The Common Good

Creation Care

Green Burials Reflect a Shift to Care for the Body and Soul

Growing up in small-town Georgia, John B. Johnson had family friends who ran the funeral home down the street, so the particulars of a typical American funeral — the embalming, the heavy casket, and remarks about how great the deceased’s hair looked — were all familiar to him.

When the time came, he assumed, his funeral would look much the same.

But Johnson, now 44, envisions a different sort of send-off for himself: a “green burial” that draws both upon his faith and his commitment to the environment. For Johnson and others like him, a green burial is a way to care for the Earth and answer to the part of his soul that recoils at the pomp of the average American funeral, and takes seriously the biblical reminder: “For dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”

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West Virginia: Where Energy Rules, Subjects Suffer

I’ll be upfront and admit it. When I heard about the chemical spill that shut down the water supply for 300,000 of my fellow West Virginians, I felt an odd tug of relief.  “Maybe now something will get straightened out,” I thought to myself.

Sure, what I felt might sound callously unfeeling. After all, the chemical spill closed down businesses and schools, shut down bathing, and reduced populations to scrapping for potable water. Happily, thousands of neighbors and outliers pitched in to deliver water from bottles to tankers to the beleaguered people.

Welcome, world, to West Virginia, your national energy sacrifice state. Our state has a king — name’s Coal. Just as in Nebuchadnezzar’s era (Daniel 3), on cue politicians, business people, and media outlets bow their knee to King Coal lest their fates be a metaphorical fiery furnace.

Before readers think I’m off-track, let me first back up.

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Stewardship: Being in and Working with Creation

When you hear about stewardship in church, you probably think of your checkbook. Stewardship is the term we use to talk about financially supporting our churches and organizations. But another holy use of the word involves being stewards of creation.

When I hear the word stewardship, I feel the crunch of snow and branches under my feet. I see the trees and paths of the woods owned by my parents’ best friends, where I spent much of my childhood hiking, hunting, skiing, picking apples, and feeding chickadees out of the palm of my hand. It’s one of the places where I gradually heard my calling to work for the care of creation. And the word stewardship transports me to a specific day in my childhood, walking in the woods with my dad’s best friend, Leo, when he pointed to a tree and said he would have to take it down.

How could he kill a tree? I hassled him; I got indignant. I said that nature should be left alone to do her thing. But Leo explained that I was wrong — he managed the land. It wouldn’t be just fine on its own; rather, it needed his careful eye to manage the trails, cut down sick trees, and hunt deer.

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Congregations Turn to Compost for Lessons on Life, Death, and the Environment

The wheelbarrow outside the sanctuary was overflowing with vegetable scraps; decomposing matter filled the baptismal font; and a pile of rich brown soil replaced the Communion table.

Ashley Goff, minister for spiritual formation at Church of the Pilgrims, wanted to convey a message about the cycle of nature this fall, and she could think of no better analogy than the congregation’s growing enchantment with compost.

“I wanted them to see the process of life and death and change,” she said of her Presbyterian Church (USA) congregation of 70. “It’s a dying and a rising, where new life begins.”

Across the country in the past decade, hundreds of houses of worship have started composting, relating it to theological concepts of resurrection and stewardship.

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Advocacy From the Manger and Environmental Justice

This past Sunday, I had the opportunity to watch our children’s ministry present through play, song, and dance the story of the birth of Jesus Christ.

No matter how many times I have seen this story, it’s always amazing that this miracle that happened in a manger could have such a huge impact on the lives of so many. Jesus was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth, his parents did not have the best reputation, and he definitely wasn’t birthed in a fancy hospital. Instead, he was born where animals were kept — not the best conditions environmentally at all! Further, Jesus Christ became an advocate for the poor, for those that do not always have a voice, and for those that were suffering from terrible mistreatment, disease, and sickness.

I truly believe that Jesus’s focus on the “least of these” is a model for advocacy, especially for the environmental justice movement.

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