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Creation Care Starts with Our Bodies


Feb 26 2014
Or, what I learned from my bikini-clad mother-in-law about the goodness of creation.

Editor's note: Christian environmentalist Leah Kostamo's recent book, Planted: A Story of Creation, Calling, and Community, shares her and her husband's work with a faith-based conservation group called A Rocha. Planted has won the acclaim of novelist Margaret Atwood, with whom Kostamo r ecently appeared on national TV in their native Canada.

Here, Leah has graciously shared with us an excerpt from her book on how her ministry is rooted in the goodness of God's creation. Plus, it opens with this fantastic anecdote about grandmas in bikinis. Enjoy. -Kate Shellnutt

My mother-in law wears a bikini. She is 70 years old, and decades of gravity have done their work. But she wears a bikini nonetheless, with a devil-may-care nonchalance to what others her age are more inclined to cover in sarongs, ruffles, and cruise-wear.

She's my hero.

Her okay-ness with her body has a two-fold source. First, she's Finnish. Do you know any Finns? Untouched by the Puritan prudishness that is historically English and North American, they share a continental European lack of modesty concerning the body, to the extreme. While other Europeans are going topless on the warm and sunny beaches of the French Riviera, the Finns are flinging themselves buck naked from their saunas into the snow. There's a reason to take off your shirt in the south of France—it's hot! But why subject your whole bare self to the crunch and scrape of ice in the dead of winter? Whatever the reason, the point is, Finns are profoundly okay with their bodies.

How does this relate to faith and creation care? My mother-in-law is also a devout Christian, and I think her embrace of the bikini as her swimwear of choice goes beyond her Finnish heritage to her biblical understanding of creation. She understands that when the Bible says that Adam was formed out of the dirt (adama in Hebrew) that she too is a human formed out of humus and that humus is good. She actually believes that when it says, "God saw all that he had made and it was good," that means her body as well. It also means mountains and trees and iguanas, but one's body is a great place to start.

Theologically, the idea that the material world is good makes sense. After all, God wouldn't have taken on a human body if flesh were inherently evil. Christians believe Jesus was fully man and fully God. Yes, he came to redeem the world, but he did so eating and drinking, walking and sleeping. And working: Jesus was a carpenter, for goodness' sake—he worked with wood, with callused hands and sweat in his eyes. Jesus' full participation in the material world sheds a holy light on all manner of "earthy" jobs, from ditch digging to diaper changing to gardening to fish- and frog-studying.

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