Updated: Apr 22, 2021
Here we are on another 'earth day', drinking water, eating food, and breathing air, just like all the other mammals on the planet. We do it all, of course, without thinking, especially in this century, when the water comes from a tap, the food comes wrapped in plastic, and the air remains, on our best days, invisible. It’s tempting to think that this will all just carry on as it has, that we’ll be able to run to Costco in our 12mpg truck and pick up a plastic wrapped salmon to eat in our climate controlled homes. Yes, there are fires and hurricanes, droughts and disappearing coastal cities, and 3 five hundred year floods in the past five years, but none of this points to any kind of need to change our way of life. Does it?
I’m not even certain it’s the right question, but I’d like to offer you three realities to consider on this Earth Day, in hopes that you and I might both prayerfully consider the invitation/calling God has given us to live in relationship with the earth as companions and stewards.
FIRST REALITY: There’s an undeniable crisis.
The climate science evidence is overwhelming. Instead of boring you with details, I’ll point you to a marvelous PBS series called Global Weirding. It's an accessible, funny, and well-documented presentation by one of the world's leading climate scientists. If you have questions about the legitimacy of the crisis, this is a good resource.
The denigration of the ocean is a far more serious problem than most of us realize, as seen in any of these three documentaries ('seaspiracy' isn't one of them)
Cal Tech offers this sad truth regarding our best carbon sequestration friend, the rainforest: The world's rainforests are currently disappearing at a rate of 6000 acres every hour (this is about 4000 football fields per hour). When these forests are cut down, the plants and animals that live in the forests are destroyed, and some species are at risk of being made extinct.
Plastics pose a serious threat to our entire ecosystem, as is named In this documentary.
These are realities, regardless of political persuasion, (and there are plenty of people on the political right who are very serious about addressing these issues, as seen here). The effects of environmental degradation are felt most profoundly by people already trapped in poverty, but make no mistake: the effects are universal, and growing. Until we have the courage to admit that there’s a problem, we’ll continue to preserve our status quo way of life, which isn’t only destroying our planet, but also our bodies and souls. It’s time to wake up and acknowledge, as one friend says:
The hope part, though, is meaningless unless we’re willing to embrace the reality that the problem is real and too many, especially among people of faith, are living in denial. The scriptures though, follow a pattern: exposure of the problem is always, always, the precursor to healing and transformation. Those who cover their ears or kill the prophets will miss the healing.
SECOND REALITY: Movement requires confession.
That’s the meaning of “it’s us” in the graphic above. This round of climate change is overwhelmingly the result of human impact, as shown here.
The reason this requires confession is that humankind has a calling from our Creator to care for creation. In the same way that parents care for children, and guardians care for pets, humans are granted a capacity to profoundly impact the species of both flora and fauna under their care. And make no mistake: It was our Creator‘s intention that the whole earth be ’under’ our care. We were charged with caring and keeping the garden in the creation story and naming the animals. God’s law is explicit regarding our responsibility to care for both animals and soil along with the poor and displaced of the earth. All this is wrapped in our calling to be in relationship with creation as stewards/companions. But we’ve failed at this. Having chosen the domination model instead, we have used and abused the earth and her species rather than stewarding them towards sustainability. The results are clear enough, as seen above.
Environmental degradation is nothing new though. The prophet Hosea, in the the 8th century BCE, wrote this:
Hear the word of the Lord, O children of Israel, for the Lord has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land. There is no faithfulness or steadfast love, and no knowledge of God in the land; there is swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed. Therefore the land mourns, and all who dwell in it languish, and also the beasts of the field and the birds of the heavens, and even the fish of the sea are taken away.
The degrading of the earth is revealed to be the direct result of oppressive economic practices and excessive consumption. Our selfishness and greed leads us to make both business and personal decisions on the basis of personal convenience and gains rather than considering our calling as stewards and companions of the whole earth. And because of this: the land mourns.
Unless I’m willing to own that my habits and choices are part of the problem, that there’s blood on my hands, I’ll forever remain stuck in the destructive patterns of the present. But make no mistake, it’s not just the earth and her ’other’ species that suffer. I suffer too: Anxiety, depression heart disease, cancer, loneliness, sexism, racism, boredom and emptiness — all these are the natural fruits that ripen when I forfeit my responsibility as a steward/companion of the earth.
THIRD REALITY: There’s a way forward (and I’ll be offering a post about each of these three principles in weeks ahead)
Begin reading God’s first book - The Bible is important, but God has been speaking through creation before a single letter of the Bible was written. We can learn to listen to what God has to say through creation, and you can start by spending a little time outside every day, just paying attention to what’s there. An Ancient Paths experience would be a good place to start.
Invite God’s spirit into your consumer choices - There’s little point in looking around at other’s consumer choices, but the real question is this: Are you inviting God’s spirit to speak into your life regarding the food you eat and the products you buy? In general: Local is better than international. Fresh is better than canned. Foods from organic soils are better than mono crops from giant farms. The big idea here isn’t to create a legalistic structure, but a mindful awareness of how our choices are contributing a global narrative regarding humanity’s relationship to the earth.
Align your joys with God’s joys - God tells Abraham to go outside and look up at the starts. We could all use a little more of that in our lives, for the reality is that sunsets, fresh tulips, spawning salmon returning home, the flight of the hummingbird, frost on autumn leaves, the fruit of the vine, the cycles of the moon, and the sound of morning songbirds are all gifts freely given, but received less and less by a human species obsessed with wealth and consumption. All the while, the good life is right under our nose if we’re willing to embrace God’s invitation to be stewards/companions of creation.
Earth Day is an annual reminder that the earth isn't some sort of giant store for us to draw down until the shelves are empty. Neither is it a place of competition for the few resources so that the winners and the strong are the ones who get to survive and stay at the top, while the majority suffer from hunger, poverty, and diseases. These models lead to emptiness, not just for the poor, but for the rich too. The alternative is to see the whole earth as God's means of provision, blessing, and companionship - living in fellowship with all creation and stewarding every plant and animal. This is the path of joy, meaning, community, deep worship and celebration, and enough!
Happy Earth Day