When I was a kid, maybe seven or eight years old, I liked to go fishing on the lake near our family’s Ontario home. A friend and I would hike to a rocky point with room cast the heavy line and lures we used. Sometimes my younger brother and I would row a little boat out into the bay and fish. The best part was that it was just us kids—no adults. The only rule was that we had to wear life jackets.
A few things stand out to me as I think back on those little fishing expeditions in the 1980s. One is that I expect there was probably more adult supervision than we knew. Our sense of freedom was complete, but I doubt we were really out of sight for very long. The second thing, which I knew nothing of at the time, was that the place we fished was part of a horrifically polluted watershed. We lived just outside of Dryden, Ontario, home to a pulp mill and, at one time, a chemical plant. According to the province, in the 1960s and 70s the pulp and paper operation dumped “around 10 metric tonnes of mercury” into the Wabigoon River. A paper published last year in The Lancet Planetary Health called this “one of the worst environmental disasters in Canadian history.”
A little over a decade ago, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada published a short booklet that outlined a biblical case for environmental stewardship or “earth-keeping.” At the heart of the document was this observation: “We stand . . . at a watershed in human history: we are no longer at the mercy of the seasons, yet our continued drive for mastery may lead to disastrous environmental consequences.” This assessment is hard to refute, yet even years later the way forward is fraught.
A few weeks ago, just beyond the edge of our neighborhood, an excavator crawled off a low bed trailer and went to work. The big machine was equipped with a brush-clearing attachment. Over the span of a couple of days, the operator worked his way around the retention pond, munching through small deciduous trees and mowing down the cattails. The excavator’s twin steel tracks left deep ruts in the wet ground. The work blocked off the path we use for our daily walks. Nevertheless, my family and I watched anxiously to see what would be left. [the rest of this column for Mennonite Creation Care Network is available through this link]
Most of us have been refreshing news websites more than usual these last few days. We’ve done more than a little addition and subtraction related to the number 270. We’ve had a good refresher in US political geography. Our eyes have become quite quick at discerning red from blue, light red from dark red, light blue from dark blue. Some of us have even found ourselves caring more than is natural about the workings of this obscure creature known as the electoral college.
Whatever the outcome of the US election itself, it is already clear that the social divisions that plague our communities have not gone away. There has been no massive unifying reaction to the presidential term that is about to expire. In that sense the situation in the US remains similar to many other western countries, Canada included. In such a context, we might wonder, what is the role of the church?
Is Christianity becoming a more environmentally sensitive faith? In 2016, a scholar named Bron Taylor, along with colleagues Gretel Van Wieren and Bernard Daley Zaleha, published a paper in the journal, Conservation Biology suggesting there is no evidence that the world’s religions are becoming greener. Earlier this year, a Nigerian scholar named George Nche published a paper that surveyed more than 100 empirical studies and came to a similar conclusion. There is scant, if any, empirical evidence to suggest that religions in general, or Christianity specifically, are becoming greener. Continue reading “Are Christian Becoming Greener?”→
Our reading from Romans 14 is about judging others. It’s about the limits of our ability to say what is right for someone else.
I’m trying to word that carefully. The issues is not whether we should or should not reason together or even debate together about what it means to follow Jesus or what it means to love God and our neighbours. Of course we should do those things. This passage is about the limits of our ability to determine what is right for someone else. Continue reading “Sermon for Sept. 13 – Eating Vegetables and Passing the Judgment”→
I want to use my time today to encourage us to think about two virtues. A virtue is a quality of character. A virtue is an expression of who we are. All of us cultivate virtues over time. And the virtues we cultivate, or the virtues we practice, go a long way in determining how we respond to the things that happen to us. Down through the ages, this language of virtue has been a way for Christians to connect with good people outside the faith. Hope, self-control, justice, bravery, joyfulness, patience—these are virtues our neighbours praise and respect, just as we do.
Some time ago I came across an essay suggesting that pets introduce us to theology. The basic idea was that we don’t learn about God only from parents or teachers. We learn about God from animals. I forget the name of the theologian who wrote the piece. Before we dismiss the idea, think about this: several early Anabaptist leaders were known for advocating what they called the “gospel of all creatures.” It’s the idea that somehow the good news God displays in the life of Jesus is good news for, well, all creatures. Or consider this: the end of the Gospel of Mark (in what we refer to as the long ending of Mark) Jesus instructs his students to “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.” We could add on here a list of saints who affirmed the gospel of all creatures and other biblical passages that show God cares for more than just people. Continue reading “Sermon for Sunday, August 16 – “Send her away. She keeps shouting at us.””→
There was a time when various Christian networks or denominations liked to talk about what distinguished them from others. Arguments were had over minutia of doctrine and practice. This still happens in some places, but for many of us it has now become much more important to look at commonalities than differences. In that earlier era, though, Anabaptist writers published a flurry of books and articles trying to sum up an Anabaptist approach to the Christian faith in nice, easy lists. The push was to develop the shortest set of teachable points that somehow could speak to core issues that distinguished this segment of the Christian family from others. You can probably tell that I’m not much taken with these projects anymore. Having said that, I do know we all like lists, so below is an extract from a sermon that is my cut at listing Anabaptist distinctives. Or, put another way, these are gifts Anabaptist Christians bring to the larger family of faith: Continue reading “What Makes an Anabaptist an Anabaptist?”→
How much is a great whale worth—alive? One study puts the number at $2 million. Whales are an important part of marine ecosystems. They sequester carbon and distribute nutrients. But putting a number like that on a whale brings up deeper questions about value.
Yesterday young people led a global protest against the lack of serious action on climate change. Let’s be clear, the debate is not essentially a disagreement about the relative importance of the economy or the environment. There are jobs to be had and money to be made on both sides. The real issue raised by these activists is one of value. Continue reading “The Climate Strike, Scripture and the Deep Question of Value”→