The article entitled, The Rise and Fall of Natural History, was about how we have lost our appetite for nature experience and, by consequence, our sense of wonder. This decline in curiosity and understanding about all things natural has been gradual since the elevation of the hard sciences in the late 1800’s, and ramped up after WWII, when technology and chemistry became our friends, and we moved to our sub-urban plots between the cities and farms (I’d say “wonder” took another hit after the computer chip became part of our everyday experience). It was at this point in the article that made me want to discover and teach this forgotten knowledge about our world, which ultimately leads to understanding and connection with our world.
But something new struck me when I read it again, after completing the degree and working in the field as an interpretative naturalist. Something I hadn’t previously noticed and highlighted. Pyle referred to a “tiny priesthood who know small parts of nature very well, and a massive population who know next to nothing about the whole, and not even the names of their neighbors.”
I realized that this was how I had felt for a long time, like a priestess. Everyday I sense that my mission is to do exactly what the priests of the O.T. did…to use the small parts of nature that I know very well, like their small knowledge of God…to connect people to their Creator and the Creation. Only my tabernacle is not the one built by human hands and adorned with painted and carved representations of flora and fauna. Mine is the original tabernacle God alone created. This does not mean I worship Nature as God, a serious rumor perpetrated by so many conservative Christians about their lesser conservative brethren.
I recently ran across a nature blog written by a Christian, excited that perhaps I had found a kindred spirit. Unfortunately, not so. One of her first statements was, “Jesus never told us to have a heart for the planet. Jesus had a heart for the poor. Throughout the New Testament, we are told repeatedly to take care of the poor and needy.” She went on to say that those who focus on saving the earth are worshipers of the Creation, not the Creator. I find this to be a huge disconnect. Where does she think food for the poor comes from – a grocery store that God reshelves every night when we’re in bed? People are poor for many reasons…and some of them are directly connected to the degradation of the land, the lack of resources, wars over resources or corporations denying those resources to indigenous people.
I think it is just as noble to try to redeem the systems that create and sustain poverty, as it is to feed them for a day by writing a check, which is, let’s face it, what the majority of people do. The most exciting, fruitful and God-honoring missionaries to any country, including our own, are those teaching “the poor and needy” to live sustainably on the land, build community and be empowered by the Love of God to say, No, to the injustices in their villages, cities and countries.
There is no fear in connecting the created world with God, even on a large scale. We don’t have to be suspicious and afraid of mixing the two. One is the Artist and the other the art, and it is not necessary to disassociate the one from the other. I think most people relate more to the Creator-God than the God of Abraham or Israel, because most people are not Jews. But we are lovers of hills, and sparrows, and grapevines, things that David and Jesus obviously loved as well, and referred to as they worshiped and taught us truth. And I’m not sure Jesus didn’t have a heart for the planet. In the oft-used John 3:16 verse, “For God so loved the world, he gave…,” the Greek word for world, cosmos, means “an orderly arrangement, i.e. decoration.” That doesn’t sound like just people to me…that sounds like the whole kit and caboodle.
Secular environmentalists must see themselves as a priesthood, also. They do their best to connect people to the only life-giving thing they know, which is the earth. And indeed, earth is the vehicle God designed to feed us through the soil, give us air through plants, and sustain our other biological, as well as spiritual, needs. I must give them credit for trying to evangelize a world, whose quality of life they believe now and for the future of all children will diminish as the earth continues to be used up and abused. They may understand the description of Jesus as a "man of sorrows" more than many Christians do.
But they are doing what they can, born of a set of values that really aren’t that far off from our own…or at least shouldn’t be. The common ground here is that we are a species who fall short of the glory of God in who we are, how we are, and what we do. Environmentalist will readily concede that WE are the problem because of our hubris, greed, autonomy and ignorance. But I find it ironic that in many conservative Christian circles I would be hard-pressed to get anyone to admit (let alone, repent) that it is our sinful doings that have plunged us into a world where the very gifts God gave have been, and are being, destroyed, polluted and used up at an alarming rate.
“No, it is just another cyclical Ice Age,” they say in response to climate change. “Been there, done that, watched the Disney movie.” And this conclusion, and subsequent inaction, does what for the Kingdom of God…? Does anyone else find this ironic? We say we have fallen short in our relationship with ourselves (self-indulgent), in our relationship with others (selfish) and in our relationship with God (self-centered), but somehow we’re exempt in our relationship to the planet. Nope, here we want our not-so-fair share of oil, our Chinese imports, our AC set at 70 degrees, our cheap food and our foreign dominance because we’re Americans, and America is the most self-less nation on the planet…blessed by the Man above.
But in contrast to that weak view of our culpability, we have a rare opportunity here to agree with our fellow humans, who happen to be scientists, conservationists, ecologists, and, dare I say it, evolutionists, and collectively testify, “Yes, we have blown it” (Can I get an “Amen?)!! Imagine what these same folks would do if we, as the Body of Christ, humbled ourselves and agreed that it is our human ways that have lead to the extinction of species, the obliteration of cultures, the global injustices caused by our oppressions and consumption…our ignorance? Can you imagine how open their hearts and minds might be, as we then go on to tell them why humans do these things, and how a loving God has taken the form of a servant in Jesus and became a humble sacrifice for our sinful ways…ways that are out of synch with nature…out of synch with the Creator-God.
But best of all, can you imagine how quickly God would “heal the land and all its inhabitants,” if Christians set out to be co-redeemers of the cosmos, which Jesus loved and died for? And can you imagine what would happen if the “Christian Right” set aside their agendas and became the meek that Jesus said would inherit the earth? Why, it would be akin to the “Liberal Left” declaring they changed their hearts and now see abortion as immoral! We would respect and welcome that change of heart towards Life, wouldn’t we?
And ultimately isn’t this what both priesthoods are talking about - Life. One group of us talks of it in spiritual and eternal terms; Abundant, the Way, the Truth and the Life. The other talks of Life in biological and sustainable terms; good air, clean water and healthy soil. Both are needed and both are true. Why should we fight about them, especially if they are for our good? Especially when God declared that they are good!
But the battle between evolutionists and creationists wages…but is it for the right thing? Most evangelicals see evolutionary theory as an affront to God, and come out swinging, like Peter cutting off the ear of the arresting soldier. But what was Jesus’ response? Put it away. Those who live by the sword, die by the sword. Then he goes on to explain that this is not a surprise and that, “Thanks, but he can handle this situation.” I don’t think God is offended or angry at people just trying to save the very things given to us to sustain us. Jesus was only aggressive and harsh towards those who used and abused, and whose arrogance far surpassed their heart’s spiritual enlightenment…namely the religious leaders. We need some of that confident humility now.
So, shouldn’t we, as imitators of Jesus, be the first to take the steps toward reconciliation with those who love the handiwork of God, but just don’t give credit where we think credit is due? They are just doing what we would be doing, if God had not stepped in to our lives and transferred us to another Kingdom. Their bent, like ours was, is to turn away from God (or maybe just Christians). It is part of our collective DNA. Let’s not forget that.
And let’s purpose to be about God’s Kingdom business of redeeming souls AND evil systems, restoring the earth, and reconciling with those whose positions are different than ours, and whom we might have offended.