Sabrina Reyes-Peters

Ecotheology Class Reflections

I graduated from seminary six years. I am not sure why I like reminding myself and other people of that fact. Is it pride, because I’m somehow educated? Do I feel defensive because I look younger than I am, and people don’t take me as seriously as they could? Parts of it were pretty hard, so maybe I like reminding myself that I survived working almost full time, part-time at church, and taking classes.

I was missing the classroom experience of seminary, so I somehow convinced C that I needed to audit a class this winter/spring. I looked for schools that offered this, and found Seattle School thanks to a Twitter friend. At first, looking at the class schedule, I wasn’t sure how brain-y the classes were. I wanted to sink my teeth into something, to really invigorate and awaken my weakened intellect, and discuss things with other interested folks. The course descriptions weren’t really convincing of that aspect, but after sitting in on a class that was quite invigorating, I signed up anyway because there weren’t any other graduate schools around who were a) not conservative Evangelical (been there, done that), and b) offering community type auditing.

The course I chose was titled Triune God and Creation, and it ended up being mostly a study in ecotheology. It was taught by an instructor and a teaching assistant, both women (who are both smart, wise, and compassionate), and the class contained a majority of people who weren’t men. Both of those things were firsts for me. Since I was auditing, I wasn’t required to do any of the homework assignments, which was probably a good thing, because at this point my brain was still struggling and I had a hard time keeping up with the readings. Still, this put me at a disadvantage because I couldn’t fully participate in the class experience.

Concerted efforts were made toward the end of the course to include me more in the discussions and classroom activities, and I appreciated that. I enjoyed listening to the lectures and taking notes, but I especially delighted in discussing things with others in the class.

The course material was stellar, in my opinion. I was immersed mostly in writings by liberation and womanist theologians, as well as feminist, and indigenous thought (if you'd like to see a few of the readings, go here). This stood out in stark contrast to the book I was reading on my own about Helmut Gollwitzer, but provided some good companionship for the reinforcement of dialectical theology concepts of nonobjectification. Reading indigenous thought, I couldn’t continue to think of God as a colonizer. Reading feminist and womanist thought, I couldn’t continue to think of God as an oppressive, male ruler. At the same time, most of the theologians I read, in discussing earth care, leaned toward some form of panentheism, which is not the transcendence that Gollwitzer would speak of.

Going in, I was accustomed to mostly heady, intellectual classroom discussion (whether I participated or not), but a characteristic of this graduate school is an integration of the head and the heart, of science and art, so some of the activities done in class involved putting artistic form to imagination, and some individual student projects were artistic in nature. At first, I mentally resisted these activities because they seemed boring, and I am bad at art. I surrendered in the end, because theology is pointless without real world application, and application requires imagination.

Much of the classroom discussion also centered on experience, as well, in which I am interested to a point, and which does contribute to theological discussion, but I sorely missed a good discussion purely based on concepts found in the readings, instead of relaying experiences based on the concepts. The first part of the course was spent on the instructor’s Wesleyan quadrilateral model, and I also had to consider that not all the students in the class were divinity or theology students, but counseling & psychotherapy students; so the lack of pure intellectual depth wasn’t quite unexpected, but it just didn’t hit all of the sweet spots for me.

I do not regret my decision to participate in this class. The contrary is true, actually, despite the aspects with which I was unaccustomed and already mentioned. In addition to attending class sessions, I got to have lunches with the same Twitter friend who connected me to the school, which I meant I had one more friend in the city.

I was challenged, thanks to Randy Woodley and a guest lecturer, to reconsider how I approached earth “stewardship”, which is how most people approach it; with the word “dominion” in mind, a hierarchical structure that places humans above nature and with the charge of caring for it. Perhaps that is not the best model, and instead, humans should partner with other living things to regain a more harmonious way of living in relationship with the earth and all that it contains. This harkens back to panentheism, I think, but is worth considering. Do we care for the earth because we as humans are in charge and other living things are helpless without us? Or do we care for the earth because we are not the only living things on the planet, and the other living things need help as earthly companions? Liberation is tied to all creation. Either we are all free, or none of us are.