A Brief Review of :
Reviewed By Jordan Kellicut.
“We are full of life… and we are poisoning ourselves (8).” This heartfelt plea is like a watermark on every page of Claiming Earth as Common Ground. Andrea Cohen-Kiener experienced an awakening that led her to pursue involvement in recycling plastics, and from that a greater realization that ecology was related to her spirituality. The Earth, she says, is our ultimate common ground for disparate religion. It provides not just the well-worn question, “Can religious people save the environment?” But also a new question, “Can the environmental challenge save religion (2)?” It is this question that drives her theological reflection (especially chapters 2-5).
Cohen-Kiener advocates a variety of specific practices, not the least of which is an appendix with an exhaustive list of “small steps” to reduce one’s ecological footprint (146-149). One specific practice focused on gardening and seed conservation (chapter 6). This is imperative because homogenous seed genus is vulnerable to pests and climate changes (93). The other main practice is the rediscovery of Sabbath. Lessness is the object of Sabbath, where at least one day is given over to seeking to nourish the soul through slowing down and “greening a day” (chapter 8). Cohen-Kiener argues that environmental abuse and the reactionary desire to “go green” is at its root a spiritual hunger (117). Religion can help us “rename and reclaim the subtle spiritual hungers (119).” As she says, “Environmentalism can save religion by giving us a living laboratory in which we can learn to live up to our religion’s aspirations (144).”
Part eco-manifesto, part storied testimonial, part theological reflection, Cohen-Kiener weaves together many different streams of thought, often entrusting large chunks to contributing essayists:
- Rev. Tom Carr, “The Big Context” (79-92)
- Elisheva Rogosa, “Wheat Sheaves and Matza Tales” (97-100)
- Andrea Ferich, “Communion Agriculture” (101-113)
- Rev. Donna Schaper, “Green Sabbath” (119-125)
- Rev. Margaret Bullit-Jonas, “Conversion to Eco-Justice” (130-137)
While this puts into practice Cohen-Kiener’s major thesis of many religions on common ground, it also contributes to the overall disarray of the book. Though the themes are consistent, the structure is sometimes hard to follow.
Overall this book is a helpful first step to thinking theologically about ecology and other religions. It is novel for the argument that ecology can be common ground between faiths. Cohen-Kiener, however, does not offer a conceptual framework for Christians to embody the Kingdom while partnering with other religions. Cohen-Kiener does not ignore religious difference (22-24); she does boil these down to our sectarian hubris (32-36). While I am challenged to think cosmically about our “common ground,” I cannot shake the lingering question, “How can I do this while remaining true to the Triune God?” Cohen-Kiener’s book is best for its reflection on the interconnectedness of ecology and pluralistic theology, but needs more reflection on how disciples can faithfully interact in that nexus.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com