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Randy Woodley, a public theologian and member of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, joins us to talk about shalom, indigenous wisdom, and the importance of stepping outside Western worldviews. Randy helps us see what it means to be co-sustainers with the community of creation.

For more background

Find out more about Eloheh Indigenous Center for Earth Justice at its website here.

Randy’s book Shalom and the Community of Creation is available here.

Listen to Randy’s podcast Peacing it All Together here.

You can watch Randy’s interview with Travis West at Western Theological Seminary here.

Randy mentions Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann’s book Peace and C. S. Lewis’s book The Abolition of Man.


Debra Rienstra: 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. And this is Refugia.  

Randy Woodley: For us, being a sustainer or a co-sustainer—this is what it’s all about. It’s like, there’s a relationship that happens between us and the Creator, and between us and the community of creation.   

Debra Rienstra: Hi, everyone. I’m so honored to share with you this inspiring conversation about indigenous ways and Christian faith. Randy Woodley’s understanding of indigenous traditions and knowledge draws from his own Cherokee heritage, as well as his extensive study of many North American native traditions. In this episode, Randy describes how he and his wife have created a farm retreat where people can reconnect with land, recover indigenous farming practices, experience a different way. We talk about Eloheh Farm, about moving in and out of shalom, and about being co-sustainers with the community of creation. Randy deftly brings Christianity and indigenous worldviews into instructive conversation, especially for those of us steeped in Western thinking and Western versions of the Christian faith. 

If you’re coming into the podcast for the first time with this episode, welcome. I hope you’ll go back and listen to the other episodes sometime when you get a chance. For now, enjoy, and thanks for listening.  

Today, I’m delighted to be talking with Randy Woodley, founder, along with his wife, Edith Woodley, of Eloheh Indigenous Center for Earth Justice. It’s hard to sum up who Randy is in just a few words. He is a legal descendant of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians. He’s a Christian pastor with a PhD in intercultural studies. He’s a teacher, elder, farmer, author, wisdom-keeper, and so much more. Randy, welcome.

Randy Woodley: Thank you. Glad to be here.

Debra Rienstra: I am so grateful that you’re willing to talk with me today. Your book Shalom and the Community of Creation has been so helpful to me. And I’ve just read your brand new book, too, called Decolonizing Evangelicalism, which is a conversation between you and co-author, Bo Sanders. So we’ll get to the books, but let’s start with Eloheh. Tell us a little bit about the history of Eloheh and what you and Edith envision for it now.

Randy Woodley: Oh, thanks for asking. Yeah, Eloheh is a Cherokee Indian word. It means “a place of peace,” “a place of harmony,” where abundance is coming out of the earth, where justice is being done. It’s sort of that all-encompassing vision, if you will, of shalom in the scriptures. 

And I had a dream back when I was pastoring a native church in Carson City, Nevada, back in about 1998, I think it was, of this—it was this really more like a dream vision, if you will, but… And I’m kind of a dreamer; I’ve had certain dreams throughout my life that meant something. and I envisioned this place. So we sort of set our mind on trying to create that place. It made a lot of sense with what we were doing, our ministry at the time, and it would be a place of both teaching and learning, and a farm and—kind of in a place of helping people to take social action. 

So kind of the—I guess if some of your listeners might remember Francis Schaeffer and Edith Schaeffer and their L’Abri concept, where there’s a farm and school, and also some might be familiar with the Highlander School with Myles Horton down in Georgia, in a place were Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks and others attended. And so we wanted to kinda create a Native American version of sort of those two things. If that’s a—that might seem funny, but— a place where people could come and, in an indigenous way, not a Western way, learn on the land, learn through ceremony, learn through teaching, learn through active relationship with the land. 

And that’s been the vision all along. We started that, the original Eloheh village, in Kentucky in 2004. Then we were run off by a group of white supremacists, a paramilitary group with a machine gun, in 2008.

Debra Rienstra: Yeah, that’s a dramatic story.

Randy Woodley: Yeah. And, you know, it’s just part of our reality. Then we started a second Eloheh eventually, in Oregon, on a small 3.75-acre farm. And then it had its limitations, but we actually did a whole lot with that place and developed, I think, trust in a lot of people in what we’re doing. 

And then the organization I worked for, the seminary that I worked for for my day job, ended up needing to move me to three-quarter time. And so we sort of saw the future and the future retirement and knew we wouldn’t be able to maintain that farm at the salary that I would end up getting. And so we said, let’s sell while the selling’s good. It broke our hearts to do that, but we did. And just believed that we’d find something else. 

And finally, we found this ten-acre farm and woods. And when I say farm, I mean it was just land, but we’re making it into a farm and a incredible, incredible place. I don’t know if you can see behind me here, but, uh, it’s very akin to—it needs a lot of cleanup, but it’s akin to the original, pre-settler land, flora and fauna and everything; we have a lot of native plants. 

It’s an oak savanna, and we gotta put a lot of work into it, but, um, this will be a place where people can come, they can learn from a culture, biomimicry, traditional indigenous knowledge, they can learn how to relate to the land on a more spiritual level, they can learn about our harmony way or “shalom constructs,” as we call them. And they can walk the land and they can see nature.

I was walking yesterday in the back of my land, and a deer stood there and looked at me probably 20 feet away, for, I don’t know, probably three or four minutes, and then she went on her way. It’s just a beautiful place. So we’re really thankful to be able to finally– now, remember I said the vision was in 1998, you know—sometimes it takes a while for a vision to come to pass, but we’re finally at the place where we’re building Eloheh Indigenous Center for Earth Justice and Eloheh Farm.

Debra Rienstra: It’s a beautiful and dramatic story. And you also have a podcast, so I want to point listeners to the episode in your podcast where you describe more of this story. But for now I want to think about Eloheh as a really premier example of a refugium. So, it’s this vision of a micro-counterculture, which is exactly what we’ve been discussing on this podcast.

And it’s focused on creating new capacities, life-giving patterns. So we’ve been exploring what it means for people of faith to be people of refugia. So I just wonder if this idea of refugia resonates with you.

Randy Woodley: Very much so. You know, we’re talking a lot more these days about spirituality than we used to, right? And this is really getting in touch with our spirituality. For us, for indigenous people, it really starts with the land that Creator has made for us. And while I am not in the land of my people, I am in someone’s land.

So we’re in the land of the Kalapuyans, particularly the Yamhill and the Tualiti bands of Kalapuyans. And this was their land for thousands and thousands and thousands of years. And they cared for it, they took care of it, they stewarded it, or co-sustained it, as we call it. 

Debra Rienstra: Oh, pause right there. Pause right there, because I love the word “co-sustain.” So, could you explain that word a little bit? You are so good at coming up with new words for things. And I’m going to ask you more about that in just a minute, but why, why say “co-sustain” rather than “steward?” I’ve had a lot of trouble with the word stewardship, so I want to hear what you have to say about that.

Randy Woodley: Well, you know, if you go back to the Old English, steward actually means the person who was the ward of the sty, pig sty.

Debra Rienstra: Oh, I see.

Randy Woodley: So I’m not sure—it’s not a very glamorous word if you trace it. I think we’ve all used it, you know: stewardship means to, you know, to take care of something that’s not yours.

I think that we need to do something more than that. I think we need to—there’s more value in what’s happening than being a steward lets on. And our indigenous way, we would say more “being a keeper.” So, like, each of us—like, I’m given certain ceremonies that I’m a keeper of. So I’m a keeper of such-and-such ceremony, the sweat lodge ceremony, or other ceremonies. And that means you know where its origins are, you know, you were trained in it. You know how to take care of it responsibly, all those kinds of things. 

For us, being a sustainer or a co-sustainer—and it’s a big idea because we are, you know, Paul uses one phrase—we’re co-laborers with Christ, right? And this is what it’s all about. It’s like, there’s a relationship that happens between us and the Creator, and between us and the community of creation. 

Debra Rienstra: Yeah.

Randy Woodley: And the community of creation is everything else. And they are all doing their part to sustain, to create, to live, to fight against entropy. I think the term is autopoiesis, maybe? Something like that. We’re struggling to fight against death. And Creator is good at that. And so we’re trying to create a place where we can sustain what Creator’s are already doing and what the rest of the community creation is doing, rather than impose our will on it.

And so we look at sort of trying to bend creation or nature to the point where it benefits us to the level we need without breaking it. And that’s what we’re about, here at Eloheh. And I think of the old adage “one picture’s worth a thousand words.” I can go and I can talk about this at a conference or a podcast, but when you come out and you live in this environment with us for days, something remarkable happens, something that changes people’s worldviews completely. And that’s what we realized some time ago. 

An elder said to us after we were both—we were all sort of elders at a native conference that was being held by non-natives, and they did the best they could. But she looked at Edith and I and said, “You guys have got to get Eloheh back and going, you’ve got to resurrect Eloheh, because as much as non-native people want to be exposed to these ideas, they will still never get it until they come to us and we can do it in our own way.”

And so Eloheh is about—that’s why it’s called Indigenous Center, so that we can present what Creator is doing and what we are co-sustaining in a way that they can actually experience, and it will be part of their lived experience. And they will take that and then say,  “How’s that gonna affect my world now?”

So, if we are refugia, I guess—is that the correct way to use the word?

Debra Rienstra: Sure, you’d be a refugium. 

Randy Woodley: Okay, refugium. If we are a refugium, then we will impart to them a little bit of that vision, and they will go, and hopefully it will be imparted to them, and that sense of spirituality and that sense of refuge and that sense of gathering together, because it’s not just about us being here, and the land—it’s about a community being here.

And so we do have a community that meets during non-COVID times on a regular basis, who get together and fellowship and things, so…

Debra Rienstra: Yeah. So, describe a—a person comes hoping for some new capacities or for a new vision about that connection to land, about what it would mean to be a people of refugia. What do they see? What are those experiences, what do they see or feel, or hear or smell?

Randy Woodley: So I think it’s best to describe them in contrast to what they’re getting in a Western setting. So, in a Western worldview, knowledge is imparted through reading books, through people talking, through gaining the insight of others. But in an indigenous worldview, knowledge is passed through an experience, through its lived experience. Usually it was someone mentoring and going alongside them. And so it’s a holistic experience. They’re experiencing a ceremony, they’re experiencing the land, they’re experiencing teaching, and looking at life in a whole different way. And so the biggest breakthrough, I guess, the revalatory breakthrough, when people leave here, from what everyone tells me and what everyone seems to be talking about, is their deconstructing a dualistic worldview.

So that Platonic dualism is replete throughout—it’s ubiquitous in all of our theologies and in a lot of our teachings and our education system, and really in all of our systems. And when you begin to break through that dualism, life begins to look way different than it ever did before.

Debra Rienstra: Yeah. 

So in your interview with Travis West on the Lux podcast, you mentioned at one point that a good model can spread fast. So it sounds like that’s what you’re hoping to do, that this refugia model, if we can call it that—people come to you. And you’re hoping that that model will grow and spread, which is exactly what refugia do.

So you’re seeing that happening. You’re seeing people going out, and how are they changing their lives after they’ve spent time at Eloheh? 

Randy Woodley: Let me first give a nod and a wink to Travis and Western Theological Seminary, because we had just such a great time. We were there and they were such great hosts. We just appreciated that so much, everyone. But especially Travis as a kind of cultural guide there. It was a wonderful time.

Debra Rienstra: Good, I hope you’ll come back someday.

Randy Woodley: Well, I hope I get invited back. It was great. I think the other thing about models is that, for us, we never really set out to create a model so much as that we lived something and then people began to say to us, you know, “can you send us your model?” And we’re like, “Uh, okay. I guess we have a model. What do we actually do?” And so our models are all written after we’re doing them, right. And so we’re modeling what we live, I guess is another way to say that. But I think people just—they come out and it’s really hard to put in words. I mean, for example, I’ve had people who are sort of bearing the most Western of Westernized worldviews come and be a part, for example, of the sweat lodge ceremony with us.

Which is not just the ceremony, but it’s also the sitting around afterwards and talking. It’s the building up to it and the teaching that goes there and everything, but…  So it’s not sort of like, just like going to church for an hour, right? But their whole world has been changed after being a part of that because they’re experiencing something physically, they’re experiencing it spiritually, emotionally.

And getting in touch with the earth. And that’s just something that the West has missed out on, unfortunately. You know, we’re all indigenous from somewhere. And so I think it’s really important for people to get back to their indigenous roots, wherever they are, and also, you know, to learn from other indigenous peoples. 

But yeah, so we have, you know—I have a lot of our students who are just doing incredible things out there. You know, working in the city with houseless people, creating cohorts with women of color, people who are meeting in—well, were meeting at coffee houses and bars, and lots of innovations.

It’s just, you know, it’s sorta like when there’s a breakthrough, out of the box, out of the Western box, they can go anywhere with it. And that’s why—and we’re all gifted, Creator has gifted us all with different imaginations and different ways of thinking and different experiences and this wonderful diversity that we have in all of life on the planet.

And so we just watch people who—you know, I’ve got one student who’s a wonderful person. He works at a golf course, but his dream is to one day have a permaculture golf course. I mean…

Debra Rienstra: Is that possible? 

Randy Woodley: I don’t know, he thinks so. So we just sort of live our lives, do our part, teach what we feel and know and believe in, live, and Creator takes care of the rest.

Debra Rienstra: Yeah. 

So one of the things we’ve discussed before with previous guests is the idea that refugia are not franchisable. So it’s not the right strategy to try to duplicate exactly what you’re doing. Refugia have to be absolutely intrinsic and particular to the place. So the examples that you described are very different from what you’re actually doing there, but they take with them, it sounds like, principles or ways of thinking, and then apply those in very particular ways to their own contexts, which is exactly what we’ve been thinking about before.

At another point in your interview with Travis, you mentioned—I thought this was this beautiful phrase, too—“We move in and out of shalom.” And that struck me immediately as a very useful way to grapple with this sort of “already but not yet” dynamic that we often experience. And so I wonder if you can talk about shalom and the harmony way a little bit, and then how it is that we move in and out of that.

Randy Woodley: Well, you know, I first became exposed to this idea in our indigenous ways of this harmony way, if you will—some people in scripture might call it “shalom,” or others have described as tikkun. In Cherokee, our word is eloheh, but we also have another word, diyukdi. So I—almost one word doesn’t describe all of what we’re talking about, this big construct…

What struck me many years ago, I think it was 2002 or [2003] when I read Walter Brueggemann’s book Peace, which really was the most thorough investigation of the scriptural shalom that I’d ever read. I went right back to our elders and some of our spiritual leaders, our Cherokee leaders, and I said, “I know we have a construct that’s something like this, tell me about it.” 

And I knew that other tribes did as well. Like the Navajo have something called hozho. And so I ended up doing my PhD dissertation on this construct among indigenous peoples everywhere. It’s very widespread among indigenous peoples in the U.S. and Canada, but also, really, I come to find out later, from people all over the world.

And so these are what I would call the original instructions. Well, the difference is that it’s not a utopia. It’s not like we’re working all our lives to get there, and then all of a sudden we’re there, we’ve arrived at utopia. Utopian visions are very dangerous, because, you know, you can use any means to justify, you know, to be justified for the end you seek, right?

Debra Rienstra: Right.

Randy Woodley: Part of who we are, built in with our limitations, which I’m really glad—I mean, our limitations are really what makes us most spiritual, I think, our vulnerabilities. And to be human is to be spiritual, to be limited, to be vulnerable. And I think in that we reflect the vulnerability of our Creator, which to me is the most overriding characteristic of who Creator is, but maybe that’s another thing to talk about later.

So we get there and then we move out of it because we’re limited, right? But that is the desired way to live, is to live in shalom, is to live in harmony, to live in eloheh. And so we’re not trying to create like a., you know, some kind of a “Hey, let’s all get to shalom, and then we’re all happt,” But, you know, how do we live in our limited, vulnerable life as human beings the best we can into shalom?

Debra Rienstra: Yeah, that’s really helpful.

One of the things I found really helpful in the Shalom book is your proposal that when we talk about Jesus’ teachings, instead of saying “kingdom of God” or “kingdom of heaven,” we could swap in the phrase “community of creation.”

I thought that was so helpful. It’s another one of your kind of new phrases, or just ways of jarring us out of old ways of thinking. So, why? How might “community of creation” help us think differently and maybe more accurately about what Jesus is teaching?

Randy Woodley: Yeah. So, I thought it was my creation, I thought it was my sort of new idea, but I come to find out just, oh, I don’t know, probably six months ago, that Jürgen Moltmann had actually used the phrase “community of creation.” Not necessarily as a substitute for kingdom, but the construct was there. And so, I don’t want to, you know, act like I’m the first one that ever thought of this. I’m sure people have. 

But the reason that I use it is because-—and Jesus didn’t actually say “kingdom,” right? So it worked well for King James, who was the ruler of a kingdom, but it’s basically—I think the idea is more like “a place where where God is in charge.” And so, as you know, basilea tōn theōn, that’s the place where God is in charge.

And so we’ve got some flexibility. We don’t have to use this word “kingdom.” But secondly, Jesus was a pre-enlightenment person, a pre-Western thinker. Now, there was Greek dualism going on around him, but obviously he didn’t succumb to it, just by the way that he looked at life and dealt with everything.

But I think things have gotten so far off track now with our dualism, whereas we see, the anthropocentrism, you know, human beings above all of nature, creation, you know—the idea that creation is not a part of us, but we are, you know, above it. That kind of thinking, I think, is dangerous and what’s led us to what some people are now calling not the “Anthropocene,” but the “Eurocene.”

And I can talk about that more if you’d like, but the way that I think Jesus would want to correct the idea of this place where God is in charge now is to say—if he were walking the earth right now—is to say that it’s the community of creation, that it’s, you know, community, made up of humans and non-humans, all from the Creator, and that’s where God is in charge.

Debra Rienstra: Yeah. And in the book you mentioned that the last thing we need right now is military metaphors. 

Randy Woodley: Right. The Anabaptists had been doing a good job, trying to figure out ways around that, one of the ways they’ve come up with the idea “kin-dom.” So instead of “kingdom,” a kind of play on the word.

Debra Rienstra: Right. But I actually like yours better, because even “kin-dom” seems to focus on humans, whereas “community of creation” leaves it very open for, as you were saying, our cooperation with other creatures. 

Randy Woodley: Right.

Debra Rienstra: Yeah. In all the reading I’ve been doing about responses to the climate crisis, I’ve come across quite frequently this idea of convergence, that is to say, we’re seeing a return to forms of wisdom that have been neglected in the rise of Western post-enlightenment thinking. So this includes indigenous wisdom from around the world, and certain ideas from East Asia and South Asia about harmony, and even certain themes from within the Abrahamic faiths. I wonder if you’re seeing that as well, this kind of convergence of wisdom.

Randy Woodley: I think so. I think we’re also seeing backlash against that, right? So this is a great time of turmoil. There’s really a war of worldviews going on right now. People are—what I understand, especially young people, especially millennials right now, are trying to convert to a different worldview than what they were given.

Debra Rienstra: Yeah.

Randy Woodley: And so, as indigenous people and others are trying to inform that, and you know, this is something that we’ve been trying to do for, you know, three decades now. But, I’m getting a whole lot more calls than I used to, which is good news. And people want me to talk about things like how this Western worldview, you know, including its white supremacy that came along with it, how it affected the planet and the crisis that we’re all in, and not just the sort of racism crisis that we’re in, but just the bigger picture of “how did we get in this mess?” And I think young people in particular are looking for ways to get out of that. 

 Debra Rienstra: Yeah, absolutely. I’ve actually interviewed two young women under 30 for this podcast, with exactly that in mind, that I really want to listen to young people and what they’re noticing. They have less investment in the old ways than those of us who are older do, and they are indeed looking for something different. And it’s really quite exciting.

I wonder how you feel about this moment of shift. I mean, as you say, it’s a moment of turmoil, it’s not entirely a moment of shift. And the people who are coming to you now, including me, middle-aged white woman, saying, “Oh, guess what? Now it’s time for you to teach us, you lead us, we need you,” suddenly, after this terrible American history of genocide and land theft. The reservation system, I’ve kind of been thinking of as an illustration of absolutely toxic refugia, this, you know, pretend idea that this is a place of safety and shelter, when actually it’s a place of destruction and brutality.

So we have talked on this podcast before about anti-refugia, which in biological terms might be analogous to what we call an ecological trap. You know, it looks like it might work, but in fact it leads to death. But indigenous people have survived as a remnant, and now people are coming and saying, “Oh, we need you, you teach us, you have this wisdom.” And how do you feel about that kind of ironic shift?

Randy Woodley: So, you know, there’s this, I think, fatigue that’s going on among people of color, especially black and indigenous people of color. 

Debra Rienstra: Absolutely.

Randy Woodley: But because we’ve been doing it for so long, right? And now it’s like, so people are starting to listen? But my wife and I have just resigned ourselves to realizing that we’ve been waiting for this for, in some ways, all our lives, but at least for us in particular for the past 30-something years. And this is the time we’ve been waiting for; good things and good shifts and changes don’t happen overnight. And so we’ve lived our lives toward this and we intend to live the rest of our lives for this.

So we’re happy to be a part of it. I think the initial inquiries sometimes bring about, uh, feelings of shame and guilt, and, you know, “Why didn’t we listen before?” and all those kinds of things. But we don’t like to dwell on that. We do like to educate people to our histories, you know, and what kind of history that other people have had.

And we’ve had an anti-refugia history since the founding of this country. 

Debra Rienstra: Absolutely. 

Randy Woodley: While at the same time, our worldview said, you know, we need to move toward a refugia-type history. So—and I have nice friends, open friends, who will say, you know, “So we don’t want to put the burden on you, so we’re going to try and educate.” And I think there’s a place for that. But at the same time, I don’t want non-indigenous people teaching indigenous stuff, because they can’t understand it, they don’t have the lived experience. They only can pass it down in a sort of a Western, factual kind of way.

And so it behooves us, then, to be the ones to be there. Plus, it’s a different experience when non-indigenous people are hearing it from indigenous people, than when they’re hearing it from people their own race.

Debra Rienstra: Yeah, absolutely. 

Randy Woodley: There’s a power shift that takes place. Part of the fuel of white supremacy is the belief that, you know, this country was founded, of course, on the idea that, you know, white males deserve, like, all the knowledge and power and wealth in every given system and are the experts.

And so, when people put themselves in a place where they are no longer the experts but they’re willing to listen to the people who they had—not because of their own decisions they made in their own minds, but because it was just caught as a worldview—who are considered less than them, and now they are having to listen to them, there’s a power shift that takes place in that. And that humbling, if you will, I think is part of God’s revelation, it’s just, you know, when we are humbled and vulnerable, that’s when Creator I think is able to do the most with us.

Debra Rienstra: Yeah, that virtue of humility, we keep coming back to that as absolutely foundational for this time. 

So, let’s talk about decolonization. It’s become a bit of a buzzword, which is fine. That means we’re exploring what it might mean and grappling with what it might imply. How do you define decolonization?

Randy Woodley: So, it’s a process, right? I think it happens best under the power dynamic I just described. So, in other words, the more you submit yourself to people who have been resisting [colonization], and if you have been a part and unaware that you were part of a colonial system, the more you hang around, listen to, become a junior partner with, if you will, people of color, particularly black and indigenous people of color who have sort of suffered the worst parts of this, the more you will understand, like, what are the things in your life that have to change, and what are the things in our structures that have to change.

And we don’t just look at personal change, we also look at structural change. We think if personal change doesn’t occur and a structural change does, it’s not gonna solve the problems, and vice versa. The converse is also true.

Debra Rienstra: Right, yeah. In your book, your recent book, you and Bo Sanders address the conversation, particularly to the evangelical context, since that’s where you have been most connected, both of you, in various ways. So I know it’s hard to generalize, but what do you think is the greatest obstacle for evangelicals in particular, in moving to that postcolonial worldview? 

So, I can think of a couple options. Is it, you know, a kind of idolization of empire or individualism, or the way we’ve learned to think about land, or something else? What’s the first, biggest obstacle?

Randy Woodley: So, I have a whole chart where I compare indigenous worldview to Western worldview. And, of course, dualism is at the top, and then hierarchy, and extrinsic categorization, and individualism, and anthropocentrism, and on and on and on. But I think for evangelicals in particular, perhaps the one thing that I think could change that’s the most important, and I realize I’m dealing with something very sacrosanct, but it’s how we understand scripture.

Evangelicals are people of the book, right?

Debra Rienstra: Yeah.

Randy Woodley: Well, no one in scripture was post-enlightenment, no writers or recorders, uh, that I know of, anyway. So they were more akin to what I would say is a non-Western approach to understanding scripture. So, for example, I used to go around with a little chart and we’re talking about narrative theology, or orality. And I would say—the chart said, “75 percent of scripture is oral, is story.” Well, my Old Testament professors corrected me and said, “No, it’s more like 90 percent.” And, well, whatever it is, it behooves us to understand story and the way that people wrote story then, but a Western worldview comes in with a totally different approach.

The first thing they want to do is prove that it’s fact. That’s not how the writers intended to be understood. There’s something that you get differently out of story from a non-Western worldview than you do a Western worldview. And so, in some ways—and this is something that nobody wants to hear—but in some ways it’s sort of a—anybody who’s, like, a white, Western-worldview male who hasn’t corrected himself is the least qualified to interpret scripture. And yet, you know, probably 90 percent of the people who have written about all of this are exactly—fall into that category. So we’ve got to understand story in the way that it was intended to be understood, or at least much closer to the way it intended to be understood than what the Western worldview has offered.

Debra Rienstra: Yeah. As a literary person, I really appreciate that. I do think a lot of our problems with arguing over scripture and imagining the authority of scripture are actually literary problems, rather than maybe religion or science problems, for example. They turn out to be literary problems. Maybe that’s my attempt to make things part of my domain, I’m not sure. But it seems to be true.

Randy Woodley: Well, C. S. Lewis pinpointed this too, I think, in his book Abolition of Man, which is a book about literary criticism, right? 

Debra Rienstra: Yeah.

Randy Woodley: But it’s my favorite book by C. S. Lewis, and was his favorite also, by the way, because it goes to the heart of, how do we understand what’s been written? And that’s the challenge.

Debra Rienstra: Yeah.

How are you thinking about the climate crisis that we’re a part of? I know we’re concerned right now with the pandemic, but beneath that and around that and underneath that is this climate crisis. So how are you dealing with that or thinking about that?

Randy Woodley: Yeah. Edith and I have put the rest of our whole life focus on the earth and earth justice. And, you know, of course it doesn’t exclude community and our faith or anything else. It actually is expressed through our justice for the earth, in Eloheh Farm.

But yeah, I think we need to understand right now, it’s critical—we’ve got the COVID, which has to do with a Western worldview. We’ve got the racial problems, which have to do with a Western worldview. And so all of this, to me, springs out of this dysfunctional Western worldview. 

And, by the way, I know someone will say, “Well, is there anything good about the Western worldview?” Yes, there are great things about it, but right now that’s not what’s helping us. What’s helping us is to realize and decolonize from that dualism and all of the sort of maladies that spring forth from that.

So we’ve got to basically begin to really concentrate. You know, it’s not like you’ve got to do one thing above everything else, but we can’t lose sight of the fact that, you know, Creator builds open systems. They adapt. Human beings think that we are creating order by trying to control things. And we become non-adaptive, right? And so, as a result, our systems fall in on each other. We don’t build things the way God builds things, and so they die. They suffer entropy. 

Whereas, in God’s creation, we have this openness, this system that learns to adapt. Well, the earth will adapt, and it will eventually get rid of the key species who are misplaced and out of balance and out of harmony, if we don’t do something about it.

Debra Rienstra: Yeah, we have exceeded the carrying capacity of the earth to tolerate how many we are and what we’re doing, to put it in biological terms.

I’m going to end, Randy, with a quotation from Shalom and the Community of Creation that I think sums up really beautifully the refugia way, or the way that God loves to work with refugia. Here’s what you wrote: “It appears, according to Luke and several of the other Gospel writers, that when God wants all humanity to know something important, he invests his time and efforts in obscurity.”

Randy Woodley: I like that. I wrote that?

Debra Rienstra: You did. It’s beautiful.

Randy, I’m so grateful for your wisdom and for the work that you do and for your generosity in taking some time to talk with me today. Thank you so much.

Randy Woodley: Thank you so much for what you do.

Debra Rienstra: This has been Refugia, a podcast about renewal. If you enjoyed this episode and you have a moment, please write a quick review on your podcast platform. Reviews help other listeners find us. You can find us on Facebook at Refugia Podcast. Leave us a comment, and send us your ideas about what refugia means for you. 

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