Ecotheology of Critical Hope at Harvard Divinity’s Spirit of Sustainable Agriculture Conference

On Thursday, I’ll be in Boston for Harvard Divinity School‘s Spirit of Sustainable Agriculture Conference, and I’ll be sharing a poster presentation based on my work to develop an ecotheology of critical hope. I’m looking forward to chatting with people about this concept and finding out whether or not it connects with their experiences. Below is my poster, which gives you an overview of the way I’m currently conceptualizing this ecotheology of critical hope. I’m also looking forward to going to the great sessions throughout the day on Thursday, then I’ll be heading up to New Hampshire for my PhD weekend classes at Antioch University New England on Friday and Saturday. There are also great sessions on Friday, though I’ll unfortunately miss them. We can’t do everything in life, right? But I’m excited that this conference lines up with my PhD weekend so I can attend part of it, make connections, share about my research, and learn about the great work that others are doing.

CBock_Critical Hope Poster

Outdoors with Kids in Chehalem Valley: walking around town

The other day, my five-year-old son and I wanted to go to the library after we dropped off our car to my husband. We were in downtown Newberg, OR, a little over a mile from home, and we’d have to walk home if we didn’t want a ride right then. K said he was up for it. Though Newberg is already a pretty good, small community, as far as communities go in the United States these days, this one walk made me realize what an even more connected community might be like if we all walked everywhere. Let me explain.

First of all, as we walked, we saw many people we knew. Second, we noticed things and had conversations we wouldn’t have otherwise. Third, it gave me the opportunity to praise my son for his ability to confidently do something that takes endurance and strength. He was more than capable of walking the mile-plus, even though we had also gone for a walk earlier that day.

As we walked to the library and home, we ran into my mother-in-law, who was doing some yard work for a client. At the library, we chatted with my cousin for a while, and K made some new friends with the other kids there. We read several books, and picked up our main quarry: a Minecraft book, as well as one of the books from the OBOB list for next year. On the way back, we saw a friend and set up a play date for next week, I waved at a student who was walking and chatting with someone else, we walked part of the way with a friend we bumped into who was also walking home from town, and we ran into several neighbors who we haven’t seen much all winter. We chatted and exchanged gardening and chicken-raising tips and woes, K met a kid from down the street who we hadn’t talked to before, and we set up plans for another neighbor kid to come over the next day. We observed many different flowers, and paid attention to the buds emerging from various types of trees and shrubs. We noted the smell of the air on different sections of our walk. We got some books and some exercise and some social connections, and we had time to chat about life and whatever came to mind.

What if we all walked everywhere in town? Imagine the kind of community we would build through randomly bumping into people. Imagine the conversations we’d have with our kids if we did life at walking pace. Imagine what we would observe about our region if we walked by the same plants daily, noticing the incremental changes. Imagine the health of our people if we walked several miles each day, creating and maintaining social connections.

Newberg is a relatively walkable town with pretty good community, but it is still easy to not know one’s neighbors and to remain isolated in one’s own house and car. I realize that going outdoors doesn’t necessarily have to mean going out to the woods, or doing something separate from one’s daily routine. Going outdoors can also mean time spent walking in one’s community at the pace of a child, being willing to stop and chat, and working on the social capital that accrues when one invests time in one’s family and community.

Outdoors with Kids in Chehalem Valley: Harvey Creek Trail

Harvey Creek Trailhead, Red Hills Rd., Dundee, OR

As spring begins and it’s possible to get outside more often without freezing or getting soaked to the bone, I’ve been trying to spend more time outside with my kids. Therefore, I’m starting a new series here called “Outdoors with Kids in Chehalem Valley.” If you have ideas for other nearby places to go, let me know! It feels like a lot of work to get out to the Columbia Gorge or the Coast Range for a “real” hike, but hikes and other outdoor experiences closer by are definitely doable of a morning or afternoon, and have the added bonus of requiring less travel time.

I’m starting this series with the Harvey Creek Trail in Dundee, OR. I feel like this trail is not very well known, but for those of us living in Chehalem Valley who want to get outside a bit, this is a great option for a short but beautiful hike. My five-year-old and I did this hike yesterday and had a great time. It’s pretty steep in places for a kiddo, but since it’s not long, it’s doable. I can’t find any information about how long it is, but I’d say it’s probably a half mile or so. (UPDATE: we did this again with my Runkeeper app going, and it is indeed about a half mile each way, depending on which trails you take.) Dundee is developing more trails through this space, so one could potentially make the hike longer by weaving back and forth along all the trails. (UPDATE: As of 8.1.16, there are lots more trails now! They criss-cross each other, but as long as you are going generally up, if that’s the direction you’re going, or down, if that’s the direction you’re going, then you can’t get lost. They just zigzag back and forth.) Others online mention that this is a trail that provides walking access to wineries along Red Hills Rd., so even if you don’t have kids (or don’t want to bring them), this can be a nice alternative wine tour.

Harvey Creek Trail
Harvey Creek Trailheads, image from Google Earth

This hike has two access points. The easiest one to find is at the top of the hill in Dundee at the Dundee Pioneer Cemetery. If you turn northwest at the light on 5th St. and go up the hill past the school, left when it comes to a T with Upland Dr., right on SW Alder St., and then left on Viewmont Dr., you come to the top of the hill and you’ll see the cemetery. Tucked into the edge of the woods is a trailhead marker. You can also get at this trail from the opposite side by going out Red Hills Rd. It’s on the gravel part of the road, and is easily visible on the left side of the road if one is traveling along Red Hills Rd. coming from Newberg. There is a trail marker and a small pullout where you can park.

Backpacking
Backpacking the Zigzag Trail on Mt. Hood with my six-month-old

I used to walk this trail often, although it didn’t have any trail markers at the time and I wasn’t sure if it was public or not! I lived in that area about 9 years ago, renting space in one of the houses in the neighborhood, when we birthed our first son. I carried him around in a backpack up and down all the streets, prepping for the backpacking trip in the photo at left, and often I’d take him up to the cemetery and do a trail hike with him.

Harvey Creek
Bridge over Harvey Creek

Yesterday, I asked my younger son if he wanted to walk the trail uphill on the way and downhill on the way back, or downhill first and end with uphill, and he wisely chose to start from the bottom and go up first. Therefore, we started at the Red Hills Rd. end, went up to the cemetery, and back down. We went at his pace, wandering and looking closely, then running for short bursts, stopping frequently for snacks. We threw “helicopters” off the bridge into Harvey Creek,

Harvey Creek detail
Detail of mushrooms and moss on a tree stump along Harvey Creek Trail

looked in every stump and hole in the ground for animals, and listened to all the different bird calls. We walked through the cemetery and discussed death a little bit, and we told stories and shared thoughts. He crouched down and found the three little mushrooms in this network of miniature tunnels.

Although this trail is never out of earshot of traffic, airplanes, and truck noise, and one can see houses or other marks of the presence of human beings along the way (besides the trail) for much of the journey, I still recommend this trail as a beautiful area where one can get outside, smell the forest, hear the sounds of other species, and appreciate a public green space without having to spend long in the car if you live in the vicinity.

“Hope” in the Hebrew Bible

While studies in hope from a psychological perspective are helpful and give a basic understanding of the concept of hope, they leave something to be desired regarding the breadth and depth of the concept of hope for people of faith. Therefore, I wanted to do a biblical word study on the terms we translate “hope” from Hebrew and Greek to get a better understanding of how this concept turns up in the Bible and how the Jewish and nascent Christ-followers spoke of hope. Today I’ll discuss a couple of the Hebrew terms, and I’ll share about the Greek term in another post. After a discussion of the Hebrew terms and their implications, I offer a brief explanation of how this expanded vision of hope enables me to enter into caring for creation with deeper commitment.

No one word in the Hebrew Bible covers the range of Hebrew understanding of hope, but there is a “highly differentiated cluster of linguistic tools” used by the authors of the Hebrew Bible to speak to the concept we call “hope” in English (The Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, vol. XV, 760). According to the New Wilson’s Old Testament Word Studies, the following words can connote hope:

  • בָּטַח (batach): trust, with a secondary meaning of hope
  • חָסָה (chasah): refuge, shelter, trust in for safety and protection
  • יָאַשׁ (ya’ash): despair, no hope
  • יָחַל (yachal): wait, hope, patient waiting, longing, so far disappointing but still hoping and waiting
  • בֶּסֶל (basal): the loins, trusting or hoping with the confidence of the place where a man’s strength comes from
  • קָוָה (qawah): “to hope strongly; to stretch out the mind in a straight direction towards an object of hope or expectation” (222); includes תִּקְוָה and מִקְוָה.
  • שָׂבַר (sabar): look for expectantly, hope for

The two that seem most relevant are yachal/tohelet and qavah/tiqwah, so I did a bit deeper study of these words based on the entries for tiqwa and yachal in The Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, vols. XV and VI.

Tiqwa ( תקוה) comes from the root קוה (qwh), which is used once in the Bible to mean “cord” (from קו), but otherwise it means “await, hope for,” from qawâ. There are 32 occurrences of tiqwa in the Hebrew Bible (though two of them are suspect based on Septuagint translations): 12 in Job, 8 in Proverbs, 4 in Psalms, 2 in Jeremiah, 2 in Ezekiel, 1 each in Hosea, Zechariah, Lamentations, and Ruth. The root qwa occurs 76 times, all in the prophets, Psalms and wisdom. Interestingly, it is used more as a verb in the Psalms and prophets and more as a noun in the wisdom literature.

The roots qwa and yhl are similar in meaning and become merged somewhat semantically. Yhl has a similar range of meaning of “hope” outside the religious context, while qwa is more focused theologically on “expectant hoping that is always goal-oriented” (Vol. XV, 760).

Tiqwa focuses on the duration and quality of human life, both its uncertainty and its fulfillment. For example, it can refer to one’s prospects within the social structure, such as the loss of Naomi’s hopes/prospects, or the admonition in Proverbs to instruct your children in wisdom while they still have hopes/prospects. It sounds like this particular verb has to do with hope in this life, the hope of a long life that is fulfilling and lived ethically, in right relationship. In these cases it is used as a noun, something people have (or don’t have). In contrast, Job uses it as a verb 5 times, possibly indicating that Job had to actively hope—he didn’t get to just wait patiently through a good life.

The verb יָחַל (yachal), and its noun form, תֹהֶלֶת (tohelet, expectation), is found only in Hebrew and cannot be convincingly connected to words from other Ancient Near East languages. It may be associated with strength and standing firm, or perhaps with being in labor and waiting in painful expectation. It appears 48 times in the Hebrew Bible, with several more occurrences of a possible misspelling that probably is meant to be this root. Yachal almost always requires an object to be waited for, usually God, God’s word, God’s law, or actions of God. A few times it has no object but the meaning is “to wait continually.”

Yachal and qawah, or tohelet and tiqvah/miqvah, often appear in parallel, so that “to wait” and “to hope” seem to go together in Hebrew thought. Yachal also is often used in connection with stillness or silence, as well as looking expectantly.

The object waited for is always good, but the subject doesn’t necessarily receive the desired outcome, which is a topic of complaint. Yachal often appears in the formula,“wait for God,” or, where there is no object, it has a sense of enduring patiently. It is also used in the lament-form “I wait for the Lord,” in situations where the waiting feels like it is not answered.

In Hebrew thought at the time the books of the Hebrew Bible were written, there was no expectation of an afterlife, so the hopes for this life perish when wicked people die, according to Proverbs. The authors of this commentary take it to mean that the illusory riches of wicked people come to nothing in this life or after, that their puny aspirations of wealth and power have already failed in this lifetime, because true hope/expectation is based on living a righteous life. In Psalms, the psalmists hope in God (verb) in the midst of their own suffering, as opposed to debating the idea of having hope (noun), as is more common in the wisdom literature.

It seems to me as if yachal has more of an individual sense of waiting, while tiqvah has to do with the expectant hope of the whole Hebrew community and its eschatological hope. While this eschatological hope was not perceived at the time as leading to a personal afterlife, it refers to the purpose and meaning that extends across time in the life of the community, the faithfulness of the People of God across time. Waiting on God did not always feel personally fulfilling in this life, then as now. The authors of the laments spoke clearly to the distress they felt that the wicked so often seem to proper more than the righteous, and yet they chose to continue to hope in this expanded vision of the purpose of the community: living out God’s call to righteousness across time. Participating in this long-term hope makes it worthwhile to enact justice, even when that justice does not lead to material comfort in this life. Each person’s acts of waiting and trusting in the long-term hope contributes to the coming of the hoped-for shalom of God. It provides meaning to suffering and trials, a context within which these painful and discouraging experiences make sense.

This is a much deeper and richer understanding of hope than can be found when looking at hope simply as goal creation, as Snyder and others do when looking at hope from an individual psychological perspective. When we recognize a hope that goes beyond our personal lifetime and that is mediated by a broader vision than our own comfort or current level of life satisfaction, we are able to draw on a vast and deep well of experience, communal vision, and purpose than we can when we only have our own life experiences and past successes and failures upon which to base our hopes. This communal understanding of hope allows us to continue working for justice and righteousness even when we despair of that hope manifesting fully in our lifetime.

When I think of holding hope regarding the ecological situation we currently face, “hope” based in my own lifetime does not motivate me to attempt to change the way we are going about living. I can convince myself that things will probably be fine in my lifetime. They will probably not go extremely downhill here in Oregon until after I’m already dead (though this is getting harder and harder to convince myself, as we pass more and more milestones of species extinctions, glacier melts, temperature records, polluted air and water crises, and human displacement due to blatantly climate change-related reasons such as sea level rise or obliquely climate change-related reasons such as drought, famine, wars over resources, and displacement of people due to corporate buy-outs of land or decimation of land due to resource extraction, and so on). But if I think of hope in a long-term sense, in the sense of the arc of history bending toward justice, I see history from a different vantage point. I recognize my contribution to the history of justice and righteousness, and I want to be part of creating that community of shalom, rather than only creating a momentary blip of personal comfort in my own lifetime. This biblical vision of communal hope rather than individual goal completion offers a broader and deeper purpose for acting on the part of the planet and all creation to steward God’s created world with care, looking toward the future with hope for the entire community of creation.

References:

Botterweck, G. Johannes, Helmer Ringgren, and Heinz-Josef Fabry, eds. 2006. “Tiqwâ.” In Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, XV (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company): 759–65.

Botterweck, G. Johannes, Helmer Ringgren, and Heinz-Josef Fabry, eds. “Yachal.” In Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, VI (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2006): 49–55.

Wilson, William. 1987. “Hope.” In New Wilson’s Old Testament Word Studies (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications): 222.

“Thanks for making me go outside, Mom”

Yesterday, my two sons returned home from their days’ activities to a few hours of free play before dinner. Afternoons at our house can be great times to just relax, with the boys doing their own free play or playing together, but they can sometimes (OK, often) turn problematic. You know how it goes: Little Brother wants attention, Big Brother ignores him, Little Brother becomes increasingly annoying until Big Brother can’t take it anymore and explodes, Little Brother gets verbally and/or physically attacked and cries loudly, parents are forced to stop whatever house cleaning or food prep in which they were engaged and break up a fight. Possibly the parents in this scenario could act sooner and give the younger child attention so he wouldn’t have to bother his brother, but this assumes the parents are independently wealthy and can hire maids and cooks and gardeners…so, in other words, this is not always possible in my real world.

So yesterday, I heard a fight brewing, and I cautioned the boys that if they couldn’t work it out, I was going to send them outside. They didn’t want to go outside, they whined, and I said, “Fine, no problem—it’s your choice. Figure out a way to get along and you can stay where you are.”

Less than two minutes later, Big Brother’s voice raised again in frustration, lashing out at his brother. (His younger brother had left the room, but continued to play a drum loudly while Big Brother attempted to hear an audio book.) He had a legitimate concern, but was unable to see beyond his own wants in order to work out a solution that would be fair to both of them, or come seek my help in the matter.

“Outside,” I directed. After much whining and yelling and cajoling on the part of my eldest, I succeeded in convincing him to go outside. “Going outside helps people calm down,” I offered as my reason. (If he’d asked me to back up this statement with evidence, I would have started him with the list of resources below.)

In fact, all three of us went outside to a lovely spring day. I got a bit of weeding done, my older son took out his frustration by throwing and hitting a ball at the garage door for a while (some call this “wall ball”; I call it “hitting something other than your brother”), and my younger son wandered around singing little songs to himself, chatting with me and with his brother in turn, and exploring.

About half an hour later, my older son hollered from the other side of the yard, “Mom?”

“Yes?” I answered.

“Thanks for sending me outside!”

I might have said the same.

References:

Keffer, Ken. “Kids and the Outdoors: It’s Natural.” Parks & Recreation 50:1 (January 2015): 32–33.
Lewis, Terence Grant Jr. “Youth and Nature: Assessing the Impact of an Integrated Wellness Curriculum on Nature Based Play and Nature Appreciation for Youth in out-of-School Time Recreation Programming.” ProQuest Information & Learning, 2009. (2009-99230-008).
Louv, Richard. Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder. Updated and Expanded edition. Chapel Hill, N.C: Algonquin Books, 2008.
McClain, Cara, and Maureen Vandermaas-Peeler. “Social Contexts of Development in Natural Outdoor Environments: Children’s Motor Activities, Personal Challenges and Peer Interactions at the River and the Creek.” Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning 16:1 (January 2016): 31–48.
Nedovic, Sonya, and Anne-Marie Morrissey. “Calm Active and Focused: Children’s Responses to an Organic Outdoor Learning Environment.” Learning Environments Research 16:2 (July 2013): 281–95.
Schoffman, Danielle E., Andrew T. Kaczynski, Melinda Forthofer, Sara Wilcox, Brent Hutto, Stephanie T. Child, and S. Morgan Hughey. “Longitudinal Associations with Changes in Outdoor Recreation Area Use for Physical Activity during a Community-Based Intervention.” Preventive Medicine: An International Journal Devoted to Practice and Theory 78 (September 2015): 29–32.
Tulipane, Barbara. “Healthy Play Outdoors Means Healthy Kids.” Parks & Recreation 49:11 (November 2014): 8–8.
Weinstein, Netta, Andrew K. Przybylski, and Richard M. Ryan. “Can Nature Make Us More Caring? Effects of Immersion in Nature on Intrinsic Aspirations and Generosity.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 35:10 (October 2009): 1315–29.