Sunday, April 22, will be the 42nd Earth Day. I celebrated the 1st one in 1970 with the then typical “conservative” scoffing. I celebrated the 20th one in 1990 manning a booth for my fledgling organization, the Christian Nature Federation, at Knott’s Berry Farm in Orange County, California. And Providence placed us right next to the Captain Planet “Save the Earth” stage show developed and funded by Ted Turner; so parents and grandparents who took their kids and grandkids to that crassly humanistic theatrical production had only to look a little to the left to see our huge banner: “Save the Earth: Honor its Creator.”
Needless to say, the Christian Nature Federation got lots of curious visitors that weekend. I almost lost my voice after several discussions about why some evangelicals were truly concerned about the state of the planet’s environment and wanted to do something about it. Some of the more difficult discussions, however, were with fellow “conservative” Christians. What had changed in me and in many CNF members since the first Earth Day?
Part of the answer is expressed by Charles Ringma in his artfully written and challenging devotional booklet Dare To Journey: With Henry Nouwen:
Sadly, for some, spiritual maturity seems to have nothing to do with openness and flexibility. The opposite seems to be the case. Patterns of believing and doing, like the cart that daily traverses the same dirt road, have worn a deep rut. Spiritual maturity has consequently become synonymous with routine, predictability, and certainty, which so frequently lead to pride and hardness of heart [a description of where I was for a good bit of my adult life -DO].
Nouwen counsels us to see spiritual maturity in a totally different light. “Essential for mature religion,” he writes, “is the constant willingness to shift gears, to integrate new insights, and to revise our positions.” Spiritual maturity is therefore not a state of having arrived. It is not a condition that is a permanent feature of our life. It is not a commodity that is securely ours. It is quite the opposite. It is, in fact, more fragile. It is being willing, in spite of what we have already learned, to search further and to be willing to revise what we may hold so dearly.
The difference between my attitude toward the first Earth Day and 20th Earth Day was my finally being willing “to integrate new insights and revise my positions.” What Ringma says in a following devotional about “some fundamentalists” was true of me—that we “need to acknowledge the difficult questions and the contradictions that life brings our way. If we fail to do this, we convey the idea that our religiosity is rigid, narrow, or unrealistic.”
The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it (Psalm 24:1).
Isn’t it enough for you to keep the best of the pastures for yourselves? Must you also trample down the rest? Isn’t it enough for you to drink clear water for yourselves? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? (Ezekiel 34:19)
If you have been accustomed to scoffing at Earth Day or merely passing it off as a humanist holiday, perhaps this year you could consider making it a time for asking if there might indeed be many ways in which followers of Christ could “integrate new insights and revise positions” about caring for the earth that we acknowledge “is the Lord’s” and not ours to do with as we please and regardless of the collective damage we may be doing to it. Could we indeed be “muddying water” and “trampling pastures” that others have as much right to as we?
Joseph Sittler in his essay “Evangelism and the Care of the Earth” (1973) asked the church a key question: “If in piety the church says, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof (Psalm 24:1), and in fact is no different in thought and action from the general community, who will be drawn to her word and worship to “come and see” that her work or salvation has any meaning? Witness in saying is irony and bitterness if there is no witness in doing. . . . A believer is an evangelist primarily by who he is and how he lives—not by what he says. What he says is important; but unless his speaking tallies with what he is and does, he had better keep quiet.”
I’m convinced that by not showing that we care about and for God’s good earth, the church is missing one of the best opportunities we have to demonstrate a significant reality about the Gospel: that our Savior is also the Creator and He will one day redeem His entire creation. Such a hope is found only in the Word—a hope desperately needed by many who now hope only in Earth Day. (Read Romans 8:18-27)
[Girl with tree photo source]