If you’re curious about how a Christian ended up living in the woods as a bona fide tree-hugger, read on. Read also Joel Salatin, who calls himself a “Christian libertarian environmentalist capitalist lunatic farmer,”and provides a great apology for those apparent contradictions. And while I don’t label myself exactly that, let me add my voice to the choir of those who place their feet in both the Heaven camp and the Earth camp.
I grew up loving to play outdoors, but I was never an “environmentalist.” I still hate that word; it summons images of people chained to trees, going door to door with petitions, weeping over obscure endangered species. These folks, growing up, were not my people. My people went to church. My people cared for other people, for eternal souls; they were not interested in petitions to save the tigers. In fact they were suspicious of those people with the petitions. Anyone with a petition probably worshiped a thing called Mother Earth, never took a shower, slept in on Sundays or, worse, cleaned up litter on Sunday mornings. Probably they were Democrats.
And then one day, about 12 years ago, my faith took a turn for the worse. I don’t remember why, but every time I opened the Bible to read it, I couldn’t believe what it said. Until then, the word of God had been a given in my life, and time sitting before the Bible was necessary, as for every Christian. But reading the Bible had became a sorry slog, and the God I was trying to read about seemed distant and unintelligible.
At that time I also happened to be reading a book about the prairie. Among many things, I learned about grasses whose roots go 23 feet underground, mining nutrients in the bedrock, and every fall as the plant dies back, its leaves, full of those nutrients, compost and feed the shallower rooted plants. I learned about how wind, rain, fire, bison, insects, and prairie dogs each have a role in shaping the prairie, so that it is a constantly changing, adapting place.
And every time I read became a time of worship. I saw the character of God revealed there, barely fathomed by scientists who spent their lives studying the ecology of the prairie. If, in one ecosystem alone (and one that for all the world looks like a simple plain of grass, plowed up for crops without a second thought), a web of miracles existed without our knowledge, how vast that mind must be that conceived it. I saw a God creating joy, creating secrets that only he understood, for his glory. What a privilege to live on this earth and, if only a little, plumb these mysteries!
[In this blog, I will often refer to the created world of God because by faith I believe that the worlds were formed by the word of God. But I’m not a scientist; I won’t weigh in on the creation/evolution conundrum. Just how exactly God went about creating, or how long it took, I can’t hazard a guess. And to me, it doesn’t really matter.]
Hopefully you can now understand my enthusiasm for this life close to nature, because the closer I live to the created works of God, the more I hope to understand of God’s character and action in the world. It may also be that as we drink water that came to the earth as rain, as we compost our wastes to add nutrients to the soil, as we live a life closer to the seasons and the hours of daylight, we will become more aware of our reliance, as fragile humans, on God’s good gifts.
Let me add one final thought to this gentle manifesto. It happens that I’m a solid introvert. If I believe that I have been created as such, and so much ministry work seems tailor-made for the extroverts among us, how can I contribute to the work of God in the world?
Street evangelism? Utter failure.
Inner city ministry? Left depleted.
Ministry to the elderly? Children? I feel awkward and quickly exhausted.
Finally it has occurred to me. The smallest of “the least of these” (to whom Jesus commands us to minister), the one without a voice of its own, the one crushed and downtrodden by too many of the powerful, is God’s created world. Even in our little woods, protected from development and logging by its rocks and hills, we find litter throughout, chunks of cement dumped, piles of dirt left long ago by a road crew.
If we can heal this little bit of land and nourish the life that depends on it, will we indeed be ministering to Christ himself? Perhaps. It would, at least, be a start.