Sunday, March 30, 2008


Yesterday we drove down to the Twin Cities. With the price of gas as it is, it's been a long time since we've been there. We ran around to a few of our favorite spots and put in supplies of yarn, a few books (from Birchbark), tea candles from Ikea, and then met up with some of Jeanne's family for dinner and a show - U23D at the Minnesota Zoo IMAX.

I've always liked U2 and recently had been reading a bit more about them and their, well, theology. They have always been a group that sings about social justice issues and of course Bono has been an outspoken critic of the developed world's treatment of Africa. As I've read more and looked at the lyrics of their songs, I've become more and more of a fan. Not to mention cranking them up loud on a friday is kind of fun too! Well, having read Michelle Hargrave's blog (you have to scroll down a bit to read her experience) about seeing the 3D movie, I figured if we could see it we should. I wasn't really expecting too much from the 3D part. Anything "3D" I've seen in the past has been less than stellar. I was amazed. I was amazed at the 3D aspect, amazed at the crowd (it was filmed in a soccer stadium in Buenos Aires and there were easily 150,000 people), amazed at the stage presence of the entire band, amazed at the music and absolutely blown away by the message. The movie was a 90 minute (seemed like 10) lesson in human rights and social justice. I only wish I had seen it earlier (it leaves Minnesota this week), as I would have gone again, and probably again.


Follow-up on Food/CRP

I'm linking to a blog I posted last fall about corn. It is related to Rory Swenson's posting (which you can link to from here as well) and mine from last week about CRP and food.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Ducks and Sara Lee

The headline should maybe be "ducks vs. sara lee" or "water quality vs. sara lee". One could also substitute any major food producer, i.e. General Mills, Cargill, etc. into the role of Sara Lee. Right now in the halls of congress, the farm bill is being debated. The farm bill is the single most important piece of legislation that congress works on. It literally affects the lives of every American and a great deal of the other inhabitants of this world. From food stamps, conservation programs, price supports/subsidies to school lunch programs, they're all included in the farm bill. As you can image, with all of these interests, this is a very complex piece of legislation.

One of the single most successful conservation programs in the history of this country has been the conservation reserve program. It has saved millions of acres of topsoil from erosion, improved water quality, reduced pesticide and nutrient run-off, and created a mecca for wildlife. Much of the CRP land is situated in the upper great plains or the prairie pothole region. CRP pays farmers to idle their land that is highly erodable. Preference is given to land that is on steep slopes and near water. While there is certainly room for improvement, it's been a good system.

Not everyone would agree with that last statement. Some folks don't think government should be paying people NOT to do something. A large number of corporations (see the list above) don't like it because if inflates the price of grains which then cuts into their profit margin; something stockholders don't seem to like very much. This is particularly true these days as grain prices are at near all-time highs. As more and more corn has been syphoned off for ethanol production, corn prices have increased dramatically. Drought and higher energy costs have also lead to higher prices. Higher prices for grain mean we pay more for meat (it costs more to feed cows grain). I won't even get into a discussion that cows weren't meant to be eating grain ........ at least for now.

So, what does all of this have to do with ducks? Or water quality? Well, some pretty educated folks are mapping out the minimal losses of grasslands as more and more farmers opt out of the CRP program. The results are shocking and if you're a duck, downright scary. The red areas of the map show the greatest loss of CRP-based habitat. They just happen to be in the area that hosts some of the highest nesting densities of waterfowl on the continent.

As the farm bill gets debated it's important to ask what do we value? Is it a cheap pack of ball park franks? A Sara Lee cake for $2.50? Farmers getting a fair price for their crop? Corporations like Cargill making higher profits? A pair of pintails sitting on a pothole in North Dakota? A vibrant, living Gulf of Mexico?

Lot's to think about.


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Quick Update and a few thoughts.......

A little snaffu and I'm not going to be presenting at the AAR meeting this weekend. It's kind of a messed up deal but I'll try to get the presentation finished up and give it somewhere else or wait until next year.

I spent a little time early this morning revamping my link listings. They are by no means complete and I'll likely update them as more things come to mind. The pages listed do represent places I tend to visit, blogs I like to read, and so forth.

One of my regular visits is to David Bard's Faith and Feathers blog. This week his mentioned a situation that paralleled some thoughts and discussions I've had in the last few months. It basically boils down to what should the church be talking about. Is it wrong to question torture in a sermon? Or how about relating our use of bottled water to the millions of people around the world without potable water? Is that fair game for a sermon? Global climate change? Is it OK to preach the gospel of prosperity? Lot's of people would say that we shouldn't be talking about torture, or nationalism in church. I've run into a good number that don't feel we have a place in a discussion on environmentalism.

I agree with David that clergy, and the church (which includes laity), need to discuss these issues with sensitivity and intelligence. I also believe that we have a strong biblical basis for doing so - particularly with regard to environmental stewardship, nationalism, and issues of social justice. I also believe that people will go where they hear what they want to hear. People don't want to feel uncomfortable, particularly in church. Unfortunately, that often means they go to feel good about themselves and reinforce that level of comfort. So, when a denomination (insert UMC, PCUSA, ELCA) shows a declining membership, does that mean we need to skip talking about difficult subjects? On the contrary, I believe we need to get the message out that we need to discuss these issues in a manner that is sensitive, intelligent and balanced with the teachings of Christ. We need to let people know that they are free to discuss these issues, debate them. That it is OK to disagree. As David noted in his other blog (Bard's Brushstrokes) in reference to Paul's letter to the Galatians "If pleasing people was what most motivated Paul, he would never have become a Christian missionary, a servant of Christ." In that respect, I think we need to put a little "Paul" in our service to Christ.

Being a disciple of Jesus isn't easy. He warns us of that numerous times in the Gospels. In fact, it means there are going to be some uncomfortable times.

Those are just some lunch-hour thoughts.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


I got up this morning so I could watch the sunrise. There were clouds to start off with but the sun burned them, and the darkness, away. I guess one can't get much more metaphorical than that today.

I've found this practice of posting something everyday challenging and enjoyable. Sometimes I was able to plan out what I was going to say, other mornings it was a scramble to put something together. In the end it was very rewarding and I thank those of you who stopped by to check things out from time to time.

I'll probably take a little hiatus from the blog now. I need to put the final touches on my talk for the AAR next weekend. I'll try to post the text for that afterwards - it's on a Theological View of Leopold's Land Ethic.

Get out and enjoy spring. Look for a pasqueflower, listen for some goose music, feel God's presence in His creation.

Easter Peace,

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Saturday March 22

Today is world water day. A day to remember that not everyone on this planet has access to safe, potable drinking water. Water, is part of of the land and we haven't treated it very well either. Each year the number of impaired waters in Minnesota grows, as does the "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico - the result of excess nutrients applied to corn fields in the midwest.

Water is what cleanses us. We're baptized in water, making us part of the Christian community. Peter Mayer sings about Stirrin' up the Water. Let's just hope it's clean!

Easter Peace,

Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday Post

Over the course of these Lenten posts, I've attempted to tie humans to "the land", to make the case that we need to make that connection; that we need to be stewards of God's creation. Taking that one step further, we need to consider how we are to interact with each other on the land. How do we protect the land yet balance the need to feed everyone on this planet? The Nature Conservancy has an interesting discussion on conservation and third-world economies, you can read it here.

With regard to food, writer Brian Halweil notes:
"The economic benefits of world trade are a myth. The big winners are agribusiness monopolies that ship, trade, and process food. Agricultural policies, including the new Farm Bill, tend to favor factory farms, giant supermarkets, and long-distance trade; and cheap, subsidized fossil fuels encourage long-distance shipping. The big loosers are the worlds poor."

May the solemn holiness of the Triduum lead you to a glorious Easter.

Easter Peace,

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Lenten Post March 20th

I meant to post this yesterday, the 5th anniversary of the war. Again, amazingly enough, from Leopold (1949):

"It must be a poor life that achieves freedom from fear."


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Lenten Post March 19th

Leopold's 'land ethic' sought to define a relationship between people and nature. It was, by most accounts, the foundation for a modern conservation movement. One of the achievements of the 'land ethic' was to include nature, i.e. soil, water, plants, and animals, as part of the larger community or what Leopold collectively referred to as "land". As I mentioned in previous posts, he felt strongly that people needed to have a close personal connection to the land, because as he notes:

"We can be ethical only in relation to something we can see, feel, understand, love, or otherwise have faith in."

I couldn't agree more and that's why I have such grave concern for the lack of nature in our lives. I see a direct connection between the United States becoming the most obese nation in the world and our lack of connectivity to the land. We need to get out more, we need to understand where our food comes from, and above all we need to reconnect to the land, which after all is God's creation. Because of our lost connections to the land we are physically over weight and spiritually deficient.


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Lenten Post March 18th

Usually around Easter, I'm able to walk some remnant areas of native prairie to find what I consider the true flower of the season - Anemone patens, or the Pasqueflower. The Pasqueflower is a petite, purplish-pink flower that is among the earliest plants to flower each year. Pasque reportedly is French and refers to passing, or Passover, which seems relavant since it blooms in most years around Easter. This year, I'll probably go looking but won't expect to find any. Should you choose to go looking, I'd head for the nearest prairie that has some hills with exposed soil or gravel; that's where you'll find the little pink flowers - the promise of a coming spring and the renewal of the earth.

I certainly prefer them to the traditional Easter Lily and hyacinth. As delicate as they are, they are plants of substance and faith. Just in case you can't find some, I've posted a few pictures that I took of some pasqueflowers while I was in the Black Hills turkey hunting.



Monday, March 17, 2008

Lenten Post March 17th

As I drove to work this morning, I observed a number of pairs of geese sitting out on ice of the various ponds and sloughs they've come to claim as theirs for the purpose of raising their young. As the snow fell I wondered how prophetic they were feeling this morning! For those of you yearning for a little goose music, here's a link for you. All you need to do is click on the "listen" button above the picture of the goose.

For many of us, hearing or seeing a goose, particularly of the canada variety, isn't that big of a deal. Yet it wasn't that many years ago that the only ones we would see would be flying north in the spring or south come fall. In fact, geese in general have become so common that they are often considered pests. I can recall making family trips to Horicon National Wildlife Refuge each fall just to look at the 125,000 or so canada geese using the refuge. My kids don't think twice about seeing a goose.

Much of the explosion of the goose population has been due to our alteration of their environment. We've eliminated virtually all of their predators. They thrive in areas of short grass - suburban lawns, golf courses, airports. It's a shame they've gotten to the point where people take them for granted and even moreso that they despise them for the mess they make of our parks, lakes, and sidewalks. Yet each spring, they instinctually wing northward; not doubting whether or not the habitat necessary for them to successfully raise their young will be there. I realize I'm giving a goose the ability to reason, but I still think we can learn a lesson about faith from these amazing creatures.



Sunday, March 16, 2008

Lenten Post March 16th

Progress. Development. Economic Growth. That's what is seemingly important these days. But then again, it seems that's always been important; particularly in this country. In 1918, Leopold wrote "The Popular Wilderness Fallacy: An Idea that is Fast Exploding". Interesting title, but unfortunately the more things change, the more they stay the same.

When the pioneer hewed a path for progress through the American wilderness, there was bred into the American people the idea that civilization and forests were two mutually exclusive propositions. Development and forest destruction went hand in hand; we therefore adopted the fallacy that they were synonomous. A stump was our symbol of progress. We have since learned, with some pains, that extensive forests are not only compatible with civilization, but absolutely essential to its highest development.

I disagree with him on this. I don't think we've learned anything about forests, water, prairies, and wetlands being compatible with, let alone essential to the development of civilization. There are few cases where nature even ties with development or civilization.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Lenten Post March 15th

There are two times of year that I love living on the edge of the prairie, spring and fall. I've always been a big bird lover and am constantly awed by spring and fall migration. This week the canada geese arrived back in substantial numbers and reports from the Dakotas are that the migration of snow geese is in full swing. Goose music is a great part of a prairie spring.

Aldo Leopold likens the spring migration of geese to a prophet who has burned his bridges - once they are here they are at the mercy of the weather; a little too soon and bad weather can imperil them and their nests. Migration for a goose is a "leap" or flight of faith.

Leopold also notes that too many of us (and recall that this was written in the 1940's) are not able to hear goose music anymore. He laments:

A march sky is only as drab as he who walks in it without a glance skyward, ear cocked for geese. I once knew an educated lady, banded by Phi Beta Kappa, who told me that she had never heard or seen the geese that twice a year proclaim the revolving seasons to her well-insulated roof. Is education possibly a process of trading awareness for things of lesser worth? The goose who trades his is soon a pile of feathers.

Hoping you can hear some goose music this week.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Lenten Post March 14th

I've mentioned before that among the Christian mystics, Hildegard of Bingen is one of my favorites. Hildegard understood that all creation is God's work and that we should rejoice and marvel in the glory of God's creation.

She wrote:
And it is written: The Spirit of the Lord fills the Earth". This means that no creature, whether visible or invisible, lacks a spiritual life....The clouds too have their course to run. The moon and stars flame in fire. The trees shoot forth buds because of the power in their seeds. Water has a delicacy and a lightness of motion like the wind. This is why it springs up from the Earth and pours itself into running brooks. Even the Earth has moisture and mist.
All creatures have something visible and invisible.
No tree blossoms without greening power, no stone is without moisture; no creature is without its own power.

Caring for the living and delicate earth became a sacred trust for Hildegard. This sacred trust eminates from a vision she had. In the vision God said to her:

I am the supreme and fiery force who kindled every living spark, and I breathed forth no deadly thing - yet I permit them to be. As I circle the whirling sphere with my upper wings - that is with wisdom - rightly I ordained it. Am I am fiery life of the essence of God: I flame above the beauty of the fields; I shine in the waters; I burn in the sun, the moon, and the stars. And, with the airy wind, I quicken all things vitally by an unseen, all-sustaining life. For the air is alive in the verdure and the flowers; the waters flow as isf they lived; the sun too lives in its light; and when the moon wanes it is rekindled by the light of the sun, as if it lived anew. Even the stars glistened in their light as if alive..
I flame above the beauty of the fields to signify the earth - the matter from which God made man. I shine in the waters to indicate the soul, for, as water suffeses the whole earth, the soul pervades the whole body. I burn in the sun and the moon to denote reason, and the stars are the innumerable words of reason.

May you be given the grace to cherish the earth and to always marvel at the glory of God's Creation.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Lenten Post March 13th

Aldo Leopold states in "The Farmer as a Conservationist" (1939) that:

"The landscape of any farm is the owner's portrait of himself. Conservation implies self-expression in that landscape, rather than blind compliance with economic dogma."

I would argue that the landscape is also a portrait of society. Silt filled rivers, ditches filled with topsoil, exposed black prairie soil as far as one can see, waterways filled with algae, a "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico, and tropics freed of native plant growth would seem to be the portrait we are currently painting for ourselves. I think it's time for a new canvas.


Lenten Post March 12th

I've been writing a bit about meals and food for a couple of my classes - the role of feasts and banquet imagery and how it relates to discipleship in Luke and Paul's writings on idol foods and the eucharist in 1 Corinthians. I'm fascinated with food in this sense, particularly because food binds us to the earth and to each other.

A meal is an act of quiet
consecration, of holy service,
made no less significant
because it is so common.
(From Kent Nerburn, Small Graces)


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Lenten Post March 11th

As the temperatures reach 40 degrees today and I can hear the dripping of water off the eaves that I neglected to clean out last fall it is easy to feel spring. The sun is warmer, the clouds more summer-like. I'm sure we'll see a bit more winter this year, but days like this hold the promise of spring and summer - days when we can walk on the earth again and feel part of it.

From Wendell Berry:

Through the weeks of deep snow
we walked above the ground
on fallen sky, as though we did
not come of root and leaf, as though
we had only air and weather
for our difficult home.
But now
as March warms, and the rivulets
run like birdsong on the slopes,
and the branches of light sing in the hills,
slowly we return to the earth.

Enjoy the day God has given us.


Monday, March 10, 2008

Lenten Post March 10th

Music at our home tends to go in rotational streaks. A group of CD's will get pulled out and listened to for a bit then others will replace them. There is also a difference in listening preferences that come into play as to what shows up in the CD player - I tend to like a group of old favorites (which includes their new material) while Jeanne is more likely to listen to new groups/artists. She's also much more likely to be listening to "new age" than I am - my preference to something analagous would be ancient music like gregorian chant.

This past week I was cleaning out my car (happens rather infrequently) and found Neil Young's "prairie wind". I had listened to it some last summer but didn't really spend much time with it. So the other day when I put it in the player and really heard "When God Made Me" I was blown away. I'm used to hearing Neil Young sing hard hitting songs about social issues, but this isn't like that. I see it as an honest questioning of what God had in mind when he created us.

You can listen to it here and clicking on "When God Made Me".


Sunday, March 9, 2008

Lenten Post March 9th

I've made a few posts about how we are connected to the land and how we seem to be loosing that connection. This issue does go deeper than just caring for the land itself. As we are connected to the land any ecological problems become our problems - and far too often those problems fall on the least fortunate among us. Quite simply, ecological crises are social justice issues.

"The goods of the earth, which in the divine plan should be common patrimony, often risk becoming the monopoly of a few who often spoil it and, sometimes, destroy it, thereby creating loss for all of humanity." Pope John Paul II, Canticle of the Creatures, 1991


Saturday, March 8, 2008

Lenten Post March 8th

Continuing with Leopold; from The Land Ethic (1949):

"We can be ethical only in relation to something we can see, feel, understand, love, or otherwise have faith in."

This statement relates to his concern over the urbanization of this country and resulting detachment from the land. For as we remove ourselves from the land we become less aware of how it functions. Regardless of where we live - downtown Minneapolis or downtown Herman - we depend on it. Yet we loose that realization of dependency as we become urbanized and indeed we find that "food comes from the grocery store".


Thursday, March 6, 2008

Lenten Post March 7th

Another shot of Leopold and some Old Testament for today's posting. I see a wonderful parallel between this and Ecclesiastes 3:19-20.

Ecology tries to understand the interactions between living things and their environment. Every living thing represents an equation of give and take. Man or mouse, oak or orchid, we take a livelihood from our land and our fellows, and give in return an endless succession of acts and thoughts, each of which changes us, our fellows, our land, and its capacity to yield us a further living. Ulitmately we give ourselves.

From Ecology and Politics, Published in 1941.

Man's fate is like that of animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal. Everything is meaningless. All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return.

From Ecclesiastes 3:19-21, Published sometime around, or shorly after the reign of King Solomon


Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Lenten Post March 6th

Busy day tomorrow, so I'm posting this a day early.

In a Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold makes a number of references to religious views of land. Those are of great interest to me. I'll try to expand on those during the course of these postings, but for starters:

A land ethic of course cannot prevent the alteration, management, and use of these "resource," but it does affirm their right to continued existence, and, at least in spots, their continued existence in a natural state.
In short, a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such.
In human history we have learned (I hope) that the conqueror role is eventually self-defeating. Why? Because it is implicit in such a role that the conqueror know, ex cathedra, just what makes the community clock tick, and just what is valuable, and what and who is worthless, in community life. It always turns out that he knows neither, and this is why his conquests eventually defeat themselves.

There is a great deal to digest there. But I see a number of parallels with society as a whole as we deal with any number of social issues. Perhaps humans have it too difficult. We are called to be community with our fellow man AND part of the larger community of God's creation. Somehow I don't think God would have given us a role of caretaker, conservators of His creation if He didn't think we could handle it. The question then becomes how are we doing in that role?


Lenten Post March 5th

Lazarus takes the stage in this week's lectionary. Simply viewed as a miracle story by literalists, it runs much deeper than that. It's about death and the hurt that comes with loosing a loved one, it's about becoming unwrapped, reborn, resurrected; it's also about faith and mystery.

From Peter Mayer's newest CD Still in one Peace - (part of the title track which you can hear on his website)

What if Love was a shepard's eye
Could see one lost for the ninety nine
And Faith and hope were a tiny seed
That could bloom into a family tree

I've believed betrayed swayed and discussed
Still feel like a wrapped up Lazarus
Haven't made sense of the Mystery
But it makes sense of me

And I'm still in one peace
Still in one peace
We are blessed we are broken
Every day a chance to be
One together again


Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Lenten Post March 4th

I'm going start bringing a bit more Aldo Leopold into these blogs. Leopold isn't universally loved - philosophers and ethicists often have a problem with some of his ideals. I tend to think this is largely because they're philosophers and ethicists and not ecologists. They look at things from a vantage point that removes themselves from the ideal. That as anyone familiar with even the most basic ecology isn't possible. We, as members of the earth community are integrally woven into the fabric of life on this planet. Leopold developed "the land ethic" over a long period of time. It was published as "The Land Ethic" in 1949.

A passage from "The Land Ethic" -
A land ethic ... reflects the existence of an ecological conscience, and this in turn reflects a conviction of individual responsibility for the health of the land. Health is the capacity of the land for self-renewal. Conservation is our effort to understand and preserve this capacity.

As a society we also have a responsibility towards the health of the land. As members of God's creation we do as well ........ how's that going?


Monday, March 3, 2008

Lenten Post March 3rd

Anyone reading this will know that I'm a huge "fan" of Aldo Leopold. It was through his wisdom and writings that modern conservation and ideals about sustainability were developed. Yet a good number of non-science people don't know who he was. I've written a couple of pieces on his works and how they relate to religion and I'm giving a presentation on Leopold Theology later this month at the American Academy of Religion. From his most famous work, "A Sand County Almanac":

There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.

This was written in the late '30's, published in the late '40's. In our world that has since become even more insulated from the land, from nature, from our sources of heat and food, this statement is even more profound. As fewer and fewer people have ties to the land it becomes more and more difficult to preserve its integrity, its wholeness.

More Leopold to come in the next couple of weeks.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Lenten Post March 2nd

Yep, I missed March 1st. I'll try to make up for it at some point.

I found these passages from Meister Eckhart and they seemed to fit in with an assignment I was doing for my class in Luke/Acts.

"What a man takes in by contemplation, that he pours out in love ...."
"What we plant in the soil of contemplation, we shall reap in the harvest of action"

The assignment was to discuss why Mary needs Martha as much as Martha needs Mary within the context of Luke 10:38-42. My take is that discipleship requires balance. Balance that includes contemplation and spiritual discernment as well as works. Mary was right by listening but to be a true disciple she needed to include the actions of discipleship. Martha, while being a good hostess needs to listen, to include more spirituality into her discipleship.