Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

Five Words to Center 2018
distributed 1/5/18 - ©2018

Many thanks to the roughly 350 people and organizations who donated to Eco-Justice Ministries in 2017. Your contributions exceeded our expectations, and place us on a solid financial footing as we head into the new year. Thank you for your support!

Knowing that 2018 is going to be another challenging year, I'm centering myself. I'm holding five words to guide my awareness, my discernment and my action through all of the turmoil and unpredictability that lie ahead. I invite you to join me in claiming these words as a centering theme for this year, and beyond.

*** The world is inherently relational. ***

Those words are a touchstone for theological and scientific truth. They are a proclamation of what is real. They are a shorthand test for evaluating beliefs, behaviors and policies.

This is true: we all live within webs of relationship -- family and friends, certainly, but the relationships also are sociological and cultural, economic and political. In today's globalized world, those relationships span the planet and reach through generations. We are all connected.

Our web of relationships also is ecological. We are tied to all life and all matter. The entire cosmos is in relationship. The dance of sub-atomic particles pulls together complex molecules. Galaxies dance (very slowly!) through the pull of gravity reaching across light years of space. Ecosystems and biospheres are shaped and sustained through the complex relationships of all of their members.

All of creation is woven into relationship. As Christians, what else would we expect when God is known to us primarily in the relational quality of love, and when we describe God in the relational dimensions of trinity? The universe reveals God by demonstrating the centrality of relationship.

The world is inherently relational. That is true. That is good news, revealing to us the foundational principle of the universe. The call toward right relationship, toward God's shalom, centers Christian theology and ethics. If we are to be faithful, responsible and honest, we have to be attentive to relationships in our neighborhoods, our nations, and throughout the world. Are those relationships being honored, protected and enhanced?

Tragically, there are many people and institutions that deny or ignore the centrality of relationship. I wrote exactly one year ago about the incoming US administration:

Speaking broadly, I see in those political circles a propensity to value individuals over communities, to see the natural world as resources instead of ecological systems, and to disregard the scientific evidence of the climate crisis. I find it hard to imagine how such a distorted view of God's creation can lead to policies that lead to the common good and to ecological health.

In contrast to that distorted view, we must insist that the world is inherently relational. That five word theological and scientific proclamation will guide me this year in discerning where work for justice and protection is most needed.

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To check out the depth of my centering theme, I turned to a weighty volume that I generally refer to as "the tome". Christianity and Ecology: Seeking the Well-Being of Earth and Humans is a 600+ page collection of scholastic theology, part of an even larger multi-religious series. The Christian volume in the series was published in 2000 (the year that Eco-Justice Ministries was founded), so it provides voices of historical importance that are somewhat removed from current political battles.

In the first essay, Elizabeth Johnson names factors that are necessary if we are to "find creation in the Christian tradition." She writes:

In sum, social injustice has an ecological face. Ravaging of people and ravaging of the land go hand in hand. To be truly effective, therefore, moral teaching must include commitment to ecological wholeness within the wider struggle for a more just social order. The aim is to establish and protect healthy ecosystems where all living creatures can flourish.

In the closing paragraphs of her article, she speaks of the Creator Spirit animating all creation, a presence for all species. She continues:

We need to realize that the destruction of this vibrant, complex natural world is tantamount to sacrilege. And we need to fathom that the human species is embedded as an intrinsic, interdependent part of the magnificence of this universe, not as lords of the manor but kin in the community of life ...

The theme of relationship is pervasive in the long book. Rosemary Radford Ruether wrote the conclusion to the volume.

Here I wish to show, following up on other chapters in this volume, that the Church's mission of redemption in the world cannot be divorced from justice in society or from the healing of the wounds of nature wrought by an exploitative human industrial system. I also wish to emphasize that this wholistic perspective is central to the biblical vision of redemption. What is unbiblical is a Christianity that divorces individual salvation from society and society from creation.

Throughout "the tome", dozens of prominent theologians and ethicists affirm the centrality of human and ecological relationship in relevant Christian thought. The call to right relationship shows up again and again as the necessary critique to "business as usual" which is devastating lives, communities and the planet.

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I now have a simple poster taped to the wall above my desk with the five words. It will be a constant reminder of a centering theme to guide the work of Eco-Justice Ministries in the coming year.

"The world is inherently relational." The world is not just a collection of isolated things, or resources. We are part of a dynamic Earth community. My work and my life are centered by the theological and scientific proclamation that relationship is inherent in the working of this world.

I hope you will join me in holding to these centering words in 2018.


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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