This is the second in a series related to our upcoming event, Green Faith: An Interfaith Conversation about Eco-Consciousness and Activism. If you missed the first post in the series, you can read it here and also see the end of this post for information on tomorrow’s related radio show.
I grew up in the heart of a large city, one which is surrounded by immense natural beauty. Portland, Oregon, sits at the convergence of two large river valleys (the Willamette and the Columbia) that join and head into the Pacific Ocean. My earliest memories of the city recall the majestic Mt. Hood, which stands like a sentinel looking out over the city. The coast is just 1.5 hours away, and there is green everywhere you go, all year round.
I took all this for granted growing up, as I got the best of both worlds: a large urban center surrounded by a lifetime’s worth of hiking and outdoor adventure. Growing up in that part of the country had a formative shaping influence on me, but there was one other key catalyst that revolutionized my relationship to the world of nature. When I was 20 years old I became a follower of Jesus, which forced me to rethink a great many things about my patterns of living.
One crucial part of adopting a Christian worldview is realizing that all of life, including the world in which we find ourselves, is a gift. A wonderful gift offered by a brilliant, creative, and loving being who has a fascination with color, form, and beauty.
The foundation story of the Jewish and Christian traditions in the book of Genesis makes the unique claim that human beings are both distinct from the natural world, but also intricately bound to it. We share a common origin with all creatures in that we come “from the earth.” However, the story offers another insight about humanity’s relationship to nature, namely that we have a unique responsibility to harness the raw potential of the earth and its resources, and do something with it. Genesis uses the royal image of humanity “ruling” God’s good world (1:26), and “working and caring” for the land (2:15).
Humans have to do something to their environment; we cannot avoid leaving a footprint in the world. The question is whether we will build communities and civilizations that, so to speak, go along with the grain of creation, or will we develop a relationship with the earth that is one-sided, only taking but never giving, preserving, and respecting. There is one clear imperative from this foundation story: the earth does not belong to humanity; it’s a gift to be stewarded, developed, cared for, and enjoyed.
This story has had a profound impact on the kinds of decisions my wife and I make on many levels: the kinds of food and other resources we consume, the ways we clean or commute, and where and how we recreate. It’s also opened my eyes to see that the biblical story offers a stiff challenge to our culture of gross overconsumption that has literally spiraled out of control. This is not simply an issue of economics, but a problem that strikes to the heart of a Christian worldview: What are we here for? Can we honestly look at our current structures for producing and consuming goods and say this honors the gift of creation along with its Giver?
The motivation for creative problem solving, for the drafting of new policies, and for changing our daily habits needs to have deep roots if it is to succeed. I have found those roots deep in the Christian story, and it’s one of my joys and challenges as a leader and teacher in my church community to help others discover the gift of creation and our responsibility to “work and care” for it.
Tune in tomorrow to our radio show, Green Faith, as Jean speaks with Anna M. Gade, UW-Madison Associate Professor and expert on eco-Islam in Indonesia, and Cal DeWitt, UW-Madison Professor and author of Earthwise: A Biblical Response to Environmental Issues.
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