Earth Day came and went last week, represented on Her.meneutics with a flurry of commenters responding to Kay Warren's piece, "Puppies Aren't People." On the same day, DisneyNature released Earth, a film blending spectacular beauty, heart-warming scenes of animal families, the realities of life and death, and the impact of change. According to Variety, Earth is the highest-grossing documentary for an opening weekend. As my husband, Mark, and I stood in line to buy our tickets, we learned that Disney is planting a tree for every ticket purchased in the first week of the film's release. So far over 500,000 trees will be planted in the fragile Atlantic Rainforest of northern Brazil.
Embedded in Earth's beauty and narration are reminders that ecosystems have been altered in ways that make flourishing difficult. We witness a polar bear struggling to survive, and while we don't see him die, it appears that he does. As the summer ice melts, he loses his platform for hunting and his ability to feed after hibernating all winter. But on the upside, we see mama polar bear introducing her cubs to the world, a bird teaching her young to fly, a whale migrating with her calf, and elephants with their cadre of babies trekking across deserts in search of water. Earth shows mamas at every turn - nurturing, teaching, chastising, carrying, and nudging. (Watch the trailer and get a two-minute sample.)
Earth and films like it serve to remind viewers that we are only one part of creation, and are given the task to bear God's image, which includes being steward caretakers of Earth. We are interdependent with all of creation and need a healthy Earth to flourish. We love others - both human and non-human - as we care for ecosystems that sustain life. What is good for forests and polar bears ends up being good for people, too. Earth reminds us, for instance, that God created trees not primarily for humans to turn into houses or fuel, but to help keep the atmosphere in balance by absorbing CO2 and releasing oxygen. And trees are home to a myriad of birds and insects that God delights in and loves. God designed creation so that all its inhabitants could flourish; humans are just one species, with the unique responsibility to see that others flourish.
It's a challenge to think of creation this way. Mostly, we think of it in terms of what we need from it to survive. I would suggest that we have lost sight of a bigger picture held more clearly by Christians before the Industrial Revolution. Hear C. S. Lewis's wisdom, from Mere Christianity:
We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the [man] who turns back soonest is the most progressive …. And I think if you look at the present state of the world, it is pretty plain that humanity has been making some big mistake. We are on the wrong road. And if that is so, we must go back. Going back is the quickest way on.
Lewis wasn't talking about creation care in particular, but the principle fits. And evangelicals are turning around. One example is Flourish, a national conference of leaders on creation care to be held in Duluth, Georgia, next month. It's the first national gathering of its kind, seeking to help the church help all Christians move forward. We are turning, and representing something of God's image as we do.