GUEST POST BY: Rev. Lauren Van Ham, M.A., OUnI (from her presentation at the Big I Conference 2014)
I call myself an Eco-chaplain. Briefly, in this post, I want to describe what this means and, more importantly, I want to invite you to join me in the work of eco-chaplaincy.
First, whats an Eco-chaplain?
Chaplains are trained to shed light on the spiritual, in what might otherwise be secular surroundings. My work as a chaplain has challenged me to look for the Divine within the complexity of hospitals, pysch units, corporate America and most recently, a space thats too vast to name: it is the place where our planet home and human behavior intersect.
But we already know that with or without Her natural resources, this third rock from the sun will continue spinning in our solar system, exquisitely held in the Milky Way galaxy one galaxy in a TRILLION others. Quick note: How amazing is that?
SO, really, the more accurate story is that we need to save life. Today
- Just under 61% of workers in the developing world still live on less than $4 a day
- Indigenous cultures are in decline all over the world
- 200 species go extinct everyday — 1000 times the normal rate
- At this moment, around the world, humans are fighting 9 major wars (1000+ fatalities/yr) and 25 other conflicts (<1000 fatalities/yr)
And RIGHT NOW, on this spinning mass of interconnected bio-diversity it is ONE species, one tiny genus in the mammal family – the humans! – whose current behaviors and choices, whose systems and policies are creating system-wide suicide.
So, in truth, the Eco in Eco-Chaplain is less and less about the Ecology of our planet and evermore urgently about the Ecology of ourselves and the inter-dependent relationships with our fellow species.
To live, teach and to tend a new, life-sustaining story is Eco-chaplaincy. We have before us, an act of midwifery, wrought with joy and pain. It requires steady, sustained spiritual practice and heres the REALLY important part: its only going to work if we all share the story.
Im going to highlight a three-fold practice Ive found to be helpful as I tend the plot. The practices are somewhat cyclical, and I share them with you to encourage own eco-chaplain practices:
Practice One: This is a Love story! Build Intimacy
Sometimes I think humans and the planet need a good marriage counselor. Have you noticed, when under the seduction of your email inbox, or checking stock quotes, or tackling a full to-do list, how easy it is to divorce ourselves from how simply blessed we are? And worse, how easy it is to begin blaming others for what isnt working? In these moments, remembering love is a our salvation!
Recall the last time you consciously brought yourself to be with the person, the job, the pet, the HOME you so desperately did not want to lose! When I move from my love, I find the courage to become more intimate with that which was previously the target of my outrage and blame.
Practice Two: Were all protagonists in this story. Begin Again. Tell it Like it Is
This story is NOT about recycling. Dont get me wrong, the Going Green movement of 2007 began an important chapter in our new story. But driving a Prius is NOT enough, and neither is riding a bike. Our growth economy model is broken.
Many of us are afraid that giving up certain things will mean scarcity and lack. Many of us are dubious about change and innovation and trying new ways to create safer, saner ways of consuming what we need without hurting ourselves and future generations.
Reinventing our economy and other systems will take coaches, visionaries, career counselors, bereavement specialists, and lots and lots of chaplains!!! Were the ones who begin again and tell it like it is. The script might well be, I know this is scary and SO disappointing. I believe that slowly, carefully we can undergo this together and transform it. We will learn something valuable. Will you stay in this with me?
Would you like to try it? Really, read it again, and this time aloud, and consider how you can say something to this effect the next time youre engaging in the tough conversations about the changes we need to make, in order to save life on our planet:
I know this is scary and SO disappointing. I believe that slowly, carefully we can undergo this and together, we can transform it. We will learn something valuable. Will you stay in this with me?
Practice Three: Play. Use your voice. Express Yourself
Our new story is rooted in Regenerative Humility. Contrary to the rhythms and patterns popularly employed in our culture, we are not on and off switches. With care and practice, with support from our communities, we can source from a place thats regenerative. I call it God — its the place where the inner Prophet and inner Mystic live.
Recently, to raise climate change awareness in the Midwest (an area of the U.S, often left-out of the conversation), I rode my bike across the state of Nebraska. Pedaling through the breath-taking sandhills, I rode 57 WINDY miles with Thomas, a devout conservationist and professed atheist. When I told him why I was riding, his words were, There is no hope.
Perhaps Thomas is right. The Western Shelf of Antarctica is falling to sea and new fires are burning every day in the Southwest. Regenerative Humility puts less of my interest on changing the world, and more attention on how the world changes me.
It keeps me curious, and forces intimacy. It frees me to move and act without the guarantee of success.
My friends, we are mammals, human mammals who create. Our life depends on it. WHAT we create is part of the story were reconstructing. I have no clue how this story ends; what I do know is that Im not the only Eco-chaplain.
There are LOTS of us, prophets and mystics. And the Divine is ready for each one of our co-creative acts to set the story back on course.
Guest Author: Rev. Lauren Van Ham, M.A., OUnI: Dean, Interfaith Studies and Core Faculty at The Chaplaincy Institute. Rev. Lauren Van Ham, was ordained with the first cohort of ChI ordinands in 1999 and completed the Interfaith Spiritual Direction Certificate Course in 2006. Before joining the ChI staff in 2010, Lauren served for eight years, as a staff chaplain at St. Marys Medical Center in San Francisco. From there, she moved to a corporate environment, where she custom-designed employee programs for multi-national companies committed to sustainability and culture change. As part of her evolving call and commitment to “eco-chaplaincy, Lauren served as Executive Director for Green Sangha (a non-profit dedicated to spiritually-engaged environmental activism) from 2004-2006 and currently chairs Fair Trade Berkeley, a group whose dedication helped make Berkeley the 19th Fair Trade Town in the U.S. Lauren holds degrees from Carnegie Mellon University, and Naropa University. Lauren, along with fellow ChI faculty, was co-ordained into OUnI at the Big I Conference in 2013 and at the conference in 2014 was ordained as one of the first 10 Eco-Ministers. She also currently serves on the OUnI Board of Directors.