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Noted theologian warns of environment abuse like proposed northern Michigan sulfide mine

(Marquette, Michigan) - Noted theologian and author Walter Brueggemann warns today's world must change its ways because the "creator will not tolerate the ultimate despoiling of creation."

Dr. Brueggemann said that a proposed sulfide mine near Lake Superior in northern Michigan is a losing proposition that puts economic interests over concerns of local residents and the environment.

Brueggemann said its obvious the future of the Upper Peninsula "environment and the well being of the neighborhood are being subordinated to economic interests."

An Atlanta resident, Brueggemann told northern Michigan audiences that many humans don't understand that "the land requires ownership that is partnership and without such partnership creation loses its interest in fruitfulness."

Disregard for the environment "will lead to the dismantling of creation," Brueggeman said. People must "view the environment as God's gift that requires responsible management."

The biblical scholar said poets have long warned about the dire consequences of the greedy abuse of the earth's resources before "the land simply refuses to produce."
Theologian Walter Brueggemann at NMU Lutheran Campus Ministry house 10-8-07
Theologian Walter Brueggemann at NMU Lutheran Campus Ministry house 10-8-07
Dr. Walter Brueggemann shares laugh with Marquette Baha'i leader Dr. Rod Clarken
Dr. Walter Brueggemann shares laugh with Marquette Baha'i leader Dr. Rod Clarken
Rev. John Magnuson discusses environment with Dr. Walter Brueggemann
Rev. John Magnuson discusses environment with Dr. Walter Brueggemann
Author Walter Brueggemann addresses standing room only crowd at NMU in Marquette
Author Walter Brueggemann addresses standing room only crowd at NMU in Marquette
Dr. Walter Brueggemann caused the audience to laugh and think deeply
Dr. Walter Brueggemann caused the audience to laugh and think deeply
About 400 people hung on every word spoken by author Walter Brueggemann at NMU
About 400 people hung on every word spoken by author Walter Brueggemann at NMU
Dr. Walter Brueggemann spoke to over 200 at Bethany Lutheran Church Ishpemig, MI
Dr. Walter Brueggemann spoke to over 200 at Bethany Lutheran Church Ishpemig, MI
Hand gestures were a big part of author Walter Bruggemann's witty Bible talk
Hand gestures were a big part of author Walter Bruggemann's witty Bible talk
Rev. Warren Geier Bethany Lutheran Church Ishpeming, organized author visit
Rev. Warren Geier Bethany Lutheran Church Ishpeming, organized author visit
The environment and Bible messages were part of talks by Dr. Walter Brueggemann
The environment and Bible messages were part of talks by Dr. Walter Brueggemann
Biblical scholar warns about consequences of greed, overindulgence, and abuse of the environment; calls northern Michigan sulfide mine a losing proposal
Dr. Walter Brueggemann: Christians are in denial over past religious violence, must own antisemitism

(Marquette, Michigan) - Speaking to packed audiences at two northern Michigan events, noted theologian Dr. Walter Brueggemann warned that today's world should change its ways because the "creator will not tolerate the ultimate despoiling of creation."

Speaking to over 400 people in Ishpeming and Marquette, Dr. Brueggemann said historically greed, disregard for the environment and "the violation of the ten commandments will lead to the dismantling of creation."

An expert and prolific author on the Old Testament, Brueggemann quote numerous biblical verses and described the prophets of the time as "poets" who warned about the greedy abuse of nature because people must "view the environment as God's gift that requires responsible management."

Bringing humor and simple explanations to complex scripture, Dr. Brueggemann's animated translations invoked passion, laughter, and stunned silence that was often punctuated with crescendos, whispers and dramatic gestures like a fist in the air or hands clutching his head.

"Every national security state works itself to destruction - never learning in time the limits to acquisitiveness and giving full rein to satiation," Brueggemann said Monday night (Oct. 8, 2007) at Northern Michigan University in Marquette.

Dr. Brueggemann's ecumenical public talks are reflected in his personal life. Brueggemann is a member of the United Church of Christ, teaches at a Presbyterian Seminary, and worships in an Episcopal congregation.

The standing room only crowd clapped when he tied abuse of the environment to the proposed sulfide mine near Lake Superior in Marquette County by stating abused land will not produce in the future.

"What this poet knows is that absentee ownership and agribusiness - and you can extrapolate the word mining - I don't know much about it but I know that much - will simply refuse to produce when the land becomes a tradeable commodity and is no longer caressed, and honored and treated with its own particular creation magic," Brueggemann said. "The land requires ownership that is partnership and without such partnership creation loses its interest in fruitfulness."

In an interview following his talk, Brueggemann said while he doesn't know the all the details about the proposed sulfide mine he has done "some reading on the crisis of the proposed mining initiative" in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

"It is obviously a case in which the well being of the environment and the well being of the
neighborhood are being subordinated to economic interests," Brueggemann said.

"In the bible, the economy is, according to the Torah, kept subordinated to the well being of the
neighborhood," Brueggemann said. "This seems to me a case in which economic interests want to overpower the concerns of the neighborhood."

"From the perspective of biblical faith, that is always a loser," Brueggemann said.

Speaking to about 200 people Tuesday night (Oct. 9) at the Bethany Lutheran Church in Ishpeming, Brueggemann said in the New Testament Jesus fed people with loaves of bread warning his followers about the evil ways of greedy pharaohs.

Brueggemann said "for the sake of the common good - for good health care policy, good schools, for better housing - the work of the neighborhood depends upon the power of the dream to dream outside the pharaoh's regime of anxiety."

"One way to understand the worship of the church, is every time we gather - we gather to dream the dream of God's abundance that powers us to the neighborhood," Brueggemann said.

Rev. Warren Geier, pastor of Bethany Lutheran Church in Ishpeming, said in all Dr. Brueggemann's talks the theologian "highlighted that God's intention for the world, as articulated in the Ten Commandments, is that we live in relationship with God and with the neighbor."

This can't be done without respect and care for the 'neighborhood' which is the earth, God's gift of creation," said Geier, who organized Brueggemann's U.P. visit.

Brueggemann "emphasized the need the tell the truth, not to deny reality and pretend things are other than they are," Geier said.

"This is done in order to get to hope, the realization that there is another way that counters ways that seem unchangeable - to use Dr. Brueggemann's words: 'The data on the ground is not the final truth; it's outflanked by the fidelity of God. There are new gifts to be given'," Geier said.

Describing a story about land abuse in the book of Isaiah, Brueggemann said the text warns about coveting land and "exercising eminent domain and buying up the property of neighbors until there is no one left but you."

"You are left to live alone in the midst of the land - woe you," he said.

An Atlanta resident, Dr. Brueggemann said a verse that states "these many houses shall become desolate - large beautiful houses without inhabitants" reminds him of the once prosperous southern cotton plantations.

"When I read about large beautiful houses that become desolate without inhabitants I think of Tara in Gone with the Wind," Brueggemann said in Marquette. "You know that the cotton industry in the south was the wealthiest economy in the world and nobody paid any attention."

Describing an agricultural economic crisis, Brueggemann said "the text goes on in this poem to imagine that when the land is organized so that it destroys a neighborhood that the land simply refuses to produce."

"God has said to the land 'be fruitful' and the land simply says 'I won't do it - I won't grow anything'," Brueggemann said.

Brueggemann's talks were co-sponsored by Lutheran Campus Ministry, the interfaith NMU EarthKeeper Student Team, the NMU departments of Philosophy and English, the Northern Great Lakes Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and Bethany Lutheran Church in Ishpeming.

Brueggemann's visit "was another way we like to continue our (environmental) work and invite other people into our community so that we can learn from them and continue to grow in our knowledge about theology and creation and the environment as well," said Jennifer Simula, the NMU EK project director and a student leader with NMU Lutheran Campus Ministry.

Understanding the audience was filled with supporters of the environment, Brueggemann said he is "aware of the work of the Earth Keeper's Covenant and so I already know that you are into these issues" describing his talk "simply as a reinforcement footnote to what all of you have already thought."

Dr. Brueggemann said you know when the poets (prophets) are about to make a point - and interject "moral passion" - when they use words like "therefore" or "alas."

"When you read a 'therefore' in this poetry you must duck," said Brueggemann - in one example of his wit that evoked laughter sometimes adding levity to an intense Biblical lesson.

"I believe the gap between consumer indulgence and the consequences of that in our society has to be filled with moral passion and not with explanation," Brueggemann said.

The poets, Brueggemann said, warned of the possible outcomes of human behavior and were used in the Bible "as an interface between the power of acquisitiveness - on the one hand - and the poetry of alternative on the other hand."

"All through the heady years of Jerusalem there were ad-hoc protests and dissents and warnings," Brueggemann said of the poets who today would be considered liberal.

The poets were "not social action liberals - which they were - they were poets - they wrote poetry so that the world could be imagined outside the domain of (King) Solomon."

In the book of Hosea, "the Lord has an indictment with the inhabitants of the land," Brueggemann said.

"The inhabitants of the land are abusing the land so Yahweh (God in the Old Testament) is taking them to court," he said.

Brueggemann crafts his messages to have a direct bearing on today's world while sticking to Biblical history - thus causing the audience to think and draw their own conclusions of time.

"Here is the indictment - see what this makes you think of," Brueggemann said leading the audience to a purposely indirect point. "There is swearing, lying, murder, stealing, adultery, bloodshed. What does that make you think of?"

An audience member said: "Iraq?"

"I meant in the Bible - I don't want to get into anything contemporary," said Brueggemann - delighting the crowd.

"There is lying, stealing, killing, adultery - the ten commandments," Brueggemann explained bringing home a Biblical lesson with contemporary impact. "The indictment is - Israel in its acquisitiveness has violated the ten commandments."

"Now from what I have told you - what do you think comes next - 'therefore'," Brugeggeman said. "Therefore the land mourns - this is a Biblical idiom for drought."

"When you violate the ten commandments you get a drought.- and then it says - because of the drought - the beasts and the fields and the birds and the air and the fish in the sea - What's that supposed to make you think of ? Creation is perishing. This is an extraordinary three-verse poem."

"The indictment is you break the ten commandments - the connection is the therefore - and the threat is that creation will be undone and won't grow anything anymore," Brueggemann said. "The logic of the poem is that the violation of the ten commandments will lead to the dismantling of creation."

"The poet only knows that the land that is being abused is God's creation and the poet knows there are limits to be honored and respected, restraints to be exercised and trusts to be cared for and when self indulgence overrides limits, restraints and trusts - creation has a way of circling back and bringing death," Brueggemann said.

"I heard a Rabbi once say - that in Auschwitz all Ten Commandments were systematically violated - and then he (Rabbi) said 'whenever you violate all ten commandments then you get Auschwitz'," Brueggemann said.

"I would not suggest that our ecological crisis is of Auschwitz proportion - however you have got to believe that the violation of God's commandments eventually jeopardize and risk the good gift of creation," Brueggemann said

During a meeting at the Lutheran Campus Ministry house, Brueggemann said the American "Christian community has been overly pre-occupied - for a long period of time - with personal salvation and redemption - and the result of that is that we have reneged on the Creator - Creation question."

Brueggemann said "you can't just turn it (the environment) into a commodity"

"I believe that our work in scripture study and teaching is to reread the Bible away from those personal questions toward the large questions of creation and creator so we learn to view the environment as God's gift that requires responsible management," Brueggemann said.

With the exception of noted Lutheran theologian Joseph Sittler, Brueggemann said that "Lutherans are notorious for not having had a very vibrant Doctrine of Creation."

Brueggemann said many fundamentalists just "want to talk about me and Jesus, and being saved by the blood and all that kind of business."

Fundamentalists "have no understanding of creation at all" and don't "understand that our reception of the reality of God also has to do with honoring the Earth differently," Brueggemann said "Those categories have almost been lost in the way the church conducts its teaching."

Many churches refuse to face antisemitism and past religious violence and instead are "sort of pretending" that Christian-related atrocities did not happen, Brueggemann said.

"I think we invite people to engage in wholesale denial about their own lives," Brueggemann said.

As a result of denial, the communication to churchgoers, Brueggemann said, is "well if you feel violent - talk about it somewhere else - don't do that here because we are all nice people here' .

It is "better to say we have a long history of antisemitism - we've go to own that," Brueggemann said. "I think that good recovery of the Bible is like good psychotherapy."

At Bethany Lutheran Church in Ishpeming, Brueggemann said one of the saddest quotes by Jesus is in the New Testament book of Mark.

After Jesus feeds ten thousands people at two events with loaves of bread to spare - he's out in a boat with two disciples who don't understand his frustration over why they forgot the bread, Brueggemann said.

"The paragraph ends with what I think must be one of the saddest statements of Jesus in the new testament - Jesus says to them 'do you not yet understand?' He says to his disciples 'you don't get it, do you?'," Brueggemann said.

"What's to get - is - wherever Jesus is - the power of anxiety has been broken - and there is an abundance that lets us get our minds off ourselves," Brueggemann said "So the disciples - the church - is invited to get its mind off itself - off its scarcity - off it's narrow budget - off its parsimony."

The disciples "did not understand that Jesus is in the bread business," Brueggemann said.

"Watch out for the bread of the Herodians and the bread of the pharisees - he says watch out for the bread of the pharaoh because if you eat the bread of the pharaoh your stomach will be filled with anxiety," Brueggemann explained.

Brueggemann said Jesus then "gets a little reprimanding and he says to them 'do you have eyes and not see - do you have ears and not hear and do you have hearts and not understand - don't you know what we have been doing'?"

Brueggemann added that Mark says Jesus "took the bread, he blessed the bread, he broke the bread, he gave them the bread."

"These are the four great verbs in the church for abundance - he took, he blessed, he broke, he gave - these are the four verbs of the Eucharist," Brueggemann said. "These are the verbs whereby the gospel takes the stuff of the earth and transforms it into a wondrous abundance."

"So what Mark is telling us is - that the disciples know the numbers but they haven't any idea what the numbers mean," Brueggemann said.

Additional background on Dr. Brueggemann:

Brueggemann participated in Bill Moyers acclaimed PBS television series on the Book of Genesis. A graduate of Elmhurst College, Professor Brueggemann studied at Eden Theological Seminary, receiving his Doctorate of Divinity from Union theological Seminary, New York, and a Ph.D from Saint Louis University.

Brueggemann was professor of Old Testament at Eden before joining the faculty at Columbia Theological Seminary in 1986. He is currently William Marcellus McPheeters Professor Emeritus of Old Testament at Columbia.

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