What could be more joyful than rediscovering our God-given role as caretakers, stewards, and lovers of creation? What could be more sad and tragic than missing that dimension of life -- linking the human parts of God's creation with the rest? How much would we miss by neglecting or ignoring the vast majority of God's creation that came into being before we did -- and that was pronounced "good" by God completely apart from its utility to us?
Here are seven first steps that I recommend to all of us who want to re-enter our primal (and deeply fulfilling) role as caretakers of God's beautiful world.
1. Develop a theology of creation. Sadly, many of us have a gospel of evacuation and abandonment, leaving behind creation to be destroyed so our souls can be beamed up to heaven as soon as possible. We need instead a theology of incarnation and engagement ... where we join the Creator in loving and caring for creation. Thankfully, this theology that includes rather than evacuates creation is deeply rooted in the scriptures, and is being rediscovered and freshly articulated by many of us today.
2. Worship the God of creation. God is first revealed to us as Creator, and in the end, God is the gracious source of new creation. From creation to new creation, God the Creator is worthy to be praised. How sad if we worship God within a construction of human doctrines and within man-made walls and ceilings ... and never worship God within a forest of trees or under a canopy of stars or with a choir of singing birds, crickets, and tree frogs!
3. Learn the threats to creation. They are many, and they are complex, and they are interwoven and mutually reinforcing. And we are complicit in nearly all of them.
4. Adjust your lifestyle to creation. In the Genesis story, part of Adam and Eve "wanting to be like gods" must surely involve wanting to transcend our God-given role as creatures in an environment. We are as connected to habitats of soil, water, air, grass, and trees as are gazelles and lions, dragonflies and mockingbirds. We have been living in a fantasy world for centuries, forgetting that we are woven in a fabric of creation ... and we need to re-enter and adjust our lifestyles to that beautiful fabric. Doing so will be a lifelong task. It will involve personal action (changing light bulbs, recycling, composting, driving less and driving wiser, applying new technologies, etc.), but also social and political action. (More on that in #7.)
5. Choose a part of creation in which to specialize. God loves birds ... you can join God. God loves flowers and deserts and wetlands and sea turtles ... you can join God. God knows the potential of wind and hydrogen and solar energy to help us live more wisely -- you can join God. We can't all know everything, but we can all specialize in certain areas and share our knowledge and concerns with one another.
6. Start with your environmental address. A zip code is just so mail can find you. Your real address is a watershed ... a place on the planet where you consume, pollute, garden, tend, and care. We all have to care for the whole planet, but we each must care especially for our own ecological neighborhood. Here's a place to start learning ...
7. Advocate for creation everywhere. Birds don't get to vote. Neither do streams or salamanders. Corporations are given legal status and protection, but most forests aren't (maybe they should be?). If birds and soil and trees and wind are going to be given a voice in life-and-death decisions made by humans, people like you and me are going to have to add-our-voice (advocate) on their behalf. That voice will speak in voting, but also in church, and in the office and classroom, and around the dinner table. We can't just speak with a kind of guilt-inducing duty; we must also speak with love. Because we love people and other creatures who live in desertifying areas, we must speak up and deal with global climate change. Because we love people and creatures who live in areas devastated by mountaintop removal, we must speak up for protecting the mountains. Because we love the spring peepers and spotted salamanders, we must speak up when another shopping mall is going to bury another vernal pool.
There's so much more to be said and done, but this is a start. And these things are not simply a duty, but a true joy. The threats and urgency of the moment can be truly overwhelming, but the Spirit of creation that hovered over the surface of the waters in Genesis 1 is still alive, stirring hearts to rediscover a truly human way of living in God's beautiful green world.