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Refugia Newsletter #12 by Debra Rienstra: a little Dutch wisdom, Earth Day fun, the new IPCC report, a clergy refugium, and the harrowing of hell

Debra Rienstra
Debra Rienstra
Hello, friends. Welcome again to the Refugia Newsletter, a fortnightly newsletter for people of faith who care about the climate crisis and want to go deeper.
This week: a little Dutch wisdom, Earth Day fun, the new IPCC report, a clergy refugium, and the harrowing of hell

Refugia News
“De zin is het zijn van alle creatuurlijk zijnde.”
“Meaning is the being of all creaturely beings.”
That’s a phrase from Dutch philosopher/theologian Herman Dooyeweerd‘s De Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee. The idea, as I understand it, is that every creature is valuable just by being. Existence as a created thing is, in itself, meaningful.
No, I didn’t find that phrase through my own personal perusal of Dooyeweerd’s writings. Can’t say I’ve got ol’ Herman’s volumes on my nightstand or anything. And I may be half Dutch, but I don’t speak or read Dutch–though I’m learning to pronounce this poetic Dooyeweerdian statement.
My esteemed colleague Prof. Uko Zylstra–emeritus of Calvin University’s biology department–introduced us to this snippet of Dutch Reformed theological goodness during a class I just finished teaching on the Refugia Faith book. For four weeks, on Tuesday afternoons, I got to talk about the climate crisis and theology and refugia and anxiety and hope with a lovely group of–well, I was going to say “older people”–but I really should say “people only slightly older than me.” I’m grateful to the good folks who participated and to the Calvin Academy for Lifelong Learning for the invitation to teach. If you imagine that only young people are in grief over the climate crisis, well, you haven’t met these dear folks.
With all the heavy news lately, it’s vital to reaffirm the inherent value and meaning of all created beings, so that we set our hearts again on living into this truth.
Correction: I have to make a small correction to my last newsletter (#11). My friend Tim kindly pointed out that Aldo Leopold’s shack is in Sauk County, Wisconsin, not Sand County. There is no Sand County. So the title of A Sand County Almanac has been a clever ruse all along! Or just a poetic description. It did not occur to me to fact-check that one: my bad.
At Frederick Meijer Gardens. I think this is a small postman butterly (Heliconius melpomene) on a phalaenopsis orchid. Photo credit: Ron Rienstra
At Frederick Meijer Gardens. I think this is a small postman butterly (Heliconius melpomene) on a phalaenopsis orchid. Photo credit: Ron Rienstra
This Week in Climate News
Yet another IPCC report, and yet another set of appropriately dire headlines. We’ll get to that, OK?
First: Earth Day! Earth Day is coming up on April 22, and it turns out that Earth Day has its own website and its own organization: I did not know that! One of the things that I find both wonderful and overwhelming about the climate movement is the sheer number of organizations, intertwining and partnering and sharing resources and holding webinars. We could spend all day every day going to webinars, couldn’t we?
The first Earth Day was organized in 1970, and today, is an international organization whose mission is to “diversify, educate and activate the environmental movement worldwide.” They are “the world’s largest recruiter to the environmental movement, working with more than 150,000 partners in over 192 countries to drive positive action for our planet.”
Their website is worth exploring. You might check out the recent panel featuring youth leaders in the climate movement, for example.
I’ve noticed all kinds of events and activities happening this month, because it’s really Earth Month now. I’ll tell you more next time about a panel I’ll be hosting on April 28 through The Reformed Journal. That will be my way of celebrating Earth Month. Besides getting outside more often once it finally stops raining in Michigan.  
Earth Day: The Official Site | EARTHDAY.ORG
Deeper Dive
Let’s get into the new IPCC report. Released on April 5, this is the third report in the Sixth Assessment Cycle of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. I explained a bit about these reports back in newsletter #10, but here’s a quick rundown/reminder on the three main reports of the 6th Assessment:
  • Working Group 1 report (August 2021): the science
  • Working Group 2 report (February 2022): impacts
  • Working Group 3 report (April 2022): mitigation
In other words, this latest report tries to answer the question: What are we going to do?!
The report not only analyzes mitigation strategies across sectors but also considers whether it’s still possible to limit to 1.5C warming over the century. The answer is: yes, but we have to move fast, much faster than we are currently moving. The report also gets serious about naming what stands in our way. The Guardian summarized it this way:
“The report made one thing abundantly clear: the technologies and policies necessary to adequately address climate change exist, and the only real obstacles are politics and fossil fuel interests.”
Here are a few ways to take a deeper dive into the report.
You can look at the Summary for Policymakers. Just reading the bold print items is instructive. I also found the charts and graphs impressive–frightening, but also galvanizing. Check out the ones on p. SPM-18 (various warming scenarios), p. SPM-29 (more warming scenarios), and p. SPM-50 (relative potentials and costs of mitigation strategies).
You could also consider some of the deeper-dive analysis pieces by people who read the entire report, not just the summary that amateurs like me can handle. This piece by veteran climate journalist Amy Westervelt of Drilled, for example, considers how the report upends a fundamental economic principle on which the fossil fuel industry depends. This essay is the first in a series of four (so the dive keeps getting deeper on this one).
This piece by Yessinia Funes of Atmos takes a social justice angle and considers how the Working Group III report, which depended on research from social scientists much more than previous reports did, points to colonialism as a cause of the climate crisis.
Refugia Sighting
I was excited to learn this week about The Joseph Project, an initiative of Arizona State University’s Global Futures Laboratory. Rabbi Dean Shapiro is working with the folks at ASU to create, basically, a refugium for clergy. Their mission is “To train clergy of all traditions to steward their communities through the challenges of climate change and loss.”
Rabbi Shapiro and his team are currently running a pilot course for clergy called “Rising Waters” and they are planning a whole series of additional courses. The idea is to create space for learning and reflection but also to create networks and resource hubs so that clergy can support each other. It’s a refugium so that clergy can better create refugia in their own communities. Brilliant.
Listening to Rabbi Shapiro’s presentation, I love the way he emphasizes the power of meaning-making stories, the kind that religious faiths invite us into. How can our stories sustain us in new ways right now? What a great question.
I also love that the Global Futures Laboratory is a leader in the “pro-future movement.” “Pro-future” is a wonderful phrase amid so much doom and gloom. The Global Futures Lab’s mission is “Rooted in the conviction that we can and must make a meaningful contribution to ensuring a habitable planet and a future in which well-being is attainable for all humankind.” Sounds good to me.
I’ve scheduled a time in May to talk with Rabbi Shapiro directly. I hope to persuade him to be a guest on the Refugia Podcast for Season 3.
Innovations Talk - Rabbi Dean Shapiro :  The Joseph Project
The Wayback Machine
Here’s one for Holy Week. I’m always a little puzzled about how to manage that weird in-between day, Holy Saturday. In this essay, I reckon that the “harrowing of hell” is worth some serious reflection.
Saturday of the Harrowed Hearts - Debra Rienstra
Thank you!
Thanks for reading! I keep these newsletters quickly scannable, with opportunities for deeper reading as you are able. I also tend to emphasize the connections between faith communities and climate action.
You can send me a response to this newsletter simply by replying to the email that brought it to you. If you are so inclined, please follow me on Twitter or Facebook @debrakrienstra. You can always contact me on those platforms, too. Also check out my website at
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Debra Rienstra
Debra Rienstra @debrakrienstra

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Prof. Debra Rienstra, Calvin University, 1795 Knollcrest Dr SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49546