Muskrats and the Practice of Restraint

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]

Are Christian Becoming Greener?

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?”

To Buy or Not to Buy? This is Not the Question

I’ve long been convinced that one of the most significant things we do is spend (or not spend) money. What we buy is an expression of what we value. It’s a direct vote in the ongoing referendum on the type of economy we want.  These last six months have made this clearer to me. Years ago I remember being scandalized when a national leader (a president or something) urged everyone to respond to a crisis by going out and buying stuff. I still think the advice was misplaced, but I am now a little more sympathetic. Continue reading “To Buy or Not to Buy? This is Not the Question”

Sermon for Sunday, August 16 – “Send her away. She keeps shouting at us.”

Texts for August 16 -Matt. 15: 10-28

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.””

Nature has Been My Ballast

The last few months have brought storms and strange currents to the people and organizations to which I’m tethered. My spirit has fallen, risen, and fallen again. My legs have ached, not from training for the marathon I was hoping to run, but from sitting too long in my makeshift office, an old table in a corner of the basement. There, a roaring water heater and furnace drown out virtual meetings.

The thud of my kids’ feet on the floor above is rolling thunder. The dog steals their erasers or hats. They give chase. In the din and swirl, I read notes from quarantined congregants, contemplate layoffs and lead prayers. The ship has stayed afloat. Its ballast has been rocks and trees, sun and cloud. Continue reading “Nature has Been My Ballast”

Should Nature Have Rights? Exploring a Provocative Question

Here’s a piece I wrote some time ago “in partial fulfillment of the requirements” of a course I was taking. If you’re hoping for some spiritual or theological reflections from me, this will not scratch that itch. While I do think the question of whether or not nature should be granted “rights”  is of theological and pastoral significance, that isn’t the lens I’m using here. I’m posting this piece as an invitation to reflect on what I think is a provocative and important question. (I’ve removed the footnotes below, not to avoid attribution but to make it a bit less tempting to borrow.)  Continue reading “Should Nature Have Rights? Exploring a Provocative Question”

From Nature to Creation – Further Explorations in Ecotheology

What is the basic description of our contemporary environmental crises? From climate change to the extinction of species to air pollution to the unsustainable exploitation of non-renewable resources—what stands behind these? Norman Wirzba thinks the central issue is theological. He thinks the root of all these distressing trends it is idolatry.

He makes this case in his 2015 book From Nature to Creation: A Christian Vision of Understanding and Loving Our World. The arc of the book is pretty simple: as residents of modernity we have come to see Earth as a meaningless happenstance of resources instead of as a divine gift. Wirzba writes, “Since we cannot look to God as the source of the world’s meaning, the only place to turn is to ourselves as the ones who will assign to the world whatever intelligibility or purpose it has.” The diagnosis of idolatry is not an evaluation of the world itself. Idolatry is created by the assumptions we hold not by the object behold. There is nothing idolatrous about nature, the idolatry comes through our thinking that we can manipulate nature for our own ends. Wirzba quotes Jean-Luc Marion, “‘The gaze makes the idol, not the idol the gaze.’” The modern gaze turns nature into resources, into economic potential, into unexploited wealth, or, to use a phrase of Heidegger’s, into “standing reserve.” The modern gaze places expectations upon nature that it can’t possibly bear. This is the essence of idolatry.

But is Wirzba right? And if he is right, does it matter? Continue reading “From Nature to Creation – Further Explorations in Ecotheology”

A Primer in Ecotheology with Celia Deane-Drummond

This post is the first in a series based on reading I’m doing this winter in the literature of ecotheology.

I’m not exactly sure where the eucalyptus branches came from, but there they were at the front of the sanctuary on the altar. The woman who put them there said they were to remind the congregation of Australia, eucalyptus being a common tree in that country and that particular Sunday being about the time we learned that hundreds of millions of animals had died in the fires there. In the midst of the service I found myself praying for those animals. I had never prayed such a prayer from the pulpit before. Continue reading “A Primer in Ecotheology with Celia Deane-Drummond”