The Call of the South Pacific

I lived in Fiji for nearly seven weeks this summer. I am grateful for this opportunity and will be writing more about it in the weeks to come. For now, here’s a little bit of an introduction.

The program through which I was given this opportunity to travel is one which is designed to foster an international learning experience of accompaniment where seminary students from around the world come see what the forefront of climate change looks like in Oceania. This intense program requires students to re-imagine the term “mission” in the midst of climate change in an area of the world which still bears many effects of the colonialist gospel. Here, many moons ago, Christian missionaries, under the flag of “mission,” introduced western Christianity to indigenous tribes in an effort to Christianize their ways, which shifted a great deal of power into white hands.

The island of the Firewalkers, Beqa; photo taken from Fiji's Viti Levu's Coral Coast.

The island of the Firewalkers, Beqa; photo taken from Fiji’s Viti Levu’s Coral Coast.

It was into this context, that I began my almost seven week journey in Fiji. We spent nearly every waking moment first learning about climate change in the Pacific context and then experiencing Pacific life in villages. This was the best way in which to see the effects of climate change on the lives, homes, and work of Islanders who did very little to contribute to the anthropogenic causes of a warming climate. The program provided a great deal of excitement as well as challenges. The most exciting part of the program was the opportunity to be welcomed into the lives of Fijian people; we were met with a friendly “Bula Vinaka!” and great deal of hospitality, grace, and multifarious stories. The challenges of the trip came in the way of learning to navigate a new culture with respect and without appropriation and/or judgement. Further challenges came in the way of immigration, but that is a story that I will leave for another time. The biggest challenge, by far, was to deal with the grief that came from seeing receding shorelines, salinization of soil, extensive violent storm damage, decreased fishing, shallowing rivers, entire villages being relocated, and altered growing seasons. As a citizen of one of the culprit western nations, my challenge was to hold the shame, grief, and culpability in tension with the work that we all, including Fijians, have ahead of us. This is the point at which I felt most at home in the program: I was able to foster conversation and reflection with the other program participants, our seminary hosts, and Islanders what our roles of responsibility looked like in each of our respective theological, ecclesial, and familial communities.

While this program was difficult and intense, it was still a formative learning experience for me as I combine my biological background and current theological studies, and head into congregational ministry with a focus on creation care praxis. In light of the extensive climate misuse I saw, I plan to continue this climate justice conversation in future ministry as I navigate ecotheology and accountable creation care praxis in congregations.

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Coconuts and Papaya

Tonight I am writing as I am completing my 13th day of this South Pacific journey to study theology in the midst of climate change. I hear the wind gently causing sway in the palm branches and coaxing the waves to move with the earth’s gravitational pull. The stars are more clear here than I have ever seen because the light pollution is negligible. The smell of salt greets my nostrils as if I was spending time with an old familiar friend. The taste of coconut and papaya linger on my tongue as I sit at the table of bountiful fish and citrus.

I am in Oceania. The Pacific. Melanesia. Fiji.

It may sound like I have had a tourist experience from my brief paragraph above, but it is not so. I have been immersed in indigenous Fijian culture, living in a rural Fijian village, fishing for livelihood, eating the fruit of the ocean, drinking the ceremonial drink of kava, and living on dirt floors and mats of dry leaves.

It’s a hard journey to come so far, be away from my loved ones, and acclimate to an entirely new culture. My western mindset has, at times, blockaded my openness to the new wonder of this Pacific culture. My health has, at times, been compromised. My sleep patterns are as awry as the deep, wild ocean. My sense of home is grounded in people now and not place. Any prayers arising would be most welcome and more appreciated than you know.

I am in Oceania. The Pacific. Melanesia. Fiji.

I listen in solidarity to the struggles that the changing climate is bringing to the people here. What do we understand about God, the Holy of Holies, given the challenge of climate change? Our thoughts about God must be informed by the receding shorelines, flooding of villages, increase of violent tsunamis/ hurricanes, the acidifying ocean, and so on. Creation care is not really a choice here. It is a must.

Here we understand God from looking at the Moana (Ocean). Just as the waves are fluidly interconnected, so too are we interconnected with God, with each other and with all of creation.

Here we understand Eucharist as the meat and milk of the coconut instead of bread and wine.

Here we understand a grassroots theology, which realizes that we can only see God through our context. So in a context of suffering, we can understand well a suffering Christ on the cross.

Here we understand decolonization as the lifeline to retain and reclaim indigenous cultures. We see Christ through the context of a fishing community much like the disciples fished for their livelihoods.

Here we understand communitarian living through the perichoresis (round dance) of the Triune God. As the Triune leans into each other, working in creation, so too do we lean into each other as we live within God.

This is Oceania. The Pacific. Melanesia. Fiji.

Thanks be to God.

The Lamenting Echoes of Lutra lutra whitely, Conuropsis carolinensis, and Incilius periglenes

Do you hear the echoes?
The echoes of what we used to be,
Before humans grew too many and took over,
before the biomes of the world grew imbalanced,
before imbalance became the norm.

Do you hear my echoes?
I am Lutra lutra whitely,
the Japanese River Otter.
I thrived in the rivers of Japan,
I swam, and created dens,
I mated, passing my genes along,
never imagining that you would kill me
for what you call my pelt.
Now all you can hear are my echoes.

Do you hear my echoes?
I am Conuropsis carolinensis,
the Carolina Parakeet,
I would travel in groups with hundreds of my friends,
when we were still alive.
I ate the same fruits that you eat today,
I had beautiful green and yellow plummage,
but that was my downfall because you wanted my feathers,
for your decorations and hats.
And then you wanted the trees that I nested in,
for your barns, and houses, and then your fires.
Now all you can hear are the echoes of what I used to be.

Do you hear my echoes?
I am Incilius periglenes
the Golden Toad,
I used to jump in the forests of Costa Rica,
my skin would glow as golden as the sun that hit it,
I needed water for breeding,
but also for my survival
because my porous skin needed moisture in the air,
when the climate warmed, the forest became dryer,
and my skin could not breathe the dry air.
And now I am no more.
Do you hear the echoes of my jumps?

When will you give others the space to exist?
How many more cries will have to turn to echoes?
Creator, why did you create a species which had so much power?
Did you ever ask them to care?
Do they remember the names of those they have killed?
When did exploitation become permissible?

Give our echoes voice again, O Creator.
Remind homo sapiens of their place in the web,
Bring connection, again,
for you are the Originator of connection,
and we need You desperately.

We need richness back in our ecosystems,
We need our coral reefs back,
and our rivers, and our feathers, and our pelts.

We will praise you with our songs of renewal,
with our cries for remembrance,
with our laments of pain,

For you are the Restorer of rhythm,
You are the God of the Moon,
and the God of the Sun,
our Mother, the Creator.

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The three species mentioned here (exempting homo sapiens, of course) are all extinct.

Earth Day Cheer

Happy, happy Earth Day to you! Here in Nashville, we welcomed Earth Day with a vibrant burst of spring buds and blooms and weather that would make the grumpiest of the grumpy smile. It was easy to be grateful for our earth today because, well, she showed up in all her glory.

It’s not as easy to see though, the damage in which we have inflicted upon our earth/ climate through our misuse of natural resources. As a biologist, I believe in the research we have found to support “Climate Change” (previously misnamed, “Global Warming”). I hope that today out of all days, you will take a moment to look at said research and begin advocating for wiser use of our resources. We cannot keeping taking, taking, taking from the earth without giving back. A last point that I will make is that we must stop looking at Climate Change as a political issue because it is most certainly a biological issue. The warmer our climate becomes, the more violent weather patterns we will see.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a solid website to introduce you to the facts of Climate Change.

From recycling, to carpooling, to biking, to investing in cleaner energy, we can all do small things to reduce our carbon footprint.

So HAPPY EARTH DAY! Let’s celebrate with a good dose of activism.