Will Teenagers Save the World?

Science in Action Winner for 2013: Elif Bilgin

While sitting in the dentist’s office yesterday I read this wonderful article about a young teen in Istanbul who has developed plastic from banana peels. As a result she won the Scientific American 2013 Science in Action Award

Bilgin spent two years developing a robust bioplastic from discarded banana peels, enduring 10 failed trials along the way. As she noted in her project description: “Even Thomas Edison said, ‘I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.’” Bilgin hopes that her material will someday supplant some petroleum-based plastics. Read the entire article.

The winning project in 2012 was the Unique Simplified Hydroponic Method, developed by 14-year-old Sakhiwe Shongwe and Bonkhe Malalela of Swaziland.

For more inspiration, check out last year’s amazing 13 finalists for the Science in Action award and this year’s fifteen finalists. I particularly loved:

Simultaneous Biopesticide Wastewater Treatment and Bioelectricity Generation in Microbial Fuel Cell (MFC) – by a 13 year old in India and  Electricity From Traffic by a 16 year old also in India. These ideas really could save the world.

The amazing creativity and out of the box thinking that has gone into these inventions really impressed me. While so much of the world is saying “We can’t live without petroleum products” or “we can’t feed the world without GMO crops” young people are going ahead and inventing new options. Maybe its because they expect to live in a petroleum free world, maybe it is because they are encouraged to be creative, maybe it is just God stirring new possibilities in minds that are open to change. I don’t know but I do praise God for it.

I would love to hear from others who have seen creative and inventive

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An Urban Forest Takes Shape

A few weeks ago I published Reclaiming a Sacred Space – Cheasty Greenspace: A Place of Goodness and Grace by Mary De Jong about what is happening at the Cheasty Greenspace – an urban forest here in Seattle. Yesterday I had the chance to visit.

With Mary De Jong at the Cheasty Greenspace

With Mary De Jong at the Cheasty Greenspace

 

I was so impressed with what Mary and her collaborators have accomplished – not just reclaiming a beautiful piece of God’s creation that had been invaded by destructive species, both environmental and human, but also providing a place for the neighbourhood to interact with creation. Mary and I were brainstorming about the possibility of doing an urban equivalent of the Wild Camano here in the Fall – such fun not just to interact with creation but also with the God whose presence is so obvious in its midst.

Listen to what Mary has to say about this wonderful urban project.

 

Reclaiming a Sacred Space – Cheasty Greenspace: A Place of Goodness and Grace by Mary De Jong

This morning’s post in the series Creating Sacred Space comes from Mary De Jong. Mary leads personal discernment pilgrimages/retreats to Iona, Scotland and locally in the Great Pacific Northwest. She is also, slowly, pursuing graduate studies with a focus in ecotheology.  She is a Green Seattle Partnership Forest Steward, and is co-founder and co-chair of Friends of Cheasty Greenspace at Mt. View. She lives in the Columbia City neighborhood of Seattle, WA (USA) with her husband and three children. It sacred space than what I talked about was first published on Waymakers the blog.

 

Ed beats out the rhythm

Ed beats out the rhythm

The detective called inquiring after whether or not we had found “anything” in the woods since the fatal shooting that occurred near Cheasty Greenspace/Mt.View on February 4, 2013.  While we have certainly unearthed some curious, and somewhat disturbing, artifacts during our forest restoration work parties (lined up pairs of shoes next to an axe, dismembered dolls, rosaries, and large singular bones to name a few), no, we had not found the weapon involved in this fatal incident.  He went on to inform us that a team of officers with metal detectors and a K-9 unit would be canvassing the area the following day.  Mind you, just a few months ago, there was the horrendous reality check that came along with 40 search and rescue volunteers and cadaver K-9 units looking for the remainsof a young women in Cheasty/North, so I was already edgy about the resurfacing street-cred of our Rainier Valley forest.  However, I don’t think I was prepared for the potential emotional unraveling the impact of this dynamic in our beloved forest would have on me.

You see, we have been faithfully involved in the reclamation and restoration of this urban forest for the past six years.  We have hosted over 80 community work parties dedicated to the vision of reimagining this landscape as a safe and welcoming resource for our neighborhood.  We have written for, and received, grants that have funded our hope to build trails within this 10 acre woods that would connect neighbors, encourage walking to public transit, and provide local access to nature.  And the beauty that has resulted from this grand grassroots effort is as real and glorious as the noon-day sun!

What used to be a landscape filled with invasive plants, such as English ivy and Himalayan Blackberry,  and illicit behaviors, such as prostitution rings and illegal drug trades, has been replaced with the balance that true restoration brings.  Our native Northwest understory is thriving due to the absence of ivy.  Children now play in the forest, and their laughter mixes with the chatter of songbirds and the cries of our resident Red Tail Hawks.  The trails are a resource to neighboring youth organizations who now can bring their students into their own backyards to study, learn and just be in nature.  Our neighbors, who have worked literally shoulder to shoulder for years to see the effects of this hope-filled vision, have become a networked community of friends and families.  These woods have become apart of the vibrant, social fabric of our neighborhood.

And so my heart was heavy when I saw dozens of marked and unmarked police vehicles lined up against our trees.  My spirit sunk when I witnessed uniformed men, shoulder to shoulder, working their way through freshly budded Indian Plum, Trillium and Sword Fern.  Their presence conjured up the spirit of negativity that brooded over this place for so many years, the very spirit that we have worked so hard to drive away from this place.  I felt my repose unravel and give way to the erosive work of despair and hopelessness.  ”You can never change these woods,” the line-up of police cars seemed to sneer. “These woods will always be the cover for dark deeds!  No vision for hope and help can changethat!”

I awoke the next day to clouds over my head and heart, hardly able to utter a morning prayer, but with the imperative to get out of bed and prepare for our monthly work party we host.  Begrudgingly, I set out shovels, buckets and First Aid kit.  Grumbling, I laid out our registration table materials and sign up sheets.  Demoralized, I wondered if this slow and steady, long term effort to affect change in our little corner of the world was even worth it anymore.  Yup.  My little pet dark cloud was beginning to rain on me.

However, contrary to Saturday’s Seattle forecast (and my attitude), sun began to beam on South East Seattle and neighbors began to convene at our home to gather up tools and gloves, and log their dedicated time towards making a tangible difference.  And then Ed approached, scuffed toe-shoes ambling down our sidewalk, threadbare coated-arms raised in greeting and dusty top hat ready to blow away with the wind.  I presumed he was on his way past our home to visit one of our neighbors, who are involved in some unsavory practices…but he stopped.  Right in front of me.  And smiled.  Turns out, he was here for our work party, but his car ran out of gas and stalled in the middle of the street, just up from our main trail head into the woods.  Can I help, he asked?  My heart softened towards Ed; of course, I can help, but give me a minute to kickstart the volunteers and get the work party going.

Lesson #1: It always amazes me what kind of help shows up in a minute. The momentary pause before immediately responding to a need that you know you can meet is almost an invitation to allow those around you to participate in an assistance that is easy to presume only you can do.  All that to say, when I was able to finally direct my attention back towards Ed, Neighbor Mike had already fixed him up with a five-gallon gas container and a Seattle Parks worker was ready in the wings to tow his truck to safety.  I felt a sun beam penetrate my hopeless haze.  This community that has been created through a hope for the common good, without question, took care of a stranger in our midst.  My heart tried to soar with the pride for my ‘hood, but quite honestly, I figured I would never see Ed again and that sense of being “had” was enough to tether my fragile mood.

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I followed the last volunteers up into the woods and was mentally making a game plan for the variety of ferns we would be planting (grown by spores from a forest friend), and how we would disperse the five cubic yards of mulch, when I was called out of my reverie by the beating of a drum.  The repeated rhythm was coming from the trail head where we would be working for the bulk of our work party.  I crested the trail into view of the forest’s entrance and there was Ed, top hat and all, sitting on a stone, surrounded by a medley of musical instruments and a growing number of children.  Ed smiled at me and proceeded to play music for the duration of our work party.  Trombones, clarinets, bongos, tamborines, all were enlisted to lift the spirits of the volunteers and provide a special joy for the children.  Oh, forgot to mention the unique detail that we were the host-site for a local preschool co-op parent group who wanted to participate in a local Earth Month volunteer opportunity.  We had dozens of preschoolers running around the woods on Saturday.  And it would be important to note, too, that the sun shone during our entire work party.  Sunshine.  Children.  Music.  Ed.  My heart was unfettered and finally flew.

Now, some who knew of these back to back unique and unplanned occurrences probably could just attribute it to the Wheel of Fortune, for that would explain such a social spectrum in Cheasty Greenspace.  However, I’m one who is always interested in the quiet cadences of God and what one would call a coincidence, I’m eager to see thesynchronicity.  Essentially, this means that when you really need something, and often when you really want something, it is there.  Furthermore, the ancient practice of pilgrimage maintains that help, and the divine answer, are most often found in the company of a stranger.  Pilgrimage is this radical practice that turns upside down the ways of the world; in each other and in the strays and strangers en route, pilgrims meet-not the paupers-but the princes.  In the gestures and greetings in gravely roadside places, prayers are answered, and what you are in need of is given.  In this nontraditional way of journey-living, the road taken to a better place is one where divisions are bridged: race, status, and gender are irrelevant.  I would further go on to say that this mode of being also exists in Nature.  For in the woods, all are recipients of the goodness and grace inherent in nature.  All are apart of the greater community of things.  And to a degree, all become Kings.

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Lesson #2: Rough, worn edges and the grime of a harder-than-mine-life under the fingernails are trumpets heralding the presence of a stranger who has the potential to deliver great gifts, should we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear.  Ed transformed my day and realigned my hope-filled vision for Cheasty Greenspace.  He was a vehicle of grace to me and his music was like incense, cleansing and purifying the bullet-weary woodland air.

Following the work party, volunteers (including Ed!) gathered under the large tent we had set up in our drive way.  As the expected rains began to pour down, we shared meager cookies and rich laughter together.  The rains were washing away the sundry steps of the officers and were watering our newly planted ferns.  And we, we were an intimate community of Kings, believing and working together, shoulder to shoulder, for a better place. 

Creating Sacred Spaces – Do We Really Need Churches?

I am starting a series on Creating Sacred Space and decided to begin by reposting this very popular post from last year which is adapted from my book Return to Our Senses. What is sacred space for you? Where do you you feel closest to God? How can nurture such spaces? If you would like to contribute a post for this series please let me know.

Godspace

Our annual Celtic retreat is coming. We hold it in August on a beautiful parcel of undeveloped land on Camano Island north of Seattle. There are no buildings. Our sanctuary is a cathedral of trees – cedar and maple and alder that rise above is in a breathtaking green canopy. I particularly love to sit in the early mornings before anyone else is awake, drinking in the beauty of God’s awe inspiring creation. This is a sacred space for me, what is often called a thin space where the veil between heaven and earth seems to be translucent and the glory of God shines through in a special way.

Special places where we feel almost physically embraced by the love of God are important places of prayer for all of us. Be they a comfortable old armchair we return to day by day, a special place to walk or a…

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Time to Garden

Its garden day at the Mustard Seed House. We will be transplanting tomatoes, and other summer vegetables, weeding and tidying up the porch (I hope). Our garden never looks as tidy as we would like but it produces lots of food – including these wonderful early greens (had our first garden salad this week).

Early garden greens grown under row covers.

Early garden greens grown under row covers.

All of this reminded me that I have not mentioned how you can be a part of our garden efforts here;

  1. If you live in Seattle and would like to participate in our garden days – good times of food, fellowship and gardening – let me know
  2. I have started over 120 tomato plants, and more basil and squash – obviously more than we can plant. Each year we sell vegetable starts as a small fundraiser for MSA so if you would like to buy your plants from us (sorry only if you can pick them up) here is the order form.
  3. And it is also time to sign up for the Spirituality of Gardening seminar on May 18th.
  4. Those of you who do not live in the Seattle area may like to consider developing your own garden community and perhaps, like other groups we are connected to,  you would like to use To Garden With God as a resource – lots of garden reflections, liturgies and prayers to start your garden days with. Even recipes to help you with what to do with the produce. It is available in black and white, colour and ebook versions. You can even get it together with Snohomish soap’s wonderful hand cream and garden soap in our garden bundle.

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Resources for Starting a Faith Based Community Garden – 2013

George Fox students help out in the Mustard Seed Garden

George Fox students help out in the Mustard Seed Garden

Each year, as you know I like to update my resource lists. Here are the best sites and suggestions I have come across since I posted my list last year. I have already written some comments on the topic of community gardens this year:

Creating A Faith Based Community Garden – Much to Reflect On

And if this does not provide enough reading for you, you might also like to check out this list of resources for urban farmers:

My Top 10 Urban Farming Books

My Favourite Urban Farming WebSites

Note: This is partly reposted from last year’s list with some additions and deletions where links have changed.

Resources for Creating a Faith Based Community Garden

Some resources from my friends at ARocha Canada

And from England

  • Grow Zones – a community growing resource started by Earth Abbey in the UK, that brings people together locally to help one another grow fruit and vegetables in their own gardens. Participants are supported by the Grow Zones Kit, which is designed to make the prospect of growing fruit and vegetables a less burdensome, more enjoyable prospect and overcome the obstacles to ‘growing your own’.
  • Earth Abbey

As well as my own book To Garden with God, you may also find the following books on spirituality and gardening helpful

Resources-Curricula for Churches / Faith communities

From Catholic Community Gardens

Some of these ideas are a little repetitive but I also loved: 

And of course there are dozens of seed calalogues and websites which also often include very helpful newsletters and videos on how to grow vegetables.  My favourites  are:

This year I have taken Seeds of Change off my list (see explanation here)

 

 

 

 

Experiencing God in the Created World – Steve Wickham

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“The heavens declare the glory of God,

and the sky displays what his hands have made.”
— Psalm 19:1 (GW)
From creaking crickets to massages and bubble-gum ice-cream,
Experiencing God is beyond senses and what’s seen.
From travel to babies and the eventual dentures,
Having access to God is not limited to adventures.
From thoughts to libraries and what’s learned at college,
God is in life much more than knowledge.
From dreams to planning and inspirational indemnities,
God extends us past the plain making of memories.
From enjoyment to grief and all emotion between,
God’s in even more than every hard-bitten dream.
From novelty to the veteran and the appreciative skill,
God’s into growth beyond the extent of our fill.
From wonders to signs and the miraculous too,
God’s in all of it—in everything true.
The Scope and Extent of the Created World
We’re not just talking about a physical place; the world—the cosmos—is a system.
There is no limit to the extent of how we might worship God by enjoying his Presence. And each of us has our own ways in which God reaches us to connect our souls with that revelatory truth that transforms us unto growth in Christ.
I find transport—being on trains and buses and planes, and even on my bicycle—gives me inspiration as to the Divine working in my world. And I could extend it to walking; a two or three mile walk, at brisk pace, on a bright sunny day, or in the cool evening moonlight, brings warmth to my soul or an equivalently stark, yet reasonable, inspiration. Noisy cafes, also, but just as much the experience of a meandering stream.
Experiencing God in the created world is a gem of majesty that is limitless in design. For all the seven-plus billion souls on this earth, there would be just as many fragments of divine revelation to be had, for each one, regarding the things of heaven to be enjoyed on this earth.
Within this worldly system we exist in we see God revealed tremendously, from every angle, and through every experience, no matter how we feel.
As we reflect on this Lord of Glory who has begotten us, asking him to make himself known to us in our everyday, we see his glory magnified, resplendent, and dutifully portrayed in all divine faithfulness.
Whatever We Experience In Reflection, God Is Bigger
Of course, we know that we cannot ‘box’ God, though we try, such as our thinking’s limited. As there is no limit to the divine scope for creation, there is equally no limit to our enjoyment of the divine, at any time we choose—in both blessing and want and all between.
As we consider a sunset, a sunrise, the wonder in an insect, or the phenomenon known socially as of this day, we hear God speak through our experience, perhaps in ways only perceptible for us, alone. Of course, we are stoically encouraged when others see what we see, but the point of reflection, the point of honing in on the Spirit as it is present in our moments, is the unique gift of divine light given us, that ingenious moment.
God is infinitely bigger than we can imagine, and the beauty in that thought, in the present discussion, is our reflections catch us by surprise if we are free enough to be caught reflecting, which brings us to a point of fresh wonder.
The limit of God’s awesomeness is a lie. There can be no limit.
When we open ourselves up in awe of God, to the extent of seeing things anew, in new ways, within the broader spectrum of life, the Lord shows us the wonder enfolded in such a gorgeous investment.
It is ours to enlarge our God-consciousness through spiritual reflection.
The world awaits!
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.
This morning’s post in the series Return to Our Senses in Lent comes from fellow Australian Steve Wickham, author of “Grow In GOD” eBook (Proverbs) He holds Science, Divinity and Counselling Degrees and ministers actively in Cyberspace. His social media links: Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/stevewickhamauthor and http://www.facebook.com/steve.j.wickham and Twitter: http://twitter.com/SJWickham
Steve Wickham