This series of student work from a recent elective course taken by both MACP and MATC students is a window into the integration and intersections that take place in our curriculum and our classrooms at The Seattle School, not only theology and psychology, but also social justice, ecology, local context, and individualized research. This piece from Carson Taylor, a third-year student in our Master of Arts in Theology & Culture program, is the second in the series. For more in this series see Ecotheology: The Last Black Man in San Francisco and the Meaning of Home & Ecotheological Connections: Protest and Celebrations.
An introduction from Dr. Kj Swanson, affiliate faculty, 2022-2023
In spring 2023, 60 students participated in TCE 544O Triune God & Creation, an introduction to ecotheology and its relevance within diverse theological, cultural, and global contexts. Our primary texts centered the voices of female theologians from the global south and other perspectives often under-represented in theological and ecological engagement. We also journeyed with Tricia Hersey’s Rest is Resistance (2022) as a companion text, helping shape our imagination around rest as liberatory and vital for humanity, but also for all planetary life and relationships. Each week, we wrestled together not just with the grief over how we have gotten to the climate crisis we are in, but also what it means to try to envision healing—that it’s difficult to work towards a vision you haven’t let yourself dream is possible. I’m pleased to share some of the insightful and hopeful work students created.
Here, Carson Taylor, third-year MATC student, shares a revised version of their 3-Part Envisioning Planetary Solidarity Assignment. Named from the essay collection edited by Grace Ji-Sun Kim and Hilda P. Koster, this assignment required students to write a short POV (point of view) story that envisions a future wherein human society lives as part of a balanced, sustainable, and thriving ecosystem for all life on Earth. A short timeline was also included to describe some of the changes that occurred to make this not-yet-future possible. Finally, students wrote a reflective essay that theologically interprets their story. Carson was one of several students who chose to tell their story from a non-human perspective!
Envisioning Planetary Solidarity Assignment by Carson Taylor
On August 18, 2023, the beloved Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut, also known as Tokitae from the L Pod of Southern Resident orca whales, died while living in captivity at the Miami Seaquarium. A few months prior to hearing this news I wrote the story, timeline, and reflective essay for this course assignment. At that time, arrangements were being made to return Tokitae back to her home in the Salish Sea. I wrote my POV story from the perspective of a fictional orca whale, said to be the great-niece of Tokitae. Though I hold a deep sense of grief from the news of Tokitae’s death, I still want to share this piece. While my story and timeline may seem like a far-fetched utopian dream, I hope it helps inspire readers to engage their imagination and envision what a healed, whole planet might look like and take active steps towards planetary solidarity.
“Good morning Toki Junior, welcome to your first day here in the Salish Sea! I’m your sister, Tae. I hardly slept last night because I knew you were being born and I couldn’t wait to show you around and tell you all about the legacy of our Great Aunt Tokitae. But first, let’s start with some breakfast. Our mom heard about a big school of Chinook Salmon a few miles away so we’re headed there. You’ll be nursing for now but don’t worry, when it’s time, I’ll teach you how to join the hunt. Mom will help you stay afloat while you build muscles and learn to swim. Let’s go!”
Together, with the rest of our family, we swam through the Puget Sound on our way to enjoy Toki Jr.’s first meal. I was full of excitement and anticipation for when I could teach her how to dive down deep enough to see the gorgeous, vibrant colors that spread across the ocean floor. I’ll show her the sponge reefs and kelp beds that are full of life! Someday I’ll teach her how to jump and do cool flips in the air to say hi to our bird friends and maybe jump high enough to see epic views of snow-capped volcanoes like Tahoma and Komo Kulshan. But for now, I’ve got to focus on teaching her the basics of swimming and breathing so we can go on our first hunt together.
“Okay Toki Jr. you’re doing great so far, I know swimming and coordinating breath can be tough when you’re new to it. Let’s start with a deep breath up at the surface.” With Mom’s help, Toki swam up for air. “Exhale, and take a deep inhale. Great job! Now, let’s take a slow swim near the shore of San Juan Island to work on building your strength.”
Several Bald Eagles were flying along the shore that used to be filled with noisy yachts and whale watching boats carrying tourists around. Now the humans only use quiet, solar powered boats or canoes. There’s much fewer human visitors than there used to be since the government gave the land back to the Coast Salish tribes. As we swam close to shore we saw people gathered for a welcoming ceremony. Mom said the visitors seem much happier since they started acknowledging their role as guests and stewards of the island. Now anyone who comes to the island as a visitor learns about the history of the Coast Salish people. They participate in a welcoming ceremony where they offer gifts to the hosts from their homeland and spend time learning about the local ecosystem.
As we continued swimming towards the salmon I helped Toki learn when to breathe and when to simply look around and enjoy the view under the sea. We saw a couple of canoe boats and I did a flip to make the humans smile. Toki giggled. She asked about everything we saw and I told her the names of all our sea friends that we passed by.
The water’s been so clear since the humans stopped drilling for oil. Mom said there used to be big navy and commercial trading ships that were so loud she’d get a headache and struggle to communicate with the family. It made it really hard for them to hunt because they couldn’t hear each other. But thankfully the military and trading industry leaders started listening more to our human siblings from the Coast Salish tribes. Now we can swim more freely and don’t have to worry about oil spills or loud noises.
As we got closer to the Chinook Salmon run I started preparing Toki Jr. “Before we start our hunt, I think you should hear a little bit about Aunt T. Hunting has always been hard work for us, but it used to be extra challenging back when Aunt T was first returned home. Her legacy represents many twists and turns in our relationship with our human siblings and helps us remember to have gratitude for the return of the salmon. Though we always had support from our siblings of the Coast Salish tribes, other humans didn’t care as much and didn’t see us as their kin. When Aunt T was just four years old some humans captured her and took her away to perform for them in Florida. After spending over 50 years in captivity, she was brought back home. Her mom, Ocean Sun, was overwhelmed with emotion when she first saw Aunt T. Ocean Sun was nervous because she had been struggling to find enough food for the family to eat. Some of the salmon they ate even made them sick at times.”
I could tell Toki Jr. started to feel a little scared. But I felt like she needed to know the story before her first time watching the family hunt. I wanted her to know that we came from a long line of strong mothers and aunties who survived through really challenging seasons. And even though hunting still takes a lot of work and energy, she’ll be able to do it someday!
After more swimming, Mom gave me the signal that it was time to start our hunt. She let out a couple of clicks and within seconds we heard the clicks echo back to us, letting us know the salmon were in range. I took one last breath and got ready for my dive. Breathing in, I dove deep and swam ahead of the pod. I twisted and turned all around the school of salmon to herd them together. Flashes of silver, blue, and green swarmed all around me. Mom and the others flicked their fins and we all circled the salmon and each of us took a mouthful of them. Toki Jr. watched in awe as we all ate until we were full.
“Wow, what a treat! You’d never believe that 50 years ago when Aunt T returned home there was never this much to eat. But Aunt T’s story was widespread and people all over the world started paying more attention to us and felt a connection to her and our family. They realized Ocean Sun, Aunt T, and our whole family were being affected by their toxic waste and lack of care. When they saw our struggle to find enough food they put together a global campaign to help restore our ecosystem. They started teaching future generations about us and made big changes to help increase the salmon population.”
Toki Jr. smiled and was filled with joy after watching the hunt and hearing about Aunt T. She let out a big gratitude whistle, thanking me for telling her the story, thanking the salmon for giving themselves to our family, and thanking our human siblings for their advocacy efforts to bring Aunt T back home and their continued efforts that helped make our hunt possible. She vowed to be a good orca sibling and couldn’t wait until she could join our family in hunting once she was strong enough. After the hunt we were all able to relax and swim all around the Salish Sea, with our bellies and hearts full of gratitude.
- In July 2023 Tokitae was returned to the Salish Sea. Her story inspired large-scale movements, challenging world leaders to reflect on the history of colonization and their relationship with making profit through exploitation. There was a rise in global mourning about climate change, leading to heightened awareness and education of its impact on different people and places.
- In response to the U.S. news, in November 2023, Americans voted in new politicians who launched a “Truth and Conciliation” committee aimed at retelling the history of the U.S. through the lens of Indigenous peoples and their relationship with the land.
- With a new Congress, in 2025, the U.S. government shifted military spending and halted spending on weapons manufacturing. They invested in disbanding Navy ships and created a plan to transition the Navy and Coast Guard into focusing on restoring the coast line and ecosystems. Military funds were diverted into funding education programs that focused on climate justice and investing in developing technology to build infrastructure to reduce waste and increase renewable energy sources.
- Throughout 2025-2030, efforts were focused on restoring the salmon population. There was a ban on creating new dams and work to release damned rivers, streams, etc. throughout the North American continent.
- As a result of the Truth and Conciliation Committee and ongoing grassroots movements, between 2030-2040, the U.S. government made a plan for reparations for Indigenous tribes which included releasing all government-owned property back to tribes. Collaborative efforts across the continent were made to establish guidelines around welcoming ceremonies and rituals.
- In 2030, a global treaty was signed and established a ban on the extraction of fossil fuels. Some oil drilling factories were turned into memorial sites and there was large-scale global investment in renewable energy through solar, wind, etc.
- In 2-5 years after the global treaty was signed, an additional ban on new plastics was implemented and there was a global investment in recycling of current plastics.
- Over the next 50 years, there was a shift in the relationships between humans and animals. With the land back movement new dialogues were opened up about what it means to be a good guest. Additionally people began shifting their relationships with non-human beings and embracing an understanding of planetary solidarity.
This creative writing exercise challenged me to expand my imagination and understanding of what planetary solidarity looks like – solidarity that works toward whole planet healing and encompasses not just humanity but the vastness of creation on Earth. As I began writing Tae’s story I realized how little I know about the ecosystem I live in. How can I even begin to imagine what a healed world/Earth would look like if I am not aware of the ecological issues that are present around me? This course challenged me to think through this and recognize how I have primarily been concerned with how climate change affects humanity. My imagination of a healed planet was fueled by learning about the ecosystem I am a part of.
I wrote from Tae’s perspective because Tokitae’s story reflects many of the ecotheological themes we discussed in this class including the harm that can result from andro/anthropocentric theology that centers humanity over and above the rest of creation, creation theology that imagines the role of humans is to dominate over and subdue the rest of creation, and systemic injustice where profit is made through exploitation. One of the main themes addressed in Tae’s story is a shift away from anthropocentrism towards an Earth-centric perspective. Along with this shift comes a view of humans in the role of stewards instead of conquerors or dominators over creation. Inspiration came from Heather Eaton’s critique of the anthropocentric focus of many climate justice efforts, Wanda Deifelt’s reflections on the Genesis creation story, and Brunner, Butler, and Swoboda’s discussion of a passage from Numbers 20 . For a detailed discussion of how these theologians informed my story and timeline you can request a copy of my original reflective essay via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I hope this story encourages readers to become more active learners about the ecosystem and ecological issues around them.
Photo Credit: Dick Martin
- King 5 Staff, “Tokitae, Southern Resident Orca, Dies in Captivity after Calls to Bring Her Home,”
king5.com, August 18, 2023, https://www.king5.com/article/tech/science/environment/orcas/orca-tokitae-dies-53-years-captivity/281-1278dd6f-7dc8-4209-8e5d-b59edeb0db64.
- This idea comes from Mark Charles, “‘We The People’ – the Three Most Misunderstood Words in US History | Mark Charles | TEDxTysons,” YouTube, January 24, 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HOktqY5wY4A. See also Mark Charles and Soong-Chan Rah, Unsettling Truths: The Ongoing Dehumanizing Legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2019).
- To be clear, it is important to acknowledge the disproportionate impact of climate change on many historically marginalized communities. The truth is, I am not nearly as negatively impacted by climate change as some people and non-human life forms around the world are. Though I am confronted with effects such as smoke-filled air from wildfires and warmer temperatures, I can easily choose to ignore these changes and remain naive or unaware of the suffering that is happening in the rest of the world. In many ways I am shielded from the impacts of climate change because of my proximity to whiteness, living in the highly developed city of Seattle, and participating in the capitalist economic system. While these issues are important to name and address, I found Heather Eaton’s work helpful in expanding my lens beyond humanity and toward a more holistic, planetary perspective.
- Heather Eaton, “An Earth-Centric Theological Framing for Planetary Solidarity,” in Planetary
Solidarity: Global Women’s Voices on Christian Doctrine and Climate Justice, ed. Grace Ji-Sun Kim and Hilda P. Koster (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2017), 19–44.
- Wanda Deifelt, “And G*d Saw That It Was Good – Imago Dei and Its Challenge to Climate Justice,” in Planetary Solidarity: Global Women’s Voices on Christian Doctrine and Climate Justice, ed. Grace Ji-Sun Kim and Hilda P. Koster (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2017), 119–32.
- Daniel L. Brunner, Jennifer L. Butler, and A. J. Swoboda, “The God of Burning Bushes: Trinity and
Ecology,” in Introducing Evangelical Ecotheology: Foundations in Scripture, Theology, History, and Praxis (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014), 95–115.