Sunday, April 22, 2012

Earth Day Shalom: Ripples of Resurrection

How long will the land lie parched  and the grass in every field be withered? 
Because those who live in it are wicked, the animals and birds have perished.                      (Jeremiah 12:4)

Pollution Yellow Skies, Kay Jackson, Washington DC
What would Jeremiah say about oceanic dead zones? Or the growing man-made deserts in Central Asia and North Africa? Mountain top removal? Or the lingering sludge of the tar sand spill lining the Kalamazoo?

There is a tight correlation in scripture between the health of the land and the appetites of its people. Adam and Eve’s greed in Genesis spilled immediately onto the ground itself: “Cursed is the ground because of you.”  In Leviticus, God’s people were warned that the productivity of the land would be tied to their obedience in the use of it. Plow and plant for six years, let it lie fallow the seventh, and God would provide far more than they needed:
“If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands, I will send you rain in its season, and the ground will yield its crops and the trees their fruit. Your threshing will continue until grape harvest and the grape harvest will continue until planting, and you will eat all the food you want and live in safety in your land.” (Leviticus 26)
In the prophetic books, Isaiah, Jeremiah and others warned of environmental devastation resulting from misuse of the land, injustice toward the poor, disobedience of God’s laws. They warned of drought, famine, crop failure barren fields, thorns and thistles, roving jackals.

Despair, you farmers, 
   wail, you vine growers; 
grieve for the wheat and the barley, 
   because the harvest of the field is destroyed. 
The vine is dried up 
   and the fig tree is withered; 
the pomegranate, the palm and the apple tree— 
   all the trees of the field—are dried up. 
Surely the people’s joy 
   is withered away.  
       (Habbakuk 38)
Explicit condemnation of exploitation of the land echoes through the prophetic warnings:
“As for you, my flock, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats.  Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet?” (Ezekiel 34)
The Great Promise to the Creation, collage
Jae-Im Kim, Korea, 2007,
Yet amid the prophetic warnings are promises of shalom: God’s peace, but more than peace. Nicholas Wolterstorff, in Educating for Shalom, wrote:
“…Shalom is the human being dwelling at peace in all his or her relationships: with God, with self, with fellows, with nature. . . But the peace which is shalom is not merely the absence of hostility, not merely being in the right relationship. Shalom at its highest is enjoyment in one’s relationships. A nation may be at peace with all its neighbors and yet be miserable in its poverty. To dwell in shalom is to enjoy living before God, to enjoy living in one’s physical surroundings, to enjoy living with one’s fellows, to enjoy life with oneself. . .”
The coming shalom described by the prophets invariably includes a healed creation: mountains and hills shout for joy, trees dance and sing, streams gush into barren places, abundant harvests bless humans and hungry creatures alike:
The desert and the parched land will be glad;
   the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;
   it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. (Isaiah 35)
You will go out in joy
   and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
   will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
   will clap their hands.
Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper,
   and instead of briers the myrtle will grow. (Isaiah 55)
The Tree of Life, Helen Siegl 
If the resurrection was the sign of the great reversal, it was also the sign of the coming shalom. When the resurrected Jesus greeted his friends, his first words were “peace be with you.”  In his letter to the Colossians, Paul insists that all creation is woven together by the creative, sustaining power of Jesus himself, and that the resurrection is the start of reconciliation and God’s shalom for “all things - on earth - or in heaven,” not just for humans, but for all creation:
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. . . For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Colossians 1)
Can Christians be green? Tim Keller, of Redeemer Church in New York, gave a terrific sermon on this topic not long ago. His conclusion is the same as church fathers through the centuries: Christians are called to live as passionate promoters and protectors of creation.

Keller offers examples:
Stuart L Pimm, winner of the Hieneken Prize for Environmental Science:
“I’m a believing Christian. “God so loved the cosmos that he gave his only son.” That’s an injunction from St. John. To me, this says that Christians have an obligation to look after the world — stewardship. We cannot pointlessly drive species to extinction and destroy forests and oceans. When we do that, we are destroying God’s creation.”
Joel Salatin of innovative, “beyond organic” Polyface Farm in Virginia: “We want a farm that builds soil, builds immune systems, builds nutrient density. Ultimately, as a farmer, I am in the land redemption business . . . (We need to) step in as loving land stewards, caretakers, as an expression of God’s grace, abundance and redemptive capacity.”   
St. Francis Preaches to the Birds,
Sadao Watanabe, Japan, 1985
I’m not a farmer, or environmental scientist. But my knowledge of Christ’s shalom calls me to extend that experience of welcome and safe haven. On our own suburban half-acre, I’ve been working to build a place of sanctuary for bugs, butterflies, and birds. Native plantings, non-chemical lawn care, and lots of bird feeders and water supplies have helped create an oasis of bird song. Nesting in our yard this year are bluebirds, downy and red-bellied woodpeckers, tufted titmice, chickadees, white throated and song sparrows, blue jays, cardinals, and two very dignified crows.

I know, though, that the world is bigger than my yard. Over the years I’ve helped plant trees on a city street, organized landscape days for a local elementary school, planted wildflowers around the edge of a townhouse complex. I’m currently trying to help organize a group of stewards for a neglected wetland near our home.

But resurrection ripples outward, from local community, to nation, to world. We’ve given to organizations like Heifer Project, World Vision, and Mennonite Central Committee for tree-planting, bee hives, and sustainable flocks of ducks and chickens. And we support Arocha, an international group of  “Christians in Conservation” begun in Portugal in 1983. Our son spent a summer interning with Arocha Vancouver, living in a tree house with an owl as his nearest neighbor. Now in DC, he's helping launch an Arocha chapter "to conserve Christian conservationists."

Harder, for me, than active practical engagement or support of environmental groups is the call to advocate for the captive, groaning creation. Paul wrote:
For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. (Romans 8)
As a child of God, what role do I have in seeing the world freed from its bondage to decay, not just in the future, but now? Is it enough to sign a petition against fracking, or do I need to do more? Is it enough to buy organic, local food, or do I need to speak out on behalf of sustainable farming?

For each of us the answer will be different. But for each of us, the call is the same: creation waits to see the children of God revealed, as sustainers and protectors of the earth God has entrusted us, as agents of shalom, as resurrection people speaking deliverance and life in places of death and bondage around this wounded, waiting world.

The Deliverance of Creation, Yelena Chersakova, Russia, 1997
This is the third in a series about the resurrection:
Risen Indeed: The Hermaneutic Community
The Great Reserval: A Resurrection People
As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome. Click on the   __ comments link below to post.