By David Gordon, associate editor
David Weiss describes himself in written materials as a writer, teacher, poet, speaker, hymnist and public theologian.
Asked to narrow that self-definition during a recent interview with the Chippewa Valley Post, Weiss said he was “a restless activist for a better world.” His current focus is on the intersection of theology and climate change, and this is what brings him to Eau Claire.
Weiss, a St. Paul resident, is serving as a “visiting scholar” at the Wednesday evening Lenten worship services at Grace Lutheran Church, 202 W. Grand Ave. His series of five sermons – and the discussion they provoke – are aimed at exploring the relationship between Christian discipleship and care of the earth.
The Wednesday series – under the overall title of “Toward a world renewed: walking with Jesus” – begins with a soup supper at 5:30 p.m. A Lenten worship service follows at 6:30 p.m. The series will wind up next Wednesday (Mar. 16).
The church’s pastor, Rev. Dean Simpson, arranged for Weiss’ visits here and joins him in the services. Rev. Simpson chairs a recently formed Eco-Spirituality group that is working to convene community conversations focused on the intersection of faith/spirituality and community attention to the challenges of global climate change.
An in-depth interview with Weiss, on Northern Spirit Radio’s “Spirit in Action” program, is available by clicking here. The interview was conducted by Mark Helpsmeet.
Weiss said that his “Lenten reflections” draw on Biblical texts concerning Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, and relate these to ecological concerns. He said the worship series is attracting 40 to 50 people weekly, but added that his early sermons produced as many looks of confusion as sparks of interest.
At first, the topic clearly didn’t “feel like church” to the congregation, he said, because these are “things we don’t normally talk about in church.” That’s steadily changing, he noted, as people begin to realize the discussion is okay because this is “a conversation in which spiritual values belong.”
At the fifth and final service on Wednesday, Weiss will talk, and lead a discussion, on “seeing by faith.” He said this will deal with the need to keep moving forward without knowing what the journey will encounter or how it will end.
“We are walking toward an encounter with climate change,” he said, and added that “it’s high time we do that.”
Weiss has two master’s degrees, one in theology and the other in Christian ethics. He has taught religion at the college level for 15 years and is currently an adjunct faculty member at Hamline University.
He said his interest in the connection between theology and the environment began as a graduate teaching assistant at Notre Dame, when he pondered what kind of a religion course he – as a Lutheran – could “safely” teach to Catholic undergraduates. Assisted by “a round of intensive readings on Christian ethics and the environment,” he found his course topic.
Weiss said that, in defining himself as a “public theologian,” he means that he’s someone who can “speak to the average person on the street about issues that are often spoken about (only) in multiple-syllable words.” He said his interest is in shaping the community’s understanding of complex issues such as climate change through a theological lens.
He added that he has had to “learn how to have a humble relationship with science and an adventurous relationship with theology.” He said he sees himself as “a theologian who’s trying to think theologically about what the climatologists say.”
Weiss said that climate change is the “lightning rod” in regard to environmental issues and is the largest threat, but noted that many other topics are part of the larger picture of how to deal with Nature. He mentioned specifically recycling and food as examples, and said there’s a need to discover “what’s the spiritual compass that guides us in relation to these issues.”
At a basic level, these questions all relate to “a complicated relationship with Creation” and what its purpose is for us as individuals and as a community, he said.
Both Weiss and Rev. Simpson said they hope to set up lecture/discussion opportunities this spring where Weiss could interact on these topics with the broader community. No details for this have been finalized, however.
Information on the Eco-Spirituality group chaired by Rev. Simpson is available from him at email@example.com.