If you’ve ever had to pack up the stuff in your office and move it out in boxes, you know it’s a weird feeling. Is the change a symbol of success . . . or failure . . . or just the start of a new season? I’ve done this kind of packing twice now. Both times it’s been an exercise in reflection and hope. Conversations I’ve had with people run through my mind. I reflect on what my work might have meant to others and what it’s meant to me. I sort through pictures and cards. I try to fit the greatest number of books in the fewest number of boxes. I’ve been a theology prof and a pastor. These are both book-heavy jobs, so packing up is a slow process.
In February I packed up the books in my pastor’s study in preparation for taking on the role of Ontario Director with A Rocha Canada. As I did so it occurred to me that one set of books served as something like a kind of vocational hinge. I doubted my new role would test my knowledge of major theologians or require me to dust off my resources for leading weddings or funerals. On the other side of things, my work as a pastor didn’t have me turning very often to my favorite passages from Rachel Carson or Aldo Leopold.
The hinge books, and I was pretty sure of this, would be the biblical commentaries. These I expected would be almost as relevant to my new role as they had been during my pastorate.
In the months leading up to saying goodbye to the congregation I served for almost seven years, I had given a series of sermons about the Bible and ecology. I had done that for several reasons. I wanted to signal to congregants the shift in my own sense of call. I wanted to be honest about the key questions that were on my mind. I also wanted to test my thesis that the Bible has something to say about ecological matters, matters which I believe are among the most significant facing the human community today.
These sermons were warmly received, though every pastor knows that few comments are harder to interpret than “Thank you for your sermon.” What surprised me, and this is what ran through my mind as I packed my commentaires into boxes, was how readily the Bible spoke to ecological matters. Yes, there were the well-known themes of God declaring the earth to be “very good” and the psalmist reminding us that the “earth is the Lord’s.” A closer look, guided by the work of several key scholars, revealed more points of connection between the Bible and ecology. Think of the role water plays in both the Hebrew Bible and the life of Jesus. Think of the way John’s Gospel tells us the Incarnation connects God to “flesh.” Or, to cut the list too short too quickly, think of the way many biblical writers describe non-human creation in animate terms.
As I taped the last box of biblical studies books shut, I had the distinct sense that those books wouldn’t remain entombed in cardboard for long. There is too much in the Bible that speaks to the ecological crisis unfolding around us. There is too much in the Bible about the value of the earth and the relationship all creatures have with their creator. There is too much about the importance of human creatures living with restraint and wisdom. There is too much there for warmhearted readers of the Bible not to be energized by the many connections between the burden of the prophetic biblical writers and a world in need of new ways to imagine the “good life.’’
The contents of my office are now sitting in our basement awaiting a move to southern Ontario. I think of the biblical studies volumes with gratitude. I’m thankful for the chance to encourage others to see both the Bible and the natural world with new eyes. Karl Barth is often credited with suggesting that good preaching requires the reading of both the Bible and the newspaper. The Bible helps us understand and respond to the events of our day. The news of our day too often includes the extinction of species and loss of habitat. The Bible reminds us that not a sparrow falls without God taking note.
If you’re curious about my new role, you can learn more (and support our work) here.