immigrants: the essential workers our food system can’t survive without

The U.S. food supply chains, like so many things today, are being disrupted by the coronavirus. Food that was destined for now-shuttered restaurants can’t easily be re-routed to grocery stores. Relationships and contracts built up slowly over time were severed almost overnight.

You can’t talk about ecology in the U.S. – or at least the Midwest – without talking the history of agriculture, which spans 127 million acres in the Midwest. Most of the acreage is used for the production of meat and dairy products that the majority of us eat. Equally prolific have been the many food documentaries detailing this dynamic (with varying levels of accuracy) but I won’t list them all here.

I normally think of the story as starting with the forest clearing and drainage in the 1800’s, but of course agriculture was independently developed on the continent in multiple locations has been practiced and developed and honed over 10,000 years on the continent.

Corn, a human creation indigenous to the Americas, developed from the wild plant Teosinte. (Moontree Studios, summer 2019)

But with the plow and drain and engine came ever increasing intensification & consolidation. The closing of small meat processing facilities & concentration into fewer and larger corporate processing plants has been a multi-decade trend. Today, 84% of meat processing for a nation of 330 million people is controlled by just 4 companies.

This system values the maximum output of calories at the lowest financial cost. Just-in-time supply chains source labor from around the world to crank out a huge amount of food. And by those metrics, it has been remarkable successful.

When I go to rural Iowa now, where my ancestors made their way in the 19th and 20th centuries, I see a mostly empty landscape. Most of the old farmsteads have decayed back to the earth. The prairie is punctuated infrequently with massive facilities run by immigrant labor, a product of mobile finance that seeks the highest return on the shortest timeframe. The small farming towns are simply disappearing.

Just as one can’t talk about American ecology without agriculture, one can’t talk about agriculture without immigration.

I don’t have the qualifications to go into the full social-ecological history, but to mention only parts: European peasants who were given millions of acres in the west and midwest from which they could develop an economic base (my own heritage); Africans brought in chains to labor in agriculture and then freed without any recompense or economic base (see this amazing piece in The Atlantic about how this theft continues even through recent history); the terrible early 20th-century processing plants of Chicago detailed in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle; and waves and waves of laborers from Latin America and Asia connected to various regions and crops.

Aside: Some of these ethnic groups – such as Italians, Romanians, and Irish – were eventually assimilated into whiteness. That’s a tale for another blog post, but relevant to the social-economic stories and patterns of today.

Aside #2: stop reading me and go listen to this 2 min clip of Rev. Dr. MLK Jr. describing much more eloquently the economic implications of how this played out.

More locally, many of Marshall County’s more recent immigrants from Latin America can trace their lineage to the agricultural migrant camps.

And so in this context I read the headlines about processing plants having to shut down as cases of COVID-19 spread through the thousands of laborers who are standing shoulder-to-shoulder while they earn their daily bread. It took the closure of just 4 individual plants to shut off 15% of the nation’s pork processing capacity. This consolidation has decreased flexibility and increased fragility.

But ecological systems – which is what agriculture is – cannot be turned on and off with a switch. Millions of hogs were planning on going “to market,” feed was scheduled to be delivered, and laborers were planning on working. We are now faced with the gut-wrenching proposition of having to euthanize 4,000,000 hogs, a quantity that would not even fit tail-to-snout between San Diego and New York City. Likewise, milk is being dumped down the drain chickens “depopulated“.

And now it is hitting close to home.

The Tyson plant in Logansport closed last week, after an outbreak of COVID-19 among the workers, the majority of whom are immigrant laborers. After all the employees were tested, hundreds of positive cases were identified. Now, the Tyson-related infections around 1,000.

Monday’s new COVID-19 cases in Indiana nearly hit 1,000, after hundreds of Tyson workers tested positive (Indiana State Department of Health)
Positive COVID-19 cases by Indiana county as of April 30 afternoon update.

Cass County now has one of the highest infection rates in the country. With 1,164 official cases in a county of 38,000 people, that’s 3% of the population. The official infection rate in hard-hit New York City is 2%.

I reached out to a friend familiar with the situation locally and they replied:

Two ways you can pray for Logansport specifically:   #1 That with all the positive cases (we currently have one of the highest per capita rates in the country/world right now – most communities with this many positives are exponentially larger), my prayer has been that most (if not all) will NOT move into serious or needing hospitalization (we are a small community with an amazing, but small hospital that can quickly be pushed past the limits if even a small percentage of our positive cases become serious or require hospitalization – we currently have 10 hospitalizations due to COVID-19 and 2 deaths) and #2 Unity/compassion/love/juntos.  This is starting to wear our community down along lines of ethnicity, culture, language.  It is exposing frustration, animosity, and hatred towards “the other” – it’s easy to point fingers and blame Tyson and Tyson workers.  I think some community members have been waiting over 20 years (since Tyson arrived) to have some reason to blame Tyson and the population that came with it – and now they have their excuse.  I don’t want this to fracture our community even more – so I’m praying that Jesus will bind us together in this time more than ever.

I want to think the best of people (and I want others to think the best of me), but Tuesday night I had a rather dark thought: “You know, there are people who would force immigrants to chop up chickens even if it kills them. We won’t even stomach a minor change in our diet in order to help them in the midst of a pandemic.”

Immediately, and perhaps naively, I replied to myself: “Adam, you’re being too hard. Stop being so judgmental of others. Get off your high horse.”

And then the next morning I read this:

President Trump signed an executive order on Tuesday aimed at addressing concerns about meat shortages.

The order invokes the Defense Production Act to ensure beef, pork, poultry and egg plants keep running.

“It is important that processors of beef, pork, and poultry (“meat and poultry”) in the food supply chain continue operating and fulfilling orders to ensure a continued supply of protein for Americans,” the order reads. “However, outbreaks of COVID-19 among workers at some processing facilities have led to the reduction in some of those facilities’ production capacity.

And this:

Environmental Working Group called the order a potential death sentence. The United Food and Commercial Workers union said in a statement that if workers aren’t safe, the food supply won’t be either. At least 20 workers in meat and food processing have died, and 5,000 meatpacking workers have either tested positive for the virus or were forced to self-quarantine, according to UFCW.

Sadly, this confirmed my dark premonition. Above all, the system must be preserved.

I’m someone who has “disassembled” exactly one chicken (taking as much time that professional workers probably do 100’s). I’ve done a lot of field work, but nothing near as back-breaking as migrant laborers. So I won’t pretend I have the answer. I know that certain sectors of the economy can provide opportunities for families that they would not have elsewhere. The American in me is deeply proud of being a historic place of refuge and opportunity, as checkered and blood-stained as that history is.

But it boils my blood to watch our immigrant friends, neighbors, and spouses be so consistently and methodically vilified, demeaned, and harassed while we dine on the fruits of their labor. We are clinging so hard to our racial-economic hierarchy that we won’t even let go to butcher our own food. (See here for the Poor Handmaids’ 2017 statement on immigration, along with Bishop Rhoades).

Residents of Marshall County hear immigration testimonies at the courthouse in Plymouth during the nationwide rally “Lights for Liberty: A Vigil to End Human Detention Camps” July 12, 2019.

When my (American) friend first moved to Bolivia, she lived with a middle class host family. They employed an empleada, a woman who performed all the cooking and cleaning tasks. This is a pretty common arrangement for middle class households across the world. Years later, my friend herself would hire an empleada to help raise their 4 children.

My friend quickly saw how disrespectfully her host mother treated the empleada, who kept the house in order, but was always kept in her place: below everyone else.

My friend tried her best to respect cultural differences, but she’s also very passionate about her beliefs. After all, she moved to another continent to serve the most marginalized of the poor.

One night she had had enough. She told her host mother that she would not be eating dinner unless the empleada was allowed to eat at the same table with the family. It made for an awkward dinner, but they all ate together.

At the risk of making the powerful person the hero of the story, I will say this: She leveraged the power afforded by her wealth and nationality to lift up those who were ignored. Not in charity, but in solidarity. She literally made space at the table, extending the boundaries of kinship instead of respecting barriers.

Sorry, this post is getting painfully long. Before I wrap up, know that several Indiana non-profits have started a support fund for undocumented Hoosiers. As you probably know, they are not getting the federal stimulus checks that the rest of us are, and many have had their work hours cut. They’ve raised nearly $30,000, but the need is huge and that is only the equivalent of 25 stimulus checks; you can give here if you wish.

Reflecting on what this whole situation could mean as we re-imagine what a new and better “normal” might look like… I return to Pope Francis’ Laudato si‘, the encyclical that was written 5 years ago this May. I will leave you with portions from paragraphs 28 & 29:

“We were created with a vocation to work. The goal should not be that technological progress increasingly replace human work, for this would be detrimental to humanity. Work is a necessity, part of the meaning of life on this earth, a path to growth, human development and personal fulfillment. Helping the poor financially must always be a provisional solution in the face of pressing needs. The broader objective should always be to allow them a dignified life through work. Yet the orientation of the economy has favoured a kind of technological progress in which the costs of production are reduced by laying off workers and replacing them with machines…

In order to continue providing employment, it is imperative to promote an economy which favours productive diversity and business creativity. For example, there is a great variety of small-scale food production systems which feed the greater part of the world’s peoples, using a modest amount of land and producing less waste, be it in small agricultural parcels, in orchards and gardens, hunting and wild harvesting or local fishing. Economies of scale, especially in the agricultural sector, end up forcing smallholders to sell their land or to abandon their traditional crops. Their attempts to move to other, more diversified, means of production prove fruitless because of the difficulty of linkage with regional and global markets, or because the infrastructure for sales and transport is geared to larger businesses. Civil authorities have the right and duty to adopt clear and firm measures in support of small producers and differentiated production. To ensure economic freedom from which all can effectively benefit, restraints occasionally have to be imposed on those possessing greater resources and financial power. To claim economic freedom while real conditions bar many people from actual access to it, and while possibilities for employment continue to shrink, is to practise a doublespeak which brings politics into disrepute. Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving our world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the areas in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good.

news round-up, spring edition

More readings from hither and thon across the world wide web. Enjoy.

hungry for reading material? I’ve got some; Eastern Bluebird hatchlings, 4.26.20

For residents of Marshall, Kosciusko, St. Joseph, and Elkhart counties: please take this short Equitable Mobility Action Plan Survey. This plan is intended to identify needs and gaps in transportation services and establish strategies, policies and local actions designed to improve people’s ability to reached their needed destinations. This survey gathers information related to how people travel in the region, what barriers they encounter, and ways in which their transportation choices can be enhanced. 

Amish Community In Elkhart County Makes 4,500 Face Masks For Goshen Health (WVPE)

Nebraska farmers fear euthanizing hogs as meat-processing plants close (WVLT 8) It’s a gut-wrenching situation hog farmers across the nation were hoping to avoid; an estimated 3 to 5 million pigs are now expected to be euthanized as more and more meat-processing plants shut their doors.

As people stay home, Earth turns wilder and cleaner (AP) An unplanned grand experiment is changing Earth. As people across the globe stay home to stop the spread of the new coronavirus, the air has cleaned up, albeit temporarily… People are also noticing animals in places and at times they don’t usually.

These common landscaping plants are now illegal to sell in Indiana. Here’s why. (IndyStar)

A tiny scientific marvel: Olaf the IVF toad brings hope to at-risk species (The Guardian)

Crops were cultivated in regions of the Amazon ‘10,000 years ago’ (BBC)

The Real Economic Threat: Contentedness (Strong Towns) The longer the economy stays shut down, the more likely we are to recognize how little of it we actually need. Yes, we need food and medicine and other essentials, but what if we became content with less? What if we became content with much less?

Food Supply Anxiety Brings Back Victory Gardens (NYT) Americans were once urged to plant in every patch of available soil — and produced about 40 percent of the nation’s fresh vegetables.

The impossible for capitalism is suddenly possible (Fast Company) Just a few weeks ago, the changes we’ve seen companies make in the face of coronavirus would have seemed radical. When this is all over, can we go back? ... we will need a time of massive reconstruction. We will need to reconstitute careers, teams, companies, and communities. But having seen behind the curtain, and now knowing that the old premise of radical individualism and relentless shareholder primacy are mirages that don’t stand the test of time or strain, companies will be called to operate radically differently. After all the deaths, bankruptcies, government bailouts, and broken dreams, society will not slide back to where it was before COVID-19

The missing puzzle piece for getting to 100% clean power (Vox) It’s about using renewable energy to make gas.

Stories of Change (Purdue University Climate Change Research Center) Climate change is personal, affecting each of us in unique ways. From our hobbies to our livelihoods, a warming world matters. Through this series we will explore what climate change means in the day-to-day lives of Hoosiers, and those living around the world.

Annual report of the Purdue University Climate Change Research Center (for those who like reading reports)

This Pandemic Life: dispatches from the home front

I thought I would share some photos from recent weeks that are illustrative of our coronavirus shutdown situation. It will be a little random & unpredictable… sound familiar!?

All in all, we feel extremely fortunate to have a home to shelter in and work to do. All our play dates, activities, meetings, family dinners, etc are all cancelled. Not ideal, but otherwise we have our little backyard to explore (and parks), so spring carries on.

We have been meeting with our church (Kern Rd Mennonite) online once or twice a week. Not quite the same thing, but it is encouraging, and important to stay connected. We visited an older couple who lives in the next neighborhood over, by standing at distance out in the lawn while our girls drew with sidewalk chalk in the driveway. A strange visit, but heartening for all of us to know we weren’t alone.

Zoom Zoom Zoom: gathering together for sharing & prayer

My daughter discovered a Red-Shouldered Hawk nest in a neighbor’s oak tree, so we’ve been making repeat visits to check in on them. All we can really see is mama hanging out on the nest. More on that later!

We’ve been trying to get outside as much as possible, whether on local walks or trips to parks. Spring marches on! Here are some pictures from our forays.

Unfortunately we have to deal with ticks as well. Drat! For scale, this is a close up of my pinky finger.

I’m finally getting around to reading this book that I purchased at a conference in January 2019. Very interesting!

Sprouting garden seeds & painting eggs for Easter. An evergreen tradition.

I noticed this crane fly on the side of our house. They are pretty large – they look like a cross between a mosquito & a daddy long-legs – but they are harmless, and completely fun to watch.

To take a quote from Calvin & Hobbes, “The days are just packed.” Seen here: playing as “Zebras” in the long grass.

Picking up trash for Earth Day (both Moontree Studios & our county recycling center had virtual trash clean up events this year).

In the upper-right corner of the background, you can spot Green Alternatives installing solar panels on the roof of the Rees Theatre! Green Alternatives completed Phase 2 of our solar project.

The local paper put out a request for photos of creatures big and small, so I sent in this one of a native bee I was simply ecstatic to find in my lawn.

I’m still producing nature videos for kids stuck at home. But if young-at-heart adults want to watch them, well they can too 🙂

You can either watch them on YouTube below, or share them on Facebook via the Moontree Studios page.

Lastly, Purdue Extension educator Ashley Adair, in my home county of Montgomery Co, IN, has been doing weekly wildflower walks and making some really great videos on native wildflowers. Check it out:

“working remotely”

“Working remotely” is a work of the Moontree Studios community, a place where people can awaken to their creative potential and sow the seeds for a more mindful, compassionate and sustainable Earth Community.

(Note: these were filmed over a month ago, before the various protective measures were implemented in regards to COVID-19; all jerky camera motions and lack of editing are my responsibility alone. Sorry, I’m still on the learning curve with the drone, but it is opening up lots of new possibilities)

Climate Change, COVID-19, and Threat Multipliers

Things are changing so rapidly around the novel coronavirus pandemic, that just when I’m ready to write or post something, I come across more data and analyses. So prepare for a data dump!

I’ve been thinking about what the coronavirus means for the various ecological crises we face: nutrient imbalances, the loss of wild animals and insects, soil erosion, and of course climate change. I wrote last month about Ecology in a Time of Coronavirus, and how The Entire World is Focused on a Single Problem. Let’s look for a second at climate change.

Pennsylvania Sedge is an early-blooming plant found in dry woodlands (pictured here on 4/10/20 in a small 2 ac remnant oak woods). It is one of thousands of native plant species that form the base of photosynthetic pyramid on which our life depends. It is expected to fare well in the hotter and drier climate predicted for our region.

We know that climate change is going to be what the U.S. Department of Defense calls a “threat multiplier.” Our normal human troubles of international relationships, immigration & trade, natural disasters, and the like, now all have an additional wild card that adds complexity & cost. For example, farmers have always had to worry about pests, disease, genetics, markets, and rainfall. Climate change adds additional stressors to this system. The risk is that some of the systems we rely on make crumble under this additional burden.

Similarly, COVID-19 is a threat multiplier. As Pope Francis has pointed out, we were already suffering from an epidemic of loneliness, alienation, income inequality, and ecological degradation (addressed in Laudato Si and elsewhere). COVID-19, in some ways, has multiplied these threats, especially to the vulnerable. But in other ways, as I think everyone has now seen, it has also prodded us to seek new behaviors of solidarity, courage, and simple kindness.

COVID-19 has also proved to be a “threat multiplier” to the fossil fuel industry, driving a massive decrease in energy demand and a drop in oil prices:

While I certainly feel for individuals who rely on the industry to feed their family in the short term, it is beyond clear that energy industry needs to rapidly shift to renewable energy as fast as possible. COVID-19 is now providing us with an opportunity to seize.

As you may have read, China responded to the pandemic with a nearly complete shut down of economic activity. On March 8, a team of researchers calculated that the reduction in pollution had saved 20X as many lives that were lost directly by the virus (click the link to see their important caveats… they are not saying COVID-19 is a good thing).

You may have seen the reports from cities around the world where citizens are seeing distant mountain ranges for the first time (without all the air pollution) and the rivers and lakes are healing themselves. It is a very powerful and visible preview of the world we could build.

We can’t completely stop diseases from emerging, or seas from rising. But as moral agents, we can still choose how to respond, individually and collectively.

There is no wasted effort. Yes, we need to get intelligent about it, and consider the highest and best use of our skills and resources, but it matters. The scale of the suffering matters.


I apologize for not having a longer & more cogent post. There is just so much out there right now! Despite working from home full time right now, I don’t even have the time (or brain energy) to read them all. Please pick and choose the resource below that catch your interest, and tell me what you are thinking.

The first article is by our dear friends at AIRE (who helped with our solar installation): False Dawn: don’t mistake a coronavirus clear sky with a global warming shut-off switch (AIRE)

How our responses to climate change and the coronavirus are linked (World Economic Forum)

Carbon Emissions Are Falling, But Still Not Enough, Scientists Say (NPR)

After the Coronavirus, Two Sharply Divergent Paths on Climate (Yale e360) Some policy experts are optimistic that victory over the coronavirus will instill greater appreciation for what government, science, and business can do to tackle climate change. But others believe the economic damage caused by the virus will set back climate efforts for years to come

Spillover Warning: How We Can Prevent the Next Pandemic (Yale e360) h Author David Quammen has tracked the spillover of viruses from animals to humans for more than a decade. To avoid future pandemics, he says, we must rethink our relationship with nature and recognize how our choices can lead to dangerous disruptions of the natural world.

Analysis: Coronavirus set to cause largest ever annual fall in CO2 emissions (CarbonBrief)

Q&A: A Harvard Expert on Environment and Health Discusses Possible Ties Between COVID and Climate (Inside Climate News)

US coal companies batten down the hatches as COVID-19 poised to slash demand (S&P Global)

Coronavirus: ‘Nature is sending us a message’, says UN environment chief (The Guardian)

In this lagniappe episode [of The Energy Transition Podcast], we ask: what are some unanswered questions about the energy transition from five years ago, but that seem answered today? And what are the new questions that have emerged over the past five years which remain unanswered today?

The coronavirus outbreak is part of the climate change crisis (Al-Jazeera) Therefore, climate action should be central to our response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Covid-19 – The Low-Carbon Crisis (Bloomberg NewEnergy Finance) At the end of last year, in a comment piece for BloombergNEF entitled Peak Emissions Are Closer Than You Think, I predicted that energy-related CO2 emissions would peak and then drop by around 5% within the next decade.  Never before has one of my big predictions been proven quite so right quite so quickly – albeit for entirely unforeseen and tragic reasons

Coronavirus Holds Key Lessons on How to Fight Climate Change (Yale e360) When the COVID-19 pandemic is past, societies may adopt some important measures that would lower emissions, from more teleconferencing to shortening global supply chains. But the most lasting lesson may be what the coronavirus teaches us about the urgency of taking swift action.

Shifting Gears: The Climate Protest Movement in the Age of Coronavirus (Yale e360) Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Fridays for Future, the youth climate campaign, was seeing numbers of protesters decline and its calls for action falling short of its goals. Now, the movement is recalibrating its strategies to try to usher in the next phase of a global campaign

No One Is Buying Canada’s Oil: A Preview Of The Near Future New Normal (CleanTechnica)

Following the Wisdom Way of Knowing: Being Present to Our Global Home in Crisis: Climate Change and the Pandemic.

Please join us for this online event at Moontree Studios (register here).

Wednesday, April 22nd from 10AM until 12PM ET.  Price will be $10.

Alan Krema, of the Wisdom Way of Knowing and Contemplative Outreach Chicago, will engage us with tools of Wisdom Knowing to enter into the conscious work of being present to and aware of our relationship with the Earth.  We will participate in various breathing, body, chanting, and centering practices to physically, mentally, and emotionally prepare participants to hold an interior awareness of the issues and challenges associated with our global home. 

Director of Ecological Relationships at The Center in Donaldson, IN, Adam Thada, will discuss the insights of contemporary science as they pertain to climate change and how living systems will likely be impacted. 

We will especially include holding of our global home at this time of pandemic crisis and how we are coming to know with more and more of our Being what our planetary home is telling us.

This will be an online zoom videoconference.  It will be approximately two hours in length.  

We realize that money might be tight right now, so we have MoonTree scholarships available. Please email: to request one.

We will send an email to all participants prior to the date which will include the Zoom link from Alan. 

Thank you!

Where is God in the midst of COVID-19?

Usually, I write here about “purely” ecological processes. Occasionally, we lean in to wonder, spirituality, and religion, and try to integrate these aspects into a coherent whole. A task I for which I inevitably feel inadequate.

The COVID-19 pandemic gives us opportunity (and for many of us, ample time) to consider the deeper questions.

(Here I will provide a few personal musings, and link to some thinkers far more coherent than I. I enjoy engaging with Catholic theology & social teaching, but I speak here for myself and not on behalf of the Catholic women religious who support this ecological work. My family has spent time worshiping with ecumenical, Methodist, Episcopalian, and Anabaptist Christian communities).

First we might ask: What is this coronavirus, and what is the “purpose” of it?

Well, it isn’t a biological species. But neither is it life-less, exactly. Viruses are are weird. They exist “between chemistry and biology.” Not alive, but nonetheless within the Tree of Life. It exists, at some level, simply in order to replicate more of itself. That’s what life (or life-like things) tends to do on this planet.

What is the purpose, ecologically? One might conclude, rather academically, that like any other species, humans have population dynamics that include limits and curtailments by disease, predators, and habitat restraints. Our technologies have really changed how those forces play out, but they still exist.

But the most vexing question at hand is not the “what” but the “why” … why is it causing pain and discomfort among us humans? This is not a new moral/spiritual challenge. By no means do I wish to discount this current suffering, but famine, war, and pestilence have been causes for immense pain and sorrow for ages, long before we had some additional tools of technology and science to mitigate the effects. Humans have always faced this.

And at a personal level, even the singular suffering of a loved one strikes much deeper than the abstract knowledge of massive famines distance in time and space.

The “problem of pain” presents what is probably the hardiest challenge to the idea of a loving God or Creator in the universe. As someone who has not suffered much in this life (yet), I won’t be the one to offer definitive metaphysical answers to the society of the suffering.

I came across this deer leg bone in the woods on Good Friday. It appears that it at one point was fractured and then re-healed.

My atheist and agnostic brothers and sisters resolve this tension by accepting it as a simple fact of the laws of the universe working themselves out. I have to say that I’m sympathetic. The myriad suffering within natural systems over many millions of years, the small suffering of a single child… why design a system like this?

It’s seems absurd, if not a bit cruel. This introduces some serious cognitive dissonance, as well as our search to resolve it.

I think it timely that we just finished the season of Lent, culminating in the Paschal Triduum. On Good Friday we remembered the crucifixion of Jesus. Jesus showed us how to live, inverting the pyramid of wealth and social hierarchy, offering up a truly fraternal (and maternal) community of belonging. A threat to the political, economic, and religious order, he was tortured and murdered.

Having grown up with some heavy doses of pop-evangelical theology, I took that for many years to mean that Jesus stood in as God’s whipping boy, whose vengeance needed an outlet. I now believe it to be less a story about God’s wrath and more about God’s insistence on resisting evil with love.

The Gospels of Matthew and Mark record Jesus calling out on the cross, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

The Scriptures do not record any reply.

Spring Beauty Mining Bee (Andrena erigeniae)

What seems to draw me back to the Christian tradition is the incorporation of its own critiques and doubts. Christianity is a religion with developed theological doctrines and traditions, which also celebrates the Rebel who upended doctrines and traditions whenever they impeded the movement of love. It is a system of rites and membership and borders, but celebrates the one who kept looking out to the margins, trying to expand the edges and bring in as many as possible. It is a community, that sometimes subverts and undermines community. A society by hypocrites, for hypocrites.

So here, the doubts and pains are not banished, they are absorbed and held. Yes, there is the Resurrection end of the story as well (another topic for which I’m unqualified), but it is also worth noting that the Gospel of John reports a resurrected body of Jesus still bearing the wounds of crucifixion. The wounds are healed, not erased.

Coming back to COVID-19. Last year I read The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life by David Quammen, who is one of America’s best science writers. In it I learned that viral DNA makes up some 8% of the human genome. Yes, you read that right. Genes don’t just move vertically (descending via inheritance) but also laterally (between species).

Take this for what you will, but we also have just as many bacterial cells on as than human cells. It seems that the story is as much about incorporation & uniting than vanquishing. An echo of “The Great Oneing” that Fr. Richard Rohr writes about.

Dutchman’s Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria)

… … …

Well, I don’t know that I tied that up with a neat enough bow, but you should definitely read these thinkers below (I’ll admit that the world has probably had enough western white male theology for a few centuries, so please share with me some links from other saints and sinners:) :

*A reflection from a friend and retired Episcopal priest, Fr. John Schramm. Fortunately, he has much more pastoral instincts than I, as you can see: “Consolation in Pandemic Time

*N.T. Wright (who needs little introduction) in TIME Magazine, with a provocative title: “Christianity Offers No Answers About the Coronavirus. It’s Not Supposed To

*For a Wesleyan perspective, see “Is COVID-19 God’s Judgment?” by Dr. Ken Schenck (now at Houghton University, he was my New Testament prof at Indiana Wesleyan)

*Tangentially, this delightful On Being segment, “Asteroids, Stars, and the Love of God,” where Jesuit astronomers George Coyne and Guy Consolmagno are interviewed by Krista Tippet. They touch on the problem of pain later on in the episode.

Indiana DNR offers many opportunities to engage with nature while at home

With her permission, I want to share this list of resources from Jody Heaston, the Volunteer and Indiana Master Naturalist Coordinator for Indiana State Parks. I’m removing e-mail addresses and certain URLs for security purposes, so if you need contact info, let me know.


Here’s a photo of Spring Beauty flowers because… you can’t post a blog without a picture!

With people sheltering at home, many parks are doing virtual programming. Have you tried any? Indiana State Parks have programs listed on the DNR Calendar at Look for the word “virtual” and check them out.  

Now is a great time to study your frog calls at

April is Citizen Science Month. Being involved in a citizen science project is a great way to learn about the nature around you and help at the same time. Here are a few citizen science opportunities you can explore:

Indiana Phenology is seeking volunteers to collected plant phenology data. Phenology is the study of observable seasonal life cycle changes in nature, such as leafing, flowering and fruiting of plants or in migratory, feeding and reproductive behavior in animals. 

The goal is to gather data on the leafing, flowering and fruiting of common native plants in all 92 counties of Indiana to document the impacts of environmental change in Indiana. Partners include the USA National Phenology Network (USA-NPN), an organization dedicated to collecting, organizing, and sharing phenological data and information to aid decision-making, scientific discovery, and a broader understanding of the science of phenology.  Long-term observations of plant and animal life stages are recorded by volunteer and professional scientists in a national phenology program called Nature’s Notebook. All observations are freely available through the USA-NPN website. 

To find out how you can help visit

iNaturalist- Indiana City Nature Challenge

There are three Indiana cities participating in the City Nature Challenge this year-South Bend, Fort Wayne area and Indianapolis, which combined covers a large part of Indiana. This is a friendly, collaborative effort to document the wildlife found all around us using the iNaturalist app. Check out the project page for information

NestWatch is a nationwide monitoring program designed to track status and trends in the reproductive biology of birds, including when nesting occurs, the number of eggs laid, how many eggs hatch, and how many hatchlings survive. The database is intended to be used to study the current condition of breeding bird populations and how they may be changing over time as a result of climate change, habitat degradation and loss, expansion of urban areas, and the introduction of non-native plants and animals. To find out more visit

eBird is a simple app that allows you to quickly record bird sightings as a way of creating a personalized list of what you’ve seen and learned. It is for all levels of birders to use. The data from eBird can be used by scientists to explore bird biology on a global scale. To learn more about eBird, visit:  


Given the vastness of Indiana, you may be the first to notice an invasive species growing. You can use the citizen science tool EDDMapS to report your observations. It is free and easy to use. EDDMapS tracks invasive species across Indiana and there have been over 130,000 county reports. It is also a helpful website for learning about invasive species identification.  To learn more about reporting invasive species with EDDMapS, visit:

Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow network – simply known as CoCoRaHS – is an international (North America) program that offers an opportunity for anyone — young or old — to become a volunteer observer of precipitation. Local television, radio, and newspaper outlets can use the volunteer reports to share information from rural and small communities as well as larger cities. Climatologists study the data and look for changing weather patterns and historical trends. Even the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) uses CoCoRaHS reports help determine if a county may qualify for federal funding after a severe storm.  Your observations can help while also becoming a significant contribution to the official climate record of Indiana. CoCoRaHS came to Indiana in February of 2006 and has over 500 active observers of all ages from across the Hoosier State. Indiana was one of the first states in the Midwest to join this international network, which consists of over 20,000 volunteers. CoCoRaHS is a volunteer, grass-roots network dedicated to the monitoring of precious water resources.  Organizations involved in agriculture/gardening, public safety, and natural resources management will find great benefit from contributing to this data network, that is available free of charge to anyone through the website.

CoCoRaHS represents an important way to monitor precipitation trends that can significantly affect our daily lives. To learn more about CoCoRaHS, what is involved, how to join, etc., please join one of our upcoming CoCoRaHS Overview and Training webinars:

Thursday, April 16 meeting invitation:

Topic: CoCoRaHS Informational and Training

Time: April 16, 2020 (6 PM ET / 5 PM CT) (US and Canada)

(I’m omitting the URL for the Zoom meeting… e-mail Jody for more info)

Friday, April 17 Meeting Invitation: 

Topic: CoCoRaHS Informational and Training

Time: April 17, 2020 (10 AM ET / 9 AM CT) (US and Canada)

  (I’m omitting the URL for the Zoom meeting… e-mail Jody for more info)

Want more citizen science opportunities? Visit  and fill out the search boxes to learn about other projects.

Purdue University Webinars

Some interesting webinars are being offered by the  Exotic Forest Pest Educator from Purdue University 

Spring 2020 Schedule

April 22 at 11 a.m. ET – Forest Invaders to Watch for and How to Manage Them Part 1: Emerald Ash Borer, Thousand Cankers Disease, and Asian Longhorned Beetle

Something chewing up your tree trunks? This webinar will cover the basics of identification and treatment of three major invasive woodborers: emerald ash borer, Asian longhorned beetle, and thousand cankers disease. It will also include instruction on the identification of the host plants of invasive species.

Register here:

April 29 at 11 a.m. ETForest Invaders to Watch for and How to Manage Them Part 2: Spotted Lanternfly, Gypsy Moth, and Hemlock Wooly Adelgid

What’s that on your tree? We’ll tell you about how to identify, treat, and where to find three invasive species to watch out for on the outside of your trees: spotted lanternfly, hemlock wooly adelgid, and gypsy moth. The program will also include instruction on the identification of the host plants of invasive species.

Register here:

May 13 at 11 a.m. ET- Integrating Chemical and Biological Control of the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid: A Resource Manager’s Guide

Register here: 

Missed one of the webinars? Watch recordings from the spring 2020 season.

Is this the end for American beech? – Recording here:

Long-term impacts and management of emerald ash borer – Recording here:

CEU credits are offered but vary by webinar. Contact Elizabeth Barnes for more details.

Can’t watch it live? No problem! All webinars are recorded and posted online after the talks. Register to be emailed the link when the video is posted!

watch online: the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft departs the ISS tomorrow morning

With most everyone at home, I thought you might be interested in watching this livestream of a resupply spacecraft leaving the International Space Station.

You may recall that I’ve written about SpaceX previously. Yes, I’m a little obsessed (I’m currently wearing a SpaceX hoodie).

But what else do you have planned anyway? 🙂

Click here to watch it online. It starts tomorrow (Tuesday) at 8:45 AM EST.

Monarda, framing the Moon