Resilient Faith

by Gwin Pratt
The Rev. Gwin Pratt serves on the board of MNIPL and previously served as St Luke Presbyterian Senior Pastor.  We at MNIPL are honored to share Gwin's writing with you. To learn more about All in the Circle: Creative Arts & Nature Camp, featured in this blog, click here
Recently I was privileged to be a part of the annual Mahle Lecture series on “Progressive Christian Thought” at Hamline University.  Dr. Timothy Eberhart, Assistant Professor of Theology and Ecology at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary and Methodist Theological School of Ohio, was the lecturer, and I was one of the 4 responders to his presentation.  Tim’s lecture was vigorous, and stimulating, and important.  His message?: That faith groups, it turns out, are becoming increasingly central in the fight against climate change, and that “resiliency” is a better conceptual foundation for our work than “sustainability.”  Tim made his case in a powerful way, and then the 4 of us were to respond.  Here is what I said.


An important part of his message was that central to resilient faith is that it has to be “embodied.”


This is a word dear to me, and my theological tradition and training.  It is a very close cousin to the word:
From the Greek:
En karne.  Karne means “flesh”
In-bodied.  You see?  To do this is very often messy stuff.


I just retired in September.


The last church I served was intrepid and historic in trying to live out this concept of in-fleshing, of in-bodying God’s love.  St. Luke Presbyterian has a long history in “messiness” when it comes to living out “in-bodying” love: it was a leading thought and activism center in the Twin Cities area in the Civil Rights movement, in the protest of the Viet Nam War, as an agitator for women’s rights and the rights of LGBT folks, and as a sanctuary church shielding an El Salvadoran from deportation during the Contra War.

Perhaps just this snapshot will give you an idea of the essence of St. Luke and it’s history.


I was told there had been quite an exhaustive search for the new pastor at St. Luke back in 2006-2007.  One day, feeling the need for a little affirmation, a little encouragement in my work, I asked one of the members of the search committee what was the winning factor in my resume’.


I suppose I was hoping to hear that it was my moving preaching, or superior skills as an administrator, or profound pastoral abilities.


And she, without hesitation, answered:
“It was because you had an arrest record.”


God-enfleshed is a piece of work.


In my tradition that is Jesus. To follow in the way of In-bodiment may lead to the prayer parlor first, but just as often that’s a first stop on the way to the jail cell.




Ask Dr. King.


Ask Mary the mother of Jesus, the first Liberation Theologian, connecting “salvation”, not to some far off heaven, but to heaven coming to Earth:
“My soul magnifies the Lord…
God has shown strength with his arm; She has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; God has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”


And indeed, that first year at St. Luke, 12 of us were back in DC for another protest, during which 7 were arrested.


I soon thereafter got an email from a droll and approving member:
“Some churches call a pastor who leads them to glory.
St. Luke called one who leads them to jail.”




But even as this was happening, I was at a transition point in my understanding of where this ragged liberator Jesus was pointing us:


To the masses of God’s children threatened by climate chaos.


And to the conviction deeply felt that to tend to the “Least of these” in our time was to do something about climate change.




What occurred to us was that in-fleshed word again, that in-bodied word.


Let’s don’t just preach about it, let’s do something, right here on our 4.3 acres.


And, over the next 8 years here is what we did:  
  • Built a tower on the property for the Chimney Swift, and endangered bird, to live and nest in.
  • Continued to maintain a Sweat Lodge that is used by several different native tribes
  • Built rain gardens to prevent runoff into the lakes
  • Installed solar Panels on our roof
  • Re-wired the building for maximum energy efficiency
  • Created a large vegetable garden that produced food for the local food shelf
  • Supported the Division of Indian Work garden in North Minneapolis to help feed people healthy food


And, perhaps most evocative of all, we started a …
Vacation Bible School.


Now, if I were standing in front of the St. Luke congregation, and said that, “Vacation Bible School”, it would produce gales of laughter.


Because that term, VBS, conjures up images of children gathered somehow around the WRITTEN Bible.


But, what happened at St. Luke was that the children were allowed to gather around the Earth, instead.  With a belief that Creation is a “theophany”, literally a “God-showing”.  If we want to encounter the “Word of God”, then, as Barbara Brown Taylor has said, we encounter how God has become present and real to us in Creation.  Our blue green planet is a living “Bible.”  What Celtic Christianity has always called Holy:
“And God looked at all she had made..
…and said: This is Good.”


It was called:
All in the Circle: Creative Arts & Nature Camp 
So, one year the theme was:
-the creatures in the waters of Minnesota.
-another year, the creatures in the skies of Minnesota.
-another year the wolves of Minnesota.


And each year the children, for example, not only studying the wolf, but becoming the wolf, through mask making, and den making, and perfecting the “howl.”


So, Dr. Eberhart in his lecture made the claim that embodied, resilient faith purposes us, prepares us, for action on climate justice.


What might that look like?
I close with this story.


One year, the theme of the camp was, borrowing from Joanna Macy, the Council of All Beings, and the kindness to be shared with….


“all God’s critters…
…who all have a place in the choir.”


To be on the lookout in the soil, in the forests, in the lakes, in the skies, for all of God’s critters, and to be kind to them.


Maya was one of the campers.
7 years old.


One afternoon, in the car on the way home from camp, they came upon two geese, with 2 goslings trying to cross a busy road.


Cars were honking and swerving, just missing the terrified geese, who were confused and in panic.  From the back seat Maya wailed,
“We have to do something!!!”


Sharon, the mother, dutifully pulled the car over, and like a cop at a parade, stopped the traffic as Maya shepherded the geese to safety.


When they got home, Sharon began to prepare supper, and noticed the house was strangely quiet.  No “ping” of the computer or drone of the TV.
She investigated.


She found Maya out in the back yard.


A small shovel was nearby, and Maya was examining a pile of dirt she had dug.


“What are you doing Maya?” Sharon asked.


“I’m trying to find the critters …
…who live in our backyard.”
“Oh,” Sharon said.


“And Mom?” Maya said.
“Yes honey?” 
“I’d like to start a camp here for the kids in our neighborhood.”




One can profitably speculate, I think, that in the future, on the issue of soil conservation, and conditions that lead to the extinction of critters, where Maya will stand as an adult.


I think that is what “resilient faith” looks like, in-bodied, that purposes us for lives given to climate justice.


And that is our work at MNIPL looks like.  In our lives together, to support and encourage and “purpose” us for this work of putting our bodies into the healing of the Planet.


In Praise for our Holy Earth,