Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Stewardship and Theology Class Debuts at Mount Angel Seminary

by Carl Sisolak

This fall semester a new class called Special Questions in Moral Theology: Stewardship and Simplicity is being taught by Dr. Katy Leamy. The class already has three students and is currently an elective class.

Leamy said that the class focuses on the theology behind being a good steward of the environment, on the questions that look at how we find God in creation and how he speaks to us through creation. She said that we need to be aware that all of creation is a revelation of who God is.  The object of focus in this class is food and how what we eat connects us to God’s creation and our stewardship over it.

Leamy said that “there is a concern, especially here in the Northwest, with understanding how we can be in harmony with nature. She explained that "we need to think about this even in regards to the food we eat.”

Food, she said, is a gift.  Leamy said, “When you get a gift you want to honor the giver. If you get a gift and you just break it you are not honoring the giver.”  Leamy said that food is chosen as the focus of this class because with food we begin to realize that most human, spiritual, communal, ethical dimensions of this gift are realized around the dinner table. We honor the giver of the gift of food by asking how the food came to our table.

For example, Leamy said we have to consider the cost of labor and whether farmers were exploited in the process, as well as whether poor nations are getting fair living wages for the food they produce.  We also have to consider the impact to the environment of our food production, as well as the living conditions of the animals that are processed for food.  Leamy said that this does not mean she is advocating everyone to stop eating meat. The class is about promoting ways to allow for the flourishing of all creation.
Leamy said that the class also approached the question regarding our rights, responsibilities and expectations with regard to creation and our care for it.   Leamy said there are ways the lessons from the course apply themselves to community life here on Mount Angel. She said we should be asking ourselves questions on how we consume or waste food and other resources.

Leamy also said that as a gift, creation has a focus on aspects of giving and receiving, a lot of which is scripturally based. She said the Eucharistic Prayer is as an example of this Christian focus on the idea of giving and receiving.
Leamy said we have to be reminded that we should express our gratitude for the gifts we are given because gratitude can be forgotten with entitlement.

The students of the class also gave their input as to the value they find in taking this class. Student Alex Woelkers, a Theology III studying for the Diocese of Helena, said the idea of simplicity applying to the food we eat resonates with him because “ in the past [he] worked with the poor, and he realized priests are called to live with simplicity.
Derek Twilliger, a Theology III student studying for the Diocese of San Diego, said that “there are many practical applications for the class as pastoral leaders of a parish community."  He said, “We can convey the value of what Pope Francis calls returning to a simpler way of living.”

Cody Ross, a Theology III student studying for the Archdiocese of Seattle, said, "I liked being able to do practical things in the class, a hands on approach to learning, such as going out and doing field trips.”

Twilliger also said, "This class will benefit other students by getting them to ask questions they wouldn’t normally ask and raise awareness as to whether we are living Gospel vaules in our everyday lives.”

Leamy said she has already had several speakers come to her class, most notably Chef Paul from Bon Appetit who spoke of the philosophy of buying food locally and Jerry Grandin, a geologist with the State of Oregon who spoke about conservation of the Columbia River Watershed. The class also has taken some field trips such as to a nearby farm and a winery to look at the ethics found in the processing of food.

Leamy said stewardship is about God not just wanting us to follow the rules by going to church but wanting our lives to be enriched by our being connected to others.   Leamy said the course might be offered again next fall semester if there is continued interest.

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