At this time of climate crisis, here is a practical Christian ecospirituality. It emerges from the pastoral and theological experience of Reverend Robert Shore-Goss, who worked with his congregation by making the earth a member of the church, by greening worship, and by helping the church building and operations attain a carbon neutral footprint.
Shore-Goss explores an ecospirituality grounded in incarnational compassion. Practicing incarnational compassion means following the lived praxis of Jesus and the commission of the risen Christ as Gardener. Jesus becomes the “green face of God.” Restrictive Christian spiritualities that exclude the earth as an original blessing of God must expand. This expansion leads to the realization that the incarnation of Christ has deep roots in the earth and the fleshly or biological tissue of life.
This book aims to foster ecological conversation in churches and outlines the following practices for congregations: meditating on nature, inviting sermons on green topics, covenanting with the earth, and retrieving the natural elements of the sacraments. These practices help us recover ourselves as fleshly members of the earth and the network of life. If we fall in love with God’s creation, says Shore-Goss, we will fight against climate change.
Robert E. Shore-Goss has been Senior Pastor and Theologian of MCC United Church of Christ in the Valley (North Hollywood, California) since June 2004. He has made his church a green church with a carbon neutral footprint. The church received a Green Oscar from California Interfaith Power & Light. Shore-Goss’s website, which includes a publication list, can be found at www.mischievousspiritandtheology.com/.
Interview with Robert Shore-Goss
Why did you write this book?
I wrote this book because I showed Al Gore’s documentary, Inconvenient Truth, at church. And we began a process of reflecting on our responsibilities to care for the Earth, and we made the earth a member of the church to indicate our pastoral responsibilities to care for the Earth and all life. We started a process of greening our lives and the church over a decade with reducing our energy usage, installing solar panels, retrofitting church toilets and urinals to save some 4,000 gallons of water per year in a drought in Southern California, and harvesting rain and condensation from our air conditioning, and creating an urban garden. We attained a carbon neutral footprint as a church after a decade of commitment to Earthcare.
When I watched ABC’s graphic novel, Earth 2100 (now on Youtube), I was so dismayed by the future ravages of the Earth and the community of life. My grandniece was born, I had to do more for her and for my university students. They deserved to live in a sustainable world.
As I started writing the book, I was afflicted with a blood disorder. My blood production plummeted and hemoglobin was 6 with normal being 14. I received blood transfusions every two weeks to stay alive. After five months, I was placed on daily large oral dosages of chemo-therapy, I had suffered cognitive impairment and attempted to write the book, I wasn’t sure that I would live to finish the book without a bone marrow transplant, and there was only a 50% possibility of a match with my two sibling sisters. But after a year, the chemo-therapy worked and began to restore my blood production in the bone marrow, I finished the book. At one point, I approached a colleague about finishing the book if I died. The issue is the most serious crisis that humanity and the Earth faces.
What do you hope from this book?
I began speaking to churches, conferences, facilitated workshops, incorporated climate change and religion into courses taught at university, and groups on climate change and the need to respond. I found resistance and denial of climate change at all levels of society.
I want to change hearts of Christians and people who do not identify with a religion and millennials but consider themselves as spiritual. I want to harness the energy of religious folks, the disaffiliated but spiritual folks, in a greening movement that cares enough to encounter nature and discover the presence of the risen Christ and the Spirit. I found so many students who practiced some form of mindfulness in their encounters with nature, read conservationists who already paid attention to the natural world and fell in love with nature, and environmentalists who actively fought for various environmental issues and sought out meditation centers to deepen their connections to nature. I have practiced Christian and Buddhist meditation/contemplative practices and rituals to find God whether in the church garden, deserts, the redwood forest of Russian River, or in the dog park with my companion dog. I realized that if Christians were to commit to environmental justice, they first need to fall in love with nature if they were to change their lifestyles to co-live with Earth and the web of life. For five hundred years, Christianity had maintained there were two sources of revelation: The Bible and the Bible of Nature. (I also believe that revelation is found in the scriptures and traditions of the world religions).
I hope to assist in the eco-conversion of Christians. God is Green attempts to highlight sources and ritual media for attaining such a conversion on an individual and communal level.
Who are trying to reach?
There are estimates that there is between one to two million organizations globally committed to environmental care and fighting the ravages of climate change. I want to reach Christians and help them to green their communities. If they become spiritually connected to the incarnate Christ whose roots extend into the cosmological processes and the very tissue of biological life, they understand the Earth-centeredness of God’s incarnation.
I grew up as a religious activist during the Vietnam War. I was inspired the Jesuit priest and poet Dan Berrigan, the Christian war resisters and pacifists. We fought the immorality of the war and eventually forced the government to abandon the war. Now I want to harness the energies of progressive and conservative Christians to fight against climate change. We all can find a common cause because we all love our children, grandchildren, and our nieces and nephews. They will inherit a world full of climate change, the death of all life in the oceans, droughts, water and food shortages. Here watch this Youtube I used for a sermon on the Earth. Watch Prince Ea’s video, “Dear Future Generations, Sorry.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eRLJscAlk1M
What are you asking Christians to do?
I am asking them to first connect with God’s Earth and all life in a non-anthropocentric fashion. Anthropocentrism is about the religious viewpoint that creation was for the purpose of humanity. Human beings are above all created things. All life is at the disposal of human beings, to serve as property and under their control. We are exceptional and above all things. This translates into exploitative and reckless attitudes of using the Earth as our warehouse for whatever are needs and no matter what harm is committed against other species. It is about our self-centeredness.
Eco-conversion is the realization that humanity is part of the community of the Earth. As St. Francis of Assisi understood, all life and the Earth are kin. He envisioned a democratic of biotic life. Science and the deepest religious insights understands that everything is interconnected to everything us. Individualism, setting us apart from nature, is an allusion. Eco-conversion is turning away from human self-centeredness to understanding ourselves as part of a network of life, and that everything is interrelated.
Once we let go of ego-centeredness and view ourselves an interdependent with the Earth and the web of life, we become a part of that interdependent network. It opens us a new relational understanding with the natural world and that God interrelated with the Earth and all life. Eco-conversion is viewing all life as God views life.
I am asking Christians to develop an “ecological literacy” as eco-theologian Sallie McFague invites us to live responsibly with the house rules of the Earth: “1) Take only your share; 2) Clean up after yourselves, 3) Keep the Earth in good repair for those who will use it later.”
Finally, many environmental activists and professors in Earth studies are despairing over the prognosis for the future this century. Maybe one of the gifts that we might share with them is hope.
How do you intend to work for Earthcare and environmental justice?
Matthew Fox in his book The Cosmic Christ, says, “…the killing of Mother Earth in our time is the number one ethical, spiritual, and human issue of our planet.” I accept this as I witness it in climate change and human greed and reckless exploitation of the Earth. All social justice issues are also interrelated to ecojustice.
I believe that we can build bridges between conservative and progressive Christians to fight for life and for the Earth. When I presented a workshop at the Parliament of World Religions (2016): “How Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists Can Speak Together about Climate Change?” The workshop was well received. At the end, I gave thanks to God and walked out of the room where Tibetan Buddhist monks were creating a sand mandala for the welfare of the Earth and all life. There were indigenous peoples as well as representatives and organizations of the world’s religions there. All compassionately caring for the Earth and committed to fight climate change.
In this book, I join my voice to the saints of the Earth: conservationists, environmental activists martyred in the Amazon, theologians, and people of all faith communities fighting to preserve this wonderful creation.
I intend to add my voice as a “green prophet,” coaxing, inviting, and pushing faith communities to consider Earthcare. I have designed an online course for “Greening Your Faith Community,” for training religious communities how to green themselves and their spiritualities. I have participated in interfaith panels, facilitated workshops, taught in the classroom university students, and lectured on climate change and a spirituality to deal with climate change.
Is it too late to stop climate change?
This is the most difficult question to answer. Climate change is taking place. From what scientists are saying, the rising of the Earth’s atmosphere by 4 degrees Celsius or more will result in a catastrophe for life on the planet. I expect that I will be dead before the worst consequences will happen. Yes, we have moved beyond the tipping point, but my hope is that if we create ecological communities of faith and organizations committed to fight for life, we can form a global network “an Alliance of Life” as E. O Wilson, Harvard Professor Emeritus in Biology, has called. He has issued a call for religion and science, two powerful forces on the planet, to join together to save life.
I believe that if we act now, we can lessen the temperature rise. So this book is one of many calls that the Spirit has issued across the planet.
Will you follow up this book?
Eco-theologian Mark Wallace describes Jesus as “the Green face of God.” I want to deepen the exploration of the ecology off Jesus that I began in God is Green. There are some untapped themes in Jesus’ theology and praxis of the Companionship of Empowerment and the notion of the risen Christ as Gardener for Christian eco-praxis of compassionate action in the world.
As we mindfully engage nature, we meet God. We intuit a connectedness with everything, and we no longer experience separateness as individuals, for at the heart of the universe, nothing exists in itself but exists interrelated to something else and through the infinite reaches of the universe. Prayer and contemplation allows us to enter the heart of the universe and experience the Spirit, the incarnated Christ and Creator interrelated within nature. This book attempts to spark “an environmental imaginary” of liberative eco-spirituality that re-contextualizes and re-envisions the sources of Christianity as interrelated with the Earth and the web of life. My ecological imaginary has re-shaped my spirituality by expanding my prayer to become an eco-contemplative in compassion for the Earth. I am part of the Earth and interrelated community of life.
The greening of our Christian imaginations deepens our relationship with God, the risen Christ as Gardner, and provides the foundation of Christian ecological practice. There are many Christians and churches turning to Earthcare in the form of ecojustice movements and committed to Earthcare My hope is to awaken our Christian awareness of our injuring the Earth and our failure to hear God voice, saying “These are my beloved children.” The late Thomas Berry called for an “ecologically sensitive spirituality.” Berry devoted much of life’s work, writings, and mentoring scholars, Christians, and non-Christians to promote a “life-enhancing” spiritualities with “wonder-filled intimacy with the planet.” Brian Swimme writes,
The great mystery is that we are interested in anything whatsoever. Think of your friends, how you met them, how interesting they appeared to you. Why should anyone in the whole world interest us at all? Why don’t we experience everyone as utter, unendurable bores? Why isn’t the cosmos made that way? Why don’t we suffer intolerable burden with every person, forest, symphony, and sea-shore in existence? The great surprise is that something or someone is interesting. Love begins there. Love begins when we discover interest. To be interested is to fall in love. To become fascinated is to step into a wild love affair on any level of life.
If we fall in love with God’s Earth, then we will fight to preserve what God loves and we love.
Praise for God is Green
“If I had to recommend a single recently published text as a must-read for a course on Christianity and ecology, especially climate change, it would be Robert Shore-Goss’s wide-ranging and clearly written God Is Green: An Eco-Spirituality of Incarnate Compassion. Not only does he include almost all important books from his preferred ‘kenotic theology,’ to rituals for embodiment and practice, but he also delivers a one-volume analysis and critique of the ‘field.’ We are all in his debt for a useful and passionate call for a theological ‘conversion’ with accompanying radical action to help save our planet.”
—Sallie McFague, Professor of Theology Emerita, Vanderbilt University Divinity School; Distinguished Theologian in Residence, the Vancouver School of Theology, British Columbia; author of Blessed Are the Consumers
“Robert Shore-Goss has written a beautiful meditative overview of greening in Christianity. [It is] not simply a fact-following-fact landscape but a weaving of the reader and author as participants in contemporary Christian ecological locations. Like a Compostela pilgrimage, the journey of reading here is challenging, communal, and playful all the way.”
—John Grim, Co director, Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale
“The Reverend Dr. Shore-Goss has pulled together a much-needed and beautifully compiled message for Christians on ecological theology. God is Green will give the reader a true understanding of what the human role and relationship is with Earth. He points out Jesus’ call for protection and love for Creation. This is a direct and honest look at God’s intention for the human purpose supported by many theologians and including Francis of Assisi. He argues that we are the gardeners.”
—Sally G. Bingham, President, The Regeneration Project, Interfaith Power & Light
“An author known for his queer theology expands his horizons to find what spirituality can do to entice people of faith to free the Earth. God Is Green traces the roots of human contact with the sacred all the way to our mythological roots from the soil, and fashioned by God’s all-purposing hands, we embody the sacred’s commitment to a life connected with all living things. Ignoring this rootedness, this connectedness, is a dangerous game played by industrial cultures. Robert calls us all back to the Earth and our interrelatedness to all living things as essential to a healthy, whole, and full life.”
—John C. Dorhauer, General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ
“There is a way of pushing the needed panic button with mere panic, and there is a way of pushing it with wisdom, scholarship, and compassion. We are blessed to have an excellent example of the latter here! Robert Shore-Goss is not preaching to the choir here but to anyone with a head, concern for the future, and even a bit of soul!”
—Richard Rohr, Center for Action and Contemplation, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Publisher: Cascace Books, AN Imprint of Wipf & Stock (2016)
Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.1 x 0.8 inches
Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces