Evelyn Waugh noted, “If it could only be like this always–always summer, always alone, the fruit always ripe.” With the dawn of August, we begin to feel summer slip away as the days almost imperceptibly get shorter, the nights a bit cooler. Corn has ripened. Tomatoes are ready to come in. As summer edges into autumn, we become just a bit more sensitive to our natural environment. More so this year, perhaps, because of a real sense of genuinely cosmic changes to this “earth, our island home.”
Regrettably, discussions of how our environment is changing have become increasingly divisive. I am compelled to ask, “Why?” We might find it less so if we examined our positions on the question less from the frame of politics and more from a theological point of view.
Perhaps we might do better if we:
1. Take a fresh look at scripture.
The creation accounts in Genesis 1-2 are about our assigned task of tending the garden. It is global act of stewardship. It seems the Israelites took this charge seriously. In Deuteronomy 20:19-20, Moses taught the people of God about what we might call “sustainability.” When building military fortifications, God’s people were to leave fruit-bearing trees standing and only cut down flowering trees which bear no fruit.
How startling for us to read in that God’s covenant is not only with people but also with birds, wild animals and “creeping things of the ground” (Hosea 2:18). St. Paul asserts that just as humans are awaiting liberation from the cruel bondage of sin and decay, so is creation itself (Romans 8:19-21). In Christ, “God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven…” (Colossians 1:20).
2. Reclaim a theology of the goodness of God and of humanity.
Right-Left, red-blue, conservative-progressive – it seems nearly impossible for all to agree on some common ground. But on these things, there can be no dispute: God is creator, creation is good, humans are stewards, and life is sacred. But the Scriptures also show us that when fear and greed replace trust and gratitude, moral pollution (sin) develops, which can, in turn be mirrored in the pollution of our environment.
The Hebrew prophets make this important connection. People who are careless in the treatment of the land are often careless in the way they treat God (Jeremiah 2:7). Wendell Berry insists creation care is not primarily a scientific, technological, or political question. In The Presence of Nature in the Natural World: A Long Conversation, Berry argues that behind the economic issue is the spiritual question: “What is happening to our souls?” The two are inextricably linked.
3. Re-examine pop culture eschatology.
If the only reason Jesus came to earth was to orchestrate our emergency evacuation, then what happens to the earth does not matter. Taken to an unhealthy extreme, the popular series of novels, Left Behind, perpetuates an irresponsible view of creation care. Namely, that in the end, God is going to blow all this up anyway, so we have no need to worry about poisoning our planet. Yet, our theological affirmations about the goodness of God and the sacredness of creation clearly operate from different assumption. The first two chapters of the book of Genesis lead into an unmistakable conclusion by constantly repeating “and God saw that it was good.” Notice carefully, the words are “It is good,” not “It is disposable.”
4. Place Matthew 7:12 in the center of our environmental awareness.
Reframe the “Golden Rule” in environmental terms: “Do unto others’ water and air what you want done to yours” casts creation care as a justice issue. Increasingly, studies show that climate change disproportionately impacts the people who have only minimal capacity to influence their environment. This includes those that live in older sections of our cities and towns. It disproportionately affects people of color. Air quality in these communities remains problematic: lead based paints, friable asbestos insulations, remnants of heavy industry, to name a few. Did you know that, for example, thirty-nine per cent of Americans who live near coal powered electric plants are people of color and their children are four times more likely to suffer from asthma than their white counterparts?
5. De-politicize creation care.
I grew up on in a rural community where in a required junior high “ag” class, I learned about crop rotation, soil conservation and land management. We didn’t have to check with our favored political party to see if it was fashionable to husband earth’s resources carefully. We might be better able to bridge political and theological divides if we simply learned to speak one another’s language. For example, because air pollution harms the unborn, creation care can be understood within a pro-life framework; or as Gushee and Stassen affirm in Kingdom Ethics, the mindless depletion of natural resources becomes the ecological equivalent of living beyond our means. Now that’s a political principle on which both Right and Left, Conservative and Progressive can stand.
As Christians, when it comes to climate issues, we can and must insist on better from our elected officials. We must insist that we are not interested in continuing tiresome rants, but that we expect wholesome, creative solutions.
6. Take some creation-care baby steps.
So, what can we do – as individuals and as a faith community? Begin by become more familiar with issues involved in climate science. For instance, begin a new practice in your personal recycling and use of water. Challenge ourselves to rethink some of its habits related to plastic and paper goods. Write your legislators about an environmental issue that concerns you. Choose a monthly creation care project that can involve your entire family.
Over the summer, Other Mary introduced some creation care lessons for our children that this season focus primarily on water (see our formation webpage at https://www.journeyinfaith-stlukeslebanon.org/care-for-gods-creation.html). Maybe we need also to strike up some adult conversations about how might become better stewards of not only our financial but also our natural resources.
Our faith story begins with a tree (Genesis 2:15) and ends with one (Revelation 22:2). Everything in between those two trees is about our environmental stewardship – carefully tending what has been entrusted to us.
Source: Rector’s Blog