This week people around the country will participate in Earth Day activities. Kids will come home with a tree sapling to plant in their yards. City classrooms will head out on their sidewalk and pick up trash. People will compost and recycle the waste that has gathered. Some of us may gather at rallies celebrating our responsibility in earth care. Others of us will head to lectures where we will hear that, “Observations throughout the world make it clear that climate change is occurring, and rigorous scientific research demonstrates that the greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are the primary driver.” We are responsible. What do we do?
Our water is changing. Ice caps are melting. Severe El Niño years result in the radical changing of our ecosystem like less prey for the Galapagos penguin whose population has halved since the 1970s. Halved in about fifty years! Global climate change is expected to make El Niños more frequent. With the increase of El Niños, what will happen in the next fifty years?
Science continues to have a collective voice. The earth is changing and not for the better. These changes are partly due to the way we have not cared for the earth. As one study found:
“Multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals show that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities. In addition, most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position.”
Since the 1960s, there has been a growing moving to respond to this ecological crisis. Earth Day was founded in 1970 “as a day of education about environmental issues.” It is “now a globally celebrated holiday that is sometimes extended into Earth Week, a full seven days of events focused on green awareness.” Under Sen. Gaylord Nelson’s leadership, Earth Day was formed and celebrated on April 22 as a national environmental teach-in for ecological care. Since then, the green movement continues to inspire people more than just Earth Day. We need to learn how to green our faith. We need to learn how to green our theologies. How we treat the earth is a faith concern.
Have you ever read scripture from an agrarian perspective? We tend to read scripture with an anthropocentric perspective, but what if we read it with the land and animals in mind first? In her book An Agrarian Approach to Scripture, Ellen Davis invites us to consider reading Scripture with the land and animals at the forefront.
Instead of reading Acts 11 with the humans in mind, try reading it with the land in mind. The first thing we notice is that when Peter goes to Jerusalem he goes up — the land is inclined. While in Jerusalem he gives an account of the vision he had in Joppa. The vision includes four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. This reminds me of Psalm 148 when the Psalmist says, “wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds…let them praise the name of the Lord.” Later Peter mentions baptism through water. The land, animals, and water are all mentioned in this passage. The animals are considered clean and must not be called profane. The land works together in synergy with the humans.
Reading scripture with an agrarian approach is one way for us to recover from the global climate crisis. When we recognize the care and prominence of land in Scripture we will begin to see a God who cares about the Galapagos penguin, which then should be what we care about. Our faith needs to be green.
In Mary Oliver’s iconic poem “Wild Geese,” she writes:
“Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.”
This Earth Day let us recover our place in the family of things — a family of Galapagos penguins, ice caps, rivers, and mountainous land. We humans must do better at caring for our fellow creation.
As the psalmist says, “The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” Humans are one part in the family of things. Recovering our place as intimately connected to the land and animals will help us begin to correct the harm we have done to the earth. It will take our personal and collective voices to stand up for earth justice. It will take organized efforts. God cares about the earth and it is our joyful response to also care for the earth with reverence and respect.
This article originally appeared at On Scripture.