“The Road Less Traveled”

“The Road Less Traveled”

Considering all the differing and often conflicting perspectives of what is necessary, possible, sustainable, and ethical to establish and maintain responsible stewardship of the earth, is there a common denominator from which everyone can begin? And can we find it?

Speaker: Rev. Chris Kell

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Opening Prayer

Servant Song

Will you let me be your servant, let me be as Christ to you;

Pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant too.

We are pilgrims on a journey, we are trav’lers on the road;

We are here to help each other walk the mile and bear the load.

I will hold the Christ-light for you in the night-time of your fear;

I will hold my hand out to you, speak the peace you long to hear.

I will weep when you are weeping; when you laugh I’ll laugh with you.

I will share your joy and sorrow ’til we’ve seen this journey through.

When we sing to God in heaven we shall find such harmony,

born of all we’ve known together of Christ’s love and agony.

Will you let me be your servant, let me be as Christ to you;

Pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant too.

~ by Richard Gillard

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Today’s reading is from Silent Spring, written in 1962 by Rachel Carson.

We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively east, a smooth super-highway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road––the one “less traveled by” ––offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.

The choice, after all, is ours to make.

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Talk Transcript

The Road Less Traveled”

When I knew I was going to be giving today’s talk several weeks ago, I immediately wanted to talk about the subject of stewardship of the earth. However, this is a huge topic, and every time I started thinking about what I wanted to say, I was overwhelmed with the amount of information available just on the net, and therefore, the many directions in which a talk like this could go.

Stewardship seems to be a big buzzword nowadays, but what does it really signify? According to Merriam-Webster the definition of stewardship is:

          1:   the office, duties, and obligations of a steward

          2:   the conducting, supervising, or managing of something;

          3:   the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to

                one’s care, as in stewardship of natural resources

In a religious sense, the term stewardship means to look after the world for God. The Creator gave us a world in which humans have a special role as stewards of all creation. This means we are to look after the interests of the planet and all life on it. This belief is more about living in harmony with nature.

Good stewardship provides the foundational framework for a spiritual, ethical response to the environmental challenges the world faces. Stewardship proposes that human beings are entrusted with the earth to cultivate it and, at the same time, to care for it.

Often, the term dominion is used in connection with stewardship, to mean authority, jurisdiction, control, and power. While all these words mean “the right to govern,” dominion stresses sovereign power or supreme authority.

When steward first appeared as an English word during the Middle Ages, it functioned as a job description, denoting the office of a manager of a large household. Over the centuries, its range of reference grew to designate an oversight function in a variety of academic, business, and scientific settings. In recent years “stewardship of the environment” has become a catch phrase for almost anything involving the environment.

Some other common terms used today are sustainability science, social stewardship, ecosystem services and stewardship science, all of which refer to maintaining the long-term integrity of planet and human well-being.

In my research, I found these terms usually defined in similar ways using phrases such as “responsible use and protection of the natural environment,” “conservation and sustainable practices,” and “social-ecological change”, which will “enhance ecosystem resilience and human well-being.”

Now, as you may have noted, although these phrases do mention human well-being, nowhere in these definitions or descriptions is there any reference, at least any that I read, of any solutions that include the words “love and care of the earth.”

To my way of thinking, the active state of loving the earth is definitely a requisite for any (and I would add, every) aspect of stewardship of the earth. The other day, I was discussing this subject with my friend Karen, and she agreed: love of the earth is a necessary characteristic for a steward of the earth. The other quality she mentioned right away without even thinking about it was effort. Actions that are worth taking are not easy; they require effort, and stewardship is no exception. Although loving the earth is easy, putting that love into action requires effort of thought, word, and deed.

I was thinking about the last two talks we listened to here at One World – “Deep Healing” by Dr. Michael Scimeca two weeks ago, and Rev. Melanie’s talk on Mother’s Day about a mother’s unconditional love.

Healing and love: exactly what I was looking for for my talk this morning.

So, how does all this come together? By asking and looking for a possible answer to this question:

Considering all the differing and often conflicting perspectives of what is necessary, possible, sustainable, and ethical to establish and maintain responsible stewardship of the earth, is there a common denominator from which everyone can begin? And can we find it?

My answer? Love of the earth. Unconditional love, agape, an intentional choice to love and nurture the earth as wholly and holistically as possible, under any circumstances with no expectations or rewards.

The Ecological Society of America states that over the next decade or two, we have a window of opportunity to radically redefine our relationship with the planet to reduce risks of global changes that could seriously degrade Earth’s life-support systems. Their solution is:

. . . to seek to foster earth stewardship by (1) clarifying the science needs for understanding and shaping trajectories of change at local-to-global scales; (2) communicating the basis for earth stewardship to a broad range of audiences, including natural and social scientists, students, the general public, policy makers, and other practitioners; and (3) formulating pragmatic strategies that foster a more sustainable trajectory of global change by enhancing ecosystem resilience and human well-being.

However, I believe our relationship with earth involves more than life-support systems and enhancing the ecosystem, and I do not think the imbalance and endangerment of the earth is only an environmental problem. It is a social, cultural, political, and spiritual problem as well.

And, taking it one step further, if your beliefs are grounded in the Christian biblical tradition, our carelessness and greediness of earth’s resources is also a violation of our responsibilities and duties as given to us by the Creator of this planet.

Generally speaking, while researching stewardship of the earth on the internet I found a great many articles, written mostly by men, describing what environmental stewardship means in terms of conservation, sustainable practices, and repair from a primarily scientific perspective, with a few mentions of human well-being and ethical considerations thrown in. On the other hand, when reading what women have written about stewardship of the earth, I more often found references to finding creative ways for healing through connection, compassion, community, and sustainable relationships in addition to scientific methods, accompanied by a few articles written by religious and/or spiritual scholars and teachers.

Of course, I readily admit my study is only a small drop in the bucket of research that in large part deals in situational overviews and generalities. But I believe it has been enough to give me an idea of what underlays popular thinking about stewardship of the earth.

The environmental problems we are dealing with today are so numerous, widespread, and catastrophic that I think many people are simply overwhelmed by trying to understand them. A person will often simply say the problems are so big that as individuals there is nothing we can do to fix them. And from one perspective, this is an understandable viewpoint. One person alone cannot make much of a dent in the world’s problems.

And so we might believe we are justified to conclude that of course climate change affects all of us, but it it’s not my fault. I’m not really responsible so it’s not my problem, and I can’t really do anything about it anyway.

However, when you multiply one person by the billions of people in the world who make simple contributions such as conserving resources, recycling, reducing their carbon footprint and all the other small actions we can take, that adds up to a massive effort on the part of individuals.

But what concerns me more is the greed, corruption, power madness, ego trips, competition, and callous regard that are prominent in the so-called “environmental stewardship” practiced by many corporations, scientific organizations, and politically motivated governments. Actions that originate from a primarily patriarchal, secular, profit-focused system.

Ayana Elizabeth Johnson is a marine biologist, policy expert, founder and CEO of Ocean Collectiv, a consulting firm for conservation solutions grounded in social justice. Johnson’s colleague, Katharine K. Wilkinson, is an author, strategist, and teacher who has been named one of the fifteen “women who will save the world” by Time magazine. Together they have recently published a collection of essays in a book entitled All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis. In the introduction, they tell us:

The same patriarchal power structure that oppresses and exploits girls, women, and nonbinary people (and constricts and contorts boys and men) also wreaks destruction on the natural world. Dominance, violence, extraction, egotism, greed, ruthless competition––these hallmarks of patriarchy fuel the climate crisis just as surely as they do inequality, colluding with racism along the way.  . . . Its harms are chronic, cumulative, and fundamentally planetary. The climate crisis is not gender neutral. Climate change is a powerful ‘threat multiplier,’ making existing vulnerabilities and injustices worse.”

They go on to add that there is growing proof of the link between climate change and gender-based violence.

Rabbi Yonatan Neril is an interfaith environmental wisdom teacher and advocate. He founded and directs the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development based in Jerusalem. His belief is that in our times we are witnessing the deterioration of the natural world, and our planet’s weakening ecological balance is due to human influence. In his view, the physical causes provide only partial answers. In order to truly understand this problem, he says we need to look under its surface to understand the root causes. And he believes that for many ecological issues, the root issues beyond the physical symptoms lie in the spiritual health of human beings.

In Rabbi Neril’s words:

If one only sees physical causes, one may incorrectly view them as the only reason for an effect occurring. Our usual pattern today is to turn to scientists and politicians for technological solutions to our environmental challenges. . . . Beyond the physical causes, the widespread degradation of the natural world indicates that our way of life is out of balance. Thus the environmental crisis also reflects a spiritual crisis. Human-caused disruptions to the natural world emerge from the inner imbalance within billions of human beings. The change required of us to correct this is of a spiritual nature.

Jewish and Christian tradition teaches us that we only deserve the opportunity to rule the earth if we behave righteously. In our times, we have demonstrated our ability to subdue the earth. This should include the spiritual discipline to use our resources wisely, and subdue with a sense of moral responsibility. However, a central question facing humanity concerns whether we will find the strength to subdue our desires and our greed.

Rabbi Neril warns us that if we continue to live as though God had only commanded us to subdue the earth, we must be prepared for our children to inherit a seriously degraded planet, with the future of human civilization put into question. If we see our role as masters of the earth as a unique opportunity to truly serve and care for the planet, its creatures, and its resources, then we can reclaim our status as stewards of the world, and raise our new generations in an environment much closer to that of Eden. “The choice,” he says, “is ours.”

The Encyclical Letter Laudauto Si by Pope Francis is a landmark document in the teaching of the Catholic Church. This letter to bishops the world over is devoted primarily to the environment, and is based on the teaching that true religion requires justice toward God, others, and even the natural world.

Pope Francis reminds us that the Book of Genesis teaches that every man and woman is created out of love and made in God’s image and likeness (Gen 1:26). This means that together with our obligation to use the earth’s goods responsibly, we are called to recognize that other living beings have a value of their own in God’s eyes.

He writes:

When we speak of the ‘environment’, what we really mean is a relationship existing between nature and the society that lives in it. Nature cannot be regarded as something separate from ourselves or as a mere setting in which we live. We are part of nature, included in it and thus in constant interaction with it . . . We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.

This encyclical calls for both structural and personal change, not just one or the other. These are not two options, one of which to take and one to leave for later. Pope Francis advises that if we want to bring about deep change our efforts will be inadequate and ineffectual unless we strive to promote a new way of thinking about human beings, life, society, and our relationship with nature.

Stewardship points to the purpose and role of humanity in creation, being ‘in the image of God’ and what that means for both humanity and nature. To me it means that humans are the stewards of Creation; we bear the responsibility for looking after the world gifted to us and to future generations.

We can choose to view stewardship not as a position of power and domination, but as a locus of love and an opportunity to build community. We are not called to look after what’s left of earth when we get through with it. We are called to love the Earth and be an integral part of her. We must become her mother just as she is ours, treating her as a loved and valued member of our family.

We are not alone in this task. We have been given gifts to assist us in our responsibilities and duties as stewards: intelligence, knowledge, empathy, compassion, faith; and when needed: prophecy, tongues (in the sense of having the means to communicate in all languages), wisdom, understanding, patience and fortitude.

Our stewardship and nurturing of the earth is one of the greatest offerings of love we can give. We must trust that God can handle the long term and that one day earth will be renewed. But we also need to realize that we have a responsibility to the earth now. Our dominion over the earth should never be confused as permission to abuse or abandon her.

It’s not as much about learning how to take care of the earth as it is about remembering how to take care of each other. The Earth will take care of herself. The path on which humans are taking all creation could mean extinction for many plant and animal species, including humans, followed by a period of healing and regeneration. I have no idea what that would look like, and I suspect no one does, but I do believe that once humans are out of her way, the earth is capable of reviving to ensure her own survival. The question is, are humans willing to ensure our own existence before she says enough’ and lets us all go? Because if we fail in our task of stewardship, we fail not only the earth, we fail ourselves.

Sir Robert Swan, polar explorer and environmentalist, once stated, “The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.”

As Johnson and Wilkinson remind us, we are all connected, each and every creature, nothing and no one left out. This is the truth of the world’s wisdom traditions, and increasingly, of scientific findings. What that tells us is we cannot give up. To focus only on what we can do as individuals, they say, instead of what we can do together, will mean failure, and the level of commitment needed calls each and every human to their best effort, to be all in––together.

So what can we do? These two women and others like them offer solutions in their book All We Can Save, which includes a section listing climate solutions and organizations in addition to 374 pages of ideas and insights by leading women scientists, journalists, activists, and more. And there are plenty of opportunities and ideas offered in other books, articles, websites, groups––it only takes a little effort to find something you can do, or . . . you can start you own.

“Possibility still exists,” Johnson and Wilkinson tell us:

Consider what good work is happening around us, what invitations we may have already received, and what gifts we may have to offer. From personal acts to professional prowess to political participation, our layers of agency are more profound than we may realize. Our choices and voices, our networks, dollars, and votes, our skills and ingenuity––these are all openings for ‘can’; can is the drumbeat [for] those who refuse to give in to destruction, who rise again and again with life force.

In his iconic poem The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost wrote:

Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.

Do we have the love and courage to take the road less traveled?

Thank you.

About Rev. Christine Kell

Rev. Chris Kell is an Interfaith/Interspiritual Minister, an ordained graduate of One Spirit Interfaith Seminary, a graduate of the Priestess Emergence Process, and a Certified Life Success Consultant. She has a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies, with concentrations in Women’s Studies and Small Group Communication, and post-graduate studies in Feminine Spirituality. Rev. Chris has a deep appreciation for the aspirations of the human spirit. She has been fortunate in discovering how nurturing and supportive a positive environment can be, how it encourages spiritual strength and expands the possibilities for living a good life. Her goal is to be a catalyst for others in envisioning and discovering for themselves a spiritually enriched life.

Rev. Kell can be reached at Rev.ChristineKell@gmail.com.

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Closing Prayer

Deep Peace

Deep peace I breathe into you,

Deep peace, red wind of the east to you;

Deep peace, grey wind of the west to You;

Deep peace, dark wind of the north from you;

Deep peace, blue wind of the south to you!

Deep peace, pure red of the flame to you;

Deep peace, pure white of the moon to you;

Deep peace, pure green of the grass to you;

Deep peace, pure brown of the earth to you;

Deep peace, pure grey of the dew to you,

Deep peace, pure blue of the sky to you!

Deep peace of the running wave to you,

Deep peace of the flowing air to you,

Deep peace of the quiet earth to you,

Deep peace of the sleeping stones to you!

Peace! Peace! And by the will of the King of the Elements,


~ adapted from A Gaelic Blessing by John Ritter, originally composed by William Sharpe

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This service aired on May 15, 2022

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