The Common Good

Brian McLaren: Knee-Deep in a Swamp

I took my day off yesterday and completed an annual pilgrimage of mine, a pilgrimage that began when I was a boy. I used to walk hand-in-hand with my dad to a pond near our home in upstate New York, and my dad would scoop out a mass of frog eggs with a big plastic bucket. Surrounded by the trills and calls of spring peepers, American toads, gray tree frogs, and leopard frogs, we'd bring home our prize and put in a goldfish bowl. In the coming weeks, we'd watch the eggs develop, hatch into tadpoles, and eventually, nourished by vegetable scraps and algae, they would metamorphose into little "froglets" and we'd let them go at the pond. I imagine that's where my love for God's creation began - and in large measure, my love for the God of creation, too.

So today I went down to a wetland in southern Maryland - one I've been visiting annually for about 20 years. I donned my hip waders and plunged into the jubilant outburst of spring. There weren't any frog eggs yet - we're about two or three warm days too early still. But there were a few spotted salamanders depositing their egg masses, and there was a veritable riot of toads trilling in the warmer shallows. As I watched the males ballooning out their chins and the females swimming between potential mates, I wondered if my grandchildren and their grandchildren will still be able to enjoy what, for me, are some of God's coolest works of art. Amphibians are considered, after all, to be indicator species: when the environment is under stress, it's often the amphibians that are the first to perish.

When a group of conservative religious leaders recently tried to stop the National Association of Evangelicals from addressing global warming in a serious and public way, they showed not only their lack of understanding of environmental science, but also of evangelicals. The tide has turned among many evangelicals, or perhaps we should say spring has come. Groups like A Rocha, Floresta, EEN, and Restoring Eden are mobilizing evangelicals to care for creation as never before, inspired by leaders like Cal DeWitt, Melanie Griffin of the Sierra Club, Matthew Sleeth, and many others. They know what the Dobson group doesn't seem to know: Carelessness toward the environment represents an old kind of colonial, Industrial-age Christianity that is being left behind by younger evangelicals who are morphing into something new.

When I came home from my day in the wetland, I had an e-mail waiting that included a link to Restoring Eden's response to the conservative religious leaders' recent letter. Led by Peter Illyn, Restoring Eden is voicing a set of values that is attracting more and more people. A chorus of environmentally-committed voices is growing louder and louder among evangelicals every day - and among people of all faiths around the world. There's no time to waste.

As the old hymn says, "This is our Father's world." Thank God for people who are speaking up on its behalf. Be sure to read the Restoring Eden statement.


Brian McLaren (brianmclaren.net) is an author, speaker, Red Letter Christian, and serves as board chair for Sojourners/Call to Renewal. His most recent book, The Secret Message of Jesus, just came out in paperback. Word is out that the book is ideal for study groups.

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