Together with All Creation: Caring for God’s Living Earth, A Report of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations
I was excited to read the CTCR’s publication of a Biblical (and Lutheran) understanding of our relationship to the rest of creation around us. This is a major issue in our society today. It’s nearly impossible to pick up a paper or watch a newscast without hearing something about global warming, recycling, environmental responsibility, and many other iterations of this same theme. There are those for whom care of the earth has become essentially a religion, the primary filter through which their beliefs and actions are formulated and executed.
While reading a theological treatise may not sound like a terribly exciting thing to do compared with work or school or family commitments, these documents are useful for helping us to think through issues more carefully than we are likely to do simply by scanning Internet headlines or editorials. CTCR documents are the result of careful prayer, discussion and reflection soliciting the intellectual and theological contributions of an assortment of clergy, academics, and laity. LCMSYAM interviewed Dr. Charles Arand on this topic in November 2010 and the podcast is available on the LCMSYAM website (http://www.lcmsyam.org/Index.asp).
This document is beautiful to read, and it captures the Biblical basis for an aggressive Christian voice in the environmental forum. The Biblical creation account in Genesis 1 and 2 paints a picture of humankind in relationship to creation, people as fellow creatures and creations, while also distinct from the creation they are given stewardship of. Biblical Christians – most of all people – should bear a sensitivity to and affection for the created order around them. However in the rush to resist the deeper theological and philosophical implications of certain environmental groups and positions, this sensitivity and affection is often drown out and not expressed as vigorously as it ought to be. This document calls Biblical Christians to be consistent and intentional in their efforts both personally and publicly to live in a way that reflects a love for creation that continues despite our collective fall into sinfulness.
At 115 pages, this is not one of the CTCR’s shorter releases. However, this is as much a work of prose and poetry as it is theology. I’m personally more a fan of the wham-bam-theologize-me-man approach to theological writing. Tell me what you’re going to tell me, then tell me and back up your position, then summarize. No muss, no fuss. This is not that by a long shot. The authors lovingly craft their exposition, with plenty of Scriptural references as well as quotes from writers such as Wendell Berry.
However, in addition to the longer, more poetic exposition, there is a much, much shorter summary of the main points included as an appendix afterwards. If you’re in a rush, you can just read the summary. You miss out on much of the more beautiful language, but you come away with the core concepts in a quicker manner that might make it easier to summarize and communicate to others. This appendix might be suitable for a small group study, and young adult groups in congregations might take on this study in combination with spearheading tangible efforts to foster greater appreciation and protection of the creation around us, starting on the congregational campus. For instance, a handful of people in my last parish turned an unused stretch of church property into a massive organic garden, resulting in over 700 pounds of food donated to local food banks, in addition to sharing some of the fresh produce with those who were doing the work and others in the congregation. What a beautiful and tangible way to learn more about how to grow food while providing for the needs of those around us as well! If you want some pointers on how to start something like this at your church, feel free to get in contact with me through the LCMSYAM group on Facebook.
I particularly appreciated the first section of this publication, which provided a concise examination of some of the leading voices in environmentalism and conservationism in American history. It provides a deeper context to the clamor in the media and political arena today. Concern for the environment is not new, and not foreign to Christianity.
If there is one weakness to this work, it is that the Thoughts to Ponder and Things to Do sections that finish each section tend to sound a lot alike. There are repeated encouragements to plant gardens. Plant organic gardens. Keep planting organic gardens. Most of the recommendations are personal in scope. This makes it easy to implement, but seems to lack a broader focus. Are there Christian (or even Lutheran) organizations that lobby for environmentally respectful policies and practices, and how can individuals become involved with them? If these were noted or suggested, I don’t remember seeing them.
The shorter version of this work included as an appendix after the full document does provide a few more hints about ways to get involved, including references to particular organizations. There is a very healthy rationale for making broader involvement a smaller portion of the emphasis. As with loving our neighbor, loving creation is most effective when it is done locally – with our actual neighbors and actual portion of creation, rather than keeping our efforts in a broader, more intangible arena that doesn’t necessarily affect us personally. If we lobby for environmental reform while mistreating the portion of creation entrusted to us or our congregations, we aren’t very consistent in our witness.
Take some time to pick up this work and sit down and read it. It will take you some time, but it’s worth the effort. You’ll be enlightened and enriched both by the theological discussion as well as the loving language it is communicated through.