Book review published: Watershed Discipleship

I reviewed Watershed Discipleship: Reinhabiting Bioregional Faith & Practice (ed. Ched Myers, Wipf & Stock, 2016) for Sojourners, and it’s in the April 2017 issue. This is an excellent book of edited chapters from individuals around the USA and Canada who are working to put environmental care into action within a Christian framework. You should all read it! I’m excited about watershed discipleship as a way of looking at environmental care, which has great potential for moving Christians from paralysis into action on their beliefs in the need to care for creation. Perhaps we think of the immensity of the environmental problem and we feel we can’t do much about it, but if we think of ourselves as members of a particular watershed, and we concentrate on caring for that space, it feels more doable. Wendell Berry rewords the Golden Rule to explain how this is an act of care for the entire planet: “Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you” (quoted in Myers, ed., 2016, 60).

Caring for our watersheds can be an act of discipleship that moves us out of a deer-in-the-headlights response to the enormity of the environmental problems we face because we can see ourselves taking small actions to care for God’s creation directly around us. As Sojourners readers learned in the May 2014 issue, Ched Myers and Todd Wynward define watershed discipleship as a triple entendre:

  1. It recognizes that we are in a watershed historical moment of crisis, which demands that environmental and social justice and sustainability be integral to everything we do as Christians and citizen inhabitants of specific places;
  2. It acknowledges the bioregional locus of an incarnational following of Jesus: our individual discipleship and the life and witness of the local church take place inescapably in a watershed context;
  3. And it implies that we need to be disciples of our watersheds. (Myers, ed., 2016, 2)

In this first book-length treatment of the subject of watershed discipleship, Ched Myers explains the concept, and a collection of authors under age 40 share their stories intermingled with scripture, theology, and historical reinterpretation. Placing themselves in context in the Midwest, the South, the Pacific Northwest, and California, these authors explore ecotheology in place. They tell the stories of their actions within particular watersheds, recount the history and current setting of their regions, explore information about the local flora and fauna, and point out deeply relevant passages of scripture in which the unaccustomed Bible reader might not even notice an ecological implication. After reading this book, it is impossible to read scripture without noticing how connected to the Jordan River watershed Jesus’ life and parables are, in addition to the prophets and the Hebrew people throughout much of their recorded biblical history.

“Water is life,” as Native Americans have recently reminded us in protests of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The authors of Watershed Discipleship connect the sacred symbolism of water throughout the Christian Scriptures with struggles for environmental justice today. Drawing on biblical imagery such as water baptism, various passages involving the Jordan River, and eschatological images of the River of Life in Revelation, the authors skillfully connect these themes to modern conflicts over access to clean water in regions across the country and around the world.

Baptism is connected with repentance, and the pieces in this volume call us as American Christians to radical repentance for our part in creating the current situation of environmental degradation. Through retelling our history of colonialism, linking our overuse of resources to the culture of systemic oppression experienced by marginalized human populations, and lifting up the biblical focus on the health of the land as a measure of whether or not the Israelites were following God faithfully, these authors show clearly that our disconnection from the land is a spiritual issue. By telling their stories of awakening to the intersectional justice issues faced by the land and marginalized people groups, and their stories regarding how they are going about reconciling relationships with land and people, they offer hope: hope that our small actions of care make a difference, and give us a literal place to start.

I highly recommend this book to any who recognize that caring for creation is something related to their faith, but they don’t know exactly how to go about it. I also highly recommend it for courses in ecotheology, creation care, and other environmentally related religion courses at the college and seminary levels. There is excellent theology in evidence here, interpreting scripture in light of modern issues, while grounding it in actual places and historical reality. You will be challenged to take a step, build a network, get to know the place in which you live, and seek for and find God there.

Book review: Lady Midrash

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the voices and stories of women are not always told in the Bible, and even when they are, they reflect a male perspective, and, presumably, mostly male authorship. There are many women in the biblical text, from Eve, Sarah, and Rachel to Mary the mother, Mary Magdalene, and Elizabeth. But we do not always hear very much about them or learn their stories, thoughts, and experiences. In Lady Midrash: Poems Reclaiming the Voices of Biblical Women (Resource Publications, Wipf & Stock, 2016), Elisabeth Mehl Greene asks the question, “What if?” What if these women’s stories had been told in the text, or what if they had been the ones telling the stories? Who is missing or unnamed in the text, and what might they have had to say about the stories depicted in the Bible?

Elisabeth Mehl Greene

Greene is engaging in a form of midrash, a Jewish tradition of wrestling with the text: asking questions of the text, and letting the text question us. This not only occurs through logic, through questions that can be answered, but by writing in the form of poetry, Greene is able to express and open up in the reader “informed imagination” (xi). Her poems are well researched and she clearly understands the context of the Ancient Near East and Judea under Roman rule in first century Palestine, but she also engages in playful creativity, irony and critique, expansive and prophetic truth-seeking alongside the mundane tasks performed in the everyday lives of the depicted women.

Jewish scholars engaging in midrash.
Jewish scholars engaging in midrash.

Engaging in a “hermeneutic of remembrance” (a quote from Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza in Greene, xviii), Greene invites us along on a journey of imagination, bringing to our awareness the stories of women who are “unnamed, unexplored, or even erased” (xii). She explores through poetry the stories and perspectives of 60 biblical personages, some named in the text (Eve, Ruth, Hannah), some unnamed (Jephthah’s daughter, the lover of Solomon, the sister of Jesus), and some presumably present but not mentioned (the women at Mt. Sinai, wise travelers from the East).

What if we heard their voices? What if their interactions with and understanding of God were also recorded? What more might we know of God, and of humanity’s relationship with God, if we were open to hearing from God through all present? This begs the question, who are the unheard ones in our midst today? Whose voices are we missing, and what might we hear and know of God if we listened more deeply to those around us today? How might we record and pass along such stories to those who come after us in such a way that a well-rounded perspective of the creative dance between God and humanity can be known?

Elisabeth Mehl Greene and co-presenter, Mitra Motlagh, give workshop on Lady Midrash at Christian Feminism Today conference, June 2016. Photo credit: Jann Aldredge Clanton.

I had the privilege of meeting Elisabeth Mehl Greene last summer at a Christian Feminism Today conference, where she led a workshop on this text. She invited us to sit with a text about a woman from scripture and ask questions of the text. What do we learn about the woman from the text? What do we not know of her story? What might she add to the story if we could hear her voice? Greene invited us to write some reflections, and even to try our hand at midrashic poetry, pursuing some of the questions and wisdom God might have to offer as we explore these stories using our informed imagination. I found this to be a challenging and fun way to engage with these texts that can often become sort of dry, and in some cases painful and sad, when seen again and again at face value.

Greene and Kendra Weddle Irons (who wrote the Foreword) acknowledge that some may worry about applying this poetic license to the scriptural text. Irons says, “It is much safer to believe God never changes and therefore the Bible reflects a similar inflexibility. But such intransigence fails to take seriously the teaching method Jesus used. His parables with their twists and turns never provided easy or tidy answers…. Similarly, midrash requires active listening so that questions rather than statements are cultivated and considered” (xi).

I enjoyed reading these poems slowly, letting these female characters come alive in my imagination. No longer two-dimensional figures offering a backdrop to (male) heroes, these poems offered a window into the human beings behind the biblical depictions. I wonder what it would be like to read Lady Midrash with a women’s Bible study group, reading the biblical texts from whence these poems arise, asking questions, and seeking after God through new entry points into ancient stories. I would also recommend assigning these poems in Bible classes, providing a different way of approaching biblical texts, and encouraging students to take note of the women in the text, as well as to recognize the humanity of biblical authors and other characters within the biblical narrative. This book might be especially apropos for courses such as Women in the Bible, or feminist explorations of the Bible.

In Lady Midrash, Greene simultaneously upholds the importance of the scriptural stories in continuing to offer meaning to spiritual seekers today, as well as a willingness to question, dig deep, seek after and find God, and grow in one’s faith through tenacity, hope, creativity, birth, prophecy, grace, wisdom, and friendship. By bringing these women’s stories to life, we are better able to see ourselves represented in the text, in all our failures and successes, loves and broken heartedness: in short, in all the glory and tragedy that makes us human.

Here is one poem that is speaking to me particularly today:

Nebiyah*
(The prophetess who bore Isaiah’s children)

Hear me, you heavens!
Listen to me, earth!
For God has spoken,
spoken through me.
God spoke to Isaiah also,
but I birthed God’s messages
in my body,
burning coal on my lips,
words in my mouth,
children in my arms.
Know this.

Therefore the Lord
will give you a sign:
a prophetess will conceive
and give birth
and will call the child Immanuel,
which means God With Us.
I did as I was told.

Take a great scroll
and write on it
with a woman’s hand:
Go to the prophet,
conceive and bear
“the remnant,” and “the plunder.”
They will answer to these names
and in the echo
you will hear deafening wing claps.
Here am I, send me.

Another mother went to a prophet
and now her precious ones answer to
“without mercy”
and “not my people.”
O Lord, how long?

And after all of this,
angels and infants,
visions and promises,
I was never his wife.

No eagles bore me up,
but I ran, ignoring weariness,
I walked and did not faint.
I carried the messages.
God was with me.
Perhaps one day
my strength will be renewed.

(*Nebiyah is the transliteration for the female version of the Hebrew word for prophet. There is some uncertainty among scholars regarding whether this woman who bore Isaiah’s sons was his wife, a prophetess, or both. What is clear is that, although she bore the children of the prophecy through her body, we know very little about her. What is her story? What else did God say through her? How does God speak to you through this scrap of a reclaimed story?)

Book review published: Good Food

I recently reviewed a book called Good Food: Grounded Practical Theologyy by Jennifer Ayres (Baylor University Press, 2013) for the Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature, & Culture. You can see the review here.

Jennifer Ayres
Jennifer Ayres

While I was a bit critical of the book for the review, I did actually like it. What I didn’t like was that Ayres said she was doing “grounded practical theology,” specifically saying she’s using the social sciences research method of grounded theory, but she did not do that. I’d like to see more theologians utilize social sciences methods, but if we’re going to do so, we need to do so well! Otherwise, if we try to use the language of social sciences but we do the research poorly (within that methodology), it doesn’t help us.

That said, I did like the book, and I appreciated how she developed her theology of food. She did so by telling stories as well as finding the theology of food present within the scriptural text, and I think this is really important to recover in this day and age.

As a Quaker, I acknowledge that our lack of physical Eucharist makes it difficult for us to really make use of this kind of table imagery, which is an excellent entry point into environmental care, interconnectedness with the rest of creation, and those sorts of liturgical resources present in most of the rest of Christianity. When I think of the Eucharist as an actual meal, one that physically ties us to a particular place, time, and community, while also reminding us of the sustenance we get from God, I have a lot more respect for the practice of the physical elements in communion. That said, I would rather recover the actual table fellowship practice of eating a meal together, as it seems many early Christians practiced, rather than a commercial-grade wafer and tiny cup of grape juice from who-knows-where, as is practiced by most church communities. Eating a meal grown from the land around one’s region is a great practice that can connect us with the ecology, economy, and society in which we live, as well as with Christ, giving thanks (eu-charisto) for the grace-filled sustenance we receive each day.

Book reviews: Discerning Critical Hope; Listening to Teach

A couple book reviews I wrote went live last week on the Wabash Center for Teaching & Learning in Theology & Religion‘s Reflective Teaching site. One reviewed Discerning Critical Hope in Educational Practices (eds. Vivienne Bozalek, Brenda Leibowitz, Ronelle Carolissen, and Megan Boler), and the other reviewed Listening to Teach: Beyond Didactic Pedagogy (ed. Leonard J. Waks). Both were excellent books!

listening to teachI read Listening to Teach at just the right time. I had a bit of a difficult class spring term, because we were talking about some sensitive topics such as race, class, gender, etc. without a lot of support or background on the part of the students. (It was an interdisciplinary capstone class where I had minimal control of the curriculum, and no control of the speakers and textbook.) I attempted to implement some of the skills of listening that I read about in Listening to Teach right away. I always find it interesting, however, that it’s the students who are often more resistant to moving beyond a didactic pedagogy than the teachers. I struggled to create a space that was safe for all perspectives to be shared, while also did not allow racist or sexist comments to stand. This is such a difficult balance, since I don’t want the conversation to just be me “against” a racist student, but also, I don’t want other students (particularly students of color) to be put in the situation of defending a racially inclusive perspective. At any rate, I was encouraged by what I learned in this book. Read my full review for more about the book itself.

discerning critical hopeDiscerning Critical Hope was a gem, since I’m working on developing an ecotheology of critical hope. I loved the book and found it encouraging, challenging, and helpful in getting my mind around what others mean when they’re using the term “critical hope.” Since it was a volume with chapters by all different authors, I wish there was a bit more that had defined critical hope, or given some sort of criteria, but by listening to all the voices, it’s possible to get a sense of what they’re aiming toward. (They’re basing the idea mainly on Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of Hope, so of course going back and reading that would also give the reader a better understanding.) But I feel like critical hope is a direction to aim for any religious educator, and it would be good if we could aim in this direction as pastors or leaders in faith-based organizations, too. I think we (Christians) often get too caught up in the idea of making everyone comfortable, having warm and fuzzy feelings, and we forget how to challenge people to critique what’s going on and also to have a sense of agency that they can do something about it. It seems to me that that’s what the church is for, and the religious academy is there to help faith leaders to lead their communities to and through these difficult challenges, while remaining fixed in a hope-filled narrative of grace, love, forgiveness, and reconciliation of all things through Christ. I hope that this becomes a theme that theologians begin connecting with, and specifically in the field of ecotheology.

The Wabash Center also has lots of other great resources for educators in theology and religion, such as syllabi, grants, thoughts on teaching, and lots of other book reviews. Check out the Reflective Teaching site to find other inspiring books, and read some great reviews, such as this recent one by my colleague, Laura Simmons, on a book about co-constructing knowledge in the classroom.

Rewilding the Way book review published by Sojourners

My review of Todd Wynward’s excellent book, Rewilding the Way: Break Free to Follow an Untamed God appears in the upcoming issue of Sojourners, and you can read the review online for the next several days here. The book is excellent! Its main point is that as current-day American Christians, we are woefully tame compared to the prophets, disciples, and Jesus himself, and that participating in the creation in a less controlled manner enhances our faith and trust in God. Wynward gives great examples from church history, and from modern-day individuals and communities who put their faith into practice in ways that care for human beings and the rest of creation.

I’ve been working on a project this semester for my course in civic ecology where I’m interviewing individuals enacting watershed discipleship. After I read this book and wrote the review, I got to interview Todd Wynward. He’s great! He has the awesome title of “Minister of Watershed Discipleship” in the Mountain States Mennonite Conference. He’s both wise and humble, recognizing that he still has a long way to go to put these things into practice, but offering his stories anyway as encouragement for all of us to continue deeper into the (literal and metaphorical) wilderness on the Jesus Way. I’m sure I’ll be sharing more about these interviews here in future months.

It’s also great to be able to contribute to Sojourners, because I have a great deal of respect for their work, a relatively long-term movement in the direction of Christ-centered social justice. Lately they’ve been moving more into the area of environmental justice and climate change discussions, so that’s exciting!

Cascadia, the Elusive Utopia: book review, part 3

This is the third (of three) posts reviewing and thinking about the ideas found in Cascadia, the Elusive Utopia: Exploring the Spirit of the Pacific Northwest. If you missed the first two, the first post gave an overview of the book and the second post discussed the region we might call “Cascadia,” and whether or not there is a nature-based spirituality in the region. Several of the authors of Cascadia, the Elusive Utopia assert that this nature-based spirituality is a form of civil religion, so that is the idea I’m going to discuss today, along with a wrap-up of my thoughts on this book and where the scholarly Cascadian community might go from here in terms of further research.

Is nature-based spirituality a civil religion?

In my understanding of civil religion from the perspective of sociologist Robert Bellah, civil religion has to do with utilizing religious language and symbols in order to support a national origin myth/history—usually in the form of nationalism. For example, the idea of Manifest Destiny is an American form of civil religion. This American civil religion bases American conquest and the genocide of native peoples on the religious conviction that it is important for God’s “truth” of civilization and order to be spread throughout the world as gospel. Therefore, the actions of the European settlers, no matter how grisly, were justifiable based on the origin myth of bringing order and civilization to savages, using a particular biblical interpretation. Civil religion tends to celebrate the state, and uphold its policies using religious language and religious-style ceremonies.

In Cascadia, I am not certain that I see a civil religion of this kind that is different from the civil religion of the rest of the United States. Perhaps Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia contain a distinct culture based on proximity, but is it a civil religion?

Mark Silk derives his definition of civil religion from an Italian historian, Emilio Gentile, who says civil religion is:

the conceptual category that contains the forms of sacralization of a political system that guarantee a plurality of ideas, free competition in the exercise of power, and the ability of the governed to dismiss their governments through peaceful and constitutional methods. Civil religion therefore respects individual freedom, coexists with other ideologies, and does not impose obligatory and unconditional support for its commandments. (p. 110)

To me, this sounds basically like the definition of democracy, or at least the definition of pluralism. Silk finds that there is not a civil religion at play in Cascadia any more than anywhere else in the US or Canada, and by his definition I agree.

Sallie McFague, on the other hand, encourages what she calls a civil religion of Cascadia, following the editor of the book’s simple definition of Cascadia’s civil religion as “finding God by taking a walk in the forest.” She puts a comma between “super, natural,” following the British Columbia tourist logo, “super, natural British Columbia,” to indicate that Cascadians’ understanding of the supernatural has everything to do with the natural, and vice versa. McFague implies that the “religion” of the bioregion is a cultural focus on spiritual connection through the natural world, which seems to be true if we focus our understanding of “Cascadia” on the portion west of the Cascades, but is McFague’s idea truly a “civil religion”? What makes it civil, rather than simply a religion?

Implications & Suggestions for Further Research

If we limit the understanding of Cascadia down to its western section and take a closer look at the nature-leaning spirituality present in many portions of urban Cascadian society, this book effectively and helpfully categorizes different forms of “spiritual but not religious” Cascadians and the strengths and weaknesses of their perspectives. One author, Gail Wells, points out that the difference between Cascadia’s emphasis on a more natural faith and the rest of the United States’ civil religion is a focus on what’s “really real.” Wells says she is “going to argue that both nature-based spirituality and conventional religion have the potential to play an important, subversive role in what has actually been Cascadia’s dominant culture: the scientific-rational-secular-liberal culture of North America. That role is to offer an alternative way of thinking about what is real.”

This, in my opinion, is the opposite of a civil religion. Instead of a religion enforced by authoritarian dogmatism and nationalism, it is a religion that grows out of an encounter with the Earth and the supernatural Life-Force (a.k.a. God) that sustains it.

Perhaps it is the bioregion’s beauty and abundance that allows Cascadians to perceive the interconnectedness of life and to look for the sacred outside the walls of political and religious institutions. The native people of the area also felt this way, and another chapter gave insight in this direction. Authored by First Nations member Eli Bliss Enns, the chapter is called, “A Geo-Indigenous World View from the Far West Coast of Cascadia.” Enns defines various terms in his indigenous language, such as, “Wii-cosh-naas: Honoring our mutual source of creation: Everything that exists is born from a common creative source.” He also speaks of the value of each person’s contribution to a discussion, and “owning” the land through protecting it and using its resources wisely, recognizing that we are all indigenous animals and other beings. This seems like the “elusive utopia” referred to in the title of the book, a vision present in our most historic and imaginative, liberative myths and sacred stories, from Native American to ancient Hebrew, and a vision new and freshly reborn for such a time and place as this.

I can get behind this vision and desire, but to truly connect this form of nature-based spirituality to the geography of the area in question would require much more focused research. Further study needs to be done to see if this is legitimately different from other urban areas, and to find out if the whole area of Cascadia fits the description of “spiritual but not religious,” or only the individuals west of the Cascades. Also, research would need to occur regarding whether engaging in outdoor recreation across Cascadia’s girth can correctly be termed “spirituality.”

In short, although there are a number of pieces to this puzzle pointing toward a nature-based spirituality in parts of Cascadia, much more research would need to be done to make the correlation clear, and to determine whether or not “Cascadia” is a useful regional term to describe the area where that culture is present. Perhaps that culture is no more present here than anywhere else, but we Cascadians are simply lucky enough to live in a place where these super, natural spaces have not yet been completely destroyed. If nature is the “second book” where we come to know God (alongside the Bible—though, arguably, nature came first, but this is a different topic—the point is that many theologians across time and now see nature as a second way, besides the written books, to understand and know something of God, especially since so many of Jesus’ parables are based on nature metaphors), living in Cascadia can give us access to that book in more extravagantly beautiful ways than are perhaps still available in other regions.

Cascadia, the Elusive Utopia: book review, part 2

Yesterday, I posted initial thoughts about the book Cascadia, the Elusive Utopia: Exploring the Spirit of the Pacific Northwest. In the first post I gave an overview of the text, and here I approach the question of where Cascadia is, and whether or not there is a nature-based spirituality in this region. Tomorrow I’ll discuss whether or not any nature-based spirituality found here can be properly termed a “civil religion,” which some of the authors of Cascadia, the Elusive Utopia assert.

Where is Cascadia?

Although individuals involved in ecology and bioregionalism have used the term “Cascadia” for at least 25 years, it is perhaps not a term known to most, whether local or outside the region. It is also not a geographical location that is easily defined, even by the authors of the book. Editor Douglas Todd defines Cascadia, for the purposes of this text, as Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. He defines it thus in order to use data collected based on state and province boundaries.

Not all the contributors utilize these geographical boundaries. Philip Resnick discusses Cascadia as a “rainforest climate” (Resnick in Todd, 2008, 119), which only pertains to the western portion of the region. Elsewhere in the book, the Rocky Mountains are mentioned as the “backbone” of the region (Wexler in Todd, 2008, 216). The Cascade Mountains and the Rocky Mountains begin in Alaska and run south through California and southeast through Idaho and Montana, respectively. Some maps of Cascadia also include portions of Nevada and Utah (see map at left).

If we define Cascadia as a bioregion based on geography, the region is decidedly larger than Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia, and it contains a much wider range of cultures and spiritual emphases, not to mention a variety of climates, from beaches to high deserts, fertile valleys to rugged mountains, and temperatures from subarctic to subtropical. Defining a uniform culture in this region proves suspect, let alone basing that culture and its spiritual expressions on the region’s geography, since the geography is so varied. If we are to assume a connection between land and culture or spirituality, I think that defining Cascadia so broadly limits the ability to describe meaningful connections between the land and its effect on human populations.

Rather than talking about a bioregion of Cascadia, the Environmental Protection Agency’s website utilizes the term “ecoregion,” defining these regions by attending to climate, geology, and ecology to create ecoregional maps such as the one at right (Environmental Protection Agency website, “Level I-III Ecoregions”). On this map, the region others call “Cascadia” is broken up into smaller, geographically and meteorologically similar regions. West of the Cascades, north into parts of Alaska, and south into the Redwoods, is one ecoregion called the Marine West Coast Forest, while most of the rest of Cascadia, including eastern Oregon, eastern Washington, and Idaho, is in the ecoregions of the Northwest Forested Mountains or the North American Deserts.

In my anecdotal experience, and based on the voting patterns of the area (for example, see the red and blue portions of the map of the Pacific Northwest at left, and the virtual blue line down the “left coast” of the United States), the EPA’s ecoregions describe more clearly the cultural differences apparent in the bioregion of Cascadia. The culture of “spiritual but not religious” emphasizes care for the natural world. This description fits many in the culture of those living west of the Cascade Mountains, which also contains the largest cities of the region.

This map of the “American Nations” shows the region “Cascadia, the Elusive Utopia” terms Cascadia into the Left Coast and The Far West

If we are to posit a bioregional connection between spirituality and the land, the land must be uniform enough to make the connection clearly. Therefore, I would define Cascadia as the Cascade Mountain range west to the Pacific Ocean, which would be the western portion of Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia, in addition to the northern portion of California and the southern portion of Alaska. Utilizing this definition makes it more possible to note correlations between the culture and the land (see map at right showing cultural “American Nations”). Making generalizations about connections between culture and land are not as possible when discussing the entire region generally called Cascadia, due to its huge variety of geographical and meterological regions.

Is there a nature-based spirituality in Cascadia?

Given that the majority of the population of Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia lives west of the Cascades, we can assume that the polls referred to by the authors regarding culture and spirituality show data mainly from this western ecoregion. If we posit a cultural similarity within this region based partially on the land and partially on the shared history and economy of this region, can we also see a shared spiritual sensibility?

Authors draw our attention to a number of nature-based spiritual practices and religious sects in Cascadia. Most of these find their epicenter west of the Cascades. It is curious to recognize that those living in the western part of Cascadia are apparently more drawn to nature-based spirituality than others from the US and Canada, but the authors do not do the work here of drawing conclusive evidence between the land itself and the propensity for nature-based expressions of spirituality. Since the surveys they refer to did not explicitly ask about nature-based spirituality, we do not know whether those who are “spiritual but not religious” find more meaning in their experiences in nature than in a church building, for example.

We also do not know if this type of connection with nature extends east of the Cascades. Although those living east of the Cascades hold differing political beliefs, outdoor recreational activities are important in eastern Oregon and Washington, Idaho, and Montana. Would those who practice these outdoor activities speak of them in religious terms in the same way as more urban, western Cascadians might?

Another important question that would need to be clarified is whether the culture defined as “Cascadian” is simply an iteration of the urban cultures in the United States and Canada. Certainly, the cities in this region have their own native quirks, as does any city. Is the nature-based spirituality hinted at in Cascadia a reflection of the urban-rural divide, or does it truly reflect the particular land of Cascadia? These questions are not answered in the current work. More research would need to be done to show true correlation, let alone causation, between the geography of the Cascades and the region’s “spiritual but not religious” sentiment.

References:

Todd, Douglas, ed. Cascadia: The Elusive Utopia: Exploring the Spirit of the Pacific Northwest (Vancouver: Ronsdale Press, 2008).