vital we don’t stop learning to listen to and share Love.

In honor of this quest for awareness, please look at the summer groups we are offering. Many revolve around a book. All revolve around the quest of being aware of love!

Exercise: Send a note of encouragement and Love to someone.  See what happens.

Funding Your Church Plant: The Right People Should Pay for It… And It’s Not the Pastor’s Kids

by Ryan Gear

I occasionally coach church planters, and there is a common denominator between all of them.

They are underpaid.

Nondenominational planters especially are underpaid because they often lack the deep pockets of denominational funders. Unfortunately, some denominations underfund plants, as well, not realizing that an investment in effective planters will eventually result in far more denominational growth and funding.

On top of these challenges, it is very difficult for pastors to raise funds from the new church’s launch team, because so many people in our culture parrot cliches about pastors being in it for the money. Contrary to 30-year old cultural memes still justified by the unethical actions of 1980s televangelists, most pastors are not even close to being in it for the money. Megachurch pastors aside, the average pastor makes about as much as the average schoolteacher. Just like schoolteachers, most pastors are grossly overworked and underpaid.

So, an inspired, idealistic, well-intentioned (and naive) pastor goes out into the field to start something that brings hope to lots of people, totally unmotivated by money. She sacrifices, works long hours, spends less time with family than she wants, inspires people, and pulls a new church together. She tends to downplay her own needs, while the growing congregation appreciates her dedication but is unaware of the daily financial pressure she feels.

Then, after a few years of struggling to pay the pills, she is forced into a another line of work to make ends meet. The church can’t even hire a successor because they don’t pay a competitive salary and never have. (A friend pointed out that the same thing tends to happen with new nonprofits, whether they’re churches or not.)

Like everything else in life, the truth is that someone will have to pay for the new church. Every pastor has a right to earn a fair, honest living, and any congregation that wants to be viable has the responsibility to fund it.

If, as a planting pastor, you struggle to ask for a raise or to believe that your family deserves for you to be paid fairly, here are a couple of questions for you:

Should the financial obligations of a church be spread across the whole congregation, or should they be placed squarely upon your family?

In other words, which is easier, for everyone in a 100 person congregation to give $5 more per week (which adds up to $26,000 per year), or for your kids to have less than they need because you are underpaid by $26,000 per year?

Compensating a pastor fairly is actually a small sacrifice if the expense is shared by the congregation. Either the congregation pays the bills or the pastor’s kids do. It’s one or the other.

What if you don’t have children?

You probably will someday, and they will be affected by the financial decisions you make now.

How would the people in your congregation respond if they actually knew the financial toll the plant takes on you, and if you’re married, the toll it takes on your marriage?

They would probably feel embarrassed and immediately take steps to pay you adequately. If not, then it might be time to leave and let them face reality.

If they simply had more information about the average compensation for pastors, they might make it right far more quickly than you think. Perhaps Googling “pastor compensation guide” and sharing it with your elders or church board would be a good first step. Or perhaps you could invite a church planting coach or consultant to talk with your board and speak the truths you find it difficult to say. They are probably more open to reality than you realize.

Whichever you choose, remaining underpaid until you no longer can is not an option. It will simply ruin your financial future, and you will eventually leave the church because you have no choice. Your congregation will then realize that they have to give the pastor who follows you a massive raise just to be competitive, and they will probably wish they would have done more to help you.

It’s better to be humbly honest now and let them know what you need. The right people should pay for your church plant… all of the people in it.

UCC releases faith-based tools aimed at ending gun violence

Written by Connie Larkman

The United Church of Christ is urging churches around the country to get involved in gun violence prevention, releasing a very personal video message from a local congregation that lived through a horrific mass shooting in their small community. “A Gun Changed My Beautiful Town,” from the people of Newtown Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, is a series of heartfelt reflections, based on their experience when a troubled young man took the lives of 20 children and six of their teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December of 2012, and how that changed their lives, and their viewpoint on guns in America forever.

“The witness of the Newtown Congregational United Church of Christ is that fear need not have the upper hand, even in the midst of the most profound tragedy,” said the Rev. Jim Moos, a UCC national officer and executive minister of Wider Church Ministries. “One way church members have courageously worked through grief is with faith-based action to address gun violence.  We believe that the video and the Faith vs. Fear study and worship material will empower people in our churches to engage in faith-based action as well so that, together, we will overcome the gun violence that has descended on our communities like a plague.”

The UCC, which has worked for more than 20 years to end the plague of gun violence in America – the  General Synod  advocating for sensible, responsible gun policies and legislation in three resolutions passed in July of 1995 — is also releasing a 5-part Bible study, Faith vs. Fear, as a faithful response to curb violence in our cities and towns.

These resources, and several others, are now available on at ‘End Gun Violence’ and are intended to spark discussion and encourage  advocacy in congregations across the country.

“We simply cannot accept the toll of gun violence as the norm in our nation.  This is a moral imperative,” said Sandy Sorensen, director of the UCC Washington D.C. office. “Our culture has a heavy investment in death; isn’t it time we invested in life and hope?  This is our faith call.”

originally posted on the UCC website

Bearing Witness, Feeling Helpless, and Straining to Hear

by Davin Franklin-Hicks

TRIGGER WARNING: This article is about sexual assault and may be triggering to survivors.

It is my lived experience that silence can be healing, peaceful and life affirming. There is something powerful about it. When I take intentional silence, usually through prayer and meditation, I notice that as the noise quiets outside of me, the constant chatter within me follows. Chosen silence is a gift we can give ourselves.

If silence is not chosen, though, it feels very different. This is especially true if the silence is being forced on us following rape.

Forced silence is deafening to the most vulnerable places within.

Forced silence creeps into every single part of the soul.

Forced silence is isolating, shame inducing and death dealing.

Forced silence makes the constant ache within amplified and reinforces humanity’s greatest fear: that we are completely and utterly alone.

Forced silence kills.

I lived in S. Africa and taught seventh grade when I was a young adult. I loved the village we lived in called Willowvale. One school break, many of my fellow teachers took trips to game parks and such. I stayed behind with another teacher named Kendra. We got along awesomely. We watched reruns of shows like Christy, Touched By An Angel, all good missionary fare. We read a lot and talked a lot.

One night we were sitting in the TV area. It was very late. We were both night owls. We were reminiscing, telling stories from our lives. It was a quiet, beautiful night. We were enjoying each other’s company when suddenly we heard a woman screaming.

Have you ever heard what sounded like someone screaming as you were just going through your day or evening, feeling safe in your home? You stop. All the hair on your body stands up. A chill runs through you and you listen so closely to see if you would hear that sound again. Most of the time, you won’t hear it again. You won’t know what it was, but you also can’t shake it. This was us in that moment.

We strained to hear again and we did. We heard it again only this time it was louder and the woman was crying. It was so disorienting. She could have been right by our door or she could be many houses away. Then we heard the man. And her screams and cries were even worse. She was being raped.

Kendra and I stared at each other, pleadingly. Helplessness overwhelmed us and we began to cry. We began to rock, our knees to our chest, closest we could come to fetal position without the vulnerability of lying on the floor.

These two 19-year olds alone in a land not their own with no access to any emergency services and no ability to intervene. We sobbed as she sobbed. We just couldn’t take it. Holding onto each other, praying it would end that she would not get hurt further. That he would leave her alone.

Then silence. No noise at all. Nothing. We sat still, straining to hear. It was surreal. Our ears had just been filled with a horrible sound of violation and now here was stillness. How can that be? What do we do now?

And that’s always the question: what action do we take.

I have been meditating and praying on whether or not I would share something with you in this format. The part that makes me pause is fear and shame.

I  cannot and will not make decisions based on fear and shame. And that is why I am moving forward in telling you now.

132 days ago, just after Christmas, I was brutally raped. Seeing those words I just wrote and knowing that they are about me is absolutely surreal and awful. How can this be? It still baffles me. How is this my life?

Those closest to me know the intimate details of all of this and I am going to honor my own heart and keep it that way. The details are actually irrelevant. The crushing weight of shame, anger, self-hatred is what is relevant. And it is what is common. And it is what makes me continue this piece I am writing.

Not telling anyone after a sexual assault is very common. Who wants people to know that level of violation? Who wants to have their life on display to be picked apart and judged? Who wants to brace themselves for the inevitable defense of the perpetrator who claims it wasn’t rape and that the survivor wanted it, even liked it?

No one.

No one.

No one.

The telling is so hard. The comments people make after you tell them can be really hard too. Did you know that it is a common internal defense to blame ourselves after this happens? We often turn on ourselves and tear apart all of the ways we screwed up. It is something our psyche does to make us feel better. I know that doesn’t make much sense on first reading.

The thing is, if we can convince ourselves that it was our fault, we develop a belief that we had more power than we did. We cannot bear the thought that we were truly and completely rendered powerless. It is too much to take, this awareness of our fragility and vulnerability. It also gives us the belief that if we were part of the reason it happened then, it means we can make sure it never happens again.

This is the same mechanism when friends and family try to apply fault to the survivor. Acting as though it was the survivor’s fault means it can be controlled.

This is a cognitive distortion. We do it all the time. It makes us feel safe. It is not safe, though. Not at all. This practice leaves us separated and alone, filled with self-hatred, loss and shame.

We live in a rape culture that teaches our girls, women and anyone not living within prescribed heteronormative gender roles that it is up to them not to get raped. And if you are a man who expresses masculinity and you get raped, our culture tells you that you had better shut up about it or suffer the consequences. Only a few seriously out of touch people will actually say those words out loud. The rest of us just co-sign it in small, nuanced ways. That is more insidious, more painful, more life ending than the ridiculous person on the microphone shouting ideas that drip with bias and hate. At least we can see that person coming a mile away.

We rarely see it when it is spoken through the mundane moments of life in the voice of our parents, siblings, teachers, preachers, roommates, friends and mentors. The forum isn’t the floor of the senate for this process. The forum is the dinner table, church service, home room, college dorms, family gatherings. How easily rape culture can hide among the seemingly innocuous words, moments and intentions with those we love and trust most.

I do it too. You do it too. We all do it because many of us are unlearning this rape culture we are in as we go. It is slippery, it is clingy and it is insatiable.

The night I sat with Kendra in our home in S. Africa, we listened to a fellow human being suffer. And we suffered. And we bore witness. She did not know we heard. She did not know we cried. She did not know those long minutes she was violated would one day end up in this piece of writing that you are reading right now and possibly assist someone in breaking the silence she likely never could break.

That being said, it is not enough for someone to be able to break the silence and the alienation sexual assault brings. She/he/they need someone to listen to their shaky voiced courage and their incredible grief. It is so hard to hear that pain and sorrow, to bear witness to trauma and deep loss.

As a listener, you may feel like you aren’t able to tolerate the raw pain of it all. It’s hard for me too. I think it should be hard to hear, though, because it is horrific for the person to endure.

While your heart and mind may curl into the fetal position and rock back and forth, I urge you to still listen when the silence is broken.  There will be deep pain, injury and sadness that you are bearing witness to. This pain, injury and sadness is as true for the survivor in a small village in S. Africa as it is for the survivor sitting next to you in church on Sundaymorning. It just really hurts so deeply.

It’s unsettling to witness this pain. It can cut through a peaceful moment, chilling you to the core and leaving you with such helplessness to make it better. It hurts. It hurts deeply. It feels awful. I know all of this firsthand.

It may not be fair for me to ask this of you, but I am going to anyway. In the midst of all those things your heart will feel when you are bearing witness, I ask you to sit still. I ask you to feel what you feel. Most importantly, though, I ask you to stay open and strain to hear.

Mother’s Day Musings

by Karen Richter

I kinda hate Mother’s Day.  There are reasons:

  • My family – and many many other families – feels pressure to spend money for things I don’t need to show their appreciation.
  • Progressive churches feel pulled in multiple ways: to recognize and appreciate mothers, to honor people who are nurturing others in various ways, to affirm persons who are not parents, to make some nod in the direction of gender equality and the feminist movement, to give at least passing attention to the neglected feminine images of the divine in our scripture and tradition. We end up doing none of these well.
  • I imagine that in a less patriarchal culture, Mother’s Day wouldn’t need to exist at all. In fact, I suspect that the more we wax nostalgic about motherhood, the less the actual, real life work of women is valued. More concretely, when we have an emotional attachment to the sacrifices parents (particularly women) make for their children’s benefit, we don’t push for public policies that makes families’ lives easier.
  • I’m encouraged to leave the dishes in the sink… “After all, it’s Mother’s Day!” which in some years just means that they are waiting for me on Monday morning.

Like many of us who think purposefully (and perhaps too often) about theology and gender, I’m conflicted about the whole idea.

Yet this year, almost by accident, I agreed to plan worship for Mother’s Day. There are several of us at Shadow Rock, a mix of clergy, staff, lay members, and members in discernment, that tackle certain liturgical seasons and apply our creativity and inspiration to the lectionary to plan our time together on Sunday mornings.

And, almost with a little wink at my inner conflict, several things began stirring…

First, May 8 roughly coincides with the end of our exhibition of the Shower of Stoles project. Planning around Annual Meeting, we arranged to receive about 80 stoles of LGBTQ pastors, deacons, church staffers, and other faith leaders. Each stole tells a story. For some it’s a story of terrible pain and a loss to the church of a potential leader as someone was denied their ministry because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. For others, it’s a journey of questioning and struggle ending in wonderful affirmation.

As I read the stories attached to the stoles, my heart was enlarged, swollen with tenderness for the lives the stoles represent.

What if this story were my child’s story?

Then I looked at the gospel reading for this Sunday, May 8. It’s John 17.20-26. I’ve heard John Dorhauer preach movingly on this same passage. “The prayer of our dying Savior,” he says. But this time I heard something different… a parent preparing to leave her children.

“I ask…  that they may all be one.”

It’s good that I must leave you, Jesus says. You will go on to learn so much more, he promises. Are they really ready to live their faith independently, without the guidance of Jesus? Four times in this section of John’s Gospel, Jesus prays for unity. Do you feel his conflict? Anguish: at having to leave behind these dear friends, these precious beloved students and Confidence: with faith in their continued growth and guidance into all truth (16.13).

He sounds like Mom.

The final movement for me was a parenting meme I ran across online:

child's inner voice

Next week, we celebrate Pentecost, the arrival of the Holy Spirit. This anticipation, too, tied in to the growing idea of Jesus the Mother. As a parent, I hope that my children have absorbed the best of my instruction and attitude as their inner voice. I pray that as adults, they hear my voice from the times when I was accepting and encouraging, peaceful and faith-filled… rather than the times when I failed to express my best intentions. And I wonder if, in the Garden in the midst of this prayer, Jesus wondered about the voice his friends and subsequent generations of Jesus People would hear as their inner voice, the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit.

Now I don’t know if Sunday’s service will reflect in any way this series of ideas and stirrings that have happened for me as I wrote liturgy, prayed, and planned. Who knows what will happen in the hearts and minds of those gathered in the pews? I trust the Spirit will do what it will.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Joyous Pentecost.

May they be for us One Celebration… not of chocolates and Pajamagrams and brunch but love and fire and unity. Amen.

I Pray God for You

by Amos Smith

I had a mentor in Seminary who would often say or write, “I pray God for you”. I was always a bit puzzled that he left “to” out of his statements. I wanted to say, “don’t you mean ‘I pray to God for you.’”

As the years passed, I realized that leaving out “to” was deliberate. With time I have come to understand that we are indeed in God. To say that we are in God changes everything. We no longer pray to God out there but pray God. It means that God is not separate or separated from us. What we are praying to we also participate in.

Emmanuel (God with us), dwells in us through prayer and Holy Communion. The risen Christ envelops us. We are God’s own. We can also have an influence on God. God becomes not so much something we pray to, but something we participate in.

“For in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).