On Thursday evening, as part of a Franciscan Coalition conversation on our relationship with the environment, nearly seventy people gathered in Founders Room and viewed the film Dirt! The Movie, a documentary film that looks at the relationship between humans and dirt.  Using personal accounts, vignettes, animation, and storytelling, and inspired by William Bryant Logan’s acclaimed book Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of Earth, this film shows how for most of the last ten thousand years we humans understood our intimate bond with dirt and the rest of nature. The film highlights well how many ancient people, including our Jewish and Christian brothers and sisters, through religious myth, ritual, and every day practices, saw soil as the sacred skin of the earth, the most precious resource, God’s gift of fertility and life.  They understood their responsibility was to be in relationship with the soil.  It was an organism that they were called to care for because it took care of them. 

But, as the film narrates, over time, we lost that connection, and through greed, neglect, and abuse, especially through industrial agricultural, mining, and urban development, we are now destroying the skin of the earth and suffering the consequences – droughts, starvation, flood, wars, and climate change. 

The film ends with some hopeful stories: schools turning their asphalt playgrounds into edible gardens; prisons using horticultural programs to give inmates inner peace, job skills, and a connection to “mother earth”; Generation Xers turning to organic farming and seasonal farm-to-fork shopping; scientists researching the energy capability of microbial life in the soil; farmers in India regaining their ability to farm sustainability through combining indigenous methods, modern science, and seed saving techniques; and many organizations commitment to investing in the long-term health of our soil through practices like reforesting and reintroducing perennial prairies. 

The film features interviews from many prominent environmentalists and activists, scientists, and sustainable farmers, like Vandana Shiva, Wes Jackson, Peter Girguis, David Orr, Alice Waters, and Wangari Maathai. 

The film was followed by an engaging conversation where the attendees offered a word or two about what challenged them, what affirmed them, and what inspired them.  There were a number of non-parishioners in the audience, many of whom have direct experience with some of these more hopeful examples of people trying to live well on the earth.

Bonnie Angel, Coordinator of the Franciscan Coalition, discusses community gardening with parishinors from Immaculate Conception parish in Durham

 As the film made clear in its soil-centric narrative, there is much more to be done on behalf of the soil.  Perhaps not all of the world’s problems can be traced back to our treatment of soil, but this film makes it very difficult to completely ignore what’s under our feet anymore.  In that vein, it indeed will take a concerted effort by everyone to change their behavior, to stop ravaging the landscape in search of cheap fuel and other products, to insist that our food be safe and grown in accordance with natural principles, and to join in the work of reclaiming and restoring degraded soils. In short, we need to not only recognize and appreciate, but also embrace our relationship with the living skin of the earth known as dirt.

Larry facilitates discussion after the film

Thank you to St. Francis of Assisi parishioner Larry Petrovick for organizing this event on behalf of the Franciscan Care of Creation Ministry.  Larry works for the Wake Soil and Water Conservation District and has over thirty years experience in natural resources management including water quality and watershed evaluation, planning and best management practice installation.  Larry is also involved in SFA’s Community Garden project, our parish’s very immediate attempt to care for the fertility of the soil of our church campus.

See the Movie Trailer here.

Winner of door prize - Tom Gerig, professor of Statistics at NC State University