Liuan Huska is a freelance journalist and the author of Hurting Yet Whole: Reconciling Body and Spirit in Chronic Pain and IllnessShe lives on ancestral Potawatomi land near Chicago.

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Getting Our Hands Dirty To Create a Better World

by Liuan Huska 03-25-2024
We were made for this.
The illustration shows a Black woman in a orange shirt handing a sprout to a Black girl in a orange shirt, in front of an image of a globe

simplehappyart / iStock 

IT'S PARTLY THE times and partly my own overthinking, but lately my mind keeps going toward the ways it could all fall apart. American democracy feels fragile, like a teacup on a saucer that’s partly hanging over the table’s edge. And companies and governments, though fully aware of what they’re doing, continue to tug voraciously at the threads that hold our ecosystems together, permitting more pipelines and drilling and business as usual.

Some have called our current era “the dying gasps” of late capitalism. The bubble of exponential economic growth, powered by the extraction of millions of years of decayed organic matter stored as carbon-rich fuel beneath the ground, can’t last forever. Neither can our living beyond the Earth’s means, though the endless options on e-commerce sites suggest otherwise.

It is too easy to surround myself with shiny new things to ease the sense that the world as we know it is ending, to buffer my sense of self with what feels familiar and safe. But then I wouldn’t be awake to what is being birthed in the wake of the dying colonial project. As much as it’s terrifying and full of risks, I want to get my hands dirty in the collective creation of a better world.

Hard Times Require Furious Dancing

by Liuan Huska 01-10-2024
The power of doing ordinary things in solidarity with those who cannot.
The illustration shows a group of colorful bodies dancing. / Shutterstock 

A WEEK AFTER the Hamas attacks on Israel in October, I found myself dancing the Cha-Cha Slide.

The setting was the Matthew 25 Initiative Gathering, a group of Anglicans walking in their communities alongside the most vulnerable, from refugees to the elderly. We had just heard from members of Telos, a peacemaking group with contacts on the ground on both sides of the Israel-Palestine divide. Shock, uncertainty, and grief hung thick among us. And now, we were invited to dance.

From Sufi whirling to Albanian folk dancing to krumping, dancing is an outlet used by many people, especially those who have been oppressed, to express longings and outrage that go beyond words. As one of Alice Walker’s poetry books declares, Hard Times Require Furious Dancing.

Like other intense physical activities, dancing brings us from the realm of the mind, where images and memories swirl and ruminations loop endlessly, to the body — the realm of breath, beat, sweat, sound, and movement. It gives us something to do with our terror, anger, and confusion. It grounds us in the here and now.

Facing the Possibility of Disaster With Open Palms

by Liuan Huska 10-26-2023
The sort of preparedness that money and stockpiles can’t buy.
The illustration shows lots of diverse hands reaching out to touch a globe in the middle.

Dusan Stankovic / iStock

ALONG INTERSTATE 10 in southeast Texas, a billboard showcases a wrecked house, presumably from a hurricane, and the words, “The Next Disaster Is Coming. Are You Ready?” I spent a month this summer driving past this sign, enduring a heat dome while
visiting family.

A year of intensifying disasters, from wildfires to extreme heat to flooding, has all of us thinking about how to prepare for the next “big one,” whatever that may be in our area., which this billboard points to, offers practical tips for everything from attacks in public places to tsunamis: Create a plan, gather supplies, map an escape.

While I want to be ready for a disaster, it’s too easy to go from thatto catastrophizing, from storing supplies to sitting back under the illusion of self-reliance and control. The billionaires who build luxurious bunkers and the preppers all-consumed with societal collapse show us the extremes of disaster preparedness. It can come with spiritual pitfalls, as the Parable of the Rich Fool illustrates.

In the parable, found in Luke 12:13-21, Jesus warns about relying on lots of stuff for a false sense of security. The rich man stored his surplus grain in huge barns and then sat back to enjoy life, but his life was taken from him that very night. All his efforts couldn’t keep him from harm. Jesus concludes, “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

Back-to-School Gun Violence Blues

by Liuan Huska 08-02-2023
The violence-tinged reality of sending children to school in America.
An illustration with a horizontally split background, the upper half in yellow and lower half in black. A yellow pistol is layered over the latter, and a black outline of a school is layered over the former, resting on top of the gun.

Nanzeeba Ibnat / iStock

AFTER A TEENAGER shot dead 19 children and two teachers in an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, last year, I spent two weeks putting my children on the bus to school with a pit in my belly. Then the term ended, and I breathed relief. I would not have to live with this low-level dread for another year.

My family has been on sabbatical in South America for the past 12 months, homeschooling our three boys. Though we’ve faced other risks, the possibility of my kids being shot in school was not one of them. Not only were they not attending school, but the countries we visited also have stricter gun regulations than the United States.

In the U.S., the purchase of guns has soared — gun ownership is estimated to be more than 120 per 100 people, according to Gun-related deaths in the U.S. also top every other high-income country, at more than 12 per 100,000 people annually. Compare that to Ecuador, where we spent part of our sabbatical. In 2017, it had 2.7 guns per 100 people and approximately three gun-related deaths per 100,000 people. Our sabbatical year has been a window into what it’s like to parent school-aged children without the shadow of school shooting anxiety.

We're All on a Climate Pilgrimage

by Liuan Huska 07-10-2023
The steps we must take as we grieve the loss of a stable natural world.
An edited photo of an overhead view of a sprawling green forest with two barren sections in the shape of footprints.

Eoneren / iStock

IN COLOMBIA, the highest rainfalls in 40 years had reduced coffee production by nearly one-third at the end of 2022. In the United States, tornado deaths for the first quarter of 2023 were already nearing the annual average. In Jakarta, Indonesia, the government barrels forward with constructing a 29-mile sea wall to protect the city, which is sinking under rising sea levels.

Everywhere, the planet is changing. Land once known for certain weather patterns, flora, and fauna is becoming strange and unfamiliar. Ways of life forged from old patterns are crumbling. Communities scramble to find new ways to farm, fish, graze, and live in what increasingly feels like uncharted territory.

Many have taken up the language of grief and loss to guide us through this turbulent era. Australian philosopher Glenn Albrecht even coined the term “solastalgia,” which describes “the homesickness you have when you are still at home.” We long for the forests and meadows of our childhoods, alive with spring peepers and monarch butterflies, which today seem diminished or have completely disappeared, paved over by strip malls and subdivisions. The land that shaped us is still there, but it’s not the same.

Working with a Climate Skeptic to Heal the Land

by Liuan Huska 04-24-2023
“I’m learning not to let my own views keep me from interacting with another human being whose narratives about the world are so different from my own.”
A simplified illustration of the Earth drawn in different shades of green. Hearts are drawn on different continents and arrows circle and surround the globe. Houses and plants are drawn just below the world.

Dusan Stankovic / iStock

I NODDED ALONG with everything in the holistic permaculture course until day four, when things went off the rails. My family and I were at a farm in Bolivia, volunteering and learning about land design, groundwater recharging, alternative energy technologies, and returning fertility to the earth. Day four’s topic was community-building, which sounded innocuous enough.

Our host and instructor was a man from New Zealand who has farmed two acres in a remote Bolivian valley for nearly a decade. He talked about the importance of local decision-making, how focusing on global problems over which we have little influence can leave us feeling disempowered. Human-induced climate change, he added, is another story the oligarchs at the top are telling to stoke our fears and get us to surrender our freedoms. That and the pandemic.

Our host’s views are extreme. But he is among a growing group of back-to-the-land conservatives who don’t fit my categories. He disbelieves mainstream climate science, yet he is installing solar ovens, composting toilets, and bioconstructed buildings on his property. He scoffs at “wokeism,” which he sees as another form of top-down control, yet he deeply respects the local Indigenous community and attends the Quechua-only neighborhood meetings with surrounding farmers.

Living a Life of Abundance Starts with Community

by Liuan Huska 02-21-2023
Abundance is less about how much we have and more about how much we share.
A painting of hands with various skin tones reaching up to a heart swirling with purple and yellow brush strokes.

stellalevi / iStock

AS SOMEONE WHO has lived with chronic pain and come to terms with being a body with limits, I struggle to square a theology of limits with a theology of abundance.

I have limits on my time, energy, and what my body can do. I’ve made peace with and even come to appreciate God’s elegant design of bounded human bodies and an Earth with limited, depletable resources. And yet, our faith speaks of a God who can do “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20, NIV), the same God who led the Israelites into a land “flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8) and pours oil over the psalmist’s head until his cup overflows (Psalm 23:5).

In a world rapidly running out of arable land, fossil fuels, and healthy soil and water, how do we rightly interpret a theology of abundance?

The Day I Became a Bird Parent

by Liuan Huska 11-16-2022
My cat swiped a bird. When do we intervene or let nature take its course?
An illustration of a woman with a bird perched on her outstretched hand as she looks at her phone.

Alexey Yaremenko / iStock

WHEN I STEPPED off our back porch that June morning, some kerfuffle of squawks, feathers, and paws stopped me. There was Tom, our all-gray feral cat, slinking about. Then I made out some red streaks above — cardinals. I noticed Tom had something in his mouth. I cringed. Legs? Wings? Tail? Head? It was a baby bird. Its parents were hot on Tom’s trail.

Some sense of moral — my husband would say unnecessary — responsibility got hold of me. In that moment, I decided I was not going to let the cat I had brought into this backyard eat that bird, no matter how many birds he’d already nabbed. I yelled and chased Tom. And after I shamed the cat into dropping his prey under the trampoline, my 8-year-old son, Oliver, rescued the fledgling.

In Brazil as It Is in Texas?

by Liuan Huska 11-10-2022

An evangelical supporter of Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro gestures as she attends a campaign rally, in Brasilia, Brazil, October 28, 2022. Image credit: Rueters/Adriano Machado.

This election is just the most recent manifestation of deeper social divides in both the U.S. and Brazil. Benjamin A. Cowan, a historian at the University of California San Diego, notes that, since the 1980s, both countries have experienced a coalescing of “moral majorities” and right-wing populist groups, often with conservative Christians on the front lines. In Brazil, like in the U.S., certain affinities are grouped together. In the United States, a political slogan like “Jesus, guns, babies” attracts conservative constituents. In Brazil, conservatives rally around “beef, Bible, and bullets.” No wonder it feels like Texas.

Dealing with Difficult Relatives This Holiday Season

by Liuan Huska 09-29-2022
Should we burn bridges with “those” family members?
Two rows of four faces are overlaid on geometric backgrounds; illustrated faces are white, orange, medium-brown, and dark brown. Background includes lines and blocks of green, shades of blue, pink, and other bright geometric shapes.

beastfromeast / Getty Images

FOR MANY OF US, the approaching holiday season brings a mix of excitement and dread. We look forward to gathering with loved ones we haven’t seen for a while. But these gatherings come with land mines of casually dropped remarks that belie our togetherness. They reveal deep chasms between our understandings of what is good for ourselves, this country, and the world.

Do we respond when a family member says something offensive? Do we ignore them? Do we try to engage, even if past attempts have proven fruitless?

My own attempts to engage with family who have different political views and interpretations of scripture have come to an impasse in the past year. I’ve felt wounded and disappointed and am lowering my expectations for these relationships. But the Spirit is also nudging me to keep my heart open a crack.

My Town is Home to Four Superfund Sites

by Liuan Huska 06-29-2022
What does following Christ mean for any of us who have choices in a world where others do not?
Illustration of hands holding a nuclear radiation symbol as they would a paten

Illustration by Matt Chase

WE OFTEN UTTER the phrase “Christ bore our sins” in a metaphysical sense, assuming sins occupy a place in our hearts, consciences, or spirits. Jesus died, we think, because of our spiritual transgressions. But I’m starting to see that sin isn’t just spiritual (as if anything could be just spiritual in our very physical world). Sin is also environmental. It impacts our air, water, and soil. It alters our ecosystems.

Sin might be defined as stepping out of right relationship with Creator and the rest of creation. The standard American lifestyle, which would require five Earths to sustain if everyone lived this way, puts the U.S. in a state of dire transgression. Pursuing a bloated illusion of progress, so many businesspeople, decision-makers, and culture-shapers have ignored the cost.

The wages of sin is death, says the apostle Paul (Romans 6:23). Today we are witnessing mass extinctions of species, destruction of homes and habitats by climate chaos, and premature deaths in communities closest to pollution sources. I live in one of these communities, though I didn’t know it when we moved here. My town is home to four Superfund sites, legacy pollution from a gaslight mantle factory that later produced thorium for the country’s atomic bombs in World War II. Though the sites have been remediated, residual contamination will pervade the land for millennia to come. Researching this history, I notice who moved away—white folks with resources—and who stayed—brown and white working-class folks who had no choice. Who would choose contamination?

Aline Mello’s Poetry Processes Questions About Belonging

by Liuan Huska 05-09-2022
She pours into verse her life as an undocumented woman wrestling with race, faith after disillusionment, and the in-between existence of an immigrant.
Aline Mello stares seriously at the camera wearing a multicolored skirt and a t-shirt that says "Immigrant"

Photograph of Aline Mello by Stephanie Eley

ALINE MELLO WAS 7 years old when she left Brazil with her parents and sister for what was supposed to be a short-term stay in the United States. Growing up undocumented, Mello turned to writing to process her questions about belonging and relationships. More Salt than Diamond (Andrews McMeel Publishing), her debut poetry collection, pulses with themes of identity, religion, and living as an immigrant in tumultuous times. Sojourners columnist Liuan Huska spoke with Mello, a graduate fellow in creative writing at Ohio State University, about race, language, and coming back around to God after disillusionment with the church.

Liuan Huska: What were the circumstances of your family’s emigration from Brazil?

Aline Mello: We emigrated in 1997. We were pretty poor. We had a lot of faith that if we were going to the U.S., it was because God wanted us to go. My uncle got a tourist visa for the four of us to go to Somerville, Mass. It was just going to be three years.

My father had this thing where he would follow charismatic pastors, and we followed one to Atlanta in 2000, right before 9/11. I had been told [incorrectly], “If you stay here for 10 years, you automatically get papers.” I thought, “Okay, I’m going to be fine.”

Right when I graduated high school, in 2007, my father left us. My mom literally got home from work one day and got a voice mail from him saying, “Hey, I left the country.” I realized I couldn’t go to college in Brazil because I didn’t know college-level Portuguese. And I had scholarships here. The goal was to go to college and then go back. Then DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] happened. So I thought, “Obviously, God wants me to stay.” You keep getting scraps enough [that] you don’t starve.

During War, the Land Weeps

by Liuan Huska 05-09-2022
Despite all the ways we have neglected and terrorized the land, she still loves us and rises up to care for us.
The shadow of a military aircraft falls over parched, cracked land

Illustration by Matt Chase

LOOKING AT IMAGES of bombed-out apartment blocks and plumes of black smoke rising across Ukraine, my thoughts turned to the land. While humans flee and seek shelter underground, the birches and oaks will go on standing in place, unfurling springtime leaves and hiding black grouse in their branches. Grasses will peep out their heads and earthworms will get to tunneling, some to be trampled by marching army boots and tanks.

Human wartime activities will belch out unthinkable amounts of polluting emissions, tipping the already-sliding climate scale further toward disaster. Bombs will destabilize industrial areas full of toxic waste, threatening air and water supplies. And still, the geese will return north and hiss over their fuzzy goslings. Saplings will reach for the sky and replace carbon dioxide with breathable oxygen. The Earth will go on living. And weeping.

How Do We Find Our Place in a World on Fire?

by Liuan Huska 03-28-2022
'In Deep Waters' prompts us to jump in and imagine a better future we can all swim toward together.

In Deep Waters: Spiritual Care for Young People in a Climate Crisis, by Talitha Amadea Aho

“WHO ARE THESE young people?” I asked repeatedly while reading Talitha Amadea Aho’s debut book, In Deep Waters: Spiritual Care for Young People in a Climate Crisis. The Presbyterian pastor writes of her adventures shepherding the youth of her Oakland, Calif., church through beach trash pickups, worsening fire seasons, the pandemic, and mundane youth group activities that lead to big conversations on God’s involvement and human response amid climate emergency.

Aho recounts driving a van full of youth near the 2018 wildfire that destroyed Paradise, Calif., to get to a retreat. “Whatever, we can deal with it. Breathing isn’t the only thing in life,” says one youth. Another, like a prophet, observes, “The Earth will survive; it’s a living organism, and we are the infection on it, and the Earth is cooking up a fever to kill us off.”

It may be that these West Coast youth are more clear-eyed in their diagnoses, living through an apocalyptic reality that we are all careening toward. I can imagine having similar talks with my own children, ages 3 through 8, in a few years. Already, my 8-year-old has said about climate change, “It’s too late.”

Christians Must Avoid ‘Lifeboat Mentality’ in Climate Crisis

by Liuan Huska, by Nate Rauh-Bieri 03-03-2022

A Nigerian fisherman in the Lagos town of Makoko, an informal settlement on low-lying ground that is particularly vulnerable to climate change-linked sea-level rises and weather extremes, according to the latest report from the United Nations climate science panel. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja

The latest IPCC report states that 3.3 to 3.6 billion people (nearly half of the world’s population) are “highly vulnerable” to climate risks like wildfires, heat waves, and rising sea levels. The report aims to prepare us for what’s likely and to give leaders a clear-eyed sense of urgency to implement solutions. But some may glance past its findings due to more immediate concerns. Others may be tempted to take a lifeboat mentality.

Rethinking Property Rights

by Liuan Huska 02-28-2022
I’ve started putting quotation marks around the “our” when I think about “our” land.
Illustration of the outlines of a house that go above and below a flowery field

Illustration by Matt Chase

SEVEN YEARS AGO this month, I became a landowner. My husband and I put our names on the deed to a quarter-acre plot of land in an unassuming Chicago suburb. According to U.S. property law and common understandings, I have a right to do what I want with this land, even “up to heaven and down to hell.” That phrase goes back to a medieval Roman jurist’s proclamation that whoever owns the soil also owns what’s above and beneath, an idea that sociologist Colin Jerolmack has explored in depth (no pun intended) in his book by the same name about fracking in a rural Pennsylvanian town.

As Jerolmack documents, the United States is “the only country in the world where private individuals own a majority of the subsurface estate.” These laws are the confluence of America’s enshrinement of individualism, skepticism of big government, and confidence in the “invisible hand” of the market to work to everyone’s benefit.

Can We Only Take Ownership of History That Our Blood Ancestors Experienced?

by Liuan Huska 12-29-2021
This beloved land holds many stories. I want to hear them all.
A collage of different faces forming one human head

Illustration by Jennifer Heuer

A FEW MONTHS into the pandemic, as the country started to notice the uptick in hate crimes against Asian Americans, caring friends checked in to ask, “Are you okay?” I found myself metaphorically turning around to see if they were talking to someone behind me. I was so unused to having my ethnic vulnerability seen and named.

Then a year ago, in March 2021, a young white man killed six Asian women in spas around Atlanta. This time it was clearer—I was not okay. My mother is a massage therapist and has worked in spas in Florida, where the killer was headed when police apprehended him. This time, I could say with more certainty, “This hurts me.”

In the blooming of Asian American consciousness since that event, however, I’ve continued to wonder how much of what happens to other AAPI (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders) folks around the country, and back through time, is mine to own. Writer Jay Caspian Kang argues that Asian Americans who came to this country after the 1965 Hart-Celler Immigration Act have little to no connection with earlier generations of Asian Americans, whose circumstances were vastly different. Between the lines, Kang is saying to us later waves of immigrants, “That’s not your history.”

The Discipline of Delight

by Liuan Huska 11-17-2021
Holding onto wonder in the face of loss.
The outline of a gift box made from twigs, vines, and leaves

Illustration by Matt Chase

IN JULY, my children and I crouched at the edge of the continent along a trail spitting hikers onto Kalaloch Beach 1 in Olympic National Park. Eyes at dirt level, we marveled at a hidden-in-sight banana slug, oozing exquisite slime and swiveling its tentacles. Off Interstate 90 in Montana, we held our breath as a bald eagle swooped over a deer grazing just across the fence from our car. Throughout our epic road trip from Illinois to the Pacific Northwest, I kept saying, “Wow, but ...”

My wonder was tinged with a sense of impending loss. With fires devouring unthinkable amounts of forest just over the next mountain range and smoke clouding the skies for 1,500 miles, the beauty in front of me seemed to be slipping away. In the end, I took home more pain than joy.

Many of us live with this bone-deep grief over what we have lost in the natural world, and with anticipatory grief over what is about to be lost. It is right to feel this deeply, to lament and give voice to our pain in community. And then what? Grief, pain, and anger can move us to action, but they only carry us so far. To sustain our work, we need joy.

Toward More Productive Climate Conversations

by Liuan Huska 09-23-2021
Katharine Hayhoe's new book helps us save the things we love.

Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World, by Katharine Hayhoe. Atria/One Signal Publishers

AMONG THE MANY postures toward climate change, I am in the “alarmed” camp. I see indicators of a planet on the verge of widespread ecosystem collapse and want to sound the bells for everyone else to wake up and do something. Unfortunately, writes climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe, some of the ways we try to wake people up can have the opposite effect.

Saving Us expands on Hayhoe’s popular TED Talk on the most important thing you can do about climate change: talk about it. The book explores why piling on sobering facts and predictions can make someone dismissive about climate change even more antagonistic, and even make those who are concerned and alarmed check out in despair. Though Hayhoe includes plenty of climate science, what makes this book worth reading are the insights she shares from social science.

Returning to the Path of Sacred Attachment

by Liuan Huska 09-22-2021
I’ll keep on loving this holy, physical world.
Illustration of an autumnal leaf overlaid by yellow hands

Illustration by Matt Chase

“THIS WORLD IS not my home / I’m just passing through / My treasures are laid up / Somewhere beyond the blue.” This old gospel song summed up my approach to the physical world as a young Christian.

Coming to faith in the Bible Belt of the United States, I confused admonitions to “not belong to the world” (John 15:19) and “walk not according to the flesh” (Romans 8:4) with a blanket statement to shun physicality. Later, when I discovered the contem-platives and monastics, their stories of fasting and asceticism seemed to reinforce the idea that detachment from the material world is the most holy path.

But in a time when some Bible-thumping Christians respond to deforestation and species extinction with a shrug and say, “It’s all going to burn anyway,” I reject these interpretations. “The world” and “the flesh” that Jesus and Paul had in mind are not the earth and our bodies. They are, rather, human-made social hierarchies and oppressive, extractive economies. Do not belong to these. But do belong to the gooseberries, the crickets, the soil, and the gurgling creeks.