Sunday, August 4, 2013

God’s Green Equity

Swamp White Oak at Exton Park
Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns.”
    The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved;
    he will judge the peoples with equity.
Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
    let the sea resound, and all that is in it.
Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;
    let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.
         (Psalm 96:10-13)

This summer I’ve found myself involved in some new projects that have me thinking more than ever about the physical world around us, how we use and abuse its resources, and what it means to be stewards of what we’ve been given.

And I’ve been digging deeper into that strange stew of words that swim through scripture: justice, equity, righteousness, faithfulness, shalom.

I’m involved in a League of Women Voters national committee studying the state of food and farming: confined animal feeding operations, subsidies for ever expanding monocultures of corn, transgenic salmon, nanotechnology in food, health impacts of pesticide exposure.

As part of my involvement in the League, I attended a convention in Lewisburg, PA, and a council meeting in Leesburg, VA, where I found myself talking to a wide mix of women concerned about food, farms, and environmental impacts: a beekeeper from Illinois, worrying about bee colony collapse; a daughter of generations of shrimpers from Louisiana, grieving the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico; a professor of energy policy from Nebraska who explained quietly over a leisurely dinner that natural gas drilling has turned the expansive grazing lands of native grasses into industrial landscape. I carry her voice with me as she said, very softly: “The Wind River Valley now has the worst air quality in the country.”

Yes, and I carry the voice of the woman from rural Erie County, who explained that abandoned oil wells not far from her home are being used as repositories for contaminated natural gas waste water – too near Lake Erie, and too near the small family farms that supply the few jobs of the region. “We finally got the lake clean, and now this. And what happens to those farms when they can’t get clean water?”

My other involvement this summer is with Friends of Exton Park, a group I’ve helped start to promote and protect an 800 acre park in the middle of our county, a pond, wetlands, and surrounding fields and woodlands, a green jewel in the middle of the suburban sprawl of shopping malls, highways, and developments.

In the park, we’ve been removing invasive plants that threaten the native habitat: cutting back oriental honeysuckle bush, freeing native trees from the stranglehold of oriental bittersweet, balling up miles of mile-a-minute vine, digging up purple loosestrife before it fills in chokes the fragile wetlands

In both arenas, I’ve encountered people surprised to find a Christian concerned about such things.

Here’s what I’ve been told: 
Christians don’t care about climate change or global warming.
Christians believe the earth is here for us to plunder.
“Green,” to Christians, is pagan. Or pantheistic. Or both.
And God will destroy this earth, the sooner the better, so why bother? 
Let me take a moment to grieve.

I wonder, sometimes, how God feels when his people misrepresent him so badly.

Yes, there are loud voices that insist emphatically that climate change is a propaganda tool of godless liberals.

Voices that equate unfettered consumption with patriotism and righteousness.

But surely there are other voices?

Several years ago, Byron Borger of Hearts and Minds bookstore posted “ Learning to love what God loves: Creation care and Christian discipleship”. He described almost four dozen books on what he described as “green theology--a strong emphasis of the doctrine of creation (what Calvin called "the theatre of God.")”
Reflecting on the many strong titles about love and care of creation, Borger wrote: 
“It breaks my heart to know that so few of these kinds of resources are well-known, most not on the shelves of church libraries or resource centers, not selling well at most Christian bookstores. Some fine green titles quickly go out of print since customers do not buy them from the stores, or the stores don't by them from the publishers.  (Some stores refuse to stock them, even, which is another sad story.)”   
I’ve been spending time in a series of psalms: 96 to 98. Parts of them are familiar: “Sing to the Lord a new song.” “Shout for joy to the Lord all the earth.”

But there’s something going on in these psalms I hadn’t noticed: the joy and celebration rest in confidence that God will return to act on behalf of the suffering earth. 
“Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them.
Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy;
They will sing before the Lord, for he comes,
He comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
And all the peoples in his truth.”
       (Psalm 96:12-13) 
These psalms and other parts of scripture make clear: the earth is part of God’s plan of redemption, and his justice will be occasion of joy for nature itself: fields, trees, seas, mountains.

Which suggests that those who want to understand the joy and hope of God’s justice might need to engage in some way with this earth we call home: its struggle, its pain, its beauty.

In Engaging God’s World, theologian Cornelius Plantinga says:
“Biblical hope has a wide-angle lens. It takes in whole nations and peoples. It brings into focus the entire created order—wolves and lambs, mountains and plains, rivers and valleys. When it is widest and longest, biblical hope looks forward toward a whole “new heaven and new earth” in which death, and mourning, and pain will have passed away.” (13)
I’ll be spending the rest of the summer looking for ways to engage more volunteers in caring for Exton Park.

Experimenting with best practices of phragmites control in wetlands.

And wrestling with my own expansive crop of smartweed and creeping charlie.

Spending as much time outside as I can, bird-watching, kayaking, traveling to the Adirondacks to spend time with extended family in my favorite New York wilderness.

And finishing my part of our national study, trying to understand how federal policy shaped our current food supply and what needs to change to support more sustainable farming.

I’ll be exploring some of the voices listed by Byron Borger, and looking for other voices as well that affirm “green theology.”

And I’ll be blogging about food and farming, Jesus’ nature parables, and the intermingling of justice, sabbath, shalom, and the sweet, shared hope of God’s green equity. 
Let the sea resound, and everything in it,
    the world, and all who live in it.Let the rivers clap their hands,
    let the mountains sing together for joy;
  let them sing before the Lord,
    for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
    and the peoples with equity.
           (Psalm 98)