God is Green; God is Good

Meditations on Creation Stewardship

Happy Earth Day, everybody.
Wait. Can I say that?

You know what I mean when I say green. The typical image. Recycling. Saving the whales. Eating organic. Lowering your emissions. Planting trees. Eating veggies. The works. I have purposely not used the word “environmentalist” because the word indicates a specific attribute of the “green” attitude. When I think of issues of personal health and environmental health, it all connects together for me.  I consider them all aspects of the creation, from my body to my neighbor’s body to the bodies of land, water and air.

People have a tendency towards reactionism, do we not? Academics will come along and scoff at God with new theories, for instance, and instead of an academic response from Christians, there sometimes emerges a trend toward anti-intellectualism. “Look out for them smart people and their big words.” We sometimes run from the fire so far that we drown in the river. In light of this understanding, let’s consider the following:

God created the world. He made it. Saw that it was good. A-men?

The story of creation is the story of God building a temple to dwell in.  The construction of this temple is told as a seven-day sequence.  On that seventh day, God ceases building, and begins dwelling.  He goes from hovering over the empty waters to filling up the temple.  The Lord likes to fill things that are pure.  He even flooded the whole earth because it had been tainted.  He wanted to save it, not annihilate it.  Thus it still stands, and we must fill it with good, not evil.

Ever wonder why we are given two narratives of the creation in Genesis?  The narratives do not disagree, but they do reflect a tension between two responses to creation that are meant to complement one another.  The first narrative is of Adam charged with filling and subduing the earth, the second to cultivate and to keep the earth.  The first focuses on our privilege of mastery over creation; the second focuses on our responsibility of tending to creation.  Fill and subdue; cultivate and keep.  From this balance I have learned many things.  I am still learning, and have much to learn.

God made humans in his own image. This was good too. In fact, it was his most prized creation. He placed it above all creation. He told humans to subdue the earth and have dominion over the animals. He even told Adam to name them.  This temple within a temple is taken from the materials of the earth and breathed with the very breath of divinity, creating a being capable of will, of love, of holiness.

But man sinned. Before, all Adam and Eve had to do was chill in the garden, eating the good fruit. Now, Adam is cursed to work with the earth. He has to work up a sweat.

Since then our relationship with God has been broken. Our relationship with one another has been broken. Our relationship with the earth has been broken. Man is at odds with God, with himself, with the earth and all things in it. All the earth is fallen and, as Paul would later say, all creation is groaning as if in childbirth.

The book of proverbs tells us that a righteous man has regard for the life of his beast. Does this mean that he cannot kill a beast to eat it? Certainly not.

But the righteous man will take good care of his beasts. A shepherd will watch its sheep all his life, and when the time comes, that sheep may indeed be slaughtered. This may seem funny to us in a modern, industrialized world where some have never touched a live sheep.

But this is why sacrifice was so important to God. The healthiest sheep in the flock was not only the most valuable product, it was a living thing full of vitality, capable of feeling, suffering.

After all. Would you kick a dog? Just for the thrill of it? There is a reason why studies show a strong link between torturing animals and being a potential psychopath. The ancient proverb rings true.

The Native Americans are often considered as heroes of the “green” way. They are depicted as being “at one” with the natural earth. Often tribesmen would refer to other living creatures as “brother.” But they also killed them. They ate them. As a bear gobbles up the salmon.  I ate with the bear and the eagle once.  I ate berries and trout out of potato salad containers.

The animals of the earth consume one another. The nation tribes of early America understood this, even as they placed themselves on the same level as the animals.  I will always remember reading in Cold Mountain of the old mountain woman who caresses her last goat on the chin as one rubs the head of a child, before holding him firmly by the hair and slicing his throat open to drain him of blood and provide her food.  I do not see this regard in the “meat factories” of today.  I do not see it in The Jungle.  The jungles of Africa shrink; the jungles of the city grow dense.  Both become polluted.

“Rise, Peter. Kill and eat.” Meat is not unclean to Christians. Inherently. “Pay no attention to those who say ‘do not touch,’ ‘do not eat,’ do not drink’.” But this was uttered in a nation in which the main problem was scarcity vs plenty, and not so much poison vs natural.  Christians should be careful of laws that forbid certain foods because they are said to be spiritually unclean.

But is it a sin to be a vegetarian? Are we to mock those who do not feel the gumption or necessity to eat meat? Is meat a…requirement for Christians?  Shall we mock the vegan, the localist, the foodie and the “health nut”?

People have different reasons for choosing such a lifestyle. And if they choose such with discipline, it can and will lead to a very healthy life. Such is to be admired more than ridiculed. Some choose not to eat meat if they do not know where it comes from, because they do not believe that the farms providing such meat righteously regards the life of their animals. Instead, most animals used for these purposes undergo conditions that are not only cruel to them, but can also damage our health as well.

Besides, God gave to Adam and Eve every herb and seed to be their meat. The scriptures indicate that, until the time of Noah, God’s people were more reliant on flora than fauna for nutrition.  You can be mesmerized by how vegetarians get their protein if they don’t eat meat, but why don’t you ask that question of a gorilla?

Although for different reasons than today’s usual vegetarian options, Paul of Tarsus submitted that he would never eat meat again if it would offend someone who stumbled over it, even if he thought they were silly for doing so. Are we offending others with our expediencies, just to make an irrelevant point unessential to the Christian faith?

In Deuteronomy, the Lord gave the Israelites specific instructions for taking and gathering things of the earth. They were to respect the balance of life. This was not because the earth was some mystic goddess, but because the land was a gift from God, and their prescribed protocols for working with the earth were for their own good. They were conservationists.  And for those conservatives out there, hung up on labels, what is more conservative than conservation?

We live in a land of abundant resources, while many in other countries suffer from a lack thereof. What would happen if more of our resources began to run out, because we drowned ourselves in the excess? Would we learn to be more thankful to God?

Gluttonous over-consumption and greedy consumerism can have a price on the body, the soul, the community.  I have said nothing new.

Is pollution a sin? I mean, it’s not “in the Bible”.  That is, most of the pollution issues we have today weren’t problems then.  But disposal of waste was an issue, as was other matters of physical cleanliness.  Let’s be honest. When Christ came in the flesh, there was no such thing as an industrialized world. Things came more directly from the earth, and excessive prosperity was not as widespread and available as it is to post-millenium Americans.

But can you see Jesus walking out of Burger Land and tossing his trash into a ditch?

When I go to fill my car with gas, I am only buying a product from someone, and have no control over how they obtained it. But should I be silent when companies drill for oil in foreign countries, fail to clean up their mess, and skip town while the crude oil seeps into nearby streams and contaminates the water, giving God-knows-how-many people cancer for years to come?

Folks, when somethings like this happens, somebody is responsible for it. Are we speaking out against it, like we do about terrorism, abortion, sexual anarchy? Are these lives not precious to God who suffer at the hands of careless profiteers?

Your body is a temple. A-men?

And there is something tragically ironic about a 350-lb. man scorning someone for having a tattoo, only to bury his face back into a bucket of fried chicken, taters n gravy, apple pie and a large coke for the sixth time in a week.

Consider the hypocrisy: A shortly-painful act of symbolism that an individual may be taking in order to remind themselves of the sanctity of their body is labeled sin. Yet eating unhealthy meals on a daily basis and refusing to get any exercise until you punish your body with heart disease is not?

If smoking a single cigar is a sin, why is not eating a single candy bar?

Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the king’s meat.  Have we grown drunk on the teat of Babylon?

Why is it that we call some people “health nuts”?  When we are enduring a quadruple bypass and staring out the window at the granola crunchers playing tennis, are we as ready then to call them nuts?

Organic, nutritious food. It comes from God’s good earth. It’s less tampered with by the schemes of man. And I don’t eat enough of it. I ask you the same question I ask myself:

Are we taking good care of our bodies? Do we understand that our body is a temple?  Through and through?

It may not be a sin to buy my tomatoes from Wal-Mart. But God is a God of the small, the humble, the meek, the honest, the hard-working.  Wal-Mart only honors this in one way: cheap fruit.  In all other ways, it falls greatly short:  The food is poor quality, the employees are given slim benefits and pushed to work part time to lie about their hours, the monopolization warps local communities, taking away more jobs than it creates, and perpetuates the outsourcing of production overseas, and receiving subsidies from the govt. (yes, I know the government has a hand in this too.  I’m not making a political point so much as a point about personal conscience as a shopper—the government is nurturing corporatism, not solving it).

Should I not consider supporting my neighbor, the local farmer? My neighbor, who works his behind off growing food the old-fashioned way, without shortcuts that sacrifice nutrition for profit? How am a shining light in my community? Do I defend the cause of the poor and oppressed? Many small farms are oppressed by big industry.

Sometimes I wonder: if God made seasons, what does it mean when we try to cheat the seasons out of growing what comes and goes according to its season?  Are we really practicing the kind of creation mastery God intended?

Global warming. To some, it is our most dire crisis. To others, it is a pseudo-science and a joke. Let us remember. The sun is much larger than the earth, and it too has its seasons. We have only been measuring the temperature of the earth worldwide for so long, and we know the sun’s seasons and flare affect our earth. It can do so for decades at a time.

And yet I do know without a shred of doubt that we can absolutely pollute a local atmosphere with the gases our industry produces.  If that’s true, is that in itself not enough for us to question the way we produce and exhaust?  The emissions we release when we create using “short cuts” to material things?

Although our actions can have a negative affect on the creation, God created an ecosystem that will sustain itself until the day he chooses to bring us to a renewed creation.  I truly believe that.  But I also believe that gift of creation can be spoiled, even if we cannot destroy it completely.

To consider God’s creation, to consider your body as part of it, to consider how to be a good steward of all the blessings laid at your feet, and the consequences of the actions you make on yourself and others.

I once heard a preacher say that many Christians are more concerned with picking up trash than saving souls. While this is true, I ask myself: Why should we not do both? The ministry of Christ was both physical and spiritual. It was holistic. It was to spread across the world.  It affected the inner lives of individuals, but also shook the ways communities lived out everything.

There are those out there who seek to deify nature, or man as part of nature. They worship the earth itself. Some have even long for the end of mankind as a species so the earth can go on without us. They are in touch with mother nature, but they do not remember their Father creator.

But there are also those who care nothing about who or what they exploit to easily obtain resources they could otherwise work hard for. They punish their bodies, their beasts, their land, and their neighbors out of a sense of entitlement, pleasure, and excessive consumption. They do not respect God’s beautiful creation or truly care for those who live in it.

I am still learning, and I have much to learn.  I lack the natural and nutritional literacy to speak as an expert on these things.  I only know where to begin, and I learned it from those before me.  Help me grow.  Help me practice creation stewardship.

Know this: The earth belongs to God. Our bodies were fashioned from it. We are the stewards of another being’s creation. This comes with privileges and responsibilities. May we always respect our creator by respecting his creation.

God made the earth his temple.

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