Carlee

Carlee

In November we held our annual Fall Forum virtually. We were thrilled to welcome back Sister Sharon Eubank, and fulfill her request for further conversation by hosting a panel to discuss her three questions from last year. Below, we include the video recording (also available on YouTube) and the transcript:

Natalie: 

Good evening. My name is Natalie Gochnour. I’m delighted to welcome you here, virtually tonight, to the Thomas S. Monson Center on South Temple in Salt Lake City, Utah. We are here tonight for the LDS Earth Stewardship Fall Forum. It’s a time when we can take a break from the workaday world and really stop and reflect about the beauty and majesty of Mother Earth, and honor our Creator by examining the principles of earth stewardship. I’m really excited about tonight’s discussion. 

We will hear first from Sister Sharon Eubank. Sharon is the first counselor in the general presidency of the Relief Society of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. After Sister Eubank, we will hear from Sister Kira Smiley. Kira works professionally in ocean health and sustainability. 

Sister Eubank, thanks for joining us tonight. I’m going to turn the time over to you.

Sharon:

I’m so glad to be with you tonight. When we met a year ago, we talked about what Zion has to do with stewardship of the Earth and you took the responsibility to think about some questions that were related to that, which I’m very grateful about. I asked three questions that all had to do with the building up of Zion and the vision of the last part of the Earth, as we believe as Latter-day Saints, and I know you’ve been thinking about that. I thought I would just frame those questions for you again and then I’ll talk a little bit about some of my own experiences this year that have got me thinking a little more deeply. I’m really looking forward to the panel as we discuss some of the things that you’ve thought about and some of the things that the panel will bring. 

The first question was “When we waste what others desperately need, what are the ramifications to our physical hearts and our unity?” I had no idea when I asked that question that we would have a pandemic in 2020, and as a humanitarian I’ve been raised on those stories from the Great Depression in the 1930s when farmers could not afford to harvest their crops and so they let them just rot in the field. It’s the beginning of the Latter-day Saint welfare program because the stakes in Salt Lake City organized people to go down to Utah County and harvest the apples and the onions so that they could then keep them and they started a cannery and different things from that. I never expected in the year 2020 that I would see that same kind of situation, but the pandemic forced a lot of things on us that we had not seen in a very long time. I was as shocked as many other people to see pictures from around the country in the New York Times of dairy farmers who supplied milk to schools but nobody was meeting in schools and there was nowhere to sell it, there was nowhere to put it, so they were dumping it in fields for fertilizer. There were potato farmers and onion farmers who could not afford to harvest those because fast food restaurants weren’t serving potatoes and there was no place for the market to absorb them, and they were just rotting. There were really creative people—university students, communities, Latter-day Saint Charities was one of them—that thought, ‘This can’t be,’ and so they came up with creative solutions on things to do with that food so that it wouldn’t have to be wasted. You can see in this photo that one of the things Latter-day Saint Charities did was to go down to the dairy farmer exchange and buy the excess milk and then turn it into cheese. We used a producer up in Logan, Gossner Cheese, and they turned that excess milk into Swiss cheese, and then we turned around and put that into the trucks that went out to supply the food banks. Because at the same time that this food was being wasted, hunger was exploding in the United States and in many other places. We also dried that milk, we dried those potatoes, so that we could ship them to other places around the world. I’m really proud of the people who came up with creative solutions to that shocking waste, and I know that there are other wastes that we can think about with creative solutions that we can go forward [with] when we try. So that was something from my own experience for that first question.

The second question: “When we look at our own creations, or the creations that we’re a part of, how do we feel? How do we feel being in God’s and what is that experience like for us?” Probably like a lot of people in the middle of the pandemic, I was working from home and I felt a lot of anxiety. You’re reading scary news, there’s a lot of reports coming in from different places around the world. One of the things I started to do in April when it was one of the most anxious times was I went to a garden center along with my neighbor and we built garden boxes which we had never done before. I’ve lived in that house for thirteen years and never had any kind of a garden but this was the year. I have a black thumb; I have killed multiple plants and I’m very sorry about it. But I thought, ‘I’m going to try this year.’ So she and I hefted up these big 50-pound bags of dirt and I thought, ‘Well I’m going to plant strawberries.’ So I went to the local nursery, I got those strawberries, and you can see in these photos that I put them in. You have never seen a prouder mother than when that first strawberry blossom came! I was out staring at it in the middle of the night, looking at it during the day, and when the strawberries started to come I felt as if I had created the Earth in seven days. It was just so amazing. I mean you can tell because I’ve taken these photographs to show you. To see them start to get ripe and then to ripen. I have to tell you that I calculated the perfect moment to pick them so they would be at their ultimate ripeness and when I went out for my first five strawberries, the birds had gotten them that morning. I had missed them! So then I had to go get some kind of netting to put over them so that the birds and I could share. At the very end of this year, it became a sanctuary for me where that garden was. I actually wrote my conference talk that I gave in October out there in the middle of that. It became a place for me to feel how I relate to Creation, and also to feel the Creator in the smallest miracle of a ripening strawberry. When I think about how it felt for me to grow my own strawberries, and then to see the work and the effort that goes into just a basket of strawberries that are at the store, I would never ever be able to waste one of those again because of my experience this summer. So I feel the Creator in His creations in a very visceral way because of my own experience, and I hope you've had some experience this year as well. 

The third question is a very relevant question to the 21st century where we live. I wanted to ask, “How can we frame the discussion so that we stop having the same unsuccessful conversation between people who believe in protecting the earth and people who believe in protecting business?” and that false narrative that goes back and forth. That's so unproductive and it's also false, and I am really looking forward to some of the comments that the panel will make about this. The question I asked was, “How can our hearts swell wide as eternity so that we stop having that unproductive conversation?” One of the things that I hope, and it's a challenge I'm throwing out to you, is we need to laugh more about earth stewardship. It is a serious subject, but we have sometimes approached it in such a way that it becomes so self-serious and I think there's real benefit—if we could get a stand up comedian to talk about earth stewardship I would love that because people need to respond in a different way. We cannot continue to approach it in the same way that we have. . . We want to appeal to new audiences. One of the things that happened to me this year was meeting Kira Smiley, who you're going to hear from later on in the program. She came to visit me in my office and when I heard about her, her studies, and the work that she's doing with ocean conservation, I recognized this is the future of this discussion. Kira is two generations away from me and she's a young person who has her credentials, who has her work experience, and is practically looking at real solutions. I'm very invested in what will happen for people who are in their teens or their 20s because this is really their conversation and we need to engage with them, but we can approach things in a different way and I think Kira will talk some about that. 

I thought I would just close tonight with an encouragement. I had such a great experience with the scriptures and the hymns and the discussion that we had last year that I wanted to quote from Doctrine and Covenants 104. This is the doctrinal foundation that LDS Earth Stewardship is based on, and maybe it's something that I can leave all of us with before the panel begins. It says, in verses 13 through 18

For it is expedient that I, the Lord, should make every man accountable, as a steward over earthly blessings, which I have made and prepared for my creatures. I, the Lord, stretched out the heavens, and built the earth, my very handiwork; and all things therein are mine. And it is my purpose to provide for my saints, for all things are mine. But it must needs be done in mine own away; and behold this is the way that I, the Lord, have decreed to provide for my saints, that the poor shall be exalted, in that the rich are made low. For the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare; yea, I prepared all things, and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves. Therefore, if any [person] shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion, according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment.

I don't always exactly know what to do, but I'm committed to change my actions to be more in line with this doctrine that I believe with all my heart, and I'm excited to be here with you today and for this great discussion. Thank you very much.

Natalie:

Thank you, Sister Eubank. I'd now like to introduce Kira Smiley. She joins us remotely from Europe. Kira is a program manager with a company that's called Tidal at Company X. Their mission is to improve ocean health and to feed humanity sustainably. Kira serves as her ward's environmental stewardship specialist and she has a BS and Master's degree from Stanford University. Kira, thank you for joining us tonight.

Kira:

Thank you so much for that introduction. I feel really privileged to have the opportunity to join Sister Eubank and all of you here today to share some remarks. Throughout my schooling and career thus far, I've had the opportunity to work on food systems and environmental challenges across the world. In my ward, as you mentioned, I’ve served as the ward environmental stewardship specialist for the past two years. Since my first Young Women's project, establishing a recycling program at our stake center, I've spent over a decade learning what it means to be a Latter-day Saint and an environmental steward. It wasn't until very recently that I actually learned about this organization but I'm thrilled to have discovered it. 

Throughout my experiences working on environment and food systems [and] related challenges, two experiences have really stuck out to me in particular. Diving in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean during the 2019 Ocean Plastics Leadership Conference, everything was beautiful and blue around me until I started finding tiny bits of micro plastics: plastic jugs and plastic with marine animal bite marks and even a toilet seat. On a Romanian beach, we discovered a year's worth of plastic washed up on shore from across the globe, which solidified for me that the earth is part of an intricate and connected system, and everything we do has an impact. In southern Patagonia, I spoke with several fishermen who recounted how their fishing spots had dried up from overfishing and that they were running out of places to go next. This conversation reminded me of the Lord's teachings in Doctrine and Covenants 59. In order to have a continuous food source, natural resources must “be used with judgment, not to excess, neither by extortion.” I really believe that the Earth needs our wise stewardship today more than ever before. As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we learn through our doctrine that the Lord has commanded us to do so. Doctrine and Covenants 136 reads, “Thou shalt be diligent in preserving what thou hast, that thou mayest be a wise steward.” President Russell M. Nelson has taught (which Sister Eubank quoted last year) that, “As beneficiaries of the divine Creation, what shall we do? We should care for the earth, be wise stewards over it, and preserve it for future generations. And we are to love and care for one another.” 

So what can we do to show gratitude and charity for the Earth and for each other? Personal conviction is the first step. Within the family unit, establishing love for the Earth and all of its creations early will help deepen that innate desire we have to care for the environment. Just as the sons of Helaman were taught on their mother's knees as children, so too was I taught at an early age about nature and the environment from my mother and grandmother, learning to love and respect the environment while growing up near the forests of Oregon and Finland. The LDSES website has an extensive list of actions for individuals and families to undertake, ranging from investing in more energy-efficient appliances, reducing water use and single-use plastics, using public transportation (when safe, now, and available), reducing paper use at church, and doing community environmental service projects, among many others. If you haven't yet, I highly encourage you to visit the webpage for more ideas. 

However, I suspect that many of you are doing many of these things, and wonder what you can do to take your action to the next level and cause even broader change. One day-to-day choice that has a significant impact on our Earth is food. What and how you eat matters. In the U.S. alone, 40% of food produced goes to waste, which both causes greenhouse gas emissions [that are] 25 times stronger than carbon dioxide and contradicts what the Lord taught of using His resources.¹ Most of the food you buy often comes with plenty of plastic packaging, but taking steps to avoid this—whenever and however possible—and preventing food waste has enormous impact. This could include sharing extra food with neighbors in need or food banks, home composting food scraps, prepping your meals each week to avoid last-minute purchases that often have more plastic, choosing to not overbuy, taking a picture of your pantry and fridge before going shopping to recall what you already have, choosing to buy ugly or misshapen vegetables (which are often thrown out but taste just the same), and cooking in batches and freezing leftovers (which you have to remember to actually eat). There are so many different options, and you can get creative with it as well. In addition, we've all been in Sunday School lessons where this section has been glossed over, but the Word of Wisdom does teach us to eat meat sparingly. Designing your meals to be more plant-focused by eliminating or reducing meat from most meals, and moving it from a main course to an accent or garnish in several or all meals, has enormous implications across several different areas. The meat industry is, unfortunately, responsible for about 15% of global human-driven greenhouse gas emissions.² Mostly driven by beef, this uses significant land, water, and energy, and causes runoff into rivers that cause harm to aquatic life downstream. But even more so, to satisfy this growing global demand for meat in excess, cattle ranching has become the largest driver of deforestation in every Amazon country, which has major implications on the biodiversity there and can even impact weather patterns.³

I know that changing your lifestyle to adopt new food, energy, and transportation habits may seem really challenging, but just as when we choose to follow certain standards of dress and language, committing once to follow these principles will make it so much easier than having to make that same choice day after day. I led a class at a local college where we help students to redesign their lifestyles to be more sustainable. One activity that I taught was to storyboard out your day with all of your new choices, while still meeting key needs such as health, warmth, and safety—and then to test it out. If you slip up, it's important not to give up! Changing your lifestyle is all about iteration and designing ways to make it easier to make the choices you want to make. If something doesn't work, try something else. Similar to exercise, you need to find ways to integrate new habits in a way that works for you, or you won't do it. Our actions over time will have a major impact, but you can exponentially increase the ripple effect of your actions by setting an example and encouraging your friends and your neighbors, with love, to do the same. While many of the actions associated with environmental stewardship and sustainability have been incorrectly and tragically politicized, if each of us can successfully share the connection between environmental stewardship action and their root gospel principles, we will have so much more success in helping to transform our communities and our world. The Prophet Joseph Smith stated that he taught correct principles and the saints govern themselves accordingly. Please note that in addition to having the knowledge of these principles, the saints also had the motivation and the desire to keep them, because they recognized their source as being the Lord and trusted that acting on these principles would ultimately be for their own benefit and that of Zion. 

I mentioned my Young Woman medallion project at the beginning of my remarks. Ultimately, this effort unfortunately failed. While I and another young woman set up the bins, posted signs and instructions, and spent many weekends emptying the recycling, we did not sufficiently teach our ward and stake of the gospel principles connected with this new system. In doing so, we lost an opportunity to help instill that internal motivation to act. To encourage future generations to protect our planet, we can also choose to actively involve children and youth in environmental stewardship activities. As the ward environmental stewardship specialist in my ward, I've organized a native shrubbery activity, planting these with a local environmental nonprofit. I've worked with the activities committee to set up and design zero-waste potluck events, worked with members to establish recycling and composting within the ward, and led firesides teaching how environmental stewardship is related to gospel principles. These are just a few ideas of what you can do to help engage your ward community as well as your neighborhood. Remember that teaching the why behind the gospel principles of earth stewardship is equally if not more important than teaching the what, in order to promote longevity and action and prevent positive changes from disappearing as soon as we stop actively managing them. As Elder Boyd K. Packer taught, “True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior.” 

Finally, remember that your environmental stewardship and daily choices have ripple effects across the planet so you must think holistically with what is referred to as a systems mindset. The majority of those who suffer from the impacts of intensifying and destructive weather phenomena, occurring more and more frequently, are often composed of the very families who live in regions of the world lacking the resources and physical and economic buffers to cope with many of these impacts the same way you or I might. Many of our brothers and sisters in the gospel live in many of these areas. Without feeling the effects so strongly, it's easy to avoid feeling a strong connection to these impacts or to fail to take action to mitigate them. But we can choose to donate to established, trustworthy organizations working on the issues, and when we think at a systems level and exercise charity, we're more likely to choose to be wise stewards of our environment, our energy use, our waste practices, our transportation and eating habits—because we understand that they have worldwide implications. 

I am deeply moved, whenever I reflect on the deep trust our Heavenly Father has bestowed upon us as stewards of His magnificent creations. Being a good steward shows gratitude for everything we have and will unlock blessings for you, your community, and the people worldwide for generations to come. Each of us is a lever for change, and I believe strongly that we have the power to set a good example and to guide others to gain that same desire to take steps to be effective stewards of our planet. 

Thank you again so much for the invitation to join you today and for the opportunity to share some thoughts. I encourage you to reach out if you have any questions or thoughts. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Natalie:

Thank you, Kira. It's now time for what I'm going to call a fireside chat. In addition to Sister Eubank and Kira, I'm going to bring two others into the conversation. Happy to welcome Shannon Ellsworth. Shannon is a member of the Provo City Council and she's Vice Chair of the board with LDS Earth Stewardship. Welcome Shannon. I’d also like to welcome Chip Oscarson. Chip teaches literature and film at Brigham Young University, and directs BYU’s Scandinavian program. Welcome Chip. 

We are here tonight at the Thomas S. Monson Center in Salt Lake City on South Temple Street, but in 2019 LDS Earth Stewardship was at the White Chapel on Utah's Capitol Hill. Sister Eubank addressed us there and left us with three questions and invited us to engage with her. So tonight, during this fireside chat, we're going to unpack these questions and talk about what we learn as fellow panelists but also some of the comments that came in from other people who listened to the speech, who had comments about it, and have engaged with us. So I'm going to just read these questions out loud and then I'm going to turn to some of the panelists and reflect upon what was submitted to LDS Earth Stewardship and see what we learn from that. So here's the questions: 

  1. When we waste what others desperately need, what physically happens to unity and our hearts? 
  2. Why do we feel God in His creations? And what do others feel in our creations?
  3. What would move our hearts to swell as wide as eternity?

Some pretty profound questions. On question number one—when we waste what others desperately need, what physically happens to unity and our hearts—a gentleman named Ralf has submitted this comment: he said, “When we waste resources others need, we hurt the overall community and diminish our own spirituality.” Chip I'm going to turn to you first. Do you feel like we diminish our own spirituality when we waste what others need?

Chip: 

I think so. I think that it's a really important point, what's motivating this question, this idea: that we're connected. Our spirituality is connected to other people around us, and we can't expect that we can act in a way that doesn't have repercussions for people around us. I think that when we understand the way that we're connected, when we understand the way that our actions can positively or negatively impact others that we don't know or that we don't see, that aren't in our immediate vicinity, that that leads us to act in a different kind of way. If the two great commandments are love of God and love of our neighbor, these really come together in terms of how we use the physical creation that God has given us. It's a manifestation of His love and how we use it, the way that we use it, has implications for our attitudes towards other people.

Natalie:

Kira, as I listened to your remarks I felt like there was a lot of spirituality implicit in what you were sharing. Would you like to comment on what Ralf said: basically that when we waste resources others need, we not only hurt the community but we hurt our own spirituality?

Kira:

Absolutely. That hits me deeply; I think it was really profound. I think it goes back to what I mentioned from Doctrine and Covenants 59, which does teach that we need to not use things in excess or by extortion and in doing so, we're not just doing something that is sustainable (although it is), we're really hailing back to the core principles of charity, because we're thinking of our fellow humans, we're thinking of our brothers and sisters, and we're considering them and their needs so as to not take more than is needed to ensure that we can all participate and all benefit as much as we can equally from the resources that we have available on our planet.

Natalie:

Sister Eubank, you started all this so I'm going to come to you, but first Shannon—do you want to add? This is an opening question about how when we waste resources it impairs our spirituality.

Shannon:

Yeah, I appreciate that sentiment. I think it's very true. In 2020 we can see now better than ever how something in our community, in our country, or in our world can affect people on the other side of the world. Certainly our health is connected to people around us and our social and environmental health affects people around us, as does our spirituality, as does the way that we use and conserve or utilize resources.

Natalie:

Sister Eubank, do you want to comment on this? 

Sister Eubank:

Yes, since it's my question I would love to! I really appreciate what Ralf said and then the comments that have been made. 

The Lord gave us two gifts. The first one was agency, which Chip referred to, and then the second thing is we are all connected to each other; we cannot survive spiritually or physically if we aren't. It's part of the same system, and we have to learn to use our agency to choose to say to other people, “Your success is as important as my own success.” When we waste something that somebody else desperately needs, it's as if we are saying to them, “I care nothing about you. I don't care at all about you because the system that combines us, I'm breaking it. I’m cutting that string that connects you and me.” So in order for us to keep those two great commandments that Chip talked about—to love God and to love each other—we cannot waste what other people need. Now in a modern life it's really hard not to waste things. We are set up for this disposable society, and Kira talked a lot about that, but the ways that we can minimize waste so that other people might thrive, I think, is the measure of our humanity.

Natalie:

Thank you. I love that Sister Eubank asked us to engage and to be a part of this conversation. 

Becky wrote in, “Disparity makes the experiences of God's children poignantly different from each other. At the same time that that's our reality, we also know we're commanded to be as one. If our use of resources is impeding our ability to see others as brothers and sisters, as equal heirs to the kingdom of God, then I think we're using them wrong.” And then she writes, “We can move towards greater unity by thinking outside ourselves, letting our heart lead us to be careful consumers.” So Shannon, careful consuming will help us be more unified; do you buy that?

Shannon:

Yeah. This makes me think of this concept of everything that our Heavenly Parents gave us, they gave us so much and all they really ask in return is a little bit. And our parents here on Earth have given us so much, and all they really ask for in return is a little bit. And this maternal planet that we live on gives us so much, and in return we just need to give a little bit. So I think that ties into this idea of being a careful consumer or, as Elder Maxwell used to say, a “consistent environmentalist” in returning a little bit or being conscientious in how we use these resources.

Natalie:

Shannon, did I hear you right? You said maternal planet? 

Shannon:

Yes.

Natalie: 

I like that and I noticed Sister Eubank smiled as you said it. Sister Eubank, what does that mean to you when you hear “maternal planet”?

Sister Eubank:

Well, you know, I automatically think about Moses 7 where Enoch sees the Earth and that she cries and groans because of the pollutions that are upon her. I think that’s specifically for our day; it's more true in our day than any other day. 

In my earlier remarks I referred to the food waste that's happening in the pandemic and how shocking it was to see milk that was being dumped in fields—that we haven't seen since the Great Depression—because we didn't have use for that milk because schools were closed and there was nothing else people thought to do except to just dump it into fields as fertilizer. But what I love are the people who said—they didn't say, “There's nothing I could do about that.” There were creative university students, there were people who worked at Latter-day Saint Charities and other places, who said, “We have to do something about that. We can't stand by and watch that kind of large-scale waste.” And then they found something to do about it and so I was really happy to report about that. I love that spirit of not standing back and saying, “There's nothing I can do about that,” but recognizing, “I can find something to do about that.”

Natalie:

Chip you have four women talking about being careful consumers and how it unifies us. We're talking about maternal planet Earth. We need your perspective here.

Chip:

Well I agree with what's been articulated. I think that one thing that maybe folds into this a little bit is that we get, sometimes, too caught up in our idea of ownership, and this is what I think several people are getting at. If we remember that everything we have is a gift to us, that we think about it in terms of gift, that invites a different kind of gratitude and a different kind of understanding of our responsibility of what to do with the things that we've been given. If they don't belong to me, in the way that sometimes we talk about belonging, that they're gifts to be returned. I'm more careful with a gift: when I think of something as a gift. I’m more likely to value it, to cherish it, to take care of it, not to use it to excess. I think that part of the problem is that there's a lot in our modern society that invites us to think that we deserve it, that we own it, and those kinds of attitudes I think can be really damaging, both in terms of how we treat what we have been given but also how we make these gifts available to others. This is the idea of stewardship: I don't own it, I'm taking care of it; it's on loan, in a way, or it's a gift. I like the idea of a gift.

Natalie:

Chip, let's stay with you for a minute. I've got another comment that came in to LDS Earth Stewardship. This is from Tēvita. Tēvita writes, “The second great commandment, after loving God, is to love your neighbor. I see two important interpretations of who our neighbor is. I've come to see ‘neighbor’ . . . as also including animals and plants. They're also your neighbor, and you should take care of them and love them.” So Chip, I'd love to hear you expound upon that as someone who's an expert on these types of topics.

Chip:

Yeah, I think that's a really great comment to think about how we exist in both human communities as well as ecological communities. Just like we are responsible and have agency within our human communities and can build those and we can make them stronger, more vibrant, more resilient, so too we can do this with our ecological communities. 

We have very interesting and unique doctrine regarding how we see the rest of Creation, that we believe that everything has spirit, and we can't undervalue what the implications of that [are]. All these things around us have their own purpose in Creation and that's to be respected. Part of our stewardship and our responsibility is to help these other things that are different than us to live up to the measure of their creation. Our ability to feel charity for something that's different than us, this starts in understanding the way that people are different and being able to show charity towards other people. But so too having charity towards things that are radically different than us, that have more legs or eyes than us, that don't have legs, that grow in the ground—this is a test of our ability to love and to show love, to show forbearance, to show patience and kindness and mercy.

Natalie:

I knew, Chip, you were the right person to start with on that. That was wonderful, and the notion that everything has spirit and everything has purpose. Rather than direct a response to that, who wants to jump in there? Because Chip gave us a lot to think about. It looks like Kira; go ahead Kira.

Kira:

Yes, it reminds me of the teaching that we have from the scriptures of “love thy neighbor as thyself.” I think that, just as Chip said and as the comment said, when we're thinking in that holistic perspective and that systems mindset, we can love equally beyond just our neighbor next door but realizing that every action we have is connected across the planet and has implications across the planet. . . We're an action-driven faith and so when we take action and we want to show love, the two are connected and we can't pontificate on these things and talk about earth stewardship without then really expressing our love through actions and through the way that we behave. That can be increased by magnitudes when we understand that each creation, every living thing, does have a spirit and has a right to grow and thrive, just as much as we do.

Natalie:

Shannon, so Tēvita says that animals and plants are our neighbors. I'd love to hear you comment.

Shannon:

Yeah, I think that's a beautiful concept. I have spent many of my teenage years on the family farm and every day was interacting with horses and cows and chickens. For me it was a truly impactful experience to see a horse be born and then have a personality, have needs, have good days and bad days, and then eventually die, which was, for me, an extremely impactful experience, a very powerful and spiritual experience to see that something God created has life in one moment and doesn't have life in the next moment. It's very powerful and it's a testimony of life and the sanctity of life. I just really appreciate the lessons in life that God has given me through the animal kingdom: some of those are in the Old Testament, some are in the New Testament, some are about pioneers and their experiences with animals. To me, the animal kingdom, part of the fulfillment of the measure of their creation is to teach me something. I'm grateful to God for that.

Natalie:

Very nice. Well, I'm going to go on to question number two. 

Sister Eubank:

Before you go on, can I just comment?

Natalie:

You sure may! Please.

Sister Eubank:

As I listened to Shannon's comment I think about [how] plants and animals in the animal kingdom, they have a voice but it's a very subtle voice and it's very difficult for them to compete with us when we're at the top of our voice. But for temple-going people the way we are, when we attend the temple and we go through that Creation experience that we go through every single time, that is when they get their day and the Lord gives them their due in those days so that we, sitting in that audience, participating in that temple ceremony, would revel in who they are and their part in the interconnectedness with us. For me that's part of the joy and the beauty of being a temple-going woman.

Natalie: 

Thank you, Sister Eubank. Alright question number two, here's what it is: why do we feel God in His creations? And what do others feel in our own creations? So this is really a creation question and a woman named Jenn Lee writes, “Primary songs such as My Heavenly Father Loves Me teach an answer to this question. Whenever we pay attention to the living things around us and simply step into nature and take heed, we cannot help but feel divine energy.” I thought that was a pretty insightful way to capture this: this divine energy that we get from our Heavenly Father's creations. Shannon, let's go to you first. Do you feel a divine energy when you're in nature?

Shannon:

I do. That's where my testimony has grown and has been nurtured. It’s where I have an ability to commune with God seemingly without ‘cloud cover.’ There's just a more direct line, a less polluted line, to God. I think part of that comes from what we learn in the Book of Mormon where God's creations are truly a testament to Jesus Christ. As a people, we value those testimonies of Jesus Christ. We value the missionaries and the missionary program because of the testimonies that they bring to our lives. We value the Book of Mormon because of the testament that it is in our lives. And we value these natural spaces and these opportunities to be outdoors and see these small, tiny, miniscule, microscopic testimonies of Jesus Christ as well as these landscape-scale testimonies of Jesus Christ. Certainly there's a unique connection with God when we’re in nature.

Natalie:

Chip, as someone who teaches literature and I would guess a lot of environmental literature, do you see this in your students, that when they read and confront nature that they capture or feel that divine energy?

Chip:

Oh absolutely. When I teach literature about the environment, one of the important things I like to do is to invite my students to go outside and to experience it, to underscore to them as well that the experience of God's creations (I teach at BYU so I can put it in those terms)... You don't have to be in a national park. You don't have to find some secluded place without people because people are nature too. . . I love the way it's articulated in the book of Moses, in the third chapter where everything is created spiritually and God is explaining this in this vision to Moses. He's talking specifically about trees and the way that trees are introduced is that they're created first spiritually before they're created physically, and as they're created, I think three different times in this verse (verse nine), He talks about their aesthetic qualities (that you could behold them and they were good and they were right) three different times and then finally says, “Oh, and they're useful too, for food and other things.” These things are also meant to be used, but if we remember these aesthetic qualities that you're alluding to, it invites us to have a different kind of relationship to them. They're not an inert resource to be used up, but something for us to be in a relationship with. That relationship tests our love and our capacity to to relate to other things—which is a divine attribute, right? To relate to things that are different than ourselves. And we need to be inspired by these things, by both the beauty of creation as well as the art that helps us to see it in new and different kinds of ways.

Natalie:

Kira, I'm going to come to you with this next comment. A gentleman named Phill wrote in about the notion of sauntering instead of taking a hike, and he quotes John Muir. So let me read this: Phil says, “I believe that when people sincerely seek a connection . . . in nature, it's impossible not to feel something. Rather than passing through nature on our way to a destination, searching for holiness along the way will help us recognize God's presence.” 

Kira:

You know, that’s so funny because when the previous people were speaking, John Muir actually came to mind, so it’s great to have Phill bring that up as well. Absolutely! I think my nature is to try and go as fast as I can to the next thing and to the end, but over time I've learned so much about being able to take in those tiny details and appreciate the journey. I think that in doing so, I’ve gained such an appreciation for the beauty in all the nature that surrounds us, and to be able to notice when there are slight changes. I think that when we saunter, then we're actually better able to notice how we're having an impact and notice those nuanced changes which helps us key in to the system, and how the Earth is a system, so that we can better think about our influence and think about how to mitigate any kind of damage that we might cause to the environment and to our planet. Really keying in and sauntering, like Phill said, allows us to get the detail that helps us see those connections, and that will help us to better appreciate and act with that systems mindset.

Natalie:

Thank you for sharing that. Anyone else in our fireside chat here want to talk about sauntering? 

Sister Eubank:

I'll talk about sauntering all day long!

Natalie:

Let's do it Sister Eubank.

Sister Eubank:

I had a friend who contracted pancreatic cancer and so I said, “Let me come down and visit you.” So I drove to where he lived, and he was a type A personality, we’ve worked together and you know like Kira said there's just [claps hands together a few times] I've got lists and I've gotta have things done. I walked in his house and he said, “What do you know about multiply and replenish the earth?” And I'm like, “Hi Lloyd.” The last thing he wanted to tell me, he said, “We think this is about having children and it is, but it's about this great commandment to multiply and then allow Creation to give us energy back. If we just multiply, multiply, multiply, and we don't replenish,” he said, “we hurt ourselves, and we don't accept the gift that God gave us.” So sauntering is not about multiplying, it's the other stage about replenishing. For someone like me who has a lot of energy and feels like I have a lot of things to do, that aspect has changed my life and I'm really grateful for it.

Natalie:

Really beautiful. Chip, how about your comments on sauntering?

Chip:

Yeah, both these comments and the original question itself leads me to think about the idea of creating. When we're sauntering we're not so driven on goal that there's this exploration that becomes possible. I think that the agency that we're given allows [and] invites us to be creative. And to be in creation inspires creation. There's so much in our world today that invites us to be consumers: to not focus on how we are productive and how we contribute in different sorts of ways but puts us in a passive position. Something as simple as President Kimball's admonishment to plant a garden, that what happens when you take on that role of helping creation: it connects you with different cycles and different beings and different things; you have to think in terms of different rhythms than maybe you do in your typical work. Even if that is, you know, a small spot on a balcony, where you can have a tomato plant or some herbs, there's still something I think that that connects us and reminds us of something that takes us out of this trap where we are simply consumers that are being directed by whatever forces that surround us but that we take back our own agency in something that can can be incredibly constructive for the things and the people around us. 

Sister Eubank:

I certainly felt that with strawberries.

Chip:

It's a give and take with strawberries: that you can't force them to do anything, that you have to be patient and wait for them. Give them what they need and then they give you something that... I mean, where does a strawberry come from? It's carbon and water and sunlight—and it's a miracle every time you get a strawberry.

Natalie:

So Phill asked about sauntering. Jenn Lee asked about divine energy. I’ve got one more on this question I want to bring up, and this one deals with spiritual DNA or a spiritual signature as it relates to nature. This is from Becky and she writes, “Everything you create leaves a piece of you . . . so when we are in God's creations, we are witnessing his spiritual DNA. His signature is there on everything: on every mountain, every hillside, every cloud, every star, every sunset. As we spend time in nature and intentionally seek to recognize that spiritual signature, we can become more adept at witnessing the Creator. As we see it over and over, our eye [is] attuned to that more carefully, like an art historian or a food critic.” Really nicely said. Sister Eubank I don't usually want to go first to you but I'll bet you love that response.

Sister Eubank:

I really love that response. It's significant to me that the one of the names of Jesus Christ is Emmanuel, which means “God with us.” So I really resonate to that idea that His DNA, His expressive essence, is in everything that He has created so that He is with us as we experience the world that He made for us. That really resonates with me.

Natalie:

I invite the others to comment on this spiritual signature that's in everything that we experience in Mother Nature. Chip, let's go to you first.

Chip:

Well, I think that one of the things that this reminds us[of]  again is our kinship both with God and with the things around us, that we're made of the same stuff, so to speak. Remembering this kinship both motivates my actions, you know, realizing my responsibilities to my co-creations, the things that I inhabit Creation with, but my responsibility to my Creator. And I really like the idea that we are fundamentally linked in these different sorts of ways. 

I think that too often there's been a false choice presented to us that we can either choose the environment [and] other creatures or we can choose people, and something that I really appreciate about what Sister Eubank has invited us to consider is that it is a false choice right, and that so often taking care of our fellow beings involves... Well, you don't choose one over the other and healthy environments usually lead to healthier people, and that this is a way to show this love.

Natalie:

Yeah, interesting. Shannon, love to hear your thoughts.

Shannon:

When I think about a signature on a painting, it's a reflection of who created that. We know who created this world, we know who created our bodies (one of the highest creations), and if we put down or we think less of or we have some negative opinion about God's creations it is, in fact, Him and His son and really these eternal beings that... it's these eternal beings that we are minimizing or not expressing gratitude for, turning our backs on. I love what Paul Cox said: “If we love the painter, don't slash the painting.” And indeed we are a part of that painting and our bodies are something that we should not put down, that we should not commiserate over. We are made in the image of divine gods.

Natalie:

Kira, we’ll let you finish this one off. And again, this notion that the Creator leaves his DNA on everything and so when we are in nature, we're getting a piece of that spiritual signature.

Kira:

Thank you. I recall, a few years back when I was working on environment energy issues in Japan, I remember summiting Mount Fuji at about 4 am with people from all across the world from all different nations and seeing the sunrise together. I remember distinctly feeling as I looked around and sort of shared the view with everyone that God is here. I think that's so true when we are in nature but also our environment is where we work, we eat, and we play, and so even outside your front door or through the window or, as you mentioned, a strawberry plant. The spiritual DNA I think is so present and once we start recognizing it, you can't stop seeing it everywhere. It is everywhere and I think that just as there's a spiritual DNA that God leaves on every creation, we also similarly as humans with a capacity and with agency and a capacity to create, we also leave our footprint or our fingerprint on our world. This geologic age has been referred to as the Anthropocene, which is this period during which human activity has been this dominant influence on the climate and the environment: a whole different geologic era! I think that speaks large amounts to how much influence we have on our planet. So we want to think, in addition to recognizing the spiritual DNA and the footprints and fingerprints across the world and Creation, we want to think about what our legacy and what our fingerprints and imprints on our planet will be too. If we think about that, I think that we’ll be so much more conscientious and willing to take the actions necessary to create things that are beautiful and preserve things that are beautiful.

Natalie:

Thank you, Kira. Okay, we're gonna move to question number three, and the way Sister Eubank phrased this is she said, “What would move our hearts to swell as wide as eternity?” One of the comments came from David, it was very simple. David writes, “Surrender to God fully and receive Godly love.” It's a beautiful way to phrase it. We’ve heard of godly sorrow. What do you think of, Chip, when you think of godly love?

Chip:

It makes me think of the way that I understand and I feel love is first and foremost in my relationships with other people here on earth, right? So I think about the fact that our Heavenly Father has chosen that particular title; it makes me think of my earthly father and my earthly mother, and the way that they showed love to me: that love is something that is offered up without any expectation of a return. I'm lucky enough to have those relationships that I can draw strength from and I know that not everyone is able to benefit from those kinds of loving relationships with parents that can set this kind of example, but it's not hard for me to be able to understand, then, the kinds of gifts that I experience that are part of this Creation as coming from loving Heavenly Parents, a loving Heavenly Father, that would understand my needs and gives so much to me freely. I think that this comment that David's made is really insightful: you have to open yourself up to it. You don't have to view the world that way, and in a lot of ways it's a choice. It's a choice to open ourselves up to let that love flood in. In the same way that two people can look at the same view over a beautiful valley and one can see the beauty and grandeur of God's Creation and the other can see real estate waiting to be developed or resources waiting to be exploited in one way or the other—this is a choice and we have more agency over how we see these things, I think, than we realize. So it involves opening ourselves up to God's love to be able to see His gifts in a different kind of way.

Natalie:

Thank you. 

Sister Eubank:

You know, one of the reasons I asked this question the way I did was because of that false narrative that you talked about that: that people are either scolding people [with] “you should be different” or people are saying “don't tell me what to do, I can do whatever I want.” That false binary between those two poles is so wrong and it doesn't have to be that way because, as you said, it's a choice. So what can we do to change that conversation, so that we don't just ping between those two viewpoints over and over again? 

Chip:

Right. You know, I had an interesting interaction with a student once. In class we were having a similar kind of discussion, and he was a very diehard (I would almost say militant) composter. He really liked composting and environmental questions were very dear to him and he took them very seriously and passionately, and we were having this kind of discussion and he had a real “aha” moment. He said out loud to the class, “Oh, I think I understand my problem. Sometimes I love dirt more than people.” It was very insightful on his part because that was exactly right: his impatience with other people and trying to control the behavior of other people came because he was so fixated on something that was good—I mean recycling, reusing, not wasting needlessly, these are all good principles—but if we let that obscure the love we have for our fellow man, then we've only seen part of the picture and we haven't seen the full and the grand plan. These things don't have to be at odds with each other but we have to constantly remind ourselves of our responsibility to other people and that it's love that's at the heart of it all.

Sister Eubank:

I love that.

Natalie:

So what would move our hearts to swell as wide as eternity? In a lot of the comments that came in to LDS Earth Stewardship, they did reference love, they referenced empathy, a lot of these things. One woman wrote, “I believe the first step is hearing each others’ unique stories. This will both open our eyes to the differences and help us look past them so we can focus on common ground.” So maybe this appealed to more unity. Kira, would you like to comment on that?

Kira: 

Yes, I think that (within the U.S. at least) there's been this stereotype of what an environmentalist looks like or is or does. I think that it's high time to expand beyond that, and to take into account the personal experiences of every person from diverse circumstances and experiences and their experience with the environment, because there is no one definition of an environmentalist just like there's no one definition of what a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints looks like. I think that being able to listen to those unique experiences allows us to expand our preconceived notion about what someone must look like to be an earth steward and to really take into account nuanced and unique perspectives from people who might have very different backgrounds and very different experiences than you or I. I think that that comes back from swelling in your heart and to being a good steward, it comes back to a quote [from Elder Neal A. Maxwell] that true disciples of Christ would be “consistent environmentalists” and would care both for “maintaining the spiritual health of a marriage and [also] preserving a rain forest; caring about preserving the nutrient capacity of a family as well as providing a healthy supply of air and water.” I think being able to tie that together, and relate the charity and having your heart swell from loving one another to also being able to take into account all those experiences and apply them to how we treat the Earth around us, I think that just ties together really beautifully.

Natalie:

I like that. So as we talk about what would move our hearts to swell as wide as eternity, we heard from Tēvita earlier, who I believe was Tongan, we had Kyle, who's from the Navajo culture, write in on this question. He said, “In Navajo culture, caring for future generations is a core guiding principle. It's about making steady improvements for every succession of people that come after you.” I really love this connection between now and the future. Shannon, you and I are colleagues and work together; you're an expert in planning and people who are in planning think about taking care of future generations, so I thought this would be a good one for you to start out for us. What would make your heart swell as wide as eternity? Kyle's making the point [that] it's really our connection about giving this Earth in a better way to people that come after us.

Shannon:

Sometimes there might be this idea that planning for the future, having concern for the future, is at odds with or precludes having faith, but I don't think that's necessarily true. I think that we can have faith while still being concerned for the future, while still planning for the future. We see that today. I have faith and I take care of my body, but I also have health insurance, right? And we can see that through my pioneer ancestors who made plans to cross the plains: they had faith but they took seeds with them, they took oxen, cows, and horses with them. They needed a plan for the future and certainly they have faith but that does not preclude having a plan or having concern for the future. I think that exists today, especially in terms of these concerns that we have about resource utilization. We can have faith and we can still have concern for future generations. When God asks us to till and take care of the earth, it's not mutually exclusive: it's till and take care of the earth. So to me that's what I think of when I think of planning, is that we are having concern for future generations and we want the best for them, while having faith and acting on that faith—so if we pray for rain we also work to conserve water.

Natalie:

Kira, we're going to come to you: the notion is that we all have disparate realities here on the planet and when we are careful consumers, that's one way that we can unify.

Kira:

I was going to just add to the comment that was added previously which is to say that being careful consumers and having the charity for others to do so, that doesn't necessarily mean that it's easier. It doesn't necessarily mean that it's simple, especially as Sister Eubank mentioned, our society is set up in a way for things to be disposable and to often cause waste, and so it does take that extra effort, but I think that having those principles and understanding the core reason that we want to make the extra effort to be careful consumers and to think of our fellow people across the world and in our community will help be that driver to give us the fuel, per se, to be able to take those extra steps to be very careful and conscientious in the way that we consume and use the resources that we that we have.

Natalie:

So Kira we're talking about what would make our hearts swell as wide as eternity, and we’ve really had the point being that it's not just about what's here now but what's here for successive generations, kind of this intergenerational connection. So let's hear your thoughts.

Kira:

Thank you. I love that and I think that it heralds back to this idea that our planet and ourselves, we’re eternal. When we think about having charity, it's almost two dimensional where we think about, on one plane, those who are here now and what they need and how we can help them and impact them in the environment and we also think, on another plane, about the future and about the impact of the past and what we have on the future. In my remarks I mentioned the importance of involving youth and young adults and the younger generation in creating this love and creating this innate respect for the environment and for our planet, so that they internalize that and then take that forward in actions to come. As someone right now in my mid-twenties, I'm thinking about my future, I've just started a career, I've started thinking about what a family might look like someday, and it is intimidating to think about the future and to see all the impacts that we're having on the planet. So I think it's so important for us to think about what legacy we leave. It's going to be one that I inherit and that those younger than me inherit as well. In my work now. I think every single day about food security and food systems and sustainability and part of that is being able to have a food source and being able to have systems that replenish, just like Sister Eubank said earlier, that continue on so that they can provide to us. I work with fish, often, and fisheries, and once you fish too many, to a certain point it becomes overfished and that means that you can't replenish it any longer. So when we think about future generations, part of that is being able to hold back and be temperate and take only what we need, so that we can leave what is needed and allow the Earth to replenish so that it can keep nourishing future generations: of ourselves in the future, of our children, our children's children, and so on. So I think that it's one of the most critical aspects of being an earth steward.

Natalie:

Chip, I know you had a comment from what Kira was saying.

Chip:

Yeah, I really appreciate these comments about, that so often we talk about the geographical distribution of resources or inequitable distribution of resources, but there's not just this geographic spread, there's also this temporal spread that stretches from the past and into the future. The fact that resources aren't distributed equally, that not everyone has the same access to the same kinds of things seems to be part of the plan. It seems to be part of the challenge to our stewardship and our own spiritual growth to see, how do we manage this? So the scripture that's in Doctrine and Covenants says “the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare,” that there's enough resources on this planet, but there's a big ‘but’ that's attached to that scripture: if it's used in the Lord's way, which is that the rich are brought down and the poor are exalted—that we have to be willing not to be selfish with it, not to assume that because I have these things here now that they're for me to consume, that they're there only for me and they're not for people that are other places, they're not for people in other times, even, these future generations. I think that we, within the [Latter-day Saint] tradition, have unique perspectives about the way generations are connected and and that this is something that we that we need to think more about, about how not only are we good neighbors, loving our fellow men who live in disparate parts of the globe that we might never see them, that we might never meet them, but also that this applies to future generations that I'm never going to meet either that I also need to have in my mind and in my part of my love and my loving capacity.

Sister Eubank:

To turn your hearts to the fathers and they would turn their hearts to you. I like that.

Chip:

Exactly.

Natalie:

Well thank you, Chip. Thank you panelists. This has been very insightful. I've learned a lot and feel enriched by the commentary. I want to invite, just as a way to end this, each of you to share some advice. You know the mission of LDS Earth Stewardship is to honor the Creator by living and testifying of gospel principles of earth stewardship. So we’ll let Sister Eubank end this advice but we'll go to Kira first, overseas, and Kira I just ask you, what advice would you give to viewers on what we can do right now to improve earth stewardship. Kira?

Kira:

I think that many of us are doing everything we can to be good stewards right now with what we know. I think the next step and the biggest action you can take to have an exponential impact is to help share the core principles of earth stewardship and sustainability to your friends and neighbors; to take back an issue or this challenge to its core, and remove so much of the connotations or the associations that have come from the world and that have been incorrectly added to this topic of being an earth steward, and to herald back to the core of love: of loving your neighbor, of loving the Creation and each individual plant and animal. If we can do that, and we can share that messaging and be powerful communicators of the core principles and what they mean for our actions, then I think we'll help drive so much more change and so much more change towards spirituality as well. So it's that communication and coming back to the core principles the Lord has taught us.

Natalie:

Thank you, Kira. Shannon, what can we do right now to improve earth stewardship?

Shannon:

I think one of the best things we can do is to live what we already know. We already know about the Word of Wisdom, or if you've been through the scouting program you know to leave no trace, or if you are like my grandparents and you lived through the Great Depression you know that you can conserve energy by line drying your clothes or, like my grandma, reusing plastic baggies or reusing plastic containers. So live what you know and I think that that will make each of us and each of our communities and our world incrementally better.

Natalie:

Thank you, Shannon. Chip, what can we do now to improve earth stewardship?

Chip:

I think one of the important things that we can do is educate ourselves and learn about how we're connected to each other and to other things, to understand how the choices I make impact others and to be more conscious and deliberate and to let that motivate my love. And as I understand better about the way that I am connected to other people and other things, to share that with others in a loving way—not this kind of unrighteous dominion, trying to control the actions of others, but to lovingly encourage each other, our political leaders, our families, our friends—to do better, to show this love better to each other. I think that as we do that, that we’ll get both healthier environments and healthier communities too. 

Natalie:

Thank you Chip. Sister Eubank, I'm going to give you the last word.

Sister Eubank:

Well when I came to LDS Earth Stewardship a year ago in October, we had such a fascinating discussion. It isn't very often in my career that I'll offer to come back a second time to the same group. We were in the White Chapel and at the very end, I asked people, I said, “Let's just sing the song Guide Us, O Thou Great Jehovah,” and the people there (the balcony was full), they just raised the roof, just spontaneously singing, “Open, Jesus, Zion’s fountains; Let her [richest blessings] come,” and it really moved me—and so I offered to come back if they would consider these three questions, that I would come back in a year. I didn't know if anybody would take that up but you did. There were so many thoughtful submissions, of the people that Natalie used and others too, and to share the time with this panel to be able to discuss something like this is really, really energizing to me—that you took it so seriously and moved forward with it to something greater. If I had any encouragement, it's what I've learned from you today and it would be: help us understand our doctrine, the great love for the Earth is in our Latter-day Saint doctrine, and then make our actions match that beautiful doctrine. And encourage others, not in a scolding way or an impassioned way or an obsessive way, but, as has been said here tonight, in a loving, kind, humorous way (whatever works for you), but help each other and help us all be better connected. I'm grateful that you took it so seriously and that you invited me back. I've enjoyed my time here today; thank you.

Natalie:

Thank you, Sister Eubank. Thank you panelists. I want to thank LDS Earth Stewardship for hosting this 2020 Fall Forum, and may God bless us all.

  

 

Further references:

  1. USDA Food Waste FAQs | NRDC Report: Wasted: How America is losing up to 40% of its food from farm to fork to landfill.
  2. FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) Report: Tackling Climate Change Through Livestock | World Resources Institute Report: 6 Pressing Questions Answered About Beef and Climate Change, Answered.
  3. Cattle Ranching in the Amazon Region from the Yale School of the Environment | Boucher, D., Elias, P., Lininger, K., May-Tobin, C., Roquemore, S., & Saxon, E. (2011). "The root of the problem: what’s driving tropical deforestation today?" | Butler, Rhett. “62% of deforested Amazon land ends up as cattle pasture” | How Amazon forest loss may affect water - and climate - far away, National Geographic.

 

After three years of leading LDS Earth Stewardship as our Executive Director, Rebecca Bateman is stepping down. Her farewell gives us a moment to gratefully reflect on how far LDSES has come under her leadership.

Rebecca led the organization to mature internally and expand externally. Board member Peter Ashcroft likened the organization’s growth to a butterfly’s transformation. “It's hard for me to think of something that we're doing now that would exist without Rebecca,” he said, “Everything that she did was either the first time we had done it, or better than it had been done before.” With the increased focus and professionalism she brought, Rebecca raised the profile of the organization and improved communication and trust with the Church. “We have a place within the Church now that we didn't have when I started,” she said, “Leaders of the Church are mindful of us, they are mindful of the need to be taking care of the earth, and they're mindful that the members of the Church want this.” Church members all over the world are discovering LDSES: our community has extended beyond Utah to Switzerland, Scotland, Uganda, Australia, and Japan; one Company of Stewards meeting this summer included both a Samoan missionary and a German citizen!

Our worldwide reach was amplified by the major project of getting a new website. “It needed to be this place where people come, feel inspired, and then can go and do,” Rebecca explained. Choosing the right words, images, and elements were crucial to providing an effective resource for Church members. “The look and feel of that website is vastly superior to what we had,” said founding member George Handley. To augment the resource library housed in the updated website, Rebecca created topical family home evening lessons; the process was often full of inspiration and she’s happy to know that families will be using, enjoying, and learning from Rebecca's original draft of the logothose lessons for years to come. Above all, the highlight for Rebecca of her website work was finding a new logo that would be meaningfully symbolic. “After noticing the circle and square symbol on many temples, I drafted an image, wrote our name next to it—and felt like this is what it's supposed to be,” she recalled, “and I am so thrilled that I got to be the vehicle.” 

Rebecca’s passion for planning dignified, connecting, and uplifting events led to some incredible experiences, from major events with BYU leaders and famous farmers to service projects near rivers and petroglyphs. She has a gift for identifying opportunities and facilitating them into successful events. Still, she outdid herself last October. “The Fall Forum and the Yale conference put us right at the center, and in the exact role that I hoped we would play,” board chair Brigham Daniels explained, “building people's faith, focusing on gratitude, and inspiring people to be better.” All agreed that having Sister Sharon Eubank speak for our annual meeting was a peak moment for LDSES. “This was a major accomplishment: we had a major Church leader giving a really seminal and important talk,” said George, “That was a coming-into-our-own moment as an organization.” For Rebecca, the most remarkable part of Sister Eubank’s participation was her expressions of love, interest, and approval towards LDSES; we look forward to having her with us again for this year’s Fall Forum.

“I can think about all the things we accomplished but what it comes down to are relationships with people,” Rebecca said. Knowing that change happens when there’s movement both top-down aBefriendingMissConniend bottom-up, she took time to cultivate connections on all levels: from Church leadership to everyday members, from community leaders to student volunteers. Her previous experiences working at the Capitol and with interfaith groups sharpened her ability to constructively collaborate with people of vastly different backgrounds. “Consensus is really important to Rebecca,” said board member Chip Oscarson, “She values that process of bringing people together, and I think it's one of her talents to be able to bring people together.” Patient listening and a focus on common vision were key elements of her leadership.

LDSES benefited immensely from Rebecca’s polished, courteous, and confident manner in representing the organization. Peter, who was part of the hiring committee, noted, “She impresses people favorably when she first meets them, and that's an impression that we wanted associated with LDS Earth Stewardship.” Chip, who joined the board last year, added, “When you want to represent your organization to someone who doesn't know anything about it, Rebecca is a great person to do that.” George distilled what makes her such an effective ambassador when he said, “She conducts herself with graciousness and professionalism.” Her credibility fostered trust in the organization as she built relationships with partners, donors, and volunteers.

Similarly, Rebecca helped our credibility by helping the organization represent itself accurately. The unique mission of LDSES links together religion and environment without involving politics, requiring a clear vision and sense of nuance to communicate and enact accurately. Our contribution is the scriptural, moral, and faithful principles of the restored gospel. Representing“We're promoting and celebrating; our message is one of positivity and encouragement and education,” George articulated, “and Rebecca helped us stay right on point.” Building on the messaging groundwork laid by board member Darren Hawkins (which she credits as invaluable), Rebecca drew on two guiding stars to navigate well. The first was to follow the pattern of the Church. “That was number one,” she said, “I wanted people to feel like anything we did was in tune with what the Church would do.” The second came from her nonpartisan work at the legislature, a practice of seeing things from many sides and finding the middle ground. “One of her real contributions to the organization was to help us understand how to articulate ourselves to get a response from both sides of the political spectrum,” said Chip. Though deeply considered and weighed, Rebecca’s application of these guidelines came off as natural and intuitive. 

Rebecca could share the LDSES message with authenticity because she is a Latter-day Saint earth steward. “She is directed by personal values about earth stewardship,” said Peter, “and that guided her administration of the organization.” When Rebecca spoke of earth stewardship, she spoke with her whole heart and her sincere passion was contagious. Her testimony has its roots (fittingly) amid soil and plants. “When I am out working in the garden, I have these spiritual experiences of feeling like God is with me,” she shared. Fingers about to grab a fresh raspberryHer love of gardening endears her to the teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, such as his affirmation, “Even if the tomato you eat is a $2.00 tomato, it will bring satisfaction anyway and remind us all of the law of the harvest, which is relentless in life. We do reap what we sow. Even if the plot of soil you cultivate, plant, and harvest is a small one, it brings human nature closer to nature” (source). The law of the harvest means a lot to Rebecca because of its universality; it applies to our relationships, our talents, and “taking care of the Earth: what we put into the Earth, how we treat the Earth, is going to come back to us.” In her time with LDSES, Rebecca has improved her own earth stewardship by reducing her consumerism, plastic use, and food waste, as well as reusing items and eating in season more. “The principles I’ve been trying to share with others have affected my life for good,” she remarked, “and that makes me so happy!”

“I have felt God's hand in this work,” Rebecca said, “and it's proved to be such a blessing in my life.” She looks forward to staying connected with LDSES to help maintain the many relationships she forged as Executive Director and to continue spreading our message. We are so grateful for the kindness, warmth, and generosity of her personality as well as the dedication, expertise, and passion she gave this organization. “Rebecca deserves a great deal of thanks that we are where we are,” concluded Brigham, “What she leaves behind is an organization that's pointed in the right direction and has a lot of potential, promise, and credibility.”

 

The following quote is one of Rebecca's favorites from our Resource Library: 

“I wish to contemplate the works of nature, and to know something of nature's God, and my destiny. I love to view the things around me; to gaze upon the sun, moon, and stars; to study the planetary system, and the world we inhabit; to behold their beauty, order, harmony, and the operations of existence around me. . . . Whether you look at birds, beasts, or the human system, you see something exquisitely beautiful and harmonious, and worthy of the contemplation of all intelligence.”
— John Taylor —

We still feel the absence of board member James "Jim" Holtkamp, whom we lost in March at the end of his fifteen-year battle with cancer; you can read his obituary here

Jim’s love for Creation was rooted in childhood outdoor wanderings, years of cycling and hiking the Wasatch, and a lifelong fascination with all things living. He became the first environmental lawyer in Utah in 1977, contributing to solutions that resulted in “good for society and the environment.” Jim generously volunteered his law expertise to organizations that fostered earth stewardship, from playing a negotiating role for Pax Natura Foundation’s rainforest preservation efforts to helping LDSES secure the copyright for “Every Saint A Steward.”

Jim joined our board in October 2018, blessing us with his clever wit, deep testimony, and inspiring commitment. Rather than let his difficulty walking keep him from LDSES events, he simply planned in the extra travel time and always arrived early. During his hospital visits, he attended board meetings virtually and promoted the work with his vast network of friends. Jim was a shining example of prioritizing earth stewardship to the very end, no matter the challenges.

Over the course of three years, Jim sharpened his understanding of the doctrinal underpinnings of caring for Creation by drafting a written document on the subject. “It is an attempt to articulate what I believe is a profound relationship between the earth as a living entity, the life that infuses Creation generally, and the Atonement,” Jim described in 2016, “I am trying to make the point that our own individual sanctification will depend not only on our adherence to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel, but also on how we carry out our responsibilities as stewards over divine creation.” Until it can be published somewhere, we share a few excerpts of Sanctification of the Earth, of Life, and of the Environment: The Infinite Reach of the Atonement below:

“The Atonement works not only to sanctify men and women, but also all of God’s creations, including the Earth. Therefore, our stewardship obligation, originating with God’s charge to Adam and Eve, is tied to the sacredness of the earth as a future sanctified entity, and we have an obligation to treat it as such.”

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“If we earn the blessing of Eternal Lives in the Celestial Kingdom, our dwelling place will be right here—on this same world where we live now, not on some other sphere. Indeed, modern revelation explicitly speaks of the need for the Earth to ‘be sanctified from all unrighteousness, that it may be prepared for celestial glory.’ . . . It follows, then, that we have a Gospel-centered moral obligation to assure that our actions, our lifestyles and our ‘footprints’ are consistent with the sacred nature of the earth.”

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“The role assigned by God to Adam and Eve and their progeny to have ‘dominion’ over all things on the earth imposes a very serious responsibility of stewardship. The cleansing power of the Atonement in the lives of men and women is effective to the extent that we are obedient to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel, including obedience to the stewardship mandate. As we exercise our stewardship responsibilities to care for the earth and God’s life-creations on the earth, we become partners in the sanctification of the earth, and we will enjoy eternity on the Earth in its celestial state.”

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“If the earth is a living entity and if all life on earth has a spirit component, it follows that there should and would be a spiritual interconnectedness between God’s mortal children and God’s creations which comprise our mortal home.”

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“The Restoration has clarified and amplified the concept of stewardship of the earth and pervasive interconnectedness between the earth and Adam’s progeny who carry the divine charge of stewardship over earthly creations.”

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“A core element of our stewardship responsibility for the earth is the obligation to care for the poor and needy. . . . Are we following God’s law if we slip beggars a few coins while knowingly or negligently living in a manner that degrades this earthly home that we share with them? . . . When God said ‘the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare,’ He was not speaking metaphorically. There is sufficient for our individual and collective needs, but there is not sufficient for our individual and collective greed and envy. The goals of growth, improvement in quality of life, and protection of the environment can be realized together if we understand and carry out the stewardship that we inherited from Adam and Eve.”

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“It does not require any philosophical or theological contortion to realize that if the earth and all things above, on, and under it testify of God, we should take care to treat them with the respect due their Creator.” 

 

LDS Earth Stewardship Quote Photo: "present thyself there to me in the top of the mount" Exodus 34:2 (Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash; man in red coat stands in front of snowy mountain peak)Jim prominently displayed this quote photo in his hospital room and home library during the his few months.Jim, his wife Marianne, and their daughter smile in front of a snowy mountain peak.Jim, his wife Marianne, and their daughter smile in front of a snowy mountain peak.

July 17, 2019

Carlee Reber

Executive Assistant

May 01, 2019

Shannon Ellsworth

Vice Chair

May 01, 2019

Ben Abbott

Board Member

"[O]ne way man can leave his mark on the whole face of nature without damage is to plant,” wrote Hugh Nibley. As Adam and Eve were commanded “to dress and to keep” the garden of Eden (Genesis 2:15), we have likewise been counseled to cultivate God’s rooted creations. This admonition was the key to a remarkable native landscaping project in Maryland that wrapped up this month. Over the last two years, LDS Earth Stewardship played a part in improving the Pleasant View Historic Site. Thanks to the hard work and leadership of board member Merikay Smith, LDS Earth Stewardship acquired a $25,000 grant from The Chesapeake Bay Trust and the Montgomery County Water Protection Fund. These funds—combined with $34,471 in donated plants, supplies, and volunteer labor—enabled a transformation of the site’s landscape.

After (photo by Merikay Smith)Before (photo by Merikay Smith)

What was once a slope of weedy grass is now adorned by 5,600 square feet of conservation landscaping, including roughly 700 native shrubs and perennials as well as 29 native trees. Using native plants improves storm water management, which protects the water quality of the Muddy Branch (a nearby stream that flows into the Potomac River). Additionally, in the words of Smith, “If each of us tries to plant natives—canopy trees, understory trees, shrubs, perennials and ground cover—we can help the butterflies, birds and other marvelous creatures who share our part of the world.”

Teaching in the historic schoolroom (photo by Caitlin Moulton of Caitlin Marie Photography)

Sharing the knowledge used to create this landscape was just as important as the planting. Over 330 community volunteers worked on the site (including LDSES members in the DC region who are part of Earth Stewardship East and members of the nearby Bethesda and Potomac Wards), leading many participants to use the same techniques on their own properties. Over the course of the project, public workshops and tours were also conducted. For those who come in the future, two large educational signs teach the benefits of native plants and small signs identify individual plant species. Through these means, hundreds of people have been—and will be—educated on the advantages of using native plants to create habitat, protect watershed quality, and minimize flood damage.

Beyond functionality, the native plants constitute a beautiful garden that thousands of people view each day as they pass by. The foliage provides a buffer between the cemetery and the highway, making it a quieter and more pleasant place to linger. Thanks to this landscaping project, one nearby resident remarked that the previously forlorn site is now vibrant with life. The hope is that beautifying the grounds will bring more visitors to Pleasant View and help locals cherish this important historic site. The site was originally bought by a group of African-Americans in 1868 so they could have a church and schoolhouse. Their bold determination paved the way for future generations. Last summer, several hundred people gathered for the 150th anniversary celebration of the Pleasant View Historic Site, which was brightened by the revamped landscaping.

Volunteers with shrubbery (photo by Caitlin Moulton of Caitlin Marie Photography)Volunteer kneeling to plant (photo by Caitlin Moulton of Caitlin Marie Photography)Beautifying with native plants means that both local nature and the human community are blessed. Pleasant View is a thriving example of Thomas Fuller’s statement, "He that plants trees loves others beside himself." Though the grant has come to an end, Earth Stewardship East will host at least one volunteer event per year to ensure that the Pleasant View garden stays beautiful, to continue growing community connections, and to provide meaningful earth stewardship experiences.

 

If you’d like to visit the Pleasant View Historic Site, the address is 11810 Darnestown Road, Gaithersburg, MD. For a digital view with more information, visit the Earth Stewardship East website.

Working under a tree on the historic site (photo by Caitlin Moulton of Caitlin Marie Photography)

October 01, 2018

And by the wor...

October 01, 2018

He was in the ...