Watershed Discipleship

Every November just before US Thanksgiving, I attend the American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature annual meeting as part of my professional development. It’s the largest gathering of scholars,  pastors, and students of religion in North America so it’s a great place for learning and to connect with others. I’ve already shared some of this year’s highlights on my own blog: The Best of AAR/SBL gives an overview and Wendell Berry at AAR/SBL includes my notes from one of the special sessions.

In this post, I’d like to focus on the Mennonite Scholars and Friends Forum. This Saturday morning gathering is coordinated by the Toronto Mennonite Theological Centre on a different theme each year. This time it was From “Creation Care” to “Watershed Discipleship”: An Anabaptist Approach to Ecological Theology and Practice. Here are my notes from the main paper by Ched Myers (Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries).

This paper starts with a review of the current ecological crisis. We have the “fundamental choice between discipleship and denial, to live  in light of or in spite of.”

Yet Ched Myers says that approaches that have gained traction in the church are too abstract, focused more on the aesthetic. He says we need a more radical approach that addresses “the fantasy of human autonomy” in which we think we are primary and entitled to consume everything: “If the root of the problem is alienation from the earth, to the earth we must go.”

I.  What is watershed discipleship?
– begins with the physical reality of the importance of watersheds (areas bound by a common water/river system, so e.g. we are in the Fraser River watershed)
– moves us rom social abstraction to watershed practicality:
Recognizes a “basin” of relations
Connecting with the great economy of nature
Means people covenanting with specific land – we have ancient resources for this
Not just going green but:
– reflecting local biodiversity, e.g., in choice of flowers on altar
– baptism connects to watersheds
– mission trips could include nature walks, solitude and anti-fracking protest
– community solidarity with people of the land including those “inconveniently present”
– etc.

II. What makes watershed discipleship Anabaptist?
– It’s about translating into practices
– Focuses on specific place
– Connects with more-with-less experiments
– Heterogeneous, non-hierarchical
– Citizenship apart from nation state
– Draws on past to preserve the future
– Resonates with environmental ethics

This is just a taste of a fascinating morning on creation care that left me with a lot to think about, practice, and share.