Student Serves God in the West Duwamish Greenbelt
By Owen Sallee, Coordinator for Urban Involvement
“The first time I went to the Nature Consortium, I didn’t really enjoy it, but when you go the second time and see the difference, you think “oh, my gosh, this is how far we’ve gotten,” explained Seattle Pacific junior Danielle Link. Last year, Link transferred to Seattle Pacific University from Chemeketa Community College in Salem, Oregon. Since then, she has participated in five service-learning day outings with the John Perkins Center programs.
Link’s focus has been the Nature Consortium, a forest restoration project in Southwest Seattle. She became interested in the association, during City Quest 2007, when joining a group of transfer students who were assigned to work on a project in the West Duwamish Greenbelt under the supervision of Mark “Buphalo” Tomkiewicz. The connection between site managers and SPU students are crucial for program success. “Buphalo’s a really great guy,” Link said. “I appreciate the fact that he explains things; his teaching style enables me to understand the significance of the work that we’re doing.”
SPU Students and the Greenbelt
The West Duwamish Greenbelt is the largest remaining contiguous forest within Seattle’s city limits, including 182 city park acres and roughly another 300 acres that are privately owned. Student participation in the Nature Consortium has not only direct benefit for urban residents, but it also provides our undergraduate volunteers with a personal knowledge about agriculture that allows them to appreciate the amount of work that is required to keep the Emerald City green. A recent visit to the Nature Consortium found Seattle Pacific students uprooting invasive Himalayan blackberries, and then forming a bucket brigade to spread mulch. “It’s like putting a bandage on a wound,” Tomkiewicz explained, describing the mulch’s role in providing nutrients for the soil while keeping out invasive plants such as blackberries so that other, native plants can take root.
As SPU students get involved in caring for creation, exposure to nature creates the context for new thoughts taking root within themselves. As a consequence of her involvement with the Nature Consortium, Link has developed a growing “green awareness,” and she is drawing important connections between her faith and environmental stewardship. While ecology is not directly related to redeeming human beings and their inequitable circumstances, the ability to understand the moral necessity for caring about our environment has repercussions for leadership development and our students’ ability to think critically about their responsibility for God’s creatures.
The ability to intervene in nature has application for thinking beyond flora and fauna. As for Link, during Autumn Quarter 2008, her burgeoning interest in the environment evolved into the basis for a research paper in Professor of Theological Studies Kerry Dearborn’s Christian Doctrine course. The term paper saught to expose a Christian theological framework that allows Westerners to justify environmental devastation for cultural comfort and economic gain.
Building on a thesis established by Lynn White Jr. in “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis,” which was published in Science in 1967, Link’s paper argued that Christians had appropriated Genesis 1:28 to evoke a dominion theology that provides a rationale for the economic enterprises that exploit natural resources and damage our natural environments. Citing God’s mandate to take dominion over the earth allowed Christians to define their earth-damaging activities as necessary for fulfilling a divine plan.
A Medieval Mindset Over Creation
Through involvement in the John Perkins Center, Link developed a spiritual maturity and newfound interest in community development and the natural world. Today, she distinguishes between the fragmenting attitude that historians and theologians have described as an inherently exploitive Judeo-Christianity and a holistic Christian worldview. This former mindset based on domination, according to White, produced the Medieval Christian outlook that assumed that creation was an endless resource for human disposal. This approach to nature was inherited by the European and North American architects of the Enlightenment and the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions.
Following in the vein of White’s thesis, Link looks to Scripture to resolve the tension between to an anthropocentric Christian worldview and environmental concerns. She asks, “Is the idea of having ‘dominion over the earth’ a pre-Fall condition that humanity no longer has?”
The ability to integrate experiences beyond SPU’s Tiffany Loop exposes the transformative nature of community service. Based on her experience in the consortium, Link suggests a middle path for resolving the dominion and stewardship binary. She asserts, “Instead of tossing this command out, perhaps we could look more deeply into what the word ‘dominion’ means as it was used before rampant imperialism and find a equilibrium between Genesis 1:28 and Genesis 3:17-18.”
Outlining a new subversive twist on the term “dominion,” Link points out that Scripture proclaims, “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it.” She explains, “The earth isn’t ours to abuse; it’s God’s. Because of his divine grace, he’s allowed us to be a steward of it.” By translating Scripture dealing with the course in Genesis 2: 15 back to Hebrew, she found further support for this argument. She explains, “The duty to ‘till’ and to ‘keep’ implies servitude and conservancy of life.” In the final analysis, care for the environment is a faithful Christian response to creation.
Looking at creation through this innovative theological rendering allows Link to elucidate the new covenant promise of reconciliation. “We’re middle management,” she says. “Where Adam’s sin damaged all, Christ’s sacrifice restores all.” Mankind’s restoration has implications for nature as well. “God calls us in to usher in the new kingdom, and part of that is creation, “she adds, according to her new understanding.
Developing New Perspectives
Danielle Link’s experience demonstrates the critical and reflective perspective that students are encouraged to develop through involvement in the John Perkins Center. “I spend so much time indoors — studying indoors, working indoors, living indoors, Link confessed. “There’s something about being outside that’s appealing.” In ideal situations, classroom learning is accentuated through real-life application, or vice versa. She explains, “When we’re discussing these lofty things in class, in the back of my head, there’s an actual picture.”
As a result of deepening community involvement and service connections, students develop their understanding of community issues, assets and felt needs and learn to see God at work in a variety of ways. In this case, Tomkiewicz exposed how creation requires attention as well.
“Engaging the culture, changing the world” begins when students allow their experiences to transform them. “It’s slowly becoming more and more a part of who I am,” Link explained, “I’m developing a deeper connection with nature has actually impacted how I live.” Even now, she carpools to church, encourages her friends and co-workers to recycle, and drives a gas-friendly Toyota Yaris.
As students participating in Urban Involvement become more reflective, they begin to view the church and themselves from a meta-cognitive perspective. Link provided an example, stating, “One of my greatest sorrows with the church today is that we just want to talk about the problem or put money on the problem, but we don’t want to get in there and use our hands. At the Nature Consortium, you’re actually using your hands to help.”
The opportunity to make a practical difference in the world is informing Link’s career goals. After completing an undergraduate degree in theology, she plans on attending seminary and pursuing ordination. As her commitment to community development and theological understanding continues to grow, Link is confident that care for the environment will remain a key element of her life with God.
Over the course of her involvement with the Nature Consortium, she has developed a green awareness and is drawing important connections between her faith and environmental stewardship. While ecology is not directly related to redeeming human beings and their circumstances, the ability to understand the moral necessity for caring about nature has repercussions for leadership development and our students’ ability to think critically about their responsibility for God’s creatures. Link explains: “If we are going to follow in his footsteps, we should follow in his concern for creation. All of it ...”
Owen Sallee trained under World Vision's Vision Youth Initiative, and he has been a youth director for Choose Life Youth Ministries in White Center for 12 years, during and following his time as a SPU undergraduate. He is a 1999 SPU graduate, and in 2006, he completed his master’s degree in school counseling at Seattle Pacific.
|Learn more about The John Perkins Center by watching the video This is the John Perkins Center on iTunesU.|