TIME TO TURN TURTLE, Part 3 || By Rev. Mary Coday Edwards, MA

Turn turtle: Flip your way of thinking, as I’ve written in my last two blogs.

When I lived in Jakarta, Indonesia, I met a woman who started a cottage industry recycling Jakarta’s vinyl/plastic packaging material. This plastic material encased many products—laundry soap, shampoo, toothpaste, and drink pouches that came with straws. The garbage heaps were full of these plastics, as were Jakarta’s rivers and estuaries.


Kids and adults picked through these mountains of trash and found stuff to either recycle or sell “as is.” This woman entrepreneur contracted with the trash pickers to salvage these plastic packaging materials. Using Indonesian employees, she set up a production facility that washed, sanitized, and dried these packaging materials. She taught the staff how to take the vinyl, use patterns to cut out designs, and sew the pieces into various bags, including pencil cases and purses.

Along with local manufacturers, packaging from a popular European drink company also littered these garbage heaps. Their drink pouch pollution was included in the recycling program.

When this drink company discovered that their garbage/pollution was being recycled into usable products and resold, it slapped her with a lawsuit. The CEOs didn’t mind their trash being part of Jakarta’s 7,000 tons of waste per day (1) and saw no reason for a cradle-to-grave policy (2); nor did they mind clogging Jakarta’s thirteen rivers or its estuaries where much of Jakarta’s plastics ended up. Only when trash pickers began making a small income from its patented pollution did this European juice company raise a stink, only when their “rights” were violated.

“We must say of the universe that it is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects.” – William Berry, Ecotheologian

The above is a sad story on many levels. It also reveals one of our economic lies: our economies are made separate from ecology. In reality, they are built on it, embedded in it. Resources don’t just magically appear, nor do our pollutants magically disappear.

Theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli in his book, Helgoland: Making Sense of the Quantum Revolution, radically states that reality is explained by seeing the world/reality as fundamentally made of relations rather than substances/objects. Potawatomi botany professor Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer says something similar in her book, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants. She posits that spirituality includes our “shimmering threads” of relationships—and these include our Plant, Tree, and Animal relations—our non-human persons. She sees and experience non-human persons as alive.

Part of my personal moral responsibility to foster the flourishing of these non-human persons includes the pulling of invasive species in my own small parcel of short grass prairie land and as I hike through the forests. When I come back later to a forest path I’ve trodden and find a healthy patch of cheat grass, one of the deadliest invasives to a native ecosystem, I’ve found myself apologizing to the plants, bees, birds, and butterflies in the area. I repent on behalf of my human species for our carelessness in contributing to the forest’s destruction.

I hadn’t considered it spiritual or too relational. I’ve always felt that I take and receive so much from the forests that this is the least I can do. But Dr. Kimmerer talks to the plants expecting answers. I’m in too much of a rush, just busy yanking those noxious invasives out of the soil.

Maybe I’ll start walking and pulling more respectively and reverently.

Challenge the status quo, live expectantly with our non-human persons

As I’ve said in a previous blog, no need to take what I’ve written as absolutes. But experiment with it, using the as if of critical realism.

When you live as if, you can tentatively and gently commit yourself to something, knowing you may be wrong, which is okay. It’s an experiment: NOT an absolute of good/bad or right/wrong. Living as if not only frees you from fear, but also opens up a space inside you for unthought of possibilities.

Again, we do not know what the inside of an atom looks like, but scientists have theories that created our cell phones and computers, and so we live with the atom acting as if. Scientists took the plunge and acted as if their theories were correct. In addition, the creatives and the mystics around us have pulled back the curtain of our often-cloudy vision and shown us an as if of a spiritual world, an ultimate reality, a divinity, whatever you call it (4, 5). Scientists Dr. Kimmerer and Dr. Rovelli and theologian William Berry believe in this spiritual world.

Turn turtle. At a minimum, see the world as alive, as interconnected. We don’t need absolutes at this point; we need to see potentialities and possibilities. Sit mindfully with this as you ponder how you want to live. Use your creative imagination to think outside the status quo fed to us repeatedly by our politicians and CEOs. After all, they are the ones who financially benefit from the rest of us when we live as mindless consumers.

And this is where we need the flip.

Notes & Sources:

  1. Dean, Adam and Paddock, Richard C. Jakarta’s Trash Mountain: ‘When People Are Desperate for Jobs, They Come Here.’ https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/27/world/asia/indonesia-jakarta-
    trash-mountain.html April 27, 2020
  2. ‘Cradle-to-grave’ assessment considers impacts at each stage of a product’s life-cycle, from the time natural resources are extracted from the ground and processed through each subsequent stage of manufacturing, transportation, product use, and ultimately, disposal. “European Environmental Agency.” https://www.eea.europa.eu/help/glossary/eea-glossary/cradle-to-grave. Jan 30, 2023
  3. Kripal, Jeffrey J. The Flip: Epiphanies of Mind and the Future of Knowledge. Penguin Books. 2019.
  4. Barbour, Ian. Religion and Science: Historical and Contemporary Issues. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1997:110
  5. Edwards, Mary Coday. To Travel Well, Travel Light: An Adventure Memoir of Living Abroad and Letting Go of Life’s Trappings: Material Possessions, Cultural Blinders, and a Patriarchal Christian Worldview. SBNR Press, 2022.
  6. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, says mindfulness is “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment.”

About the Author: Rev. Mary Coday Edwards is a Spiritual Growth Facilitator and People House Minister. A life-long student of spirituality, Mary spent almost 20 years living, working, and sojourning abroad in Asia, Southeast Asia, East Africa, and Latin America before finding her spiritual connection at People House and completing its Ministerial Program. Past studies include postgraduate studies from the University of South Africa in Theological Ethics/Ecological Justice, where she focused on the spiritual and physical interconnectedness of all things. With her MA in Environmental Studies from Boston University, abroad she worked and wrote on environmental sustainability issues at both global and local levels. In addition to working in refugee repatriation, she was an editor for international, English print, daily newspapers in Indonesia and Mexico.