A June 2021 headline in Atlas Obscura proclaims: “Tom Brown’s retirement hobby is a godsend for chefs, conservationists, and cider.” I’d add “for the church” too.
Brown, a retired chemical engineer, has spent his waning years searching for lost varieties of apples. At the turn of the 20th century, there were about 14,000 varieties of apples in the United States. But as Eric J. Wallace reports in Atlas Obscura, “by the late 1990s, U.S. commercial orchards grew fewer than 100 apple varieties.”
Over the past 25 years, Brown “has reclaimed about 1,200 varieties, and his two-acre orchard … contains 700 of the rarest”—dappled yellows, reds, and greens, with monikers like Carolina Beauty and Sheepnose. Still, Wallace continues, “experts estimated about 11,000 heirloom varieties had gone extinct.” Those subtle multiplicities of sweetness, tartness, color, and texture. Those glorious horticultural stories and names. Gone. Replaced with engineered homogeneity.
Environmental debates can trade in abstractions. The scale of environmental catastrophe can leave one mind-boggled into apathy. The problem is too big, too hard to understand. But it is in the particulars of backyard birds, earthworms, and apple orchards that concerns about creation become comprehensible to me.
As creation care advocate Matthew Sleeth points out, whether one understands or even affirms anthropogenic climate change, we can intuitively understand that the world is dying. And we as a church must mourn how the emptying of our skies and seas damages not only the earth but also our faith. The destruction of creation inevitably alters our ethics and our worship.
Every disappearance of plant ...1
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