Creation Care

The Problem of Big and Small

IT'S REASONABLY clear to me that the natural tendency of our society at this moment is toward smallness, localness, and intimacy. After several centuries of constantly extending our supply lines around the world so that our food and our energy and our capital came from every corner of the planet, we find it increasingly pleasing and increasingly necessary to hunker down.

Local food is the best example. Our best restaurants and our sharpest cooks are no longer concerned with copying French recipes; for a generation now it’s been all about what’s close to home. Farmers’ markets have been the fastest growing part of our food economy, and suddenly there are more breweries than there were before Prohibition. It tastes good; it feels neighborly.

Next on the agenda: local energy. All of a sudden it seems weird to be piping stuff in from Saudi Arabia, or even Texas, when there’s plenty of good sunshine to be had close to home, when the wind blows over your house more days than not. In the wake of the financial crisis, there’s even a move toward Slow Money and local banking. It’s possible to imagine how it might all fit together into something quite beautiful—a new/old world that actually kind of works, instead of the careening one we’re used to.

But there’s one small problem. Actually, one large problem—the largest we’ve ever faced. The devastation from climate change threatens to undo every one of these sweet trends (if it doesn’t rain for a month, it doesn’t matter how organic your farm is; ditto if it rains every day). And climate change, given the time that we have, can only be solved on very large scales. Say the United States—greatest of carbon sinners—somehow decided to sober up and get its house in order. Even in that dream world, you’d still need to persuade the developing world to go along.

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In Africa, Church Leaders Responding to Climate Change Locally and Globally

Climate change is causing serious droughts that decimate livestock in Africa’s rural areas. Photo via Fredrick Nzwili/RNS.

As climate change devastates communities in Kenya, church leaders are helping to address the crisis locally while also calling on industrialized nations to own up to their responsibilities for spewing greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere.

“But we (in Africa) also have a role to play because we have not been very good stewards of the environment,” added Gichira, a poverty and development expert.“I think they (industrialized nations) are responsible for most of the emissions,” said Peter Solomon Gichira, the climate change program officer at the All Africa Conference of Churches. “They have responsibility to support climate change adaptation and mitigation as a moral obligation.”

People living in the Global South such as Kenya are suffering the worst consequences, climate experts say.

Droughts have become more severe and recurrent and are frequently followed by excessive rains or floods. Temperatures are much higher and weather patterns are now unpredictable.

Forty Shades of Green

I GREW UP IN RURAL IRELAND in the 1950s in a world surrounded by trees.

Close to my home, a ribbon of horse chestnuts lined both sides of the road. Each summer their intertwining canopies shut out the light, which gave the road its name—the dark road. In the fields around our house there were stands of oak, birch, elm, and sycamore. About 40 yards to the south and west, my father planted a shelter belt of Leylandii. We had different varieties of apple trees in the orchard, and two pear trees.

In 1962, just as the Second Vatican Council was beginning, I entered St. Columban’s seminary to be a priest. The seminary was located on a large estate called Dowdstown in County Meath. More than 150 acres were covered in woodlands full of indigenous trees such as oak, hazel, holly, ash, Scotch pine, willow, elm, and rowan. There were also exotic species, including a number of the sturdy cedars of Lebanon, a variety of cherry trees, and even a few California redwoods. The folklore in the area was that the trees had been planted in the 1820s by Gen. Robert Taylor, who had fought alongside Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo.

Trees are the dominant life form on land—and the longest-lived creatures on earth. During my seven years in seminary, while studying philosophy, theology, spirituality, and scripture, we never once looked to the natural world or trees for insight into our relationship with God, other human beings, or other species. And there is so much to learn! Sadly, theology and scripture presentations were isolated almost exclusively to the divine-human relationship, with little consideration given to the rest of creation.

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All Share God's Household

Zvonimir Atletic / Shutterstock

Saint Francis of Assisi, stained glass in the church of St. James the Greater in Elba, Italy. Zvonimir Atletic / Shutterstock

Every year on Oct. 4 a strange thing happens outside of an ecumenical list of churches around the globe. As if each church were reenacting Noah’s Ark, a bevy of animals and their human counterparts congregate just outside the doors for a ceremonial Blessing of the Animals to commemorate the feast day of Francis of Assisi. The sight of horses, dogs, cats, birds, snakes, and pot-bellied pigs jockeying for position could be called disarmingly odd to a first timer or refreshingly quaint to the already initiated. As a follower of St. Francis myself, I would label the spectacle as revolutionary in a small way that continues to subtly permeate Christian culture to this day. Rather than celebrate the quirkiness of the ritual itself, I would like to speak to St. Francis as an icon for justice whose way of organizing and advocacy is not only rooted in Christianity, but may just provide the necessary strategy for handling a major justice issue of our time: Do all God’s creatures have a place in God’s house?

From the day Christ spoke through a cross at San Damiano Church, “Francis, go repair my household, which you see has fallen into ruin,” Francis of Assisi was called to restore God’s household. This call echoes the prophet Isaiah who called young people to restorative justice as “repairers of the breach and restorers of ruined dwellings” (Is 58:12). Scripture tells us that God’s household has many dwelling places (John 14:2): our worship spaces are contained in houses (Rom 16:5), our bodies are temples of God (1 Cor 6:19), even the Earth itself is a house within God’s household (2 Cor 5:1). The revolutionary thing that Francis appreciated about God’s household was the significance of the incarnation: Everything came to be through the Word of God (John 1:10) and the Word itself became Jesus Christ. By virtue of Creation, everything is related to Christ and a mirror to God.

ON Scripture: What If the Earth Was God’s Vineyard?

Is our planet like the vineyard of Jesus' parable? Image courtesy huyangshu/shut

Is our planet like the vineyard of Jesus' parable? Image courtesy huyangshu/shutterstock.com

Dare to go there with me, if you will. What if we imagine God’s vineyard as described in Matthew 21 to be this beautiful world we inhabit? What will happen if we reject it—if we continue to treat it with disrespect, fail to listen to its natural woes, dismiss the warning signs it gives us? What if God is keeping score? Oh. Dear. Might I remind us all, that if we do not tend to this earth, we are only inevitably hurting ourselves and the lives of future generations?

This is why, like never before, over one thousand groups and individuals, including various faith groups, businesses, peace activists, social justice groups, schools, and environmentalists from all over the country united for the largest climate march in history on Sunday, September 21, gaining international attention. The People’s Climate March, held in New York City, was the perfect moment to take a stand, create a buzz, and create the much-needed public influence and pressure as NYC prepared to welcome decision-makers from across the globe to discuss this very topic.

Climate Conversion in New York

A figure prays while a storm rolls in. Image courtesy Waddell Images/shutterstoc

A figure prays while a storm rolls in. Image courtesy Waddell Images/shutterstock.com

We all know that the world is moving down a very dangerous path, and that we must reverse our direction. But so far, the credible and persuasive scientific case hasn’t accomplished that. Sensible economic proposals haven’t halted that direction either. And smart political arguments have yet to reverse our course either. 
Why? Because we are addicted to fossil fuels. The results are planet-threatening climate change and people-threatening terrorism.

We need conversion. Nothing less. Only our conversion could change our dangerous direction.

Two fundamental things could bring the kind of conversion we need. 

One, our faith. 

Two, our children. 

 

Faith in People: NYC Climate March Draws All Religions for a Healthier Planet

Participants in the People's Climate March in NYC, Sunday September 21. Image vi

Participants in the People's Climate March in NYC, Sunday September 21. Image via a katz/shutterstock.com

More important than the celebrities or politicians marching on Sunday, members of the faith community came out in droves to support the rally. The Huffington Post reported on the wide variety of faiths that were represented at the march. A reporter from Christianity Today wrote, “Almost every conceivable strand of society was represented in the huge column of humanity — not only were there groups of Methodists and Baptists rubbing shoulders with Catholics and Presbyterians, there were Christians marching with Muslims, Jews, pagans, atheists and Baha'i. Anti-capitalist protesters stood alongside 'Concerned Moms for the Climate;' doctors, firemen, and vegans held banners next to indigenous people and victims of Hurricane Katrina.”

The reasons that thousands of individuals came out to the streets of New York City on Sunday are vast and personal. But for many members of the faith community, spreading awareness about the decaying state of God’s creation was a moral obligation. Signs such as “Jesus Would Drive a Prius” and a life-size moving Arkrepresented the importance of taking care of God’s creation throughout the rally. In a recent interview with the National Catholic Reporter, Steffano Montano, a theology professor at Barry University in Miami, said as a Catholic, there's a spiritual responsibility to combat climate change.

"By understanding creation, we can come closer to the Creator. It's an added spiritual responsibility. Justice for the earth is something that affects everybody. It's going to affect my daughter, my grandkids. It affects the poor in ways we are still trying to come to terms with. And it's our fault. So that's why we're here. It's on us to make a difference," said Montano.

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