We just celebrated thanksgiving. For many of us, it was a wonderful time to gather with family and friends and celebrate the goodness that comes to many of us in our lives. It’s fun to do that; it renews our spirit; it gives us an opportunity to reconnect with those who are important to us. That, in itself, is reason to be thankful.
But thanksgiving is also a time to reflect on and rediscover our role as caretakers of creation. The Bible calls this “stewardship”, and it’s a joyful task. We are to be people who love creation, who care for creation as we care for ourselves. It seems daunting at first, because we’ve neglected our stewardship. We’re seeing the costs of our neglect. Creation is facing a sad, tragic and uncertain future at the moment.
When we rediscover our God–given role to be caretakers and lovers of creation, we begin the work of healing, and what could be more joyful than that? We’ve missed so much by neglecting and ignoring creation.
Most of creation came into being before we did. The Bible has several stories of creation. (Let me repeat they are not scientific manuals, but rather they are stories of meaning.) In Genesis 1, we read that God called it all “good”, indeed that it was “very good”. The value of creation isn’t found in how useful it is to us. Creation is good just as it is.
Brian McLaren suggests seven first steps to all who want to re–enter our primal and deeply fulfilling role as caretakers of God’s beautiful world.
1. Develop a theology of creation. Sadly, many churches have a gospel of evacuation and abandonment. They believe we will leave creation behind as our souls are beamed up to heaven. The rest of the world is all “left behind”, so it doesn’t matter what we do with creation.
What we need instead is a theology of engagement. Deeply rooted in Scripture, such a theology empowers us to work in partnership with the Creator, loving and caring for creation.
2. Worship the God of creation. God is revealed first as Creator, and at the end of the Bible’s story as the gracious source of a renewed creation. God is both the source and the goal of life.
In our urban, western culture, many of us worship God apart from creation. We locate God within human doctrinal constructs and within buildings we construct. What would happen, I wonder, if we offered our praise within a forest of trees with deer and moose, or under a canopy of stars with a choir of singing birds, and chirping insects?
3. Learn the threats to creation. They are many, and they are complex, and they are interwoven and mutually reinforcing. And we are complicit in nearly all of them.
4. Adjust your lifestyle to creation. We are as connected to habitats of soil, water, air, grass, and trees as are elks and bears, dragonflies and hummingbirds. We have been living in a fantasy world for centuries, forgetting that we are woven into the fabric of creation. It’s time to adjust our lifestyles to that beautiful fabric. It will be a lifelong task, involving personal action (changing light bulbs, recycling, composting, driving less and driving wiser, applying new technologies, etc.), as well as social and political action.
5. Specialize in one part of creation. We can’t all know everything. The beauty of community is that as we share our knowledge and concerns with one another, we can be more effective together. Choose birds … or flowers … or wetlands … or sea turtles … or wind … or habitat preservation. The important thing is: Get started!
6. Start with your environmental address. A postal code is just so mail can find you. Your real address is a watershed … a place on the planet where you consume, pollute, garden, tend, and care. We all have to care for the whole planet, but we each must care especially for our own ecological neighborhood. You can start with the website http://wildsight.ca/programs/know-your-watershed/, a project of the Columbia Basin Trust.
7. Advocate for creation everywhere. Birds don’t get to vote. Neither do streams or salamanders. Corporations are given legal status and protection, but most forests aren’t. Huge insurance companies and banks are bailed out, but most rivers aren’t. If birds and soil and trees and wind are going to be given a voice in life–and–death decisions made by humans, then we will need to advocate on their behalf.
There’s so much more to be said and done, but this is a start. And these things are not simply a duty, but a true joy. The threats and urgency of the moment can be truly overwhelming, but the Spirit of creation that hovered over the surface of the waters in Genesis 1 is still alive, stirring hearts to rediscover a truly human way of living in God’s beautiful green world.