A New Heaven, A New Earth:
Food Justice, Ecology, and Revelation
We live in an age when we can no longer ignore the ecological context in which all our personal and social actions play out. When we begin to learn more about the extent of our combined challenges—ecological degradation, social inequity, food insecurity, climate change—we quickly become overwhelmed. Our world is ill. We need healing. The magnitude of our generation’s challenges can easily lead to inaction, fatalism, and despair.
Yet the long arc of God’s redemptive work, as reported by the biblical writers, is a hopeful alternative to despair or naïve optimism. The world will be made whole, those biblical writers tell us, and we along with it. In the book of Revelation we discover a compelling set of images depicting that wholeness—the Tree of Life, the River of Life, the Heavenly Banquet Feast. This is a vision of heaven come down to earth. “See, the home of God is among mortals,” John the Seer reports. Far from simply a quaint picture of heaven, such imagery has to potential to help us reimagine how we live now, starting with our own bioregions.
Each morning during the course Dr. Rossing explored these images from Revelation as touchstones for thinking about the life of faith and how we grow and share food. In the afternoon, skilled practitioners in permaculture, ecology, and community organizing lead experiential learning workshops.
For people of faith in search of wisdom with which to respond to our current “ecology of injustice,” this course offered knowledge, tools, and disciplines to help us “seek the peace” of the places in which we dwell.
Chris Grataski is a Permaculture Instructor, Nurseryman, and Design Professional working across the continent and rooted in the diverse landscapes between Appalachia and the Chesapeake Bay. Drawing heavily on the bioregionalist vision, he works as an herbalist, grassroots educator and design activist committed to social and ecological justice. He is currently completing a Master’s Degree in Applied Ecology.
Na’Taki Osborne Jelks is an environmental health scientist, social change engineer, and educator working for a healthy, just, and sustainable future. She has over 18 years of community, non-profit, and government experience working to address environmental challenges facing communities of color. Over 15 years ago, she co-founded the West Atlanta Watershed Alliance (WAWA), an urban, community-based organization made up of residents living in the Proctor, Utoy, and Sandy Creek Watersheds in Northwest and Southwest Atlanta, Georgia who are overburdened with environmental stressors and pollution, but often least represented at environmental decision-making tables. WAWA was established as a result of community efforts to halt discriminatory wastewater treatment practices in West Atlanta, and the organization has grown to become an impactful force in community-centered sustainable development. Jelks currently serves as the organization’s Board Chairperson.
When she is not busy trying to transform toxic landscapes into healthy communities, Mrs. Jelks serves as an adjunct Instructor in the Environmental Science and Studies Program at Spelman College, her alma mater, and she is a Ph.D. candidate at the Georgia State University School of Public Health in Atlanta. Recognized as a 2014 White House Champion of Change for her efforts to engage urban communities and youth of color in environmental stewardship through hands-on watershed and land restoration initiatives, Jelks co-founded the Atlanta Earth Tomorrow® Program, National Wildlife Federation’s multi-cultural environmental education and leadership development program for urban teens. As an unprecedented model for empowering inner-city teens to improve their communities, youth from neighborhoods highly impacted by pollution and economic disparities develop and implement bold, innovative solutions that advance urban sustainability.
Mrs. Jelks is married to Rev. Ken Jelks and is mother to an active five-year old son, Kenyatta. A published poet, she is working on her first book of non-fiction, Rooted Resistance: Women of Color and Environmental Justice.
Sarah Nolan has worked in both the sustainable agriculture and non-profit sectors for almost 10 years and is a founding member of two different small to mid-size farms in Southern California; one a worker-owner cooperative (South Central Farmers’ Cooperative) and the other, The Abundant Table’s not-for-profit educational farm. In her capacity as Director of Programs and Community Partnerships at the Abundant Table, Sarah provides overall vision, leadership and management of the young adult internship program, the Campus Ministry at California State University, Channel Islands and our small-scale diversified farm operations, including growing, packing, direct marketing, distribution, permits, and finances.
In addition to her faith-rooted and farm-based activities, she actively participates in multiple regional and statewide networks, including the California Regional Food Hub Network, the Los Angeles Food Policy Council “food systems” working group, and the Ventura County Farm to School Collaborative. She serves on the steering committee for the California State Farm to School Network and in July 2014 began a 2-year Environmental Stewardship Fellowship through the National Episcopal Church for her sustainable agriculture and farm to faith work. Sarah earned a double bachelors of arts in philosophy and theology from Azusa Pacific University and recently completed a graduate degree in ministry, leadership and service at Claremont School of Theology.
Rev. Nurya Love Parish is a priest, writer, and speaker. She helps Christian leaders imagine and create faithfully innovative ways to live the gospel so we can glorify God, steward God’s creation, and teach the faith to future generations. She serves St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church (Grand Rapids, MI) as half-time Associate Priest with a focus on formation ministries for families, children and youth. Her blog, Churchwork, provides insights and commentary on the Episcopal Church and tracks the development of the Christian food movement through the new Faith + Farm + Food guide.
An adult convert to Christianity and to the Episcopal Church, she has served in ministry positions for over twenty years, five of them within the Episcopal Church. She holds a M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School and a Certificate of Anglican Studies from Seabury-Western Theological School.
Rev. Parish has been a participant-observer in the sustainable food movement since the 1990′s. While serving as her local humanities council’s director in 2009, she conceived of and produced a documentary titled “Eating in Place,” in cooperation with Calvin College, which subsequently aired on PBS in Michigan statewide. She is a member of the working Steering Committee of the nascent Episcopal Faith/Farm/Food Network and is in the planning phase of a farm-based ministry incorporating Christian formation and environmental education.
Charles Pettee made his first foray into traditional music as a child in Asheville, North Carolina. Upon his relocation to Chapel Hill in the early 1980s, Pettee—by this time an accomplished guitarist, mandolinist, singer and songwriter—was drafted into the Shady Grove Band, an internationally known bluegrass group with whom he continues to tour and record. In 2003, Pettee founded FolkPsalm, a group the Independent Weekly described as “rich, engaging new acoustic and bluegrass. . . . The most sophisticated and moving of Pettee’s career.” For three decades and across multiple continents, Pettee has served as an ambassador of traditional music of the North Carolina Piedmont, logging more than 5000 performances in the process. In Pettee’s music, says Pastor Mitchell Simpson of Chapel Hill’s University Baptist Church, “something very old and very true is at work.”
The Rev. Dr. Barbara R. Rossing is professor of New Testament at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, where she has taught since 1994. She loves to teach and preach about the Bible, including the Bible’s role in public life.
An avid environmentalist, Rossing is involved with environmental initiatives at the seminary. Rossing received the bachelor of arts degree from Carleton College, the master of divinity degree from Yale University Divinity School and the doctor of theology degree from Harvard University.
She served as pastor of a congregation in Minnesota, director for Global Mission Interpretation for the American Lutheran Church, pastor at Holden Village Retreat Center, Chelan, Wash., and chaplain at Harvard University Divinity School.
Rossing has lectured and preached widely, including synod assemblies and global mission events for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), as well as ecumenical theological conferences. She has served on the executive committee and council of the Lutheran World Federation (2003-2010), and chaired the Lutheran World Federation’s theology and studies committee. She currently serves on the advisory committee for The Lutheran Magazine.
As a public theologian her media appearances have included “CBS Sixty Minutes” as well as The History Channel, National Geographic, Living the Questions, and numerous print and radio interviews.
Her publications include The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation (Basic Books, 2004); The Choice Between Two Cities: Whore, Bride and Empire in the Apocalypse (Trinity Press, 1999); two volumes of the New Proclamation commentary (Fortress Press, 2000 and 2004); a nine-session Bible study, Journeys Through Revelation: Apocalyptic Hope for Today (Presbyterian Women, 2010); and articles and book chapters on the Apocalypse and ecology.
Track I – Permaculture, Applied Ecology, and the Future of Food
with Chris Grataski
“Permaculture Design” is an ecological design discipline and suite of practices concerned with rethinking the nature of human habitats—from the built environment that we create for shelter to the biological systems that provide our food and water. More than just a gardening technique, permaculture is a discipline committed to reconciliation between the human community and the landscapes upon which we depend. It is an imaginative and interdisciplinary constellation of practices rooted in the recognition that humans are a part of wild nature, rather than apart from it. As such, it is deeply resonant with the fundamental convictions of biblical faith that understand salvation and shalom as tied to regeneration and reconciliation – God’s healing work to restore creaturehood and overcome division.
This workshop will offer an introduction to permaculture skills, principles and ethics with a focus on healing soil and producing nutrient dense food and medicine. We’ll introduce a variety of practical skills – tailoring the content to the skill level and interest of workshop participants – including topsoil development and remediation, plant propagation, reading the landscape, designing a food forest, and learning to work with, rather than against, insects and other wildlife.
Track II – Growing and Sustaining a Faith-Based Food and Social Justice Initiative
with Na’Taki Osborne Jelks and Sarah Nolan
This three-part session will explore the guiding principles for responsive and responsible community development, as well as the nuts and bolts of growing and sustaining faith-based food and agricultural ministries focused on social change. Through interactive and collaborative engagement of transformative stories of place and purpose, we will cover topics ranging from theories of social change, community organizing, environmental justice, ingredients for successful partnerships, leadership development, fundraising, and more. Through a combination of brief assignments completed before and during the course, participants will guided through activities that will compel them to connect their own sense of place — the watersheds and communities from which they hail — to mission-based work rooted in social justice.
1. Rapture in Reverse: God Comes to Earth
Revelation takes us on a journey of hope and transformation, a journey into the heart of God’s own dream for our world. The entire book of Revelation leads up to the wondrous vision of New Jerusalem, the city of beauty, welcome, and ecological renewal that descends from heaven to the earth. As followers of Jesus the Lamb, God’s people undertake an Exodus out of the Roman imperial system into life. God comes to live with us on earth. This vision is the very opposite of Armageddon.
2. End of Empire, not End of the Created World. Eschatology shapes Ethics
What aspects of our political economy must come to an end today? In the first century, Revelation helped communities of Jesus’ followers see the inevitable “end” that lay ahead, and gave them the courage to “come out” of empire before it was too late. With its radical diagnosis of the pathology of empire, Revelation gives us eyes to diagnose our ecological crisis as a spiritual crisis, and to find the medicine we need– a different vision of hope.
3. Tree of Life for Healing the World
The central image of Revelation is the nation-healing tree of life, growing beside the river of life. Each element of the New Jerusalem vision’s radiant urban paradise helps us envision the healing that flows from the throne of God, into our world. Healing comes not directly from God but through the creation, from a tree. Revelation’s invitation is sacramental and ecological, “Let everyone who is thirsty come.”