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Students and Speakers at the Pre-Seminar Supper

Last week the Butler Seminar on Religion and Global Affairs on the topic of Sacred Places: Intersections of Religion and Ecology, held its final session, titled “Greening Indiana: Theologies and Ethics of Sustainability.” For the past year we have approached the work of ecojustice from a number of religious perspectives – Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Jain, and Hindu – and methodological angles – sociology, biology, film, literature, politics, economics, philosophy, and theology, among many others. In this last session, we trained our focus on local efforts toward sustainability and ecojustice right here in Indiana, with the guidance of three fantastic speakers: Lisa Sideris, Dori Chandler, and Jessica Davis.

Lisa Sideris is Professor of Religious Studies at Indiana University in Bloomington and her research and teaching focuses on intersections of religion, science, and ecology. Dr. Sideris emphasized the need for a “public theological conversation” in which multiple perspectives (religious and secular) are welcomed in order to expand our vision of the health and wellbeing of the planet and what we can do in our local communities to address the environmental crisis. Dr. Sideris invited us to consider how our roots in a particular place and community have shaped who we have become; these roots provide our entrée into the work of ecojustice. However, as a culture we have a collective case of “environmental amnesia,” as each generation becomes accustomed to the status quo as “normal,” despite the environmental devastation we observe all around us. Paying attention to the history of our places and the changes that have occurred over the generations reminds us that human activity sometimes drastically alters a place and its ecology, compelling us to marshal every resource available to us – scientific, political, economic, social, historical, and religious – to address the environmental crisis, which is the defining issue of our time.

Dori Chandler is a board member of Hoosier Interfaith Power and Light, a member of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, and Director of Interfaith Programming and Advisor of Hillel at the Butler Center for Faith and Vocation. Dori draws inspiration from the rabbinic notions of tikkun olam (“repairing the world”) and bal tashchit (“do not destroy”) to inform her environmental activism. Together with Dr. Sideris, Dori shared some startling statistics about the environmental crisis here in Indiana: Indiana ranks #46 in air quality in the US, #48 in overall quality of life, and #1 in the number of coal ash ponds and super-polluting power plants. Dori’s work with the Citizens’ Climate Lobby and Hoosier Interfaith Power and Light brings together Hoosiers of diverse backgrounds and religious and ethical commitments to lobby for legislation to address these environmental problems and to forge a new path toward sustainability and ecojustice in Indiana and beyond. Almost 80% of Hoosiers identify as religious, which means that any substantial change of course must include religious voices in order to be effective. HIPL is on the front lines of organizing religious communities to make the connections between religious faith and environmental activism, with inspiring results.

The last speaker was Jessica Davis, Director of Sustainability at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. Jessica works with students, faculty, staff, administrators, and community partners to adopt and implement sustainable practices on the IUPUI campus and in Indianapolis. For example, IUPUI is a certified “bee campus” and “tree campus,” has seven LEED-certified buildings (and is constructing three more), has a student-run effort to combat food waste that in one year salvaged 30,000 pounds of food, and recently hosted the first Olympic trial in history that produced zero waste. IUPUI is doing good and important work on sustainability and is training its students to be environmentally-conscious citizens. In her talk Jessica took time to define some common terms for the audience. She defined sustainability as meeting the needs (not wants) of the current generation while at the same time allowing future generations to meet their needs as well. She further suggested that the key to successful sustainability efforts is meeting three related needs: successful sustainability efforts will be environmentally-friendly, socially just, and economically feasible. Her work at IUPUI embraces each of these goals with impressive results that are an inspiration to other institutions in the region.

The environmental crisis is urgent and it is doing real and lasting damage, here and now. We are in the midst of an existential crisis that will require drastic measures to address. In this session we were invited to find hope, empowerment, and energy for the work that lies before us. There is good and important work being done here in central Indiana in myriad ways, large and small, to address the environmental crisis and to create a better, more sustainable, more just future for us all.

The full video of the lectures and the Q&A with the audience is available here:

Brent Hege

CFV Scholar in Residence and Lecturer in Religion

 Source: Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

One of the roles of the Center for Faith and Vocation is to invite students to engage the diverse religious communities on campus and in the community. The CFV Interfaith Council and CFV Scholars embrace this opportunity for interreligious engagement as central to their mission, but the CFV also offers workshops, lectures, film discussions, and other opportunities for engaging with religious diversity. This semester I am teaching an upper-level Religion course called “Religious Pluralism” and our focus is on the various ways Christian theologians have thought about religious diversity and the relationship between religious traditions.

In my role as CFV Scholar in Residence I work with the CFV Scholars to help them reflect more intentionally on their encounters with religious diversity; as a Christian theologian one of my tasks is to make sense of religious diversity from a Christian theological perspective. Religious diversity itself is simply a fact: there are multiple religious traditions in the world and even on Butler’s campus. But Christians and other religious people have disagreed about how to make sense of that diversity in light of their own religious commitments. In my course we start the semester with an introduction to these questions, Paul Knitter’s Introducing Theologies of Religion. In this helpful book, Knitter (a Roman Catholic theologian) proposes four “models” Christian theologians have used to make sense of the relationship between Christianity and other religious traditions.

The first model is Replacement, or “exclusivism.” In this model, Christianity alone is true and all other religions are understood to be false and misguided ways to God. Only Christians can be saved, so in this model the goal of dialogue is conversion. This model is typically espoused by conservative evangelical and fundamentalist Christians.

The second model is Fulfillment, or “inclusivism.” In this model, Christianity alone possesses the fullness of truth, but other religious traditions can also include glimmers of God’s truth. Non-Christians who devote themselves fully to their tradition and who seem to live holy and grace-filled lives are considered to be “anonymous Christians.” Jesus Christ is the sole savior of the world, so if anyone is saved, they are saved by Christ, but in this model Christ can be active outside of Christianity. This model is typically espoused by Roman Catholics and mainline Protestants.

Replacement and Fulfillment are the dominant models in most Christian churches, at least in terms of their official teachings. However, two additional models are becoming more popular, especially in Roman Catholic and mainline Protestant circles.

The third model is Mutuality. In this model, all religious traditions are understood to be the product of particular cultures, each responding to the Ultimate Reality with the help of the language, concepts, customs, and worldview of their respective cultures. All religious traditions are assumed to have “rough parity” and all are assumed to be headed toward the same goal of union with Ultimate Reality. Each tradition uses different symbols for that reality and develops different doctrines, rites, texts, etc., to make sense of it, but all religious traditions share the same essence and the same goal. This means, then, that no religious tradition can claim to uniquely possess the final and ultimate truth. A common metaphor for this model is that all religions are paths up the same mountain. The goal of dialogue in this model is to develop a deeper understanding of what all religions have in common.

The fourth model is Acceptance. This model developed in response to the Mutuality model, which some theologians criticized for ignoring or downplaying the genuine differences between religious traditions. Acceptance theologians emphasize the differences more than the similarities: the religions are really different, and that’s a good thing! Some Acceptance theologians even suggest that there are multiple “ultimates,” multiple “absolutes,” and multiple “salvations.” Furthermore, each religious tradition can only be fully understood on its own terms, from the inside, because each religious tradition has its own thought-world and its own symbol-system that can’t be “translated” without losing something essential. The goal of dialogue in this model is to develop a richer understanding of these differences in order to make me a better Christian and you a better Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, Hindu, etc.

Each of these models has its strengths and weaknesses (as all models do), and each model tries to balance what Knitter calls the Christian “teeter-totter” of the uniqueness and particularity of Jesus Christ on the one side and the universal love of God on the other. Each model approaches the “teeter-totter” differently, and other religious traditions will try to balance their own “teeter-totters” in similarly diverse ways.

These four models invite us to think deeply and seriously about the reality of religious diversity while also trying to make sense of the truth claims of our own religious tradition in light of that diversity. For some, one of the models will strike us as doing a particularly good job of balancing that “teeter-totter,” while for others none of the models will be successful. It’s very possible that additional models are needed to help us live fruitfully and faithfully in a religiously diverse world.

Brent Hege

CFV Scholar in Residence and Lecturer in Religion

by Madeline Mleziva, ’21

This semester I have interned as the Center for Faith and Vocation’s Communications Intern. This Internship has given me the opportunity to experience many programs on campus and learn many new skills. My favorite part has been the chance to work with and assist many different outreach programs. Typically, my main means of assistance has been through creating posters and flyers for the various programs sponsored by the CFV. While I didn’t coordinate and plan an entire program, it was exciting to have the ability to have many small impacts on a variety of programs. One of my favorite projects was creating the posters for the First Friday at Four. I enjoyed this project so much because I also got the opportunity to attend the event each month and see all the people that came. Seeing the people attend was exciting because it became evident that my marketing and design efforts were paying off. My other exciting project has been creating a video to promote the new prayer, meditation, and reflection rooms in Jordan Hall. This project has proved some difficulty in getting students to answer emails and follow up. Even though it has been difficult to gain much assistance from students, it has been very exciting to have the creative freedom to create any sort of video I want. The video is still in the production process but hopefully it will be finished and online soon. Overall, this internship has allowed me to refine my design and production skills while also giving me the opportunity to participate in many different programs and outreaches. I’m very thankful for all the opportunity and experience the CFV has awarded me this semester.

 

by Kylene Warne, ’20

As an Elementary Education and Theatre major, my internship at Catholic Charities proved to be a unique and profound experience. I served as an Education intern through the Outreach and Education program and was in charge of planning and leading English classes held and two different community centers two days of the week, as well as providing in-home tutoring one day of the week. Because my courses are focused on child and teenager education, I have not had the opportunity to work with and teach adults. This internship was able to provide me with this experience that came with its perks and challenges. At first, I felt hesitant and unsure, as I did not know how to approach this age group and alter my lesson plans to fit a more mature audience. After the first few lessons and getting to know my students better, I was able to see what learning preferences this group had and how willing they were to learn and try new approaches. I now feel more comfortable and confident teaching all age groups, as well as in myself as a teacher. Since I had so much freedom to create a curriculum and had not finished my Education major yet, I originally felt as if I was doing everything wrong. I quickly realized how much knowledge I had acquired throughout my classes and other teaching experiences and that I do not need my license in order to help and make an impact on a community of people. I am so thankful for my bosses and students for allowing me to experiment with this learning journey and being open to all of my ideas.

by Lyla Iannaconne, ’19

This semester, I have been fulfilling an internship at Trinity Free Clinic in Carmel, IN doing marketing.  The clinic is a catholic, non-profit organization with a mission to provide free medical and dental care to uninsured and underinsured people in the Hamilton County area.  Not only do they want to provide these services but also provide them with an unparalleled level of respect, kindness, and dignity.

My role at the clinic this semester has been deeply intertwined in their annual fall fundraiser, the Run for Wellness.  The Run for Wellness is a 5K, 10K, and 15K race. The event includes the race and an expo where sponsors and vendors can promote their products and services. I’ve gotten the opportunity to run the social media for the race, promote the event, and manage the race day.

Not only did I receive experience in marketing but I also got to feel what it’s like to work in a wonderful, welcoming organization.  Every person working at the clinic is genuine, friendly, and happy to help with any problem.  I am so grateful that I got to know and work with my supervisor, the director of marketing, Autumn Zawadzki.

Thanks a million to TFC!

by Marissa Glantz

Interning at the JCC was a good way to dip my foot in the water in regards to the professional world and the internship world. I gained a lot of valuable hands-on experience in the marketing department. As the marketing intern I got the opportunity to work on a variety of projects. One thing I learned throughout my time here is the value of teamwork in a workplace. Having coworkers who I could collaborate with and rely on was extremely beneficial in my learning process. When given projects by my supervisor, there were some times where I had little questions or needed guidance in finding particular files and my colleagues were always happy to assist me. Another thing I learned was the business side behind social media ads. I obviously knew that my Facebook and Instagram had ads that were targeted directly towards me, but I got to be on the other side of that process and create ads and target them towards a particular public. This was really cool to see all of the features, options and statistics that go behind ad tailoring. It definitely assured my interest in the creative advertising field.

Throughout the second half of the semester I worked a lot on the Ann Katz Festival of Books and Arts marketing. The social media posts I did for the JCC gained a lot of publicity for the festival that showed through the number of tickets purchased. . I enjoyed getting Facebook users to interact through the various postings. It was fun to do something I normally do (post on social media) but from a business marketing side. Overall, thanks to this internship, I feel like I will be more comfortable and confident as I move forward in my career.

 

by Rachel Koehler ’19

My name is Rachel Koehler, and I am a senior at Butler University studying International Studies and French. I have had the privilege of working with the Center for Interfaith Cooperation for the fall semester, and it has encouraged me to further consider a career in faith and social justice. This past semester I have been able to interact with Indianapolis’s diverse faith community in numerous ways from board retreats to podcast recordings and community events. The CIC’s board consists of 38 members with various faith perspectives, and I wanted to further explore the stories that each of these members brings to the CIC. These different backgrounds enrich the mission of the CIC, so I thought it was important to record them and make them available to the public. Also, to attract a younger audience to the CIC, I thought podcasts would be a great medium to use, since more and more people are starting to listen to them. My goal is to have the podcast available by the beginning of next semester. I have already interviewed several members and will continue to do so next spring. Each interview has given me a new perspective, so I am hoping it will do the same for any listener. Please look out for it on Apple, Spotify, or www.centerforinterfaithcooperation.org. I am still deciding on what title I want, but I am leaning towards “An Ear to Interfaith” or “The Dynamics of Interfaith.”

 

On Tuesday, October 30th, we held the second session of the yearlong Butler Seminar on Religion and Global Affairs, whose topic this year is Sacred Places: Intersections of Religion and Ecology. The second session was entitled “Non-Theistic Perspectives on the Environment: Buddhist and Jain Ecologies” and featured two eminent scholars of these traditions, Dr. Daniel Cozort of Dickinson College in Pennsylvania and Dr. Christopher Key Chapple of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

In the Abrahamic traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, theological thinking about environmental issues typically makes reference to God as Creator, which means that the Earth and all its creatures are inherently good and worth protecting because they are products of God’s creative intentions. However, Jainism and certain traditions within Buddhism, such as Zen and Theravada, are non-theistic, which means that there is no notion of a deity creating the universe. For Jains and for Buddhists, the universe is often conceived as eternal, so there is no need for it to be “created.” So how do these non-theistic traditions frame care for the environment?

As we heard in the lectures, there are robust environmental ethics in both of these traditions, rooted in beliefs and practices specific to religious traditions with their origins in India. For example, Buddhism teaches that the root of human suffering is delusion and ignorance about reality and this is expressed in the “three marks of reality”: suffering, impermanence, and no-self. All of life is suffering and dissatisfaction, rooted in our ignorance of the way things really are. The way things really are is impermanent, in flux, and radically interconnected. But the deepest roots of our delusions stem from our tendency to think of ourselves as separate, independent, permanent selves, rather than as interconnected with all existence in fundamental ways. When we understand that we are not independent beings but “interbeings” and when we understand that everything exists in interdependence on everything else, we can alleviate suffering and focus our energies on loving and caring for all beings.

The Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh asks us to imagine a simple piece of paper to understand “interbeing.” We tend to think that this piece of paper has an independent existence, but when we think more deeply we realize that this paper couldn’t exist without the trees, and the trees couldn’t exist without rain and sunshine and nutrients in the soil, and the tree couldn’t be turned into paper without loggers and paper mill workers and salespeople, and none of those people could exist without food and drink and shelter and parents, and so on and so forth. When we really see the paper, it turns out that we’re holding the entire universe in our hands! So to care for one part of the earth is to care for everything in it, ourselves included.

Dr. Chapple leads the audience at Fairview House in a brief mindfulness exercise.

 

Jainism also offers a robust environmental ethic based on its central teaching of ahimsa, or non-harm. Jainism, like Zen and Theravada Buddhism, does not profess belief in a deity. Jains believe that everything that exists is composed of both spirit and matter, or “life” and “non-life.” People, animals, rivers, mountains, rocks, tables, chairs: all contain both life and non-life. All things are capable of suffering, so Jains believe that everything that exists must be treated with care and respect. Jain monks and nuns go barefoot to remember their connection to the Earth and to step lightly on it, minimizing the harm they might do to any living thing. Some monks and nuns will sweep the ground before they take a step and wear a mask to avoid breathing in or drinking another living thing. Jains are typically vegetarians and also avoid eating root vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, or onions, because eating these vegetables requires killing the plant. Jains are also likely to work in fields such as medicine and education: areas that promote life and wellbeing. Jains also take five vows, including non-harm, telling the truth, only taking what is freely given, chastity, and not possessing more than is needed. It is perhaps obvious how these vows contribute to a vibrant environmental ethic, as Jains pay careful attention to their impact on all beings. The environment must be protected and cared for because the environment is full of beings capable of suffering, so we must always take care that our actions do no harm.

Buddhism and Jainism are ancient traditions with many valuable insights to offer us as we confront serious environmental crises of our own making. To understand nature as alive and as capable of suffering and to understand our interconnection with all things should inspire compassion and mindfulness of the way we walk upon the earth.

Brent Hege

CFV Scholar in Residence and Lecturer in Religion

 

On Saturday, October 20th, I had the privilege of accompanying nine Butler students from the Interfaith Council and the CFV Scholars on a service project organized by Keep Indianapolis Beautiful, a local environmental organization involved with beautification projects designed to create or enhance green spaces in Indianapolis. We were joined by groups from IUPUI, IU School of Law, and other local citizens to plant 94 trees in the Riverside Neighborhood on the near-north side of Indianapolis, adjacent to Riverside Park.

The Butler students come from a number of backgrounds (Muslim, Jewish, Roman Catholic, mainline Protestant, evangelical, and secular), but each had similar reasons for participating in this service project. At a debriefing lunch following the project they spoke of feeling called by their religious and ethical traditions to care for the Earth, to enhance the lives of their neighbors with beautiful trees, to spend time with one another and make new friends while doing good in their community, and to protect Indianapolis’s waterways from pollution (each tree we planted will intercept about 100 gallons of water in each rainfall, water that would otherwise overwhelm Indianapolis’s sewer system and send raw sewage into our waterways).

The project directors from Keep Indianapolis Beautiful taught us how to prepare a tree for planting, how to dig a proper hole, how to plant the tree, and how to reuse the sod and mulch the tree to ensure that it will provide shade and beauty, shelter birds and insects, capture water and carbon dioxide long after all of us have gone. Residents of the neighborhood came out to greet us and thank us for planting trees in front of their homes and several of the residents were overjoyed to see that “their” trees had finally arrived. One resident, a recent immigrant from West Africa, was so excited that he spent two hours helping us dig, prune, and plant! The students engaged all of them in conversation and were pleased to put a human face with their morning’s work.

In our conversation afterwards back at Butler’s Center for Faith and Vocation, students were clearly energized and inspired by their work, despite having been up since before 8:00 on a Saturday morning. Every one of them was glad they participated and wants to do similar projects in the future. Furthermore, they agreed to spearhead an effort next year to include even more Butler students in KIB’s tree-planting projects so that more of their classmates could experience the joy of service in care of the environment and our community.

As a result of this project the students learned something important about interfaith engagement as well. Even though they come from different backgrounds and had specific motivations for caring for the Earth, they all ended up working together on the same project toward the same result. The Christian students shared biblical texts about the Earth as God’s creation and Christ’s command to serve others, the Muslim students shared Qur’anic texts about doing good for the neighbor and reflected on Zakat (charity), one of the Five Pillars of Islam, the Jewish student discussed the concept of tikkun olam (reparing the world) as a religious obligation, and the secular student reflected on their humanistic motivation to serve the neighbor and care for the Earth. Each student had their own motivations for engaging in this project, but they also learned about how other religious and ethical traditions conceive of the imperative to care for the Earth, its creatures, and our fellow human beings.

This kind of work is happening at Butler all the time, at the CFV, in Butler’s many student organizations, in the Greek houses, and through the annual BITS program (Bulldogs into the Streets). Many student organizations on campus require their members to complete hours of community service, so that students can put their learning into practice for the good of their communities. And if what I experienced on Saturday morning is any indication, these projects make a profound and lasting impact on everyone who participates in them, far beyond simply satisfying requirements for courses or membership in student organizations. So the next time you see a Butler student, I encourage you to ask them about the service projects they’ve done and prepare yourself to be swept away by their energy and enthusiasm!

Brent Hege

CFV Scholar in Residence and Instructor of Religion

 

 

One of the many wonderful programs of the CFV is the annual Butler Seminar on Religion and Global Affairs, which has been presented by the CFV along with the Religion program for nearly 25 years. Each year a Religion professor directs the Seminar on a topic of contemporary global significance. In the past we have had Seminars on Religion and Science, Religion and Freedom of Speech, Religion and Immigration, Religion and Race, and Religion and Trans Lives. This year’s Seminar, which I am directing, is on the topic of Religion and Ecology.

The CFV Seminar takes place over four evenings throughout the year, featuring public lectures by scholars and activists from across the country and in some cases around the world, each bringing their own unique expertise to the topic of that year’s Seminar. In addition to the public lectures there is also a concurrent 300-level Religion course open to students from each of Butler’s six colleges. The course meets for three hours on the Saturday morning before the public lectures, and the students also join the speakers and local guests for dinner and conversation before the lectures. Each director of the Seminar runs their courses differently, but for my course the students read a book related to the topic of the session, post discussion questions and responses online, and then write a seminar paper exploring the themes of the text and the session. On Saturday morning we have deep and far-ranging conversations together on the themes of the text and the session, each student bringing their own unique viewpoint to these challenging topics. After the public lectures the students write a reflection on what they learned during the public lectures and the conversations with the speakers, and these papers in particular affirm the that CFV Seminar is a rich and rewarding experience for Butler students!

This past Tuesday evening was the first of our four public sessions for this year’s Seminar. The title of this session was “The Places that Move Us: Ecology as a Vocation.” Our keynote speaker was Dr. Laurel Kearns, Professor of Ecology, Society, and Religion at Drew Theological School in Madison, New Jersey. She is an expert on Religion and Ecology and is a co-founder of the Green Seminary Initiative. In addition to Dr. Kearns’s keynote we also heard from two respondents. The first was Dr. Murat Eyuboglu, a documentary filmmaker and artist-in-residence at National Sawdust, who recently made a film on the Colorado River and is currently making a film on the Amazon River. The second respondent was Dr. Travis Ryan, chair of the Biological Sciences Department at Butler and an expert on urban ecology. For the class meeting before the lectures, students in the course read and discussed Annie Dillard’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.

The question for this first session of the Seminar was a simple one: what are the places that have moved us, shaped us, and inspired us to do the work of conservation, environmental activism, and ecojustice? What experiences of nature have we had in our lives that have compelled us to care for the Earth, its creatures, and its ecosystems? And in what sense is that work a vocation, a calling?

For myself, there is a clear answer to these questions. I grew up in a small, rural county in southcentral Pennsylvania where the bonds with nature ran very, very deep and still do to this day. Growing up in Perry County, it was impossible to ignore the rhythms of the seasons, the patterns of agriculture, the presence of animals all around us, and the beauty of the natural world. We learned how to identify countless species of plants, mammals, birds, insects, fish, and fungi, which we regularly harvested for our own use in gardens, lakes, rivers, creeks, fields, and woods. I learned to love and respect nature from a very early age, first by playing in the woods behind my house and the creek across the road, then by learning how to identify plants and trees, and later by learning how to fish and how to hunt. In the summers I worked on a farm and in the family garden, and in the falls and springs I hunted and fished, always eating whatever we killed. Nature was a familiar companion to us, but we never forgot that it was not our friend. It had its own patterns and it was far stronger than us. In many ways we were dependent on it for so much of our lives, which is a relationship I have palpably felt weaken since moving to the city of Indianapolis.

At the same time, I was being raised in the Lutheran church, where I learned about the God who created the universe and everything in it, who at the end of Genesis 1 pronounces all that exists to be “very good.” I learned to appreciate everything in the world as a good gift of a loving God and to see reflections of God’s care and God’s wisdom in the natural world all around me. I was fascinated by the lessons I learned in nature and seriously considered a career as a Wildlife Conservation Officer with the Pennsylvania Game Commission until I realized that studying the sciences required significant competency in mathematics, which was the end of that road for me! Instead, I became a theologian and now I focus on different aspects of nature, still with the same love and respect and awe for the good world God so loves.

In the Seminar on Tuesday evening, our three speakers spoke of their own deep love of nature and reflected on their commitment to conservation and ecojustice as a vocation, a calling. Dr. Kearns spoke with great passion about her upbringing on Sanibel Island off the Gulf Coast of Florida. She shared that she began her undergraduate studies as a student of ecology before falling in love with sociology and the study of religion. But to this day she spends much of her academic energies at the intersection of religion and ecology, believing that we are called to love the Earth, its creatures, and its ecosystems, and to neglect or abuse any one part is to neglect and abuse the whole.

Dr. Eyuboglu spoke of his calling as a filmmaker, his passion for connecting people with beautiful and majestic places, and the people who live there, as a call to action, to protect these places before they are lost forever. He invited us to consider the dangers to these places based on human activity and our failure to think holistically about our use of land and water. He took us (metaphorically) down the Colorado River, through the Grand Canyon, to the Salton Sea, and finally to the delta, a once-thriving ecosystem teeming with life and healthy human settlements but now arid and all but abandoned due to our misuse and abuse of the Colorado River. Through his films, Dr. Eyuboglu hopes to inspire us to care more deeply about these natural places in order to protect and nurture them and to encourage us to think more intentionally about how to live lightly, responsibility, and reverently on the Earth.

Dr. Ryan spoke of the ordinary places that have become extraordinary simply because someone noticed them, cared for them, and loved them. He spoke of the leaps forward in botany thanks to research done at the Indiana Dunes, of the astonishing breakthroughs in tropical ecology at the Smithsonian Research Station in Panama, and of the important work being done in a small corner of South Carolina that reverted to wilderness after a nuclear reactor was decommissioned. None of these places is inherently more interesting than any other place; they just happen to be places where someone thought to ask important questions. Each of these places is now protected, thanks to someone convincing others to notice them and to care about them. He asked us to consider the relationship between questions and place: what questions are we compelled to ask in particular places? How might our own place become extraordinary simply by our having noticed it and loved it? To emphasize this point he shared a quote from Aldo Leopold: “The weeds in a city lot convey the same lesson as the redwoods.” As an urban ecologist, Dr. Ryan closed our evening with a call to love whatever places we happen to find ourselves, whether or not we consider them to be “nature.” Nature is all around us, from the overgrown empty lot down the street to the field of corn or soybeans out in the country to the vast expanses of Lake Michigan, and everywhere in between. And if we truly want to love a place, we must first really get to know it, because we cannot love what we do not know.

In a culture where many people assume that religion and science are eternally at war, Tuesday’s seminar was a refreshing and timely reminder that each of us, whatever our perspective, is pursuing the same basic goal: we want to discover a passion, we want to find something to love, we want to make meaning out of our lives, we want to make a lasting difference. For many of us, those goals are inspired by religion, but for many others they have different inspirations. When we focus on what we have in common rather than what divides us, when we remember that we share so many of the same basic hopes and dreams, we are reminded that we are all in this world together, that we all inhabit the same beautiful, fragile planet as our only home. And we should probably get serious about protecting it while there’s still time.

Brent Hege

CFV Scholar in Residence and Instructor of Religion

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