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The Conservation Conversation

I love the old hymn "All Creatures of Our God and King." Whether spiced up by David Crowder or belted out in the King's English, my soul is forever thankful to St. Francis of Assisi. When his 12th century refrain pops onto the screen in our sanctuary a burgeoning desire for God have me fearlessly belting out the lyrics.

Thou rushing wind that art so strong

Ye clouds that sail in Heaven along,

O praise Him! Alleluia!

This hymn carries my heart to the Creation story and to God's divine hand moving over the stillness of this planet, jolting it to life and movement and being. It takes me to Psalm 19 where "The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of his hands." It carries me to Isaiah where the very mountains and hills burst forth with the life from God.

I cannot stand atop a mountain peak or soak my bare feet in the salty ocean without giving thanks to God for the blessings of Creation. Even in my youth, long before I knew the name of Jesus, my very soul would move and groan for God in nature. Several of the most poignant moments in my life have been in the fullness of God's created world.

I know the same is true for millions of people. Just think "summer camp."

Thus, the fired-up, cannot sit still, gotta shout it out feeling I get when I sing St. Francis' words.

This is a glimpse of my story as a Christian who cares deeply for the environment. Last month (April 22 to be exact) the world celebrated Earth Day. Millions of people across this terrestrial ball did their part to clean up trails, pick up trash, plant a tree etc. I applaud the efforts of this global event.

Yet many churches still find themselves frustrated by this planetary agenda. Perhaps politics turns them off. Some cry "pantheism" and fear worship of trees rather than God. Others simply feel pressured to respond to a movement that they do not believe God cares about. I understand these sentiments.

But churches need to begin to understand the rapidly growing camp, squarely rooted inside of evangelicalism, that says caring for the planet is not first and foremost about any of these issues. It is about caring for the gift of the earth that God gave us. The very streams, trees and even the fire ants and gnats that God put here to help us thrive and survive.

The Creation Care movement for Evangelicals is less about "mother earth" (even though St. Francis himself interestingly uses this term in the fourth verse of this hymn) and more about every day people doing their best to take Genesis 1:28-30 seriously.

Christians who balk at this conversation often pull out tired arguments about worshipping trees or cite shabby politics. Yes, theology and politics play an absolutely vital role in this conversation. To assume differently would be utterly ignorant. But for the church to consistently slough off this movement and assume the conversation is only about politics or pantheism is to let bad theology reign.

Rather than forming a proper theology of Creation, many churches operate in a reactionary way and miss the opportunity to live as visionaries for what is possible on God's green earth. Therefore, they put care of the planet into the hands of everyone but the church.

Reclaiming this conversation to bring hope and healing to "all creatures of our God and King" is essential for the church. To read Psalm 19, Romans 1:20, Genesis 1 or to sing, "Let all things their Creator bless, and worship Him in humbleness," and then to leave church as if none of that actually applies is to thumb our noses up at God and say "thanks but no thanks."

To embrace the environmental conversation from a place of good theology, prayer, and a proper perspective on God is to help the church move toward the world and to empower the church to engage issues of justice, poverty and the planet (all three are inextricably linked). The church must move beyond the false dichotomy that says this conversation is either bad theology or bad politics. We must begin to live into the reality that this conversation is about caring for God's gift to us and the people of this world, present and future, to all creatures of our God and King.

How active is your church in this "conversation"? What can you do to make this conversation happen?

May12, 2010 at 2:21 PM

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