Tag Archives: environmental theology

Day 31: the need for hope.

These few days of class have opened my eyes to just how much work needs to be done in order to save the planet.

Let me tell you: a lot of work needs to be done.

It’s overwhelming. It’s scary. It’s discouraging. There is so much healing, so much changing, so much patience needed to reverse the damage we’ve done. How can we rewrite so much of our cultural and ethical codes? How can we convince our fellow human beings to radically change their habits? How can we possibly do this on our own?

One of my professors quoted John Cobb, a process theologian:

“Without God’s initiative, I have no hope.”

God is the answer. God is the one upon whom we lean. God is the catalyst, the guide, the hope.

So many times today, I felt crushed by the enormity of our task. Until I recalled those words and remembered: God will see us through.

Katie Davis is a missionary in Uganda whom I admire deeply. Her book holds as much inspiration for me as the bible. She writes of a time when she left Uganda for a stint in the states, and how during that time she lost touch with God. She was surrounded with counterfeit gods that fulfilled her basic needs and thus did not rely on God and on prayer to get food on the table and heal the sick. It was not until she returned to Uganda that her relationship with God was restored, when she had to rely on him every single day.

This is us. We are hurtling toward our own destruction, moving so quickly that we cannot save ourselves unless we act now. Unless we rely on God.

Remember yesterday? Turn to God. Be in his image. Lean on him, rely on him, have faith in him. If we do our part, he will do his. He will give us hope.

Amen.

Day 30: the image of God.

Human beings are made in the image of God.

This is one of the most familiar notions of Christian thought, something we’re taught as children. God made you in his image. God made you to be like him.

One of my professors offered a really beautiful way to look at this: think of it like a mirror. We are a mirror image of God, but only when we are turned toward him. The minute we turn away, we are no longer in his image. In the language of Genesis, God makes everything to flourish. God sees that it was good. God nourishes, sustains, loves. We are his appointed stewards of the earth, the ones he delegated to rule over it. If by our behavior we are eliminating species of animals, we are no longer in the image of God. Because God makes everything to flourish, and our behavior makes everything to die.

What’s more is that our arrogance isn’t even biblically rooted. We were indeed given God’s decree to care and perhaps rule, but we weren’t spun from the divine. One of my professor’s was the primary Genesis translator for the Common English Bible, a new translation, and explained Genesis 2:7 thus:

Here’s the NRSV translation: “Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.”

Now, “dust of the ground” permeates our church language. You are dust, and to dust you shall return. But my professor explained that the Hebrew words in this passage are used in agricultural contexts in the rest of the bible and thus better translate to “topsoil of the fertile land.”

God didn’t make us from dust or dirt. God made us from soil, fertile and abundant soil, the very substance from which earth gives life. We are of the earth and we are grounds for growth, for nourishment, for feeding and sustaining the rest of creation. Isn’t that beautiful?

Let me take it a step further. My professor also offered Genesis 2:19, where the man, Adam, calls the animals to him.

A segment from NRSV: “whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was its name.”

The same segment from CEB: “The human gave each living being its name.”

Now let me explain this translation. In Genesis 2:7, man becomes a “living being” when God breathes life into his nostrils. The Hebrew word in that verse, the one that becomes “living being,” is the same word as Genesis 2:19 that we commonly translate to living creature. In the original Hebrew, human beings and animals are described using the exact same word in these two verses of the creation story. We are living beings. This previous translation set us above the animals with a different word, essentially tricking us into difference (at least from my rather bitter perspective). Isn’t that… kind of annoying?

So we come from the soil, the earth. We are living beings much like the animals. But we are in the image of God when we face him, when we look toward him, when we see that the natural world is good and we make it to flourish. That’s what sets us apart, it seems: the intention. Turning deliberately toward God and taking his values into our hands, spreading his love to the four-legged and green-leaved alike.

But we pollute the earth. We make our meals from animals who were battered and tortured and disrespected. We generate more garbage than the earth can hold. We bulldoze acres of rainforest to make room for our own interests. We consume consume consume and turn a blind eye as the earth suffers for it. We have turned away from God’s image. We are no longer facing him.

I am no longer facing him. I am convicted.

What do you think about this?

Day 29: first day of school!

Today was the day! I started classes at a seminary in town, working toward my certificate of environmental ministry and leadership! We didn’t do much today in terms of actual study. Mostly just introductions and a field trip to the dump (yeah, you read that right). However, I did promise a list of tidbits. So here we go.

1. Three of my classmates have a science background: one in physics, one in chemical engineering, one in environmental biology. They all agree that their relationship with God was strengthened through their love and appreciation for science. Isn’t that kind of beautiful?

2. One of my classmates recently adopted a cat from the shelter where I volunteer. A cat whom I adored. This particular classmate is an excellent match. What a little blessing :)

3. There is a world class golf course in southern Chicago built on top of a landfill. This golf course has no trees because of the plastic liners that are used to keep the waste under control: tree roots would tear the plastic and release fumes and toxins.

A short list. There will be more tomorrow: we’re digging into the theological and biblical resources!

Day 28: first day of school! …tomorrow.

I’m going back to school tomorrow.

Let me clarify: I’m going to attend classes at a seminary in town for the next four days as I work my way toward a certificate in environmental ministry and leadership. I’m one of ten or so students, and we have three instructors who will walk us through lecture, readings, and field trips. I’ll do project work over the summer and return to the seminary in October for another round of classes.

To say I’m excited is an understatement. I can’t wait to meet my fellow tree huggers and dig into the readings we were assigned and ask hard questions about what we, as Christians, are obligated to do to care for creation.

I will be busy and likely tired, but my current plan is to blog 3-5 of the most interesting tidbits I learn each day!

And now… to bible study! My friend Amanda invited me over early so we could eat vegan food and talk about veganism together! She’s also a distance athlete and wants to talk about diet things. She’s making sweet potato chickpea curry. I can’t wait.