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Talitha Amadea Aho is a pediatric hospital chaplain at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in Oakland CA. Until recently she was a pastor in charge of children and youth programming. She has been in ministry to the young since she was old enough to qualify as a chaperone at Presbyterian camps and churches. She holds an MDiv and an MA in biblical studies.
Sharon Delgado is a United Methodist minister, author, and activist. She preaches, speaks at conferences, leads workshops, and writes on environmental and climate justice, economic globalization, and peacemaking while pointing toward faithful action for a transformed world. Sharon’s blog is Progressive Christian Social Action.
In this episode, we discuss Talitha’s book In Deep Waters: Spiritual Care for Young People in a Climate Crisis, and Sharon’s books, The Cross in the Midst of Creation: Following Jesus, Engaging the Powers, Transforming the World and Love in the Time of Climate Change: Honoring Creation, Establishing Justice.
We draw inspiration from Kathleen Dean Moore’s book, Great Tide Rising: Towards Clarity and Moral Courage in a time of Planetary Change and Naomi Klein’s book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate.
Sharon recommends Mary Robinson’s book, Climate Justice: Hope, Resilience, and the Fight for a Sustainable Future. Talitha recommends Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell, and Rest Is Resistance: A Manifesto by Tricia Hersey.
Talitha Amadea Aho: Those activism spaces are not currently providing the young people with spiritual care, so that is where the church can help. The activism spaces are going to lead in terms of the work, and if the church can be, you know, following close behind with a cup of water and a kind word and the courage to keep going, and all the things that we can provide in terms of our spiritual resilience, that is a niche that is really unfilled and really important.
Debra Rienstra: Welcome to Refugia, a podcast about renewal. Refugia are places of shelter where life endures in times of crisis. From out of these small sanctuaries, life re-emerges and the world is renewed. We’re exploring what it means for people of faith to be people of refugia. How can we create safe places of flourishing—“micro- countercultures”—where we gain strength and spiritual capacity to face the challenges ahead?
I’m Debra Rienstra, Professor of English at Calvin University. Today, I’ve invited fellow authors Sharon Delgado and Talitha Amadea Aho to join me for a discussion inspired by the books we’ve all published recently with Fortress Press.
Talitha is a pediatric hospital chaplain at a children’s hospital in Oakland, California. Until recently, she was a congregational pastor in charge of children and youth programming. Sharon Delgado is a United Methodist minister, author and activist. She preaches, speaks at conferences, leads workshops, and writes—on environmental and climate justice, economic globalization, and peacemaking.
Sharon and Talitha and I talk together about what it was like to write books during the pandemic and about providing spiritual care for young people living the reality of the climate crisis. We also get around to the theology of the cross, Wesley and social holiness, the need for more eco-hermeneutics, and much more.
Debra Rienstra: Sharon and Talitha. I’m so glad to have you here with me today. Thank you for being here.
Sharon Delgado: Thank you. It’s great to be here.
Talitha Amadea Aho: Yes. Thank you for bringing us together.
Debra Rienstra: So before we get into talking about books together, I wanted to ask you how things are in California right now. You’re in Oakland and Nevada City. So Talitha, you wrote quite a bit in your book about fires that have taken place there that have really affected your community. So I wonder what this season has been like there for each of you.
Talitha Amadea Aho: Yeah. For us, we have not been touched by smoke yet this season, although our friends and neighbors a little farther out have been. Yeah, the bay area has been pretty good and safe. We did have a terrible heat wave—just unprecedented heat levels last week, and I know that that started fires in various other places, but the Bay Area—I’m right here in Berkeley— it has cooled down now. We haven’t gotten any rain yet, but it’s doing okay. We had an earthquake last night.
Debra Rienstra: Oh, is that all?
Talitha Amadea Aho: Yeah.
Debra Rienstra: Oh dear. Not a serious one, I hope.
Talitha Amadea Aho: No, no, no didn’t even feel it.
Debra Rienstra: Okay. And Sharon, what’s it like where you are right now?
Sharon Delgado: It’s very smoky, and it has been for a couple of weeks, maybe three weeks. The fires aren’t as close this time as they have been. But it is very, very smoky. It was over 500 the other day—500 of the air quality index—and that’s very high. So what that means is that the children especially—we all have to stay in, but the children especially are having to even stay in during recess. The teachers are really feeling it. I take care of my grandkids quite a bit and they come over and they have to stay inside.
So fortunately, we got a heat pump this past year. And this is the first time because we’ve only had swamp cooler before, and that just brings more smoke in. So many people here living outside, and many people who don’t have any kind of good indoor air quality either. So it’s very difficult around the state.
Debra Rienstra: Yeah, it’s easy for us, I think, in Michigan, where things are still more or less very pleasant, to understand what it’s like to be where you are, where these sort of dire situations have become more normalized, unfortunately.
Talitha Amadea Aho: Yeah, it’s really a different world, and it’s changing just year to year. I wrote about in my book the moment when a teenager said, “I guess this is normal now. We have smoke season—just, you know, no breathing for a while every fall.” And it took me a moment to come to like, “Oh yes. I guess I agree with that.” Because for me it was like, “Oh, this is an anomaly, like one bad season.” But no, it was two bad seasons, then it was three bad seasons. And there’s times when our home might be spared it, but we know that others have it, you know? Like when the wind is just blowing the other way, and so the fire might be very close to us, but we’re not getting the smoke. It feels kind of surreal when that happens. And that’s kind of how it is right now.
Debra Rienstra: Yeah. Well, let’s talk about our books together a little bit. So the three of us have a number of things in common. So it’s really fun to be together today. We all have books with Fortress Press right now. Talitha and I shared an editor, Beth Gaede, who was also involved in acquiring Sharon’s book, so little toast to Beth Gaede here. Here, here.
Talitha Amadea Aho: Yeah, great.
Sharon Delgado: Yes.
Debra Rienstra: And then another thing I noticed we all have in common is we all wrote our most recent books during the pandemic. So I don’t know about you, but that is how I coped. Is that how you coped?
Sharon Delgado: That’s how I coped, yes. My life changed quite a bit because I’m an elder, and so my family really was careful to protect my husband and I, and so we didn’t take care of the grandchildren and they came and said hi from our windows and brought us food and so on. And so I had a lot of time on my hands, and that is partly how I coped.
Debra Rienstra: People say, “Oh, you were so productive.” And I just want to say, “No, that’s how I survived.” So Talitha, was this a coping mechanism for you?
Talitha Amadea Aho: Yeah, no, I like more what you said, like “this is how I survived.” I actually got the contract and had started writing well before the pandemic. I’d been writing for about a year, but during the pandemic was when I had to do the real hard work of really pulling it into shape and structure.
So, oh wow. I was a parish pastor, and my job really got half as fun and twice as hard overnight with the pandemic. It’s a more elderly congregation, and we didn’t do anything in person for a very long time. And there are people who enjoy like videos and camera angles and technology like that. I am not one of those people. So yeah, it was nice to have one thing that I felt like: “I’m good at this, and this is important,” when the rest of parish ministry was just getting so hard and dry and draining during that period.
Sharon Delgado: Yeah. It was also a time when it really became apparent just how—what a difficult world we’re moving into, what we’re living into. And it highlighted all of the disparities, such as the ones that climate change also highlight, but you could really see what was at stake with all the things that were going on, and really having something to say about that and a way to address it on a spiritual level seemed so important to me and probably to both of you as well.
Talitha Amadea Aho: And I was, at the time, in children in youth ministry—I mean, I was an associate pastor who did lots of other stuff too, but children and youth were my job, and the teenagers did not do very well in the pandemic. I mean, I’m in awe of them, and it was so hard. And it was hard for me to minister to them because our best, you know, most comfortable things, where we would maybe go on a retreat or do a project together, those were out really quick. And so it was really hard to minister to the youth during the pandemic. We did zooms. Some of them would show up with their camera off. Some of them would not show up at all. We played games, like online games and things like that. And we had a— we called it a “mission un-trip” where we, you know…stayed at home, did some projects, had some zooms, you know, played some games. But I just want to lift up like what a hard time the early pandemic days were for people who were teenagers or in high school or in college, and like just how foundational it was for them to have to adjust to a world of such profound uncertainty. Like not even a glimmer, an illusion of certainty when the rug was just pulled out under them like that.
Debra Rienstra: Hmm.
Sharon Delgado: I was struck by what you said. Both of you used the term ‘apocalyptic’ in your books, but there was a point at which you said something about that, Talitha, and it was that we are facing disaster, but for the young people, disaster’s already here. And they’re very well aware of it and they talk about it almost matter-of-factly sometimes.
I’m also connected with young people quite a bit, and I have a couple of young people living with me right now, but the fact that disaster’s already here is, you know, for the young people— they’re not looking toward a future of disaster. They already are experiencing the disaster. We may all be, and not realize it as much, but they realize it very well.
Debra Rienstra: Yeah. So Talitha, in your book, which is called In Deep Waters: Spiritual Care for Young People in a Climate Crisis, you give us this sense of the honesty of these young people that you work with. And, you know, I work with college students; Sharon, you work with young people too. And I think your book, Talitha, is such a gift because we can see the way they think in a context of a community of people they trust. And I wonder if that’s sort of why you wrote the book—not only, you know, to survive yourself during the pandemic, but just to, as you say, lift up the kind of prophetic voice of young people.
At one point you say, “Trust a teenager to look at the world and see the angst.” So your book is this call to get into the deep water with young people and provide that kind of spiritual care that we need. So it’s really not addressed to young people, but it seems like there’s some message you want to send about them.
Talitha Amadea Aho: Yeah. Thank you for your affirmation of that. I really appreciate it. Yeah. The book may be enjoyed by some very special young people who are, you know, real leaders. It’s not aimed at an average college student right now. It’s really aimed at the people who care about them and don’t understand them. The parents, the pastors, the teachers, you know, the people in the community who care about young people see their suffering and don’t know how to wrap their minds around it or how to respond or how to be there calmly and, you know, allow them to express themselves without freaking out. It’s really important to build trust and not to jump in and offer false hope. Like Greta Thunberg so famously said, “I don’t want your hope.” Like that just shuts down a conversation. We need to practice just being present with people. For a while I was thinking, “Maybe I should do some writing.”
But then these young people had these mind-blowing conversations with me, and all of a sudden I was like, “I need to do something with this.” They trusted me with really important, intimate, deep despair and rage. You know, they entrusted me with really important feelings and how they are, and so it’s an act of solidarity and also just kind of faithfulness to the importance of what they shared with me to find ways to write it up and share it with other people.
And I did a lot of checking with them as I wrote as well. I shared chapters with them and I said, “What do you think?”— which is really, really important that I consulted them along the way to make sure that I was being faithful to what they shared. But yeah, that’s kind of why.
Debra Rienstra: Yeah, and the storytelling is just so compelling. There’s a wonderful quotation. It’s on page 224 of your book. And I wonder if you’d read it for us. It’s that quotation about the climate crisis as a sentinel issue from young people’s point of view.
Talitha Amadea Aho: Yeah. Can I back up a little bit and explain about a sentinel experience? So we learned on our ecological mission trip about sentinel species, like a canary in the mine, or an eagle affected by DDT, that like one animal can tell you sometimes about the health of the ecosystem, because they’re more sensitive or they’re more connected or something like that. And we’d had some experiences like learning about how things were all connected.
“In our churches, the climate crisis is a sentinel issue. Young people are panicked about it. And if they see the older generation feeling anything other than panic, they feel utterly disconnected from them because the climate crisis stands for so many more things. Politics, science, truth and beauty, justice and compassion. It stands for everything, really.”
Debra Rienstra: Mm. Yeah. So explain what you mean by that, and what it might mean for churches and faith communities to recognize that among young people.
Talitha Amadea Aho: Yeah. It’s just such a complicated and interconnected swirl of issues related to the climate crisis. And so if your church responds to the climate crisis with silence, for example, then you are basically responding to a whole host of other things that young people care about with silence. If you respond with, like a kind of shallow or naive hopefulness, or like, “Oh, we’re just going to all do our best!” and what? Hold hands, right? And we’ll get through it. Then they see you being dismissive of the things that are really important to them. So how you respond to the climate crisis is how you respond to so many connecting things.
Oh yeah. That was from Sharon’s book. I really like this on [page] 103: “Eco theology and creation care are not enough. We cannot bypass the pain of the cross in the midst of the creation with the soft message of creation care.” So yeah, like if you respond—if you respond to an emergency with a bandaid, like, that’s not okay. If you respond to the climate crisis with the newest kind of light bulbs—oh, wow. That’s just so little. So shallow.
Debra Rienstra: Yeah. And young people see that, and you know, a lot of us do too. Thank you for that great quotation from Sharon’s book. This is from The Cross in the Midst of Creation. Is that right?
Talitha Amadea Aho: Yeah.
Debra Rienstra: Yeah. And so Sharon, your book is a kind of reexamination of atonement theory, of all things, in the context of the climate crisis. And it’s wonderful. You call us to what you describe as the “word of the cross” in a way that gets into the deep dynamics of how this climate crisis stands for everything. So maybe one way that you talk about it is this “clash of kingdoms.” Could you describe what you mean by that? It’s at the heart of your book.
Sharon Delgado: Yeah, sure. I saw that that was in your book, too. And you talked about it as during Advent, how there’s this kind of clash of values, clash of kingdoms. Why do we need a savior if everything’s fine? And therefore John the Baptist comes into the Christmas scene, the Advent scene.
Yes, and I think of it as, of course, the whole year. And I think of it as the clash of kingdoms is what got Jesus killed, actually. It’s easy to take atonement theories and kind of bypass Jesus’ life, Jesus’ ministry, Jesus’ passion for the reign of God, all of the ways that he challenged the powers that be, and then to just focus on the death of Jesus. But that’s not what I mean when I talk about the “word of the cross.” That’s not really what Paul meant either because Paul was meaning the whole gospel when Paul used those words. Back in the day of Jesus—and following Jesus, following his crucifixion when they weren’t even starting to put the gospels together, but they were starting to put the stories together—they remembered the real cross of Jesus.
Jürgen Moltmann talks about two crosses: the real cross of Jesus and the symbol. And back then, they remembered, they knew the horror of Rome. And many others who followed Jesus were also martyred of course. And so there was a reason why the kingdom of Herod and the empire of Caesar were not happy with his vision and demonstration of what he called the kingdom of God. So that is what I mean by the clash of kingdoms. He didn’t just say “the family of God”; he talked about the kingdom of God.
And it was a direct challenge to the powers that be—not to mention that last week of coming into Jerusalem, and people trying to declare him king, and him going into the temple and overturning tables of the money changers there. And then really what happened was they occupied the temple, and the authorities couldn’t arrest him because all the people hung on his words, and they were afraid of the crowds. So it is quite the story when you see it from the perspective of the clash of kingdoms and of his challenge to the principalities and powers.
Debra Rienstra: Yeah. And I think we have this tendency to sort of abstract atonement and to abstract the cross. And as a result, we become these sort of passive citizens under the empires that we live under, rather than following the way of Jesus and becoming these kind of active citizens. And for that, I really love your other book, Sharon: Love in the Time of Climate Change. When you just bring this really sensible and humane Wesleyanism into this—the Wesleyan quadrilateral is still—and I’m a Calvinist, basically, so I really appreciate it. You want to describe this and maybe the idea of social holiness? I think that’s a really powerful way to maybe get past the passivity we’re tempted to.
Sharon Delgado: Sure. Yeah. With the United Methodist and all Methodist traditions, all Wesleyan traditions, we do go back to John Wesley. And it’s a treasure trove of so many good things. Of course, there are plenty of other things that I could say about Wesley that are not, you know, wonderful, but his creation theology is magnificent.
He wrote about the Spirit as the soul of the universe. “The world around us is a mighty volume wherein God hath declared himself” and so on. And all of his writings on grace include, I mean, grace for the non-human creation, of all things. And then he was a social activist—strong abolitionist—and, but his phrase is “there is no holiness besides social holiness.” The world is our parish, and so on. And so the idea that has developed in United Methodist thought is this idea of social holiness as part of the responsibility of being a person of faith, of being a follower of Jesus.
And a lot of his writings about social holiness correspond with liberation theologies. And so I have that whole section on various liberation theologies. And in fact, his creation theology corresponds with process theology. So I have a section on that as well. So yeah, our challenge today is to live in a way that reflects what it means to be holy, what it means to be whole, to be working for the common good, and in ways that reflect what we understand to be God’s will for the world at this time. And that’s how I understand what Jesus meant by the kingdom of God. We pray: “Thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” And what that does is it orients us in the direction of the world as God intends for it to be.
Debra Rienstra: Mm-hmm.
Sharon Delgado: The challenge is that right now, that’s not the way things are. But it sets us up and really should inspire us to—if we really mean it when we pray it—to act in those ways and to take steps in the direction of what we understand to be the world as God intends for it to be. And that’s a little bit more about how I understand social holiness and related topics.
Debra Rienstra: Yeah. And you used the phrase “living into the reality of the new creation,” which I think is a really helpful way to put it. So I promised you that you would have an opportunity to ask questions of each other, and of me, if you want to. So Talitha, you go first. What would you like to ask Sharon or me or both of us?
Talitha Amadea Aho: Well, I want to start by commenting on something for Sharon that she might have more to say about. But I wrote about how a young person felt like God is dying every day because she experiences God in nature. And so for her, it’s a perpetual Good Friday. And as I thought about that, I thought about how in many mainline Protestant churches, Good Friday is one of the least-attended services of the year, but to me it seems so important.
And so I’m just thinking about that—how important it is to like come close to the death of Jesus on the cross. Like the fact that he had an agonizing death—I think that’s one really important thing that keeping the cross central can do for us, is not let us get away from the fact that, you know, as Christians, we have to grapple with death. That is part of our spiritual call and puzzle that is given to us by our faith.
Debra Rienstra: Hmm.
Sharon Delgado: Yes. Yeah, I think it’s really important that we recognize, and this is pretty much the premise of that book, The Cross in the Midst of Creation, that the death of Jesus that took place so long ago is also an ongoing reality. I think the young person who was speaking had it just right, because God, where’s God? We say God was in Christ—Christ is present with us when we’re suffering. Christ is present in the suffering, bears the griefs and the sorrows as well as the sins of the whole world. And God is present in the suffering of creation, and certainly God weeps to see the beauty and the life-giving sustenance of creation destroyed and damaged—in some ways beyond repair and in some ways repairable.
But that is, and then to go from there, I think we need to feel the grief, the sorrow, not just isolated to Jesus, but to know Jesus experienced that. “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” And all of that suffering, and that Christ is with us in that suffering. And that resurrection is also a part of the story. Through grief, we are preparing ourselves also for the possibility of coming through that grief. And that’s, I think, the reason for the Holy Week observances. And I think you’re right. People neglect that, but if we don’t take in the whole story, how are we preparing ourselves for the joy of resurrection and the new life that comes after?
Debra Rienstra: Mm.
Talitha Amadea Aho: Well, and pastorally speaking, there’s a lot of people I’ve encountered who did not want to schedule a funeral for their loved one and just wanted to wait and have a celebration of life a month or two later. And that was one of the things that I and the other pastor at our church really tried to talk about and preach about is like, “This is something the church can do—is to be here and talk about.” It’s not far from the heart of our faith to just be grappling with grief and pain.
And perhaps it’s too much on my mind now because I’m a hospital chaplain now, and I see death a lot. And recently, a family that had a child dying said to me, “Well, I don’t even know what to expect. I’ve never seen anybody near death.” Lots of us go through this life not encountering death close up. So for me, it’s like a big part of my spiritual practice right now—is just contemplating mortality. And, but it is so good to have that ability to turn to like, “And Jesus did too.” It’s so good.
Debra Rienstra: And I think one of the things we’re all working on is bringing to the attention of our fellow Christians the resources already there in the faith to face, squarely and with determination and resolution, this climate crisis. We don’t need to turn away. We have the resources we need in these spiritual practices and in these theological ideas and beliefs and promises. That doesn’t necessarily mean we’re good at it, which is, I think, maybe why we’ve all written these books. We’re trying to—
Talitha Amadea Aho: Absolutely.
Debra Rienstra: Yeah. So Talitha, if you were, if you were going to say, “All right, church, here’s one thing we have that we need to lean on hard right now,” what would that be?
Talitha Amadea Aho: Yeah. I think that a strong Christianity can make us unafraid of death. And not in some like sentimental or, you know, spiritual-bypass kind of way. But a faith can make us strong knowing that death does not have the final word and that we can face it unafraid. I think that makes all the difference in the world. It makes us into like brave people who are able to do big things, and who are, I don’t know, just more emotionally resilient in a way.
Debra Rienstra: Mm-hmm.
Sharon Delgado: I’m not sure what the answer to that question is, as far as what is the one thing that the church needs to get to move into more of a peace and action around this issue. But I do know that the gospel, the good news, really needs to provide motivation for people to come through the apathy, the hopelessness, the despair, the really lack of moral agency, lack of taking responsibility for what’s going on beyond the church walls. And the good news has to equip people for that: how we preach, the songs that we sing, the liturgies that we use, our theology, all of it.
We’re not just talking about saving people out of the world so the rest of the earth can just continue to be degraded. It’s about God working through us to help to bring about the change that needs to be made. And that has to do with, partly, with the principalities and powers. And I preach, I teach, I write, and so on, for that purpose: to hope that through my puny efforts God can help to rouse the church community. That’s what I think the church needs the most, is to be roused related to our social issues. And that would also be helpful to the kids.
Debra Rienstra: That’s what they’re looking for, I think. At least, my college students certainly are. The apathetic church is what they are stepping away from. They want a church of commitment and action.
Talitha Amadea Aho: I want to say this, though. A college student age right now, or a teenager right now, is not going to find the strongest activism or advocacy in the church. They’re going to find that among their peers who are secular, because they are desperately doing it with all their heart. So the church can do more than zero, but the church is not going to be leading that.
Those activism spaces are not currently providing the young people with spiritual care. So that is where the church can help. The activism spaces are going to lead in terms of the work. And if the church can be, you know, following close behind with a cup of water and a kind word and the courage to keep going, and all the things that we can provide in terms of our spiritual resilience, that is a niche that is really unfilled and really important.
Sharon Delgado: Amen. And I am so glad you said that. I think that is so important. We are not the lead. We are latecomers. And if we could be allies, like some of us are learning to be, if we could be in solidarity, there is a whole movement for climate justice out there. And it’s not the people at the top, and it’s not the people who are dominating the governments and the Paris talks even, or the talks post-Paris. It is the people at the bottom. It’s the organizers. It’s the indigenous people. It’s the people on the front lines in frontline communities. It’s the people who are trying to stop fossil fuel infrastructure and so on. there’s a whole, huge movement of interrelated networks of people power. And that’s the only way we’re going to really move the needle on climate change—is by supporting that movement.
Debra Rienstra: And I love the idea of the church coming alongside and offering spiritual care. That’s a really great model.
Sharon Delgado: Yes. Yes.
Talitha Amadea Aho: I have heard in my talks with young climate activist people that some of them are completely given up hope on the big picture, like the degrees Celsius and the parts-per-million. They’re not thinking that any of their work is going to make a difference for that.
But they are still working, and they’re working for local small systems of mutual aid and interdependence. And, you know, we can’t stop everybody from burning coal, but “Hell no, it’s not going to be burnt in our town.” And so they’re shifting in this way that is exactly what you’re talking about in Refugia.
They are not trying to save the whole ecosystem, but they know they can save something. And we need churches to recognize—like there are desperate young people doing incredible amounts of that kind of work out there. And if we can just be a place that helps them hold it together and has that hospitality and has that love and joy that helps them to feel like, “Yeah, we can keep doing this work because we’re well-loved and we know our work is important and it’s validated and all of that.” It’s so important. So I just love your metaphor for that reason.
Debra Rienstra: Oh, I’m so glad. And it’s something that, you know, I always give credit to Kathleen Dean Moore’s book, Great Tide Rising—which I know Sharon, you mentioned in your book too—for introducing me to the idea of refugia as a biological concept. And it’s just sort of taken on a life of its own from there and become this idea that people seem to respond to as a way forward in this time of crisis convergence, where we feel like we have some agency on a small scale that’s manageable to create these refugia spaces, even while still working on this large scale as furiously as we can. So I’m glad that it resonates with you too.
Sharon Delgado: I also really like the idea in your book, Debra, about refugia and how those different refugia spaces can actually grow. They can be nurtured and they can grow. And particularly the story of the small forests that were being managed and cared for, and at the center, it was like a spiritual community that cared for those forests of Ethiopia. And they’re hoping to be able to make them bigger and larger. But just in general, the idea of refugia, when you talked about—refugia can include, besides rest, restoration, seeding, and all of that, that needs to happen spiritually as well as physically, emotionally, all those ways, but also as a spiritual practice, as a discipline, and how those refugia spaces can grow and even connect and create an ecosystem.
And I think what Talitha is talking about—about these small spaces, it’s kind of what Naomi Klein in her book This Changes Everything is talking about when they’re talking about—it’s a little different, but it’s “blockadia,” where these local struggles—people are supporting these local struggles, but they are also indicative of what needs to happen for the whole. And for instance, here, we’re trying to stop a gold mine from being reopened that would almost double our carbon footprint. I mean, you know, there are things almost everywhere that people can say, “Okay, this is what we’re going to do. You know, we’re going to have an organic garden that people can come and help with or whatever it is that people are doing.” That’s exactly what we need in the world that is to come. It’s kind of like we are creating an image, an example, of the reign of God in our midst, and it’s not happening in the church, necessarily, and not as much, that’s for sure, but we can do that.
Debra Rienstra: Mm, yeah, we come into partnership rather than either leading or following, but becoming partners in this effort. So I think one of the big themes of this whole season has been interfaith work, and hospitality has been a strong theme as people think about how this refugia model plays out in church life. It’s often enacted through processes of hospitality. What other questions would you like to ask each other?
Sharon Delgado: Well, I really want to at least say that I really loved how In Deep Waters the whole idea of not having pat answers really resonated with me. I wrote in a little bit at the beginning of in The Cross in the Midst of Creation about interactions that I had with some young people I was walking with where I kind of uttered some words of hope and it just, you know, that’s not satisfying. And I just love how Talitha describes the different interactions. It’s like you trust their process. It’s like you’re not trying to tell them what they should think. Or, I mean, yes, you might make a suggestion or, but you’re really careful, I noticed, to really listen and to, you know, ask questions rather than quickly point in some directions, and you’d even described how you learned from that or are surprised sometimes by insights that, the young people gain in that interaction. I loved it. I learned from that.
Talitha Amadea Aho: Thank you. That is deeply rooted both in my chaplaincy training, but also in my training as a godly play teacher, which is a Montessori-based Sunday school curriculum in which we are carefully counseled not to provide an informational answer to children. I had one instance where I was telling a story in the hospital, and the parents jumped in. They were like, “Oh, we know who the good shepherd is, don’t we? Yeah, yeah, we do, right, kiddo?” And the kid was like, “Joseph!” The parents were like, “No, no, Joseph and Mary had a baby—J-J-J-Jesus.”
And it was just, oh, so flattening and deflating for that kid who was like really had learned a lot in this story about the good shepherd and didn’t really need to know the good shepherd’s name to know that he was a good person and that, you know, that we can, we can always think about the good shepherd when we’re in hard times, right? The kid had learned that lesson. He just hadn’t gotten the name right. Like, oh my goodness. The good shepherd could equally have been his doctor or bedside nurse, right?
So the kids have said such beautiful things when we don’t tell them what we think things mean. So that has just taught me—I guess it starts off with being cautious, like to stop myself from offering an answer. But it’s more than that. It’s also just really trusting and believing that these kids, even if they’re small children, that these four-year-olds, five-year-olds, six-year-olds are having an honest, spiritual interaction with the God of their understanding. That’s real, and they don’t need to be stuffed full with more information in order to have their spiritual experiences.
Debra Rienstra: Hmm. And I love how honest you are too, about your own reactions in those moments. You know, the ways that you bite your tongue and the ways that you have feelings that, you know, you really shouldn’t share, and it’s just fun to read your storytelling, as well as the content of the stories.
Talitha Amadea Aho: Thank you.
Debra Rienstra: So, I wonder if, you know, the three of us are kind of in this, “Let’s help wake up the church” business. We’re in this business of helping the church find the resources we already have and look to outside partners to be helpful partners in facing the climate crisis. What do you think Christian writers need to be doing next? What are the next projects that you wish, maybe not you, but other writers might be working on?
Sharon Delgado: Oh, good question.
Talitha Amadea Aho: Yeah. I think there’s way more to be found out ecologically in the Bible in terms of resourcing us. A friend of mine spent a doctoral dissertation looking at hot and cold in the scripture, you know? So just deep dives into, I mean sure, we know that the Bible is full of grass and trees and hills and creatures, but let’s learn more about those creatures and hills and what do they signify? And let’s look at reading the Bible with our ecological lenses on. I think that’s going to be inexhaustible, just going deeper and deeper into this specific or that specific. So that seems important to me.
Debra Rienstra: Yeah. A little eco hermeneutics.
Talitha Amadea Aho: Yeah, exactly.
Debra Rienstra: Yeah. What about you, Sharon? What do you think are some areas that we need Christian writers to be working in?
Sharon Delgado: I’m not sure. I think I would like to see more about how faith is not just belief, but faith is participation. I touch on this in my book. Faith is participation. I know that you brought up, Debra, in Refugia, talking about Advent in the clash of kingdoms, how that can lead people to feel like “When is God going to do something about this?” And I think people might be feeling that way. Where is God in all this? And that’s one reason I wrote the book I wrote, but I think there’s way more to be done about that. You know, where is God in all this? And how is it that we are invited into the story of Jesus and the story of God’s redemptive action in the world?
Because to me, that’s where hope lies. And I think that it’s easy for us, for anyone to go to the worship services and even to the gatherings and the fellowships and to miss that this is what it requires, and not just acts of mercy, but also acts of justice.
Debra Rienstra: Yeah. As is so often said, “Hope comes from action.” Action is what leads to hope. It doesn’t come before. You know, as we were saying before, the spiritual practice of hope is really finding community and finding things to do.
Well, it looks like Fortress Press has some things to explore then—some areas to maybe acquire some new books. Are there things you’re reading lately that you would especially recommend to listeners?
Sharon Delgado: I’m reading Mary Robinson’s book, Climate Justice, and I’ve just gotten started with it. It’s a good book—good stories, since she’s been very much at the heart of what’s going on with trying to make a change.
Debra Rienstra: Yeah. What about you, Talitha? Reading anything good?
Talitha Amadea Aho: I got a couple. Two were recently completed. Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, which is just imagining humans in positive relationship to the earth, instead of all negative. I love it.
How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell. Kind of—like to me, the theme of these books is like anti-capitalism meets spirituality.
And then I haven’t read this yet, but I’m so looking forward to it, and I’ve been following stuff that she’s writing in the meantime. Tricia Hersey’s book Rest Is Resistance: A Manifesto. I’m really digging the stuff that she’s putting out right now, and really looking forward to reading long-form from her, because, I—there’s just, ah! I think even in the church and in the justice movements, we’ve so deeply internalized this like grind-crush-press of like, “Do more, more, more.” I mentioned Sabbath in my book, but I’m just looking forward to reading a whole book about Sabbath really.
Sharon Delgado: That’s great.
Debra Rienstra: I know somebody who’s writing one, actually. But yeah, let a thousand flowers bloom. I barely touch on Sabbath in my book too, but I do feel like that’s another area that needs to be written about more. So let a thousand flowers bloom on that one, too.
Talitha Amadea Aho: Well, and it needs to be not just written about, but done! So…
Sharon Delgado: Yeah, that’s the challenge.
Talitha Amadea Aho: Yeah.
Debra Rienstra: Oh, this has been fun. Talitha and Sharon, thank you so much for being with me today. What a joy to talk with other authors and talk about what it’s like to write about this sort of thing and just to share our common commitments and dedication to this. So thank you so much for being with me today.
Talitha Amadea Aho: Thank you so much for bringing us together and sparking this conversation. I really appreciate it.
Sharon Delgado: Yeah, thank you. It’s been wonderful. It’s so good to know you and to have read your books. Precious to me.
Debra Rienstra: The Refugia Podcast is produced with support from the Calvin Center for Christian Scholarship. Our audio editors are Ian Gilbert and Kathryn Gardner. Our text editor is Michal Rubingh. If you enjoyed this episode, please help other listeners discover us. Write a review on your podcast platform or share this episode through social media.
You can find us on Facebook and Twitter @RefugiaPodcast. You can also visit our website at refugiapodcast.com where you can explore links and transcripts from this and all our episodes. You can find me on Facebook and Twitter at Debra K. Rienstra. That’s D E B R A K. R I E N S T R A. As always, thanks for listening.