Thursday, April 01, 2010

Care of Creation

As posted on my blog at the Christ the King, Wilbraham website:

Throughout the season of Lent at Christ the King, we’ve been exploring the many different faces of Christian stewardship… we’ve talked about being good stewards of our talents, our time, the Sabbath and our communities.  This past Sunday we concluded our Lenten adult forum series by talking about stewardship of God’s creation, a topic many of us were particularly passionate about.  There’s a lot involved with that sort of conversation, much more than we could ever cover in one hour, so our first issue was figuring out where to begin.

We could have talked about how to “green” the church or perhaps about how to get folks to stop using Styrofoam coffee cups and start drinking fair trade coffee, and while those are important conversations, it seemed like that would be getting a little bit ahead of ourselves.  Instead, we really wanted to start at the heart of the matter, discussing why (and even if) God calls us to care for the environment as Christians.  We all quickly agreed on the importance of environmental stewardship, and the conversation next turned to addressing why we don’t always seem to focus on that call.  It’s a topic that many folks are talking about nowadays, often by asking, “how can Christianity begin to address preserving the environment?”

After thinking quite a bit about it over the past week, I wonder if part of the problem is that we’re asking the wrong question. While I’m not a historian or a theologian, it seems like for much of its history, Christianity was very concerned with the environment.  Check out this quote from an actual theologian:
Some people, in order to discover God, read books.  But there is a great book: the very appearance of created things.  Look above you!  Look below you!  Note it.  Read it… God, whom you want to discover, never wrote that book with ink.  Instead he set before your eyes the things that he had made.  Can you ask for a louder voice than that?                       - St. Augustine (354 - 430)
And this one:
All creation is a symphony of praise to God. - Hildegard of Bingen (1098 - 1179)
And also this one (my favorite):
God writes the Gospel, not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars. - traditionally attributed to Martin Luther (1483 - 1546)
If the trees and the flowers are important expressions of God’s love (perhaps almost as important as the Gospel), it seems to logically follow that we should preserve those things.  To be fair, Martin Luther and St. Augustine never talked about reducing your carbon footprint or using light bulbs that look like curly fries, but care of creation was still a part of their message.  Perhaps then, the question should really be, “Why have many Christians turned away from caring for the environment in recent decades and how can we get back to where we were?” Asking the question phrased in that particular way for me really results in some interesting answers.

To start, I think saying “the environment” isn’t a good thing.  Much like referring to “climate change” as “global warming,” referring to God’s creation as “the environment” doesn’t fully express the concept… the environment seems like something apart from us, something “out there” (and increasingly distant).  Most Christians however, would consider themselves part of God’s creation.  I myself can’t wait for it to get warmer so I can get out in the woods or play Frisbee in the fields… the environment doesn’t seem like something I can enjoy sitting in this coffee shop.  God’s creation though is something that seems much more all around me… he even created the chocolate chip scone I’m eating right now (and very much enjoying).  If we can begin to see caring for God’s creation as caring for something we’re a part of, maybe it’ll seem a little more important. St. Augustine didn’t lock creation up in a park or wilderness preserve… he wouldn’t have seen himself as separate from the creation that he so applauded at all… why should we?

God’s peace,
Dustin

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