Every 5-7 years, members of the IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) meet to discuss future changes to Earth’s climate. Over the past two decades, near-unanimous agreement exists amongst them that the Earth’s warming over the past century is due mostly to man-made causes. The IPCC reports themselves, however, can be completely overwhelming to the casual reader. To account for this, many various documents have been produced which attempt to explain the IPCC reports more succinctly and simply. One that does a particularly good job, is Climate in Peril, a guide you can download by clicking on the link. It’s a very convenient guide for someone looking to get an overview of the important aspects of climate change science, without needing a PhD to do so.
David Conover, producer for years of Discovery HD Theater’s Sunrise Earth, is currently working with his team to produce a groundbreaking musical documentary currently in production titled Behold the Earth. It is described as “An Inquiry Into America’s Divorce From Nature,” and with good reason, given the rampant proliferation and over-saturation of electronics that our culture faces today. This documentary seeks out the lost relationship between man and the created world, and concludes that is time for religion and science to meet on common ground. I’ve embedded the trailer below…
I’m happy to announce the recent arrival of a great new resource in the creation care arena. The UNC News21 website has gone live, and is titled, ‘Powering a Nation.’ This website serves as an excellent source point for individuals interested in learning more about where our energy comes from, and the costs (seen and unseen) that are associated with it. In particular, an excellent section, Reclaiming Creation, offers a look at how the Christian creation care movement is adding fuel to the fire of a renewed environmental push.
Dean Ohlman is a Christian nature writer for RBC Ministries and the publisher of the Our Daily Bread devotional, among other things. He was kind enough to share his Creation Care Resources for Pastors with me (placed under ‘Seminars, Study Guides & Education Downloads’ on the Resources page), as well as a brief article which will appear in the August issue of the Creation Care for Pastors Newsletter.
At 140 pages, the Resources for Pastors piece is quite a comprehensive work. The ‘Contents’ section found on page 2, however, is very useful for browsing the subjects covered. Subjects range from theological (e.g. The Marks of the Steward & The Meaning of Creation) to the creative and thought-provoking (e.g. People as ‘Tweeners). There are surely more interesting topics to be found as well; I simply haven’t had time to browse it all as of yet.
Be sure to check it out; I’m sure you can find not only personal enrichment, but thoughts and ideas that will move your church towards a more environmentally-friendly stance.
Every once in a while, I stumble a cross a great resource for pastors trying to find ways to get their congregations involved in creation care. One such resource is The Greener Good. They offer everything from canteens to jewlry to muscle rub, and everything in between. It’s worth checking out if you know someone interested in ‘green’ products, or as a resource to present to the church or small groups.
Thanks to Liz over at Greener Good for official logo permissions.
The fruits of the spirit are one of the most oft-quoted groupings of spiritual values in the whole of Christianity. The fact that they’re described as fruits indicates that they grow with time, and eventually provide nourishment. The fact that they’re of the Spirit means that we can’t produce them on our own. After reading over them a few times, it occurred to me that taking a closer look at how the fruits of the Spirit relate to the realm of environmental stewardship can be a very fruitful (sorry) exercise. Let me start with Paul’s exhortation to the Galatians, reminding them of how their lives should flow:
“…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
Love. Caring for creation shows that we have love for the rest of humanity. Jesus said that this is how Christians would be known. If science turns on its heels and it becomes clear that climate change is not a significant issue, that won’t deprive the creation care movement of its relevance. I remember my initial shock when I discovered that we can be held accountable not only for the things we’ve done, but also the things we’ve failed to do (so-called sins of omission). The significance of this particular endeavor is that it shows that we cared enough, or loved enough, to act on what we knew.
“By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Joy. Being joyful is different from being happy. Here’s how: joy lasts. If you’re in an attitude slump, getting involved in something long-standing and meaningful is a great way to try to get back on track. With the global awakening to “green” practices, the creation care movement is certain to be a long-standing activity. And speaking of significance, there’s a little section above on the topic of love.
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”
Peace. I honestly can’t say that working in the realm of environmental stewardship gives me a greater sense of peace, and I can’t promise that it will for you. But hypothetically, what if you lived on an island that was 12 inches above sea level, and the water was rising? What if you had a family member with severe asthma (and it is rapidly increasing)? What if your livelihood depended upon seasonal rains that aren’t coming anymore (and climate science implies humans as the cause), as is the case in sub-Saharan Africa? You would take a great deal of joy knowing that someone was trying to bring your life a little more piece, even if in the smallest way possible.
“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”
Patience. Actively practicing environmental stewardship increases patience. Changing your incandescent bulbs to CFLs or LEDs won’t reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere when you wake up in the morning. Neither will putting that stack of paper in the recycling bin instead of the dumpster provide life’s necessities for a family on the Indian subcontinent. I can promise you, however, that it is a step in the right direction. Your effort won’t go unacknowledged.
“…Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything…”
Kindness and Goodness. Kindness is the verb to goodness’ noun. It’s been said by some scholars of the Greek that kindness is goodness in action. When we’re younger, we divide everything into two categories: good (the ice cream) and bad (the broccoli). No one really wants to be bad. If you’re a good person, and I like to think most people are, the way you show that is by acts of kindness: giving change to that stranger, opening the door for the elderly couple. Jesus seemed to sum up worship as a state of being ready to unleash kindness. When we consider the financial resources that could be saved by driving less, being more watchful of the running water and so on, it’s easy to see an emerging opportunity for kindness.
“…by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”
Faithfulness. This one is “easy.” Our first command as creatures created in God’s image was to take care of the rest of creation (at the time, to tend the Garden). We can faithfully answer this call by implementing simple practices that help reduce our environmental footprint (the impact we have on Earth).
“…From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”
Gentleness. This is a word that encounters a lot of barriers in our fast-paced, high-octane world of passing the next man and being the first to the top. It doesn’t imply getting stepped on a daily basis, but it is dripping with the insinuation that being capable of power doesn’t always mean acting on it. Think of the possibilities if instead of exhausting the world’s non-renewable resources, we invested more time and energy into implementing renewable sources of energy. Perhaps the excess in conventional sources could be used to lift up the impoverished places of the world.
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”
Self-control. I suspect most people reading this will be from a Western, and likely American background. America is a wonderful country, but we have a consumption problem, and I confess to being a part of that problem. There are many ways to try to reduce consumption of various products, and there’s a good chance you’ve seen numerous lists. Ultimately, it depends on self-control, and our ability as a community to not feel obligated to grab everything in sight. By following that line of thought, we can reduce our dependence on far-away sources of commodities, which has been shown over and over again to stimulate local economies. This in turn, has been shown to lead to more environmentally conscious localities.
“Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.”
-1 Peter 1:13
Hopefully that was an encouragement to you, or a spur in your side, or both. It was both for me. I mentioned in the opening that because these gifts originated from the Spirit of God, we couldn’t produce them on our own. There’s a sunnier side to that statement as well. Because these things are of God, I believe that if we put the effort in, the chances of a bad harvest are slim to none.
In February 2008, members of the ICMA ( International City and County Management Association) met to discuss the importance of sustainable communities and how to promote them. The result was a document titled “The Moral Imperative for Sustainable Communities”. It’s a a brief and excellent read for anyone seriously concerned with moving forward into a future in which the environment is not too heavily burdened by human means.
Michael Abbate is a landscape architect who has recently been led to devote more of his time and talents towards being a good steward of God’s creation. I’ve had a chance to read his new book, Gardening Eden, and was finished with it before Michael was even able to get back to me with responses. I can vouch that it is a great read: simple enough for anyone to understand, yet still written with a clear knowledge of environmental issues and how the Christian community needs to meet them. You can find it in our bookstore, here.
CCFP: Many Christians who would consider themselves to be conservatives politically are often anxious when we begin discussing the environment. What do you have to say that could assuage their fears?
Conservatives are people who think that it is wise to be careful how we expend resources, whether financial or environmental. They tend to want to be careful, to ensure that there are enough resources for future needs. Therefore, conservation of our planet with its remarkable resources and wildlife is a wise and conservative way to live. Michael Abbate is a landscape architect who has recently been led to devote more of his time and talents towards being a good steward of God’s creation. I’ve had a chance to read his new book, Gardening Eden, and was finished with it before Michael was even able to get back to me with responses. I can vouch that it is a great read: simple enough for anyone to understand, yet still written with a clear knowledge of environmental issues and how the Christian community needs to meet them. You can find it in our bookstore, here.
In fact, in 1989 the United Nations Brundtland Commission came up with this definition of “sustainability”, which has continued to this day:
“The ability to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”
Doesn’t that sound like an idea rooted in the concept of conservation?
Here’s a common refrain I have heard: “Mike, I don’t know WHO to believe or WHAT to do.” Many people are “eco-curious”, that is, they have a vague feeling that they should care about the environment, but they don’t know how to make the first step. They also wonder if they have to buy in to a political agenda to live green.
Sometimes, we have allowed politics to blind us to the commonalities between us. If I can label an idea or person as right-wing or left wing, it allows me to dismiss their ideas without giving them any real intellectual consideration. Many believers have done this with the issue of environmental stewardship. But environmental conservation is not fundamentally a political issue, it’s a spiritual one. At what point did conservation cease being a conservative issue? And isn’t living conservatively a good thing, a sustainable thing, an admirable thing?
Gardening Eden helps people to sort out the fact from opinion, theology from scientific theory, and provides some very practical ways we can all live to be called “good and faithful stewards.”
CCFP: Do you have a favorite scripture passage, or a few, that you feel exemplify God’s call to care for creation?
Well, this is a tough question, because there are so many. But a good place to start is the beginning.
In Genesis 2:8,15, we find humankind’s first job description; “Then the Lord planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he placed the man he created. The Lord placed man in the Garden of Eden to tend it and care for it. ” Here’s the start of it all. Long before the snake, the apple, and the banishment from the Garden, God had a plan to give us all a fulfilling life in close harmony with the Creator-God. Gardening Eden was not Adam’s punishment; it was his purpose.
Other favorite passages include the phenomenal 104th Psalm, which I call “the Ecology Psalm”. Read it and you will see God’s genius even more profoundly. God’s post-flood covenant with all of creation in Genesis 9 is a remarkable demonstration of the Creator’s love for all of creation. Psalm 24: 1-2, Hosea 4:3, Romans 1:20 and John 3:16 also jump off the page for me.
CCFP: This seems to be an explosive initiative within the church. Movements are springing up everywhere. What’s changing?
I believe that people under 30 are leading the way on this issue. I have talked with dozens of people who are no longer willing to look at conservation in this left vs. right, polarized way. They are activists wanting to DO things rather than just debate them. These folks see the inherent mandate for the faith community to protect the planet, and are frustrated that older generations have failed to act decisively. They read Shane Claiborne’s book Irresistible Revolution, and decide they too want to move to the inner city to help rebuild a sense of compassionate community. They hang on to Francis of Assisi’s words: “Preach the gospel at all times – if necessary, use words.” I think it is a very exciting time to watch how the faith community builds on the activist traditions of the past and transforms itself as doers as well as speakers.
CCFP: I’d like to get involved, but I can’t stop environmental decline…can I? What small steps could I take to make a difference in my home?
Great question. In light of daily headlines of ecological degradation, it is easy to feel helpless. This is not much differently than most of us feel during the current economic collapse. And yet, we understand that we are called to be faithful stewards nonetheless. So we set out to act wisely and conscientiously with our finances.
In a similar way, we should enter into a prayerful examination of our lifestyle and determine changes we can make to honor the Creator. The second half of Gardening Eden is filled with simple tips that we can consider in four main areas of our lives: Food, Energy, Transportation and our Homes. Whether it is buying local produce from a farmer’s market , changing to compact fluorescent light bulbs, or moving to a place where we can walk to our jobs and most services, everyone’s circumstance is different. I include 50 ideas for the believing reader’s consideration.
CCFP: My home is practically built with recycled paper and I’m ready to take the next step.
How can I influence change in my congregation or in my town?
Get involved in the civic life of your community and your place of worship. On the community side, how easy is your city to walk around in? Are there provisions made to encourage pedestrians and bicyclists? Does your City Council or Mayor have any goals about becoming a Green Community? Do they buy renewable energy? Perhaps you can be the person to help lead your leaders to a more responsible position on Creation Care issues. Volunteer for your city’s Planning Commission, Neighborhood Association, or other group of community influencers.
In your faith community, see if you can put together a group of like-minded people who will help the church leadership understand practical things that they can do to demonstrate this stewardship ethic. Then, get to work! I have generated the following Top Ten list of things to green your church or synagogue:
10. Form a church “Green Team”
9. Conduct a Creation Care Audit of facilities, operations
8. Develop a Prayer Garden (with the help of landscape
———-architects and contractors)
7. Use locally grown food at events
6. Create a community garden
5. Stop using disposables
4. Become a model of recycling
3. Bike or walk to church
2. Do a local restoration project together as a congregation
1. Teach and model the biblical basis for Creation Care
CCFP: Do you think that by embracing these concepts, the church at large can become a more faithful witness to the Gospel? How?
Not only do I believe it is possible, but I think it is likely. As people grasp the spiritual implications of environmental stewardship, a new personal motivation will come into play. Spiritual faith has a profound ability to inspire people to do right, to deny oneself, and to make sacrifices for others. When this is practiced in the nation’s churches, cathedrals, synagogues, mosques, and other faith communities, tremendous environmental successes will be inevitable. More important than that, I believe the Creator of all will be pleased.
When the secular world sees faith communities doing the right things for reasons of conscience, we become more attractive and authentic, matching our doing with our saying. They hang on to Francis of Assisi’s words: “Preach the gospel at all times – if necessary, use words.” I think it is a very exciting time to watch how the faith community builds on the activist traditions of the past and transforms itself as doers as well as speakers.
CCFP: Is there anything else you feel evangelical leaders around the country should hear?
The Church universal needs them to lead on this issue. If they do, they will find that their congregations will enthusiastically support them, for the most part. A few members who have become so deeply politicized that they cannot see God’s truth outside of their narrow political agenda may leave. But God calls his spokespersons to be men and women of truth and love. This will require courage, but all of us in the faith community need them to step forward and lead.
If a leader is in doubt about if the risk is worth it, talk to pastors like Tri Robinson of Boise Vineyard, Bill Hybels of Willow Creek in Chicago and Joel Hunter of Northland Church in Orlando, among others, who have been incredibly effective and courageous Christian leaders in the movement.
Also, organizations have sprouted to help carry the message across the pews: Flourish, is a national network that inspires and equips churches to better love God by reviving human lives and the landscapes on which they depend (www.Flourishonline.org). Your group, Creation Care for Pastors, is an organization committed to “serving pastors who are interested in a growing emphasis within the Christian community called Creation Care.” (www.creationcareforpastors.com). One of the first and foremost organizations is the Evangelical Environmental Network, led by Rev. Jim Ball (www.creationcare.org).
Finally, I would encourage pastors and church leaders as well as the laity to contact me and enter into a dialogue on these issues. I thoroughly enjoy discussing these issues with people both inside and outside faith communities. I have been honored to speak for audiences in many parts of the country and I very much hope to continue doing this, along with media interviews of various types.
People can now follow me through my GardeningEden Twitter feed, Gardening Eden blog (www.gardeningeden.wordpress.com), or my website www.michaelabbate.com. I am inspired by hearing stories about how others have made decisions to better the environmental condition of the planet. I also love to dialogue back and forth on questions of both faith and creation care. I believe that our efforts will make the planet a better place, to be sure, but even more importantly, we will be drawn into a closer relationship of the God who created it all.
Recently, Bjorn Lomborg, called by The Guardian (U.K.) “one of the 50 people who could save the planet,” spoke about climate change, and the best ways to approach it. He says we need to focus on making green energy cheap as opposed to making fossil fuels expensive, and that in general, we need to be smarter about how we approach the problem. The interview can be read here.
Below is fairly recent article from Christianity Today, entitled “Taking Heat.”
U.S. evangelicals’ slow warming to creation care raises the question: how concerned are evangelicals in countries considered ground zeros for climate change disasters?
World Evangelical Alliance (WEA)-affiliated umbrella organizations in high-risk countries (as identified by Western environmentalists) have not been as vocal on climate change as their World Council of Churches counterparts. But evangelical bodies in several developing nations are mobilizing members as they prioritize the problem among other issues such as evangelism, persecution, and HIV/AIDS.
“In the West, you hear climate change being described as a threat. In my country, it is not a threat—it is already happening,” said David Kamchacha, disaster rescue coordinator for the Evangelical Association of Malawi (EAM). The Association of Evangelicals in Africa (AEA), to which EAM belongs, says changing weather patterns threaten the sustainability of longstanding rural communities throughout southeast Africa, and local churches are the grassroots organizations that people turn to for help.
Churches in the global South rank climate change low on their list of priorities, said Brian Swarts, national coordinator for Micah Challenge USA.
“There’s an awareness of the issue,” he said, “but a lot of [churches] don’t have the desire or capacity to address it.”
One such country is Sri Lanka, where evangelical churches are struggling in the face of persecution and anti-conversion laws.
“There is an ongoing civil war and we have a huge internally displaced population,” said Godfrey Yogarajah, general secretary of the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka. “As we struggle with mere survival physically, climate change is not on our agenda presently.”
By contrast, Osvaldo Munguía of Mopawi and Mark Halder of Koinonia lead evangelical taskforces on climate change in Honduras and Bangladesh respectively, where increasingly violent storms claim crops, livestock, and lives each year yet local evangelical churches do not recognize climate change as a significant problem.
“Climate change issues are not as compelling to church leaders because the [Bangladeshi] church is not very strong,” Halder said. “Pastors are very much engaged in evangelical work … rather than county-level social, economic, and political issues.”
While Bangladesh and Honduras deal with an excess of water from increased storms, Africa faces the opposite problem. An estimated 75 million to 250 million Africans are projected to face a water shortage by 2020, according to the Evangelical Environmental Network.
Climate change is already negatively affecting the African poor as crop yields decrease, mud huts are decimated by increased rainfall, and schools and clinics are destroyed by changing weather patterns, said Stephen Mugabi, executive secretary of the AEA’s Commission on Relief and Development.
The evangelical church is crucial to Africa’s response to climate change, Mugabi said. The AEA is planting trees and providing food to affected people in Uganda, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe.
Kamchacha is doing the same in Malawi, where he said rural areas have become increasingly disaster-prone. With the help of Tearfund, a British aid organization that has become the poster child for evangelical work on climate change, Malawi evangelicals proactively build dikes to fend off floodwaters and plant drought-resistant crops.
“When [in the West] you talk from theory and your knowledge is from books, you have time to delay,” said Kamchacha. “In my country, we cannot afford to delay. We need to act now.”
“This article first appeared in March issue of Christianity Today. Used by permission of Christianity Today International, Carol Stream, IL 60188.”