Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater

Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger

Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton

I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – Anon

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII

Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut

Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – Anon

Certainly, God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater

An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater

Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann

Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton

The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – Anon

The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah

If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – Anon

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Richard Beck - The Purity Culture of Progressive Christianity, Parts 1 & 2

The Purity Culture of Progressive Christianity, Part 1 of 2

by Richard Beck
March 9, 2015

You are not big enough to accuse the whole age effectively, but let us say you are in dissent.
You are in no position to issue commands, but you can speak words of hope. Shall this be
the substance of your message? Be human in this most inhuman of ages; guard the image of
man for it is the image of God. --Thomas Merton

We've all read about the problems related to the purity culture associated with evangelicalism. But recently I've been thinking about the purity culture that is found in liberal, progressive and/or radical Christian circles.

My thoughts here were spurred by the essay written by Aurora Dagny entitled "Everything is Problematic."

As someone who identifies as a progressive Christian I found Aurora's essay to be very thought-provoking. The essay describes Aurora's journey into radical, leftist activism and the reasons she eventually stepped away. If you're a progressive Christian like me I encourage you to read the whole thing.

The one thing I want to draw attention to his how a purity mentality ran through the leftist and radical groups Aurora worked with. Interestingly, this purity mentality was oriented around a set of "sacred beliefs"--an "orthodoxy." This is exactly what you see among evangelical Christians. More, this orthodoxy is used to separate "the good guys" from "the bad guys." Beliefs create warrants for social exclusion, expulsion and scapegoating.

Aurora describing this:

One way to define the difference between a regular belief and a sacred belief is that people who hold sacred beliefs think it is morally wrong for anyone to question those beliefs. If someone does question those beliefs, they’re not just being stupid or even depraved, they’re actively doing violence. They might as well be kicking a puppy. When people hold sacred beliefs, there is no disagreement without animosity. In this mindset, people who disagreed with my views weren’t just wrong, they were awful people. I watched what people said closely, scanning for objectionable content. Any infraction reflected badly on your character, and too many might put you on my blacklist. Calling them ‘sacred beliefs’ is a nice way to put it. What I mean to say is that they are dogmas.

Thinking this way quickly divides the world into an ingroup and an outgroup — believers and heathens, the righteous and the wrong-teous. “I hate being around un-rad people,” a friend once texted me, infuriated with their liberal roommates. Members of the ingroup are held to the same stringent standards. Every minor heresy inches you further away from the group. People are reluctant to say that anything is too radical for fear of being been seen as too un-radical. Conversely, showing your devotion to the cause earns you respect. Groupthink becomes the modus operandi. When I was part of groups like this, everyone was on exactly the same page about a suspiciously large range of issues. Internal disagreement was rare. The insular community served as an incubator of extreme, irrational views.

High on their own supply, activists in these organizing circles end up developing a crusader mentality: an extreme self-righteousness based on the conviction that they are doing the secular equivalent of God’s work. It isn’t about ego or elevating oneself. In fact, the activists I knew and I , [myself], tended to denigrate ourselves more than anything. It wasn’t about us, it was about the desperately needed work we were doing, it was about the people we were trying to help. The danger of the crusader mentality is that it turns the world in a battle between good and evil.


What is fascinating to me is how this is the exact same psychological dynamic at work among conservative, evangelical Christians. It's just the progressive version of it.

And this "will to purity" doesn't just manifest in protecting sacred beliefs, it manifests in behavior as well. Both evangelical and progressive Christians doggedly pursue a vision of moral purity.

For evangelical Christians moral purity will fixate on hedonism (e.g., sex, drug use, etc.).

For progressive Christians moral purity will fixate on complicity in injustice. To be increasingly "pure" in progressive Christian circles is to become less and less complicit in injustice. Thus there is an impulse toward a more and more radical lifestyle where, eventually, you find yourself feeling that "everything is problematic." You can't do anything without contaminating yourself.

To be clear, I'm not judging any of this. I'm simply trying to trace out the contours of the purity culture at work among progressive Christians. Mainly because I think many progressive Christians have become burnt out by this psychology. Progressive Christians have become burnt out by the chronic anger produced by the "good vs. evil" Crusader mentality and burnt out by the chronic exhaustion of living in a world where "everything is problematic."

For most of us, the vision of progressive Christianity--as we took up the banner of social justice--started out so hopeful and joyous.

But for far too many, in the words of Aurora, the purity culture of progressive Christianity caused it all to "metastasize into a nightmare."


Richard Beck is Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychology at Abilene Christian University. He is the author of several books including Unclean, The Authenticity of Faith, and The Slavery of Death. Richard's published research also covers topics as diverse as the psychology of profanity to why Christian bookstore art is so bad. Richard also leads a bible study each week for fifty inmates at the maximum security French-Robertson unit. And any given week Richard drives the van, preaches or washes dishes at Freedom Fellowship, a church plant feeding and reaching out to those on the margins. Finally, on his popular blog Experimental Theology Richard will spend enormous amounts of time writing about the theology of Johnny Cash, the demonology of Scooby-Doo or his latest bible class on monsters.

* * * * * * * * * *

The Purity Psychology of Progressive Christianity: Scrupulosity, Part 2 of 2

by Richard Beck
March 17, 2015

After my posts from last week I continue to have a lot of conversations about how purity psychology affects various impulses within progressive Christianity. My original post is here which has a link at the bottom to some follow-up reflections.

In light of the analyses I shared in those posts, a very interesting connection with Catholic moral theology was pointed out to me yesterday by Leah Libresco who blogs at"Unequally Yoked" for the Patheos Catholic channel.

Specifically, Leah pointed out some similarities between my descriptions of the purity psychology at work among progressive Christians and the Catholic notion of scrupulosity. According to Catholic moral teaching scrupulosity involves persistent worries about being in a state of sin.

These worries can be due to a lot of things, from being extraordinarily conscientious to having a very sensitive or tender conscience to something that is more pathological (like Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder or Generalized Anxiety Disorder).

Psychologically speaking, I think Leah is right in connecting scrupulosity to intrusive thoughts and even to what the Eastern Orthodox call logismoi, evil, or tempting thoughts. For the Orthodox logismoi are intrusive mental temptations such as lust and greed and pride. In scrupulosity the intrusive thoughts are persistent and nagging worries that we've done something wrong.

In Catholic moral teaching scrupulosity has generally been connected to worries about committing a mortal sin and falling out of a state of grace. Mortal sins are, generally speaking, severe or chronic failures of piety.

But what is interesting for our purposes is how Leah has observed scrupulosity at work in issues related to altruism. That is to say, among compassionate Catholics scrupulosity can manifest in worries about how to do the right or best things for others. Paralleling my analysis, Leah traces this wanting-to-do-good scrupulosity to a purity psychology.

In her post "Purity, Anxiety and Effective Altruism" Leah focuses on the worries many of us feel about making sure the monies we send to charities are being used effectively and with minimal waste. We want our money, most if not all of our money, to get into the hands of those who need it. But when we start evaluating the effectiveness of charities and how best to use our money in alleviating suffering worldwide we can fall down a rabbit-hole. In wanting to do the right thing and the best thing we can encounter, to use Leah's words, "analysis paralysis." Regarding all these worries about trying to do the right thing Leah writes:

...I came up with a speculative hypothesis about what might drive this kind of reaction to Effective Altruism. While people were sharing stories about their friends, some of their anxious behaviors and thoughts sounded akin to Catholic scrupulosity. One of the more exaggerated examples of scrupulosity is a Catholic who gets into the confessional, lists his/her sins, receives absolution, and then immediately gets back into line, worried that she did something wrong in her confession, and should now confess that error.

Both of these obviously bear some resemblance to anxiety/OCD, period, but I was interested in speculating a little about why...Taking a cue from the psychologist Jonathan Haidt, Leah traces this altruism-related scrupulosity to purity psychology: "My weak hypothesis is that effective altruism can feel more like a 'purity' decision...". Wanting to optimize our altruism, to make it more effective, can, in Leah's words, "trigger scrupulosity."

What is interesting here is how Leah is connecting scrupulosity less with a fear of doing a bad thing (committing a mortal sin) than with the keen desire to do a good thing, the desire to reduce suffering in the world. And as the scope of this scrupulosity expands from domain to domain, to eventually inhabit every facet of existence, we begin converging upon the "everything is problematic" mindset and a sort of moral paralysis sets in.

Of course, the objections here are now familiar. While scrupulosity is definitely an unpleasant neurotic experience, scrupulosity is still focusing upon the actions of individuals and is still centering feelings, generally the feelings of privileged people.

But the answer here wouldn't be for those privileged people to have less scruples or to check their scruples or de-center their scruples. Without scruples the privileged people wouldn't really care or worry about being privileged. Without scruples you'd never check your privilege.

So the scruples are necessary, vital even. The trick, it seems, is having those scruples--and in spades--but rejecting "the will to purity" that curdles into scrupulosity.


Richard Beck is Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychology at Abilene Christian University. He is the author of several books including Unclean, The Authenticity of Faith, and The Slavery of Death. Richard's published research also covers topics as diverse as the psychology of profanity to why Christian bookstore art is so bad. Richard also leads a bible study each week for fifty inmates at the maximum security French-Robertson unit. And any given week Richard drives the van, preaches or washes dishes at Freedom Fellowship, a church plant feeding and reaching out to those on the margins. Finally, on his popular blog Experimental Theology Richard will spend enormous amounts of time writing about the theology of Johnny Cash, the demonology of Scooby-Doo or his latest bible class on monsters.

Transparent Moments of Scholarship when a Theologian Must Either Stay or Change, Part 16 - Jared Byas

Jared Byas

“aha” moments (19): Jared Byas

by Peter Enns
March 16, 2015

Today’s post is part of our continuing yet intermittent “aha” moment series, this from Jared Byas.

Byas (BA in Philosophy from Liberty University and an MAR from Westminster Theological Seminary) was in pastoral ministry from 2004 until 2011. He then left to teach Philosophy & Ethics at Grand Canyon University and co-launch MyOhai, a collective of creatives and advisers (that he now runs under the name EMDASH) where he advises individuals and organizations on how to communicate better. In 2012 he co-wrote Genesis for Normal People with me and in 2013 he became the founding operations director for Experience Institute, an innovative graduate school alternative based in Chicago.

Byas and his wife Sarah live in suburban Philadelphia and have four children: Augustine (6), Tov (5), Elletheia (3), & Exodus (1).

* * * * * * * * * *

Some teenagers dream of being musicians or sports stars. My dream was seminary — and becoming a Christian apologist. So, after receiving a B.A. in philosophy at a self-described conservative Christian university my new wife and I moved states for me to live the dream.

Little did I know the dream would include lying awake for countless nights alternating between intense fear that I might go to hell for changing my views about the Bible and giddy excitement, like I had just opened the Bible again for the first time.

Just like many in this series, my “aha” moments concerning the Bible came from actually studying it in my seminary Bible classes and followed Thomas Kuhn’s description of paradigm shift perfectly: minor shifts that over time forced a new framework for understanding the whole.

But a few of those shifts were more memorable than others.

The first was discovering the work of Walter Brueggemann. His Texts Under Negotiation and Prophetic Imagination reminded me of a quote by the great jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker, “Master your instrument, master the music, and then forget that shit and just play.”

When Brueggemann could quote the latest scholarship and garner the respect of the academy while also penning phrases like,

Thus every totalitarian regime is frightened of the artist. It is the vocation of the prophet
to keep alive the ministry of imagination, to keep on conjuring and proposing futures
alternative to the single one the king wants to urge as the only thinkable one...
(Prophetic Imagination, 40)

it was evident that he was engaged in playful mastery.

His writings asked that I stop trying to make the Bible “relevant” (an important phrase in my tradition), whether it be to culture, contemporary church polity, or theology, and instead immerse myself with such abandon that I became relevant to the text.

He showed me that scholarship coupled with deep imagination is the heart of the theological enterprise; that is, he modeled for me the responsibility of pursuing biblical scholarship beyond my own ideological idols and gave me the permission to do it with imagination and passion.

And he let me know it probably wouldn’t be well received by those in power.


My second memorable “aha” moment was my interaction with Jon Levenson, professor of Jewish Studies at Harvard. After reading his entire corpus and exchanging emails with him for a graduate seminar on Old Testament Theology I felt like I had gone through rehab and boot camp, all in one semester.

Like Brueggemann, Levenson continued to indulge my fascination with “playful mastery.” But Brueggemann, though he had given me the courage to chart a different course, hadn’t really given me any maps. Through his sharp analyses of biblical conflict, tension, and contradiction, Levenson was my map.

Levenson effortlessly quotes biblical and rabbinic texts to animate the conflict within the traditions behind the Hebrew Bible in Sinai & Zion. He creatively interrogates how Deuteronomy and the Holiness Code (Leviticus 17–26) may point to a cover-up about child sacrifice in The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son.

And he does it all with an evident passion and respect for the text that avoids both religious eisegesis and dismissive antagonism.

I came to seminary with an protectionist Calvinist orientation, and chose my seminary for that reason. But I came to see that Levenson and Brueggemann took the Bible more seriously than I or my tradition did—or anyone I had read before—and it led them to dangerously refreshing and compelling conclusions.

Their tenacious sincerity about the text wasn’t a means to defending already existing dogmas but a means to understanding, and beyond that, imagination. That was new for me. And I was hooked.

In full disclosure, those months were difficult for me. During this time, I was a teaching pastor and was constantly wrestling with how these “aha” moments would affect my congregation, and, to be honest, my paycheck. They were also hard on my wife, who noticed a change in me. One morning she finally said, “I feel like you’ve lost your convictions about Christianity. What’s going on?”

That stung. I had always prided myself on being a person of conviction. But she was right. And she was also wrong.

I said, “If you mean my convictions about how to read the Bible, then yes. But if you mean my love for the Bible itself, then no. I think I’ve just now found it.” That was enough for her. And thankfully we’ve been on a beautiful journey of faith together ever since.

Ecology Reforms - Releasing Our Rivers & Depaving Our Cities

Remains of the Glines Canyon Dam on the upper Elwha River. Photo by James Wengler.

Depaving Cities, Undamming Rivers -
Here’s How We’re Undoing the Damage

All around the United States, people are stepping up to help a damaged planet heal.

Diane Brooks posted Mar 16, 2015

Releasing the rivers

The largest dam-removal project in history reached completion last fall, when excavators dredged the final tons of pulverized concrete from the Elwha River channel in Western Washington. Native fish, banished for 100 years from their historic spawning habitat, already were rediscovering the Elwha’s newly accessible upper stretches. Within weeks of the final explosion in August, threatened bull trout and chinook salmon were spotted migrating beyond the rubble.

Two hydroelectric dams once blocked the Elwha; both now are gone.

“It was a thrill,” said Olympic National Park spokeswoman Barb Maynes. Before the Elwha Dam was built in 1910, the river produced an estimated 400,000 fingerlings per year, a number that dwindled to 3,000 in recent decades. All five native species of Elwha salmon are expected to repopulate the river.

More than 80,000 dams more than six feet high block U.S. waterways, and activists are cheered by the Elwha success story. Two hydroelectric dams once blocked the Elwha; both now are gone. Sediment that was trapped behind them is washing downstream, replenishing habitat. The first 67,000 seedlings (of a planned 350,000) to help restore native vegetation are already planted on the sites of the former dams and reservoirs. A documentary about the project, Return of the River, came out in 2014.

Return of the River

Photo by Shutterstock

Botanical remedies

Headache or back pain? Before you reach for the bottle of aspirin, consider aspirin’s ancient precursor: white willow bark. Or perhaps echinacea to boost the immune system, aloe vera to heal burns, and black cohosh to ease hot flashes.

The trend away from the profit-based pharmaceutical industry toward natural, age-old botanical remedies is beneficial for the environment and wildlife as well as for the humans who take medications. A U.S. Geological Survey study found chemicals from prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications in 80 percent of water samples drawn from streams in 30 states; those waters flow into lakes, rivers, and eventually the oceans.

Alain Touwaide, co-founder of the Institute for the Preservation of Medical Traditions, says pharmaceutical chemists have inverted humanity’s relationship with medicines. “When a sick person used a plant, this person relied on history, the use of the plant over centuries,” he says. Now a researcher starts with a chemical and then experiments to find its uses. Botanical medicine has “an almost philosophical component,” he says, which helps with healing. Users tap into an interactive “sympathy” between humans and the environment, he says.

Photo by Paul Dunn.

Citizen turtle remedies

When a community of threatened Hawaiian green sea turtles began hauling themselves from the ocean onto the northern beaches of Oahu to bask and sleep in the sunshine, word soon spread through the island’s tourism industry. Families began plopping children on turtles’ backs for photos and poking, prodding, and pushing turtles back into the surf.

Concerned, the national Oceanic and atmospheric administration (NOAA) launched a “Show Turtles Aloha” campaign in 2005. North Shore residents quickly joined in, and in 2007 they created the nonprofit Malama na Honu (Protect the Turtles) to monitor the beach and educate visitors every day of the year. About 60 trained Honu Guardian volunteers take turns patrolling Laniakea Beach, working three-hour daylight shifts. They educate tourists about the ancient species, ask beachgoers to keep a respectful distance, and collect data for NOAA.

Hawaiian green turtles were listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in 1978. They’ve made a remarkable recovery since then, and their major nesting beach at French Frigate Shoals was added to the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in 2006. The number of nesting turtles has grown annually from 67 in the early 1980s to more than 800 today, according to Irene Kelly, NOAA’s regional sea turtle recovery coordinator.

Dennis Mclung stands inside what used to be a swimming pool in his backyard in Mesa, Arizona.
Now it serves as a closed-loop food-producing farm for his family. Photo by Laura Segall.

Swimming Pool Becomes BackYard Farm

It’s a typical Mesa, Arizona, suburban subdivision, except for that corner house with a broccoli patch growing on its low-pitched roof. And those goats, chickens, and ducks roaming the backyard, near the solar panels erected above the entryway to that greenhouse planted in the deep end of an old swimming pool. When Dennis and Danielle McClung bought their ‘60s-era home in 2009, they hatched an eccentric but modest plan to make the best of that decrepit, way-past-its-prime pool. Two days after they moved in, Dennis McClung erected his first in-pool greenhouse, intended to provide food for their young family. He had recently quit his job as a Home Depot department manager; his wife was a nurse. “I convinced my wife of my crazy plan, and she went with it,” he says. “We really wanted to live a more sustainable, self-sufficient life, and we thought this was good idea. And it just kept getting better and better, the more we put into it.”

Today their backyard is a mini-ecosystem—McClung calls it a “closed-loop food-producing urban greenhouse”—and their home is headquarters for the Garden Pool nonprofit organization. Its official aim: sustainable food production, research, and education. At night the chickens roost above the pool’s deep-end rainwater pond so their droppings contribute to an aquaponics habitat for tilapia fish. The McClung’s natural water filtration system uses duckweed and solar energy; their organic greenhouse plants are rooted hydroponically, without soil. Pond snails, which probably hitchhiked in on the duckweed, provide calcium for the egg-laying chickens and help manage a pond-sludge problem.

On a typical day, the system provides the couple and their three children with about half their diet, McClung says. That includes veggies and herbs from the greenhouse; apples, citrus fruit, figs, sugar cane, bananas, and pomegranates picked from a 40-tree grove in their side yard; along with eggs and goat milk.

Making room for carnivores

When gray wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in the mid-1990s, we learned valuable lessons about the critical role of large carnivores in balancing an ecosystem. the impact on the landscape was dramatic. Two decades later, stream banks stripped by booming populations of deer and elk are growing new trees and shrubs, and birds and beavers are returning to the feast. even the physical landscape has been altered, as returning vegetation stabilizes banks and prevents erosion.

Now a growing movement of scientists and conservationists is campaigning to go further to ensure the health and survival of large carnivores: defining and protecting ancient migration corridors across the continent. a key component of this campaign is educating affected communities about the importance—and practicality—of coexisting with species that traditionally were feared and killed.

In her new book The Carnivore Way: A Transboundary Conservation Vision, Cristina Eisenberg says coexistence with wild predators isn’t just possible: it’s critical. “Carnivores protect biodiversity, which creates ecosystems more resilient to climate change. The climate change crisis we are facing makes it critical for us to help carnivores thrive wherever we can,” says Eisenberg, lead scientist at Earthwatch Institute.

The Wildlands Network has identified two initial priorities for protection. The Eastern Wildway runs 2,500 miles from Florida’s Everglades through the forests of Alabama and along the Appalachian Mountains to the boreal forests and Maritime Provinces of Canada. The Western Wildway is a 5,000-mile corridor stretching from Mexico’s Sierra Madre Occidental to Alaska’s Brooks Range, running along the Rocky Mountains.

Photo from Depave.

Asphalt, be gone

Across the nation, activists are organizing work parties to rip up excess pavement in playgrounds, parking lots, and empty lots, replacing it with pervious surfaces such as porous asphalt, block pavers, and greenery of all sorts. The swaths of impervious pavement that characterize our urban and suburban communities, from sprawling shopping malls to ubiquitous cul-de-sac neighborhoods, have vast ecological impacts. Rainwater—which otherwise would soak into the earth and benefit the habitat—is polluted with oil, antifreeze, and pesticides and then diverted into local streams and rivers.

The Portland, Oregon, nonprofit Depave promotes the transformation of over-paved places, such as schools, while engaging and inspiring communities to reconnect urban landscapes to nature. The organization uses community partnerships and volunteer power, and creates educational events, to pursue its goal of nurturing livable cities where people and wildlife can coexist. Since its initial project in 2008, Depave has transformed more than 123,000 square feet of asphalt, diverting about 2.9 million gallons of stormwater from storm drains. Above, the Creston School depaving project last fall.

Photo from Rebuild by Design.

Rebuild smarter

The devastation wrought in 2012 by Hurricane Sandy, including 117 U.S. deaths and an estimated $5 billion in damages to greater New York alone, shocked planners and policymakers into fashioning innovative new tactics to protect communities from future disasters. Rebuild by Design, a unique public-private partnership, is identifying and funding ambitious, creative infrastructure improvements in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. A contest initiated by the U.S. government already has allotted $930 million to six winning projects, each crafted with powerful community input.

“Sandy exposed physical and social vulnerabilities of the region. It was not built to withstand the forces of climate change, and now we can rebuild it with better foresight,” said Amy Chester, Rebuild by Design’s managing director.

Major philanthropic partners staffed the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development contest, and the project is funded by Congress, along with the Rockefeller Foundation and other private supporters. Design teams worked closely with local residents, businesses, and governments to co-design realistic solutions that carry broad support, Chester said.

In Manhattan, for instance, the community examined how river berms can benefit daily public life. “A wall can be a piece of art; a wall can be a part of a park. A wall should never be something that walls off the communities from the waterfront,” said Chester. One winning proposal: the Big U river fortifications. A 10-mile stretch of Lower Manhattan is to be protected from future storms and rising sea levels with projects including wide, grass-topped berms and rolling hills and bridges, providing new recreational spaces along the Hudson and East rivers.


Diane Brooks wrote this article for Together, With Earth, the Spring 2014 issue of YES! Magazine. Diane is a journalist and communications consultant. She was a newspaper reporter for many years in Seattle and the San Francisco Bay Area, and now lives in Everett, Wash. priestdi.com.