Once, in a church council meeting, we were attempting to reply to several questions the denomination was asking of our congregation. These questions might have been in place to help each congregation maintain some of the distinctives of the denomination. At any rate, the question came: what were we doing to promote environmental stewardship among our members? Certain people in the meeting were fairly upset that such a politically left ideology would be imposed on our congregation, and what did that have to do with being a good church?
Most Christians I knew were American Evangelicals who were also politically conservative, which led me to believe conservative politics were closer to what American Jesus wanted for us. After I had been a believer for a few years, labeling environmentalism “creation care” sounded to me a lot like the baptism of a liberal cause. Never mind that free market conservatives were fairly certain the environment was something for Americans to dominate and use up. Christians told me that in Genesis we were told to subdue the earth; it’s here for our benefit! And it was a sign of the end times that people would worship the creation rather than the creator.
More recently, I was asked to give a talk on three subjects, one being creation care. By this time I’ve been living in community for a few years, and I’m out of the Bible belt. Still, I wanted to open by saying that it sounds like a political issue, more than a discipleship issue to me. But I didn’t say that.
What I had learned since relocating to the city: it’s possible heaven very well may be lived out on this earth, in real physical bodies, doing real redemptive work like growing food (that we’ll get to eat) and building homes (that we’ll get to live in)! Any scriptures about the afterlife that indicate what the new place will be like supports this idea that God will renew this planet and we will continue to care for it. Creation care just might be the rhythm of our eternal life. And if we believe that about the end of this age, it will play out in how we live this one life now.
In the last year, I have found more to think about. Candace and I have learned about ways that nature, the wild, can help our souls to grow. If we spend all our time in the city, raise our kids on pavement, then we will really and truly be missing something extremely important. We will forget that we are created beings, not too different from birds and trees and rocks. We will not discover the things we can change and the things we simply cannot change; that is to say - we will not learn our place in this world. In wild nature we learn to walk gently. We learn to appreciate created things, and to view them with reverence. Perhaps all created things have a soul. Your iPad does not.
The Earth is the Lords, and everything in it. PS 24:1
I’m not suggesting skipping Sunday worship to be at the lake.
An approach to meditation or prayer - go out to a wild place (could be a flower in a pot in your apartment) and consider that wild thing. Becoming fully present to some created being and declaring that it is pleasing God as it is, because it is fulfilling its destiny, we can find more centered prayer and a rest in God, realizing that we also are pleasing God by existing and breathing air. It’s been a magnificent renewal to my prayer life. When did God speak to Moses?
Consider that Moses, Jesus, Mohamed, and the Buddha all had extended times in the wilderness before beginning their ministries. Remember that shalom means peace for the land too. Sabbath means rest for the animals too. Jubilee means the earth can heal for a time. There is something important for our souls in caring for the earth.
And then there are all the issues of human injustice: environmental damage effects the world’s poor the most. Impoverished people are living on abused land - even landfills. And with their resources pillaged by Western corporations, they don’t have raw materials to make a living. I can’t even begin to write about food justice issues here.
We need to move from an outlook of consumption and domination to one of stewardship. I’m starting to think it’s in our best interest.
For further reading:
An essay by my friend Ric.
Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder
Nature and the Human Soul by Bill Plotkin