Bending the Arc
"the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." - MLK
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Note: The ideas and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author's and should not be ascribed to the Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes or its members. On August 5, 2021, we archived old blog posts. You can find the archive by clicking here.
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Bringing Laudato Si’ into your wardrobe
In a recent NCR online article, Christopher Cox, associate director of Seventh Generation Interfaith Coalition for Responsible Investment, “understanding the connections between the poor, climate change and the apparel industry is crucial.” Cox, a friend and former colleague to the CSA Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation Office, has spent years working on the Human Thread Campaign, a Catholic movement in solidarity with garment workers, and is now involved in encouraging corporate responsibility through shareholder engagement. Read more and learn how to bring Laudato Si’ into your wardrobe here.
International Day for Biodiversity, May 22
The Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (KMGBF) was adopted in December 2022 at COP 15 following a 4-year consultation and negotiation process. This historic framework, which supports the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), sets out an ambitious pathway to reach the global vision of a world living in harmony with nature by 2050. How do we go from agreement to action? Learn more!
We know that everything in nature is interconnected - plants, animals, micro-organisms, and us. Without one, the other is vulnerable. But biodiversity is facing a major threat from human activities. Protecting biodiversity is vital to safeguard our future and that of generations to come. People Need Biodiversity!
If you agree, watch and share this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XiwkDKBJB4s
U.S. Forest Service studies the trees on the CSA campus
Are you fascinated by trees? Do you notice when they change according to the season and when they are healthy or diseased? Do you have a favorite tree or trees? Is there a tree in your view from your prayer chair where you meditate?
Our CSA property includes woodlands, prairie, streams, and ponds. S. Hertha wrote, “We have been part of a research project sponsored by the US Forest Service for many years. Every seven years the Forest Service measures trees in three or four areas in our woodlands to study the health and growth of the trees. The project extrapolates information about the health of the environment from the health of the trees. “
There are four sites that are being studied, three in the woodlands and one in the prairie. The information gathered from these four sites represents the average findings in a 640-acre area.
The agent, who studied the same trees seven years ago, buried a nail in the ground along with a GPS to mark the coordinates of the trees in the study. He measured the growth in circumference and height of selected trees to determine the health of those trees and the surrounding vegetation.
The selected trees are marked with a white paste horizontally and vertically.
The agent marked a 12-foot circle around the GPS point and counted the tree saplings and vegetation, such as weeds, flowers, and mushrooms. He studied the trees for four hours while writing his report, which is pending.
Healthy forests and grasslands help mitigate climate change by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it in plants and soils. The Forest Service works with private landowners, non-governmental organizations, and tribal governments to foster climate-informed, sustainable land management. To learn about the U.S. Forest Service, click https://www.fs.usda.gov/.
How do trees reduce the effects of climate change? As trees grow, they take up carbon from the atmosphere. Strategically placed trees help cut energy costs in your home. They provide cooling shade in summer and block cold winter winds. Click to learn more: https://www.fs.usda.gov/search?Content=climate+change
Plant a tree! Hug a tree! Donate a tree in memory of your loved one!
The JPIC Office has added the DVD, “The Hidden Life of Trees” to its Resource Library. The film is based on the worldwide bestselling book, by Peter Wohlleben, which has profoundly changed how we think of forests. Watch the trailer now and consider borrowing the DVD to show in your homes and circles. A list of ecology education resources available for loan, from the JPIC Library, can be found here: JPIC Resources.
Protecting Border Communities, Border Lands, and Border Wildlife
On May 9, 2023, CSA, and other women religious communities, joined NGOs like Defenders for Life and Southern Border Communities Coalition in signing a letter urging Congress to protect border communities, border lands and border wildlife in FY24 appropriations. This letter asks congressional appropriators to rescind all previously appropriated border wall funding, reject proposals for new funding and provide funding to land management agencies to mitigate damage from wall construction.
God So Loved the Cosmos – But Do We? Toward an Ecosensitive Spirituality
What is it about the universe that so fascinates the human spirit? We turn to the sun during the day looking for warmth and reassurance, and to the night sky in wonder and awe. We have always been challenged by its immensity, captivated by its power, thrilled by its grandeur. Down through the centuries, many have believed that the mystery of their future is somehow hidden in the position of the stars. It is no wonder that celestial bodies have frequently been thought to be somehow divine. The way we understand the cosmos has always influenced many of our religious perceptions.
Evidence of this celestial influence can be traced throughout the history of scientific discovery. Pythagoras’ insistence that Earth is a sphere and not flat challenged literal belief that God is enthroned in the heavens above us. Copernicus’ heliocentric model of the universe further threatened well established concepts of divinely determined human dominance in the universe. Darwin’s insight into evolutionary processes disputes the notion of the direct creation of humankind. These revolutionary scientific discoveries or theories have challenged time-honored religious understandings of how God works and of the place of human beings in creation. Over time many of these theological understandings have been corrected or reinterpreted. However, correction or reinterpretation has not come easily.
We face such a scientific revolutionary situation today. Contemporary cosmologists speak of an evolving universe, one that was not completed in six days of creation, regardless of how one might perceive the meaning of the six days spoken of in the Bible’s creation narrative. They insist that there are actually multiverses containing billions of galaxies, some of which, no doubt, contain planets that are able to support life. If this is the case, how are we to understand the Bible’s claims of human superiority? How are we to reconcile the findings of contemporary science that is cosmocentric (centered on the cosmos) with the religious message of the Bible which is so obviously based on an ancient understanding of the universe that is fundamentally anthropocentric (centered on humans)? This is the challenge placed before us today.
Perhaps we have not realized the gravity of ecological issues, because we were not attentive to the limits of the natural wealth of the world, a world that has been prodigal in surrendering its treasures to us. Even when we have been conscious of nature's limits, we may have disregarded them because we believed that the wealth of creation was ours for the taking. After all, does not our biblical tradition assure us that we were commissioned by God to "subdue the earth and have dominion over the fish and the birds and every living thing" (cf., Gen 1:26; 28)? This understanding of our relationship with the rest of the created world was even illustrated formerly in some catechisms, and even in some elementary science books, by means of a pyramid. In this depiction, the vast variety of mineral creation formed the base of the figure; vegetation in its myriad forms was situated just above the mineral world; all forms of animate creation were located higher still; and human beings enjoyed the pride of place at the top.
This symbolic representation led us to believe that God had created the less complex forms of nature to serve the needs and ends of the more complex forms. This point of view, which is an example of anthropocentricism in the extreme, has made a lasting impression on our scientific imagination and on the theological understanding that supports it. We learned this perspective so well that we find it difficult to appreciate how inaccurate and ecologically dangerous it is. Such an anthropocentric worldview, whether androcentric (male-centered) or a gynocentric (female-centered), is certainly not the worldview found in the Bible. There we read that "the earth is the LORD"s (Ps 24:1), not ours. Furthermore, the world’s fundamental value does not lie in its usefulness to us. Rather, it lies in the fact of its having come from the creative hand of God who, as we read on the first creation narrative, exclaimed that all things were good, even before humans appeared on the scene (cf. Gen 1:4,10,12,18,21,25). We may have been told "to subdue and have dominion," as we read in Genesis 1 (vv. 26, 28), "to serve it (the garden) and to guard it," as stated in Genesis 2 (v.15), but we were not directed to be tyrannical in our governance of the treasures of creation. Rather, we were meant to be stewards, responsible for creation and accountable to God to whom all creation belongs.
Rejection of the current distorted anthropocentrism
In Laudato Si’ Pope Francis denounces what he calls tyrannical, distorted, or misguided anthropocentrism. By this he is referring to a prevailing point of view that sees humankind as the center of all created reality and the measure according to which all else is to be evaluated. Such a perspective has little concern for other creatures except to the extent that they are useful in advancing human goals. This way of thinking has often been legitimated and reinforced by a literal reading of the creation narrative in Genesis 1, where human beings appear to have been created godlike and commissioned by God to "subdue the earth and have dominion over the fish and the birds and every living thing" (cf., Gen 1:26; 28). A closer look at this narrative will offer us a very different view of humankind’s place in natural creation.
1) Image of God
In the first creation account (Gen 1:1-2:4a), the fundamental character of the human couple and of their subsequent commissioning is found in the expression “image of God” and in the twofold commission “subdue’ and ‘have dominion” (vv. 27-28). In the ancient world, people fashioned images of their gods. The images were not considered the gods themselves but were simply representations of the power and authority of the gods, power and authority that was really jurisdictional. Thus, when in Egypt, one was under the jurisdiction of Egyptian gods; when in Mesopotamia, under Mesopotamian gods; etc. This explains the religious trauma experienced by people when they were exiled from their land, which was really the land of their god. Their religious identity was challenged by such an upheaval. Aspects of this practice of setting up images were not unlike the way we revere national flags, which are symbols of the jurisdiction of the power and authority of the nation. While it is true that in the ancient world, the images as symbols of power and authority often came to be valued as idols that actually possessed some form of divine power, this does not seem always to have been the original intent.
Since this is how images of gods functioned in ancient times, then to say that the human couple was made in the ‘image of God’ is to say that they were meant to represent where and how God exercised power and authority. (To think of ‘image of God’ as the soul is a much latter Greek concept.) Though they were not themselves divine, there was always the great temptation, as was the case with material images of gods, to begin to think of themselves as somehow divine. In fact, Genesis 3 tells us that this was precisely the sin of the first couple. They were not satisfied being ‘image of God,’ following God’s directives and representing where and how God is sovereign. In the narrative, the serpent argued: “God knows well that the moment you eat of it [the tree of the knowledge of good and evil] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is bad” (v.5). In other words, being ‘image of God’ was not enough for the human couple when they might have the opportunity of being like gods. The serpent suggested something very attractive, and the couple chose to follow that attraction. This sin was certainly one of disobedience. However, the underlying reason for the disobedience was hubris, which is understood to be excessive pride toward or defiance of the gods.
A passage from the book of the prophet Ezekiel condemns the same kind of hubris. There we read that the prophet reinterpreted elements of Genesis’ story of sin in his condemnation of the prince of the ancient Phoenician city Tyre. The prince’s successes in trading led him to think too highly of himself. This excessive pride resulted in violence and exploitation:
Because you are haughty of heart,
you say, "I am a god!
I sit on a god's throne in the heart of the sea!"
But you are a man, not a god;
yet you pretend you are a god at heart!
His hubris led to his downfall:
Then, face to face with your killers,
will you still say, "I am a god"?
No, you are a man, not a god,
handed over to those who slay you.
When we read this first creation account in this way, we discover that human beings are not autonomous sovereigns of the natural world who were granted a license to exploit the earth or tyrannize other creatures, as a literal reading has sometimes claimed. Instead, they were issued a mandate which included serious responsibility for the world of which they were a part, and accountability to the creator for the governance of that world. This way of reading the creation narrative challenges any kind of tyrannical, distorted, or misguided anthropocentrism. Ignorance of or unwillingness to acknowledge the limitations of human governance over the natural world may be at the heart of much of the arrogance many people exhibit today in their attitudes toward the rest of creation. Many still want to "be like God," boasting unconditional authority and unlimited control over other people and over the rest of nature. Temptation to hubris is ever present.
Wishing on a Shootingstar in No Mow May
This year is the first year that Fond du Lac City Council has approved the opportunity for residents to participate in “No Mow May.” The trend began in the UK and has been gaining traction in Wisconsin over the past few years as a way to begin a journey toward more biodiversity in lawns. CSA’s property has large pockets of land that provide habitat and food to pollinators, so not mowing the turf grass was not expected to provide many additional benefits. The grass in itself does not support biodiversity, it is the flowering plants within it that are of use to early spring pollinators. For homeowners who spray their lawns to remove any broadleaf plants, no mow May provides no benefit to pollinators, since there is no food for them in the turfgrass. Large sections of the area closest to the motherhouse are uniform turfgrass and are usually mowed throughout the year. However, there was a desire to show support for the movement and provide a visual cue of that support. With that in mind, three sections of the lawn areas were designated as “no mow” sites for the month of May, while the other lawn areas were mowed as usual.
On March 12, a staff member spotted something new in one of the three sections. A pink blossom sitting atop tall stems poking out of a rosette of green leaves: a Shootingstar. Shootingstar plants are spring ephemeral plants native to Wisconsin, meaning they bloom very briefly in the spring before losing their blossoms and going dormant for the summer with only the broad leaves remaining. These plants are part of the Dodecatheon family and are called Shootingstars because of the shape of their flowers. While they do not provide food (nectar) for visiting queen bees, they do provide pollen which is used to feed their larvae, ultimately ensuring the survival of their nest. Pollen collection on these plants is a site to see and hear! Because of the shape of the blossoms, bees collect the pollen through a process called “Buzz Pollination.” They push their bodies against the tip of the flower and vibrate their wings to shake the pollen out of the narrow tube. This same process is vital for pollinating the tomatoes and blueberries we eat later in the summer.
As the week progressed, many more individual plants came into bloom, which would never have happened if the lawn area had been mowed. The plants that have been discovered will be transplanted to areas where they won’t be in danger of mowing in future years and will be sure to feed just-awoken queen bees for years to come. A wonderful No Mow May success story!
CSA Welcomes the Buzz
In March, the Fond du Lac City Council approved a No Mow May pilot program. The initiative behind the program is to allow flowers (yes, even dandelions!) to grow, and increase the habitat for bees and other pollinators.City residents will be allowed to let their grass lawn grow during the month of May 2023, without being in violation of City Ordinance 476.10, which limits the height of grass to six inches.
No Mow May was first popularized in the United Kingdom but is now gaining traction across North America. In 2020, residents of Appleton, Wisconsin, an affiliate of Bee City USA, became energized about No Mow May and they convinced their City Council to suspend their weed ordinance for the month of May. Over 435 registered property owners participated that year. Empowered by their success in 2020, the Appleton Bee City committee spread the word and attracted even more participants in 2021, and in 2022 it spread to communities across the country.
Lawns cover 40 million acres, or 2%, of land in the US, making them the single largest irrigated crop we grow. Lawns are mowed, raked, fertilized, weeded, chemically treated, and watered—sucking up time, money, and other resources. Lawns provide little benefit to wildlife and are often harmful. Grass-only lawns lack floral resources and nesting sites for bees and are often treated with pesticides that harm bees and other invertebrates. How does the fate of bees affect us? Watch this video.
If you live in the city of Fond du Lac, you are being asked to register your participation in “No Mow May” by using this link. You are also encouraged to display a sign to promote the initiative (and let your neighbors know what you’re up to!).
The CSA Motherhouse Grounds has several large biodiversity pockets within its 237-acre property that make “No Mow May” less necessary here, but several Sisters and Associates are proudly welcoming pollinators to their yards with signs like these:
Remember, No Mow May is a great starting point for welcoming biodiversity to your little patch of Earth, but it isn’t magic and definitely can’t be a stopping point for action. Sign up to tour our conservation easement to learn more about future steps you can take, too!
Laudato Si’ Week is almost here!
Laudato Si’ Week 2023 will be celebrated May 21-28 with the film “The Letter” to mark the eighth anniversary of Pope Francis’ landmark encyclical on care for creation. It is a global celebration to rejoice in the progress we have made in bringing Laudato Si’ to life, and to show how the protagonists of “The Letter” are already doing so.
A film screening of “The Letter” was shown during CSA’s Earth Day Fair on April 22 this year. Inspired by this, a fair exhibitor also hosted a screening at her local church a week later! During Laudato Si’ week, more people are encouraged to host a screening event, watch the movie, or host other events. More details can be found here: https://laudatosiweek.org/
Chelsea Koenigs, CSA Motherhouse Receptionist, Social Media Specialist and Laudato Si’ animator since Spring 2022, is creating a series of social media posts for Laudato Si’ Week, May 21-28, where she will highlight one of each of the seven goals daily and share specific actions taken by members of the CSA community that support these goals. Find CSA on any of our social media platforms (see the links at the very bottom of this website) to follow along.
CSA Explores Composting
In early 2023, CSA joined local groups to include the Fond du Lac Audubon Society, Fond du Lac Master Gardener Association, Gottfried Prairie and Arboretum, Sustain Fond du Lac, and Pilgrim United Church of Christ in promoting and taking orders for home compost bins. Over 50 bins were purchased in the Fond du Lac community, including orders from CSA Sisters, Associates, and the Motherhouse.
Cutting down food waste and introducing composting is one of CSA’s goals in our year 2 plan of the Laudato Si’ Action Platform. In a report by Feeding America, it is estimated that nearly 40% of all food in America is wasted, 119 billion pounds each year. The other side of this travesty is that food waste also exacerbates the climate crisis. Food in landfills generates significant greenhouse (methane) gas emissions. Landfills also waste land, water, and harm biodiversity.
While composting can seem intimidating for the beginner, there are plenty of online resources to help one get started. In Wisconsin, we have found Recycling Connections to be helpful and they offered a Spring Backyard Composting webinar that can be found on their YouTube channel.
We can also learn from each other. Sisters Pat Hayes and Marilyn Ellickson live at the Leo House in New York, where they have been composting organic materials for the past ten years. Fresh coffee, fruit, and eggs are some of the foods served each day at breakfast to guests and in turn the egg shells, coffee grounds, and melon rinds are the materials that get composted. Marilyn shares, “they are packed in bio-degradable bags, then wheeled each Wednesday morning to a neighborhood collection site. The East Side Ecology Center sub-contracts with the NY Sanitation Department to manage the site and to haul the collected organics to a designated site where they are transposed back into black soil. The new soil is distributed to city parks, used for tree maintenance, and used to grow the floral displays decorating the city streets.”
Shown in the photo (below) is Sister Marilyn Ellickson and to her right is the composting container used in the CSA household. It is a lidded Tupperware dish, lined with a bio-degradable bag, and is easily stored beneath their sink. When full, the bag is tied shut and placed into the large Leo House bin stored out in the alley until its weekly removal.
An Economy for the Good
Goal #3 of the Laudato Si’ Action Platform (Ecological Economics) includes a call for us to focus on the impact the production and distribution of goods and services have on people and planet (now and in the future) and to reflect that concern in our purchasing decisions. It challenges us to examine our own levels of consumption and waste, serving as a profound reminder of “the great need for a sense of social responsibility on the part of consumers” (LS 206). As both Pope Francis and Pope Benedict have reminded us, “Purchasing is always a moral – and not simply economic – act.” Click here to learn more and explore actions you can take to practice responsible purchasing and support ecological economics.
Watch and share this music video, “Granddaughter’s Eyes”, which is a powerful call to action on climate change. Through evocative storytelling, the song urges us to see the world through the eyes of future generations and inspires us to make small changes in our daily lives to preserve the planet for posterity.
Faith Organizations Divest from Fossil Fuels
Ahead of Earth Day, April 22, 2023, 31 faith-based organizations announced they are ending financial investments in fossil fuels for the sake of the planet and the people and creatures who call it home. Read more about the Earth Day announcement here.
In a follow-up editorial by NCR staff on May 2nd, it was noted that this brought the total number of Catholic archdioceses and dioceses worldwide that have announced plans to stop investing in coal, oil, and gas to 65, according to data on the Laudato Si' Movement website. “Notably absent from the tally is the nation currently ranked second in annual carbon dioxide emissions, and that holds the title of greatest emitter of all time—the United States of America," they write. Read more of this NCR editorial here.
What is divestment and why should we divest in fossil fuels? Learn more here, including stories of Catholic institutions that have divested.
Celebrating World Migratory Bird Day
The second Saturday of May is World Migratory Bird Day in Canada and the US. The day is marked on October 14, the second Saturday of October, in Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean. The two days reflect the cyclical nature of bird migration. The theme in 2023 is “Water: Sustaining Bird Life” and focuses attention on how the increasing human demand for water, pollution and climate change, are impacting the availability of clean water and the conservation status of many migratory birds. Learn more at World Migratory Bird Day in the Americas
In Fond du Lac, we'll be celebrating on May 6. Visitors are welcome to join a bird walk in CSA's oak savannah at 10 a.m. Details and additional events can be found on the Fond du Lac Bird City Facebook page.
The time is NOW to achieve our climate targets
On March 30, 2023, UNANIMA International (UI) and other faith actors that had previously collaborated during COP27 (in Egypt last November), co-sponsored a climate action webinar called, “Last Call to Achieve Climate Targets.” The webinar provided an assessment of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.
That webinar recording can be found here.
A Catholic Actors’ Statement on Climate Change from the assessment of the IPCC AR6 Synthesis report was also created, encouraging congregations and other Catholic groups in environmental advocacy to sign-on. On April 3, 2023, the Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes CSA) joined these efforts and signed on to this statement, which will be disseminated among the National Delegates working at the UN in New York City.
You can read the read and sign the statement here.
Additional background: Seven Climate Summits (COPs) have passed since the Paris Agreement and little progress has been made in terms of climate change mitigation. Science has spoken once more in its latest IPCC AR6 Synthesis Report (SR6), Climate Change 2023: "Net zero CO2 energy systems entail: a substantial reduction in overall fossil fuel use, minimal use of unabated fossil fuels, and use of carbon capture and storage in the remaining fossil fuel systems; electricity systems that emit no net CO2".
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