Eco-spiritual Integration: Three Texts

January 4, 2015

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Stream at the restored Ridván Garden near Acre, Israel

"Fragmentation" often describes our personal lives. Through accident or design, we carve out separate spheres of being: family, work, school, sport, public policy, and so on. When we are healthy, we work toward unifying these through consistent expression of our values. The other extreme becomes hypocrisy.

The long-term tension between science and religion often reinforces that tendency toward fragmentation. Practicing and acting on a traditional Western mechanistic worldview while espousing divinely-grounded spiritual values is not intrinsically hypocritical. But, for me, it is a very limiting experience. In the integration of these two worldviews we find them strengthening each other. Spiritual principles can shape our research methods (viz animal experimentation), and scientific research can shape our application of justice and equality (seeking climate justice, for example).

Birdsong and Rustling Leaves

December 22, 2014

Birds were not my friends as a child. For some reason birdsong in my backyard was an annoyance. I knew how to distinguish a handful of birds from one another, but they simply held no fascination. Reptiles were much more interesting. In hindsight, I think it was the call of the Northern Cardinal – possibly awakening me in the early hours – that caused my mild disdain. So how did I arrive at this point where birding brings me such joy?

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American White Pelicans, Double Crested Cormorants, and domestic goose. White Rock Lake, Dallas, TX. January 2014.

Transcendent Moments

November 23, 2014

Nature-lovers often speak about transcendent moments, occasions where some experience moved them to a profound awareness of life, the universe, and everything in it. For some, these are timeless minutes, forever memorable, forever inspiring. All of the senses align in memory, and perhaps a bit of wisdom descends in epiphany.

My transcendent moments are not so strong; perhaps that is from a weak sense of smell. Or perhaps because I seek out a low level extraordinary at every turn: the senses are not so overwhelmed in these daily moments, as the ordinary passes beyond rationality. These peek experiences do exist however, and as I sift through the shoebox of memory, two stand out at very different scales.

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Page, Arizona, along the Colorado River. Courtesy of Nasa.

Nature Observation and Joy

November 16, 2014

Beware, o ye who walks in the woods with me. For I cannot help myself: I must share. Look at this little fern over here. This is a nice soapberry tree. So many ant lion nests here! Did you hear the tsip sound? Do you think it's a Dark-eyed Junco or a Yellow-rumped Warbler?

I pray that it is not a subconscious showing-off, know-it-all thing. That accusation has stung me before, in the middle-school classroom. Consciously, I simply love drawing people's attention to that which fascinates me (and yes, please do return the favor). There is a wonder about the natural world, a wonder and a joy that is so great that it often cannot be contained. This joy is reason enough to share with friends and family.

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The Ranch

November 2, 2014

Some folks grow up in households of privilege where trips to the family cabin / ranch / lake-house are common. We had the next best thing: a family friend generous enough to invite us along to The Ranch. Now, The Ranch has a more formal name, but its legend and personal history are best distinguished by turning the general, specific.

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The Yard and the Ditch

October 20, 2014

My earliest experiences of nature were of playing in the yard – and out back – as a child in a Houston suburb. As I recall it, our backyard had a pecan and some young oaks, along with multiple gardens. There was a red oak – or perhaps a maple? – planted out front, and a sweet gum tree whose seed casings would bring forth caution in even the most carefree of barefoot children. And of course there was the St. Augustine grass. This was all conducive to much play outside. But the best part was behind the fence: The Ditch.

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Sam Houston Trail Park - Shorebirds!

September 28, 2014

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Thanks to recent mowing, I was able to access the west-side of the pond at Sam Houston Trail Park in Irving, TX this morning. The pond is drying up – creating a wonderful concentration of aquatic creatures for the the shorebirds to eat. These photos are as good as I can do. Positively identified:

  • American Avocet
  • Snowy Egret
  • Least Sandpiper
  • Stilt Sandpiper (pretty sure, not absolutely sure)
  • Greater Yellowlegs
  • Northern Shoveler
  • Killdeer

I encountered a few more common birds, and just as I was leaving ran into a group of three Lark Sparrows to cap off the muddy morning.

Discourses of Society: Climate Change

September 27, 2014

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Aqueduct-as-garden outside the Mansion of Mazra'eh in Israel. November 2010.

A small group gathered at the Bahá'í Center of Irving last night in our second meeting on the discourses of society, reflecting on climate change. The first meeting in the series was too much of a slide-based lecture, so for this second one we chose two videos and facilitated an open discussion. The conversation was robust, heartfelt, and meaningful – yet in reflection, it raises some key questions about how to have a productive, spiritually-oriented conversation.

Contributing to the Discourses of Society

August 31, 2014

The Bahá'ís of Irving are trying out a concept: on the last Friday of each month, we'll talk about a theme related to the "discourses of society," motivated by passages such as this one, from the Universal House of Justice's 2010 Ridván Letter to the Bahá'ís of the world (p10):

"... involvement in public discourse can range from an act as simple as introducing Bahá'í ideas into everyday conversation to more formal activities such as the preparation of articles and attendance at gatherings, dedicated to themes of social concern - climate change and the environment, governance and human rights, to mention a few. It entails, as well, meaningful interactions with civic groups and local organizations in villages and neighbourhoods."

The August event was the first in the series, and the concept itself was the subject of the evening's presentation...

On Religious Leadership, and the GreenFaith Fellowship

June 15, 2014

An essay submitted as part of my application to the GreenFaith Fellowship Program. Hopefully I put my best foot forward ;-).

There are no clergy in the Bahá'í Faith. There is no seminary, and none can seek a position of leadership based on education, attainment, or station. Its governance is egalitarian and progressively inclusive. And yet it is inaccurate to say there are no leaders.

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